Tag Archives: mystery

Kathy Reichs, Speaking in Bones

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It’s hard to resist another Kathy Reichs’ novel and I could not resist access to an advance copy of Speaking in Bones. Well, I say that, but I had somehow missed the last 3 novels since this is my first one since Flash and Bones and Spider Bones in 2011, which I read just before starting this blog. Blame all those reading projects and literature MOOCs I spent time on in the past 3 years: I neglected one of my favorite mystery writers.

I met Kathy Reichs in the early 90s, much before the publication of her debut novel Déjà Dead in 1997. She was a visiting professor in the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Concordia University. I was a Sociology graduate student with interests far removed from forensic anthropology but when she offered to give a lecture for students with pictures from real life cases, who could have said no? And when I later say her name in print I was really excited… I was already a Patricia Cornwell fan but Kathy Reichs had this extra aura of authenticity, she was the real thing! Now, could she make it as an author? The proof of that has been amply made.

Speaking in Bones covers familiar ground with Tempe Brennan working in the medical examiner’s office in Charlotte, North Carolina, when she receive a phone call from a certain Harriet Strike, aka Lucky Strike, who claims that she has evidence about a missing person. The key problem is that the young woman that Lucky Strike claim has been missing has not been reported by her own parents. They seem to strongly believe she left of her own accord.

Dr. Brennan is skeptical and questions Ms. Strike about her information sources. The latter introduces her to the online underworld of web sleuths, amateur investigators who use the web to solve missing person or cold cases. She then realizes that Ms. Strike was instrumental in solving a famous case of a body long unidentified.

Her own investigation takes her into the mountains of western North Carolina, to a church run by a rogue priest, to treacherous hiking paths, and friendly encounters with a local law enforcement official and his home-schooled cadaver dog.

Unfortunately, this new investigation causes her to cancel a trip to Montreal where detective Andrew Ryan awaits an answer to his wedding proposal. Tempe has a hard time understanding her own discomfort with his proposal and the relationship is in peril again. She could very well take a lesson from her elderly mother’s own plunge into the risky territory of new love…

After a couple of dead bodies, including the early demise of the not-so-lucky Lucky Strike, Tempe stumbles per chance on a clue that could very have led her to an early grave as well… The key to the mystery will surprise more than a few, but this blog is not where you will find out about it.

The book is now featured prominently in displays in airports and bookstores around the US (as I have seen in the past few days). I recommend this book to mystery lovers who like to spend a lazy summer afternoon reading in the shade. Y’all have yourselves a sweet iced tea while you’re at it.

Reference

Reichs, Kathy. Speaking in Bones. Bantam Books, New York, 2015.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, El prisionero del cielo

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This is the kind of mystery I like: it starts in a bookstore and it ends in a library… Well, not quite literally but almost. This is the third in a series of books called “El cementario de los libros olvidados” (The cemetery of forgotten books). The author states that the three books in the series share characters and plot elements but that each book is self-contained. Therefore, they can be read in any order and form a labyrinth of stories that can be accessed though different doors and pathways that can all take the reader to the heart of the story. Well… that’s nice theoritically. I look forward to reading the others books in the series (La sombra del viento, El juego del ángel) and seeing where the links are and whether knowledge of the other books does change my perception of this one.

At the center of El prisionero del cielo is the story of Fermín Romero de Torres who wants to marry the beautiful Bernarda but is afraid he cannot because he does not have legal existence. Most of the book is devoted to telling the story of how he came to be declared dead and of how his life is closely entwined with the life of his best friend Daniel. All this is set in mid-20th century Spain, during World War II and the Franco dictatorship. In the end, Daniel and some associates do succeed in getting some legal papers so Fermín can get married and Daniel comes to terms with the murder of his mother that occurred when he was a small child.

Zafón, Carlos Ruiz. El prisionero del cielo. Vintage Español, Nueva York, 2011.

Joël Dicker, La vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert (The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair)

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I read this rather large book quite quickly… Bought it on a Wednesday night and finished on the following Tuesday. Like many other reviewers have said, it is overly long with some repetitive parts although it did hold my interest throughout. It not great literature by any stretch of the imagination, but still good fun on a hot, muggy summer week.

