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This blog has moved to http://myliteraryleanings.blogspot.com For more book reviews that let you decide please update your bookmarks. Thank you.
Review of The Crime of Julian Wells by Thomas H. Cook
Overview from www.bn.com:
With THE CRIME OF JULIAN WELLS, Thomas H. Cook, one of America’s most acclaimed suspense writers, has written a novel in the grand tradition of the twisty, cerebral thriller. Like Eric Ambler’s A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS and Graham Greene’s THE THIRD MAN, it is a mystery of identity, or assumed identity, a journey into the maze of a mysterious life.
When famed true-crime writer Julian Wells’ body if found in a boat drifting on a Montauk pond, the question is not how he died, but why?
The death is obviously a suicide. But why would Julian Wells have taken his own life? And was this his only crime? These are the questions that first intrigue and then obsess Philip Anders, Wells’ best friend and the chief defender of both his moral and his literary legacies.
This week’s book was a little different from others that I have reviewed but not so different that I would find to be “strange.” I am not sure if that makes sense but I hope it does.
It is a mystery of sorts but not the kind I usually read. There is neither murder nor a real crime committed unless suicide counts as a crime. Yet the title proclaims that a crime has been committed, not by our narrator but his best friend, Julian Wells.
The main character, Phillip, is besieged with guilt over his friend’s death in a boat, wondering if there was something he could have done to prevent it. Here I quote from the book as the best way of explaining the exact mystery that Phillip is investigating.
“’I keep imagining myself in the boat with him,’ I said. ‘I’m completely silent, but I’m searching for what I could say to him that would change his mind.’
“’Do you find the words?’ Loretta asked.
“I shook my head. ‘No.’” p. 17
To find out what he might have said to change his friend’s mind, Phillip must first find out what caused his friend to commit suicide. There seem to be very few clues to lead him. There is no suicide note and according to Julian’s sister Loretta, there was no change in his demeanor until the very end. Julian was even plotting the next book he was to write as an author so why would he decide to kill himself instead?
This is made all the more difficult by Julian’s unusual personality that our narrator has a hard time understanding but Phillip somehow manages to realize that it must have something to do with a trip that they took to Argentina as young adults during a troubled time in Argentina’s history. Someone that he cared about disappeared but did Julian blame himself enough to kill himself all those years later? It doesn’t make sense.
As our narrator interviews more of Julian’s acquaintances, the story becomes bigger than he or Loretta ever thought possible yet something compels him to see it through until he knows the reason why his friend took his own life. He gets his answer of course but it isn’t what he expects.
The story is by no means fast-paced. There are no car chases or gun fights, only a few crazed killers and terrorists.
It is also very sad, downright depressing at times. Yet for me, I too was compelled, like Phillip, to continue on and find the answer. And the ending was realistic without being too depressing either. It was worth the read.
Contains: gruesome violence, foul language
Review of The Lady with the Dog and other stories
Overview from www.goodreads.com: During the last ten years of his life, Anton Chekhov penned his great plays, spent time treating the sick, and wrote a small number of stories that are considered his masterpieces. The eleven stories collected here-“The Lady with the Little Dog,” “The House with the Mezzanine,” “My Life,” “Peasants,” “A Visit to Friends,” “Ionych,” “About Love,” “In the Ravine,” “The Bishop,” “The Bride,” and “Disturbing the Balance”-hail from this fertile period. They reveal a writer who, in response to the techniques of Symbolism and Impressionism, moved beyond nineteenth-century realism to become an innovator of the modern short story, influencing such key twentieth-century literary figures as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.
This week I am doing something a bit different. I am review a book that is made up of a collection of short stories. It has been a while since I’ve read any short stories or anything by this particular author so I thought I’d try it.
The first story in the book is “The Lady with the Dog” but there are nine stories in the book. I think the last one; “An Anonymous Story” was my favorite though it was the longest one. It started with the story of a man who took a job as a porter for a certain rich man in hopes that he would find a way to get revenge on his father for something that he had done to him. (I already forgot what it was.)
However as the story progresses he finds himself instead taking more of an interest in the man’s mistress who shows up one day to announce that she has left her husband to move in with him. This was not to the man’s liking but he apparently didn’t have the guts to say so. He goes on living with her but is constantly making up false excuses to leave.
After realizing that he cannot carry out his plan to take revenge on the father, he leaves and convinces the man’s mistress to go with him. I won’t give away the whole plot but I found it interesting how relatable this character was for me.
