The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly

The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly

Published in Great Britain as The Sick Rose

Pamela Dorman Books/ Viking, February 2012

Source: Publisher

The Dark Rose is the story of Louisa, a 39-year-old working in Essex to restore a historical garden, and 19-year-old Paul, a young man working on the restoration project while he’s in Witness Protection in the months leading up to his friend Daniel’s trial.  Both are haunted by dead men (the epigraph of the book is from Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep:  “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”):  Louisa is haunted by her teenage boyfriend Adam, the singer in a rock band, and Paul is haunted both by his dead father and a man who died while he and his friend were stealing scrap metal.  Most of the story revolves around Louisa and Paul’s teenage years, and Kelly is very good at getting the reader to care about their interior lives.  The present in the story revolves around the historical background of garden restoration, the people working on the project, and Paul and Louisa’s relationship, but the main focus of the book is on the past.

This is not a typical crime novel.  There’s definitely a background of crime that drives both of the main characters, but this story is primarily about how to live with the crimes you’ve been a part of.  I typically read police procedurals or other stories that focus more on a brisk plot, so it took me a while to get used to the pace of this story, but it is very involving despite the slower pace.  The setting is vivid and her characters are real, complex people.  The pace picks up near the end of the book, but most of what comes before involves tortured romances and friendships.

Finally, I’m puzzled about the American title:  Louisa explains what a sick rose is and when it develops, or, more accurately fails to develop, at a crucial point in Paul and Louisa’s story.  A dark rose is never mentioned in the story, and it’s not really as evocative a title as a sick rose.

Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie

Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie

William Morrow, 2008

Book 12 in the Gemma James/ Duncan Kincaid series

Source: personal copy

I don’t only review new releases on this blog because I’d miss my favorite series books or books I’ve had waiting on my shelf for a long time.  One series I’m perpetually one or two books behind on is the Gemma James/ Duncan Kincaid series by Deborah Crombie, and now that I’ve finishedWhere Memories Lie, I think I’ll fly through the next two novels so I can catch up.

Where Memories Lie begins with Gemma’s friend Erika Rosenthal approaching her about a brooch appearing in an auction catalog, a brooch she hadn’t seen since her father gave it to her before she escaped Germany before World War II.  The novel tracks the story of Erika’s husband’s murder in the early 1950’s as well as the fallout of the impending auction of the brooch.  Part of the fallout, of course, are some murders.

While I liked the murder mystery aspect of the book, I preferred getting to know more about the characters in the story.  Erika Rosenthal has appeared in at least one earlier book in the series, and I never knew her backstory.  Crombie spends lots of time with her characters, and she doesn’t feel obligated to spend most of her time in the heads of her lead investigators, which is a good way to keep a series fresh, I think.  That’s not to say that I’m not interested in the ups and downs of Gemma and Duncan’s relationship, but I’m glad their story is balanced out by the stories of the secondary characters.

Where Memories Lie is a solid police procedural with interesting characters, good pacing, and an interesting background about the goings-on in an auction house dealing with possibly-looted goods.

Bleed for Me by Michael Robotham

          Bleed for Me features Joe O’Loughlin, a clinical psychologist suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, and he sounds an awful lot like other psychologist or detective protagonists:  he has marital troubles because he’s too involved in his work.  What makes this particular book stand out is that he’s not just interested in profiling criminals:  we see him analyzing a number of characters throughout the course of this book, notably a set of parents mourning the disappearance of their grown daughter.  Also, O’Loughlin’s story stands out in terms of the insight into parenting teenage and younger daughters.
          The mystery revolves around the murder of Joe Hegarty, a retired detective.  His teenage daughter Sienna is accused of murdering him, and Joe O’Loughlin is assigned to do her psychological evaluation.  This plot point is a bit far-fetched because Sienna is his older daughter’s best friend:  it seems like a conflict of interest for him to assess a friend of the family.  The other threads of the story involve a school teacher who’s too close to his female students and a racially motivated firebombing trial.
          The pacing of the book, after a slow start, is good:  I was very involved with the twists of the story and read the last half of the book in a very short time.  Once I step back and look at the story, though, I have a couple issues:  the sheer amount of tragedy that has befallen Joe’s family and the Hegarty family is a bit excessive.  O’Loughlin has a terminal illness and his older daughter was kidnapped two years before this book takes place.  Sienna’s father was murdered, her older sister was brutally attacked and is now paralyzed, and Sienna is accused of murder.  Finally, it’s unsettling that so much of the story centers on the violent response of men to the real or alleged rape or molestation of their female relatives.  It’s a gripping read, but the subject matter is extreme.
          I did enjoy reading the book because it’s refreshing to read a psychological thriller that’s not centered on profiling a serial killer.  Also, I liked the fact that Robotham spends time on O’Loughlin’s private life and how he’s coping with his Parkinson’s:  I can think of many crime novels that don’t spend much time with the protagonist’s loved ones.  I look forward to catching up on the earlier books in the series.
Bleed for Me by Michael Robotham
Mulholland Books
U.S. Publication date: February 27, 2012 (Originally published 2010)
Source:  Publisher via NetGalley

