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Note: Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridasson was WINNER of the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award for Silence of the Grave and is twice the WINNER of the Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel two years in a row, for Jar City and Silence of the Grave.

“What interests me most are stories about survivors…people who escape with their lives from dangerous situations in the Icelandic wilderness. How do they cope? Why do some live while others don’t, though the circumstances are similar? Why do some get into trouble and others not? ….[And I wonder about] the people left behind, left to struggle with the questions raised by the events…those left behind to cope with the grief and loss.”—Erlendur, detective with the State Criminal Investigation Department, Iceland.

cover into oblivionIf it sounds strange for the publisher to refer to this novel by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason as the “sequel to the prequel,” that is because the novels in this series featuring Detective Erlendur have not been published in chronological order. The first novel to be published in English, Jar City (2000) was actually the third novel in the series, and eight more novels have been published since then. Several of these books refer to a traumatic event in Erlendur’s childhood involving him, his father, and his much-loved brother, and the author and publisher are now providing more background information about Erlendur’s early years to fill in and develop more about his youthful experiences in an effort to explain his current psychological makeup and his dark vision of the world.

author photo

The recently released “prequel” to the series, Reykjavik Nights (2012), features Erlendur in his twenties, and the reader learns about his eventual marriage and the birth of his two children. Into Oblivion, the just released “sequel to this prequel,” takes place shortly after that in time – in 1979 – and the reader learns that Erlendur is now divorced, his children not a factor in the novel. The third novel, Jar City, released in 2000, is set twenty years later, with Erlendur in his late forties, leaving a twenty-year gap between Into Oblivion and its chronological successor, Jar City.

huge hangar,Set in Keflavik and its environs, Into Oblivion begins with an atmospheric description of a fierce wind blowing across the moors, “hurling itself against the mighty walls” of an aircraft hangar standing on the highest ground. One of the largest structures in Iceland, it is as tall as an eight-story building, can accommodate the wingspan of the world’s largest aircraft, and serves as the operational hub of the US Air Force and its fleet of spy planes. A man suddenly falls the eight stories from the scaffolding tower inside the hangar. In a shift of scene, a young woman with severe skin problems is soaking in a warm spring on the moors, hoping that the mineral-rich mud will help her conquer her painful ski condition. Suddenly, she sees a shoe, and then finds it connected to a body. The police enter the case and discover that the body has more broken bones than anyone can recall ever seeing, consistent with a fall from great height which no one has reported. Eventually, the site of the death is determined to be the hangar on the US military base.

Hot spring and mud area to the south of Reykjavik. Photo by Keller Istvan

Hot springs and mud, to the south of Reykjavik. Photo by Keller Istvan

The investigation of this death is complex. Several different agencies – the US military, the Icelandic police, and the political system of Iceland – all become involved. Cold war tensions in Iceland between those who support the US and its military presence and those who want the US gone from the country add to the difficulties. No one knows exactly what the US is doing on its secret missions between Iceland and Greenland, and no one is talking. Nor are people talking about the nature of the supplies going in and out of the country in large cargo planes. While Erlendur is helping on this slowly developing investigation, he is also researching an event from twenty-five years ago, in which a young schoolgirl disappeared, with no resolution of her case. Her aunt is hoping that the disappearance will eventually be solved, and Erlendur, who becomes obsessed with this story, begins to investigate the girl’s disappearance on his own time.

C-130 Hercules cargo plane, similar to the one on which Kristvin had been working.

C-130 Hercules cargo plane, similar to the one on which Kristvin had been working.

The novel’s slow evolution establishes the identities of the characters and their interrelationships in the first hundred or so pages and sets up some of the complications. Over fifteen more characters are introduced after that, however, and without keeping a character list to remember some of the minor characters, it would be difficult to keep track of who is who, as they lack the individualization which makes characters “live.” The novel also lacks the sudden violence for which Indridason is usually noted, thereby shifting the burden of the action to the characters and their interactions, and these are not especially memorable. The girl with the skin problems, for example, stirs great empathy at the beginning, then virtually disappears. The more limited scope and conversational tone makes the novel feel, at times, like a domestic drama, rather than the dark, hard-edged noir for which Indridason is so famous, and the two parallel plots – involving the man who has fallen from the scaffolding and the young girl who disappeared twenty-five years before – are not equally compelling.

A 1948 Chevy Deluxe, which plays a feature role in the conclusion.

A 1948 Chevy Deluxe, which plays a feature role in the conclusion.

Fans of Indridason will probably read and enjoy the novel because it provides a picture of Erlendur’s life in his twenties, but it felt to me more like a marking of time than a significant expansion of our understanding of Erlendur. Little new information is revealed about him, and with a twenty year gap existing between this novel and its successor, Jar City, a huge gap still exists between what we know of Erlendur in his twenties and what we may still need to know to understand him in his forties. Fortunately, the conclusion, though not unexpected in terms of its plot detail, does come through with some of Indridason’s trademark noir spirit, leaving the reader with a sense of resolution despite what I felt was the novel’s disappointing lack of energy.

