Broadchurch by Erin Kelly and Chris Chibnall

broachchurchBroadchurch by Erin Kelly and Chris Chibnall

Minotaur Books, September 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

I decided to read the novelization of the series Broadchurch because I haven’t seen the TV version and had heard good things. In some ways it was a very good book and story, and in other ways it didn’t quite take off for me.

I’m pretty picky about books about murdered children: I often give them a pass. Broadchurch involves the death of eleven year old Danny, who lives next door to Detective Ellie Miller, who expects to lead the investigation until returning from vacation to find out that the promotion she anticipated was given to an outsider, Detective Alec Hardy, who was responsible for botching a child murder trial some time before. Miller and Hardy are both interesting and troubled characters to varying degrees, and their stories are interesting because they are dealing with such a harrowing case.

But my main concern about the book was that absolutely every character had a very sad or troubled backstory, and it was a bit overwhelming an approach to the town and its residents.  I think it may be a difference between the book and the filmed version: the novelization is a lot more in the characters’ heads than the show was, I presume.

Finally, because the book took place in such a small resort town, it was sort of easy to figure out who did it by process of elimination. The conclusion was a bit of a letdown, and it made me remember this interesting post about the original version of The Killing: the discussion about different investigative approaches was very illuminating.

Overall, this was an interesting read, but I’m not in a rush to watch the show now.

Other reviews appear in Cleopatra Loves Books and Crime Fiction Lover.

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

broken monstersBroken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Mulholland Books, September 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

So I was interested in reading Broken Monsters because it’s set in Detroit (I lived in the metro area for over 10 years), but I was unsure about a crime novel written about a crime-ridden city and written by someone from South Africa. What I mean is that crime fiction is a bit escapist, and Detroit itself is so riddled with crime that I wasn’t sure what kind of approach Beukes would take. Well, the answer is a bit of a sci-fi/horror approach to the central crime (a boy’s torso is found attached to a deer’s legs), and a large set of characters in the city whose voices feel fresh and real.

Broken Monsters spends a great deal of time with Detective Gabriella Versado and her teenage daughter Layla, but this is not a book that focuses on the police procedural aspect of this hot-button case. Beukes also tells the story of Detroit and investigating the horrific murder through a few homeless characters, some artists, and a journalist new to the city and new to embracing social media to tell the story about the murderer. In the meantime, there are several setpieces involving an Arts and Crafts period pottery studio (inspired by Pewabic Pottery) and huge art parties/ installations in neighborhoods reminiscent a bit of the Heidelberg Project.

Part of the pleasure of the book was the voices of all of these disparate characters, and part of it was because of the bits of Detroit Beukes got right–the urban ruin explorations, the artists, the pottery studio And it was a serial killer story that was so out there that it felt fresh. Finally, I appreciated how good Beukes was at capturing her teenage characters’ voices. Layla and her friend Cas feel quite real, and that stood out to me especially after having mixed feelings about the last book I reviewed.

Finally, I want to highlight a couple Detroit items: first is a Reading Detroit list especially for its nonfiction section. The Arc of Justice is a fabulous book that captures Detroit in its boom times and a great legal story about Ossian Sweet, a black doctor accused of murder. And finally, I leave you with a photo of a Pewabic Pottery vase that I’ve given a few times as a wedding present, proof that there is more to Detroit than crumbling buildings.

pewabic

The Fever by Megan Abbott

feverThe Fever by Megan Abbott

Little Brown, June 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

The Fever falls into the camp of books about the strange world of high school girls. In some ways it feels like a companion piece to the only other Abbott book I read, The End of Everything, as well as Laura Lippman’s The Power of Three. All involve very close teenage girlfriends and something sinister or criminal going on. In the case of The Fever, sixteen year old Lise Daniels has some sort of seizure at school and is in turn hospitalized as her symptoms worsen. Subsequently, a significant number of her classmates also are afflicted by seizures and other odd symptoms. The police and the county health department investigate, and in fits and starts, the story of Lise and her friends comes clear.

This is a story about dread: the girls who are friends with Lise dread it will happen to them, their parents dread the unknown cause of their daughters’ symptoms. The town itself feels a bit surreal before the girls are stricken: there is an algae-infested lake in town that is closed to people, and the weather is fairly gloomy as well.

But most of all, this feels like a call back to novels I read when I was much younger: there are references to Judy Blume (there’s a character named Deenie and another with scoliosis) and Lois Duncan (someone talks about astral projection). This is a book about taking teenage drama seriously. It was a sort of compelling read for me because the world of Dryden was so strange, but it also was a difficult read because the tone was just so serious and paranoid. The adults especially seemed more paranoid about the possible explanations for the rash of seizures affecting teenage girls in their community than the actual girls did. But the other reason I can’t say I loved the book is that I felt oddly detached from the main characters: I think the strangeness of what was happening overpowered the actual characters for me.

