“There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.”
Hmmm....more“There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.”
Hmmm. I'm of two minds on this one. On the one hand: WOW. James Salter is an incredible writer. His descriptive style is flawless: clear, concise, creative, and imparted with gorgeous prose that has a poet's precision. On one character's drunk mother: "Her voice slurred a little but she rode over it as if it were a fleck of tobacco on her tongue, as if she could pause and wipe it away with a finger." Surveying a party, an "older woman with a nose as long as an index finger was eating greedily, and the man with her blew his nose in the linen napkin, a gentleman, then.”
My copy of this book is a sea of highlights: fascinating descriptions, intriguing observations, and, frequently, just a neat turn of phrase that I liked the sound of. I think the last time I left a book so smeared with highlights was the last time I read a book by E.M. Forster. Salter's skill with a pen definitely makes him deserve the company, although I would say that Salter's style has a slightly more mid-to-late-20th century feel to it. There are passages in All That Is that could come straight out of a Salinger novel or a Raymond Carver story, and I can think of no higher praise than that. It makes me ashamed that until this book was released, I had never heard of James Salter.
I suppose that isn't so far-fetched, given that it had been thirty-five years since Salter's last novel. I wasn't even born yet. But in that time he did release two volumes of short stories, one volume of poetry, a collection of travel essays, and a book about food (the last one written with his wife). So the book nerd in me does feel a wee bit chastened. Mostly, though, I feel relieved that I did find him. There's a joy in discovering someone who can write so well that their talent alone thrills you as you read.
The problem is that the thrill of Salter's writing is the only thrill to be found here. For long stretches of time it feels like the narrative is going nowhere. Yes, the writer is skilled enough to keep you going, but there were countless times during the process that I found myself wondering where, exactly, the destination was, and when we might finally get there. It dangerously toes the line of plodding, and in some cases I would argue that it goes over. Even if only by a hair's breadth. Part of me feels bad criticizing this, since it seems to be a goal of Salter's to revel in the quotidian details of Philip Bowman's life. After all, the quotidian is what we spend a great deal of time on in our own lives. Which may just make it the essence of life. Whether or not you want to read about it or escape from it in your reading time is a decision only you can make.
Characters come and go, sometimes all too briefly. Some get a short glance while others step into the spotlight. Again, this is meant to mirror everyday life. In his 1997 memoir Salter notes: “If you can think of life, for a moment, as a large house with a nursery, living and dining rooms, bedrooms, study, and so forth, all unfamiliar and bright, the chapters which follow are, in a way, like looking through the windows of this house. Certain occupants will be glimpsed only briefly. Visitors come and go. At some windows, you may wish to stay longer, but alas. As with any house, all within cannot be seen.” So it is with the narrative of All That Is.
I'd be lying if I told you that I didn't occasionally find it frustrating. Not just because of the sensation of plodding. Salter is a strong enough writer to deserve a little patience. But because it frequently doesn't feel like there's a point to it all. Maybe that's another statement about life. It would often be true. But to me it leaves a cold distance between me and the narrative. As much as I found Salter's writing to be thrilling, I never much felt like embracing it, if that makes any sense. What I will remember about All That Is is not a feeling that was provoked, not a theme that I will remember and call back to, but, simply, the prose. To me, that makes it an incomplete experience.
There's one last issue that I have with this novel. There's a huge problem with representation of women. For the first half of the book I was willing to shrug it away, arguing to myself that since the writing feels like an artifact from the 1950s, perhaps it was an intentional goal to mimic the intense focus on men: their ideals, feelings, and role in society. But when a man is discovered in flagrante delicto with a female cashier and Salter writes that "The cashier claimed rape but then regained her poise," it is extremely disquieting. To say the least.
For more reviews, news, and more please check out my blog. (less)
"The problem with my life was that it was someone else's idea."
Thank goodness for librarians. For a lot of reasons, really. I'm very lucky to have a l...more"The problem with my life was that it was someone else's idea."
Thank goodness for librarians. For a lot of reasons, really. I'm very lucky to have a lot of friends who work in libraries, mostly in the Young Adult area. I guess that's one of those things that happens when you love books: you cultivate friends who have the same interest, and they tend to work in the field in a way that lets them share that passion. The reason I'm telling you this is that I owe a big debt of gratitude to my long-time friend Jessica for urgently messaging me that there was a YA book I needed to read. I honestly don't think I ever would have found this book without her taking the time to point it out to me. And I am so, so glad that she did.
