Cholong-sur-Avre in Normandy is the setting of this rather unconventional and darkly humorous tale. The Blake family moves into an old Norman brick-an...moreCholong-sur-Avre in Normandy is the setting of this rather unconventional and darkly humorous tale. The Blake family moves into an old Norman brick-and-stone villa during the middle of the night. They had already lived in France for six years, first in Paris, then on the Cote D'Azur in Cagnes-sur-Mer. There's Fred, the head of the clan, Maggie his wife, and two teenagers, Belle and Warren. Just your typical American family relocating to the French countryside, right? Wrong. Fred is actually Mafioso Giovanni Manzoni from New Jersey, and he and his family are in the witness protection program after he testifies against against another crime boss, Mimino. Along with them are a team of FBI men, assigned to them for protection against anyone wanting to claim the huge bounty put on Manzoni's head by Mimino. All of they have to do is lay low, pretend to be a normal family and get on with their lives. But for someone like Fred, or for the rest of the family for that matter, being normal in any sense of the word is impossible.
Benaquista's characters are well drawn. In this particular witness protection incarnation, Fred has decided to tout himself as an author writing about the landing at Normandy, while all the time writing his own memoirs about his life in organized crime. Fred is not a likable person at all and has no redeeming qualities, but he does have principles: he always takes responsibility for his actions, he wouldn't do anything different over his lifetime if he had it all to do again, and the word he hates most in the world is sorry. Maggie is busy with volunteer work, but hangs out with the FBI team to get the latest on her neighbors, who are under constant surveillance by the feds. Belle, the daughter, is one of those people who makes lemonade with the lemons life has handed her, and Warren has handled the witness protection situation by watching, learning and becoming the mini Godfather-figure of his school.
There are some truly funny moments in this book, especially the story of how a school magazine traveled from France to Thailand to Los Angeles to New York and started a particularly nasty chain of events. That whole little story within a story is laugh-out-loud funny. There's also a great scene where by mistake a local cinema club gets sent the Scorsese film Goodfellas instead of the scheduled program of Some Came Running, the story of a WWII veteran who returns home. However, As much as I liked this book, I did have a couple of niggling and minor issues with it. First, I kept waiting for the "crime fiction" part to begin, but it never materialized. I might have labeled it more of a "dark comedy" -- there's no central mystery plotline, very little crime and it's really more of a look at the lives and fortunes of this Witness-Protected family while in exile and at times the people guarding them. And this leads me to my second point: when a plumber meets up with an unfortunate incident at the Blake home, how is it that the FBI surveillance team overseeing the Blake family's every move knows nothing about it? And how is that Fred's nephew in the US is allowed to get a call from France when the family is virtually in lockdown? There are a couple of places like this where the storyline falters a bit, creating distractions that really annoyed me at times.
If you're looking for a typical crime fiction novel, I wouldn't start with this one, but the book is actually quite good overall -- more of a fun read than a serious crime read. It has been nominated for this year's International Dagger Award, and at the award's website, the judges have noted that "Crime fiction that makes you chuckle is rare and this is an exceptional example of the species." There's enough satire here to satisfy anyone's snarky and sardonic side, a bit of underworld darkness, and I would most definitely recommend it. And finally, as one cover blurb notes:
Benaquista's story explores what would happen if, say, the Soprano family were to move to Normandy...
and I'd say that's about hit the nail on the head.(less)
If you are at all interested in the time period of Argentina's "dirty war," you will definitely not want to miss this novel. It is very well crafted a...moreIf you are at all interested in the time period of Argentina's "dirty war," you will definitely not want to miss this novel. It is very well crafted and the writing is most excellent.
I wrote my thoughts about this book on my reading journal blog -- feel free to go on over and take a look. (less)
Lumen is an interesting book. It is a novel of crime fiction, but the actual crimes and their solutions tend to take a back seat to the main character...moreLumen is an interesting book. It is a novel of crime fiction, but the actual crimes and their solutions tend to take a back seat to the main character, Captain Martin Bora of the Wehrmacht Intelligence division. Bora is recently arrived in Cracow, just after the German army has invaded Poland, and finds himself involved in an unusual case involving the Abbess Kazimierza, a nun who supposedly has prophetic powers and who at times bears the stigmata. He had seen her before her death when he would accompany his superior officer Colonel Hofer, who went to see the Abbess on personal matters, so when she is killed, Bora is assigned to look into the case. He is assisted in his work by Father John Malecki, an American priest who has been assigned by the Vatican to investigate claims of her mystical abilities, and then later to examine the circumstances of her death. Bora is young, still in his 20s, newly married, and has left his wife behind in Germany. But his investigative prowess does not actually take center stage in this novel -- although he's quite good at what he does -- it is his gradual awareness of growing doubts about a cause that supports mass killing, cover ups, racial superiority and the deaths of innocent people which make Bora stand out as a character. He's a scrupulous person whose sense of duty doesn't necessarily extend over the full range of Nazi ideology and practices, and his own moral compass makes him a target for potential enemies in the SD (the Sicherheitsdienst -- Security Service), who were responsible for overseeing and carrying out many of the atrocities perpetrated against the Polish people. And there's no room in the Wehrmacht for a "young captain with scruples," according to his commanding officer Colonel Schenck:
"If you start feeling sorry so early on, Bora, you're screwed. What should you care? We have our orders and the SD have theirs. It was only an accident that you didn't have similar orders. And these Polack farmers -- they aren't even people, they're not even worth reproducing. I can see you're perturbed, but believe me, don't start caring...We're all in it. If it's guilt, we're all guilty. This is the way that it is."