Other reviews appear in Books and Reviews and S. Krishna’s Books.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

children actThe Children Act by Ian McEwan

Nan A. Talese, September 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

The Children Act is a short, thoughtful character study of Fiona Maye, a High Court judge in London who grapples with her own marital difficulties while dealing with a few major cases that involve children and religion, notably a hospital’s application to transfuse a 17 year old leukemia patient who refused because he is a Jehovah’s Witness.The focus on character is quite good, and it’s quite evident how years of being a lawyer and judge shape Fiona’s worldview and thought processes. It makes it difficult for her to handle her own marital crisis:

          Her emotional tone, as she sometimes referred to it, and which she liked to monitor, was               entirely novel. 

But Fiona’s marital troubles do not occupy the bulk of the book: McEwan spends most of this short novel describing Fiona’s work on two major cases involving families and religion. It’s difficult to say more about such a short work, but I enjoyed the novel for its characters and its precise writing.

 

 

The Lewis Man by Peter May

lewis manThe Lewis Man by Peter May

Quercus, September 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

The Lewis Man, the second in the Lewis trilogy, set in the westernmost of the Outer Hebrides. It’s a sort of police procedural. One of the main characters, Fin McLeod, returns to the Isle of Lewis and unofficially investigates the murder of a man found somewhat preserved in the peat bogs. It sounds like an Elly Griffiths novel, but the story doesn’t dwell too much on forensic archaelogy. The mystery of the deceased is an important element of the story, but the story of Fin and his old girlfriend’s Marsaili’s father, suffering from advanced dementia and remembering his childhood, are the main elements of the story. While the first book in the trilogy focused on Fin’s childhood, this installment focuses on the childhood of someone from his parents’ generation.

The murder investigation doesn’t feel like the center of the story because May spends so much time on the characters childhoods on the island. He touches on how religion has worked in the last fifty years on the island and beyond, and its shameful part of the care of orphans and children from broken homes. Both books in the trilogy so far have been harrowing because of the harsh setting, the murders, and the heartbreaking childhoods of their main characters.

One side note: this particular entry in the series does not make me want to visit the Isle of Lewis: lashing rain, fierce winds, and cold do not sound appealing to me. Maybe the third installment in the series makes a better case for visiting. Regardless of the harsh scenery, I enjoyed this story.

The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

tiger smokeThe Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

Originally published 1952

This edition: Reader’s Digest, 2005

Campion book 14

I read this book as part of the #1952book challenge hosted by Rich at Past Offences. It’s nice to do a quickie reading challenge, and it’s nice to broaden my reading horizons beyond books published in the last ten years.

I’m new to Margery Allingham and knew nothing about The Tiger in the Smoke before I read it. I knew it appears on best-read lists, and my edition in fact is for the Readers Digest Series “The Greatest Mysteries of All Time.” Happily, I agree that it’s a fabulous book.

First, a note about the title. The Tiger refers to the very interesting villain in this novel, Jack Havoc, and the smoke refers to the unusually thick and long-lasting fog enveloping London during the relatively short time this novel covers. The story involves multiple murders but begins with the mysterious reappearance of the presumed-deceased first husband of Meg, Campion’s niece, on the eve of her wedding to another man, Geoffrey Levett. The plot is intricate but not overwhelmingly complex, and the violence was a bit more than I expected. But besides the plot, the characters and the setting are what stood out for me.

The novel is partly a police procedural (Inspector Luke is the main police character, and he’s quite well-drawn), but not entirely so. Allingham spends plenty of time with Meg and her relations (including Campion) as well as the criminals in the story.

Jack Havoc is the character who stands out to me because not often if ever is a villain so real and not a cartoon. I was a little less happy with the scenes with two groups: those living with Canon Avril, who is Meg’s father, and the gang of criminals posing as band. There voices were distinct, but it was difficult to remember everyone’s back story when they were introduced in such a short time frame. This may be my problem with settling into a novel by a writer who’s new to me or reading something from 1952, which I don’t often do: I had to get used to Allingham’s style, and the first half of the novel is heavy on descriptions of people and their clothing as well as setting the foggy scene.

It’s a great read in terms of characters, thoughtfulness about evil and the lingering effects of World War II, and the plot. It feels more substantial and more memorable than many books I’ve read this year, and I’m glad I read it.

 

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

life in middlemarchMy Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

Crown, 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Blogging for Books.

Before I started reading lots of crime fiction I was an English major who read a bit of everything. I read Middlemarch just a few months before I graduated and was very impressed: it was a soapy, serialized drama, it was serious, and Eliot was so generous to her characters. I picked out My Life in Middlemarch not only because of my fondness of the book but because of my fondness of Mead’s writing in the New Yorker (lots of profiles as well as other pieces, and her book about the wedding industrial complex is entertaining and fascinating too). If you don’t love Middlemarch, I’d avoid this book.

This is a biblio-memoir, which means it’s part a close reading of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, part memoir of Rebecca Mead as she’s reread the book since she was a teenager, part biographical sketch of Eliot and those close to her, and part a travelogue as Mead tries to understand the world Eliot wrote in and lived in.  It’s a book that I dipped in and out of because the structure, which follows the structure of each installment of the novel, didn’t have the forward momentum I usually look for in my reading. That’s not to say the book was uninteresting: I just felt the need to take breaks occasionally.