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Monday, January 5, 2015

While My Pretty One Sleeps

While My Pretty One SleepsWhile My Pretty One Sleeps by Mary Higgins Clark
Review by Gerti

"While My Pretty One Sleeps" is another winner by Mary Higgins Clark. The protagonist is Neeve Kearny, the only daughter of a former Police Commissioner of NYC. You would think that connection would keep her safe in the city. Instead, it means that Neeve has been exposed to lots of famous people, and some of them are even dangerous! After her mother Renata is murdered, a mobster is put into prison for 17 years, but now he's set to be released, and Neeve's dad is worried that she will be his next victim.

Besides being a potential victim, however, Neeve has a full life. Although she still lives with dad, she runs a very successful clothing store, which caters to the rich lives of New York who have no fashion sense of their own. One of her clients is a hard-to-love, hard-as-nails writer named Ethel Lambston. When the lady goes missing on the eve of a large delivery of clothes, Neeve makes it her business to fin out what happened to the old bird. In the process, she runs into Ethel's mooching nephew, Donald, who has moved into the lady's apartment just as she has done her disappearing act. Also on the suspect list is Lambston's ex-husband, Seamus, whom she's been bleeding dry financially for over 20 years. That man and his second wife, Ruth, are at wit's end and the pressure is on to stop paying alimony, with their 2 kids in college and his liquor business no longer as profitable as it was. He admits they had a big fight. But did he kill her?

Unlike so many mystery books, Clark keeps the reader guessing until the end, and even when the killer is revealed, it is a hug surprise, as there is another suspect who I haven't bothered to name here who is just as likely to have iced the old girl, as he's involved in running seat shops and guilty of tax evasion. He's so openly evil that Neeve has refused to carry his clothes in her shop anymore, so he could have put a hit out on her as well. This book is a thrilling whodunit with only a few sour notes, including the romance of Neeve's father with the widow who found Lambston's body. The book was well written, and the ending very satisfying, as it tied up several loose ends. I would recommend "While My Pretty One Sleeps" to anyone older than their teens.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Associate

The associateThe Associate by John Grisham
Review by Gerti

John Grisham is famous for writing legal dramas. Some, like "The Last Juror," are amazing. While not up to the the genius of that book, "The Associate" is still class "A" storytelling. Grisham's effortless writing is a joy to read, even is his storyline here, about a group of college friends who may/may not have committed a rape, is not the most palatable. Kyle McAvoy is the protagonist, and his is the Tiger Woods of law students. The son of a small-town lawyer, Kyle grew up around the law, and therefore excelled at it in college, even becoming the editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Review. While his father and girlfriend want him to do some pro bono work for a few years in order to give back to the community after graduation, McAvoy is also being courted by some big name law firms from New York, and one of them just made him an offer he can't refuse.

Some cell phone video of the rape just surfaced, and someone, we're never sure who, is using it to force McAvoy to join the largest law firm in the world and become part of a lawsuit they are putting together for a defense contractor. McAvoy is being forced to discover secrets in order to save his own reputation and that of some college buddies, including Baxter Tate, a drug-swilling trust fund baby. Another college buddy tries to help McAvoy figure out who is behind the blackmail attempt, but it is never clear whether it's the opposing law firm, the government itself, or some characters with an even shadier agenda.

There is of course a little sex with a cubicle mate named Dale at the law firm, but McAvoy doesn't tell her about the trouble he is in either. Finally, when McAvoy is on the brink of doing something illegal, he comes clean to his father and another lawyer, who get government officials they can trust involved. Still, the setup for his handler doesn't net the suspect, and McAvoy has to go into hiding, because he knows he just made somebody's hit list, too.

