Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Emily Bestler Book, December 2017

Disclosure: I received a review copy.

Anatomy of a Scandal is a courtroom thriller more than anything. James Whitehouse, a member of Parliament is on trial for raping a young staff member, and the story switches between Kate’s(the prosecutor) and Sophie’s (his wife) perspectives, with a bit from James’s (the accused) point of view. The story also cover the contemporary criminal case and everyone’s college years.

The cover of my review copy is misleading, a quibble I often have with books. “You want to believe your husband. She wants to destroy him.” That is not this book. There is no direct confrontation between Kate and Sophie. Vaughan does not play clear favorites between those characters. She’s more interested in how everyone is affected by James, both during the criminal case as well as before and after. She’s more interested in how women live in a world where men abuse women both criminally and psychologically. It’s very reflective.

The humiliated politician’s wife shows up in movies and in real life over and over, and this book gets at Sophie’s struggle. And it’s very perceptive about the slitheriness of James, the accused. The longer I am away from the book, the more impressed I am by how damning this story is to him.

The Killing Doll by Ruth Rendell

The Killing Doll by Ruth Rendell

Pantheon, 1984

Source: I bought this book.

While my local library has reopened in a limited capacity, I am still plugging away at my project to clear my bookshelves. I picked this Rendell because of the creepy cover, and because I figured a book from the 80s would have a different feel than a contemporary crime or psychological suspense novel. The Killing Doll delivers: it’s sinister, it’s heartbreaking, and it surprised me along the way.

The story centers on the Yearman family: older sister Dolly idolizes her younger brother Pup, who takes up magic (but he loves to call it geomancy). The siblings and their widower father are all grieving and wounded in their own ways: Dolly is psychologically debilitated by the port-wine birthmark on her face and her mother’s death; Pup is still a teenager when his mother dies and while adrift turns to the occult for some sort of organizing principle in his life; and their father Harold runs a typewriter store by day and devours historical fiction in all of his spare time. The B story deals with a loner who lives in the Yearman’s neighborhood, and he has his own host of psychological issues. He’s also an orphan.

The book is mostly Dolly’s story: her obsessions, her phobias, and her plans for her brother the magician. Rendell renders her agoraphobia and fears very keenly, and while I was dismayed throughout the book, I couldn’t turn away. It’s been five years nearly to the day that I last read Rendell (one joy of blogging is I can verify these things), and I, again, highly recommend her.

The Mill on the Floss Readalong, Book 1, Chapters 1-3

I’m reading The Mill on the Floss for the first time, and instead of leaving scrawled notes in my book as I slowly make my way through, I’m stopping to write my thoughts here in hopes that I remember more.

Today’s installment covers the introduction to Dorlcote Mill and the Tulliver family, minus Tom. Mr. Tulliver, the miller, is looking for advice for his not-so-bright son’s education from his local auctioneer/arbitrator Mr. Riley. And there are repeated comments from Mr. and Mrs. Tulliver about not knowing what to do with highly intelligent, headstrong Maggie.

Chapter 1

  • Who on earth is this narrator looking back on Maggie Tulliver at age 9?
  • Short chapter laden with descriptions of the landscape.

Chapter 2

  • page 10: this book is about arbitration about a dam and water levels. It’s a little too close to home here, one month after catastrophic flooding and dam breaches nearby in Gladwin and Midland counties. 160 years later, and the same water issues crop up. And riparian rights was just a tiny blip during law school.

Chapter 3

  • Lengthy aside about Mr. Riley’s lack of selfish motives makes me believe he actually is selfish and that he actually is playing the long game: he recommends Rev. Stelling teach Tom Tulliver in order to curry favor with Stelling’s father-in-law, who’s in a position to send business to Riley. Why insult readers who read too much into this, dear Narrator?

Two Swedish Crime Novels

I read a couple Swedish crime novels this month in succession, and writing this post takes me back a few years when I used to read a lot of them. Today’s post is about The Abominable Man and Firewall, a dash of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö and Henning Mankell.

The Abominable Man is a story about police brutality and how it gets entrenched in the police force. The book is nearly 50 years old, and it reads like it could have been written today. It’s a short and forceful story. It opens with a brutal murder of an ill retired police officer, and the climax of the book is a lengthy set-piece of a brutal attack on a number of police officers in Stockholm.

