Dare Me by Megan Abbott

dare meDare Me might be the most noir thing I read this year. Unlike the last book I read where I was in the place of the outsider looking in, I was plunged into a contemporary world that felt familiar because it felt like the movie Heathers. Both the movie and this book have memorable teenage narrators. Dare Me is the story of a year in the life of 16-year-old Addy, who feels recognizably sardonic and clueless at the same time.

Addy is a cheerleader who is her longtime friend Beth’s lieutenant on the squad. Addy quickly becomes obsessed with their new coach, Coach French, and the plot kicks off when Coach’s lover apparently kills himself. Adding the noir feel, the death scene feels very much like a movie scene (maybe Blood Simple with the view from the ceiling fan). The mystery takes up as much space as the setpieces about difficult cheerleading routines: their physicality and their dangerousness. Just as the sport of cheerleading is fraught with danger, Addy’s closeness to Coach and her strained relationship with Beth are also menacing.

The parents are quite absent from this book: they are either divorced or remarried and in their own worlds. Coach French is the only adult throughout the story, along with her husband and a group of military recruiters that the teenagers and Coach French become involved with. It’s a story about huge teenage feelings/ obsessions, and it feels like melodrama.

The final section of the book is heartbreaking as the characters’ motivations/ motives are revealed, and while I wasn’t entirely surprised by them, they were still quite heartbreaking. There isn’t much hope at the end of the book, which is why I’m dubbing it the grimmest story I’ll probably read this year.

Finally, a couple random thoughts: first, I wasn’t enamored with the narrator in the audio version I had. Her voices grated on me occasionally. Next, I will say that this is my favorite Abbott book compared to her other teenage-girl novels, The End of Everything and The Fever. The tension felt higher, which is why I preferred it, I think.

I borrowed the audio version from the library.

 

Ask for Me Tomorrow by Margaret Millar

ask for me tomorrowI like Margaret Millar books because her characters are oddballs and because her stories are compact.

My self-imposed project to read through Margaret Millar continues, this time with the first in the Tom Aragon series, Ask for Me Tomorrow. He’s a young hispanic lawyer in Santa Felicia, Millar’s stand-in for Santa Barbara, and he’s hired by a middle-aged woman named Gilly to track down her first husband who disappeared with a young maid from their home a number of years ago.

It feels a lot like other Millars: there’s a strange-seeming religious group that Gilly’s cook belongs to, the Holy Sabbathians, very much like the the cult in How Like an Angel. There’s an outsider going into a strange world. Aragon is young, and first he’s an outsider at Gilly’s house with its array of hired help for her and her second husband, who suffered a stroke, and then in Baja, Mexico as he tracks down her first husband who spent time in the Rio Seco jail, a jail called the Quarry in a very smelly town. And finally, what makes this feel like other Millar books is her dialogue. There always seems to be something off in Aragon’s conversations: with his client Gilly, with the legal assistant in his office, with the people he meets in Rio Seco.

The characters are vivid oddballs, which makes this story stick with me. And she ends the story without a lot of telling, so pondering motives is what happened to me after I read the book.

I bought my copy of the book.

Recently Read: A Little True Crime, a Little Women’s Fiction

I’ve been reading more than just my favorite Swedish crime novelists in the last month. I’ve tried more than one true crime book and a new book by Elizabeth LaBan which I think gets categorized as women’s fiction. The result is that I want to get back to mysteries, I think: true crime makes me feel too much of a gawker, and this particular LaBan book made me yearn for a conflict that did not involve the two main characters not really communicating with each other.

good nurseMy latest true crime audiobook was The Good Nurse: A True Story of Madness, Medicine, and Murder by Charles Graeber. It’s about nurse Charles Cullen, who is allegedly the most prolific serial killer in the United States though he has admitted to a much smaller number of murders. He worked at a number of hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, left after suspicious incidents at a number of hospitals, and finally admitted to killing a number of patients at more than one hospital. The most in-depth part of the story was about what the hospitals did and didn’t do when they suspected Cullen of being connected to a number of deaths, not the story of why Cullen murdered so many patients. I skipped over a good chunk of the Afterword, which recounted the legal saga of Cullen trying to get permission to donate a kidney while he was in prison. It felt a bit too gawkerish to me. I basically turned to Wikipedia to find out if the donation went through and finished the book.

restaurant critics wifeAfter Cullen I needed to read a book without any murders, so I picked up The Restaurant Critic’s Wife by Elizabeth LaBan. It’s a book about a struggling mother adjusting to parenting two kids and moving to a new city where her husband, a newspaper restaurant critic becomes increasingly paranoid about preserving his and his wife’s anonymity. The setpieces of Sam, the critic, in disguise where in part fascinating and in part ridiculously funny, but ultimately I was frustrated with the conflict in the book boiling down to the couple not talking to each other. They talked around each other, and I tend to gravitate toward stories that do more than that.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of The Restaurant Critic’s Wife from the publisher.

 

The Black Path by Åsa Larsson

black pathI’m catching up with one of my favorite series, this time reading  The Black Path, book 3 in the Rebecka Martinsson series. The book starts off pretty close to the ending of the previous installment, now finding Martinsson in a mental hospital after her breakdown at the end of the last book. It’s heartbreaking. The police procedural aspect starts a bit later: Rebecka continues to improve and starts working for the prosecutor in Kiruna. She helps Investigator Anna-Maria Mella on a murder case by digging into the victim Inna Wattrang’s financial and business past. She worked for a mining company, and the financial side deals with the expansion of mining operations in Uganda.