SMUT: TWO UNSEEMLY STORIES by Alan Bennett

I haven’t read much by Alan Bennett.  I read The Uncommon Reader, which was sort of a comedy piece about the Queen of England becoming an avid reader, and I watched the film version of The History Boys.  This collection of paired stories, Smut ,fits with what I know of Bennett:  the stories are funny, smart, and humane toward its main characters.  And, of course, given the title, thes estories contain plenty of sex.

The first story, “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson,” involves the sexual awakening of a fifty-five-year old widow who supports herself as an actor in medical student demonstrations and as a landlady.  The second story, “The Shielding of Mrs.Forbes,” involves two couples:  Graham and his wife Betty, and Graham’s parents. This is the story that made me see the humane side of Bennett in the final pages.

Both stories deal with small town propriety:  basically every character has a bit of a tawdry sex life that they are intent on keeping from their neighbors.  These are, after all, stories of seemliness.  Bennett does poke fun at suburban mores, but these pieces are not straight satires.  He cares for his characters, even the snobby elder Mrs. Forbes.  I don’t want to give away much more about the details about these delightful stories.   They are witty stories about hidden sex lives.
Smut:  Two Unseemly Stories by Alan Bennett

Picador
Publication Date: January 3, 2012
Source:  Publisher via NetGalley

THE RETRIBUTION by Val McDermid

The Retribution by Val McDermid is the latest installment in the criminal profiler Dr. Tony Hill and Detective Chie f Inspector Carol Jordan series.  It is the story of the search for two serial killers:  Jacko Vance, an escaped prisoner that Hill and Jordan captured in an earlier book, The Wire in the Blood; and a serial killer in Bradfield, home of Carol’s soon-to-disband Major Incident Team.

While I’ve read a lot of McDermid’s books outside this series, this is only the second Tony Hill/ Carol Jordan book I’ve read.  Why? The Mermaids Singing was a little too gruesome for me.  The Retribution, however, is disturbing without being too disturbing.  How doesMcDermid manage that?  The plot keeps moving, with plenty of twists to keep you guessing.  Also, she clearly loves her characters, and not just the primary ones.  There is enough going on with the members of Carol’s Major Incident Team to keep you distracted from the horrors of the two serial killers on their respective killing sprees in this book.

As for the major characters of Tony and Carol, they are interesting not just for the bits of backstory McDermid doles out in this installment:  they are so interesting because they are both flawed, damaged people who manage to thrive in their respective professions.  Tony is socially awkward to the extreme, and Carol is coping with the stresses her job has created during her career.  I won’t divulge more in order to preserve the surprises for new readers.
One other note:  even though I read this book out of order, it did not create any problems.  Since there are seven books in the series,there are enough that I won’t remember all the twists that The Retribution mentioned as backstory.  Even if this is the first Tony Hill and Carol Jordan book you read, you won’t be lost.

