Thursday, December 31, 2020
Tana French's latest novel is The Searcher. Like her last novel, The Witch Elm, and unlike her Dublin Murder Squad series, it is a standalone novel. And, it is another blockbuster.
In The Searcher, we meet Cal Hooper, a retired police officer from Chicago. As Cal wanted a change, he bought a place to fix up in a remote Irish village. Although he finds the beauty and relative simplicity he is seeking, an unsolved mystery nonetheless finds him.
Tana French is a master of character development. Not only does she create and beautifully describe complex characters, but she demonstrates an understanding of the seamy underside of humanity. And, The Searcher further epitomizes French's ability. Although The Searcher is considered a mystery, it seems to me that the mystery that finds and occupies Cal is incidental to French's magnificent character study.
The Searcher is a fabulous read, and I highly recommend it.
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO
The Weight of A Piano is the story of a Bluthner piano, beginning in the Soviet Union and ending in California, and some of the people whose lives it touched. The book is well written. The characters are well developed, although I am not sure that any are particularly likable or that I felt connected to any of them. Except perhaps the piano. It does raise the interesting question whether the piano has its own separate existence, whether it is more than the sum of its parts. Nonetheless, it feels like the story has been done before; it reminds me a bit of Annie Proulx, Disappearing Earth, and The Red Violin. Although it is novel in its application to a piano, I am not sure that it adds anything to what has been done before.
HEAVEN, MY HOME
Heaven, My Home is Attica Locke's second Highway 59 novel. In this book, a nine year old boy from a small town along Highway 59 has gone missing. Darren Mathews, an African American Texas Ranger, is assigned to the search for the boy, who is the son of a white supremacist.
As with the first Highway 59 novel, Bluebird, Bluebird, I feel conflicted about Heaven, My Home. I did not really care for either book, yet I am drawn to read them. I am taken by the mythos of the Texas Rangers. I love the idea of the main character, I love the locality of the books, and I love the rich history that Locke includes.
Nonetheless, I do not like how the character is drawn. I find it difficult to believe that someone who had been capable enough to complete a portion of law school and to become a Texas Ranger could be so stupid as Mathews appears to be in this book. I also am not fond of the writing style. In my opinion, Locke overuses simile, and the similes that she uses are often not apt.
Overall, I was disappointed with Heaven, My Home. I think Darren Mathews and Highway 59, as glimpsed through Locke's eyes, has such rich potential. But, Heaven, My Home falls short of actualizing that potential.
Monday, November 30, 2020
When I finish a book like Troubled Blood, I usually like to let it sit for a while - to let the experience steep, or percolate - before I begin to write my review. This is especially true with a book like Troubled Blood, as the Cormoran Strike series by J. K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith) is one of my very favorite series of all time. As I love Cormoran Strike, it is important to me to do my very best so that one who might happen to stumble upon my review will learn the gospel about this great series.
But, as I finished this wonderful new addition to the series, all I could think was Wow. So, I waited a day or two - waiting to wax eloquent (or, perhaps, wax poetic) - but I cannot seem to get beyond Wow. I could summarize the plot - or explain a little about the characters - or describe how I think Troubled Blood, the fifth installment in the Cormoran Strike series, is the best one yet. But, when I think about so doing, my inclination is that these would be better achieved were I to stand on a corner and hand out copies of the book (though I would recommend that a reader unfamiliar with the series read them in order).
So, for now, my review is simple:
Wow. Just Wow.
Saturday, October 31, 2020
THE NIGHT WATCHMAN
The Night Watchman is Louise Erdrich's latest novel, based on the life of her grandfather, Patrick Gourneau. Like Erdrich's grandfather, the main character, Thomas Wazhashk, works as the night watchman at the jewel bearing plant near the Turtle Mountain Reservation where he lives. Like Gourneau, Wazhashk is a Chippewa council member. Between the two, like Gourneau, Wazhashk hardly sleeps. And, circumstances are not going to change anytime soon. There is a new bill before Congress to terminate the Native Americans, viz., inter alia, to abrogate treaties, to cut off all aid, and to take their land. The Turtle Mountain Reservation Chippewas were among those the bill included for immediate termination. We follow Thomas as he works to protect the Chippewa and to challenge the termination legislation.
Along the way, we also meet an assortment of family, friends and acquaintances, neighbors, and ghosts in Thomas's life. We get to know Patrice, who supports her mother and younger brother by working at the jewel bearing plant. Her older sister, who allegedly moved to Minneapolis and had a baby, has disappeared. Patrice travels to Minnesota in an attempt to locate her sister and returns with the baby. We also meet Wood Mountain, a young Chippewa who is trying to become a boxer.
