Defending Jacob by William Landay is a suspenseful legal thriller that is hard to put down once started. It is a page-turner but also much more. It is...moreDefending Jacob by William Landay is a suspenseful legal thriller that is hard to put down once started. It is a page-turner but also much more. It is the story of a family that is going through one of the most trying of times - their son, Jacob, 14 years old and in eighth grade, has been accused of stabbing a classmate to death on the way to school. The murdered boy, Ben Rifkin, has been bullying Jacob by calling him names repeatedly and occasionally shoving or pushing him. He picks on Jacob specifically because Jacob is in the 'geek' group and Ben knows that his name-calling really gets to Jacob. It turns out that Jacob has a large knife in his bedroom that is found and disposed of by his father after the murder.
Andy Barber, Jacob's father is Assistant District Attorney of an affluent suburb of Boston. Murders of this ferocity are very rare and Andy decides to take the case himself rather than hand it off to his assistant, Neal Logiudice. Andy does this before Jacob is even a suspect. However, this appears improper to many as Jacob is a schoolmate of the murdered boy. Andy is sure that a local child molester is the murderer. Andy ends up getting pulled off the case and put on paid leave and Neal takes the case once Jacob is identified as the main suspect in the case. One of the gaps in the story is that the child molester is never further investigated.
Some of Andy's actions are a bit difficult to fathom. Once he finds Jacob's knife, he disposes of it. While any parent might be excused for doing anything in their power to defend their child, this seemed over the top to me. It also appeared odd that despite evidence that Jacob might be the killer, Andy is completely blind to this possibility. His wife, Laurie, is ambivalent about Jacob and feels guilty that she does not believe him to be 100% innocent. Jacob has told some lies about his fingerprint that was found on the murdered boy's jacket and this further complicates things.
The family becomes unraveled. Secrets about Andy's past, that he withheld from Laurie for over 30 years, come out. They implicate a genetic predisposition for violence in his family. A psychiatrist who examines Jacob determines that he has narcissistic personality disorder along with attachment disorder. She states that Jacob has the empathy of a seven year old. Looking back at Jacob's past, the reader sees a pattern of impulsive and violent behavior towards his friends and classmates. Despite all of this, his family never suspects that anything is wrong with Jacob or that he needs help of some sort.
The story is all told from Andy's point of view in the first person so the reader is getting only his side of the story. There are some grand jury statements from a year after the crime that are included and they are very interesting as we are never quite sure where they are going until the very end. This novel has many twists and turns and the writing, especially the narratives, are excellently crafted.
I do think that Landay is comparable to the best of Turow and this book is an out and out suspense thriller that I highly recommend. (less)
Danish Detective Carl Morck is a walking tormented shell of his former self. Recently returned to work, he is living with post-traumatic stress disord...moreDanish Detective Carl Morck is a walking tormented shell of his former self. Recently returned to work, he is living with post-traumatic stress disorder following an incident that ended with the shooting death of one of his colleagues and a shot that paralyzed his friend, Detective Hardy. Morck was also injured by a shot to the head. So far the perpetrators have not been found and Morck lives with survivor's guilt. He is difficult to get along with, often late to work, and no longer has his heart in his work.
To deal with his attitude, his supervisor, Superintendent Jacobsen, assigns Carl to head Department Q, a newly funded police department, and he stations it in the basement so that Carl is out of eyesight from his colleagues who are sick of his negativity and attitude. Department Q has been funded by parliament in order to solve dead cases, especially those that involve persons of interest or famous victims. Carl's idea of a perfect work-day is to lounge around with his feet on his desk, napping or watching television. "In his end of the basement there were no people, there was no daylight, air, or anything else that might distinguish the place from the Gulag Archipelago. Nothing was more natural than to compare his domain with the fourth circle of hell".
It's not long until Carl realizes that Department Q has been funded to the tune of five million kroner. The money is all being channeled to the homicide division and hardly any of it is going to Department Q. Carl approaches Jacobsen and requests his own car and an assistant, letting him know that he is wise to the side-channeling of his funding. He gets what he wants.