Scenes change quickly in this novel, and the action is offered up from different perspectives throughout the story. The investigation into the death of the Abbess lasts from beginning to end, while other mysteries crop up in the meantime adding to the crime elements of the novel. At the same time, it's a solid piece of historical fiction, examining the psyche of a man who finds himself in a situation where normal laws don't apply and the world seems to have gone crazy. There are, believe it or not, bits and pieces of humor in spots, but overall, given the circumstances, there's little to smile about during this time. Pastor's novel is no lightweight thriller; she's written a much edgier story of a dark time in history.
Definitely recommended. Lumen is supposed to be the first in a series of books about Martin Bora, so I'll look forward to the second. (less)
Involuntary Witness is the first novel in Carofiglio's series featuring attorney Guido Guerrieri. Currently there are four books -- this one, A Walk i...moreInvoluntary Witness is the first novel in Carofiglio's series featuring attorney Guido Guerrieri. Currently there are four books -- this one, A Walk in the Dark, Reasonable Doubts, and Temporary Perfections. Having never read any of these before and just on the heels of the most current Camilleri novel (and the tv series as well), I'm content right now to continue my sojourn in Italy and to try authors who are new to me from this country. This may be one of the first books of crime fiction I've read where there is definitely crime, it's definitely fiction, but there's no case per se to solve. Instead, what happens in this book is something totally different than most books written in this genre. Rather than focusing on any sort of police procedure or getting into the head of any criminal or cop, Involuntary Witness is the story of Guido Guerrieri, an attorney located in Italy; it's a peek inside the complicated judicial system, and it also offers a look at attitudes toward immigrants to that country. Put all of that together, and throw in some excellent prose, and a stunning novel emerges.
Guerrieri lives and works in Bari, a coastal city just above the country's boot heel, pretty much due east from Naples. After ten years, Guido and his wife have separated and while some people in this situation tend to throw themselves into their work and try to move on, he's having a very difficult time. His depression and anxiety are taking their toll and he's moving through his days as though someone has flipped his personal autopilot switch. He cannot even pretend to be interested in the issues his clients bring to his office, and wonders if it's going to be like this from now on. But in the midst of all of this gloom, he gets a visit from a woman who has her own problems. Her name is Abajeje, and she wants to hire Guerrieri to take on the case of a Senegalese who sells fake purses, etc. along the beach. Abdou is potentially facing life in prison for the murder of a young boy, a murder he says he absolutely did not commit. Abajeje believes in his innocence and needs Guido to stand up for him in court; he is her last hope after earlier lawyers basically sat by and did nothing, taking money raised for Abdou's defense in the meantime. The case as it stands seems hopeless, but Guerrieri agrees to take it on. He has no witnesses, but is determined to find justice for his client somehow. How is he going to pull this off?
For most of the novel, Involuntary Witness is actually more of a character study, introducing readers to Guerrieri, following him through his time of crisis, and watching him emerge out of darkness into a different person, making the quotation by Laozi (or as most people know this ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu -- 老子) at the beginning of the novel highly appropriate: "What the caterpillar thinks is the end of the world, the rest of the world calls a butterfly." But what also comes out of this book is a stunning courtroom performance where Guerrieri has little or nothing in the way of evidence to prove his client's innocence other than his commitment in the truth. Carofiglio also examines racist attitudes and anti-immigrant sentiment in a very open and honest manner.
Had someone told me that there is very little in the way of crime solving in this novel and that it rested mainly on the character of a depressed attorney who has trouble making it through the day without bursting into tears, I may have given it a pass in favor of much more meaty crime fiction. But once I launched into the story, I had to keep going and couldn't put the book down until the last page. No, there's not the usual crime-fiction fare here; no, there's not much action going on; and no, there's not much focus on investigative technique. On the other hand, the insights into the judicial and legal systems, the attention to racism and the amazing courtroom scenes should more than make up for what's NOT here enough to keep any reader satisfied. If those reasons aren't enough, Carofiglio is an amazing writer who manages to set you on the path of Guerrieri's journey, keep you there, and blow you away by the end of the book. And considering that this is only the first novel, I'm sure the rest of the books have the potential to be even better.
