Category Archives: suspense

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

Except not really because I would probably be absolutely petrified, have a heart attack, and die. If you are completely lost, the title refers to the first and very well-known line from the eerie Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. My first experience with Rebecca was as a child when I first watched Hitchcock’s interpretation with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. I’ve seen it half a dozen times, more recently two months ago. I finally picked up a copy of the book at the library the day before Thanksgiving and devoured it as it rained outside, which, I have to say, is pretty much perfect reading weather but is certainly perfect Du Maurier reading weather.

The unnamed narrator, a young, unworldly woman, meets Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo while acting as a companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, an older, wealthy, prattling woman. Mrs. Van Hopper refers to some sort of awful tragedy Mr. de Winter has endured (she seems to know everything about everyone), but our narrator doesn’t pry. Mrs. Van Hopper becomes ill, and the narrator finds herself more and more in the company of Mr. de Winter, an inscrutable but fascinating older man.

All too quickly, the holiday in Monte Cristo comes to a close, but Maxim refuses to let the naive young narrator sail off into the sunset. No, there is a much-less-happy-ending in the narrator’s future. The couple goes to Manderley, Maxim’s estate, and the young companion has no idea how to run a household, much less a household as large as Manderley. She meets the household staff and quickly learns Maxim goes about Maxim’s business while she is left to her own devices.

Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, conspicuously brings up Rebecca (the first Mrs. De Winter) in conversation, referring to how Mrs. DeWinter did this and how Mrs. DeWinter did that, leaving the narrator feeling more insecure and less able to learn how to adjust to her new home. Mrs. Danvers tempts the narrator with discussions of Rebecca’s rooms, the best in the house. When the narrator walks through the grounds, she looks up and curtains in Rebecca’s old room part to reveal Mrs. Danvers, ever watchful. Let’s stop there. Mrs. Danvers is easily one of the most spooky characters I have ever read about or watched in a film. Her obsession with Rebecca and her obvious distaste for the new Mrs. DeWinter verges on demented. This is one twisted housekeeper, and you should be very, very afraid.

As for Maxim, he is gone quite often and has turned sullen and standoffish inside the walls of Manderley. His moods are inconstant; he treats the narrator like a young girl (which drove me nuts). In the face of near insurmountable evidence, the narrator naturally believes he is still in love with the dead Rebecca. She begs him to host a ball for the neighbors, a costume ball, and Mrs. Danvers suggests what the narrator should wear. The tension mounts until the night of the party, and then there is all sorts of action.  Who was Rebecca, and what happened to her?

I will leave you hanging here because I don’t want to spoil anything. Plus, I think every blogger is owed several “Go read this book right now” statements throughout the year, so I’m calling in my first. Go read this book. Second, watch the movie. Third, come back and thank me, and we can talk. Need some more reasons? Spooky house? Check. Crazy housekeeper? Check. Dead wife? Check. Now go.

If you’ve read it, have you seen the movie? I seriously felt as though it played in my head the entire time. Hitchcock, of course, is a genius, but this film is truly a work of art and an excellent, excellent adaptation. What did you think? Rebecca truly made me want to devour everything DuMaurier has written.


Review: Bad Boy by Peter Robinson

A bad boy is unreliable, and sometimes he doesn’t show up at all, or if he does, he’s late and moody; he acts mean to you, and he leaves early. He always seems to have another iron in the fire, somewhere else to be…. it’s exquisite agony … He goes to bed with your best friend, and still you forgive him, still you want him.

Thank heavens I was never into bad boys. Because you’ve got two types: the moody, slightly-depressed version and the really, really bad dangerous ones. In Peter Robinson’s newest book, Bad Boy, out Tuesday, August 24, DCI Banks’s daughter, Tracy aka Francesca, has fallen for the latter. Tracy lives with her best friend from childhood, Erin, in a posh part of Leeds. They drink a lot and do a little drugs. Tracy’s career hasn’t taken off as she planned; she didn’t get the best marks in school, and she feels overshadowed by the success of her brother Brian’s band. In short, she’s feeling pretty damn sorry for herself. One night at a club, intoxicated, Tracy kisses Erin’s boyfriend Jaff. Erin and Jaff have a big blowup later that night, and Erin goes to her parents’ house, taking something from Jaff that doesn’t belong to her, something Jaff desperately needs to have in his possession.