ALSO by Indridason:  JAR CITY (2000),       VOICES (2003),     THE DRAINING LAKE (2004),     HYPOTHERMIA (2007),     OUTRAGE (2008),    REYKJAVIK NIGHTS (2012)

Not part of the Erlendur series:  OPERATION NAPOLEON (1999)

Photos, in order:  The author’s photo appears on  https://pl.wikipedia.org

The aircraft hangar in which Kristvin was found may have looked like this one:  https://www.nasa.gov/

The Midnesheidi Moor to the south of Reykjavik is filled with hot springs and “mud pots.” http://vilagutazo.blog.hu/   Photo by Keller Istvan.

The huge C-130 Hercules cargo plane is used to transport enormous cargoes.  http://mazuryairshow.pl

The 1948 Chevy Deluxe Fleetline plays a role in the dramatic conclusion of this novel:  https://hiveminer.com/Tags/1949,fleetline

INTO OBLIVION
REVIEW. Iceland, Mystery, Thriller, Noir, Nordic Noir, Social and Political Issues
Written by: Arnaldur Indridason
Published by: Picador
Date Published: 02/07/2017
ISBN: 978-1250111432
Available in: Ebook Paperback

Domenico Starnone–TIES

“The title of this novel, in Italian, is Lacci, which means shoelaces. We see them on the cover, thanks to an illustration the author chose himself. A person, presumably a man, wears a pair of shoes whose laces are tied together. It is a knot that will surely trip him up, that will get him nowhere. We don’t see the expression on the man’s face, in fact we see very little of his body. And yet we fear for him, feel a little sorry for him, perhaps laugh at him, given that he already seems to be in the act of falling on his face.”—From the Introduction by Jhumpa Lahiri, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author in her own right, and the translator of this novel.

cover ties

As translator Jhumpa Lahiri also explains, shoelaces are ties, and ties are connections, and this novel illustrates the connections – and disconnections – among a four people in one family, and one cat. The plot is not complicated. Aldo Minori, a college professor married to Vanda, has been unfaithful, leaving Vanda and his two children, Anna and Sandro, at home in Naples while he has gone off with a nineteen-year-old girl with whom he, age thirty-four, now believes he is experiencing real love for the first time. Vanda has not heard from him in six days, and he has been living apart from her for two months. In a scathing letter to him, she mocks him for not answering her last letter and her phone calls to him at the university in Rome where he teaches. Appealing to his emotions and his love for the children, she “pushes buttons” in an effort to make him feel guilty and plays the “woman card,” emphasizing that she is afraid. The house is isolated and she fears that she will be robbed of the television and record player. She wonders if someone angry with him might kill her and the two children in their sleep for revenge. Then she warns: “Don’t make me lose my patience, Aldo, be careful. If I start to lose it, I’ll make you pay.”

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As her list of his failings goes on, in what appears to be the same letter, the reader discovers that Vanda has also had a conversation with Lidia, the new lover, and that Vanda and the family have moved to a less expensive apartment.   Time has passed, and as time continues to pass, and her “letter” to Aldo continues over the space of three years, Vanda takes action against him to end his relationship with his children, who, she believes, have not mattered to him during their three year separation. At the end of this first section, four years have passed. Vanda now has a steady job, and son Sandro is thirteen and Anna is nine. In a recent letter to Vanda, Aldo has apparently written to ask if he may see the children, with whom he wants to establish a relationship.   His own relationship with his parents was tainted by his father’s infidelity, and he realizes that he does not want his children to have the problems that he has had. The children agree to see him. Vanda is not pleased.

Translator Jhumpa Lahiri. Photo by Lianna Miuccio

Translator Jhumpa Lahiri.

Part II surprises by jumping forward about forty years and bringing the reader up to date on the lives of Vanda, Aldo, and the children as senior  and middle-aged citizens. In this longest section of the book, told from the point of view of Aldo, the relationship and the ties among the family members become even more complex, and in some cases permanently damaged, as a result of the much earlier separation between Aldo and Vanda. The now-adult children reveal their problems with both Aldo and Vanda. At the same time, these adult children also have problems with each other, showing in detail the myriad ties and resentments and their effects upon the members of this family. Part III, told through a section of dialogue between Anna and Sandro as they discuss their own lives and responsibilities as adult members of a whole new generation, ties up the themes and motifs throughout the book. Even the family cat does not escape. We are all connected, the author is saying, and though we can try to put aspects of our past and our present into “boxes” for safety, our ability to keep those boxes closed and “tied” depends on our emotional health and determination.

As Sandro and Anna remember their first meeting with their father after several years of absence, Anna recalls that he took them to a place in Piazza Carlo III. Sandro says this memory is wrong.

As Sandro and Anna remember their first meeting with their father after several years of absence, Anna recalls that he took them to a place in Piazza Carlo III. Sandro says this memory is wrong.

