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Category Archive for 'Book Club Suggestions'

Throw Me to the Wolves is a book which inevitably will be called a “murder mystery,” though that so underestimates McGuinness’s literary performance that it is almost an insult to limit it that way. Here the author uses the real murder of a young woman and its aftermath in the small British community in which she and the suspect both live as the starting point for a comprehensive study of the town’s various social groups, their values, their history, and the extent to which the citizens will force their wills on others to protect their own vision of what a community is and should be. What begins as a “detective story” quickly becomes an enthralling story of social interaction and reaction, a story of deep conflicts and divides, one which, ultimately, treads that narrow line between protecting social values and protecting one’s own sense of self. The novel, set in the 1980s, is based on a real murder and the teacher who becomes a suspect. A brilliant and lively study of the power of rumor and the press, and the state of the news media today. A big favorite for the year so far.

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In the years between 1973 and 1981, Uruguay was ruled by the rich and powerful – autocrats who used the power of the military to secure their rule and their continuing wealth – while the needs of the rest of the country were ignored.  Uruguayan author Mario Orlando Benedetti, widely regarded as one of the most influential writers in South America, was himself arrested and exiled during this time, and he knew many people who were imprisoned, if not executed.  Using his firsthand knowledge, he published this extraordinary and revelatory book in 1982, in the days immediately following the end of military rule, giving his audience and the rest of the world a vibrant, literary study of the effects of imprisonment on the hearts, minds, and psyches of people like himself, and of those at home who loved them. On the Favorites List for 2019.

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The dramatic hit-and-run death of a respected cafe owner in the Mohave brings all the members of the man’s family to his home in the Mohave, to which he and his wife immigrated from Morocco when violence broke out in Casablanca in 1981. Each of these family members and many others in the community become first-person narrators as the action begins, the novel becoming a character-based study of people and how they respond the danger and threats. Nora Guerraoui, who becomes the main character, is a musician, composer, and grad student in California now, but on her return to the Mohave, where her parents live, she quickly re-adapts to the community where she grew up and reconnects with some friends from the past, some of them with long-standing prejudices. One of the best novels I’ve read all year, THE OTHER AMERICANS draws in the reader, provides constant interest and insights, and shows the sensitivity with which author Laila Lalami treats her subject without talking down and without lecturing. High on my Favorites list for 2019.

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From the opening paragraph, author Tanguy Viel is off and running with a propulsive story which never lets down and never quits until the last possible moment, when its ending comes as a relief or an irony to the involved reader. Set in Finistere, a depressed waterfront community in Brittany in the late 1990s, a man stands before a judge, trying to explain how and why he has killed another man aboard that man’s own Merry Fisher boat, and then returned home to await the inevitable arrival of the local police a few hours later. When he sees them arriving, he cannot help but admit that he “wouldn’t have done anything different…I would have done the same thing, heaved Antoine Lazenec overboard the same way and brought the boat back in the same way, following the channel to the yacht harbor while respecting the green and red buoys like railroad signals…” The killer, Martial Kermeur, is anxious to set the record straight, and he is impressed that this judge is “thirty, at most” and really seems to want to hear him out. In descriptive and involving prose, Kermeur describes his thoughts – “no they weren’t thoughts, images maybe…still whirling around.” And then suddenly, he sees the whole picture and begins: “It’s about a run-of-the-mill swindle, Your Honor, that’s all.”

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Written in 1936 and out of print for thirty years, A Puzzle for Fools has now been resurrected as part of Otto Penzler’s American Mystery Classics series – and what a classic it is, with one of best and most surprising conclusions ever. The novel – hugely successful when it was initially published – established “Patrick Quentin” as a popular writer, quite different from some of his contemporaries in that he was more interested in the psychology of his characters than many of his contemporaries, who were still following a predictable formula for their plots. For Quentin, a pseudonym for Hugh Callingham Wheeler, in collaboration with Richard Wilson Webb, this is the first of nine novels featuring main character Peter Duluth, a Broadway director whose wife died in a fire at the theatre, and who became an alcoholic as a result. Admitting himself to a sanitarium to dry out, he becomes involved in the search for a patient who has been tormenting other patients in their sleep. Eventually, he is involved in searching for a murderer. One of the best and most surprising conclusions ever.

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