The elements of murder and big financial operations are there and could have turned the story into a thriller of sorts, and there are definitely sections of the book that feel more fast-paced, but  Larsson is most interested in characters. She spends a great deal of time in all of her characters’ heads as they are going through the time of the police investigation, but the actual investigation fades into the background quite often.

The strongest parts of the book for me were the sections told from Rebecka’s perspective and from the perspective of Ester, an artist who is the half-sister of Kallis, the mining company executive. She is a painter whose clairvoyance felt a bit off to me. She was adopted by a Sami family and lives with her half-brother after her mother dies, and the scenes of her painting are quite good. The link between Rebecka, who lost her mother at a young age, and Ester, who was adopted as a baby, is quite good. Like I said, the characters’ and their pain affected me more than the murder plot. This is a good entry in the series.

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The Black Path by Åsa Larsson, translated by Marlaine Delargy

Quercus, 2012

Originally published as Svart stig, 2006

I bought my copy of the book.

 

Hour of the Wolf by Håkan Nesser

hour of the wolfHour of the Wolf by Håkan Nesser, translated by Laurie Thompson

Originally published as Carambole, 1999

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

It’s been a few years since I’ve read Nesser, and I was happy to skip to book 7 in the series, Hour of the Wolf. I know I missed a few resonances in the characters in the police’s backstory because I haven’t read Münster’s Case, for example, but I didn’t feel too lost.

Hour of the Wolf begins in the mind of a killer, and after a decent amount of time the focus changes to the police. The beginning follows a man who kills a teenage boy while driving drunk and leaves after hiding all evidence of his crime. He is later blackmailed, and he kills the supposed blackmailer at their arranged pickup time.  Unfortunately the murdered man is someone close to Van Veeteren, and the sections of the book dealing with Van Veeteren’s grief are quite sad.

Van Veeteren is a bit of a stereotype: pessimistic, atheist, loves chess and esoteric classical music and antiquarian books. Thankfully the focus isn’t only on him so his persona doesn’t become too onerous. He does have a profound effect on the inspectors he trained, especially Reinhardt and Moreno, and even when Van Veeteren is not in the book, his presence is obvious.

It’s not a fast-paced book in any part. It’s quite procedural heavy, but the detectives’ conversations again are sometimes reflective and sometimes funny. Tone-wise, it’s a heavy read because it’s disheartening to be in the mind of the killer. That said, I still enjoyed the book a great deal. Now to catch up on a couple installments I’ve missed!

 

 

 

My First Audiobook in Ages: Columbine by Dave Cullen

columbine

I started giving audiobooks a try at the end of December. A book ten years in the making by an investigative journalist from the Denver area doesn’t quite sound like festive reading, or listening, but I was fascinated by the book and I didn’t mind speeding up the narration a bit on my phone to make it pass a bit more quickly. My general problem with nonfiction is that I lose my attention span after awhile. Audio helped me with that problem because I could focus for a set amount of time, speed up the narration a bit if I wanted, and generally not get bogged down as I do with print nonfiction.

But on to the book: Columbine has been on my TBR list for quite some time. I knew that it uncovered a few myths perpetuated by the media about the school shooting and the school shooters, but I didn’t know much else going in. It was a fascinating story about just how wrong the wall-to-wall media coverage was about the killers as well as the martyr Cassie Bernall. It was fascinating to follow people like Fusilier, the FBI agent who was a hostage negotiator and who became an expert on psychopaths. The psychological profiling of psychopaths in Columbine was more in-depth than anything I’ve found in fiction about psychopaths. I didn’t care as much for all the excerpts of the murderer’s websites, videos, and diaries, and I think that was because it felt repetitive.

One thing I left the book with is not missing cable television and local news. I watch bits and pieces of breaking news events, but I don’t read nearly as much or watch as much as I used to. Now I don’t think I’m missing much except predetermined narratives, as the book explained in stark relief.

This book did not make me an audio convert or a nonfiction audio convert, but I think I’ll try a few more audio books just to add a bit of variety. Recommendations welcome!

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Columbine by Dave Cullen

Blackstone Audio, March 2010

I borrowed this book from the library.

 

2015 in review

Happy new year, and thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. I’ve been posting less and reading less than in years past, but I very much appreciate your reading and all the reading suggestions you’ve shared. You’ve made my reading life very interesting, and I am very grateful.

2015 is the year I started reading lots of older crime fiction to go along with my love of Scandicrime, and I also went on a few non-crime reading jags to balance out my reading. I anticipate reading lots more Margaret Millar in 2016, not only from my collection of used books but from the new ebook editions that are coming out in the US from Syndicate Books. I’ve also started listening to nonfiction on audio so look for a little variety in upcoming posts.

2015 is also the year I shifted my reading challenges to perpetual mode (read a book from every country and every state in the US). My recordkeeping has a few gaps, but of the about 60 books I read, 11 were set in the US followed by Sweden with 7. I added Ukraine and Cambodia to my countries-of-the-world list but did not fare so well in adding American states to my reading. New York and California were the most common settings in my US reading, and I hope to add more non-coastal states to my 2016 reading.

As for 2016 challenges, I am using two challenges to help combat future reading ruts:

  1. Book Riot Read Harder Challenge– It’s a challenge covering lots of genres and some variety in time periods.
  2. Bustle Reads– It focuses on women and writers of color.

I plan on keeping the challenge categories tucked away in my bag or under my computer keyboard to have on hand when I’m looking for something new to read. I think that works a lot better than committing to a list of intended reads at the beginning of the year.

Finally, I am linking to the WordPress summary of my blog stats for the year for reference and entertainment. The continuing popularity of my Latin American Crime Fiction post makes me realize I haven’t read much if any South American books for the year.

Happy new year, all!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,300 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.