Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

In six months, a giant asteroid will hit earth and destroy everything. People have adapted to the news in different ways: quitting work and fulfilling their dreams, committing suicide, consuming drugs, etc. Detective Henry Palace, amid the chaos, decides to keep doing his job. When he's called out to McDonald's because someone has hung himself in the bathroom, Henry feels it's murder, not a suicide. The victim, Peter Zell, was a loner who worked at an insurance company. Henry is slowly able to piece together Peter's life in the last few months, but he faces lots of distractions. His sister is asking him to find her missing husband, his colleagues react to his seriousness with apathy and ribbing, and he's dealing with a lack of intimacy in his life. Set against the crumbling of society, Winters has written a mystery (first in a projected trilogy) with an interesting premise and likable main character. It reminded me of Body Politic by Paul Johnston.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Bernadette has slowly become shut off from society while living with her husband, Elgie, who works for Microsoft, and teenage daughter, Bee, in Seattle. Rarely wanting leave her home or talk to anyone, she has hired a virtual assistant, Manjula, who's in India. While she's a good mother to Bee, Bernadette's relationship with Elgie and the unkeep of their home (a former residence for wayward girls) have suffered. Bernadette has also separated herself from the other mothers at Bee's school, whom she has nicknamed the Gnats. When Bee decides that she wants the family to go on a trip to Antarctica as a reward for getting straight A's in school, it might be the event that causes their relationships to crumble. For all of its heavy themes, the book never loses its lightheartedness and is consistently offbeat. It was an enjoyable read.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo

Anna Keller, at 112, is the oldest of five generations of women who live among the olive groves in Kidron, California.  Anna's father, Percy, brought the family to the United States from Brisbane near the turn of the century, along with year-old olive trees he got from Spain.  In fact, some of those original trees are still alive on the family's land and cultivated.  What's amazing about the Keller women is that they are all the firstborn and female.  Their longevity has caught the attention of Amrit Hashmi, a scientist from the University of Pittsburgh who has come to interview the women to try to uncover what makes them so special.  In the novel, Santo explores the lives of all five women: Anna, ninety-year old Bets, Bet's daughter, Callie, Deb, who's in prison, and Deb's daughter, Erin, who has recently come home from Europe.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the relationships between the women over the years and the setting of Northern California.  For fans of Jo-Ann Mapson, Judith Ryan Hendricks, and people who enjoy novels about family relationships.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

Heloise has managed to put an abusive childhood and seedy early adult life behind her by moving to the suburbs with her son, Scott.  She runs an elite escort agency, but has created covers as a lobbyist and owner of a few online businesses. Having a client who's a politician (Paul) and a longtime friend (Tom) who's a cop has also helped her keep her background hidden.  However, things start to unravel--a fellow madam dies, Tom warns her to be extra careful, and one of her girls decides to blackmail her.  Heloise finds herself more uneasy than ever and wonders how she'll be able to extricate herself from this mess and keep her son safe.  Told in chapters alternating between her teen years/recent past and the present, And When She Was Good was a book I had a hard time putting down.  Lippman did a great job creating a character and story that the reader becomes immersed in.

Monday, August 20, 2012

You Are the Love of My Life by Susan Richards Shreve

In 1973, single mother and children's book author Lucy Painter moves with her daughter, Maggie, and son, Felix, to Washington D.C. from New York City. Lucy, however, is keeping two great secrets from her kids: family friend Uncle Reuben is actually their father (but is married to someone else), and the house that the Painters are living in is the one in which Lucy's father committed suicide when she was young. These weigh heavily on Lucy and prevent her from having a social life with the other mothers in their neighborhood of Wichita Hills--especially Queen Bee neighbor Zee Mallory, who has taken Maggie under her wing. As Lucy and Maggie grow apart, will Lucy have to change her ways in order to mend her relationship with Maggie? While I enjoyed the book, it contains a few jarring anachronisms, such as references to Chuck E. Cheese and People Magazine, neither of which existed in 1973.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The St. Zita Society by Ruth Rendell