Meanwhile, Banks is in absentia. His last case has left him with horrific images; his latest love affair is over; his career is in tatters. He is in California, following in the footsteps of Sam Spade, the fictional detective in The Maltese Falcon. Back at home, Juliet Doyle, Erin’s mother, walks into the station asking to see DCI Banks. DI Annie Cabbot takes her into Banks’s office and draws the situation out of the woman. Apparently, the Doyle family were neighbors to Banks, and Ms. Doyle has come to him for help: Erin has a gun. In the UK, possession of a handgun is a serious offense, and the police begin crawling all over the Doyle’s home as well as the house Erin and Tracy share. Tracy, sensing trouble, runs to Jaff, and the two take off for her father’s cottage in Gratly. Tracy is excited and feels she is on an adventure; however, once Jaff discovers she is the daughter of a DCI, Tracy’s life is in danger.

This book is not a traditional mystery. There’s no major whodunit. We know whodunit; what we don’t know is how it will all end. In this sense, I felt Bad Boy was a turning point in the series as well as in Alan Banks’ life, forcing everything into focus. In the desert, Banks finds a little of what he’s been searching for:

For so long he seemed to have been struggling in the dark, and in that desert night, when the motel’s blinking red neon was nothing but a dot on the horizon, he found an epiphany of a kind. But it was nothing momentous. No road to Damascus, no lightning strike of revelation or enlightenment, as he had hoped for….The epiphany, when it came, was nothing more than a simple fleeting ripple of happiness that went through him as a light cool breeze might brush one’s skin on a hot day….He remembered thinking he was a long, long way from home, but, oddly enough, he didn’t feel so far away at that moment.

When he goes home to find chaos, it seems that moment is what allows him to hold firm. Literally exhausted, he delves into the darkness of the dales to find Jaff, a cold, narcissistic character if I’ve ever seen one. Paced more like a thriller than anything else, Bad Boy is also grittier than any of the Banks mysteries up to this point. It’s messy.

Tracy, who has always been a minor character, comes to the foreground here, but I wasn’t glad about it. She pissed me off royally. I try not to be judgmental, generally, but I’m pretty judgmental about stupidity. Tracy made one stupid move after another, and a lot of it was pretty unbelievable. However, I’ve also never taken drugs, and I am not sure how much that ups the “stupid factor.” When Tracy initially runs to Jaff, I thought, ok. There are several points after that, though, where major sirens would have sounded in my head.

Another troubling aspect of the book was PC Nerys Powell. She’s a newbie to the series. Part of the arms squad, Powell forms an unlikely allegiance to DI Cabbot, and her actions throughout the novel are questioned because she is a known lesbian. The quick (one-way) bond seemed a bit forced and too convenient for some of the later plot developments as did the reemergence of Dirty Dick Burgess. I can handle one rogue figure. Two? I don’t know.

As always, Peter Robinson wrote an enjoyable book, and though I appreciate his attempt to allow the series to mature, I missed his typical writing style, typified by In a Dry Season. With the ending of this book, I am curious as to where Robinson plans on taking Banks and Cabbot and how much longer Banks will keep pounding the pavement. Are you planning on getting this newest addition? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it pre or post reading!

*Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers and Harper Collins for my first ARC.


Review: In a Dry Season by Peter Robinson

As I sat there remembering, time went by …. Then a full moon rose, scattering its bone-white light, in which I fancied I could see clear through the water to the village that used to be there, like an image preserved in water glass. There it was, spread out below me, darkly glittering and shimmering under the barely perceptible rippling of the surface

As I stared, I began to feel that I could reach out and touch it. It was like the wold beyond the mirror in Cocteau’s Orpheus. When you reach out and touch the glass, it turns to water and you can plunge through it into the Underworld.

Peter Robinson’s In a Dry Season revolves around Hobb’s End, a Yorkshire village flooded and turned into a reservoir in the early 1950s. In a particularly hot summer, the reservoir dries up, and a young boy playing in the detritus discovers a body buried under an outbuilding. DCI Alan Banks is on the outs with his boss Jimmy Riddle and is given the case as punishment. Riddle should know better as Banks sinks his teeth into the decades-old case, determined to find the killer if he or she is still alive.