It's 1987. Angel Aristotle Mendoza (known as Ari) is on the cusp of sixteen years old and quietly drowning. He has no friends. His two sisters are much older than him, meaning that they treat him like a son more than a brother. His older brother might as well not exist since no one has talked about him after he went to prison when Ari was a small child. There aren't any photos of him. Ari wants to talk about him, to understand him, but doesn't feel like he can. Ari's father, meanwhile, is something of a ghost himself. He did a tour in Vietnam that left him haunted and, seemingly, emotionless. He barely talks, flitting silently through the house like a specter.
A grisly murder (this series knows no other kind) in Chinatown leaves no trace of the suspect other than two silver hairs that don't belong to a human...moreA grisly murder (this series knows no other kind) in Chinatown leaves no trace of the suspect other than two silver hairs that don't belong to a human. While investigating, Rizzoli and Isles uncover a link to a brutal multiple murder nineteen years earlier. A murder with only one survivor: a girl who disappeared and has remained silent ever since. A girl who has been training in deadly Chinese martial arts. A girl who has been patiently planning vengeance. A girl who appears to have ties to a mystical Chinese creature with a keen eye for bloody vengeance. Now it's up to Rizzoli and Isles to find her and uncover her secrets before the next body appears.
As far as showcases for Gerritsen playing to her strength of writing kick-ass female characters go, The Silent Girl does very well. The titular girl almost becomes someone to root for in a sort of Kill Bill style, as does the wise old Chinese woman (and martial arts teacher) who seems to be helping her stay hidden. Like in Vanish, Gerritsen doesn't treat the girl like a villain. She's a woman who has been beaten down and refuses to stay down. Her tactics are ... well, 'morally questionable' would be a ridiculous understatement. They're full-blown illegal. But Gerritsen makes sure you understand where she is coming from and why she is doing the things she is doing. It's a compelling story.
There are some problems, though. There's very little mystery to be found here, but that isn't actually my problem. You can still have a very effective mystery/thriller when the identity of the bad guy is essentially known to the reader. It's just that the parts Gerritsen seems to think of as the mystery aspect aren't actually very mysterious at all. They're kind of obvious, actually. Even the final 'twist.' It weakens an otherwise solid entry in the Rizzoli and Isles series.
For the first time, Tess Gerritsen released a short story starring Rizzoli and Isles, available only as an eBook. And for good measure, our intrepid h...moreFor the first time, Tess Gerritsen released a short story starring Rizzoli and Isles, available only as an eBook. And for good measure, our intrepid heroines find themselves facing off against a possible vampire and a father eager to avenge his dead daughter.
Let's be honest for a minute: this short story owes its existence to online marketing. It's a way to collect a few extra bucks while also drumming up awareness of the series' next installment, which conveniently comes along pretty soon.
Still, Gerritsen makes it fun. It's clear that the story idea didn't have enough firepower to last an entire novel, so it actually was wise to keep this one short. I sound like I'm being harsh on this concept, but that's not actually the case. It's a fun idea, and like I said, the idea was kinda fun and couldn't have sustained a novel anyway. And for anyone looking to pad the time between books, you can't really go wrong.
The Keepsake may have been a bit of a lull, and I was 'meh' about The Mephisto Club, but with this entry Gerritsen gets the Rizzoli and Isles series t...moreThe Keepsake may have been a bit of a lull, and I was 'meh' about The Mephisto Club, but with this entry Gerritsen gets the Rizzoli and Isles series to roar back to life. Rizzoli isn't in large swaths of the book, and it turns out that this is exactly what we needed. It's a savvy move by Gerritsen to alternate viewpoints like this because it keeps her series fresh.
Maura heads to a medical conference in Wyoming. She's trying to forget her attraction to the unattainable (or is he?) Father Brophy and quietly resentful of the new family and life Jane has. The conference is a chance to refresh her mind and explore new opportunities, so when she gets an invite to tag along with a group of friends on a ski trip she jumps at it.
