Fiction

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon

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Seven minutes after midnight, Christopher John Francis Boone found a dead dog outside of Mrs. Shears’ house, stabbed straight through with a garden fork.  Since Christopher’s teacher had encouraged him to write a story, he decides to write a murder mystery: an account of his own investigations into the dog’s death.  Despite his father’s command that he “stay out of other people’s business,” he sets out to detect who killed the dog—and ends up uncovering a host of family secrets in the process.

Christopher has Asperger’s syndrome.  The entire novel is told in his voice in a stream-of-consciousness style which gradually reveals the details of his life to the reader.  The book examines both the challenges that Christopher faces in relating to his family and those around him and the beauty of his world and his unique and brilliant perspective on life.  Mark Haddon, who has worked with children on the autism spectrum, crafts the story masterfully around the murder mystery framework.  Christopher’s voice is believable and clear, and his experiences range from humorous to heartbreaking.  I highly recommend it!

APPALOOSA by Robert B. Parker

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Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch don’t just enforce the law.  They are the law.  When they pass through a town that’s been having problems, they take over the justice system and clean the town up as sheriff and deputy.  They’ve done it again and again.  It’s a clean, easy system for Cole and Everett.  When they come to Appaloosa to take care of a renegade rancher, they assume it will be the same.  But they didn’t count on Allie French.

Gunfights, bandits, love triangles, kidnappings, and betrayals add adventure to a book that is, at its heart, a study of honor and friendship.  This was my first time reading a Western, and I have to say, I loved every minute of it!  Parker creates a sense of atmosphere and place through spare language and deliberate punctuation.  The pace is slow and laid-back and the tension of verbal confrontations leaps off the page.  If you like fast-paced books, this will probably frustrate you.  But if you like Westerns, or would like to try a Western, this one is really well written and a fun read.  I highly recommend it.  It is the first in a series.

THE BONE COLLECTOR by Jeffrey Deaver

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Lincoln Rhyme was once the greatest forensic investigator the NYPD had ever seen.  That was before the accident that left him paralyzed and bedridden—only able to move one finger.   Although he once delighted in the intellectual puzzle of criminology, Lincoln Rhyme now desires only one thing:  his own death.   But when the NYPD asks for his help tracking down a serial killer with a strange fascination with human bones, Rhyme cannot resist taking a crack at the bizarre case—especially as it becomes clear that this serial killer is leaving clues specifically for Rhyme himself.  Energized by the mystery and his new partnership with the incredibly strong-willed and clever police officer Amelia Sachs who serves as his “arms and legs,” Rhyme postpones his assisted suicide and takes up the race to find the pattern behind the serial killer’s madness before he can claim another victim.

This mystery is a fast paced thriller with emphasis on the forensic aspects of detective work.  The characters are compelling and while enough information is provided for the reader to piece the mystery together, there are also enough twists and turns to keep you guessing.   Don’t read this book if you are squeamish; the serial killings are described in detail.  But if you like a good mystery thriller, I highly recommend it.  It is the first in the Lincoln Rhyme series.

If you like forensic thrillers, you might like books by Tess Gerritsen.

THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by Alan Bradley

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Growing up in 1950s England, Flavia isn’t an average eleven year old girl.  She loves chemistry, poisons, and plotting vengeful pranks against her two older sisters.  But when her father is accused of murdering a man found dead in their garden, Flavia channels her creativity and intelligence toward solving the mystery of what really happened.  One thing is certain–whether innocent or guilty, her father is not the man she thought he was.  Trying to stay one step ahead of the police, Flavia begins her investigations with a cold-case apparent suicide of a school teacher that has some connection to her father’s and the recent victim’s past.  As she learns more about her father’s past she discovers the key to the mystery is more complex than she had first imagined. Flavia is a witty, clever, and endearing narrator, and the mystery itself is intriguing and difficult to unravel.  It’s a fun read, especially if you are interested in chemistry (or poison)!