Robinson interweaves the present with Banks’ marriage and career in tatters with a country in similar plight: 1940s Hobb’s End, complete with blackout curtains, RAF dances, rationing, death, and suffering. Gwen Shackleton, the shopkeeper’s daughter, cares for her ailing mother and minds the shop. One day, Gloria comes into the store, and Gwen the quiet, bookish girl compares Gloria’s eyes to Hardy’s novel A Pair of Blue Eyes. When Gloria asks for cigarettes out of the store’s ration, Gwen tells her no.

I was lying, of course. We did have cigarettes, but what small supply we had we kept under the counter for our registered customers. We certainly didn’t go selling them to strange and beautiful land girls with eyes out of Thomas Hardy novels.

Gloria is enigmatic – loved and hated for her beauty. Gwen’s brother walks in, and their fortuitous meeting forever links Gwen and Gloria, through war, through loss, and through love.

I find Robinson to be at his best when he melds two storylines from different time periods, both inside the minds of the victim/victim’s family and friends as well as the detective seeking justice for these people. The scenes of Yorkshire during World War II were really interesting; the quiet desperation amid a hopeful, fearful people was heartbreaking.

Banks is a quiet detective. If you’ve had no exposure to him before, he likes his Laphroaig, but he likes it with a side of opera. He’s flawed but fascinating with a deep sense of right and wrong, whether right and wrong is inside police procedural or not. In a Dry Season is one of his best, and I’m looking forward to reviewing his newest book for LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer group.

If you have never read any Robinson, I urge you to look him up (as well as Ian Rankin). If you’ve read any Robinson, what are your favorites? Have you read this particular novel? Are you looking forward to his latest?


Review: Affinity by Sarah Waters

I first picked up a Sarah Waters novel as an undergraduate. I was buying books at the campus bookstore, and the book caught my eye because Sarah Waters was my great-grandmother’s name. Plus, the cover was beautiful. Reading the back, I was hooked. When I think about it now, I laugh at my naive self – at the time, buying a book for a class I wasn’t taking seemed illicit and dangerous. Yes, I know. I was a dork. No underage binge drinking or kegstands. Instead, I bought books THAT WERE NOT ON MY COURSE LIST.

After seeing The Little Stranger reviews the last couple months, I decided I needed to find more of her work. My library didn’t have any, but I filled out a handy little card with Affinity, and lo and behold, they called me last week to let me know they had acquired the book and were holding it for me. (I love the library).

A splendid example of Gothic literature, Affinity is an exploration of mental illness, spiritualism, confinement, and sexuality. Margaret Prior is “ill.” Her father has died and with him, any hope she may have of freedom. A spinster, she worked with her father, a writer and researcher of Renaissance art. He has promised Margaret a trip to Italy with her close friend (and, it appears, former lover) Helen. After he dies, though, Margaret sees a long, bleak life, caring for her mother. Her father’s friend Mr. Shillitoe intervenes and convinces Margaret and her mother to allow Margaret to visit Millbank, the local prison, as a Lady Visitor. There, she will show the inmates how to be a lady and, more importantly, will learn how much better she has it than the women she visits.

However, the prison seems to be the last place to heal the depressed young woman:

[Millbank’s] scale is vast, and its lines and angles, when realised in walls and towers of yellow brick and shuttered windows, seem only wrong or perverse. It is as if the prison had been designed by a man in the grip of a nightmare or a madness – or had been made expressly to drive its inmates mad. I think it would certainly drive me mad, if I had to work as a warder there. As it was, I walked flinchingly beside the man who led me, and paused once to glance behind me, then to gaze at the wedge of sky that showed above.

The prison is damp and dark, covered with lime and with women whose eyes

were terribly dull. Their faces were pale, and their necks, and their wrists and fingers, very slender. I thought of Mr. Shillitoe saying that a prisoner’s heart was weak, impressionable, and needed a finer mould to shape it. I thought of it, and became aware again of my own heart beating.

Margaret herself is impressionable, though, and as she follows the matrons on her tour, she stops to compose herself and becomes aware of one cell in particular, a cell closed off except for an inspection flap and the prisoner’s sentence hanging above it.

It was only from this, indeed, that I knew the cell was occupied at all, for there seemed to emanate from it a marvellous stillness – a silence, that seemed deeper yet than all the restless Millbank hush surrounding it. Even as I began to wonder over it, however, the silence was broken. It was broken by a sigh, a single sigh – it seemed to me, a perfect sigh, like a sigh in a story; and the sigh being such a complement to my own mood I found it worked upon me, in that setting, rather strangely.