In addition to the interesting characters, and typical of the other Erdrich books I have read, The Night Watchman is full of life. But, this book feels a bit different to me than my earlier Erdrich experiences, as if Erdrich has become more comfortable writing about the Chippewa. I am cognizant, however, that it is undoubtedly I who have become more comfortable reading about the Chippewa. Either way, it seems like a more mature, more settled reading experience.
I have always enjoyed Erdrich's work - though perhaps "enjoy" is not the appropriate word, as the books I have read were dark (or included some darkness). The Night Watchman, like these earlier books, demonstrates Erdrich's superb writing and provides a powerful reading experience. I highly recommend it.
Friday, September 25, 2020
THE WORD IS MURDER and
THE SENTENCE IS DEATH
I became acquainted with Anthony Horowitz’s work when my kids were younger and read Alex Rider, The Power of Five, and Diamond Brothers. I recently discovered Horowitz’s “adult” classic mysteries and have become obsessed with his work. This new obsession began with The Word Is Murder.
In The Word Is Murder, a wealthy woman walks into a funeral home and plans her own funeral. Later that same day, that woman is murdered. Former Detective Inspector Daniel Hawthorne, currently working as a private detective, is brought on by the police as a consultant to solve the puzzling murder. In the past, Hawthorne had consulted on a television show written by Anthony Horowitz. He now approaches Horowitz and offers him a deal: Hawthorne will solve this bizarre case, Horowitz will write a book about Hawthorne solving the case, and they will split the proceeds fifty-fifty. Horowitz had just finished writing his first Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk, and was busy, but the case – and the unusual Hawthorne – intrigues him. So, Horowitz agrees and becomes Hawthorne’s “Watson.”
When I first heard about this book, I was told that Horowitz put himself in the book. I presumed that he mentioned himself somehow, akin to one of Hitchcock’s cameo appearances in his movies. But I was so very wrong. Horowitz is a full blown, and fully functioning, character, just like Hawthorne, albeit a very different sort of character. The manner in which Horowitz has “inserted himself into the investigation” is so very clever.
I recently read some comments about a timing error in The Word Is Murder. I am usually very attuned to this sort of discrepancy in a book – they usually are glaring to me, and I find it very disturbing that the editor did not catch and remedy the error – but I did not notice this one. I was preoccupied by the cleverness of the plot and by trying to sort through which parts of the plot are factual and which are fictionalized. Despite any timeline discrepancies, I absolutely loved this book and was very excited to learn of its sequel.
In The Sentence Is Death (Hawthorne #2), the sequel to The Word Is Murder, a well-known, teetotaling, divorce lawyer was killed at home with a very expensive bottle of wine. Hawthorne and Horowitz again team up when the police hire Hawthorne to help them solve this particularly baffling murder. The plot in this second Hawthorne book is similarly complex and clever. And, both books are well written, engaging, and replete with Horowitzian wit.
After completing these two books, I read The House of Silk, Horowitz’s Sherlock Holmes novel referenced in The Word Is Murder, and followed that with the sequel, Moriarty. I also read Horowitz’s James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, and his Magpie Murders, a classic mystery involving detective Atticus Pund and editor Susan Ryeland. I have not yet read Horowitz’s second James Bond novel, Forever and A Day, or his second Susan Ryeland mystery, Moonflower Murders, but I cannot wait to do so.
I loved each of the Horowitz books that I have read and highly recommend them all.
Nonetheless, my favorites are the two Hawthorne books reviewed here, The Word Is Murder and The Sentence Is Death.
I am clearly becoming an ardent devotee of Anthony Horowitz’s work. I was going to say
that I am becoming an aficionado of Horowitz’s work, but that sounds a tad pretentious. Quite
simply, I am going a bit gaga over this man of mystery. Horowitz is a true master of the classic mystery genre.
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
THE MIRROR AND THE LIGHT
The Mirror and the Light is the third and final installment in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. The book begins with the beheading of Anne Boleyn and covers the latter part and final years of Cromwell’s life.
Wolf Hall, the first book in the trilogy, was published in 2009, while the second book, Bring Up the Bodies, was published in 2012. It was a long wait for the 2020 arrival of the over 700 page conclusion of Mantel’s masterpiece, but it is well worth the wait. Both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies won the Man Booker Prize, and The Mirror and the Light has been longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize.
Thomas Cromwell was a very interesting man; it is incredible how the poor son of a blacksmith from Putney ended up as the rich, powerful chief minister to King Henry VIII. His life certainly provides plenty of fodder with which Mantel could work. And, Hilary Mantel is an incredible writer; The Mirror and the Light, like the prior two parts of the trilogy, is beautifully written. I knew Cromwell’s fate before beginning Mantel’s trilogy. Nonetheless, I was still on edge as Mantel led me to, and through, it.
Mantel did a wonderful job bringing Cromwell to life. In my opinion, The Mirror and the Light deserves the Booker Prize. I highly recommend the trilogy – especially this final installment.