If you only want the standard crime-fiction fare and put action ahead of character, this may not be the right book for you. I've seen this book classified as a legal thriller, but that's not exactly right either. On the flip side, if you're looking for solid writing, a character who is credible largely because he is so human, and if you want some sterling moments of drama, you should consider giving this book a try. Sometimes less is more, which is definitely the case here. Highly recommended.(less)
Continuing on with book two in Carofiglio's most excellent series, time and Guido Guerrieri have both moved along some two years since the events of t...moreContinuing on with book two in Carofiglio's most excellent series, time and Guido Guerrieri have both moved along some two years since the events of the previous novel, Involuntary Witness. Now Guerrieri is in a comfortable relationship, he's started cooking, and has recently been mulling over the fact that he's approaching middle age. In his professional life, he is serving as attorney to a woman who has pressed charges against her former boyfriend. Martina Fumai now lives at a secret refuge for battered women, protected by a gorgeous, kickass nun, and has had enough of the regular abuse and stalking she's suffering at the hands of Dr. Gianluca Scianatico. She's been to other lawyers, who've all turned down the job -- Scianatico is the son of a very powerful judge, and is also "a one-time Fascist thug, a poker player. And a cokehead." No other attorney will take Martina as a client because of their fear of the consequences to their careers. But after hearing from Sister Claudia just how desperate Martina's situation has been, Guido can't help himself and agrees to help. Berating himself at first for getting finding "a jam to get into," Guerrieri's anxiety quickly turns into annoyance because of Scianatico's bragged-about protected status, and he's off. Information uncovered at the trial leads him to try and discover what he can about Martina's past, inevitably leading him into closer proximity with Sister Claudia.
One thing I've picked up about Carofiglio's writing over these two books is that he does an excellent job of striking a balance between the Guerrieri of the courtroom and Guerrieri the person. This balance is also reflected within the plot -- there's a more action-based storyline set off against Guido's inner issues. For example, as Guerrieri is wrestling with his feelings about the death of an old friend's wife and his uncertainties about middle age, flashback sequences reveal another character's horrible childhood experience. Throughout the story, the message is clear: sitting around and waiting for something to happen never gets you anywhere -- sometimes you just have to jump in, with both eyes closed if necessary, and take control.
While this story may not appeal to those who want a bit more of an adrenaline rush while they read, it's perfect for readers who like realistic characters and intelligent writing. A Walk in the Dark has a bit more action than its predecessor, an ending that will satisfy, and yet it is never over the top in its execution. Carofiglio is such an efficient writer that the reader gets into Guerrieri's mind quickly and easily, while simultaneously being sucked into the courtroom drama. Even better, the story is totally complete by the end of the book -- there are no loose ends left hanging anywhere.
I LOVE this series and highly recommend it. Happily I have two more to read right away. (less)
Temporary Perfections finds Guerrieri taking on the role of investigator outside of his legal practice. A student named Manuela Ferraro has disappeare...moreTemporary Perfections finds Guerrieri taking on the role of investigator outside of his legal practice. A student named Manuela Ferraro has disappeared, and through her parents' attorney, Guido is hired to try to pick up her trail after the official channels have all been exhausted. This is not a role in which Guerrieri is comfortable, but he agrees to do it all the same. Her ex-boyfriend's attorney forbids him to speak to Guerrieri, and when Guido talks to her reluctant friends, he senses they're holding things back. His job is not going to be easy and he knows it, especially with Manuela's friend Caterina, who has her own agenda.
Guerrieri has come a long way since events in Reasonable Doubts -- he now has associates in his new office, but he's still a lonely guy, who feels like his "emotional life is like a silent movie." He shares his thoughts with his punching bag, the "perfect therapist," who "never judges," "listens, and never interrupts." His nocturnal ramblings take him to a bar where he runs into an ex-client, a former prostitute named Nadia whose , and he finds in her someone to discuss movies, books and life.
Once again, Carofiglio has given his readers an intelligent read. As always, even the characters who seem to have only minor roles play a big part in helping to explain how Guerrieri understands human nature as well as himself. There is also a continuing dialogue throughout this and all of the novels in the series about the Italian system of justice and crime, and the sense of place takes you away for a while, whether Guerrieri's in Bari, along the coast at a seaside restaurant, or in Rome as he gets the clichéd thrill of climbing the Spanish Steps.
I can't really do this or any of the other books real justice in only a few paragraphs; these are novels you have to experience for yourself. They are not wild rides but should appeal to anyone who is looking for a higher level of intelligence in his or her choice of books, or to people who care about the development of character throughout a series.
Such a great series! My thanks to Bitter Lemon Press for making these available to the English-speaking public. Ciao, but just for now, Guido. (less)
Carofiglio just keeps getting better, as Reasonable Doubts, book number three in this series, proves. While this book certainly has the makings of a g...moreCarofiglio just keeps getting better, as Reasonable Doubts, book number three in this series, proves. While this book certainly has the makings of a good mystery contained within the story, Carofiglio continues his tradition of giving his character top billing rather than the crime. The focus on the internal life of Guido Guerrieri is a hallmark of all of the books in this series, but there is also enough tension rising external to Guerrieri's thoughts so that everything comes together to make an interesting and compelling story. Yet, as is the case in all three books so far, when all is said and done, it is the character of Guerrieri himself that is the draw.