"The Associate" is a good book with enough twists and turns to keep it interesting. The only thing I didn't like about it was that although we know that McAvoy never committed rape, which is good, the truth about who exactly is manipulating him is never revealed to the reader, and even after all that effort and investment in the plot and character, we are left with fewer answers than we'd like. As a result, reading "The Associate" is a little like a date with a cute guy who never calls you again. You are left wondering why, and spend your time, dissatisfied, going back over what happened to see what you missed.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Gone Girl

Gone girl : a novelGone Girl by Gillian Glynn
Reviewed by Gerti

I picked up this text because I swaw it in the library book room and the movie based on the book was being advertised. I haven't seen the movie yet, but there are not enough words in the dictionary to tell you how good a book this is. My immediate kudos to Gillian Flynn for being the best writer I've read this year, and to "Gone Girl" for being the best book!

How can I tell that is true? Normally, while reading through a book, I'll fold over the pages that are exceptional, either because they have gorgeouly turned phrases, or amazing facts. The average book written by the average author gets between 2 and 8 fold-overs. With this book, I stopped folding early (about page 3!) and started reading with a highlighter, becasue there were so many amazing phrases and such fabulous writing that I would have dog-eared just about every page in the book. For example, three things struck me as great on page 17 alone. The phrase "Deep Hasbro thought for the day" - for being the first-time those words were ever combined in that way in the history of the English language. And we "took the Internet bubble bath in 2000" because it takes a mundane phrase that means losing money - taking a bath - and turns it into something more original and amusing. The third phrase? "We were Dunnes, and we were done," which I liked on so many levels. It refers to the narrator at that point, Nick Dunne, and how he had left New York because the journalism market there dried up. His sister is also included in that phrase, but she wasn't in the same career, but was also done with NYC.

I think I liked and trusted the narrator of this part, Nick, instantly, because I went to J school and knew people in New York who were "in the business," and knew he began his narrative about why he had left New York and returned to his home town with his wife, Amy. And I trusted his narrative when he talked about her being missing, and how he had nothing to do with it. Like the author intended, I felt his fear about his mistress being discovered, knowing that that would lead police to think he had a motive for killing his wife.

While Flynn does a great job creating separate narrative identities for Nick and Amy, I found that I did not like Amy, as a character. I did however, love the intricacy of the plot, and the perverseness of her mind, which enabled her to manipulate everyone in an attempt to get back at Nick for his infedelity. I won't detail the plot here, because you should read it for yourself, but I will say, that the end of the book is a fitting punishment to them both. The book is a tour de force, a force of nature that must be rushed through once, and then once again, slowly, because it is a terrible and complicated world that Flynn creates here, and I can't wait to read the other books she has written. Bravo to "Gone Girl" - my best book of 2014!

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Weight of Water

The weight of waterThe Weight of Water by Anita Shreve
Reviewed by Gerti

Anita Shreve's "The Weight of Water" takes place in New England, but what makes this book special is that the narrative is split between two time periods, present day and the 18th century. The modern storyline involves a Boston Glove photographer named Jean, who is married to a famous poets, Thomas Janes. They have a young daughter named Billie, and are taking a trip to the Isles of Shoals off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on a sailboat owned by Thomas' brother, Rich. Also along for the ride is Rich's Irish girlfriend Adaline.

Jean is on an assigment to photograph Smuttynose Island, scene of two terrible murders back in March of 1873, and that event and the principals in that case make up the second story line. Norwegian immigrants Anethe and Karen Chistensen were brutally killed, but a third woman, Karen's married sister, Maren Hontvedt, survived the attack by hiding out in a sea cave with her little dog, Ringe. A man named Lew Wagner was convicted of the crime by a Maine court and hanged, but the story in Shreve's novel names another killer with far different motives than the simple theft supposedly behind Wagner's dastardly deed.

Jean goes to the Portsmouth Athenaeum, a historical library in the center of town, and finds a translated letter there, a hidden confession from Maren that no one seems to have discovered among the disorganized records of the crime. She spontaneously steals it after uncovering an affair between her husband and Adaline. The scenes between all four adults are rich with sexual tension. Thomas is obviously attracted to Adaline, who revels in his attention, but Jean is also attracted to her husband's manlier brother, Rich, and he to her.

When a storm comes up, it mirrors the building tempest of the group dynamic. Adaline is swept overboard, and Thomas goes to her rescue. It is only later that the group discovers Billie (who Adaline was supposed to be watching) has been swept out to sea, and lost. Her death breaks up Jean and Thomas' already fragile marriage, and of course, Rich and Adaline don't stay together either. Jean later meets with Adaline to confront her about leaving Billie alone. But where does the truth lie?