I put a bunch of links below, so you can some summaries of the plot as well as other commentary which I won’t repeat here (such as how could this book get prizes…).

What I likes about the book:

  • The plot twists: you think you have answers, and oos, something else comes up, again, and again, and again.
  • The meta-discussion about novel writing.
  • A different way to say that: Reading this novel is like peeling an onion (the tearless kind though).

What I did not like:

  • The trite descriptions of infatuation, jealousy, frustration: there has to a more nuanced way to describing these human emotions.
  • Almost everyone sounds like a teenager in the book.
  • The predictability of the multiple personality disorder: funny how I did not see any comments about that in the reviews I read… Must be related to my one-time obsession with this topic (Sybil anyone?).

Someone remarked that some of the character names were a bit off-the-wall, in particular a certain police officer named Gahalowood. I saw there an obscure reference to Sir Galahad, but I might be off my rocker. Gahalowood is shown as very level-headed and fair, and he is quite helpful to the main character in his quest for the truth.

Some people have written that his was Dicker’s first novel, but it is actually his second. I am not sure I would read anything else (recurring thoughts of given how old I am and how many books I can read per year, would I chose to read more of this…).

 

References

Dicker, Joël. La vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert. Éditions de Fallois/Poche, 2014 [2012].

 

http://www.npr.org/2014/06/28/325889734/sorry-europe-quebert-affair-plot-thrills-but-prose-lacks-substance

http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20818810,00.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-review-the-truth-about-the-harry-quebert-affair-by-jel-dicker-trs-by-sam-taylor-9345092.html

http://www.slate.fr/culture/64971/joel-dicker-goncourt-lyceens

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2014/06/francophone-hit-american-letdown.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galahad

Isabel Allende, El juego de Ripper

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This book is Isabel Allende’s attempt to write a murder mystery, to follow in the footsteps of her lawyer-turned-writer husband, William C. Gordon. I had read some pretty negative reviews of this book, so I did not have high hopes for it. Well, maybe because I was not expecting much, I quite enjoyed this book. As a mystery, it does not maintain tension throughout the way you would expect. As an Isabel Allende book, it does have what I usually enjoy in her novels: quirky characters, many of them part of an extended family, amazing coincidences, some magic and a light, bubbly atmosphere. I suppose that “murder mystery” and “light, bubbly atmosphere” don’t quite go together, and that may account for some people’s disappointment with the book.

One of the main characters is Indiana Jackson, an alternative health care provider who occupies an office in a holistic health clinic. In her immediate entourage, we find her teenaged daughter Amanda, her father whom they live with, her jealous lover Alan, her loyal friends Mike and Pedro, a cafe waiter called Danny who likes to sing disguised as a woman, an psychiatrist/astrologer who lives in a one-of-a-kind house. Amanda’s father is a police investigator who provides the link to the murders that are discussed, who are also being investigated by Amanda and her online friends that she connects with through a role-playing game called Ripper.

A series of seemingly disconnected murders occur in the San Francisco area and Amanda suggests that her father investigate them as the work of a serial killer. As we get closer to the end of the book, there are more and more hints as to who the killer might be… Some of the outcomes could have been predictable but I did let myself get surprised at some of the twists and turns in the end, and there was a sad moment that I did not see coming. The end is quite bittersweet.

Reference

Allende, Isabel. El juego de Ripper. Vintage Español, Nueva York, 2014.

The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

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This is a fun story in fancy dress. Lots of twists and turns and some quite unexpected results. Everybody has lied about at least one thing, nobody is clean, but the baddies may not be all that bad (some of them anyways), the innocents might not be all that innocent, and not all that shines is gold. An adventure story set on the West Coast of New Zealand during the gold rush (the 1860s), it made me discover many interesting aspects of this part of the world. Pardon my ignorance, but I had never heard of the New Zealand gold rushes.

A stranger comes into town and somehow takes part in a conversation about a local mystery and controversy. Of course, from this first contact, he develops a perception of events and people. And so do we… After this initiation into the scene, the story slowly unravels to reveal how the situation built up to what the stranger first learned, and moves on to the sweetness of young love, listening to the rain.

