Sunday, August 02, 2009

Book report: July 2009

Summertime is where all my good intentions of reading Literature (with a capital "L") fall by the wayside. It was definitely escapist fiction time, and since mysteries are my escapist reading of choice, it's Mysterypalooza.

Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, is the latest in my Scandinavian mystery binge. Set in Iceland, the main character is a thirty-something lawyer retained to look into the murder of a grad student by the students' parents, who believe the police's prime suspect isn't the real killer. The grad student was fascinated by historical witchcraft, torture, unusual body piercings and drugs, so the search to uncover what really happened takes many a dark and twisting path. Although the murder victim was nasty and his interests a bit gruesome for my tastes, I did enjoy reading this book.

Silent In The Grave and Silent In The Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn. Talk about beach reading: this is perfect summertime reading, set in Victorian England. The protagonist is Lady Julia Grey, one of 9 children of an English nobleman. In the first book, Lady Julia's husband is killed. Although she is at first inclined to believe that he died of a congenital health problem that runs in his family, she subsequently discovers that he was murdered. She enlists the help of the dashing Nicholas Brisbane to help solve her husband's murder. In the sequel, Lady Julia has just finished an extended stay in Italy with two brothers, when she and her brothers are recalled to their family's ancestral home for Christmas. The vicar's curate is found murdered in the chapel, and Lady Julia-- and the dashing Nicholas Brisbane, natch -- must solve yet another mystery. I read these while we were in Cape May, and really enjoyed them. They were sufficiently frothy to be fun (silk dresses! English manor houses! romantic tension!) yet the mysteries were well-written enough to engage my interest.

If you like Gothic (like Wilkie Collins, or the Brontes or Daphne DuMaurier), you might want to try The Seance by John Harwood. This book felt very much like it had been written 125 years ago (in a good way). You've got your family secrets, old crumbling house in the country, a woman unsure of the truth about her parentage, mysterious bequests from distant relatives, and seances/hypnotism. A cracking good read.

Haunted Groundby Erin Hart, had an interesting premise: an Irish man finds a woman's remains while cutting peat in the bogs near his home. It turns out she's been preserved in the peat for hundreds of years. Archeologists are called in to preserve and examine the remains, and they end up trying to figure out what happened to the woman -- and what happened to another local woman who disappeared much more recently. I don't want to spoil the end, but this one started out promising and ended up rather contrived. A conveniently-found document at the end conveniently fills in the missing blanks -- boo. Not awful, but room for improvement.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale, is a nonfiction book that got good reviews. It examines the beginnings of the use of specialized detectives by the British police, set against the backdrop of a curious murder case of the mid 19th century. I enjoyed the way that Summerscale connected up the history of British detectives at Scotland Yard and the popular literature of the day, which reflected changing attitudes about the police and the use of specialized murder detectives.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. I read Flynn's second novel a few months ago and thought it was a good mystery/thriller, so I went back to find her first. Both novels feature a deeply-flawed narrator with major family baggage; in this case, Camille is a just-barely-recovered cutter, who copes with the unresolved issues of her messed-up childhood by carving words in her skin with the titular sharp objects. She's managed to escape the small Missouri town in which she was raised and is a reporter for a second-rate Chicago newspaper. As the novel begins, her editor sends her back to her hometown to cover the story of a girl's disappearance, possibly linked to the year-old murder of another girl. The mystery of the girls' disappearances is unraveled against the backdrop of Camille's attempt to unravel and understand her family's dysfunction. Good and suspenseful, with some funny one-liners mixed in the text.

Mind's Eye by Hakan Nesser, is a good, solid mystery featuring Swedish detective Inspector Van Veeteren. In this book, a man wakes up with the hangover of his life. He stumbles to the bathroom, only to find his wife lying dead in the bathtub. It certainly appears that the man murdered his wife in a drunken rage, and the man's behavior at trial doesn't help him any. But Van Veeteren isn't so sure, and when the man -- sent to a mental hospital after a guilty verdict is reached at his trial -- is murdered in his hospital room, Van Veeteren must reopen both cases to nail the murderer.

Okay, kids, that's my July book report. As always, I love getting your suggestions for books I might enjoy. (I do makes lists of them; sometimes I find I am at the mercy of the closest library in terms of finding books, either because they are new and already checked out, or because I have to ILL them. For example, I am very interested in reading the Deliverance Dane book, but am waiting for it to be returned to the library...)


Anonymous said...

Have you read any of the Barbara Vine books? I recently finished A Dark Adapted Eye and Anna's Book. I loved both of them and wil go looking for more of her books. I have often found and read books that you recommended so I think you'd like these.
Judy Foldi

Anonymous said...

Have you read any of the Barbara Vine books? I recently finished A Dark Adapted Eye and Anna's Book. I loved both of them and wil go looking for more of her books. I have often found and read books that you recommended so I think you'd like these.
Judy Foldi

Anonymous said...

When your review sent me to my library's online catalog, I discovered there is a 2009 addition to Deanna Raybourn's series: Silent on the Moor. Thought you might enjoy it, too.

Laiane said...

I am just tickled to death that you mentioned Wilkie Collins in your post. I just finished "The Moonstone," and before that I was reading "The Woman in White."

This all started when I read "Drood" -- not a book for everyone since it's so loosely constructed, but I loved it. Problem was, I identified with Wilkie the Narrator, who goes progressively insane during the course of the book... Oopsies.

Marin (AntiM) said...

Sort of mystery, maybe more thriller, but definitely criminal and detective -- The Art of Breaking Glass by Matthew Hall. Sort of a kinder, gentler Hannibal Lecter. Sort of.

Cynthia said...

As always, thanks for the book reviews. It is so nice to see a knitter who still reads. All too often I am torn between my two loves. I am a librarian at Princeton (NJ) Public Library and in order to marry the two, I will be starting a book group in September called Read One/Knit Too! The books will vary (starting with a Miss Marple just for an homage), but the one constant will always be that when we come together for the group, we will knit.

I hope it works out--knitting and reading are favorites of so many people I know.