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Category Archive for '0-2019 Reviews'

A novel written by James Sallis is always a cause for celebration, if you enjoy high-powered surprises and compressed and insightful writing representing several different genres of crime writing. In all his novels, Sallis’s characters must come to terms with a troubled past and grow beyond the difficulties and sometimes horrors which have dominated their inner lives to date. His people face life’s big questions on their own as they explore ideas of innocence and guilt, strength and weakness, and the past and its effects on the present and future within their own lives. Sarah Jane continues these same themes, but here Sallis becomes almost invisible. The novel is the journal of Sarah Jane Pullman from her childhood until she is well into middle age, and though the reader quickly gets to share her life, Sarah Jane steadfastly avoids dealing with problems which often feel much bigger to the reader than they do to her. She hints at events from the past but often prevents the reader from knowing more about the mysteries they create, which soon dominate most of the action – and, in fact, most of Sarah Jane’s life. Though it is presented as the journal of Sarah Jane – and it works as a disorganized journal filled with memories from changing time periods – author Sallis’s own presentation and organization of Sarah Jane’s issues are so effective, and the conclusion so filled with ironies, that many readers will gasp when they reach the ending.

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Three strikingly similar murders have taken place in Glasgow during 1969, and police have made no progress apprehending the killer, nicknamed The Quaker. Detective Inspector Duncan McCormack has been sent from the Flying Squad in Glasgow to the Murder Room at the Marine Police Station in Partick, assigned to review the evidence, the investigation, and the abilities of the local police. McCormack has been treated with cold disdain, if not outright hostility, however, by the entire local crew. As Goldie, one of the more outspoken local detectives, puts it, “You cannae be the brass’s mark and do good police work. Know why? Because good police work doesnae get done on its own. You need your neighbors to help you. And who’s gonna help you after this?” While McCormack is working on these murders, a major jewel robbery takes place, and the two plot lines, which alternate, will keep readers totally occupied. The enormous suspense McInvanney creates eventually leads to one of the grandest finales ever, as surprise after genuine surprise is revealed, corrected, changed and eventually resolved.

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Published originally as Livret de Famille in 1977, and written when Patrick Modiano was barely thirty, this collection of stories, all of them autobiographical, provide details about his early life and his search for answers. Nobel Prize winner Modiano had a bizarre childhood, one in which he grew up without any real supervision – and love. As a result, virtually all of his books focus on his search for who he is, what his values are, and who he might yet become as he moves forward in life. This book is particularly revelatory, including as it does, an opening chapter in which he sees his newborn daughter for the first time, and later the stories of his wedding day, the early life of his mother, his fraught relationship with his father, and his own friendships at various stages of his life. The dream-like stories here are set at various stages of his life, and they do not follow chronological order, creating a feeling for the reader that s/he is moving with the author through memories which have had continuing effects on the author’s life. These stories and others leave questions for which Patrick does not even yet have answers, but all have left their marks on him in some significant way. One of his most fascinating books.

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Meticulously constructed and highly dramatic, The Secrets We Kept moves forward with dual story lines – one set in the West and featuring members of the Soviet Russia branch of the US intelligence agency, beginning in 1950, and the other set in the East, primarily Moscow, focusing on the Soviet government, famous author Boris Pasternak and his banned book, Dr. Zhivago, and the people surrounding him, beginning in 1956. The title alone attests to the fact that both groups keep important, even life-or-death secrets during the Cold War. While maintaining the almost contemporaneous time frames of the two separate groups, East and West, the author alternates the locations of the action over the course of several years, a technique which puts two big story lines into a grand perspective while allowing readers to recognize how these story lines overlap in real time. The Soviets are determined to keep the novel Dr. Zhivago hidden in their own country, and the west believes it will benefit the world if it is released internationally. The excitement of the story line, especially for those who remember the atmosphere in the US when Dr. Zhivago was finally published here in 1958-59, is palpable. A debut novel which will have almost universal appeal for lovers of literary fiction, history, biography, and Cold War politics.

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For the first ten pages, Irish author Kevin Barry is clearly having great fun here, introducing two Irishmen, as they relate their life stories in a uniquely Irish sentence structure, accent, and vocabulary, and convincing the reader from the outset that this story is going to be absorbing and truly memorable for the dialogue, characters, and author Kevin Barry’s writing style. Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond, waiting at the ferry terminal in Algeciras, quickly show that they are not the charming men that they may appear – they have been involved in the drug trade for half their lives and are now looking for Dilly, Maurice’s daughter, whom he has not seen for three years. Through flashbacks , dark humor, and their own vulgar language, their lives and relationships are revealed, along with any life lessons which they have acquired along the way. Kevin Barry does it again!

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