It all started with Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew series and led to Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, Rex Stout, Colin Dexter et al and I remain an avid mystery fan. My current favorites range from what I call “murder light” ala Louise Penny (more commonly called cozies) to the Nordic Noirs of Jo Nesbo and Jussi Adler-Oslen, but I fall short of the current trend toward graphic descriptions of gore and mayhem. I prefer the problem solving and psychological intrigue of the mystery genre.
My tastes also run to contemporary literature and over the past few years have included favorites such as City of Thieves by David Benioff, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, Lowlands by Jhumpa Lahiri, Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and anything by Ann Patchett.
In the non-fiction arena, I’m an advocate for all the Erik Larson books, especially Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts.
I love talking to customers about books we liked or didn’t and why. Any book that can stimulate our conversations proves its value. I thought I’d spend most of my time in retirements reading, instead I spend much of it with readers. How great is that!
In December of 1980 a plane crashes in the Swiss Alps, leaving one 3 month old baby alive. But whose child is it? Two families claim her--one a wealthy Swiss family and the other one of the working class. A private detective spends 18 years figuring out the truth. A page turner!
With a backdrop of the excesses and extravagance of the upper classes (albeit with strict social rules) and the searing poverty of the lower classes, Belfoure leads us on Architect Cross's dizzying descent into a world of crime. Familiar names of the Golden Age notables and architectural landmarks pull us into the day to day lives played out during the era, demonstrating both the wonder and devastation of Old New York. Seems there is no way out for Cross and his family caught in the clutches of a "gentleman gangster". I enjoyed this clever romp through the uptown mansions and downtown gambling halls, and the introspection by the main characters as to how new experiences can cause surprising feelings.
I was very excited to see that Erik Larson had a new book coming out and I wasn't disappointed. I couldn't put it down. I wish I had learned my History this way! Larson not only covers the crossing and sinking of the Lusitania with his usual extensive research and details, but writes about the Wilson White House at the time and of the U.S. isolationism. He further documents the decision of the British Admiralty not to warn Captain Turner of the German submarine in the area for fear the German's would know they had cracked their code ( more reality of the "Imitation Game"). Larson introduces us to not only the Captain, crew, and several passengers on the Lusitania but also the Captain and crew of the German submarine that was responsible for the torpedo attack. We learn of a German Captain's complete empowerment to operate as he saw fit due to a loss of communication with his base once he departed. Thus both captains were without any vital communication before the tragic event. Though we know the outcome, the actual lead up to the sinking reads like a thriller, leaving us searching for survivors as so many did off the coast of Ireland. Larson then takes us through some litigation and inevitable questions of responsibility and tries to come up with some answers as to why anyone would have boarded the Lusitania in the first place. I can promise any Larson fan a wonderful read and a good History lesson for those of us less versed than the historians.
Descent is a thriller that shows how an unfathomable tragedy tears a family apart and sends each on his or her own quest for answers and relief of guilt. While on vacation with her family in the Rockies, track star Caitlin goes missing while jogging with her younger brother, Sean. He becomes injured on the trail and while in the hospital recalls seeing his sister drive off with a stranger who promised to take her down the mountain to get a phone signal. After weeks of searching and waiting the family reluctantly returns home. Her father however is drawn back to the area in hopes of getting some answers or even of finding his daughter. Meanwhile her brother goes off cross country to find himself. Author Johnson's use of language elevates this thriller to a literary level that draws you in. He leads us through feelings of despair, hope, fear, anger, joy, sadness and acceptance and reminds us of how far a strong sense of survival can take us be it physical or emotional.
In this novel translated from French by Sam Taylor, a seemingly successful novelist, Mark Goldman, experiences severe writer's block and decides to visit his mentor, Harry Quebert, in a small New Hampshire town. Mark soon learns that his idol has been arrested for a 33 year old cold-case of murder of a 13 year old local girl with whom he had apparently had an affair. As Harry's only supporter, Mark sets out to disprove the allegations while fending off pleas from his New York publisher to write a tell-all book about the affair. Author Joel Dicker introduces us to a list of colorful characters and leads us through many twists, turns, and sub-plots while presenting this amazing book within a book. Don't even try to find the resolution by reading the last chapter. Instead let the author lead you through his carefully crafted tale to a very satisfying ending. I love that this author trusts his readers' intelligence enough to avoid the flaw often found in mysteries and thrillers of over-explaining every detail. There's a bit of an indictment of some of the publishing world, but a thoroughly enjoyable roller-coaster read.
