Sunday, October 04, 2009

Book report: September

Another month drew swiftly to a close. Here's what I read during September:

The Art of Breaking Glass by Matthew Hall. This book was recommended by a commenter during one of my last book reports -- and I did enjoy it. The main characters are Sharon, a psych-ward nurse who is recovering from the death of her husband and son in a car accident, and Bill, a patient in her ward who strikes Sharon as unusually intelligent, albeit seriously disturbed. The relationship between Bill and Sharon is complex; as it turns out, Bill is a brilliant guy who uses a sort of Robin-Hood-inspired terrorism to make New York better for everyday people, and has pretended to be schizophrenic to avoid being arrested for breaking and entering. Sharon feels a connection to Bill, although she is bothered by the violent means he uses to accomplish his ends, and doesn't know where his sanity ends and his underlying madness begins. When Bill hatches a complex but well-meaning scheme to finance a large-scale community development center, at the expense of a Donald-Trump-like real estate mogul, Sharon decides to use her instinctive rapport with Bill to help the FBI stop him. It's a fairly quick read, with a fast-moving plot, and an unusual spin on the typical thriller.

The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason. More brooding Scandinavian police inspectors; this time, an Icelandic detective tries to determine the identity of a decades-old murder victim, found in a lakebed. We see how the lives of the inspector and his colleagues interplay as they untangle a crime that may stretch all the way back to Cold War East Germany.

The Water's Edge by Karin Fossum. Scandinavian police inspectors, part II: This one's set in Norway, and thoroughly creeped me out, not because it was graphic or salacious, but because it was thoughtful and nuanced. The crime to be solved is the murder and molestation of a young boy. Fossum shows how the crime has a ripple effect in the small community where the boy lived -- the effect on the victim's teacher and classmates, his mother's attempts to cope, even the way that discovering the body alters the status quo for the married couple who happened across the corpse while hiking. Inspector Sejer must also contend with the disappearance of a second boy, while examining his own ideas about ped0philia. (Believe me, this book does not defend or glamorize ped0philia, I'd have no patience for that, but it does talk about how difficult it is to discover what "makes" someone into a ped0phile and how hard it is for convicted offenders to avoid recidivism.)

Dream House by Valerie Laken. I read a review of this book in the NY Times Book Review, and I was a bit intrigued since it was set in Ann Arbor, where I went to school for a few years. It's the story of a couple, Kate and Stuart, who buy a somewhat dilapidated old house. Kate becomes fascinated -- obsessed? -- with renovating the house and plunges into the intense work of gutting the house. Stuart is ambivalent about the house, and as it turns out, ambivalent about being an adult. When Stuart is laid off, their marriage fractures. At the same time, Kate starts to learn more about the history of the house; it turns out that twenty years ago, someone was killed there. I thought that Laken did a great job of making the house itself a kind of character in the book, winding Kate and Stuart's story -- and the story of Walker, who lived in the house at the time of the killing -- around it. Some of the reviews describe this as a ghost story, but I think it's more a story about how houses can develop a kind of atmosphere and character of their own that seems to transcend the people living in them.

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin. Yes, another brooding Scandinavian mystery.... am I in a brooding Scandinavian mystery rut? But they're just so good -- and this one is no exception. The main character is Julia Davidsson, whose young son Jens went missing in 1972. Twenty years of grief and uncertainty have taken their toll on Julia. One day she gets a call from her elderly father, who has just received a small sandal in the mail. The sandal looks just like the ones Jens was wearing when he disappeared. Julia heads north, to a rural Swedish island to see the shoe; her father tells her that together, they'll ask around and see if they can learn anything about Jens' fate. The book slowly but inexorably leads to an exciting finish (I thought I knew where it was going but I was wrong), and Theorem mixes flashbacks from the past -- the post-war years through 1972 -- with the action to keep things interesting.


katrog said...

I really love your book reports, since I always get good ideas for more reading.

I also share your fascination for the dark Scandinavian thriller/nysteries.

Have you read any by Hakkan Nesser. His Inspector Van Veeteren policiers are very good.

Thank you.


Anonymous said...

I need to start a list somewhere...