As the book opens in 2007, we find out that Merete Lynggaard, a once promising Danish politician, has been kidnapped and held in captivity since 2002. She has no idea why she has been kidnapped. She only knows that she is in an empty concrete cell with two buckets given to her each day - one for her waste products and the other with barely edible food. Each year, on her birthday, the atmospheric pressure in her chamber is cranked up two notches. This will happen every year until she is able to answer her captors' question: "Why are you here?" Of course, Merete has no idea.
There is a case file for Merete on Carl's desk and the theory is that she jumped or was pushed overboard on a ferry while on vacation with her brother Uffe. However, no body was ever found and no reason for her to commit suicide was ever ascertained. Uffe, who was disabled in a car crash that killed their parents, is very close with Merete and she cares for him with a deep and abiding love. She is also a rising star in her political party.
Meanwhile, Carl is assigned an assistant named Assad. He is a man of many abilities, strange though they may be. He makes strong coffee, drives like a maniac, can take a lock apart in a second, knows people who can decipher encrypted words and numbers and is a mystery to Carl. He is Syrian and ostensibly is hired to clean Department Q and keep it neat. Carl makes the mistake of giving Assad a book on police procedure - Handbook for Crime Technicians. Assad reads the book and then gets antsy for Carl to start working on cases. He prompts Carl to start working on the Merete Lynggaard case and together they get a start on it.
Carl tries to find out more about Assad but he keeps his past close to his chest, alluding to difficult and bad times. He keeps a prayer rug in his office and kneels to pray to Allah during the day. He also plays Arabic CD's and has only a passing knowledge of spoken Danish. He gradually becomes Carl's partner, leaving his cleaning duties in the background.
The novel is noir, filled with great characterizations and action, and also comedic at times. Carl's wife, Vigga, from whom he is separated, has gotten Carl to help subsidize a gallery that she is starting with one of her many young lovers. Carl is also raising Vigga's son from another relationship. Vigga doesn't believe in getting another divorce so Carl is stuck with her. Vigga has the uncanny act of calling Carl's cell phone at the most inopportune times. Carl also has a boarder who pays him rent and is like a housewife to him. His name is Morton and he collects play animals and is a great cook.
Carl suffers from physical symptoms of his Post-traumatic stress disorder including chest pains, anxiety and panic attacks. He is attracted to his department's psychologist and sees her for treatment. However, he spends most of the time trying to pick her up and she's wise to him, telling him to come back when he can be honest with her.
This is a book filled with great writing , telling a page-turning story. I could not put it down. It has everything I've come to expect from the very best Scandinavian writers - an angst-driven hero, dark situations that confound the mind, characterizations that are stunning, and action-packed scenes. I can't recommend this book highly enough. The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen is definitely one of the ten best books I've read this year and certainly the best Scandinavian mystery I've read, bar none. It is excellently translated by Lisa Hartford. (less)
Wallander is a Swedish police detective who carries the world on his shoulders. He suffers from diabetes, drinks too much and is very lonely. He often...moreWallander is a Swedish police detective who carries the world on his shoulders. He suffers from diabetes, drinks too much and is very lonely. He often dwells on the dark side of life. After his fiftieth birthday party, thrown by his colleagues, he starts to write a list of everyone he knew who has died. The list depresses him so much that he has to stop because there are so many suicides on the list.
Recently, Wallender went on a drinking binge and for some reason took his police revolver with him, leaving it at a restaurant. He was reported and put on administrative leave. During the time he is on leave, his daughter Linda has a baby. This is the one bright spot in his life. He agrees to go to Linda's prospective father-in-law's 75th birthday party. While there, Linda's prospective father-in-law, Hakan Von Enke, tells him a very troubling story. Early in the 1980's, while he was in the navy, he was an officer on a Swedish submarine. The Swedish submarine detected a Russian submarine in Swedish waters where it should not be. Remember, this was still the height of the cold war. The protocol was to scare the ship and if the ship did not retreat, the protocol was then to drop depth charges to force it to the surface. For some unknown reason, the commander was told to leave the ship alone. The ship was let go and Von Enke has become obsessed with what or who was behind this order. On top of that, he is acting fearful, as though there is someone after him. At one point in his conversation with Wallender, he hears a noise and his hand goes inside his jacket. Wallender suspects that Von Enke is carrying a gun. There is also someone suspicious lurking outside the window.