The other stories were also quite good as well as interesting. Every once in a while I think it is nice to read something short but poignant. I like the fact that I won’t need to invest a lot of time in one character or another. Also, if I don’t like one story, I don’t have to worry because I will soon be able to move on to the next one. I have always felt that Chekhov is a master at this type of story-telling and this collection did nothing to change my mind. I recommend it highly.
P.S. My review is from an older version of this book that was scanned by Google so it may not be exactly the same as the one pictured here. I couldn’t find a cover for the one I read.
Review of Test of Wills by Charles Todd
Overview from www.bn.com: Don’t miss the first book in the critically acclaimed Inspector Ian Rutledge series
It’s 1919, and the “War to End All Wars” has been won. But there is no peace for Scotland Yard inspector Ian Rutledge, recently returned from the battlefields of France shell-shocked and tormented by the ever-present voice of the young Scot he had executed for refusing an order. Escaping into his work to save his sanity, Rutledge investigates the murder of a popular colonel in Warwickshire and his alleged killer, a decorated war hero and close friend of the Prince of Wales.
The case is a political minefield, and its resolution could mean the end of Rutledge’s career. Win or lose, the cost may be more than the damaged investigator can bear. For the one witness who can break the case open is, like Rutledge, a war-ravaged victim . . . and his grim, shattered fate could well prove to be the haunted investigator’s own.
I now remember looking forward to reading this book after downloading it one day for Free Friday. Somewhere along the line however I must have forgotten it. When I found it again in my library after I’d finished reading my last book, I was real excited and couldn’t wait to get started. Thankfully, it didn’t disappoint.
This one combines two of my favorite genres: Historical Fiction and Mystery. The time is 1919. World War I or the Great War has just ended and the former combatants are returning home. Among them is our dear Inspector Ian Rutledge.
Rutledge is home and safe for now. Or is he? He may be safe from the bombs, the diseases and the trenches but he is not safe from the voice that is in his head. The doctors are aware of it yet they have pronounced him fit for duty, but is he?
So far he has done fine reading the paper and lamenting the state of post war England but along comes a real case in a town near Warwickshire and he begins to wonder what he’s got himself in for. A war hero has died and the prime suspect is another war hero who is in tight with the royal family. Ian must either find another suspect, or find some airtight evidence that he can use to justify an arrest of Captain Mark Wilton.
The trouble is that Rutledge can’t get to the heart of the matter and the voice in his head is not the biggest distraction. It seems that our victim Colonel Harris had no enemies. He is practically a model citizen who no one would want to murder….and yet someone did.
In fact, the victim was not only murdered but in a somewhat gruesome way as his head was shot clean off by a shotgun. Someone clearly had issues with the Colonel thought no one wants to admit it.
All evidence seems to point to Wilton who persistently professes his innocence yet admits that he will not tell the inspector everything he wants to know. Some issues are personal, he says, and he will not budge even when the cards are stacked against.
Ian is all set to arrest him when something gnaws at him. He knows that something is not right. By the time he realizes what it is though, he is almost too late to prevent another murder.
Okay, here’s the skinny on this one. I liked it a lot. I would say I loved it if it weren’t for the fact that the ending seemed to come out of nowhere. I prefer a story where all the facts are there but you could still miss the conclusion if you look at them from the wrong perspective.
I like the characters of Ian Rutledge and Hamish who is the voice in his head. I like seeing the World War I Era perspective on mental issues and how it compares with today. What is PTSD today was called “shell shock” back then and apparently could also include hearing voices in your head (which I thought was schizophrenia).
I also find it interesting that as hard as it sometimes is to deal with Hamish, Rutledge prefers dealing with him than with some of his other demons. His old flame Jean is one of them. He’d prefer listening to Hamish than thinking about Jean any day of the week though Hamish often belittles him.
This is the beginning of a series so I am anxious to read the next one. Who knows when or if my budget will allow that though? Someone let me know if the next one goes on sale at www.bn.com or maybe I’ll try the library. In the meantime, check it out and let me know if you agree.
Contains: some violence
Review of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Overview from www.bn.com: A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope—a captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . . as only a dog could tell it.
This book tells the story of a dog named Enzo. And you may be thinking, as I was, how could a story told from the point of view of a dog be that interesting? But it is.
At the book’s opening, Enzo is an old dog who can no longer control his bladder. He has seen a documentary explaining how Mongolians believe that some dogs that die are reincarnated as human beings but only if they are ready. Enzo is ready and he hopes to convince his owner, a racecar driver/mechanic named Denny, that he should let Enzo go and get on with his own life.
Enzo explains that they have had a good run together and it is time. He wants to go before things get worse. Then he tells us his story from the moment Denny picks him out from among a litter of pups until the present.
It is a beautiful story too. I liked it a lot. I won’t go so far as to say that I loved it but I really liked it.