It’s a great, taut story, and I didn’t entirely expect the level of violence there was, in part because of this snippet about the painstaking process of criminal investigation early in the book:

Police work is built on realism, routine, stubbornness, and system. It’s true that a lot of difficult cases are cleared up by coincidence, but it’s equally true that coincidence is an elastic concept that mustn’t be confused with luck or accident. In a criminal investigation, it’s a question of weaving the net of coincidence as fine as possible. And experience and industry play a larger role there than brilliant inspiration. A good memory and ordinary common sense are more valuable qualities than intellectual brilliance. p. 31

Additionally, I remember Roseanna, the first installment in the series, being quite a slow story in terms of action. This is a great and interesting and scathing set of books, at least what I’ve read so far.

Next, I read Firewall by Henning Mankell, which while a police procedural spends a lot of time on just one inspector vs. The Abominable Man, which focused on a number of detectives. Firewall is a bit slow in comparison: Mankell spends plenty of time with the depressed and burnt out Wallander who is contemplating retirement. There are also several mentions of prior cases in prior books, so the fact that it’s been over 3 years since I read a book in this series was not a hindrance. It’s a story about some seemingly unrelated murders that are linked (of course), and as the case progresses, it involves a global conspiracy. It’s not a conspiracy-thriller though: it’s firmly a set of murder investigations.

Firewall is interesting to because it involves hackers years before The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, and it’s a sort of period piece because technology in 1998 is a world away from technology today. I must say, I prefer something a bit more thriller-like or with a tauter plot at this point in my reading life, though.

I recommend both books highly, and The Abominable Man is going on my list of best reads of the year.

The Abominable Man by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö , translated by Thomas Teal

2nd Vintage Crime/ Black Lizard edition

Originally published as Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle , 1971

Book 7 in Martin Beck/ Story of a Crime series

Source: I bought my copy.

Firewall by Henning Mankell, translated by Ebba Segerberg

Originally published as Brandvägg , 1998

Book 9 in Wallander series

Source: I bought my copy.

A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters

A Rare Benedictine
A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters, Myserious Press, 1989

Source: My bookshelves

Project: Read-from-by- Bookshelves continues since I was last able to check books out from my library on March 14. I picked up A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael, a collection of short stories that are prequels to the Brother Cadfael series, on the recommendation of someone at a library sale some time ago. I miss book browsing, and I’ve also got a stack of books to donate too from the past two months. Some day, right? Anyway, back to the book.

This mystery is one of the few historical crime novels I’ve read, and the compactness of the stories made them perfect for reading this weekend. The three stories take place in 1120 as Cadfael leaves the Crusades and joins the monastery in Shrewsbury, and in the span of just 150 pages, he solves a kidnapping, a theft of silver candlesticks, and an attempted murder in Shrewsbury. Compact stories are good for my short attention span.

Reading a new-to-me author writing about the twelfth century was a project in vocabulary, notably about the plants and herbs that Brother Cadfael grows and uses. My favorite plant name was orpine, also known as “witch’s moneybags.” I have at least two more Brother Cadfael books on my shelves, and I’m looking forward to them.

 

What I Read This Week

I finished something short and something long this week:

  1. Mario and the Magician, a novella by Thomas Mann;
  2. Doc by Maria Doria Russell

First off, I read Thomas Mann along with an online reading group/program called #MutuallyMann. There were a series of short videos and articles from Mann experts to help ground me in this novella that’s about a strange vacation in Italy with a horrifying magic show.  I’ve never read Mann for class or in a reading group before, so I appreciated the background. Going slowly helped too, and that fits my level of reading concentration these days.

Next, I finished the quite wonderful Doc on audio, read by the wonderful Mark Bramhall, about Doc Holliday. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a western, but I’ve watched my share, including Tombstone, which happens years after the events in this book. Certain things jumped out at me as I read this in 2020:

  • Of course I pick a book about a man with tuberculosis as we’re dealing with a horrible respiratory virus. I try to limit my news consumption, but I’m still preoccupied, you know;
  • The focus on small-town politics, including shifting alliances and powerbrokers who tried to keep that status secret, seemed very of-the-moment. And in the author’s note, Russell said she simplified the political history of Dodge City significantly. I can only imagine how much more convoluted the power plays were;
  • There were no hookers-with-a-heart-of-gold, refreshingly;
  • The focus on building a city whose economy depends on ridding cattle drivers of their money was interesting because right before Michigan’s stay-at-home order went into effect, I was at a meeting about branding our county for tourism. I think that conversation is on hold for at least a year, but we’ll see. I mean, cowboys aren’t tourists exactly, but they are passing through;
  • Finally, there was a mysterious death that took up a lot of focus in the story, so I haven’t totally abandoned my love of crime fiction. This book focused a lot more on atmosphere and the whole town of Dodge City than a whodunnit, though.

