20 April 2015

The Colour of Magic, by Terry Pratchett

An audio book.

Having heard of Mr. Pratchett's recent death, and having read much praise and regret from his readers and friends, and having heard of him in the past, though dimly and filed somewhere in the outer reaches of my little brain, I thought I should perhaps find out what all the buzz is about.

The first hour of listening to this book has already answered that. I have a familiar happy and comfortable feeling with this text that reminds me of the days when I read the works of Douglas Adams, another sorely missed Englishman.

Here's an interesting Guardian article in which the question is asked, is The Colour of Magic a good introduction to Terry Pratchett?

Based on this novel, I don't know how much farther I'll go with Pratchett. His reputation is such that perhaps I should give him more of a try. The novel is not bad, but it is just a little bit silly.

08 April 2015

Tatiana, by Martin Cruz Smith

A novel in the Arkady Renko series. This is set in post-Soviet Russia. Renko begins an unauthorized investigation into the death of Tatiana Petrovna, an investigative reporter not loved by those in power, who died falling from a window. Her death is generally considered a suicide, but Renko has doubts.

At the beginning of the book, we witness the murder of a translator who has been working for a group of wealthy businessmen. The translator keeps a coded notebook, which was in the possession of Tatiana Petrovna before her death.

Set against a backdrop of cynical corruption, Renko's investigation requires a persistence that borders on insanity. Indeed, one of the characters describes him as "Sisyphean."

A New York Times review says "In “Tatiana,” his eighth crime novel dominated by the lawless landmass once known as the Soviet Union, Martin Cruz Smith sets his Slavic sleuth, Arkady Renko, on the case."

This Wheel's on Fire, by Levon Helm with Stephen Davis

Levon Helm and the story of The Band.

This is pretty obviously "co-written," and gets a little thin at times, but it is an interesting account of one of my very favorite musical groups. Levon Helm came from Arkansas, the rest of The Band came from Canada.

In this book we learn of the roots of The Band, from Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks, to the many jobs backing Bob Dylan, and the subsequent recording sessions and performances that made their place in history under their super-generic name.

Worth reading just for the biographies and anecdotes of the time.

New York Times review.

The Paying Guests by Susan Waters

Set in the years soon after World War I, this novel evokes a time when many aspects of life were still what we would consider primitive. For example, the home that is central to the plot does not have an indoor lavatory or commode; its residents visit an outhouse in the garden. The mother and daughter around whom the plot develops, Mrs. Wray and Frances, have lost much in the war, including Frances' two brothers. Her father died soon afterward, though not as a result of military action.

The Wrays, short on funds, do a bit of remodeling and advertise for boarders, "paying guests." The couple that move in provide an instant accelerant to the plot, which becomes very fascinating and tense when one of the paying guests is found murdered near the house.

This was thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining, and gave what I believe to be a good picture of what life in England might have been like at this period of time. Furthermore, the issue of homosexuality at this time is dealt with, and we are shown a plausible image of how it might have been to be gay or lesbian then.

Sarah Waters' website

Identical, by Scott Turow

Turow hasn't disappointed me yet. This is an involved, compact mystery that features identical twins, one of the great basic mystery mechanisms, in my opinion.

In this story, one twin confesses to murder, the other has a successful political career in Kindle County. As the political brother prepares for a major election, his brother is getting out of prison, and things begin to fall apart.

There is an interesting under-current of Greek-American culture in this novel that I don't recall finding in Turow's work before, though I may simply be forgetting.

Sandy Stern makes an appearance in this book as do other Kindle County characters that Turow has introduced in the past. What a fabulously entertaining and thoughtful body of work Turow has given us; I hope there will be much more.

Gods of Guilt, by Michael Connelly

This is a recent Mickey Haller (The "Lincoln Lawyer") novel, set some time after his appearance in Reversal. Apparently since that novel, Haller has run for election as DA, and lost, largely due to having defended an unpopular person. At the tail end of this political and personal (his first ex-wife and daughter will have almost nothing to do with him) disaster, he finds himself representing a "digital pimp" accused of murdering a prostitute.

In typical fashion, as this story unfolds, the plot becomes very complicated. There are suspicious characters in law enforcement, including a DEA agent named Marco, as well as organized crime figures. A lawyer in prison reaches out through his son, an apparently incompetent lawyer with the same name as his disgraced father.

The novel goes at full speed right up to the end. There are only a few pages of denouement.

Harry Bosch doesn't really figure in the plot, but makes a cameo appearance.

04 April 2015

Prudence, by David Treuer

This novel is set from about 1942 - 1952, mostly in northern Minnesota. The Washburns, Emma and Jonathan, own a summer house--"The Pines"--on a lake. Jonathan, a physician, spends only a little time there, but Emma goes for the whole summer. They employ a caretaker named Felix, who is a Native American. Several other Native Americans are among the characters, including Prudence, of the title.  (Mr. Treuer is a member of the Ojibwe tribe.)

The Washburn's only son, Frankie, comes to visit just before he is about to ship out with the Army Air Force as a bombardier. Just before his arrival, a prisoner escapes from the newly-constructed prison camp not far from The Pines. Local people have formed search parties, and Frankie is eager to search for "The German." 

The tragic accident that occurs at this point is the focus of the novel, which gives a good picture of what life might have been like in this area during World War II and the years right afterward. There is also an unavoidable comparison between the Holocaust and the genocide perpetrated against Native Americans by the European invaders of America.

Review and audio from NPR's Fresh Air

Washington Post Review

More than once it has occurred to me just how often the firing of a gun determines the course, outcome, or resolution of a piece of fiction. This novel is no exception.