The novel opens with the case of Fabio Paolicelli, convicted some time back for crossing the border with 40 kilos of cocaine hidden within the body of the car, now in prison after having signed a confession of guilt. Now he wants to appeal his conviction, and after hearing other convicts in prison discussing which defense lawyers are the worst and the best, Paolicelli decides it's got to be Guido Guerrieri. As it just so happens, Guerrieri is already familiar with Paolicelli -- when Guido was just a boy, Fabio and his group of thugs accosted him, ordering him to remove his coat, beating him up when he wouldn't. The whole episode left him humiliated, and he vowed to get back at Paolicelli some day. Now Paolicelli needs his help, and Guerrieri is ready to tell him he can't take the case, but then he meets Paolicelli's gorgeous half-Japanese wife Natsu Kawabata. To be fair to Guerrieri, there are also some facts about Paolicelli's case that bother him, especially Fabio's first attorney, Corrado Macri, whom Natsu was persuaded to hire by a total stranger. While trying to lay the scene for setting up reasonable doubts regarding Paolicelli's case, Guerrieri is also dwelling on the ones in his own life.
This time around there is a bit more of a mystery component than in the previous two, although there are some loose ends left by the end of the book. If this were just another novel of crime fiction, a reader might be a tad upset, but Carofiglio's energy is mainly (and wisely) directed toward character, followed by the legal system in Italy, and the ins and outs of the courtroom trial.
I totally recommend the entire series, starting with Involuntary Witness. If you were to come into the life of Guido Guerrieri having only read this book, you've really missed out on watching his character develop, and that would be a shame. Not only might you be a bit lost, but you would not have had the pleasure of watching Carofiglio's writing get better and better over time. And that would be a crime! (less)
I have to say I'm surprised at this book's low rating, but oh well, à chacun son goût, as they say. Considering no one's written a review here, I'd b...moreI have to say I'm surprised at this book's low rating, but oh well, à chacun son goût, as they say. Considering no one's written a review here, I'd be interested to know why the low ratings if anyone wants to share their thoughts.
here's my review:
The last time anyone saw Elsa Suppini alive she had just entered Montmartre's legendary landmark, The Moulin Rouge, where she wasted no time in grabbing a job as dresser to the two lead dancers after the current dresser announced that she was leaving. Not only is the job a step up for Elsa, who works in the sewing room, but she fantasizes about dressing and seducing Manfred Godalier, the lead male dancer. The next time someone sees her, she's definitely with Manfred, but in what could have a been a "still life" called "Storm of Blood in a Bijou Residence." At least, that's what Inspector Maurice Laice (known as Momo to his friends, and More-is-less to his boss) thinks, as he begins his investigation into their murders. It's a very bad day for Maurice -- he's just returned from his father's funeral, where his dad's passing has made him feel like his own death is just around the corner, that he "was now to be the head of the queue at the door separating him from the next world." But this was definitely not the case with young Elsa and Manfred -- someone had deliberately gone out of his or her way to savagely slaughter the two to the point that their bodies were "glued together with coagulated blood." But which of the two was the intended victim? Or were they both targets? This is just the first step in Maurice's arduous journey toward solving this horrific crime; the next begins with the death of a crack smoker in a building where the neighbors are used to hearing screams and watching people shoot up in the stairwell on a regular basis.
Maurice's melancholy certainly doesn't help him, and neither does his boss, Aline Lefevre, who seems to delight in tormenting him by constantly keeping him apprised of her sex life. He's also very depressed about being in his 40s with no wife or mistress, an "old goat whose violent stench no longer got the nannies going." He did have a fiancée once, who died in a freak accident when an old water heater malfunctioned and she was asphyxiated; he was in the shower with her at the time and still hasn't gotten over his survival. Then there's his home -- Montmartre, which is slowly but steadily being transformed into what Maurice sees as a shopping mall:
"Nowadays, the Butte Montmartre was being picked over by a load of culture vultures. Indian dance and modern plays sold better than pig's trotters or snouts in vinaigrette," ... Momo wondered how far the transformation of his neighborhood would go. If it got any more "in," it would implode. Everyone round there was now in the media, was an architect or hack, one of those fucking awful trades that feed off looks like others feed off steak and chips. The cheese shops, tripe shops and butchers were all closing down, to be replaced by ranks of rag shops and hair dressers."
As the investigation proceeds, Maurice moves from Montmartre to Corsica and even into the world of his boss's old obsessions. But when all is revealed, this veteran, well-seasoned cop will come to realize that there are some things for which he can never be prepared.
The centerpiece of this novel is tragedy itself -- in Greek, "trag-oedia," which also translates to "goat song." This theme carries throughout the novel in terms of the crimes, but also in other ways, including the new face of beautiful and historic Montmartre, those left behind in the wake of deaths, and in the lives of some of Pelletier's other characters as well. Even super-confident Aline, with her brash off-color jokes and her teasing of Maurice, has experienced tragedy in her life, providing powerful motivation behind her work as a cop.