That’s it for now. Stay safe, and happy reading.

Checking In

Hello, everyone. Hope everyone is well and staying safe, and I hope that just maybe reading is working as a solace for you. I’ve been pretty distracted– I can focus for about 30 minutes max on what I’m reading– but I hope I can read and blog more in the coming days.

Here’s a selection of the books I’m juggling at the moment:

A Matter of Motive by Margot Kinberg

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

Clean Breaks by Ruby Lang

I’d be happy to hear what you’re reading.

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

 

alisha rai coverI expect great things from an Alisha Rai book, and I really liked The Right Swipe even though I think I preferred the angst-heavy Hate to Want You a little more. I was worried by the cover that it wouldn’t be angsty enough for me, but I was wrong.

The story is about Rhiannon, who runs a dating app, and Samson, a former partner who’s an ex-pro football player who is working for a rival company. The story is long enough to get into each of their backstories: she went through professional and personal hell in a past relationship, and he cared for his dying father and uncle who dealt with CTE after years playing football. The story is also long enough to start to get into the supporting characters’ backstories, which, given that this is the first book in a series, makes sense.

My quibbles about the book are few: 1. I cannot stand it when a character claims a guy makes her ovaries explode, or in this case “sigh.” It’s not repeated throughout the book, which grates on me even more, but still, it’s annoying. 2. I was worried about the kooky matchmaker character for most of the book. Rai does make her more complicated than she seems at the beginning, but I’ve run into her type of character too often.

Overall, I really liked The Right Swipe: the characters and their competence, the emotional angst, the heat level, and the fact that the complications in the plot didn’t feel artificial.

The Right Swipe (Modern Love #1) by Alisha Rai

HarperCollins, July 2, 2019

Disclosure: I read a review copy of the book.

The Valedictorian of Being Dead by Heather B. Armstrong

dooce coverI think I started reading memoirs centered on mental health well over ten years ago because books like The Glass Castle and Prozac Nation were book club picks. I’ve read a few more since then, but I’m by no means an expert in the genre. The Valedictorian of Being Dead centers on Armstrong’s experimental therapy for severe depression that involved extreme anesthesia instead of electroconvulsive therapy. She’s pretty explicit about her reasons for writing the book: she wants to eliminate the stigma around depression and explain what depression and treatment felt like for her. It makes for rough reading, but it’s also fascinating to hear about the experimental trial and her positive response to it.

The Valedictorian of Being Dead by Heather B. Armstrong

Gallery Books, April 23, 2019

Disclosure: I received a review copy.

Reading Margaret Maron for the First Time

My first read of 2019 was a good one: Fugitive Colors by Margaret Maron, which is book 8 in her Sigrid Harald series. It’s a police procedural, though the first half of the book is mostly a dive into Sigrid’s grief during her leave of absence from the police force in New York. She’s a homicide detective, and her partner was an older artist who died in a car crash in California before the book began. Sigrid takes on the sole responsibility of being his executor, which puts her into contact with a variety of art dealers and artists, one of whom dies halfway through the book.

A few observations:

  1. This book was published in 1995, which means I knew I had only a slight chance of finding an unreliable narrator in the book. So refreshing!
  2. I was happy to read a mystery, not a thriller. There was a little less action-y peril, and that fit my reading mood.
  3. Sigrid’s quirk is her interest in puzzle rings, not opera or cryptic crosswords.
  4. I’m not sure I’ve read a book with three short prequel sections versus one. It worked well in this one.

I have at least one more Maron sitting on my shelves, and I’m enthusiastic about trying her Deborah Knott series. I’d appreciate your recommendations for other Maron books to try. Happy reading to you this new year!

fugitive colors