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Category Archive for 'S'

John Banville, writing here under his own name, has returned to writing mystery stories featuring the often unlovable Dublin police pathologist, Quirke, and he clearly enjoys the freedom of his mystery writing. This novel opens in London, where an Irishman who “liked killing people” is hired to kill a mother who plans to leave her son out of her will. Grabbing her bag “to make it look like garden snatch job done by some panicky kid,” he does the job and escapes. The second setting is in Donostia, Spain, where Quirke, a recently married pathologist for the Dublin police, and his wife Evelyn, a psychiatrist, are on holiday. In Spain, Quirke twice sees an Irish woman from a distance and believes he has seen her before, dismissing, temporarily, the idea that a physician friend of his daughter Phoebe in Dublin, missing and presumed dead, might actually be the person he has seen. Creating many darkly ironic scenes and descriptions, Banville creates his characters, using them to present plot elements which many other “literary” authors would be unable to include in a mystery without being accused of “sensationalism.” APRIL IIN SPAIN is a coherent, tense, and wide-ranging mystery, written with drama and flair, with no subject considered off-limits.

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Fans of Scottish author William McIlvanney will rejoice in the publication of The Dark Remains, released six years after McIlvanney’s death in 2015. The father of “Tartan noir,” McIlvanney was highly successful in achieving enthusiastic audiences for three thrillers set in seamy Glasgow, all featuring Detective Sergeant Jack Laidaw. When an uncompleted novel – a prequel to the series of three Laidlaw novels McIlvanney published, was later found in his papers, his publisher offered another Scottish author, Ian Rankin, the chance to complete it. He accepted the job, and this is the result. The novel opens in 1972, with the death of a major player in some of the gang warfare in Glasgow. As Laidlaw becomes involved as a young detective, the author(s) show the dark reality of Glasgow during this period and the iconoclastic Laidlaw trying to solve the case without involving most of the police department directly. A large cast will keep readers on their toes, but fans of Scottish author William McIlvanney will rejoice in the publication of this prequel, released six years after McIlvanney’s death in 2015. The novel is fun to read, and the chance to live through a new Laidlaw experience is something I think most fans of the series will thoroughly enjoy.

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Set in Glasgow in the days between April 12, 1974 and April 22, 1974, this dark, mystery thriller by Alan Parks focuses on the dysfunctional aspects of life in one of Scotland’s major cities, one well known for its gangs and knife crime. The novel opens with an explosion at a “shitey rented flat in Glasgow,” which the polis see as a bizarre attempt to strike at the British establishment. Other bombings occur throughout the novel. In the meantime Det. Harry McCoy has reconnected with an old friend who has just been released from prison for serious crimes and who may be involved in more. A third plot line features a former US Navy captain whose son, stationed at the nuclear base in Greenoch, has disappeared. The father hopes McCoy will help him. The three plot lines feature approximately forty characters, many deaths, tortures, the possible involvement of the IRA and the British Intelligence Service, and individuals acting out on their own. Tartan noir fans will enjoy the nonstop action filled with horror, while some other readers will hope to find fuller characterizations, a few good female characters, and a ray of hope or two.

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In this unusual ode to Barcelona, author Rupert Thomson, who lived in Barcelona from 2004 – 2010, creates three intersecting stories with overlapping characters, each of whom gives a unique perspective on life in this city on the northeast coast of Spain. In the first section, “The Giant of Sarrià,” Amy, a British woman in her forties, owns a shop which she describes as resembling “Aladdin’s cave of unexpected treasures.” With her daughter at school in England, the divorced Amy has the freedom to explore the city and get to know its people, respond to the subjects that interest her, and create her own life and, especially, love. The second novella, “The King of Castelldefels,” features a jazz pianist named Nacho, Amy’s friend Montse’s ex-husband. Alcohol plays a major role in his life, and it is not unusual for him to pass out and remember nothing about his last hours, who he was with, and how he got to where he eventually finds himself. When Ronaldinho, a major Brazilian football star, signs with Barcelona, the city is excited, and he becomes friends with Nacho. The third novella, “The Carpenter of Montjuic,” a bizarre story of the supernatural, is told on several levels by a narrator named Jordi Ferrer, a man who translates books. As he develops these three stories, Rupert Thomson fascinates with his originality and his unique insights, a man whose writing is stimulating at the same time that it is thematically honest and exciting – and even occasionally confounding.

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Masquerading as a family saga, The Promise is also a depiction of the various crises in the history of South Africa, especially in the past thirty years. The Swart family – Ma, Pa, Astrid, Anton, and Amor – are white descendants of the Dutch and Afrikaner Voortrekkers who settled in rural areas of South Africa in the mid-1800’s as an escape from the British control of the cities of colonial South Africa. Many created large farms in the relatively unpopulated rural areas and ran their farms as their own fiefdoms. The past hundred years have led to significant changes, however. The Promise straddles genres as it focuses on the emotional problems of the Swart siblings’ lives, some of them exacerbated by the behavior of their parents. It also focuses on the social and cultural milieu of South Africa from the mid-1980’s to the present, as it moves from a strongly white-dominated government to a more democratic one which recognizes the contributions of all cultures and their importance to peaceful society. The author recognizes that change is happening and that peace is possible, but he does not lecture the reader, preferring to present facts regarding the changes, letting the reader see some of the results, both good and bad, as they affect one white family struggling with personal problems of their own.

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