Lisbeth Salander fans meet Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths who can’t quite walk the straight and narrow and follow the orders her boss gives her. She works double duty to keep contributing to a disturbing case of a young woman, likely a prostitute, found dead of drug overdose in a squalid house, her six year old daughter dead beside her. Why is the platnium credit card of a very wealthy tycoon found in the same room? Especially since he’s been dead for months. This heroine is not one to follow protocol and her social skills are very deficient, but her intensity and stubborn refusal to back down from seeking the truth, no matter where it leads are appealing. I hope there will be more stories featuring the compelling Fiona.
Author Archive for Susan
It seems like we live in a very political time — but, it might give you some satisfaction to know that it could be worse after you read The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye. This debut mystery is set in 1845 New York City, where politics is in all aspects of life — what neighborhood you live in, what church you attend, what job you have. Even the newly organized police force only exists because a politician said it should, and others see the very existence of police as an infrigement of their civil rights and no different from a standing army. Timothy Wilde is an officer in the new police force thanks to the political pull of his older brother Valentine and a horrible fire that destroys his life savings and leaves him too scarred to go back to his old job as a bartender. Tim puts on the “copper star” and gradually comes to see the worth in what he does. When he encounters a blood soaked little girl who claims to know where the children’s bodies are buried he is in the hunt for a serial killer who is removing children from brothels. The descriptions of New York City and the way people lived in 1845 are very compelling, throughout the novel the author makes use of flash, an underground language akin to thieves cant which adds additional authenticity. This is a fascinating and enjoyable read and I am pleased that it’s the first in a series.
Scottish author Denise Mina is a favorite of mine — not always easy to follow, but then, people are more her thing than a plot. Both the plot and the people in this second title featuring DS Alexandra Morrow are grim indeed. The story skips back and forth between two deaths — bad boy millionaire banker Lars Anderson hangs himself from a tree on his palatial estate, Sarah Erroll is kicked and beaten to death by home invaders. Dysfunction doesn’t even begin to describe both of these people and their families as Alex, five months pregnant with twins, discovers links between the two. Alex has her own dynamics to deal with after the death of her father, issues with her delinquent nephew and the appeareance of an old friend linked to one of the victims. Family is the overall theme — what people will (and won’t) do for flesh and blood. It’s a long, dense story and at times my attention wavered, but then I would get pulled back in by the complex characters.
Henry House was born in 1946 and spent his first year as “practice baby” in a college home economics program designed to teach young women how to be mothers. (Yes, this was really a common practice across the country). Typically babies were orphans and were put up for adoption after one year. Henry, however, steals the heart of the program director, Martha Gaines, and stays on, moving upstairs with her and seeing a succession of practice babies come and go. What he learns is not a good lesson — how to make a variety of women think they’re his favorite. At the age of 10 Henry learns who his biological mother is and loses his trust in Martha. Baby boomers will enjoy the side characters in Henry’s story — Benjamin Spock, Walt Disney, the Beatles– as he wanders from college towns to New York, Los Angeles, and London before returning to Wilton College. Henry is an engaging character and the mid-twentieth century setting is fun in this coming of age story.
If you like dark psychological mysteries you will like Blue Monday from husband and wife writing team Nicci French. You will meet Frieda Klein a complex, solitary London psychotherapist whose belief in the absolute confidentiality of her patients is tested when one of them shares dreams and thoughts that are disturbingly linked to the recent disappearance of a young boy. Similarities also exist between this child’s abduction and one of a girl twenty-two years ago. Klein ends up in an uneasy partnership with Detective Chief Inspector Malcolm Karlsson while she tries to cope with a immigrant builder, a mentor losing his edge, and a romantic interest who is moving. Plot twists abound, perhaps a little too much, but the characters are compelling. This is the first in a series, I’ll be interested in seeing what color Tuesday is.
