This is one of the saddest books I've ever read. It is the story of what happens to a family when a daughter disappears told without the melodrama we'...moreThis is one of the saddest books I've ever read. It is the story of what happens to a family when a daughter disappears told without the melodrama we're so used to seeing on tabloid television. Instead, O'Nan conveys the soul-grinding despair that comes from living with such a tragedy every day for months. (less)
This is a historical crime novel to be savored slowly. I enjoyed the lush descriptions, the leisurely character development, and the strong sense of b...moreThis is a historical crime novel to be savored slowly. I enjoyed the lush descriptions, the leisurely character development, and the strong sense of both place and time throughout the book.
It was also fascinating to watch the "magistrate" (detective, in our time) work with the primitive investigative tools of the time. No special effects-laden, CSI-take-off here; just good hard police work and a great deal of reason, logic, and observation.(less)
As a more-than-interested observer of events in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I found Gerard Prunier's Africa's World War a worthwhile if dense ex...moreAs a more-than-interested observer of events in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I found Gerard Prunier's Africa's World War a worthwhile if dense expression of one man's opinions about an incredibly complex chapter in the continent's history. Is it rife with supposition, self-serving sources, and subjective interpretation of events? Certainly. But that's the nature of the conflict, so readers expecting a black-hat-white-hat cast of good guys and bad guys are going to be dismissive of the work if not outraged at the author's audacity to present it as history. I suspect this is as close to an actual history of this period as we're ever going to see.
What I found particularly useful was Prunier's run down of the multitude of nations involved in the two wars. The roles played by everyone from Libya to South Africa are examined in sometimes mind-numbing detail. The whys and wherefores of each player's participation are by necessity speculative; the Angolan military doesn't have much in the way of neat regimental histories posted on the Web to use as sources and neither Yoweri Museveni or Paul Kagame are known for giving lengthy confessional interviews. Still, if you approach the material with patience and several grains of salt, you can come away with a better understanding of how the conflict in Congo was shaped by numerous outside forces.
It should be noted that this isn't light, recreational reading. I studied the DRC for five years as I was researching my novel Heart of Diamonds and I still found it essential to refer to Prunier's list of abbreviations and glossary time and time again. The sheer number of acronyms is enough to slow comprehension to a crawl, but again, this is no more than an accurate portrait of a 15-year conflict where six men with an RPG can declare themselves a rebel militia, take over a village, and eventually sit down at the negotiating table with representatives from several sovereign countries and the United Nations before splitting up to join opposing armies where they start the process all over again. Any account of alliances in Congo reads like alphabet soup in a blender.
Prunier could have provided a little more specficity and clarity about two big topics. One was the role the United States played (and plays) in the Congo wars. With his somewhat fragmented organizational approach, it was difficult to piece together what we did to whom and who did what to us. America's hands have come away soiled every time we lay them on Congo (dating to our rush to be the first country in the world to endorse King Leopold's bold claim to own the nation), and I would have liked a more detailed account of what happened and when we did it during the period covered by the book.
The other is Rwanda's major involvement in the game. Prunier certainly provides an exhaustive account of the genocide's aftermath and how it played out in the eastern provinces of the DRC, but the big picture seemed to have been obscured by the details. Maybe my mind was dulled by slogging through account after account of what was happening to the refugees and which ones were the good Tutsis and which ones where the bad Tutsis, but I have to say I didn't come away from the book with a clear understanding of what Prunier thinks Kagame really hopes to accomplish.
Those looking for a simple definitive account of war in Congo had best look elsewhere, but readers who are sophisticated enough to take one man's observations and opinions and weigh them accordingly will find Africa's World War a useful addition to the shelf.(less)
I didn't find this short novel nearly as humorous as David Sedaris did, but then I'm not David Sedaris. Still, The Bible Salesman is a an enjoyable re...moreI didn't find this short novel nearly as humorous as David Sedaris did, but then I'm not David Sedaris. Still, The Bible Salesman is a an enjoyable read with some interesting characters.
The most intriguing is Henry Dampier, the 20-year-old Bible salesman of the title. He is naive, innocent, and gullible, but awfully smart for someone who thinks stealing cars is all in a days work for your everyday FBI agent. The smart part is revealed in his dead-on critique of the many contradictions in the Bible, like the first two chapters of Genesis which says first God created the animals, then man, but later reverses the order, man coming first.
Maybe poor Henry just has his mind too cluttered up with religious mysteries to notice that his mentor and employer, supposed FBI agent Preston Clearwater, is actually a criminal mastermind. It's that dichotomy of experience that makes Henry's plight so humorous as the unlikely pair make their way across the South stealing cars, safes, and other sundries while Henry pines for his first real love and the thief of his virginity.