And the luminaries seem to refer to the celestial bodies that shed light on everything that is, and may even pull some strings.

This book was long, very long (something like 800 pages in paper version). My Kobo tells me I spent 20.6 hours reading it. Oh, but what fun I had. I highly recommend it to those who like their authors to spin a good yarn.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

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This book, I heard, got good reviews even before the word got out that it was written by J.K. Rowling using a pseudonym. Like all J.K. Rowling books, I quite enjoyed it. It is well written, well constructed, and for her first whodunit, Rowling really does not give away the real culprit until she has to.

The plot centers on the violent death of Lula Landry, a mixed-raced gorgeous model who plummets to her death from the balcony of her luxurious London flat. Cormoran Strike, an impecunious private investigator who was once the classmate of Lula’s older brother, is hired by the other brother to reinvestigate the case after the police rules it a suicide. A number of threads intertwine in this complex exploration of Lula’s world: the inner workings of her adoptive family, the life story of her biological parents, her relationship to a fashion designer who calls her his muse, her narcissistic boyfriend, the interest of a rap singer who wrote some lyrics about her, the private and public lives of various socialites and their parasitic relationships with the paparazzi, etc… Of course, we also learn a lot about Cormoran Strike himself as well as his temporary secretary, Robin. Most characters end up being treated in a sympathetic light, in spite of their human frailties, except for the one with the really sick mind…

Apparently, Rowling has another book ready to publish. I hope it’s another “Cormoran Strike” investigation, because that would be fun to read. The complexity of his character does lend itself to exploration of new angles.

Reference

Galbraith, Robert. The Cuckoo’s Calling. Mulholland Books: London, 2013.

Arnaldur Indridason, The Draining Lake, another mystery resolved by Inspector Erlendur

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The Draining Lake, or L’homme du lac in French, in another triller by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason. This is the third book by this author that I have read. The action is usually slow as the author seems to want to create an atmosphere that is somewhat oppressive like I imagine Icelandic winters to be…

Lake Kleifarvatn, near Reykjavik, is slowly draining. The receding waters reveal the presence of an old skeleton. Who was the man? How did he end up there? The story takes us back to the experience of Icelandic students attending university in Leipzig during the Cold War and their impressions of living in post-war East Germany, the tension between socialist idealism and the realities of daily life in a shortage-ridden planned economy dominated by the fear of surveillance by the political police. At the same time we share the daily life of Inspector Erlendur, his difficulties relating to his estranged children, his mixed feelings towards well-meaning colleagues who try to include him in their lives, his slow moving relationship with a married biologist.

Some readers on amazon.com have found it dull and slow. I prefer to think that it has a rhythm of its own. Not all books need to be fast-paced. I’ll keep reading Indridason, and I might make it to Iceland one day.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Draining-Lake-Thriller-Reykjavik/dp/0312428588/ref=la_B001ILIBV0_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1344264391&sr=1-4

http://www.amazon.ca/Homme-du-lac-Arnaldur-Indridason/dp/2757812874/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1344264447&sr=8-4

About Lake Kleifarvatn:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kleifarvatn

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/10/1001_lostlake.html

Dark, dark, dark Blackwater, a novel by Kerstin Ekman

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This an an award-winning book by prolific Swedish writer Kerstin Ekman. It is a psychological mystery novel, not a police procedural. It tells of events around a double murder in the Swedish country. Two campers, a young Dutch woman and an American deserter are stabbed to death in a tent in the early summer. Annie Raft, a young teacher who was looking to rejoin her new boyfriend to start a new life at a commune in that area, stumbles upon the scene. It will have a strong influence on the rest of her life. The murder is never solved and you will most likely be misled about any information on potential suspects.

Besides the murder story, the book also talks about social trends in Sweden, the environmental movement, educational approaches, life in remote areas, the place of the Sami in Swedish society. Lots of food for thought.

Reference:

Ekman, Kerstin, Blackwater, Vintage, 1995. The Swedish original was published in 1993.

 Also see:

http://newswedishfiction.blogspot.ca/2011/07/dark-waters-of-kerstin-ekmans.html