This intriguing novel starts in Minnesota, at a big pharmaceutical research lab, where Marina Singh has worked for several years. Dr Singh’s colleague, Anders Eckman, went to the Amazon area to get a progress report from veteran researcher, Dr Annick Swenson, who has not been forthcoming on the outcome of her studies and the corporate funders are growing anxious. A brief report of Anders death arrives in Minnesota and Marina is sent to find out the details by her married lover, and boss, Mr Fox. The contrast between Minnesota and the Amazon region where the Lakashi tribe lives could not be more stark. Marina finds herself cut off from the world she knows, even wearing native attire after her clothes are stolen, as she tries to learn more about Anders’ death and the status of Dr Swenson’s research into the fertility of women of the tribe who routinely gnaw the bark of a certain species of trees and continue to have babies well into their 70′s. As Annika observes, what 70 year old woman wants to have babies? Good question, and one that this novel explores along with many others including the place of commercialism in medicine, culture and identity, good and evil. It’s a real tale, well told.
Private investigator Sam Blackman and his partner Nakayla Robertson have been hired by an insurance company to investigate a history professor’s malpractice suit against a spinal surgeon. They follow her to Connemara, Carl Sandburg’s home in Flat Rock, North Carolina, where she takes a fatal fall down a mountain. Before her death she utters the words, “It’s the Sandburg verses.” There are many mysteries here — why was she on the mountain, what about the Sandburg verses, did she have grounds to sue for malpractice, what mysterious research was she conducting before her death, and, of course, was she murdered or was it an accident? Let me just say that more murders follow, so you know the answer to the last question. Sam and Nakayla and likeable people with both a professional and a personal relationship. Sam uses a prosthesis leg due to his military service in Iraq which limits him a little physically. I think people will find the North Carolina and academic settings as well has the historical detail about Carl Sandburg interesting. I had never read any books by the author, Mark DeCastrique, but I plan to go back and see what I missed.
The 2012 All Iowa Reads title is Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains, only the second nonfiction book in the program’s nine year history. Strength in What Remains tells the story of Deogratis, or Deo, who as a 22 year old medical student barely escapes the Hutu slaughter of Tutsis in Burundi. He finds himself in New York City in 1994 with no English skills and $200. The story moves back and forth in time and place — from Africa to New York. And. although the horror of events in Africa is almost undescribable, living poor on the streets of New York as a young black man with no money is not an easy life either. Deo is helped by remarkable, generous people — but, the personal courage and fortitude needed to prevail is his. As a member of the All Iowa Reads Committee I recently did a program on this book with Kirkwood instructor, George Minot. He said the key to good nonfiction writing is to “make what is true believable.” Everyone should read this inspiring story from a great author who succeeds in that goal.
Colin Cotterrill is the author of the popular Dr Siri mysteries. I have never read any of them, but when a title as intriguing as this came a long I had to give it a try. Killed at the Whim of a Hat starts a new series, also set in Thailand. Jimm Juree is on a path to become a big city crime reporter when her mother suddenly sells a family business and buys a run down resort in a tiny village in southern Thailand. Jimm is concerned about her mother’s mental state and follows her, along with her bodybuilder brother, Arny, and Granddad Jah, but she is bored and unhappy in her new environment. Things start looking up when two human skeletons are found in a Volkswagen van and an abbot is stabbed to death at a local monastery. With articles to write and two mysteries to solve Jimm enlists the aid of her grandfather, a former traffic cop, her brother and her transgendered sibling, an internet whiz who stayed behind in the big city, and assorted local characters to help her. About half way through the book the meaning of the title as well as the quotes from George W. Bush that begin each chapter is revealed. There is alot of humor, a fascinating look at a culture most Americans are unfamiliar with, and a good mystery here.
In her very successful first novel When the Emperor was Divine, Julie Otsuka, told the story of the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Chronologically The Buddha in the Attic is a prequel. It begins in the early nineteenth century when a group of Japanese mail order brides travels by boat to San Francisco. They clutch pictures of handsome young men standing in front of businesses or tidy homes, only to learn that life will not be as they hoped. The structure of the book is very interesting. It is almost like a series of related short stories put together, each with an illustrative title: Come, Japanese!, First Night, Whites, Babies, and so on. The style is first-person-plural as the diverse, anonymous voices of the women each tell their stories which are somehow unique and alike at the same time.
Although the style is very different the story that is told reminds me of The Help– a tale of exploited women looking for a better life. A story that is haunting, beautifully told.