Sunday, April 26, 2009

Is this a suburb of Peyton Place?

"Easy Innocence" by Libby Fischer Hellman is a thought provoking novel about teenagers and the world they can fall into.
PI Georgia Davis is hired to find evidence to show that Cam Davis, who is autistic, did not murder teenager, Sara Long.
Enter the high school world of snobbery, cliques, peer pressure and greed and the setting is ripe to find out what is really behind Sara's murder.
The district attorney is pushing for a quick guilty finding against Cam but when Georgia , a former police officer, begins her investigation we learn that the DA's daughter was at the Forest Preserve when the killing occurred. Could she, or Sara's best friend, Lauren, have been part of a hazing incident that got out of hand?
The parents of Sara's friends don't want Georgia's interference with their lives. We find a part of society that leaves teenagers to their own decisions. Then we learn what can happen to these teens when certain temptations arrive and the parents feel that since their children aren't using drugs or getting arrested for alcohol related crimes then it's best to leave them alone.
This is a well written novel. Hellman has researched the mind of the teenage girls to find motivation for their actions. The book should be recommended to any parent of a high school girl.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The ending will knock you off of your feet

Billingham's first stand alone novel starts with five teenagers driving around London on a hot August night looking for someone to shoot in a gang initiation.
A woman in another car sees that their lights are off and and flashes hers, not knowing that this is the manner that the teenagers pick targets. Shots are fired and the car crashes into a bus stop killing off duty police officer, Paul Hopewood.
Paul's girlfriend, Helen Weeks, is also a police officer. Their child is due any day and Helen decides that the manner in which she can deal with her grief is to find out what was behind Paul's death.
There is a major police investigation to find the car and driver that killed one of their own but certain underworld people who felt that Paul was a friend also pursue the killers. This group is led by Frank Linnell who has the contacts to find out who was in the car that shot at the woman's car and take appropriate steps.
The story is told in rotating voices between Helen, Frank and Theo, the guilt ridden teenager who fired the shots. The action is swift and the characters believable. "Billingham searches the reasons that teenagers are compelled to join gangs and what can result from their decisions.
Members of the gang are found and things happen. The plot moves along and the reader expects that the conclusion will be as things seem but then Billingham pulls the rug out and the surprise is outstanding.
This writer continues to impress.
Highly recommended.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Father and Son" Larry Brown

This story is the reverse of The Prodigal Son. In this tale, it isn't a repentant son who returns asking forgiveness of his father but a rebellious son, fresh from prison for vehicular homicide.
Bobby Blanchard is the sheriff in this story which takes place in Mississippi in the mid 1960's. It was Bobby who caught Glen Davis when he killed the young boy with his car. To add to the drama, Bobby is in love with Glen's old girlfriend, Jewel, the mother of Glen's illegitimate son. Think of Gary Cooper walking down Main Street in High Noon and you have the picture of Blanchard.
Glen's mother has died as the story opens and Glen arrives in town. He is a vicious drunk who treats everyone with hatred. This includes his father, Vernon, who is a WWII vet who came home disabled.
Glen is only in town one day when he takes Vernon's rifle and robs and kills a local bar owner with whom he had a grudge.
Brown has written a compelling novel describing an aspect of rural Mississippi, in the Oxford area of his fellow Mississippian, William Faulkner. The similarities in the descriptions of the poor, the numerous misfortunes that befall them and their acceptance of tragedy as a way of life are not only like Faulkner but also of Steinbeck. It was almost as if some of these characters were descendants of the Oklahomans of "The Grapes of Wrath."
The history leading up to the start of the story is that Vernon had an affair with Bobby's mother but only found she was pregnant after he was drafted and couldn't get leave due to the war. Bobby's mother, Mary married another man but he was killed in the war. Vernon married Glen's mother, Emma when she became pregnant and Emma had a hatred for Mary, convinced that Vernon was still having an affair with her. Emma passes this hatred on to Glen.
In short, this is a superbly written story with tragic and heroic figures at crossroads. Once finished, the story of Glen and his half brother Bobby will stay in the memory of the reader for a long time.
Highly recommended.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"All the Colors of Darkness"

In Peter Robinson's latest novel, the activities of Chief Inspector Alan Banks and DI Annie Cabbott continue. His prior novel, "Friend of the Devil" set the scene.
The story opens with school children finding Mark Hardcastle hung from a tree in the woods near Eastvale. When the police attempt to notify the next of kin, Mark's lover, they discover that person, Laurence Silbert, beaten to death. Silbert was beaten with a baseball bat that had Mark's fingerprints on it.
While Banks speaks to Silbert's mother, he learns that Silbert was a spook. Then, when Banks continues his investigation, a person identifies himself as working for the government, tells him to cease his investigation. We know Banks well enough to see him intimidated and he continues the search for the background of this seemingly murder, suicide. However, with the government pushing against him, Banks has to continue with Annie's help but nothing official from his department.
Hardcastel worked in the local theater and was seen with co-worker, Derek Wyman and when they speak to Wyman they get a feeling that he was setting Hardcastle up, possibly showing him photos of Silbert to make Mark think his lover was two-timing him.
Nothing is as it seems and once again, Robinson tells how to tell a good yarn. The plot has a connection with the play Hardcastle was working on and Wyman directing, "Othello" and they feel Iago's deception in the play may have given Wyman the idea.
Just how will Banks solve this mystery when so many things are against him. How much integrity must a man have to keep going on the investigation when things happen to him, his girlfriend and the other characters?
The novel keeps the reader's interest and it is another credit to this well acclaimed author.