Unfortunately, things don't go so well. The group takes that cliched wrong turn and gets lost in a snowstorm, finally seeking shelter in a tiny, unmapped village in the mountains. A village that appears to have been abandoned suddenly. A village that appears to be hiding a violent secret. A village where someone appears to be watching them ... and waiting ...
Gerritsen flirts with horror movie conventions and it works for her. We also get to see Maura's calm demeanor and scientific reasoning challenged in a much more interesting, life-threatening way than we did in Mephisto Club. Turns out she has some wicked survival instincts. Topping off this excellent suspense thriller, Jane and Maura get to face off with a religious cult. We also meet a character who will pop up in the next few R&I books--a character who adds new layers to Maura's character in the same way Jane's unexpected pregnancy did for her.
Man, I really wish I had crossed this one off of my to-read list sooner. You see, I enjoy history, but I...more"Being part of history is rarely a good idea."
Man, I really wish I had crossed this one off of my to-read list sooner. You see, I enjoy history, but I have a hard time getting into nonfiction books. Most of them are bone dry and deadly dull, in my experience. Wading through the options to find a good one was always excruciating to me.
I always preferred taking a history class with an instructor who had a lot of personality. One of my high school history teachers got so into tales of medieval mayhem that he'd dart back and forth between two blackboards, desperately scrambling to find space to scrawl out more information as he told us about the black death. His enthusiasm and wit made the subject come to life for the first time, and not just be a collection of names and dates. Later, when I took a college history class about the Reformation, I encountered a cantankerous and alarmingly elderly professor. Perhaps due to his age, he sat down the whole class and just told us stories, occasionally lobbing acid barbs at the jocks unsuccessfully trying to hide in the back row. It was captivating. He made Reformation England the best soap opera not on television. It was the first time I thought of history as having a narrative, just like a novel but real. People in the past had personalities! Who knew? The following semester I took a class on the Civil War with a professor who could only be described as a bitchy queen, but that man knew his shit and was hilarious. He could have had an amazing TV show: The Bitchy Queen's Guide to History. It would win every single Emmy, and he'd roll his eyes at least once in every acceptance speech.
Those are the people who made history come alive to me. The reason I'm telling you all this is because you can add Sarah Vowell to that list now. She's droll, witty, and totally sarcastic. I love it. “You know you've reached a new plateau of group mediocrity when even a Canadian is alarmed by your lack of individuality.” Hilarious. So is this: “Like Lincoln, I would like to believe the ballot is stronger than the bullet. Then again, he said that before he got shot." But she's also crazy informative and ridiculously thorough. She understands history from all angles. She knows all the competing theories. She knows all the events that caused one thing to lead to another and is capable of conveying that information without giving you a migraine.
Best of all, she has an emotional relationship to history. In this book, Vowell explores the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, and during her quest she makes an effort to understand each of them. What kind of men were they? We're not just looking at how they died, we're looking at how they lived. When she visits McKinley's memorial Vowell remarks that she didn't feel any closer to the former president, but when she visits the plaque commemorating the location where he was fatally shot she is surprised to find herself emotionally overwhelmed. She visits the neighborhoods they called home, the locations where they worked, and the museums that house their belongings, all to get a better sense of who they were.
It's not just the presidents who get this treatment, it's also the men responsible for their deaths and others who were affected by them. She visits the location of the barn where John Wilkes Booth was killed after law enforcement caught up with him. She checks in on the Grammercy Park statue of Wilkes' brother Edwin, who was a celebrated actor in New York despite his infamous sibling. She hangs out on the decaying pier in Long Branch where President Garfield was taken to die. She periodically checks in on Robert Todd Lincoln--Abraham's eldest son, who was present at all three assassinations covered in this book. She even takes a jaunt to the Dry Tortugas off Key West (and gets seasick in the process), just to see where Dr. Samuel Mudd--who may or may not have been a conspirator in the Lincoln assassination--was held.
The sense you come away with, beyond the knowledge of the assassinations, is the sense that history is a living organism, continuing to be shaped and molded every second of every day. As a New Yorker, I just so happen to live in one of the cities she frequently mentions. I actually noted each of the locations in case my path ever crosses the historical markers. Best of all was when she mentioned the Fifth Avenue Hotel, where the Republican party of Garfield's day did a lot of its wheeling and dealing. It was located on 5th and 23rd St.--the very same corner I work on. I was almost late for work because I had to run across the street and scout out the location I thought she was talking about (I was right! The building where Eataly is stands there now). I spent my lunch break walking through Madison Square park to find the statues of Chester A. Arthur and Roscoe Conkling that she mentioned. I have a completely new sense of the space I work now--I understand something of the history of my place, what is here now and what was here before, and it's exciting!