The woman prisoner, sentenced to four years because of fraud and assault is Selina Dawes, a young spiritualist. The novel switches between Margaret’s written diary and Miss Dawes’ own account of her activities as a spiritualist. Miss Dawes, taken in by Mrs. Brink, a lady obsessed with communicating with her mother’s spirit, holds dark circles (or seances) for Mrs. Brink and her friends. One fateful night, however, she sits with a young woman who is beaten during their session. When Mrs. Brink comes upon the scene, she has a heart attack and dies. Selina explains that her spirit guide Peter Quick hurts the young woman, but to no avail. She is imprisoned.

The two women are drawn to one another. As not quite lady but not quite thief, Selina enjoys the companionship, and Margaret feels bolstered. She is at first skeptical of Selina’s gift, but Selina sees things about Margaret she cannot. The two become close, and Selina calls Margaret by a secret name – Aurora. Selina tells her:

I feel your sorrow as darkness….Oh, what an ache it is! I thought at first that it had emptied you, that you were hollow, quite hollow, like an egg with the meat blown out of it. I think you think that, too. But you are not empty. You are full – only shut quite tight, and fastened like a box. What do you have here that you must keep locked up like that?

Selina hits upon it, and it seems to set Margaret burning. For Margaret has much hidden – she loves or loved Helen, now her brother’s wife; she wants to go to Italy and is jealous of her sister’s honeymoon there; she writes constantly, hiding her diary from her mother and the servants. She begins a sort-of symbiotic relationship with Selina. She strengthens, saying:

I knew my trips to her had made me too much like myself, like my old self, my naked Aurora self. Now, when I tried to be Margaret again, I couldn’t. It seemed to me that she had dwindled, like a suit of clothes.

But instead of the relationship sapping Selina of her strength as the dark circles did – Selina, too, seems emboldened by it. Margaret and Selina begin to make plans for an unbelievable escape, and Margaret stands up to her mother. She is tired of being discussed while her back is turned and wonders, when Stephen discusses her illness with her mother:

Why do gentlemen’s voices carry so clearly, when women’s are so easily stifled?

Affinity was captivating for a lot of reasons, particularly for me because the correlation between much of the book and the story “The  Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It’s one of my favorites – in fact, part of my graduate thesis focused on it – and the similarities were too blatant to ignore. Knowing it is one of Waters’ favorites sealed the deal. If you have read the story, look back at the first description of the prison: it’s spot-on Gilman. The narrator is convincing, even though she is, on closer examination, unreliable. The story is told through a diary, a forbidden means of expression. “Voice” is also a concern in both – who hears the narrator? There were actually points within the novel where I found myself wondering if Selina was part of Margaret’s psyche; she already has an alternate identity – Aurora – that makes her feel more like herself.

The novel, as most of Waters’ books, has an astounding twist, one that left me both haunted and betrayed. Because other than setting the tone masterfully, Waters has the ability to make me feel like her main character. At first, I was skeptical of Selina, but I, too, was drawn in by her and began to believe the spirits visited her. I believed she could escape through the help of her spirit friends, so at the end, (I won’t go into detail) the twist so startled me, I felt rocked, but not in the sense that it was implausible or not in keeping with the rest of the book. The somewhat unreliable narrator (Margaret is given chloral and laudanum through much of the story) felt believable and sympathetic. The one problem I had with the ending was not knowing the truth of Selina’s story. However, the more I thought about it, the more I could see the full effect of Waters’ writing. Much like Margaret, I was left in confusion. Bothersome though it may be, I wasn’t ever to know the truth of Selina’s story. Dark and oppressive, Affinity is an irresistible read – just think about starting it on a bright, sunny day, not a rain, dreary evening like I did…

Other opinions:

Matt

Nymeth

A Work in Progress


Review: What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George

It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone here that I am extremely picky about audiobook narrators. I can’t even remember which book it was now, but a couple weeks ago, I turned one on, and within five minutes, I punched the eject button. The woman was an overachiever when it came to character intonations: her “kid” voice was so grating, I couldn’t stand it a second longer. Charles Keating, on the other hand, is superb. Let me just get that out of the way; he is perfection. I’m already on another audiobook narrated by him, and it is fabulous as well.