A short time after Wallender and Von Enke have this talk, Von Enke disappears. He leaves for his morning walk and never returns. On top of that, Louise, his wife, also disappears some time later. Wallender decides that he needs to look for them and find out what happened. After all, they are Linda's prospective in-laws. He is still on administrative leave when he begins to look for them, fairly sure that their disappearance is connected in some way to the story about the submarine. Wallender gets to learn a lot more about the cold war than he ever knew before. Once Wallender is back at his job, though he is not officially part of the investigation to find the von Enkes, he continues to look for them. Suffice it to say, nothing is what it seems and the plot unfolds with many unexpected twists and turns leaving the reader spellbound. Most importantly, this book reflects real life and the consequences, both intended and unintended, of past actions.
Though this is a mystery, it is much less action driven than a typical American mystery. We get to know a lot about Wallender: his fears about aging, his loneliness, his philosophy of life and his generalized depressive attitude. The book has many twists and turns but is ultimately character driven. It is a fine book about a detective that has won the hearts of many readers. I know that I will miss him a lot. However, Mankell is very versatile and besides mysteries he has recently written a fine book called Daniel. Whatever genre Mankell chooses to continue with, I look forward to reading his books. (less)
This book is so readable and such a gem that it was hard to put down. Despite it being over 400 pages, I read it in three days - - and I am not a fast...moreThis book is so readable and such a gem that it was hard to put down. Despite it being over 400 pages, I read it in three days - - and I am not a fast reader.
It is about a lot of things. In a nutshell, it takes place in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's during the time of Martin Luther King, JFK's assassination, Bob Dylan's singing, sit-ins, and the Civil Rights Movement. It made me remember why I marched in Washington for Civil Rights and how I cried when I heard Martin Luther King give his 'I have a dream...... " speech. It brought me back to those special times.
This book is about the lines that separate people in the Mississippi of that era - - but also those lines that merge, that cross each other and bring people together. It is about 'the help', the black women who work for white genteel ladies of the south. These same genteel ladies call their servants 'nigras' when they are polite and another word beginning with 'n' when they are impolite.
It is a book about prejudice and hope, about racism and inclusion, about love and about hate. It is told from the vantage point of three women, 2 older black women who work as 'help', and a 24 year-old white woman who has a vision that is different from those she grew up with.
The black women are Aibileen and Minny. Minny can be a brick but she also has a soft and beautiful heart . She is capable of 'The Great Awful' which you will read about. Aibileen is like a velvet lined brick. She has a vision of beauty and love that is fierce and solid within her. She teaches the children she takes care of to love themselves and to believe in the power of goodness. Skeeter, the white woman, is testing the waters of change, getting her feet wet by questioning things that have always remained silent in her life. She has a fierce determination and a solid core.
This is a wonderful book, one that will keep you up at night long past your bedtime - - and you won't regret having stayed up to read! (less)
Room: A Novel is an unusual and splendid book. It is primarily about the abduction and kidnapping of a 19 year old college student and her seven years...moreRoom: A Novel is an unusual and splendid book. It is primarily about the abduction and kidnapping of a 19 year old college student and her seven years in captivity. During her time in captivity, she gives birth to a son named Jack who is five years old at the time the story begins. The novel is told in his voice and from his point of view. Jack is precocious, loving, observant and happy which may be difficult to believe as he and his mother are prisoners in an 11' x 11' room for all of Jack' life. Jack's mother has an organized week for both of them. They bathe, exercise by running around the room, read books, sing, play games, and wait frighteningly for "Old Nick", their captor, to come into their room most nights. Jack knows nothing of life outside "room". "Room" is his world and he doesn't understand what "outside" is despite watching television and having his mother carefully and repeatedly explain it.
