23 June 2014

The Heart of the Matter, by Graham Greene

An audio book.

Ah, Graham Greene again. What a pool of calm and good sense one enters into when reading one of his books.

This is the story of Major Scoby, a policeman in West Africa during World War II. The vicissitudes of war, the clash of cultures, the threats of disease and violence, are ever present, yet Scoby presents himself as a model of reason and rectitude.

Scoby is a Catholic, which is of course the heart of many of Greene's matters, but in the course of this novel he finds himself grimly at odds with his religion, and in danger of losing his soul. In the end, we are presented with an intensely sad and difficult paradox, which left me wondering how, exactly, Greene felt about his religion.

This is such a beautifully written piece of work that I hope to acquire it on paper and read it again.

Ghostwalk, by Rebecca Stott

I can't say that I'm crazy about this book, but I did read the whole thing. It is, in part, a ghost story that involves Isaac Newton and some interesting (I'm not at all sure how accurate) information about his personality, and his involvement with alchemy. The book takes place, almost completely, in the 21st century rather than the sixteenth, but Newton and shades of the past figure prominently.

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, by Barry Udall

Edgar Mint is a young boy living on an Indian reservation in Arizona. At the beginning of this book, his head is run over by the tire of a Postal Service Jeep. As a result, he spends quite a long time in a hospital, recovering (miraculously, it would seem) from his injuries. In the hospital, he meets some people who figure prominently in his life for many years.

This story is oddly captivating. I found the book one of those that I wished would go on when it was over. Edgar's naive view of the world, the lot of his fellow Native Americans, his disabilities, the Western characters who are both cruel and kind to him in this story, are all beautifully drawn. I cared about Edgar to the last period on the last page.

13 June 2014

The Black Box, by Michael Connelly

This was an audio book.

Another great Harry Bosch story, set in nearly contemporary time, ca. 2012. Harry investigates a cold case that dates to the Rodney King LA riots of 1992. At the time of the riots, Bosch and a partner responded to the murder of a woman, but in the thick of action and danger, with the National Guard deployed all around them, they were only able to do a very quick and preliminary investigation of the body and the crime scene, then were forced to rush to another murder. 20 years later, Bosch picks up the threads, and unravels an amazing fabric of conspiracy.

This is the stuff we go to Connelly for.

10 June 2014

Travels With My Aunt, by Graham Greene

I don't know why I didn't read this book many years ago. Greene never fails to satisfy. This is the story of Mr. Pulling, a retired banker, bachelor whose mother has recently died. His aunt comes into his life at his mother's funeral, reveals an alarming secret, and changes Pulling's life completely.

Some choice bits:

p. 79

[Pulling moves his lips when thinking. Once, in the bank...] "The habit betrayed me very badly with a woman who was stone deaf and a lip-reader. She was...very beautiful...couldn't help dwelling a little wistfully on her loveliness...One is more free in thought than in speech and when I looked up I saw that she was blushing..."

p. 146

"...as I lay in the...nursery with a night-light beside the bed to drive away the fears...I was afraid of burglars and Indian thugs and snakes and [illegible] and Jack the Ripper, when I should have been afraid of thirty years in a bank and a take-over bid and a premature retirement and the Deuil du Roy Albert."

This last item is the name of a dahlia. I should have mentioned that Pulling raises dahlias.

p. 179

[O'Toole to Pulling]

"...Have you any children, Henry?"


"You are a lucky man. People talk about the age of reason. There's no such thing. When you have a child you are condemned to be a father for life. They go away from you. You can't go away from them."

p. 218

[Visconti to O'Toole]

"...Champagne, if you are seeking the truth, is better than a lie detector. It encourages a man to be expansive, even reckless, while lie detectors are only a challenge to tell lies successfully."

05 June 2014

Little Demon in the City of Light, by Steven Levingston

Washington Post Review

Maureen read this book and recommended it to me.

It's interesting in many ways, and wasn't much of a chore to read. A glimpse of the 1890s, a time when civilization was in transition. Hypnotism and early neurology plays a part in this story, in which a young woman, Gabrielle Bompard,  has been an accomplice to murder, and the question arises, was she controlled by her lover, Michel Eyraud? Had he hypnotized her, instructing her to assist in the foul deed, effectively removing her will, and thereby making her innocent by reason of hypnosis? Had his post-hypnotic suggestions caused her to lie and fail to remember important details of the case?

For me, the entire story was overshadowed by the horror of the guillotine, which was still in use at the time. There is something especially evil about State-sanctioned murder, even when done in revenge for a crime as horrid as the one committed in this story.