What Came Before He Shot Her is written by Elizabeth George. Mystery readers may recognize her name, but do not be fooled: This novel is no mystery. Mysteries do not divulge what happens in the title. Mysteries do not (typically) focus on the perpetrator of the crime. Instead, this book is a sociological, psychological exploration of a cast of characters I won’t soon forget.

The book opens with three children of mixed race – Ness, Joel, and Toby – being shuffled off to the stoop of their Auntie Kendra’s house in South Kensington, London. Their Gran is going back to Jamaica with her boyfriend, George, and the children are not part of the picture. Ness is a teenager, angry and bitter; Joel is kind and compassionate and ever-watchful of his brother; Toby has developmental problems and is totally devoted to his older brother. The three have been shuffled around since the murder of their father, who was shot in the street, and the institutionalization of their mother. Kendra comes home to find the boys waiting for her; Ness has already run off looking for drugs. What follows is a tale so wrenching, I felt my chest tighten at several points throughout the book.

While Kendra deals with this sudden alteration to her life, Ness finds a dealer, Blade, and offers herself to him in exchange for a steady supply of drugs. Naive and foolish, Ness doesn’t understand the full extent of Blade’s enterprise or power. When she finds out Blade has other girlfriends, there is an ugly brawl – and Blade is shown up by Kendra’s boyfriend Dix.

Joel is on the straight and narrow. He knows how best to mollify Toby and watches out for him constantly. A gang of boys, on the lookout for the newbie – the one with the weird brother – quickly target Joel and Toby. Neal Wyatt and his gang are out to get them, and no amount of “sorting” will deter Neal’s determination to get to Toby and through Toby, Joel. As the pranks become more and more deadly, Joel knows what he has to do in order to save his small, patched-together family.

Watching, or rather, listening to this story filled me with dread. I knew exactly what would happen. I knew Blade would not live and let live after being shown up. I knew Joel would go to him for help, and I knew Joel was innocent enough to believe the Blade would help. The buildup was excruciating, but the interplay between the characters hooked me. It is horrific on many levels, no less so because of the outside forces trying to do good but failing miserably. These children don’t live in the type of world where poetry and art can lift them above violence. Adults don’t always equal safety, and sometimes your worst enemy is the only symbol of safety.


Review: The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

Boone Daniels is a surfer, a beach bum, a PI, and probably the most unlikely character to make me sit up and take notice. Working out of a surf shop that doubles as his office, Boone reminds me much of a friend who, in college, called me at 2 a.m. to drive from Texas to California. When I asked him where we would sleep, his answer was “the boards, covered with a blanket in the sand.” I passed. Boone would love this. He’s got a van that doubles as a changing room; instead of one loyal sidekick who drinks a bit too much and says “bloody” an awful lot, Boone is surrounded by The Dawn Patrol: Sunny Day, High Tide, Johnny Banzai, Hang Twelve, and Dave the Love God. This gang surfs together and is always watching the others’ backs. To be honest, my mystery reads trend to British, Irish, and Scottish detectives where the weather often fits the nature of the crime. I’m no California girl. I’ve been to L.A. and didn’t particularly like it. But PCN recommended this book, and after following her the last few months, I take her advice seriously.

The book opens as a wave Winslow describes in surfer lingo as “epic macking crunchy” makes its way toward the California coastline. Surfing careers are made and broken with these waves, and The Dawn Patrol is ready for the action, but even more trouble is looming in the form of attorney Petra, who brings a case to Boone at the most inopportune time. He wants to catch that wave, damn it, but he also needs to eat, as his friend-cum-accountant chides him. He takes the case, and Boone’s assignment is to find Tammy, a stripper who was witness to arson. No biggie, right? Wrong. Petra needs Tammy to testify for the insurance company against a local thug, Dan Silver. There’s just one problem: Tammy doesn’t want to be found. Soon, Boone is chasing after a killer and a missing little girl, still haunted by his time on the force where he messed up big time, and as the story develops, Boone must come face to face with his own past as The Dawn Patrol’s ties thin and each must look out for him or herself.

In the background, the wave builds, and it’s no wading pool:

[This] kind of wave is the subsurface wave, which starts, duh, under the water. If surface waves are your middleweight boxers, dancing and shooting jabs, the subsurface wave is your heavyweight, coming in flatfooted, throwing knockout punches from the (ocean) floor. This wave is the superstar, the genuine badass, the take-your-lunch money, walk-off-with-your-girlfriend, give-me-those-fucking-sneakers, thank you for playing and now what parting gifts do we have for our contestant, Vanna wave…. It’s heavy, my friend; it ain’t your brother.