Through a clever and scary plot, Jack and his mother escape and this novel is as much about their their experiences in the world outside their small room as it is about their captivity. Jack and his mother go to a rehab center to help heal their psychological scars and transition them into the world. Jack's mother has been in agony for years because of her bad teeth and she is getting these seen to as well. We meet Jack's extended family and see their reactions to him. He is, after all, the child of rape but he is his mother's great love and he is just Jack, the wonderful five year old. I have never met a character like Jack - five years old and with the capacity to feel compassion, observe perspicaciously and reason almost like an adult. He is a gift to his mother and I had the feeling that she wouldn't have survived those years without Jack. Throughout her captivity, she made every effort to not let her captor see or touch Jack. On the whole, she was successful.
I recommend this book to anyone who likes to read. It is a story of human heartbreak, hope, and resilience. Emma Donoghue catches the dialogue right on and there is never an off-beat. It is one of the most unique books I've ever read and a gift to any reader who finds it. (less)
Sometimes I get to read a book that is not only great, but is also life-affirming a and life changing. 'Stones from the River' is that kind of a book....moreSometimes I get to read a book that is not only great, but is also life-affirming a and life changing. 'Stones from the River' is that kind of a book.
This epic-like novel spans from 1915-1952 and takes place in Germany. Told from the vantage point of Trudi, a 'zwerg' (the German word for 'dwarf'), she recounts pre- and post-war Germany in her small town. Because she is tiny in stature she is often discounted and thought of as childlike. This is far from the truth. She is intelligent and wise. Because others often discount her, she gets to listen in on conversations and make observations without others paying any attention to her.
She observes and weaves mythic and morality tales to explore the diversity of the human spirit. Her tales of Germany during World War II were eye-opening for me. Because of the Holocaust, I did not have any particular desire to visit Germany prior to reading this book. After reading it, I have decided that I really want to visit Germany.
Trudi does a lot of self-examination and tries to understand the actions of her friends and acquaintances during World Wars I and II. She looks at the people who stood proud and with honor, many of whom acted with courage and faith. Many of the people in her town acted with exemplary courage and they are pillars for all of us.
Though this book is in novel form, Ms. Hegi knows her history and I even wonder if she experienced some of this firsthand or had these stories told to her by family members or friends. This is a book that I recommend for everyone. It will bring you to tears, laughter and ultimately show you the best that resides in all of us. (less)
Sarah's Key is a novel about a relatively unknown piece of history - the French involvement and responsibility for the killing of 13,000 Jewish famili...moreSarah's Key is a novel about a relatively unknown piece of history - the French involvement and responsibility for the killing of 13,000 Jewish families. Taking orders from the Gestapo, the French acted on their own, with their own police gathering the Jews and leading them to their deaths in Auschwitz.
The story is told from two vantage points. One takes place in 1942 and is told by the Jewish child Sarah who is rounded up from her home with her parents by the police. She hides her brother in a cabinet thinking he will be safe there, not realizing she will be unable to get back to him to set him free. The reader shares Sarah's horrific trials as she is put in a French internment camp, escapes, and runs for her life.
Alternating chapters are from the viewpoint of an American woman in France named Julia in the present. She is fascinated with Sarah's history once she learns that her husband's family moved into Sarah's family's apartment once they vacated it. She is obsessed with finding Sarah and learning what happened to her. She is also in the midst of marital crisis. We get to know her daughter Zoe, too precocious for her years. She seems like 11 going on 40. We also get to know her narcissistic husband, Bertrand, who has been having an affair with another woman for most of their marriage. The search for Sarah takes Julia across the world and she learns the history of France's role in the extermination of the Jews. We also learn the horrifying secret that Bertrand's family has been hiding for 60 years.
Somehow, despite the horror, poignancy, and occasional lightness of the story, Julia and Zoe's dialogues don't always ring true. I have never known a scorned woman to act so unresponsively to her husband's infidelity as Julia does. It does not ring true. She also does not seem to have a clue when he is being unfaithful though she describes the thick and heavy perfume of Bertrand's lover which is on his clothes and person.
I was riveted by the story of Sarah and the history of the Vel d'hiv round-up. I, too, had not known about the extent of French complicity with the Germans during World War II and was amazed to learn how many French people hated Jews and how many turned the other way. I was also heartened to learn that there are always those that stand tall, are willing to help, and risk their lives doing so. Overall, a very good book. (less)