The conclusion of this novel is simply haunting; getting there is sometimes a tough journey as you are constantly faced with the "tragicomedy of existence" that runs throughout the novel. It is not a novel for people whose thing is crime light, nor is it a book for readers who cringe at sex or sexual references. To her credit, Pelletier does not throw in random, meaningless or gratuitous sex -- what there is is totally appropriate in terms of the characters' lives. I'm not so bothered by sex in novels -- what I hate is when it's obviously there to titillate and conceal the lack of an author's narrative skills. That's not the case here. Goat Song is a very good read, a study of not only a city that's moving in a downward spiral but its reflection in the lives of the people who live there and love it. I liked it, but then again, I'm drawn toward edgy, dark and tragic, all of which totally fit as a description of this novel. (less)
The bodies certainly pile up in Nights of Awe, Harri Nykänen's first foray into the series featuring Ariel Kafka of the Helsinki Violent Crimes Unit....moreThe bodies certainly pile up in Nights of Awe, Harri Nykänen's first foray into the series featuring Ariel Kafka of the Helsinki Violent Crimes Unit. Nykänen is no fledgling writer -- he has several books under his belt, including his Raid series, which was the basis for a TV show in Finland.
Nights of Awe is a good series opener, a very serious police procedural where the solution doesn't unravel until the very end. It's a no-nonsense story, with a different approach to Scandinavian crime fiction that takes place during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur known as Yamim Noraim, or Days of Awe. The main character is Ariel (Ari) Kafka, 40, unmarried, Jewish, first and foremost a policeman, then a Jew. As he notes,
"If Rabbi Liebstein was right and the world was falling to pieces, an unpleasant role had been reserved for me. It was my job to gather up all of the gears that were flying off and repair the clock so it would work again."
And considering that by the end of the novel there are eight people laying dead, all connected to one case, he's got his work cut out for him. The first two bodies are discovered at the railyard in Linnunlaulu, one having been shot and the other had fallen or had been pushed from a bridge onto the top of a passing train. All kinds of theories are put forward as to the nature of the killings, but Ari knows it's much to early to think on the theoretical side. There are few clues at the scene other than a cell phone needing a password to unlock it and a map from Hertz. As the detectives begin their investigation, more bodies turn up, and it isn't long until an inspector from the Security Police (SUPO) gets involved, much to Ari's dismay. The clues lead to an Iraqi refugee, his co-worker and his cousin, a known drug dealer, but the tabloids are linking the killings to terrorism either on the part of Israeli political extremists or Arab terrorists. In the meantime, Ari's brother and a spokesperson for the Helsinki Jewish congregation believe that the deaths are linked to a terrorist plot to blow up the synagogue during the High Holy Days, during which, coincidentally, the Israeli foreign minister is paying a visit, a theory bolstered by the involvement of the head of security of the Israeli embassy. Sorting out these theories and getting to the truth in the face of pressure being heaped on Ari from several directions is going to be difficult at best.
Nights of Awe is ambitious, to say the least, but it's a good start to what will probably be a good series to follow. The writing is straightforward with little to get in the way of the plot -- no long sessions of interior monologue expressing the main character's angst, for example, but at times it can get a little confusing as body after body piles up and new plot developments are revealed little by little. Ari's character is portrayed realistically, but some of the supporting characters are kind of just there in the background. This isn't necessarily a drawback, but rather a reflection of a first novel in a series where the lead character is the focus. And while there is a lot of action, it's sort of secondary, where the crime has already happened rather than say, a car blowing up in front of the cops' noses.
I have to admire how the author handles two major issues: first, in the treatment of Jewish attitudes toward Israeli politics, he notes that there are some who have misgivings about Israel's policies toward its Arab neighbors, but he also takes at look at things from Israel's point of view. Second, the author gives a fair treatment of the Muslims in this novel, especially when the police turn to the Imam of the local Islamic center for assistance, rather than accusation.
I do have a couple of niggles: first, there is very little in the way of sense of place here. Maybe it's just me, but after all of the Scandinavian crime fiction I've read, very little of it takes place in Finland, so it would be nice if the reader was able to absorb some of the local scene. A sense of place adds a bit more credibility as well as another dimension to any story; this is one aspect of the novel where the author fell short. I'm sure that will be rectified in coming installlments and it's definitely not a deal breaker as to whether or not I'll pick up more books by Nykänen in the future, but it is worth mentioning. Second: Mossad? Really?
In spite of my minor complaints, I'd recommend it to readers of Scandinavian crime fiction, but with the caveat that it's not the usual Nordic fare that most readers have already experienced. It's also dark and very serious in tone, so it's definitely not for cozy readers or readers that are looking for something lighthearted. I don't mind dark, and I'll definitely be ready and eager to read the next book when it's translated. (less)
This book is way off the scale in terms of normal crime fiction -- one that would appeal to fans of gritty, edgy crime novels. The unique thing about...moreThis book is way off the scale in terms of normal crime fiction -- one that would appeal to fans of gritty, edgy crime novels. The unique thing about this book is that Conrad layers his murder mystery with several noir films, creating a surreal reading experience in the process. Definitely a winner if you like edgy, dark novels that delve into human nature. For a much longer review, feel free to click through to the crime section of my online reading journal. If anyone's read this, I'd love to know your thoughts on this book. It's very different and unique.