Normally, I’m turned off by this no-holds-barred, newfangled sort of writing. Charlie Huston’s writing was absolutely unbearable (for me), but Winslow’s good. He’s on top of his game, and the more I read, the more I admired his style. As the action built, the chapters were shorter and shorter, to the point that the last 50 pages had me, literally, breathless. With any good mystery, I want that buildup. I want to have a good idea of what’s going on (which I did), but I loved the way Winslow brought me there. At the end, I was washed up on the shore, tired and breathless, but ready to read more about the adventures of The Dawn Patrol.


Library Haul

Just got back from the ‘brary. Oh wait – you don’t call it that? Ok, guess I won’t either. I had some great recommendations from Pop Culture Nerd, but I also just like to wander through the aisles. I usually have some author’s names in mind, and wandering is half the fun.

What I got:

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

Despair by Vladimir Nabokov

How Right You Are, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Split Image by Robert B. Parker

The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes (I really liked the cover of this and just realized who she is. This may be a no go.)

I also got a couple of audiobooks, one Jane Green and one Elizabeth George. I tend to like lighter books for my commute as I can’t really focus that well. The library also has a pretty decent movie selection, and season three of Mad Men just happened to be on the shelf. Don Draper, here I come. This series is excellent, but I don’t have cable and cannot watch it. I’m always just a little behind the curve on current TV, but I honestly don’t mind.

All in all, I’d say that was a successful trip to the ‘brary. (Hey -it’s better than liberry, as I’ve heard some pronounce it.) At the moment, I am finishing up The Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea but should finish that this evening. Now the only problem is which book to begin. Hmmm…


Faithful Place by Tana French

Finding a new, great author is something I can only describe as akin to the best parts of Christmas morning, the first onset of fall, and the first long evenings of summer (before the humidity and mosquitos, of course). It fills a reader with such anticipation, gratefulness, and awe. I have certainly felt that. Anticipation tinged with sorrow once the new book is read, knowing the next could be years in the making. I read a post the other day (but now cannot remember whose – if it’s yours, message me) that the author didn’t really matter; the book’s the thing. That is true to a certain extent, but there’s so much more to that simple statement. Without the author, the talent, the simple touches that make the characters memorable, the ability to set a scene without describing it… none of it would be there.

A few years ago, when I first picked up In the Woods by Tana French, I knew I had found something special. I’m not a genre snob. A quick glance through my posts reveals a healthy mix of just about anything although my go-to book would be a good mystery. Though as Jenna Schnuer of the blog American Way says, In the Woods is “anchored by crime, therefore earning [its] “mystery” billing… [it] could also live quite comfortably on literary-fiction shelves.”

Tana French is just a damn good writer. I knew that from the first pages of In the Woods when I had to re-read a passage several times because it was so darn good. The Likeness followed, picking up on Cassie from the first book as she goes undercover. Her boss, Frank Mackey, is the central figure in Faithful Place, and although this book wasn’t my favorite of the three, my opinion of French hasn’t changed one bit. The book is gritty and ugly, and as I read, I knew it would only get uglier.

At 19, Frank, sick of his deadbeat drunk dad and loud, violent family, decides to hoof it to England with his girl, Rosie Daly, leaving his nagging Ma, drunk Da and gaggle of brothers and sisters behind. But as he waits in the darkness, he tells us “the night faded to a thin sad gray and round the corner a milk cart clattered over cobblestones towards the dairy, and I was still waiting for Rosie Daly at the top of Faithful Place.”

Twenty-two  years later, Frank believes Rosie ditched him because of his embarrassing family and is now living in Dublin, the head of Undercover, divorced from his ex-wife Olivia, and picking up his daughter Holly for the weekend. When they get home, set to order pizza and watch a movie, Frank gets a call from his sister Jackie – his only link to the family he hasn’t spoken to in 22 years. Jackie tells him that the buildings up at Faithful Place are being gutted, and Rosie’s suitcase was found stuffed up the chimney. The hurt, doubt, and dread flood Frank, and he begrudgingly goes back to Faithful Place, his family, and everything he still resents.

