This seemed to me to have a great plot, with a swell mystery. What's in the attic? Who killed the family? It was a wonderful, authentic police proceduThis seemed to me to have a great plot, with a swell mystery. What's in the attic? Who killed the family? It was a wonderful, authentic police procedural. But on the downside, there were long boring stretches of "the parts readers skip" such as dialog between sister Dina and murder detective Scorcher. These seemed interminable and my eyes glazed over. However the author outdid even the boring conversations with Dina when we had a ridiculously long, slow-paced confession from the wife that took 50 pages to say what perhaps should have taken five. So a mixed feeling for me. Not likely to try to read another Tana French....more
Second Chances is a first novel by Siri Chateaubriand, a Danish ex-pat who has lived for many years in Rio de Janeiro. The inciting incident in the plSecond Chances is a first novel by Siri Chateaubriand, a Danish ex-pat who has lived for many years in Rio de Janeiro. The inciting incident in the plot is a hit and run accident. Middle-aged Mattie Clark, a recent divorcée, driving home tipsy from a dinner party in her gated community hits a young woman on a bicycle. Thinking the young woman is dead, Mattie flees the scene. This behavior helps the reader identify with Mattie who thinks, well, she’s dead. It wouldn’t do the girl any good if I call the cops now, but it would ruin the rest of my life. It’s unethical, but if there’s no possible help for the victim, who among us might not have the same thoughts? But Mattie’s Scandinavian background demands justice from her, and she goes back. Finding Rose, a co-protagonist, is not dead, Mattie takes her home for first aid. It turns out that before the accident, young, adventurous Rose and her boyfriend, Marcos, were in Mattie's complex burglarizing Rose’s stepfather’s condo to recover her late mother’s jewelry. Marcos has also taken a flash drive, on which the stepfather had “insurance” against the gangsters who employed him. Attempts by Burt, the stepfather, to recover his drive, send Mattie and Rose fleeing on a journey of adventure and self-discovery. The plot proceeds and tensions rise at a good, comfortable pace, somewhere between moderato and allegro, to a satisfying climax on a private island off Angra dos Reis (west of Rio). What sort of a book is this, I asked myself? Literary fiction? Commercial fiction? I finally realized it’s a thriller. But the characterization is far superior to most thrillers I’ve read lately. Ms. Chateaubriand gives us a stable of interesting characters revealing their personalities through their thoughts, words, actions, and their appearances. Almost all the subordinate characters are complex and multi-faceted. Even the villains and drug abusers are not all bad. I was also impressed by the use of setting. Ms. Chateaubriand is clearly intoxicated with the natural setting of Brazil, and that intoxication shines through in her descriptions of Rio and Angra. Beyond that though, her connection with setting lends verisimilitude to the gated community, the private island, and the favela. Above all, environment informs the characters of the young cariocas, Rose and Marcos, and the staid Dane, Mattie. Many more experienced authors never get that. One final note of praise—there are a couple of underlying themes about Mattie. As a recent divorcée, she’s always depended on others. Her ex-husband has provided support—food, clothing, shelter, and social status. Now she’s on her own, and finds out she can’t take anything for granted. And she’s an outsider—a Scandinavian in a tropical world. Ms. Chateaubriand introduces these themes early, and carries them through the book quite deftly using subtext. The characterization, the setting, and the subtext make Second Chances a novel that’s a cut above others, and worth a second look from readers.
