Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell
Russell's enjoyable latest historical is told in the exuberant, posthumous voice (yes, it's narrated from the afterlife) of Agnes Shanklin, a 38-year-old schoolteacher from Cedar Glen, a town near Cleveland, Ohio. After the influenza epidemic of 1919 strikes down Agnes's family, a childless and unmarried Agnes settles the family estate, acquires financial independence and adopts an affable dachshund named Rosie. Accompanied by Rosie, Agnes travels to Cairo during the Cairo Peace Conference, where she befriends Winston Churchill and Lawrence of Arabia among other historical heavy hitters. She also falls in love with the charismatic Karl Weilbacher, a German spy whose interest in Agnes may have less to do with romance than Agnes will allow herself to believe. Agnes's travelogues, while marvelously detailed, distract from the increasingly tense romantic play between Agnes and Karl. When a more worldly-wise Agnes returns home, her life—first as an investor wrecked by the Depression and then a librarian until her death in 1957—remains low-keyed.
Flag of Truce by David Donachie
John Pearce comes back from Corsica demanding that Captain Barclay of HMS Brilliant, the man who originally pressed him and his fellow Pelicans into the Navy, be tried at home by a civilian court. Against the background of the ongoing siege of Toulon and with the Revolutionary Army massing to attack, no one in authority sees this as a good time to accede to his requests. Barclayâs patron Admiral Hotham contrives a way out of the dilemma. He staffs the ship Pearce captured in Corsica with members of the Revolutionary Navy refusing to serve under the Bourbon flag and gives it to Henry Digby, with Pearce and his Pelicans under him, so that they may transport the renegade French sailors to an Atlantic port and set them free. Whilst Pearce is gone Hotham fixes a court martial where Barclay is found innocent for lack of evidence, a ruse that leads to an open breach with his wife Emily.
A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer
Bestseller Archer (Kane and Abel) pays homage to Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo in this delicious updating of the adventure classic. Four upper-crust friends from Cambridge University known as the Musketeers conspire to frame Danny Cartwright, an illiterate London East Ender, for the murder of Danny's oldest friend and brother-in-law to be, Bernie Wilson. The outcome of the intriguing trial, which pits a relatively novice defense lawyer against a skilled prosecutor, is a 22-year sentence for Danny. In maximum-security Belmarsh prison, Danny is lucky enough to share a cell with Sir Nicholas Moncrieff, the book's Abbé Faria figure, who teaches him to read and write. In a trick familiar to those who know their Dumas, Danny escapes by impersonating Moncrieff and hatches an intricate scheme to punish the Musketeers and clear his name. While Archer doesn't explore the cost to Danny's soul his revenge exacts, the author's firsthand knowledge of prison life and legal maneuvers helps make this a thoroughly enjoyable entertainment.
Another Thing to Fall by Laura Lippman
Hollywood comes to Baltimore in bestseller Lippman's assured 10th PI Tess Monaghan caper (after 2006's No Good Deeds). When Tess literally stumbles onto the set of Mann of Steel, a big-budget TV miniseries shooting in her neighborhood, she finds herself hired as a bodyguard for Selene Waites, the show's 20-year-old hard-partying star. Flip Tumulty—the show's writer and son of a Baltimore-born Hollywood mogul—tells Tess the set has been plagued by vandalism and he fears for Selene's safety. Tess soon uncovers unsettling photos of Selene and learns they were taken by Wilbur Grace, a stalker who later hanged himself. When one of the crew members is murdered, Tess suspects someone may be trying to shut down more than the TV production. While the excitement level may not match that of other recent entries in the series, fans will appreciate the author's usual authentic local color and intricate plotting.