The servants who live along Hexam Place in London have formed the St. Zita Society, in which they go to the Dugong (a local pub at the end of the block) to talk about various issues they have with their employers and what's going on around the street.  The group is spearheaded by June, who's been the housekeeper to "Princess" Susan Hapsburg for sixty years (the other servants aren't quite as gung-ho about the group).  Henry, driver to Lord Studley, is having affairs with both the Lord's wife and daughter.  June's great-nephew, Rad Sothern, a famous television actor, is being snuck into the home of the Stills by their au pair, Montserrat, to meet up with Lucy, the lady of the house.  Some of the servants have seen this subterfuge and believe that it's Montserrat and Rad that are having the affair.  We also meet Rabia (nanny for the Stills--she revels in the affection of baby Thomas, since her own children died very young) and Dex (a gardener employed by several homeowners-- he communicates with a God named Peach via his cell phone).  When an accident occurs, the result affects the lives of all the characters in ways they can't possibly anticipate.  In The St. Zita Society, Rendell has written a novel that starts slowly but picks up speed as the reader gets familiar with the characters and the inner workings of their relationships.  I also always enjoy her standalone novels because you can never predict how the stories will turn out.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Detective Carl Morck and his assistant, Assad, decide to explore a case that's over twenty years old. Teenage siblings Lisbet and Soren were beaten to death in the family's summer cottage, but it wasn't until nine years after their murders that Bjarne Thogersen confessed and went to prison.  Carl becomes increasingly skeptical about Bjarne's guilt when he finds that Bjarne has become very wealthy while in prison, despite coming from a modest home.  At boarding school, Bjarne ran with a wild crowd that were suspected at the time of being involved in the murders, but nothing was ever proven until Bjarne's admission. Since then, Bjarne's classmates Ditlev Pram, Torsten Florin, and Ulrik Dybbol, have become famous and wealthy themselves, but an evil streak runs through all three.  The reader knows they were probably involved in the murders, as was Kirsten-Marie Lassen, another group member (and the only female)--now known as Kimmie and living on the streets.  Although Kimmie was in the circle, she wants to exact revenge on the men for their past misdeeds towards her.  The question remains: will Carl and Assad be able to find proof that the friends are guilty?  The Absent One is the second book in the Department Q series and is not as strong as the first.  Because the reader knows the culprit early on, there is not enough story to sustain a four hundred page book.  I will, however, seek out the next book in the series because I like the character of Carl Morck.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Say Nice Things About Detroit by Scott Lasser

Still grieving over the death of his son, lawyer David Halpert decides to move back to Detroit from Denver to help his father as his mother descends into dementia.  His decision coincides with the murder of his high school girlfriend, Natalie, and her African-American half brother, Dirk, who was an FBI agent.  David connects with Natalie's younger sister, Carolyn, who's come back to Detroit because of the tragedy.  They start seeing each other, even though Carolyn is married and lives in Los Angeles.  With the murders unsolved, David and Carolyn have no idea that their connections to Natalie and Dirk might be dangerous.  In the novel, Lasser has written a character-centered story that is quick-moving, yet explores the themes of loss and racism within the backdrop of an evolving Detroit.  I really enjoyed the book and it reminds me of the writing of Stewart O'Nan.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Broken Harbor by Tana French

Detective Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy and his newbie partner, Richie Curran, are assigned the case of the Spain family, who live in a half-empty new housing development that's gone bust in Brianstown, outside of Dublin.  Pat Spain and his two young children, Emma and Jack, were found dead in their home, while Pat's wife, Jenny, seriously injured, was rushed to the hospital.  Kennedy and Richie don't know if Pat or Jenny were responsible or if it was an intruder. The presence of several baby monitors, video cameras, and holes in the walls only adds to the mystery.  Kennedy is thrilled to be the lead investigator on this high profile case, figuring it should be a straightforward investigation--but as it progresses he and Richie find they're left with more questions than answers.  Kennedy's own memories of Brianstown (called Broken Harbor when he vacationed there with his family when he was a child) are traumatic--his mother committed suicide there. Now, his younger sister Dina is continuing on a downward spiral into mental illness, adding to the pressure that Kennedy is putting on himself.  In Broken Harbor, the fourth book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, French has written a book that's even better than her last.  It's a police procedural with psychological depth that keeps the reader guessing until the end.  So so good....