Inspector Cadaver by Georges Simenon Four stars. Superintendent/Chief Inspector or Whatever Maigret takes on a case privately, outside his official dutInspector Cadaver by Georges Simenon Four stars. Superintendent/Chief Inspector or Whatever Maigret takes on a case privately, outside his official duties, as a favor to an acquaintance, an examining magistrate in Paris. The case takes him to Saint-Aubin in the Vendee region where the examining magistrate’s brother-in-law, a respected and wealthy farmer named Etienne Naud, is suspected of killing his daughter’s lover. Maigret crosses paths with former inspector Cavre (Cadaver) who was bounced off the force some years ago for accepting bribes to support a wife with expensive tastes. Cadaver has also been engaged by an unknown party to investigate the murder. Maigret identifies Naud as the murderer indeed, but rather than trying to bring him to justice, Maigret blames another man, (whom he despises as a parasite and hypocrite), a family friend named Alban, who had been screwing the daughter. I’ve often struggled with Simenon, who’s never used a dialogue tag, and who leaves out more than he puts in. This novel was easier to follow than many, and it might be because of a new translator for the Penguin Classics series of newly “re-“issued Maigrets. (Nevertheless I found some writing even more troubling than the lack of dialogue tags—for example, point of view shifts in the middle of a chapter without warning.) What makes this an above average novel are the characters. Maigret is Maigret. But Cadaver is his alter ego, his psychic double, what Maigret could have been, and the characters are well contrasted. There but for the grace of God goes Maigret. Maigret is prodded along on the case by a poor youth named Louis, who represents Maigret’s conscience. We also have the theme of the Outsider. Maigret is operating in an old-fashioned, closed society, in which no one wants to talk to him, or if they do, they don’t wish to be completely truthful. The norms of decency outweigh the need for justice in St. Aubin. Some things must remain hidden from the light of day. And another strength is the setting. St. Aubin,(and the Vendee in general, are cold, wet, and foggy. The action takes place mostly after sunset. The train is claustrophobic; the Naud house is overheated. Thus the plot and the provincial characters all originate in and align with the setting. Well done, Simenon. ...more
I enjoyed this book--I'd like to give it 3.75 stars, if I knew how.The Terra-Cotta Dog. I'm inclined to divide the book into two parts, with two separI enjoyed this book--I'd like to give it 3.75 stars, if I knew how.The Terra-Cotta Dog. I'm inclined to divide the book into two parts, with two separate mysteries. The first one, involving Tano the Greek, Ingrassia and the robbery of his supermarket, and the mystery of the cave or grotto, was clever, well-paced, and engaging. Inspector Montalbano and his band of delightful Sicilian cops are fun, as are the food references, Livia the girlfriend from the north, and Ingrid the blonde hooker. Yes, there's a healthy dollop of sex. Four stars. However the second mystery, which obsesses Montalbano for the last half of the book is rather boring. Two stars. This mystery apparently stems from Camilleri's interest in the legend of the seven sleepers. At any rate, the writing was clear, and easy to read. I enjoyed the subplots of history, relationships, war, and fascism. Dialog was entertaining and realistic. The setting was well-drawn, to the extent that Sicily becomes a player in the book. I read The Shape of Water, the first book in the Montalbano series some years ago, and I felt like the characters were moving through a vague landscape--underwater perhaps. So I was happy that this book carried over a few characters, and relationships and events which were shapeless impressions in the first book began to take shape and make sense here. In all, it was good enough that I now look forward to reading another Montalbano. ...more
I thought I read this because of a review by Michael Dirda of the Wash. Post on Oppenheim's writings, but I can't find any such review online. Dirda oI thought I read this because of a review by Michael Dirda of the Wash. Post on Oppenheim's writings, but I can't find any such review online. Dirda or no, the review warned me this wasn't a literary gem. My interest was in spy novels that preceded Eric Ambler or John Buchan. It was a competent book in the Buchan vein of competent but uninspired writing. Where it's not up to snuff with either Buchan or Ambler was in the area of thrills and suspense. The story concerns two chaps who look alike and went to public school in jolly old England in the first decade of the 20th century. They meet in Africa more than ten years later (around 1913). One is a German hard-edged military type, and the other a formerly wealthy British wastrel. One kills the other with the intention of impersonating him as a spy. Or does he? We really don't know which one survived. Unfortunately, it's easy to guess--it's a 50-50 proposition off the bat, and if you throw in the reader's expectations of what might make a gripping yarn, you reduce those odds considerably. Or am I too jaded? At any rate, 90% of the book is conversations between the principal spy and his--not to spoil it, but--German masters, up to and including a meeting with Kaiser Wilhelm, who thanks him for his service. All these conversations generally include, "We'll get to that later," (and they're resumed the next morning), and also the chivalrous suggestion that although you're doing a swell job impersonating old so-and-so, we hope you're not screwing his wife. That might be too much for her delicate health. At any rate, in the climax the hero finds a half-man, half-beast who has been howling outside his wife's window for ten years, (hence her delicate health), and turns the spies over to the Secret Service, thus revealing that he wasn't really who people thought he was but the other guy all along. Not bad, but nothing there for writers of suspense. Nor much for readers, either. ...more