That's what is so great about Assassination Vacation--it brought out the history nerd in me, which has been relatively (sadly) dormant ever since I finished reading Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic. It actually took me longer to read than it should have because I kept stopping to do internet research for myself to find out more or to see what Vowell is describing for myself. And I cannot wait to pick up another one of her books to do it all again.
This is the first installment of the Rizzoli & Isles series that I just couldn't get into. It starts out promisingly enough, as much as you can us...moreThis is the first installment of the Rizzoli & Isles series that I just couldn't get into. It starts out promisingly enough, as much as you can use that term when it starts out with a woman's brutal murder and the word "peccavi" scrawled on the wall in blood (it turns out to be Latin for "I have sinned").
Maura has the spotlight in this adventure, as the investigation quickly focuses on the titular organization--a mysterious, ancient club with elite, highly educated members and curious ties to evil. It's basically Mensa for Agatha Christie fans, and dear Dr. Isles seems to fit right in--even though she isn't sure the Mephisto Club is on the up and up. As the body count rises, Maura finds herself getting drawn into the heart of the Mephisto Club, and perhaps facing down evil incarnate.
I think the reason I don't respond to this installment very much is that it tries to bring a mystical interpretation of evil into the mix, and I'm not sure it has any place here. Just like how the Dexter books jumped the shark a bit when they tried to explain Dexter's Dark Passenger as a mystical demon that had attached itself to our protagonist, it feels off to have Maura grappling with metaphysical dark forces. Yes, it could be interesting to have the scientific Maura forced to think about a more faith-based interpretation of good and evil, but let's face it: Mulder and Scully already trod this ground, and they did it very well.
Still, if you're dedicated to the series this is one you'll have to be familiar with because it introduces a character who will continue to intrigue Maura in books to come.
For more Rizzoli & Isles, check out my blog post comparing the book series and the TV series. (less)
“Friends see most of each other’s flaws. Spouses see every awful last bit.”
Gillian Flynn's dizzying, addictive thriller wants to ask you a question: h...more“Friends see most of each other’s flaws. Spouses see every awful last bit.”
Gillian Flynn's dizzying, addictive thriller wants to ask you a question: how well do you know the person you're married to? Are you confident you actually know what they're capable of?
Maybe you should keep some protection close by. Just in case.
Something terrible happens on the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth anniversary. Amy vanishes without a trace, leaving behind evidence of a struggle in their home on the Mississippi River. What happened that day gets teased out slowly as the narrative shifts between Nick's narrative of the investigation and Amy's diary entries leading up to the fateful day. Nick publicly claims to be innocent but can't help coming across the wrong way to the police and media who descend on the scene. It doesn't help that he admits (to the reader) to keeping secrets from the police and his family. Nick definitely isn't who he is trying to appear to be, but is Amy?
Appearances are very important in Gone Girl--how we may present different versions of ourselves to the world depending on the circumstance, and especially how they can be dangerously misleading. Marriage (specifically as a long-term relationship) is also key. Of course, Gone Girl takes a common problem (how do you keep the magic alive after the courtship is over?) and takes it to an extreme (how far are you willing to go to get revenge on someone who stopped trying/stopped pretending?), but that's the nature of a thriller.
To say anything more about the plot would do the reading experience a great disservice. Gone Girl is a book that depends on its twists, and this is the rare case when an author manages to pull off every single one of them. Best of all is that she knows when to stop. I've read far too many mystery/thriller authors who just can't resist having one last surprise (*cough*MICHAELCONNELLY*cough*), and it almost always makes an otherwise good book ridiculous. Not so with Gillian Flynn.
If I were still working in a bookstore this would be my book of the summer. Without a doubt. Going to the beach? Need something to read on the plane? Want something fun to read that isn't completely brainless? Depressed that the 50 Shades of Grey books have become so ubiquitous? Just looking for something good to read? This is the book for you. Now go get it. Go. Now.