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds: A Novel of Scandal, Love and Death in the Congo(less)
LaVerne Moore was one of the more colorful figures in the world of golf in the 1930's and Leigh Montville tells his tale in all its boisterous glory i...moreLaVerne Moore was one of the more colorful figures in the world of golf in the 1930's and Leigh Montville tells his tale in all its boisterous glory in The Mysterious Montague, A True Tale of Hollywood, Golf, and Armed Robbery.
John Montague, as Moore was better known, was a trick shot artist who could chip a ball into a highball glass or under the sash of a partially-opened window across the room. He reputedly knocked a bird off a power line from 170 yards and consistently drove the ball over 300 yards with a specially-made oversized driver the weighed twice as much as the standard club of its time. Most famously, he once beat Bing Crosby while playing only with a rake, a shovel, and a baseball bat.
Montague had a secret, though. It was why he never allowed himself to be photographed and reputedly why he never entered any professional events. When that secret was revealed, it led to a sensational trial in upstate New York that turned into a celebrity-laden media fest. The secret is told in the first chapter of the book: Montague was wanted under his real name, LaVerne Moore, for the armed robbery of a roadside restaurant in the Adirondacks in 1930. The trial and its aftermath is an interesting window into the media world of the time.
Montville entertains the reader with tales of Montague's prowess, although it's obvious many of them grew to legendary status mainly through the re-telling such feats engender. He also gives us a good look at the celebrities who flocked to Montague's cause. Babe Ruth, Bing Crosby, Oliver Hardy, W.C. Fields, Howard Hughes, Babe Didrickson Zaharias, and many more were tied to Montague one way or another. Sportswriter Grantland Rice was his biggest fan.
The end of the book, which chronicles Montague's late-in-life attempt to break into the ranks of professional tournament golf, may be of the greatest interest to players of the game. Weakened by too many years of Hollywood parties and lack of practice, Montague was a miserable failure in his attempts to compete with PGA stars, who had disdained him from the start. (less)
Louis Morgon is an intriguing hero, a former CIA operative living in a small French village who really just wants to be left alone. Unfortunately, he...moreLouis Morgon is an intriguing hero, a former CIA operative living in a small French village who really just wants to be left alone. Unfortunately, he once got crossways with Hugh Bowes, a former U.S. Secretary of State who carries a grudge a long, long way.
What seems like a minor burglary at Morgon’s country house turns out to be a scheme mounted by Bowes to make American anti-terrorists believe Morgon is allied with Osama bin-Laden. The suspense builds as Morgon uncovers the outlines of the plot in increasingly-frightening detail after detail.
While Morgon and his friend, local gendarme Jean Renard, unravel the diabolical plan, his lover Solesme Lefourier struggles with terminal cancer. Their poignant relationship serves as the perfect counterfoil to the nastiness coming his way from Washington, DC. It's a fast-paced novel of intrigue that reflects the dangers of our modern, terrorism-obsessed society. (less)
The mystery and suspense in S.J. Bolton's debut novel aren't its only attractions--although there is plenty of both to please the most devoted fan of...moreThe mystery and suspense in S.J. Bolton's debut novel aren't its only attractions--although there is plenty of both to please the most devoted fan of the genre. For me it was the unique setting and the carefully-crafted backstory that made the book a good read.
Bolton takes us to what seems like the ends of the earth. The setting is actually the Shetland Islands, the wind-racked and wave-torn granite outposts a hundred miles northeast of the Scottish mainland. The damp, violent climate and glowering, gray skies perfectly match Bolton's bone-chilling tale of ritual murder. She captures it well; the peat bogs, the killing seas, the relentless, flesh-tearing wind.
It's the ideal place for ancient legends to be proven true. Bolton's heroine, Tora Hamilton, literally digs up a clue to a deep, dark secret that has haunted the islands for hundreds of years. She investigates mysterious Viking runes and mundane town records to uncover a secret society perpetuating centuries-old myths and villains with hints of supernatural powers.
From the bloody opening scene to the stomach-churning finale, Bolton weaves a fine tale of murder made sacred and an intrepid heroine determined to stop it.
Ron Hansen's blend of biography and novel makes for an interesting read that opens up a little-known (at least to me) tragedy peopled with fascinating...moreRon Hansen's blend of biography and novel makes for an interesting read that opens up a little-known (at least to me) tragedy peopled with fascinating characters. The people, of course, make the book worth reading, especially the five German Franciscan nuns who were exiled to America but died in a horrible shipwreck before they could get there. Their individual personalities shine from beneath their austere habits in ways that could indeed inspire poet Gerard Manley Hopkins to pen a 35-stanza ode to their death based on newspaper accounts of the disaster.(less)