Living outside of Portsmouth for a decade, I had often heard of the Smuttynose murders, and while there is still a controversy over whether Wagner was the real killer, I never heard a theory as outrageous as the one Shreve presents here. Her books also seem steeped in sexuality, but it bothers me less here that it does in her novel "Fortune's Rocks." In this book, Jean is a very likeable protagonist, and her belief that her husband has strayed seems likely, given the evidence that she, as the narrator, shows the reader. I'm sure that Shreve sees a deeper connection between the tow stories - one of negligent death, the other of murder, but I can't see it. Still, "The Weight of Water" is a great read, and makes me likely to pick up another Shreve novel.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Second Time Around

The second time around"The Second Time Around" by Mary Higgins Clark
Reviewed by Gerti

Describing "The Second Time Around" by Mary Higgins Clark as a thriller is entirely accurate. Not until the last few pages, an epilogue, was I sure exactly how all the pieces and players fit into the story. All I knew for sure was that I had to keep reading!

The protagonist is a financial reporter named Marcia "Carley" DeCarlo who as the story opens is attending a stockholder's meeting for a company called Genstone. The pharmaceutical firm was on the verge of releasing a cancer vaccine, and that kind of product of course drew lots of money and investors from all walks of life. But on the heels of the news that the latest tests on the vaccine can't replicate the early successful trials comes the bombshell that CEO Nicholas Spencer has been stealing from the company, and has now allegedly died in a plane crash. The stock is virtually worthless, and The Wall Street Weekly wants to figure out how it all happened. Carley is one of their reporters on the story.

But as Carley digs for answers in Spencer's hometown, she finds that he was a championship swimmer, and an experienced pilot, so she (and others) suspect that he may have faked his death at sea. Only his love for his son Jack put the lie to that theory. Making the story more personal for Carley, her step-sister Lynn was Spencer's second wife, as his first wife died from cancer. Now people suspect Lynn of being involved in the theft, and an angry stockholder has burned down her Bedford home, not knowing that Lynn was asleep in it. Lynn is burned and turns to Carley to help her garner sympathy with the media. Carley complies, even though she doesn't really like, or trust, the cold but beautiful Lynn.

As the story progresses, Carley must interview Spencer's administrative assistant, another beauty named Vivian Powers, and soon realizes that Spencer and Vivian were romantically involved. While Vivian is initially reluctant to talk to a reporter, Carley gains her confidence just before Vivian disappears. It begins to look more and more like Spencer faked his death and had Vivian join him in some villa in Europe. But when Vivian is located in a car five days later, she is totally disoriented and thinks she is 16 years old again. Carley now suspects a pharmaceutical rival has used a memory erasing drug on her. Add to the mix an unhinged investor with a rifle who is slowly picking off people with whom he is angry and you've got quite an exciting story.

I loved watching Carley interview one person after another, leading her closer and closter to the truth. There was real suspense for me as i kept expecting Spencer to show up, even though those who knew him best always suspected he hadn't done the terrible things of which he was accused. There is a throw-away romance here between Carley and a doctor friend, but other than that, the story is riveting, and the ending a real surprise. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good "tale of deception and tantalizing twists."

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Darkness More Than Night

A darkness more than night : a novelReview of Michael Connelly’s 
“A Darkness More Than Night”
Review by Gerti

I have read more Michael Connelly books than I can count, but this one is special, because he brings both of my favorite characters into it. The first book I ever read of his had as its protagonist former FBI detective Terrell “Terry” McCaleb, who got a heart transplant from a woman killed in a convenience store robbery. Her sister, Graciela Rivers, eventually marries McCaleb after he solves that murder for her, and the pair now have a child of their own, a little girl, and live on Catalina Island. McCaleb is now supposedly retired, but a former colleague asks him to help with a murder investigation, and against his wife’s wishes, he does.