I can honestly say that this book is one of the best crime novels I've ever read -- not just this year, but in a...more4.5 rounded up; longer review here.
I can honestly say that this book is one of the best crime novels I've ever read -- not just this year, but in a seriously long time. My collection of Bitter Lemon Press novels is also growing and kudos to these people for constantly bringing new and for the most part, outstandingly fine crime fiction to readers of this genre. I don't know how they manage to bring out winners each time, but keep up the good work.
In Warsaw, a very weary public prosecutor Teodor Szacki is finding life rather tiresome when on a Sunday home with his wife and little daughter he receives a call that he has to come in to work. Szacki, in his mid-30s, "an underpaid civil servant" whose wife is also a lawyer and similarly underpaid, is not in the best of moods to begin with, he's sent to what used to be a monastery, now a "red brick chimera, a cross between a church, a monastery and Gargamel's palace," where aside from the church in the building, there are also sublet spaces and rooms available for rent by various organizations. One such set of rooms has been rented by a psychotherapist for himself and four of his patients, where over the weekend, they are engaged in Family Constellation Therapy, founded originally by German psychologist and philosopher Bert Hellinger. They are there hoping to resolve some of their personal issues; one of the attendees, businessman Henryk Talek, endures a particularly grueling session and afterward ends up dead with a meat skewer in his eye. Very much overworked, Szacki is hating the idea of having to add this case to his current list; to him it's either a badly-botched burglary or a case of “one body, four suspects–all sober and well-to-do,” as the policeman working for Szacki puts it. Yet the more Szacki investigates, the more he comes up with things that just don't fit right and which create more questions than answers. Meanwhile, in the process of trying to fill in the holes, what he doesn't know is that there is someone taking stock of his every move.
The punch and pizazz he invests in his characters to make them believable also follow suit in the overall writing throughout the book; they keep the action moving, and there are places where you can't help but smirk at Miloszewski's insertion of wry humor. But there is nothing at all funny about this story, where the tension grows not only in terms of Szacki's personal life, but in the murder investigation as it moves toward an incredible ending, as it dawns on you that even in a free society, being free and unfettered may just be a mirage.
Super book, one I definitely and most highly recommend. I don't believe I've read anything like it before. If you want a crime read well above the norm, something utterly sophisticated, this is the one. (less)
oops...I read this book and forgot to put in a review.
Continuing with the excellent writing, plotting and above all the characters he established in...moreoops...I read this book and forgot to put in a review.
Continuing with the excellent writing, plotting and above all the characters he established in Entanglement, Zygmunt Miłoszewski has returned with the second novel in his series featuring state prosecutor Teodor Szacki. While the novel gets a little windy ("i" as in "eye") and frustratingly wordy sometimes, the devilish murder plot, the characters and Miłoszewski's infusion of humor all make for an impressive read. There is also a darker side to this novel as the author explores the historical interactions of Catholics and Jews in Poland, moving the subject matter into the Communist era and on into modern times where, according to the author, the old legends, fears, guilt, and prejudices can still resonate.
When the body, throat slashed and drained of blood, of a beloved member of the Sandomierz community is found in a ravine at the medieval walls of the town, in the middle of what used to be a Jewish cemetery, Szacki is called in on the case. He's no longer in Warsaw, having relocated to Sandomierz after an affair caused the breakup of his marriage; up to now he's found provincial life rather boring living in a city "which was in fact dead after six p.m" and wonders why he threw a carefully-built career in Warsaw away for a few dull cases. But the murder investigation sets all of that aside for the moment. Although he's still a relative newbie, it is Szacki who gets the case precisely because he will come into it with no preconceived notions -- the dead woman was a friend of his colleague, and according to anyone in the town, as near to sainthood as any mortal could possibly be. What Szacki terms a "razor-machete" is found nearby, and it turns out to be a knife used in the Jewish ritual slaughter of cattle. This is problematic -- as fellow prosecutor Barbara Sobieraj notes,"Sandomierz is at the centre of the so-called legends of blood," ... "the capital of the universe for the idea of ritual murder." After two more vile murders are discovered, each with its own link to "ritual murder," the press has a field day, planting the idea of the old legends concerning Jews and the murders of Christian children into the minds of the public. As Szacki notes, "They say that in every legend there's a grain of truth," but is that really the case here?
While A Grain of Truth is an entertaining mystery that will keep you turning pages, the author also explores the ins and outs of the Polish legal system, and different aspects of Poland's history: Catholicism, anti-Semitism, Polish resistance both to the Nazis and the Communists, the return of the Jews after the camps, and the effects of Poland's often-troubled past on its present. Even if you're not a history-oriented person, here it makes for interesting reading and, in my case, spurred me to want to know more.