PRIMARY COLORS by Joe Klein

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Primary Colors was originally published anonymously in December, 1996, and caused immediate controversy.  The novel follows a Southern governor’s campaign for the Democratic Party Nomination for President; but each character is a near exact replica of a member of Bill Clinton’s staff.  Jack Stanton (the Clinton figure) runs into trouble on the campaign trail when news breaks of his affair with his wife’s hair dresser.  He fiercely denies these claims and his aide Henry (the narrator and protagonist) struggles to cover up his messes.  He soon enlists the aid of the loud-mouthed ex-mental patient and former Stanton political adviser Libby to help him “dust-bust.”  The novel reveals the inner machinations of political campaign, the conflicts between Stanton’s staff and his ambitious wife’s staff, the temptation of negative advertising, the pitfalls of staff romances, but above all, the idealistic and genuine principles on which Stanton and his wife build their campaign.  These principles are tested and tried throughout the novel, and in the end, Henry and Libby administer the ultimate test of Stanton’s true character.

Joe Klein, a journalist, was not involved in any Clinton campaigns.  Yet his observations and imaginations of how the larger-than-life personalities might interact proved accurate.  Immediately upon the book’s anonymous release, White House staff members began to accuse one another of having written it and of revealing too many personal details.  The novel is an engaging–and apparently perceptive–glimpse into our nation’s political system.

The 1998 Mike Nichol’s film starring Adrian Lester, John Travolta, Emma Thompson, and Kathy Bates, is an excellent adaptation.  Klein actually confesses that when writing the character of Libby, he pictured Kathy Bates.

THE ASSASSIN’S GALLERY by David L. Robbins

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No moon shines over the dark waters of the Newburyport coast as a Persian assassin slithers ashore.  Her mission: to kill Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States.  Only Professor Mikhal Lammeck has a chance of tracking the elusive Judith and eliminating her before she reaches her target.

Lammeck has spent years teaching the theory of assassin psychology.  Now, called back into the field against his will, he realizes he is in way over his head.  As the distance between him and his quarry narrows, Lammeck finds himself entering the assassin’s mind.  No longer motivated by the desire to help his country, the professor is drawn forward by the allure and enigma of his brilliant adversary.

Robbins’ novel is not simply an action-packed thriller.  His alternate history is filled to bursting with historical detail, set against the complex backdrop of the 1940s social climate.  Industry, war, racism, and sexism writhe in the background, complicating an already intriguing plot.  Robbins also devotes considerable energy to developing the character of his assassin, lest she be seen as a “faceless” enemy.  Along with Lammeck, the reader comes to understand the motivations and history of the assassin, the challenges she faces, the depth of her resolve, and the reason that she is determined to succeed in her objective, against all odds.

ORYX AND CRAKE by Margaret Atwood

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As far as Snowman knows, he is the last human left on Earth.  The blazing sun—hotter now that the atmosphere has thinned—burns his skin, even in the shade of the tree that is his home.  His only companions are the human-like Children of Crake, a tribe of genetic experiments of whom Snowman was made guardian, before the known world came to an end.

Food is scarce, and Snowman must brave a dangerous trail, crawling with genetically-modified predators, to find supplies in the ruins of a nearby city.  Haunted on his journey by the memories of Crake, the cunning super-genius, Oryx, his enigmatic lover, and Jimmy, the unremarkable boy that Snowman used to be, he relives the series of seemingly inconsequential events that led to the destruction of his world.

Oryx and Crake is both exciting and thought-provoking–taking readers on a journey through the monster-infested ruins of American civilization and forcing them to consider the potential dangers of genetic engineering, cyber-stalking, global warming, and biochemical warfare.  As in most post-apocalyptic tales, Snowman’s story is intense and tragic.  It isn’t a light read, but this book is hard to put down!

If you liked Oryx and Crake, you might like The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer.