Monthly Archives: October 2013

Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois

cartwheel

Cartwheel is a new novel drawing its inspiration from the Amanda Knox case. duBois explores our views of this media sensation through a fictionalized version of Knox’s story, set in Buenos Aires.  When Amanda Knox’s interview with Diane Sawyer aired, and her book Waiting To Be Heard was released, I was part of a few speculative conversations, and our ultimate conclusions held some doubt.  Was she mistreated?  Was her trial unfair?  Did she make some bad choices?  Was she innocent?  What happens to the public around these media frenzies?

Cartwheel isn’t a tell all, a Dominick Dunne, or a Vincent Bugliosi book; it is an exploration of the psychology and motivations of people, told from a variety of perspectives, using a murder as the prompt.  Yes there are two exchange students, roommates, and one is murdered.  There is a boyfriend, there is some bizarre behavior, but this novel is perhaps a statement on people’s capacity for evil, and if so, their capacity for goodness.  The author also seems to ask how race, gender, age and privilege play into the case.  duBois says ” people can look at the same moment and see entirely different things…Cartwheel was inspired by my interest in the kind of cross-cultural incomprehension that can happen anywhere.”  These themes are explored more intellectually and less emotionally, without a clear judgement.   Cartwheel is suspenseful and intriguing version of an ugly story; the characters are well-developed, and the writing is excellent.  I think readers and book groups will find it very discussable.

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W is for Worth the Read: Try the new Sue Grafton

W is for Wasted

I am going to date myself here and let you know I have been reading Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries since A is for Alibi, as soon as they come out.  W is for Wasted lives up to the reputation.  One of my favorite 1980s gum shoes, Kinsey Millhone, faces some detective work close to home as she investigates the deaths of two men:  Pete Wolinksy and R.T. Dace.   While their deaths seem unrelated to the untrained sleuth, there is a connection.  Pete Wolinsky, an area private eye with a sketchy reputation,  has been investigating the alleged affair of the wife of a doctor involved in clinical research trials.  He seems to be running a scam with this investigation, and part of that involves hiring Robert Dietz, Kinsey’s old (and brief) love interest.  Pete never pays Dietz, so he turns up looking for compensation, only to find Pete has been shot.  And, there is R.T. Dace, a homeless man who dies with Kinsey’s contact information on his person.  Shortly before his death, he changed his will to leave everything he had (turns out that is $500,000) to Millhone.  As executor, Kinsey sets out to straighten out Dace’s affairs, inform his estranged children of his passing, and figure out why she has been given this role and inheritance. Clues direct her in a page turning way to the connection between the two men, and the truth behind their deaths.

Well done Sue Grafton.

The Falmouth Memorial Library has 2 copies of W is for Wasted.

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Help for the Haunted by John Searles

17348985Sylvie Mason leaves her house with her parents one dark, snowy night after a late night call her parents receive asking them to meet with one of their clients or people who have “haunted souls”.  Sylvie’s parents, Rose and Sylvester Mason,  have made it their life to help people troubled by spirits and apparitions and as normal as it is for them to get calls at all hours,  it seemed to Sylvie that there was something different about this particular call.  Rose, Sylvie’s older, rebellious sister is not at home,  when Sylvie and her parents leave the house for the late night meeting.  Following the caller’s instructions, Rose and Sylvester make their way to an old deserted church at the end of town.  As Sylvie sleeps in the car, her parents enter the church to meet Albert Lynch, a father with a very disturbed child that Rose once helped.  Some time later, Sylvie is awakened by the sound of gunshots.  Sylvie never sees her parents alive again.

The narrative goes back and forth between the past, when Sylvie’s parents were alive,  and the present, when Rose, Sylvie’s older, seemingly unloving, mean and sullen sister, is Sylvie’s guardian.  As the book progresses,  it becomes apparent that nothing in the Mason family was as it seemed.   It also becomes apparent that who,  Sylvie said she saw in the church,  may in fact not be true and the call that supposedly came from Albert Lynch,  may not have come from him either.  Why would the police think Sylvie may need to re-think her statement about what she remembers about who she saw in the church the night her parents died and why is it so hard for her to do so?

As I was reading “Help for the Haunted” I was reminded a bit of Stephen King’s early writing because while this is a mystery with some sinister overtones,  at it’s heart it is a coming of age story, a story about loss, loss of a parent, especially a mother  and how that changes everything. Your heart breaks as  Sylvie says “If I keep my eyes closed, I feel her there again. I hear her breath, hear her voice telling me, ‘each of us is born into this life with a light inside us…What’s most important is to never let that light go out,  because when you do, it means you’ve lost your hope.  And hope is what makes the world a beautiful place.'”

When I started this book I thought the title “Help for the Haunted” was referring to  the “spirits” Rose and Sylvester “helped”,  but after reading the book,  I think the title was about helping Sylvie deal with the night that changed her life forever.  Every0ne has things that haunt them, we just need a little help to face them. This was a great read and I would strongly recommend it to people who like authors like John Hart and Wiley Cash.

The Falmouth Memorial Library owns a copy of “Help for the Haunted”.

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Through the Evil Days by Julia Spencer-Fleming

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For a small town in the Adirondacks, there is a whole lot of crime going on.

Here it is…the much awaited 8th installment of the Rev. Clare Fergusson and Chief Russ Van Alstyne mystery series.  I have been a huge fan of the author and the series for several years, and was delighted to receive an advanced reader copy to review for this blog. 

Through the Evil Days opens with Clare, 5 months pregnant,  and Russ preparing to leave for their honeymoon at a remote and rustic cabin.  Before heading home to finish packing, Clare learns that her church is reconsidering her position due to her pregnancy, and Russ finds out that his department may be closed and their responsibilities taken over by the State Police.  Neither wants to worry the other, so they keep these possible changes to themselves.  Add to this a late night  fire that burns down a home and takes the lives of the couple who live there.  Their foster child is spared, but  added to the missing persons list.  Because she has had a transplant, the police need to find her quickly to give her medicine. The child’s parents will factor into the story, as will the love life and police skills of Hadley and Kevin, two other Millers Kill police officers.  Just to make things interesting, there is an ice storm on its way.  You will want a fire in the wood stove and a blanket on your lap during the ice storm portion of the book.  The author is definitely tapping into personal experience, and as a life long Mainer who has weathered my share of ice storms, I loved the very accurate descriptions and the plot twists the Adirondack winter storm makes possible.

What I like:  the characters.  They are mostly likeable in a way that makes you pull for them, yet there is always a character flaw that gets them into trouble.  Some of the secondary characters get a little more page time here, perhaps to lay a foundation for their roles in future books.   While I  was curious about the direction of the other storylines, I missed more focus on Clare and Russ.  Regardless of the plot twists, I read to find out what is next in their lives.  And there are plot twists.   There is layer upon layer of plot-sometimes a lot to keep track of, and sometimes a little hard to believe when added all together, but that keeps things moving, and this is fiction.  A plus for the beefed up storylines:  Spencer-Fleming draws some attention to some challenging issues–the mental health of military personnel when they come home from war for example.   

I was quickly drawn into the story and I bet you will be too.  Through the Evil Days is a suspenseful offering from a talented Maine writer.  Curl up on a crisp fall afternoon and enjoy!

Through the Evil Days comes out November 5th.  The Falmouth Memorial Library has pre-ordered a copy.

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