PS Upon finishing this, a friend told me that none other than Reese Witherspoon has acquired the film rights and is going to star in the movie version. She was disappointed (she pictured Charlize Theron), but I'm really excited about it.
"Our blood is the same, we just use it differently."
The Sisters Brothers reads like a rampage. It's compulsively readable in the way the best potboile...more"Our blood is the same, we just use it differently."
The Sisters Brothers reads like a rampage. It's compulsively readable in the way the best potboilers are; I tore through it in no time at all. It tells the story of Eli and Charlie Sisters, two vicious gunslingers known for their effectiveness and ruthlessness. But en route to San Francisco to locate Herman Kermit Warm (their latest target), Eli starts to think about how he wants a different life. The bloody end of their last job seems to have unmoored him. "It came over me all at once then: I was not an efficient killer. I was not and had never been and would never be. Charlie had been able to make use of my temper was all; he had manipulated me, exploited my personality, just as a man prods a rooster"
Well, Eli is, in fact, a killer. And a good one. But it is true that his life has been unduly influenced by his brother's ambitions, and as he begins to move toward creating his own life everything the brothers have built begins to unravel. It's a suspenseful, violent tale, but one with emotional resonance. Eli's dreams of settling down with a wife and maybe work as a clerk in a shirt store may sound ridiculous to his brother, but it comes from a sweet and genuine need in his heart: to live a normal life and be loved.
There's a great deal of literary heft to be found too, though it is easy to overlook as you race through the pages. There's a good reason that The Sisters Brothers was a finalist for the Mann Booker Prize last year. I think I'll have to read it again sometime to piece together my thoughts on the crying man who keeps turning up, the significance of the 'curse' Eli believes has been placed on him, and other such motifs. But the observations I did pick up on were measured and pin-sharp. Setting the novel in San Francisco during the gold rush was a nice touch; it was the perfect setting to showcase the ruins that come from avarice and corruption. The city is portrayed as a foundation of hope and, all too frequently, the arbiter of staggering despair. As in Cormac McCarthy, there are also religious flourishes here and there: "I felt San Francisco standing behind me but I never looked back and I thought, I did not enjoy my time here."
But there's a burning hope for the future, too, and that is where The Sisters Brothers really shines for me. "Though I had never before pondered the notion of humanity, or whether I was happy or unhappy to be human, I now felt a sense of pride at the human mind, its curiosity and perseverance." That this hope is seldom realized, that most dreams and hopes are created only to be cruelly murdered, is a bleak message. But when the message comes in the form of an enjoyable potboiler, it's hard to feel too bad about it. (less)
"Blood was always at the root of it, and only blood could expiate it."
By now, everyone is most likely familiar with the story of Carrie. The movie ada...more"Blood was always at the root of it, and only blood could expiate it."
By now, everyone is most likely familiar with the story of Carrie. The movie adaptation, after all, has had a mighty and lasting impact on our pop culture landscape. I myself am a huge fan of the film, so over the years I've become intimately familiar with the story of young, troubled Carrieta White--raised in an ultra-religious household by an unforgiving, extremist mother; repeated victim of bullying at school; and in possession of a dangerous power with untapped, uncontrolled potential for destruction.
This cycle of loneliness and abuse could have carried on indefinitely, until one fateful day poor, unlucky Carrie gets her period in the school's showers after gym class and the girls take their bullying too far. The unfortunate incident sets in motion a series of events culminating in a literal explosion of death and destruction on prom night.
This is not a spoiler, by the way. Stephen King lets you know that you're in for a bloodbath (and when it will happen) from the very beginning. A friend once complained that this removes all suspense from the novel. I did not find this to be the case at all. First of all, the movie has pretty much spoiled the ending for any modern reader before they even pick the book up. But the suspense in the novel doesn't come from the traditional (some may say cliched) "what's gonna happen?" format anyway. What King does, in his first novel no less, is far more nuanced than that. Instead, suspense builds from the growing knowledge that when you began reading this novel you stepped onto a train that was already out of control. You could try to stop it, but there is too much momentum built up. There's a horrific crash coming and it is absolutely inevitable. The more King teases out the details, the more unsettling this knowledge becomes.
There is, however, one quirk I could have done without. King has a way of interrupting his own sentences with parenthetical asides that usually reflect what someone, most often Carrie, is thinking. Perhaps it's the fact that the interruptions get their own paragraph that I find so irksome:
"Carrie tried to swallow an obstruction and only "(i am not afraid o yes i am) "got rid of part of it."
In the beginning it serves as an interesting, if slightly awkward, way to glimpse inside Carrie's mind. But as the story progresses and the asides become more frequent they get to be a nuisance. If I had to guess, I'd suppose King was trying to heighten the drama of the final act by fragmenting the prose to disorient the reader. But I'm not a novelist, so what do I know? At any rate, the overall effect is to make it feel disjointed more than anything else.
Some people complain about the use of 'source material' supposedly written years after the novel's events transpire, but I enjoyed them. It gives you a sense of the lasting implications of the plot--showing how Prom Night (as it is known) sends ripples out into the world for decades to come. The only one I could have done without is the very last letter excerpt, which gives the novel a cheap, Twilight-Zone-ish coda promising more mayhem to come--a point the 'source material' had already gotten across, and much more subtly, in my opinion.
I've always been a fan of King's early work but for some reason I had never read his first novel before now. What a treat. Carrie was always a timeless story but it feels even more urgent and timely now, in a post-Columbine world where bullying and its consequences have come into the national spotlight. (less)
I had the privilege of attending a book signing with Gail Simmons hosted by Tom Colicchio, and at that event Tom described this b...moreA Love Letter to Food
I had the privilege of attending a book signing with Gail Simmons hosted by Tom Colicchio, and at that event Tom described this book as a "love letter to food" and the culinary industry. I don't think a more succinct, accurate description of this book could possibly be found.
Full disclosure: I am a confirmed Top Chef fanatic, and Gail is probably my favorite judge. She has the best shoes, at any rate (sorry Tom). My partner and I saw her give a cooking demo in Bryant Park before Christmas, and we both eagerly attended the aforementioned signing. So one could make the case that I am biased when it comes to Gail--was, in fact, inclined to enjoy Talking with My Mouth Full no matter what she wrote inside.
To that I would respond that I am not without my criticisms of this book. There's an awkward sentence here and there. She has an overwhelming tendency to list things--at one point spending at least a page and a half going through the ingredients and foods one could encounter at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic (which Gail oversaw for a time).
So she isn't, technically speaking, the best writer in the world, but she IS a fantastic storyteller, and that more than makes up for it in my opinion. Gail has a winning personality and it shines throughout her memoir. Yes, the listing offends the English major in me, but I can see that the reason she indulges in it is that she has such a genuine fondness for it all. Even after all these years working in the culinary industry she is still in awe of it all. Those ingredients and flavors at the F&W Classic make her feel positively giddy. This is a woman who LOVES her job and the industry she works in, and that love is so palpable that the reader can't help but fall under its spell.
I have a profound respect for anyone who pursues a career based on an all-consuming passion, and the story of how Gail found her way is fascinating. I also respect people who are willing to put in the work to make those dreams a reality, and Gail has done that. She wanted to write about food, so she knew she had to learn it inside and out. She went to culinary school and worked in some very prestigious kitchens (including Le Cirque). She worked with Jeffrey Steingarten (the venerable food writer for Vogue and author of the classic The Man Who Ate Everything) and Daniel Bouloud, eventually finding her way to Food & Wine and, in a nice twist of fate, Top Chef. Gail modestly attributes most of her success to luck--being in the right place at the right time--but the truth is that she let her passion lead her and she worked her butt off to get where she is.
Along the way we get enlightening glimpses into Gail's life, the inner workings of restaurants, and behind the scenes information about how Top Chef is made. We hear her first-hand experience of how hard it is to be a female chef in an industry that is overwhelmingly male.
For a grittier look at the inner workings of a restaurant you can look to Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential (a fascinating read), but for a feel-good passion play about the funny things that can happen if you follow your heart (or stomach), Gail Simmons does not disappoint. (less)
Dexter is a daddy! Welcome Lily Anne Morgan, a little bundle of joy who has changed Dex's entire life. Fatherhood seems to have forced the Dark Passen...moreDexter is a daddy! Welcome Lily Anne Morgan, a little bundle of joy who has changed Dex's entire life. Fatherhood seems to have forced the Dark Passenger to recede, and this time Dexter doesn't miss him a bit. He's determined to be a good, proper father to his little girl. That means no dirty deeds. Daddy Dexter doesn't want to risk missing out on Lily Anne's life, and that means no jail time (or death row). Of course, this is going to prove to be a difficult resolution to keep.
It all starts to go south when a rich girl goes missing and Dexter suspects that the large amounts of blood on the scene were planted to get money from her parents. Investigating with Deb, it appears that the missing girl ran off with her wild boyfriend to hang out with a dude who had his teeth filed down to fangs. The plot thickens when the boyfriend turns up dead, having been turned into barbecue for a ravenous gang of goth cannibals (because that's trendy, right?). Things are further complicated when it appears that the son of a prominent city official is the ringleader of this gang. Things are even more complicated when it begins to appear as though the girl doesn't want to be rescued after all; she and her boyfriend actually ran away with the cannibal gang. They have a fetish that involves being eaten (because that happens, right?).
Then there's Dexter's personal life, where parental and wedded bliss is unfortunately cut short when his brother Brian (the killer from the first book) shows up. Remember, at the end of the TV show's first season Brian was killed off, but in the books he managed to escape? He's finally back. And he seems to be usurping Dex's role in the family. Astor and Cody like him and want him to take over their 'lessons.' Rita can't stop cooking for him. Even Lily Anne seems smitten. Of course, it is very important that Deb doesn't find out that Brian is back in town (funny little thing--she kinda held a grudge after Brian tried to kill her), so complications abound.
Meanwhile, Deb's relationship with ex-special forces agent Kyle Chutsky is on the rocks. She loves him, but he feels like less of a man ever since he was maimed by a deranged surgeon (because that happens, too, right?).
This is Jeff Lindsay nearly firing on all cylinders once again. The cannibal gang/getting eaten fetish thing is deliciously off the wall and wrong and can't-stop-reading twisted. Dexter's early promise to himself to be a good family man creates nice tension as he inevitably devolves back into his old ways. Dexter's 'condition' doesn't really allow for genuine human emotion, so it's nice to see him uncontrollably protective/jealous regarding his family. It deepens him as a character. We also get to see some fragility from Deb. To call that uncharacteristic would be the understatement of the year. She wants it to work with Kyle but seems to know that it's already falling apart. The resolution we get for her storyline is actually heartfelt in a series usually lacking in that department. And it makes you curious about what's next.
Everybody's day starts off on the wrong foot when Maura gets the shock of her life as an anonymous body she is about to autopsy turns out to be very m...moreEverybody's day starts off on the wrong foot when Maura gets the shock of her life as an anonymous body she is about to autopsy turns out to be very much alive. Things get worse after the Jane Doe is rushed to the hospital, only to take pregnant-to-bursting Jane Rizzoli and several other people hostage. While Jane struggles to defuse the situation and stay alive, Maura must team up with FBI agent Gabriel Dean to find out who this mysterious woman is--and what deadly situation drove her to this desperate moment.
Just like in Body Double, Gerritsen plays the pregnancy-in-peril card, but this time it feels less forced and the stakes are higher. It's no great secret to the reader what Jane Doe's story is, since we have access to flashbacks and some narration from her, but Gerritsen makes her fear and determination palpable enough for you to feel invested in her as well as our regular protagonists.
One of Gerritsen's strengths is that she is exceptionally good at writing strong women, and Vanish is a sterling example of this talent at work. In a male-dominated genre, it really is a breath of fresh air. I cannot state that enough. Women in mystery-thrillers are all too often undermined in favor of their male counterparts--most often by making them sleep with every hardboiled man they run into. Gerritsen is guilty of this at times, too (think of the awkward love triangle between Rizzoli, Catherine Cordell, and Thomas Moore in The Surgeon; or the way Rizzoli ended up in bed with Gabriel Dean in The Apprentice), but for the most part she is able to use these incidents to deepen her characters as realistic, flawed human beings who face real consequences for their actions. The only character on the same level is probably Kinsey Millhone, of Sue Grafton's alphabet series.
Vanish stands out in this series as a compelling read that also celebrates the strong women driving the plot forward.
For more Rizzoli & Isles, check out my blog post comparing the book series and the TV series. (less)