The positives are many. First off though, I liked the dog’s name, Enzo. It is a great Italian name and I think Denny named him after some great Italian racecar driver though I am not sure which one. I don’t know anything about racing.
Also there are some episodes concerning Italy and the Italian language. The Italian is error-free from what I can tell. I love the way the Italian people welcome Denny and his family to Italy as well.
I also liked the ending but don’t worry I won’t give it away. It is beautiful and fitting. Denny is a likeable character as well and you see the best parts of his character since you’ll see him mostly through Enzo’s eyes. What dog doesn’t love his master? Yes, Enzo knows he has a good friend and companion in Denny.
Enzo is smart too. I know that not all dogs are smart like this but I did have a dog once that I could almost swear had human intelligence combined with dog-like loyalty. He was my favorite and Enzo reminds me of him.
The only downsides to this story for me were the frequent uses of the f-bomb and some sexuality. I almost stopped reading once because of the bad language but the power of the story convinced me to hang in there and I am glad I did.
I recommend this story to anyone who has ever loved a dog and can overlook the above mentioned flaws. It is a beautiful story, just lift up your ears and listen.
Contains: language, some sexual situations
Review of Sacred Treason by James Forrester
Overview from www.bn.com: 1563: Anyone could be a suspect; any Catholic could be accused of plotting against the throne. Clarenceux keeps his head down and his religion quiet. But when a friend desperately pleads with Clarenceux to hide a manuscript for him, he is drawn into a web of treachery and conspiracy he may never untangle. Is there no refuge if your faith is your enemy?
Bestselling author Dr. Ian Mortimer, writing as James Forrester, has crafted a chilling, brilliant story that re-imagines how the explosive mix of faith and fear can tear a country apart. Sacred Treason tells a thrilling story of murder, betrayal, and loyalty—and the power of the written word.
This book was a Free Friday offering from Barnes & Noble that was presented as something akin to The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I found that description was somewhat misleading.
In an attempt to categorize novels so that potential readers will want to buy them, publishers often try to compare their offerings to something similar that the public already knows about. I think that is what happened here though I see very few similarities between this and Dan Brown’s book. In fact, the only similarities I see are that both stories involve a religious conspiracy and both involve a strong reliance on past events. That is where the similarities end though.
This story takes place entirely in the past, in Elizabethan England to be precise. There are no modern-day detectives involved except for the author describing his investigation of Henry Machyn’s chronicle and that comes after the story finishes.
Also, the author does not seem to be trying to discredit Christianity the way that Brown’s book reportedly did. In fact, although much of the plot centers on the Protestant/Catholic debate, most of the main characters in the book recognize that God works through either faith. I found this refreshing and thoroughly enjoyed the book as a result.
I am glad that I gave this book a chance for it proved to be much better than I expected. In fact, I loved this book. It is definitely one of my favorites that I have read so far this year. I think there is a good chance that it will make it into my top ten favorites for the end of the year.
So what did I love about it? Everything. I can hardly think of a bad thing to say about it. Of course, the first thing I always notice is the story. I don’t want to give away any spoilers as I hope you will read it for yourself and come to love it as much as I did but I will talk a little about the plot.
The story revolves around one William Harley who is a herald by profession and a Catholic in religion. One night an acquaintance of his named Henry Machyn comes to his house after curfew, scaring him to death. Perhaps he should have gone with his first impulse and refused to answer the door because the mission Machyn entrusts him with causes the deaths of many, including a small boy.
Machyn gives him a chronicle that he has been working on. He tells Harley, otherwise known as Mr. Clarenceux, that he must protect this book at all costs because it contains a great secret that will determine the fates of two queens. Clarenceux reluctantly agrees to keep the book while Machyn disappears off into the night.
Worried about Machyn, Clarenceux goes to his house to find him only to find a murderous Sargent-At-Arms waiting for him there. He gets arrested and it seems like the end for him when he is unexpectedly released yet still pursued by this Sargent-At-Arms who goes by the name Crakenthrope.
The plot continues, detailing Mr. Clarenceux’s attempts to hide the book while avoiding capture and the certain death that follows. It turns out that his pursuit involves people all the way up to Mr. William Cecil, right-hand man to Queen Elizabeth herself. Cecil will protect her majesty at all costs and wants to determine once and for all what Mr. Clarenceux’s involvement is and whether or not he is a threat to Elizabeth’s rule.
The next points I will talk about are the characters. We see little of Henry Machyn but he, like Clarenceux, seems caught up in a secret which he is not equipped to deal with. He trusts Clarenceux to do the right thing.
