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Category Archive for 'S'

Unusual and perhaps even unique for an American audience, Moshe Sakal’s The Diamond Setter follows three generations of several interconnected families as they move though Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and eventually Israel, following their dreams and their hopes for their families over the course of a century. Narrated in the present by Tom, much of the novel is a metafictional account of his life and his involvement in events surrounding a magnificent blue diamond which has been in the possession of members of his extended family for several generations. The diamond, however intriguing its story, is not the main story here, however. Rather, it is the belief of those who possess it, that the diamond has a mind of its own and that it can affect their lives in unexpected ways. An unusual novel with a casual, almost relaxed attitude toward major issues, The Diamond Setter is, nevertheless, a difficult and challenging study of the places all of us regard as home, especially when others, very different from ourselves, feel just as passionately that the same places are their homes, too.

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Alan Parks lived for years in Glasgow, Scotland, the place where he has set his debut novel – and the same place where revered author William McIlvanney set his three famed Laidlaw novels between the mid-1970s and the early 1990s. McIlvanney, credited as the founder of “Tartan noir,” casts a wide shadow with his Scottish writing, not only as a novelist, but also as a poet, a writer of literary fiction, a journalist, and a writer of screenplays, and recent publishers and critics have drawn comparisons between McIlvanney and Parks, whose style, when examined, is quite different in approach. It is 1973, and Det. Harry McCoy, just thirty, has been summoned to Barlinnie Prison, a Victorian building which houses many more prisoners than it was ever built for. “No wonder the whole prison stank. The smell of overflowing slop buckets and stale sweat was so thick it caught in the back of your throat as soon as the big doors opened; stuck to your clothes when you left.” He is meeting Howie Nairn, a convict confined to the Special Unit who wants to tell him that a girl named Lorna will be murdered the next day. All he knows about her is that she works in a “posh restaurant,” possibly Malmaison, and “someone’s gonnae do her tomorrow.” He doesn’t know her last name, but he feels that if he can do a favor for McCoy that his own position in jail might improve. What follows is an examination of the depths of Glasgow during the 1970s, when the city was dying and its poor were often desperate.

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In this fascinating, involving, often hypnotizing novel, Spanish author Antonio Munoz Molina creates a compelling story from several points of view and several different time periods, revolving around the life of James Earl Ray and his eventual murder of Martin Luther King in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Munoz Molina gives Ray’s story a different slant from purely journalistic accounts, concentrating on his life, his past, and his thoughts, and culminating in his two escapes – the first time in 1967, a year before the assassination, when he escapes from a Missouri prison and moves throughout the US and Canada for months, eventually living in Mexico. Leaving Mexico in November, 1967, he returns to the US, supports the Presidential campaign of George Wallace, has some facial reconstruction surgery, and considers emigrating to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), then under the rule of a white minority. Eventually, he gravitates to Memphis, where he commits the murder of Dr. King and escapes, first to Canada, then to London, Lisbon, and back to London, where he is apprehended. Though Munoz Molina often details the thoughts of James Earl Ray, he uses an unusual third person point of view, combining his journalistic skills regarding events and places with the fictionalized inner personality and emotions of Ray as he lives and travels, providing a kind of literary energy which goes beyond the limits of narrative reporting.

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Written as a biography, not of Arthur Conan Doyle’s life but of the specific influences on his life which led to his successful creation of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as fictional heroes, Michael Sims presents a fully documented and carefully researched study of Arthur Conan Doyle and how he eventually achieved success as the author of the wildly popular Sherlock Holmes novels. Doyle began his career as a novelist in 1886 in Edinburgh, Scotland, when he was only twenty-seven years old. In private medical practice in Portsmouth, England, at this time, Doyle had been out of medical school for five years, and as he had always enjoyed writing, he had been spending his spare time writing stories of mystery, adventure, and the supernatural as a way to augment his income. Focusing primarily on A Study In Scarlet, his first novel, written in 1887, Sims documents how Doyle made the detective’s methods unique for the time, and, in the process, made his mysteries huge successes. Five years after this novel, Doyle was able to begin writing full-time. Great and unusual information here shows how one man became a success in this genre.

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Swiss author Peter Stamm has made a career out of writing short novels in which characters who seem ordinary on the surface become more intriguing – and sometimes more self-aware – as they try to control change or learn to live with it. Some of his characters are damaged while others are simply out of tune with themselves – lacking self-awareness and often oblivious to what is happening around them. Most of these characters must learn to deal with relationships, especially those involving romance, and Stamm often uses dual points of view to convey two different opinions about a relationship and the characters involved in it. This novel is no exception, except in the nature of the couple which is the focus. Here the two main characters, Thomas and Astrid, are older than the characters in the earlier novels – in their thirties as the novel opens and in their sixties when it closes. At the outset, they have been married for a decade or so and have two young school-age children. Having just returned from a five-week family vacation in Spain, they are tired from all the traveling and the need to open up the house and get settled again. Suddenly Thomas, the father, disappears from home. The novel that results tells the story of his wandering and the story of his wife, who becomes the primary support of the family, as both learn who they really are.

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