The Retribution by Val McDermid
Atlantic Monthly Press
Publication Date:  January 3, 2012
Source:  Publisher via NetGalley

There but for the by Ali Smith

This is the first Ali Smith book I’ve read, and it’s definitely not my last.  This is not a typical novel for me:  four stories by four people who know Miles Garth, a man who excuses himself from a dinner party table and locks himself into a spare room for months.  The first chapter is the story of Anna Hardie, who became friends with Miles during a high school tour of Europe.  The second chapter is the story of Mark Palmer, the man who brings Miles to the dinner party. It contains a set piece of the odd dinner party conversation immediately preceding Miles’s departure.  The third chapter is the story of May Young, an elderly woman in the beginnings of dementia, remembering her life.  At the end of her chapter we find out her connection to Miles.  Finally, the last chapter is told by the word-obsessed ten-year-old Brooke Bayoude.  She met Miles at the infamous dinner party, and she tries to write the history of Miles and his time in the room  .One word of warning:  Brooke’s chapter is a bit difficult to read because there aren’t many paragraph breaks.
This is not a novel about plot; in fact, at the end of the novel I don’t know, with certainty, why Miles locked himself into th eroom.  All of the narrators know him superficially or for a brief time, but they don’t know him well enough to knowwhy he locked himself in a room for months. While we don’t get to know Miles, we do get to know each of the four narrators, and I actually cared for them. Honestly, this book reminded me of the experimental fiction I read in both English and Spanish in undergrad, but this felt so much more humane than the experimental fiction I’ve read before. It’s a book that’s ripe for writing about, structurally or thematically, but, somehow, with interesting, involving characters.
There but for the by Ali Smith
Pantheon Books
Publication date: September 13, 2011
Source: public library

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING by Julian Barnes (Review)

“[T]he history that happens underneath our noses ought to be the clearest, and yet it’s the most deliquescent.” (p. 46) A spoiler-laden discussion of the ending of The Sense of an Ending follows.

The Sense of an Ending is the story of Tony Webster, a retired, divorced man in his sixties, remembering his life and musing about the slipperiness of memories. Early in the book, Tony’s school friend Adrian talks about one view of history as,“something happened.” What happened here: Adrian kills himself as a young man, soon after breaking up with Tony’s ex-girlfriend Veronica. About forty years later, Veronica’s mother Sarah bequeaths Adrian’s diary to Tony, but Tony’s ex-girlfriend refuses to give it to him.

There are two final twists to the story: (1) Tony misremembered or blocked out the level of hatred in his letter to Adrian and Veronica after they began dating, a letter in which Tony tells Adrian to seek out Sarah to learn the truth about Veronica; and (2) Adrian and Sarah end up having an affair and a child together.

I think Tony feeling guilty for Adrian’s affair and subsequent suicide is a bit of a stretch. He didn’t force them to have an affair. Should he have realized that Adrian had an affair with Sarah or that she had a child? I’m not sure he could have known. He wasn’t in close touch with his school friends after they left for college, and I don’t expect him to keep in touch with his ex-girlfriend either. I’m not sure why Veronica railed against Tony about not getting it: I’m not sure how he could have figured outt hat Adrian and Sarah had an affair and a child. Maybe he should have just asked Veronica why her mother had Adrian’s diary to bequeath to him in the first place. Maybe what Tony finally gets at the end of the novel is that he should have asked more questions. That seems to be the most satisfying reading for me.

It seems like a bit of a lame conclusion for such a big twist: Tony should have been more aware of the great unrest going on after he broke up with Veronica. It seems kind of slight compared to the final twists in a few other books with unreliable narrators, like Atonement by Ian McEwan or We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Maybe it feels slight because this is a much shorter book. Anyway, I’m quibbling with the book because it is so good: good, but not perfect—but what book is?

I AM HALF-SICK OF SHADOWS by Alan Bradley (Review)

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley features ten-year-old Flavia de Luce, an amateur detective who’s very interested in poisons. What’s most refreshing about this book is the fact that the young heroine is not stuck in the dystopian future:  instead, she lives in a small British village in 1950. She’s smart, she’s funny, and she’s not perfect. It’s not a series you must read from the beginning in order to enjoy, and in fact, I liked this book more than the highly acclaimed first book in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Why? I think there were fewer chemistry lessons in this novel than in the first one. Also, this novel felt very movie-esque, and not just because the story revolves around a film shoot at Flavia’s home. I think when I say movie-esque I mean self-contained. It’s a very charming book.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from Random House as a nEarly Bird Read. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”