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Category Archive for '4-2013 Reviews'

Following another of Nesbo’s most exciting novels, Police (the sequel to Phantom) comes the English language release of Cockroaches, a very early novel originally published in Norway in 1998, the second in the Harry Hole series. This novel has won no prizes, and those who read it, as I did, in the hope of seeing the continuing development of an author who made a quantum leap from his fairly simple first two novels (The Bat, and Cockroaches, both OK) to the complex and superbly developed novel The Redbreast (outstanding), his third novel, may be disappointed by this novel’s consistent lack of clear focus. In Cockroaches, Detective Harry Hole is chosen by the Norwegian Foreign Office to go to Thailand to investigate the murder of Norway’s ambassador to Thailand, who has been found in a brothel with an elaborate old knife in his back. . Readers who have enjoyed the later novels may be surprised by this one, which shows little about Harry himself and even less about the secondary characters, but those who have read all the other Harry Hole novels will probably also read this one, for the sake of “completion,” if nothing else. Those new to the series may want to begin with The Redbreast, certainly one of the best of the series, and then read the others in the series in the order in which they were published.

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An action-packed debut novel in which reality and virtual reality overlap, Game reflects the game of life with an alarming twist, one that raises serious questions about how much control over our own lives any of us readers might be willing to give up in exchange for the excitement and ego-stroking of an on-going virtual reality game. Here, Henrik “HP” Pettersson, a young Swede in his thirties, with too little to do and no sense of responsibility, finds a cell phone on the commuter train to Stockholm. Not surprisingly, he decides to keep it. When he opens it, he discovers a message: “Wanna play a game?” He ignores it, wanting only to figure out how to use it as a phone. When the message changes to “Wanna play a game, Henrik Petterson?” he is stunned. And when the phone will not take no for an answer, HP concludes that some of his friends are playing a trick on him. He decides that the only way to get back at them is to play the game and beat them at it. He soon finds himself playing a “game” in which his very life and the lives of everyone he knows are at stake.

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Although this is an oldie from 2004, recently resurrected by Amazon for promotion as a Kindle edition, it remains one of the wildest Christmas stories ever created, popular for its wacky humor, its crazy satire of Christmas excesses, and its never-ending ride through what feels like an alternative universe, all part of the style which author Christopher Moore has perfected over the years. As the novel opens, Lena Marquez, divorced from Dale Pearson, an unmitigated boor, who first appeared in The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, believes she has inadvertently killed Dale, who is dressed as Santa, during an argument. When the local constable, Theophilus Crowe, investigates, Dale’s “body” has disappeared. Lena’s fight with Dale was witnessed by young Josh Barker, age seven, who is now distraught at the thought that “someone killed Santa.” Soon little Josh is visited by the Archangel Raziel, who appeared in Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, a klutzy angel whose mission it is to “Go to Earth, find a child who has made a Christmas wish that can only be granted by divine intervention,” and do something for him. Josh wants Santa to come back to life.

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This week I read A Long Way from Verona, newly released by Europa Editions, having previously read and loved seven other Jane Gardam novels, and I was puzzled as I read this one because it seemed unusual, and while not out of character, a lot less sophisticated in terms of structure than her usual. Though I knew from its description that it was a “coming of age” novel, it was not until I finished both the book and my review that I discovered, to my great surprise, that A Long Way from Verona was also Jane Gardam’s first novel, originally published in 1971. Here, the as-yet-unpublished author examines the growth of a writer from her days as a thirteen-year-old schoolchild in a small British village during World War II to the publication of her first poem, providing insights into the “mania” of writing, what impels it, and the frequent agonies which accompany it, especially when the writer is an enthusiastic adolescent. Like many other debut novels, it is sparkling and insightful, though not perfect, and though it will not completely satisfy every reader, especially those who are fans of her later, more mature and successful novels, it becomes especially significant because one recognizes just how much of the realistic adolescent angst of this novel must be autobiographical. Jessica Vye, the richly described main character, tells her own story, however, filled with the confusions of a thirteen-year-old who is trying to figure out who she is. Throughout the novel, Jane Gardam shows her now well known-wit and her ability to choose exactly the right words and images to covey Jessica’s feelings and her seemingly psychic insights into the people around her. In the later part of the novel, Gardam also creates strong feelings in the reader, many of these feelings related to insights she gives into the creative process.

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Commissario Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi must deal with his personal ghosts and memories at the same time that he is also working to solve murders as head of the Department of Public Safety in Naples during the reign of Benito Mussolini in 1931. Ricciardi, a compulsively private man who shares nothing about his life with those he works with, lives in his family’s home in Naples with his Tata Rosa, who has taken care of him all his life. The orphan of aristocratic parents, Ricciardi has no siblings and no life outside of his office. Neapolitan author Maurizio de Giovanni, exceptionally sensitive to all his characters and their stories, so clearly identifies with his “people” that he never hits a false note as he develops the action and shows their reactions to what life has in store. Horrific murders take place, and his characters show their weaknesses and personal traumas, but this novel, like the others in the series, is more of a “people novel” than what one thinks of as “noir” or “hard case crime.” De Giovanni is clearly enjoying himself – having fun – as he writes, and while there is little obvious humor here, there are moments that are almost farcical, especially with some of the subplots involving love. Throughout, the author’s smile is easy to hear in his “voice” as he tells the stories within the stories here.

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