Clarenceux’s opinion about religion and Elizabeth’s role and rule in this debate change constantly though he never waivers from his belief that Catholicism is the right way to go. He is an honorable man however, and in the end he does what he believes to be the right thing for both his family and England as a whole. I found myself liking him all the more for his courage and forthrightness.
The other characters are also entertaining. I don’t know much about the Elizabethan period though I plan to study it soon but I got the sense that most of the characters could have existed and some of them in fact did. What they were really like would be hard to know for certain but I didn’t think the author did them any injustice.
I don’t understand why some of them think that this story is demeaning to Catholics. Though I am not a Catholic, I felt that if anything, it made them look good. As I said before, most of our main characters are Catholics and I found them very likable though I am not a Catholic myself.
Read it yourself to see what you think. If you like mysteries or thrillers you may find this interesting. And of course, historical fiction fans will probably like.
I recently went to the author’s website and found that he has two other books that follow Clarenceux’s life. I guess this is the first of a series then. When I have more money I hope to get an e-book copy of them and review them also. Or (hint, hint) perhaps the author will send a free copy for review my way. Either way, I am looking forward to it.
Contains: some scenes of violence or danger
Review of Executive Privilege by Phillip Margolin
Overview from www.bn.com: To private detective Dana Cutler, her latest assignment almost seems like child’s play. She has been hired by an attorney to tail college student Charlotte Walsh on her daily rounds. Everything moves along predictably, until one night the pretty young miss scurries off to a very private meeting with the president of the United States. And to make matters worse, Charlotte is found dead the next morning, transforming Cutler almost overnight from hunter into hunted. Fast-breaking, nonstop action; memorable protagonists.
Executive Privilege follows most of the conventions that make up political thrillers. Of course someone rich and/or powerful features in the plot while getting away with a big crime. The everyman character who is just trying to survive or do the right thing must stop this person from getting away as well as keep him or herself alive. Then of course there is the danger that our main characters will be disgraced or even killed before having the chance to have the truth come out with proof to back it up.
This book has all that and more. Here we have two people who must prove their theories that the President of the United States is a serial murder as well as a seducer of underage girls. One is a lawyer recently hired by a prestigious law firm whose boss foists a strange pro bono case on behalf of a convicted serial killer. The second is a private detective who ends up tailing one of the murder victims to a meeting with the President.
The rich and powerful include the President and his wife of course as well as a staff that is fiercely loyal to him. This President is running for reelection when his picture is snapped by our investigator Dana Cutler whilst he is engaged in a compromising situation with Charlotte Walsh. With a small, private, and untraceable mini army at his disposal, this President will do whatever it takes to silence Dana permanently.
Meanwhile, Brad, the lawyer is in Oregon at the behest of his boss Susan Tuchman, aka the Dragon Lady, is investigating a possible loop-hole in the conviction of a serial killer. The killer is miffed that one of the murders he is charged with is not one of his and he wants his name cleared. Though Brad thinks it is a waste of time, he must follow through or face the wrath of his boss.
As Brad’s investigation proceeds, he comes to the startling conclusion that his client is right and he later gets the evidence together to prove it. Unfortunately the evidence soon implicates the President of the United States and he is forced into hiding too.
I will start with the negatives of the story as I see them. The sex in the story is a bit graphic at times and the f bomb appears too many times for my taste. Also, it is another story about Washington D.C. I realized it is a legal thriller but when am I going to see one in London or Copenhagen or even St. Louis? I am tired of D. C. I guess I lived there just a little too long. I know I got tired of hearing about the President even then. I am just not political person, I guess.
The positives are many but the best one is the description. I love the way this guy writes his description. My favorite passage of description involves the introduction of Brad’s boss. The tiny bit of back story I get here tells me exactly what kind of woman Brad is dealing with. Here is how it reads.
“The senior partner was wearing a black Armani pants suit with a white silk blouse and a necklace of black pearls. She was forty-nine but she’d been a partner for ten years as a result of a series of victories for a pharmaceutical client and a tobacco company. Tuchman’s first husband had been an associate at another firm but she had divorced him rather than set up a situation where an opponent from her husband’s firm could move to have her taken off a case on grounds of conflict of interest. A second, tempestuous marriage to a federal judge had lasted only as long as it took Tuchman to process the difference in the income contributions to their join bank account.” P. 61
Other pluses include the great story line which seems both exciting and more plausible than that of many other thrillers that I have read in the past. And although the swear words are still there, they are not as numerous as they are in other thrillers as well.
I think readers will find it worth a look, particularly if you don’t mind reading about D.C. and politicians as much as I do.
Contains: some graphic violence, sex, and language.