Szacki's opinions on topics that range from religion to the media reflect Miłoszewski's honed skills as an observer of reality, as do the author's chapter beginnings which look at individual days in 2009 (the year in which the novel is set), setting forth little tidbits of info that happened on that particular day from different parts of the world. These little blurbs range from the funny to the serious, are related in a kind of sardonic wit and generally have some sort of sideways bearing on the action occuring in the chapter. Once in a while, though, the author does trend toward the wordy, but this is such a minor niggle about a novel that is so well written that it's easy to set aside, one I heartily recommend. Do NOT start this series here; you will get more out of Szacki's character and out of Miłoszewski's writing by beginning with Entanglement. Readers of cozy-type mysteries probably will want to pass; on the flip side, while it deals with dark subject matter, it's not as edgy as noir, either. If you're a fan of intelligently-written translated crime fiction, though, this one will definitely appeal to you. (less)
In book number two of Solana's series to feature the twin brothers Borja and Eduard, for the most part I stayed highly entertained by this author's im...moreIn book number two of Solana's series to feature the twin brothers Borja and Eduard, for the most part I stayed highly entertained by this author's imagination and her writing. I say "for the most part" because while the brothers are fun, and while I looked forward to seeing how they'd pull the murderer out of their respective hats, the story is also punctuated by a couple of rather ridiculous set pieces (one involving a near orgy due to overpowering canapes) and the narrative sort of meanders a bit before the brothers do their usual stuff in trying to bring the killer to justice. I did enjoy Solana's usual pokes at Barcelona society, and here she adds another object of satire, centering around the literary world. While I had a good time reading it, I have to say that I liked the first book a little bit better -- it had much more of a crime-fiction feel to it than this one, the ending of which just left me just sort of flat.
Ernest Fabia, translator and family man, has a serious problem. His bank has just called and gives him two weeks to come up with the four months of payment he owes on his mortgage. He was one of the multitudes caught up in the dreaded real estate bubble, and after a car accident, a new baby and unforeseen expenses with his older child, Ernest is in a world of financial hurt. The dreaded Final Notice that he's read x number of times is all he can think about, and he decides to take matters into his own hands -- he decides he'll rob someone rich to make up for the money shortfall. His randomly-picked victim turns out to be Amadeu Cabestany, an author who has left a party at the Ritz hotel after not winning a literary prize he'd been hoping for. Ernest robs him, leaving him 10 euros for cabfare, and when Amadeu returns to the hotel, he is placed under arrest for the murder of Marina Dolç, his rival for and winner of the award. It's obvious that Amadeu is not guilty but he had been overheard in a heated rant against Marina and to the police, that's motive enough. But convinced he is innocent, Amadeu's agent hires Borja and Eduard to clear his name and get him out of jail. In the meantime, Ernest, who is basically a good man, is afraid to read the papers, so has no idea that Amadeu's been arrested, and to take his mind off his troubles, heads off to a retreat where he can concentrate on his translation work. He and the taxi driver who returned Amadeu to the hotel are the only alibi witnesses; the taxi driver's not talking because he's just out of prison himself and driving the cab with no license and Ernest is away trying not to think about what he's done. The brothers take the case, along with a retired cop for help, but with very little to go by in the way of alibi, it's going to be tough for Amadeu to be exonerated.
This story kind of moves all over the place, with much less emphasis on the crime and its solution than in the previous series installment. It's not as tight as it could have been, and the author spends way too much time setting up one of the big gags in this book which I thought was kind of ridiculous anyway, the runaway rumor that Amadeu is not only a murderer, but a cannibal as well. Borja and Eduard are gone from the story for a long time which was a bit frustrating while I waited for them to return to get down to business solving the crime. And then there's the ending and the solution to the crime ... I can guess at what happened, but really, after leading me all the way to the end, making me wait for the story to resume while the silly, even farcical set pieces played out, I think I deserved more of a why. I have to say that my feelings are mixed about this book -- it's a "meh" for me.
I wouldn't let my less than excited reaction put anyone off if considering the book or the series -- it's still fun, the brothers are perfectly paired, the satire is very well executed, and it has received some sterling ratings. I'll be moving on to the next book, The Sound of One Hand Killing (which is supposed to hit the US May 13th but nah nah, I have a UK copy already), which should say something positive about this author and especially her quirky protagonists. I'd recommend it to those who've started the series and wonder about continuing -- yes, by all means do!(less)
3.5 stars (and PLEASE someone, add in the half star action to this website!)
The Sound of One Hand Killing is Teresa Solana's latest installment of her...more3.5 stars (and PLEASE someone, add in the half star action to this website!)
The Sound of One Hand Killing is Teresa Solana's latest installment of her series set in Barcelona, and I liked it -- with reservations. Read on for the condensed version -- to go into the full-on discussion click through here.