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson
Jackson matches effortless Southern storytelling with a keen eye for character and heart-stopping circumstances. Laurel, a high-end quilt maker, sees the ghost of a little girl in her bedroom one night. When it leads her to the backyard and a dead girl in the swimming pool, the life Laurel had hoped to build in her gated Florida neighborhood with her video-game designer husband, David, and their tween daughter, Shelby, starts to fall apart. Though the police clear the drowning as accidental, it soon appears that Shelby and her friend Bet may have been involved. Bet, who lives in DeLop, Laurel's impoverished hometown, was staying over the night of the drowning and plays an increasingly important role as the truth behind the drowning comes to light. Meanwhile, Laurel's sister, Thalia, whose unconventional ways are anathema to Laurel's staid existence, comes to stay with the family and helps sort things out. Subplots abound: Laurel thinks David is having an affair, and Thalia reveals some ugly family secrets involving the death of their uncle. What makes this novel shine are its revelations about the dark side of Southern society and Thalia and Laurel's finely honed relationship, which shows just how much thicker blood is than water.
Blind Fall by Christopher Rice
From three-time New York Times bestselling author Christopher Rice comes this startling psychological thriller about an Iraq War vet who seeks redemption and revenge when a fellow Marine he failed to protect during the war is brutally murdered. John Houck became a Marine to become a hero. But his life changed when he failed to notice an explosive device that ended up maiming the captain of his Force Recon Company, a respected Marine who nearly sacrificed himself to save John's life. Home from Iraq, John pays a visit to his former captain, only to discover the captain has been gruesomely murdered. John pursues a strange man he sees running from the scene, but he discovers that Alex Martin is not the murderer. Alex is, in fact, the former captain's secret male lover and the killer's intended next victim. When it becomes clear that local law enforcement has direct connections to the murder itself, John realizes that to repay his debt of honor, he must teach Alex Martin how to protect himself, even if that means teaching Alex to kill. In the process, John confronts the painful truth about the younger brother he was unable to protect and the older sister he always felt he failed. Blind Fall is a story of honor and integrity, of turning failure into victory. It is a stunning departure for Christopher Rice: the story of two men, one a Marine, one gay, who must unite to avenge the death of the man they both loved--one as a brother-in-arms, one as a lover--and to survive.
Lush Life by Richard Price
Starred Review. Master of the Bronx and Jersey projects, Price (Clockers) turns his unrelenting eye on Manhattan's Lower East Side in this manic crescendo of a novel that explores the repercussions of a seemingly random shooting. When bartender Ike Marcus is shot to death after barhopping with friends, NYPD Det. Matty Clark and his team first focus on restaurant manager and struggling writer Eric Cash, who claims the group was accosted by would-be muggers, despite eyewitnesses saying otherwise. As Matty grills Eric on the still-hazy details of the shooting, Price steps back and follows the lives of the alleged shooters—teenagers Tristan Acevedo and Little Dap Williams, who live in a nearby housing project—as well as Ike's grieving father, Billy, who hounds the police even as leads dwindle. As the intersecting narratives hurtle toward a climax that's both expected and shocking, Price peels back the layers of his characters and the neighborhood until all is laid bare. With its perfect dialogue and attention to the smallest detail, Price's latest reminds readers why he's one of the masters of American urban crime fiction.
The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black
In this stunning follow-up to 2007's Christine Falls, Black (pseudonym of Booker Prize–winner John Banville) spins a complex tale of murder and deception in 1950s Ireland. Pathologist Garret Quirke, surprised by a visit from a college acquaintance, Billy Hunt, is even more surprised when Billy begs Quirke not to perform an autopsy on his wife, Deirdre, whose naked body was recently retrieved from Dublin Bay. Though everything points to suicide, Quirke knows something's amiss and begins to retrace Deirdre's steps. Black expertly balances Quirke's investigation with chapters detailing Deidre's past, from her marriage to Billy to her shady business deal with Leslie White, an enigmatic Englishman who knew Deidre as Laura Swan, the proprietress of their joint venture, a beauty salon called the Silver Swan. As Quirke digs deeper, he discovers a web of lies and blackmail that threatens to envelop even his own estranged daughter, Phoebe. Laconic, stubborn Quirke makes an appealing hero as the pieces of this unsettling crime come together in a shocking conclusion.