As Frank says about Undercover, “you create illusions for long enough, you start thinking you’re in control. It’s easy to slide into believing you’re the hypnotist here, the mirage master, the smart cookie who knows what’s real and how all the tricks are done. The fact is you’re still just another slack-jawed mark in the audience. No matter how good you are, this world is always going to be better at this game.”

And that sums up the book. All the things Frank thought he left behind in Faithful Place roil up to meet him, and he’s sucked back into this sad place that doesn’t relinquish its occupants happily. Frank hates, truly hates, his father and Faithful Place. He got out early, but it has left an indelible mark on him and has touched every person who remains. The language, the dialect, and the trashiness of Faithful Place bring Francis Mackey back to boyhood, back to a time when the rules were different and squealing was a heck of a lot worse crime than stealing. Tana French doesn’t hide any of it, and she shows Frank’s dirty struggle between the life he knew and the life he knows now. Faithful Place has a healthy dose of reality and shows that there are some people willing to take the life they believe they deserve, while others will bitterly take the hand dealt with brutal consequences. The desperation of these characters is palpable, and I could almost almost understand the motivations to just get the hell out, no matter how.

Three days after the release of this novel, I sit here, feeling like a kid after the hoopla of opening presents and exploring the depths of my stocking, the reality that the day is almost over beginning to strike. I’m ready for next Christmas.


The Girl Who…. Trilogy by Stieg Larsson

Let me be straight with you, lest I color your perception of these books: I am a big ole scaredy cat. The biggest. I love reading mysteries, but most do not make me curl up into the fetal position. The last scary movie I watched was What Lies Beneath with Michele Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford. I saw it at the theater and lay across the theater seats of my then-boyfriend and his best friend, crying. (They were not amused.) I cannot watch Law & Order: SVU even though I love it. Law & Order: Criminal Intent? Forgettaboutit. I can handle murder, violence, and mayhem, but sexual torture? Torture in general? Nope. Can’t do it.

Flash forward to the night I stayed up devouring The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I. Was. Petrified. Sexual torture mixed with a basement full of torture devices and Biblical punishment meted out by a madman? I broke out in a cold sweat. I couldn’t get up and check my alarm system because my bed was the only safe haven anywhere, and the light from my bedside lamp, while reassuring, also ensured I was visible to the evil outside my lair. Suffice it to say, I was not looking forward to the other books.

However, a friend whose opinion I trust told me the next book wasn’t so bad. Last week, I borrowed it and read it cover to cover. If you’ve read this far, you probably know a bit about the books, so I won’t spend too much time summarizing. Lisbeth Salander, the antisocial, enigmatic young woman with a violent streak is back in The Girl Who Played with Fire. She has spent time in many different countries and returns to Sweden to determine the best way to have Nils Bjurman, her guardian, declare her competent (some mystery from her past caused Salander to be institutionalized as a child). No worries; she has something to hold over his head, and of course, she has a plan.

Mikael Blomvqist is back as well, sleeping around as usual, and is occasionally curious about Salander. He and two journalists, Dag and Mia, are working on a scoop about sexual trafficking in Sweden. Very quickly, Dag and Mia are murdered, Blomqvist finds them, and in a strange twist, Salander is being hunted as the killer. The tale that unravels involves the Soviet Union, spies, conspiracy, a killer with a disorder that makes him feel no pain, Salander, and a mysterious figure named Zalachenko. (Yes, really). I won’t give any more away, but I will say that the book ends abruptly with quite a cliffhanger. I borrowed the next book and learned that Larsson originally intended the first three books to be one continuous volume.

The other thing I learned (through reading – couldn’t confirm it anywhere) is that absolutely no one chose to edit these last two books. The first book was fast paced and had a tightly-written mystery, although the ending did seem to drag a bit. The second two books were full of such unbelievable coincidences and strange rabbit holes that the lack of editing was glaring. I still enjoyed the books because I am intrigued by Salander’s character and wanted to know more about her. However, the loose ends and the blatant tying of those ends lacked the initial ingenuity of the trilogy and left me again questioning if there was an editor. Was there some argument that since Larsson died, no one could edit the manuscripts? Was it for posterity’s sake? I’m really asking. If you know the answer, please comment. I think, as a writer, Larsson would have preferred the polished end product editing provides.