Lately I’ve been reading what I call ‘Mystery Candy’. Those mysteries that give you character studies of everyone who could have dun-it. Mary Higgins Clark remains The Grand Dame of the “guess which one of us had more reason to kill the victim. Her latest, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, doesn’t disappoint. A long ago murder becomes the basis for a true-crime TV show, bringing together all the possible suspects who had attended a graduation celebration the night of the hostesses death. Intertwined is the seemingly senseless murder of the producer’s husband several years ago. Get yourself a comfortable place to read, a glass of wine or some chocolate, and indulge!
In the same vein, another new to me, but actually a fourth novel in a Verlaque and Bonnet Provincial Mystery, is Murder on the Isle Sordou by M.L. Longworth. It takes place on a small island off Marseilles where both the wealthy guests and the quirky staff become suspects in the death of a fading French movie star. Memories of Agatha Christie’s final scene where everyone is gathered to announce the killer and a violent storm that cuts them off from the mainland add to the fun of the quest. For this one you will really want the glass of wine since most scenes involve tippling. Enjoy!
In this epic tale, two brothers close in age but of very different temperaments are inseparable in their younger years in Calcutta. They become more distant however as they mature due to the political passions and ideology of the older more outgoing brother. An ensuing tragedy forces the younger brother to evaluate his strong bond to his brother and to take on responsibilities he never expected. This is a story of decisions and consequences, family ties and separation, deceit and honesty, as well as cultural differences and similarities. Lahiri draws us effortlessly from the poverty stricken world of India to the halls of American academe and back again. We witness a period of change for both nations and a period of soul searching for a single extended family. Lahiri’s exquisite prose is like quicksilver, sometimes shocking and sometimes warm and comforting.
As a fan of Atkinson’s mysteries I was a little hesitant to pick up Life After Life based on the premise that seemed a little sci-fi to me. I shouldn’t have waited. It’s brilliant! As a character asks late in the book “What if we had a chance to do it (life) over again until we get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” That is exactly what the character Ursula Todd gets to do. Because of Atkinson’s keen sense of detail, I didn’t fell bogged down by the shifting lives and dates. On the contrary, I couldn’t wait to see what Ursula would do in the next incarnation to “get it right”. It all begins on a snowy February night in 1910 when Sylvia Todd gives birth to a girl who is still born, only to have the daughter surface on the same date and time to the same family but this time to survive. Her deaths from drowning, falls, influenza, murder and even suicide only serve to give her another chance. Along the way we get to meet her family, colleagues and friends (who sometimes reappear in a future life and sometimes not) but we always know that she has done better. Surrounded by these full blown characters, experiencing both idyllic times (life at Fox Corner) and horrific times (two world wars), falling in and out of love, losing family and friends and sometimes saving them, Ursula might finally get it right. Atkinson’s characterizations, portrayal of changing social mores, and acute use of irony make this hard to accept concept a delight. I couldn’t put it down.
Capital takes place on a once ordinary but now gentrified street in South London – Pepys Road. The residents include a broad range of both ethnic and economic backgrounds; a shop owning Muslim family, an elderly grandmother, an upwardly mobile couple in way over their heads, a young soccer player from Senegal and his father, and sundry employees and civil servants. As the title suggests, this is a story of money and the complications it brings with it, each viewing what surrounds them differently. While clearly depicting a British outlook on easy-money and excess, it certainly has correlation to our own adoration of status and wealth. When mysterious postcards sayng “We want what you have” begin turning up on doorsteps the residents become concerned and rightfully so. As we follow the individual lives of these mismatched neighbors, Lanchester resolves all of their wants and fears, some in predictable ways and some not. Since it’s now out in paperback, it makes a great beach read for those who like a little food for thought while sunbathing.
In A Delicate Truth there is no longer the ambiguous double agent of LeCarre's previous spy novels, but rather a more black and white view of today's agents and clandestine operations. Here we encounter a cynical view of what has been called "corporate war". As one idealistic man attempts to expose a Special Forces assignment gone horrible wrong, he puts everyone involved plus himself in mortal danger. Wherever he turns for assistance he hits a brick wall of resistance, including at the highest levels of governement. The continuing action pulls us into an inevitable heart poudning ending. I thoroughly enjoy LeCarre's elegant use of language and despite his critics, share his cynicism of today's undercover world. A good read for "intrigue" fans. -Janice