A strange small statue, a dead neighbor, and a murder at an "exclusive, luxury alternative centre" where the wealthy go for Bach-flower and other homeopathic therapies are only part of the lineup in this third installment of Solana's entertaining series set in Barcelona. The brothers Borja and Eduard are back and once again find themselves in some pretty wild predicaments. Going all postmodern on her readers, Teresa Solana shows up as a character seeking the help of Borja and Eduard, and has an appointment to meet them. Not wanting to give away the show that their office is a setup, Borja remembers that his upstairs neighbor had given him a set of keys to his apartment, so they decide to meet the author there. However, the brothers stumble on to a dead body -- that of the neighbor -- who's obviously been there some time. With Solana on her way, they take a bit of their non-existent secretary's perfume and spray it in the dead neighbor's flat for her visit, hoping to disguise the smell of decomposition. The author's request is simple: she's writing a novel about "alternative therapies," and wants to set some of her chapters in a more upscale area, so she comes to the brothers to enlist their aid in gathering research for her. They are only too happy to help -- the credit crunch and economic downturn leaves Eduard's wife Montse unable to procure a loan for her business, and money is tight all over; Borja has even agreed to be a middleman and hold on to a small statue until he is called to deliver it, an easy task for a reward of several thousand Euros. After Solana's visit, they quickly clean up any traces of themselves and leave the door open for the smell to waft down and the body to be discovered. They then make their way to the Zen Moments center, where they wangle their way into a weekend stay and the brothers are on hand when the owner of the place is discovered dead.
There's a lot of action in this book and as usual there are some very funny moments with the brothers. The satire is great, as always, but the murder investigation had little complexity, and offered way too easy of a solution, making the resolution to the murder somewhat unexciting, and frankly, flat. Anyway, what happens at the end of the book leaves no doubt but that the brothers will return in another installment, dogged by business left unfinished in this one.
I liked this book with only a few reservations, and I recommend it for readers continuing with the series. It has some very entertaining moments and I absolutely love the brothers and can't wait to see what trouble they get into next. While I'm a little less than overwhelmed with the murder solution, the entire series is worth reading because of the main characters -- their craziness will always keep me coming back for more.(less)
I absolutely love Claudia Piñeiro's writing and this time she's outdone herself. A Crack in the Wall is absolutely superb. The only bad thing about Pi...moreI absolutely love Claudia Piñeiro's writing and this time she's outdone herself. A Crack in the Wall is absolutely superb. The only bad thing about Piñeiro's books is that there aren't more coming out in rapid succession. Let me just say up front that while this isn't simply a novel of crime fiction per se, the crime that does occur has a great deal to do with the rest of the story. Metaphorically, this is a story about a man whose personal and moral ground undergoes a seismic shift, leading him to decide to "rediscover something that, until recently, he didn’t even realize he had lost."
Set in Buenos Aires in 2007, this very character-driven novel focuses on architect Pablo Simó, who works in a dead-end job. He's been there for more than twenty years, and has never made it to a higher level in his career the entire time. At the office, when he's not working, he spends time drawing the same eleven-story tower over and over again -- a building he would make real if he could, and not "on the rubble of something else," the modern reality in Buenos Aires, where land is simply not available, and old buildings have to come down for the new ones to go up. It is also an old city that is being transformed as profit margin starts edging out the old for the new. As an example, Pablo loves to go to a particular café where
"the same waiters have been toiling for years, shouting their orders over to the bar with enviable brio, and where there are white cloths over the wooden tables and old-fashioned glass sugar-shakers with metal spoons,"
and hates the chain that's been "scattering identikit cafés throughout the city."
Pablo's firm specializes in cheap housing; the owner is Borla, and there is also Marta, who has a thing going with her married boss. Pablo is married to Laura, has a teenaged daughter Francisca, and his life is very routine. He also spends a lot of time conversing with an old friend Tano, whom he hasn't seen for a while, in his head -- Tano is also an architect, and their "conversations" are like a dialogue where Pablo engages with his conscience. Into the office one day, one that Pablo "had always feared might one day come to pass," comes a young, 20-something woman named Leonor asking for Nelson Jara. Her visit shakes them all up, because they know where Nelson Jara is, and they don't want to think about it. In fact, they've spent the last three years trying not to think about Nelson Jara, a man who'd come into the office to complain about a crack in the wall of his apartment. He claims that construction of a building that Borla's company is working on is causing the crack, and he shows Pablo some photos that prove how the crack has progressed. Pablo does his best to convince Jara otherwise, but he's not listening. Eventually Jara gets down to the nitty gritty:
"...there may be a structural problem here that ends up affecting other apartments too, and my silence has got to be worth something, don't you think?"
Jara starts to get under Pablo's skin, but not just because of the money or the extortion attempt -- Pablo recognizes he too has a crack, one that, like the one on Jara's wall, has been widening for some time. This notion hits him most especially before a trip around the city with Leonor, who has asked him to pick "the city's five most beautiful buildings, according to the architect Pablo Simó" for a photography course assignment. An imagined conversation with Tano reminds him that he used to be a person with ideals, making him wonder where that other person is now. His growing awareness of the crack in the wall dividing who he is and who he knows he can be spreads out to other areas of his life as well, encompassing the realization that his life over the last twenty years has been one consisting largely of compromise -- moral and otherwise.
A Crack in the Wall is an excellent novel, one that will satisfy readers of more literary-styled crime fiction, but it rises well above the usual fare, as do all of her books. In all of her novels, Claudia Piñeiro has this way of getting into private lives and exposing the cracks that exist there, personally and within various types of relationships, bringing her characters to a point where they're forced to examine themselves. If that sort of thing appeals, you can't ask for a better book. Very highly recommended. (less)