Monday, April 6, 2009

"The King of Swords" Commands this book to be read.

"The King of Swords" by Nick Stone creates a place at the forefront of thrillers.
When Det. Max Mingus and his partner, Joe Liston investigate the death of a man whose body is found in Miami's Primate Park, it seems like a routine homicide.
The first indication of something unusual is when the deceased's autopsy is performed a partly digested tarot card is found in the man's stomach - the tarot card - The King of Swords.
The setting is in 1980, after the Mariel Boatlift when Castro emptied Cuba's prisons and expelled 125,000 people from Cuba into the United States. Many of these people were the most viscous criminals in that country. Now Miami is strife with drugs, murders, and superstitions.
Solomon Boukman runs an organization selling drugs, prostitution, extortion and anything else that will make money, illegally. He uses Haitian black magic and fear to control the members of his organization.
One of Solomon's employees is a pimp and petty criminal named Carmen. His mother is a fortune teller of great insight - Eva Desamours.
Max sees Carmen attempting to lure an innocent girl into believing he is a photographer and make her a prostitute. He roughs Carmen up and warns him to stay away from the girl.
There is a court scene where something unexpected happens, (without revealing a plot line). Max and Joe are assigned to the case.
It seems as a normal investigation until a family is found butchered. Solomon asks Eva to read his f0rtune as she as done before. This time, when Solomon cuts the cards, Eva sees something is planning against Solomon. The King of Swords comes up and represents "...a man of great power and influence, an aggressive man. It can mean a valuable ally or a fearsome enemy, depending on when it comes up in the reading."
With the emphasis on voodoo, the way Boukman is supposedly able to change his looks, his followers who have a religious or tribal connections and the way magic potions can almost make their victims into zombies, there is a major influence on John Connolly. It is almost as if Connolly's Traveling Man, or Caleb Kyle have returned to wreck mayhem once again.
This is a wonderfully entertaining book. A prequel to Stone's award winning "Mr. Clarinet." Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Our life goes on in the lives of our children."

"His Family" by Ernest Poole won the Pulitzer Prize in 1918.

This warm family saga takes place in New York prior to WWI.

Roger Gale is a 60 year old man with three daughters. His wife Judith has died and he doesn't see much meaning to his life although he remembers Judith's words. "Our life goes on in the lives of our children."

His eldest daughter, Ethel, is expecting her 5th child, Deborah is twenty-nine and a school principal and Laura, the youngest is his favorite. Her zest for life amazes him. He says. "She even danced in restaurants."

Laura surprises Roger announcing that she's getting married. It saddens him to think that his baby is leaving the house but he also feels that she hasn't given the marriage much thought.

Poole describes New York in this time of its growth, from new high risers to concerts at Carnegie Hall and to Roger's enjoyment of horseback riding in Central Park on his horse.

We consider how the world has changed in 90 years when Laura's suitor, Harold, tells Roger that he can make Laura happy. He boasts, "Twenty two thousand this year, ...we can live on that."

Poole's writing is superb. The story is well told as we follow the progress of the family. It also provides enjoyment seeing the carefree time before the horrors of the war become known. Poole's phrases also are thought provoking. When Roger is discussing Laura's marriage with Deborah he says, "Queer, how a man can neglect his children...when the thing he wants most in life is to see each one happy."

Laura's wedding comes and goes, Ethel and her husband have their child and Roger and Deborah have the house to themselves, each wondering how lonely things will be without Laura's energetic presence.

Roger visits Deborah's school to see more of what she does. He meets Johnny Geer, an 18 year old boy who has a crippling disease. Roger is impressed with Johnny's bravery and ambition and gives him a job and offers him a room in his home. Then, discussing Johnny's health with Deborah's new suitor, Dr Allan Baird, Roger asks if anything can be done for Johnny. No, Allan says. It's too late and there will be a time that people have to guard their children even before they are born. (This seems like one of the early indications of prenatal care.)

Roger continues to support Johnny, Laura returns from Europe, Roger develops an interest in the poorer students in Deborah's night school but without revealing a plot spoiler, something happens.

When WWI begins there is a slowdown of Roger's business and when his children ask for financial support, he has to tell them that he realizes that he is now poor. Deborah has enough money but uses it to support the poorer students.

The last quarter of the novel gets sentimental. Johnny has an idea that helps Roger's business, The crippled boy who grows into a successful businessman adds a Dickensian aspect to the novel

Fine ending that leaves the reader fulfilled.

Highly recommended.

Currently Reading

Currently Reading
Broken Promise