Wednesday, June 01, 2011

March & April Book Report

As usual, the start of a new month makes me think how quickly the year is flying by... and it also reminds me that I owe you a book report for March and April. You know the drill: I do keep track of books that you guys recommend so feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments. I try to respond to individual questions in the comments as they come along.

At some point I got into the habit of using my Amazon wish list as a repository for book recommendations. I jot down the names of the some of the things on it and take the list when I go to the library. It's a handy way to keep track of books, although I always forget to note where I got a book recommendation from -- a friend? NY Times Book Review section? on-line? This month, I started out with Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd, which was on my list although I can' t remember who recommended it to me. This book aspires to be a Hitchcock-like tale about an American man visiting London for an interview. Adam gets pulled into a conspiracy by stumbling onto a murder scene. Of course, Adam's presence at the scene of a freshly-murdered corpse makes him the prime suspect in the police's eyes, and he has to go off the grid while trying to figure out what is really going on. This was an entertaining, quick read; the biggest drawback was that the initial chapters where Adam gets pulled into the murder weren't very believable, and having never suspended my disbelief, I wasn't able to really get into the book as much as I would have liked.

Next I went on a binge of reading the latest books from a handful of writers whose work I've enjoyed in the past, starting out with One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming. The main characters in this series are Clare Fergusson, who is a very unconventional Episcopal priest, and Russ Van Alstyne, the sheriff of a small town in the Catskills. Through several earlier books, we've seen Clare and Russ solve various murder mysteries while fighting their intense feelings for each other. This book begins as Clare returns from service in the Iraq War. I liked the way that the book combines an interesting whodunit with a thoughtful look at the wrenching effect wartime service takes on American soldiers returning from the Middle East.

The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell. Mankell has said that this is the last Kurt Wallender novel, and after reading it, I believe him. Wallender is a Swedish police inspector, a sad soul trying to do his best in a bleak job. In his last book, Wallender greets his first grandchild while stepping in unofficially to help track down the father of his daughter's baby. Hakan von Enke is a retired naval officer who goes missing while out on his evening walk. Wallender's daughter asks her father to help find von Enke. A short time later, von Enke's wife goes missing. Wallender struggles with issues of his own throughout, facing his own mortality, worrying about episodes of memory loss, meditating on his long career as a detective. While there was a lot of sadness in this book, I enjoyed it as a fitting sendoff for Wallender: brooding, dark, thoughtful, with a good mystery at its core.

The Inspector and Silence by Hakan Nesser may or may not be the last case of Inspector Van Veeteren, another Scandinavian police inspector. In the middle of summer, an anonymous phone call claims that a teenager has gone missing from a religious camp in the countryside. But everyone at the camp denies that anyone is missing. Van Veeteren steps in, and soon a girl's body is discovered in the woods near the camp. Van Veeteren must deal with a strange fringe religion and its followers, a media circus and his own desire to retire after lengthy service in the police force. Nesser's style is much more cerebral than action-driven, but I've enjoyed this series.

Blue Lightning by Ann Cleves, is the last of her "Shetland quartet," in which Jimmy Perez, living on a remote island off the coast of northern England, brings his fiancee Fran home to the island of Fair Isle to meet his parents. While they are visiting, a prominent bird expert is brutally murdered. Jimmy -- who is a police inspector himself -- is on the scene and takes charge of the case until another crime team from the mainland can arrive. In the meantime, a second murder takes place. Jimmy feels growing discomfort investigating the lives of the people in his hometown -- including his parents. This book has a plot twist that will not please all readers, but I won't ruin it for you by saying any more.

Revelation by C. J. Sansom is another installment in the series set in Tudor England. Matthew Shardlake is a hunchback lawyer living in King Henry VIII's London. I really like this series, partly because it's such a fascinating time period but also because the series is really well-written.
This book takes place during the later years of Henry VIII's reign, when he is seeking to make Catherine Parr his sixth wife. Shardlake, who wishes to stay out of royal intrigue, is pulled in to the fringes of court life by Parr when she asks him to look into the case of a young man who has been held in Bedlam, the London prison in which mentally ill persons were held. At the same time, Shardlake vows to find the murderer of his dear friend and fellow barrister.

The Fourth Man by K.O. Dahl continues my Scandinavian noir streak. In this Norwegian thriller, a police detective saves a woman from being shot in an armed robbery. Their paths cross again and they begin an affair. The detective later learns the woman is the sister of a gang member, creating a nasty conflict of interest for him. The plot takes off as the detective becomes the prime suspect in a series of murders and hhe as to unravel the murders and the motivations of the woman who has seduced him. This was a quick, entertaining read, although not as good as some of the other Scandinavian writers I've read.

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths enticed me by its archaeological theme. Ruth Galloway is a professor who specializes in archaelogy, living near a desolate salt marsh in Norfolk. A police inspector asks for her help when a body is found in the marsh. The inspector thinks he's discovered the remains of a girl who went missing several years ago, but Ruth dates the remains as two thousand years old. When another child goes missing, Ruth helps the inspector in his quest to save the child's life, in part by helping him decipher some bizarre anonymous letters that he receives. More plot than character development, but a diverting enough mystery.

The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard. I received a free copy of this short novel from the Amazon Vine program. The book is a little hard to summarize: it tells the story of a missing sixteen-year-old girl, Nora, but it does so from an unusual perspective. The book is told by a group of boys who were her neighborhood friends -- as a group, not as individual and identified voices. It's amazing that it works so well. The book examines the effects of Nora's disappearance on the boys -- how they try to deal with the sense of loss and ambiguity surrounding her abrupt departure from their lives -- but it also contains the boys' reflections on growing up, moving on, and living in the moment. It's the kind of book you can read in one sitting and it doesn't end with a neat, tied-up-in-a-bow resolution.


Rooie said...

I sometimes think, reading your reviews, that you and I would have a great time perusing each others shelves.

I'm on a Scandinavian mystery kick myself. Mostly concentrating, lately, on Jo Nesbo's series. They are Norwegian and very,very good. I would recommend starting with the earliest one (The Redbreast) and going on from there.

A great non-mystery I just read was Among Others by Jo Walton. (I've been reading lots of Jo's, I guess.) It's about a fifteen-year-old Welsh girl going to school in England, living with her never-really-met-before father. And, oh yes, her mother may be a witch and the daughter sees fairies... Not a lot happens really, but I found it lovely.

Carol said...

Hi Rooie! I just finished The Snowman but I bet it was during May so it'll be in my next report. I think it was the best one so far -- they are taking a long time to reach the US. I will put the Jo Walton one on my library list -- many thanks!!