McCaleb of course finds clues other investigators have missed, and hits upon the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch as the motif for the New Year’s Eve killing of a low-life named Eddie Gunn. Ironically, there is a famous homicide detective who also has the name Bosch, who is very familiar to Connelly fans, and is a friend of McCaleb, Instead of thinking that his buddy is being set up, as I did reading the book, McCaleb begins to suspect Bosch of the horrific crime. Bosch is in the middle of testifying for the prosecution in the trial of a powerful Hollywood producer, but once again, McCaleb fails to see that makes Bosch a prime target for a set-up.

The book twists and turns around these two powerful male characters, McCaleb and Bosch, both brilliant but not infallible investigators. It is a delight to see them work, and delightful to see how Connelly differentiates between two of his more popular protagonists. Eventually, McCaleb sees the connection between the two cases, and puts himself in danger, as the real killer of Eddie Gunn comes a-calling. Bosch saves his life, and in turn is able to guarantee that the puppet master behind the murder of Gunn also goes to prison for life.

Kirkus Reviews says of this book, “Bosch fan or McCaleb fan, you can’t lose with the chilling tour-de-force,” and I wholeheartedly agree. It was wonderful to see those two heroes working together, even though they are sometimes at odds. If only Mickey Haller had been the defense attorney for the producer, all three of Connelly’s greatest characters could have appeared together, but I guess Connelly didn’t want him to lose the case. This book is very good, but probably a lot more fun to read for those who have read enough Connelly to know both of these leading men.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Drop

The drop : a novelMichael Connelly’s “The Drop”

Review by Gerti

In this novel, Michael Connelly again puts the spotlight on his LA homicide detective and favorite protagonist, Harry Bosch. Bosch retired from the police force, but then returned under a program that only gives him a limited time to catch cold-case killers. That program is called “DROP”, and at the beginning of the story, Bosch was given 3 years to continue with the LAPD. But the two cases he is called upon to solve in this book test him to the point where he wants to retire immediately.

His partner in this book is David Chu, and the two do not work as well together as some of Bosch’s previous partners, including Kiz Rider, who is now working for the Chief of Police’s office. As a result, she is able to keep Bosch informed when another former cop and current city councilman’s son dies. Despite the fact that Councilman Irving and Bosch hate each other, Irving has asked for him to find out whether his son killed himself or was murdered at the Chateau Marmont. He knows that Bosch will try his best to solve the case, no matter his feelings about the boy’s father. And Bosch does pursue it, even though it’s a case filled with political implications. Irving has been squeezing police funding as a member of the city council, and there is pressure on Bosch from all sides to solve the case quickly and in a way that pleases Irving, so that the money rolls back in.

Bosch’s heart, however, is in another case he’s working on - the cold case of a 19-year-old girl, killed in the late ‘80s. The new Regional Crime Lab has matched DNA from her to a convicted rapist who is seeking treatment in a local program. Seems like the perfect suspect, but he was only 8 years old when the crime happened, so Bosch needs to see if the lab (or other homicide cops) have made a mistake, and that could have legal implications on a ton of other cases. He’s supposed to be putting all his energy into the Irving case, but he sneaks in a pretty thorough investigation of this one, and realizes that the rapist’s blood was on the victim because HE had been assaulted by the girl’s true killer.

By the end, Bosch has solved both cases, and justice is served, despite a last ditch effort from another victim to kill the killer before he goes to trial. Bosch does not put the wrong person in jail, despite evidence that a former cop was the last person to see Irving’s son alive. And he finds a serial killer who’s been actively killing for decades. On top of that, he finds a new girlfriend - the only part of the story I feel uncomfortable with, as Bosch frequently leave his teenaged daughter alone while those two drink and chat. It’s bad enough for him to abandon his kid while investigating murders, but to date? It almost tarnishes his hero status.

I love Connelly as a writer, and I love reading about Harry Bosch, his best protagonist. But “The Drop” is not my favorite Bosch novel, as Harry let’s a lot of people down in this book, including Irving, the new girlfriend, and his daughter. Unlike other books in which Bosch dominates, here he’s all action and little heart.