Instead, the public is left with The Girl Who… mania and not a whole lot of consistency and a bit too much substance, at times. It also struck me that these three books are almost totally different genres. The first book is two parts mystery, two parts thriller. The second book is suspenseful but reads more like a John Le Carre novel than an out-and-out mystery. The third book is pure John Grisham. Salander sits in a hospital bed for most of it, using her personal computer device to track down information and to determine the identity of Ericka Berger’s stalker. Whaaa? There is a laughable trial where the attorneys parade in witnesses but also speak to people in the courtroom who aren’t testifying. Whaa? Then, when the book is presumably over, Salander stumbles upon the killer from the second book and survives. Whaaa?

There is talk of someone taking Larsson’s extensive plot notes and character sketches for the other seven planned books and completing them. I’ll make my formal request to a writer who is alive and kicking and who writes thoughtful, complex, well-edited novels: Ian Rankin. Or, better yet, Mr. Rankin: pleeeease write more Inspector Rebus novels.

Devolving from an intelligent series to a John Grisham pulp, the last two books of The Girl Who…trilogy are not ideal, and I hoped for a lot more from this promising series.


Week in Review

Teaching two classes in a summer session is not for the faint of heart. I’m extremely grateful for the work, but the pace is really difficult. If it were a course I had taught before (or in the last year or so), it wouldn’t be as difficult, but each night is full of prep work for the next morning. I am teaching an Intermediate ESL Reading course from 8 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. I then rush off to the gym – or home if I need extra prep time for my second class – and head to a city about half an hour away to teach Developmental Writing from 12 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. Ah, the life of an adjunct.

Teaching ESL is tiring but so rewarding. I have four students: one from Ukraine, two from Saudi Arabia, and one from Iran. Each has a degree from his or her own country and is here to learn English and gain an additional degree in the States. These students are so incredibly eager to learn; in fact, some days, I don’t look up until it’s already 9:30 – past the end of class. One in particular loves to talk about slang. He’s already asked me about the phrases my bad and shotgun and even taught me one: mean mug (giving a mean face, if you’re slang illiterate like I am). However, teaching this course is also exhausting. I have to be conscious of every single word I use as my students’ vocabulary is good but still limited. We have a great book with units that teach a bit of grammar, vocabulary and culture in each lesson. That said, there is still a lot that I have to come up with on my own. Plus, the students have questions outside of the lessons. Try explaining the word certainly to a non-native speaker. I can sense their frustration at times, and I am sure they can sense mine. I have always heard English is a very difficult language to learn, and partly, I think it is because we have so many words like certainly that are not necessary but do assist the language. And don’t get me started on how many times I have to say: “Well, that is an exception.” Grrr.

Developmental Writing is a course for students who are not yet able to matriculate into the regular writing courses offered. Almost every student has some sort of learning problem. On top of that, I am dealing with years of incorrect instruction. Ever heard anyone say “Put a comma where you pause”? Yeah, I want to roll that person in poison ivy. (I know. I’m so violent.) Each student is capable of writing a complete sentence, but the writing is littered with fragments, misspellings, and incorrect verbs. It is overwhelming to try to correct that in 19 days, and frankly, I am appalled that the course is being offered in a summer session.

So, dear reader, this picky girl has not had much time to read this June. I come home really exhausted, but this week, I have manages to read the final two books in the Stieg Larsson trilogy and thoroughly enjoyed them. I will try to wrap up my thoughts and write something coherent in a couple of days. I was not sure if I would be able to read the last two as the first really, really scared me (I stayed up all night with a shovel next to my bed). A Facebook friend asked why I was so frightened by it, and I think I would have to say it was the torture/sexual torture aspect of it. I cannot watch Law & Order: SVU either. There is something about that kind of evil that sticks with me. It’s odd because I love mysteries and really do not scare easily when reading. I am glad to say that The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest were not only not scary but very enjoyable. I wish Larsson were still alive to finish the 10 books he had originally planned.

The rest of this week included:

  • making black bean soup (delish)
  • exercising in a Zumba class at the gym (fun!)
  • watching Extract, a Mike Judge film (also creator of Office Space)
  • walking the dog
  • napping
  • trying to find energy to blog

This evening, I was planning to go with my Wine Night girlfriends to Kemah (near Houston, Texas) for a special Wine Night on the water. One of the girls’ fathers owns a boat and property on the water and was planning to take us out to enjoy fireworks and wine. Unfortunately, I strained a muscle in my low back this morning and won’t make it. So now, I’m debating on what book to start next. Happy reading to all, and happy weekend!