Additional themes are concerned with aging, with making commitments, with planning for the future (as opposed to living for the moment), with how we define love and its connection to freedom, and with our search for contentment and whether it can be construed as a kind of love, adding density to the themes. Even the relationship between parents and children and how those are tied by a complex relationship that involves elements of both love and obligation are illustrated here. Though this novel is short, it feels much longer and much broader, without becoming tedious or overtly allegorical. Starnone, aided by his sensitive translator, makes every word count in this domestic novel of big ideas, and he keeps the story intriguing at the same time.

Piazza Dante Alighieri, where Sandro says their mother took them to meet their father. Two different memories of the same event. Photo by stefanomolinari.com

Piazza Dante Alighieri, where Sandro says their mother took them to meet their father, is a different memory from what Anna has of the same event. Photo by stefanomolinari.com

And speaking of ties.  It is impossible, at this point, to avoid some commentary here about this novel and author, and the the reclusive author Elena Ferrante and her identity. Some critics have pointed out the similarity between the plot of this novel and that of Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment, published in 2005, seven years before the first of the four recent novels in the “Neapolitan Quartet.”  For several years, during the immense popularity of that new quartet, beginning with My Brilliant Friend, Starnone was posited, occasionally, as the “real” Elena Ferrante. Last year, a reporter traced real estate transactions and decided that the “real” Elena Ferrante was, in fact, Starnone’s wife, also a writer. I don’t know if any of that is true, and, frankly, I don’t care. As far as this book is concerned, I found it far more compressed than the Neapolitan quartet, of which I read and reviewed the first three novels. After reading more than twelve hundred pages devoted to the relationship between two Neapolitan women, their friends and associates, along with many pages of genealogies for the families, however, I decided I’d read enough about the lives these two women, and I did not read the last book in the series.

cover troubling loveI had long been intrigued by Ferrante’s Troubling Love (2006), a novel of only 139 pages, for the author’s ability to compress and condense, much as the author of this novel does, and I had been a bit disappointed at the popularity of the Neapolitan quartet, which, for me, had soap operatic qualities. This novel, Ties, feels much more like the earlier Troubling Love. I am not saying this as part of an argument, one way or the other, regarding the “ties,” if any, between Starnone and Ferrante. I do not care about that. I am just saying that I liked this novel better than the Neapolitan quartet because of its compression, and I look forward to his next novel, which I hope will be as concise and pertinent as this one.

Photos, in order:  The author’s photo appears on http://www.ilsussidiario.net

Translator Jhumpa Lahiri’s photo, by Lianna Miuccio, is from  http://www.vogue.com/ Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prize winner in her own right for her story collection, The Interpreter of Maladies.

Piazza Caffe Carlo III, where Anna remembers seeing her father for the first time after several years’ absence.   https://www.yelp.com

Piazza Dante Alighieri, where Sandro insists his father met them.  Both remember vividly the experience, but they do not agree about where it took place.  Photo by Stefano Molinari.  http://www.travelforpassion.com

TIES
REVIEW. Book Club Suggestions, Italy, Literary, Psychological study.
Written by: Domenico Starnone
Published by: Europa
Date Published: 03/07/2017
ISBN: 978-160945385
Available in: Ebook Paperback

Note: British author Andrew Miller was WINNER of the IMPAC Dublin Award, the biggest award in fiction, for Ingenious Pain in 1999. In 2001, Oxygen was SHORTLISTED for both the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award, and in 2011, Pure was WINNER of the Costa Book of the Year Award.

“Early spring, the new millennium, a young woman walks backwards along the deck of a boat. She goes slowly, is bent almost double, holds in her left hand a ladle and in her right a pot of hot pitch. From the spout of the ladle she pours a thin ribbon of pitch into the seams where all yesterday she tapped in lengths of oakum with a mallet and bosun’s chisel. So it begins, simply, with work.” – opening paragraph of The Crossing.

cover the crossing 2

This opening paragraph about the maintenance of a boat seems informative and descriptive as it introduces Maud, who becomes the main character of this novel, yet, upon closer analysis, it should give a reader pause. What kind of woman could spend an entire day doing the arduous job of fixing the seams along the deck of a boat and then spend the next day sealing them all with pitch, without, apparently taking any breaks or turning the work into fun by listening to music, chatting with a friend, or, apparently, daydreaming? Though she is alone on deck, a young fellow student in the university’s sailing club, Tim Rathbone, is working below on the hull of the boat, dipping bolts into white lead. While he is singing and wondering if he and the girl will sleep together that night, she remains totally dedicated to her job. She does not “do banter, does not seem to understand what it is,” a characteristic he finds “funny and endearing.”

The valuable Lacote guitar, one of Tim Rathbone's treasures.

The valuable Lacote guitar, one of Tim Rathbone’s treasures.

Without warning, “there is a movement through the air, a blink of feathered shadow, that is also a movement across the surface of his eye like a thorn scratch,” and then, lying beside him, face up on the ground, her eyes shut, is the girl, Maud Stamp, “newly dead,” he thinks. By the time the ambulance arrives to take her for medical care, he is in shock himself, but the girl is still alive. After three days in hospital, she is released to his care, in lieu of her parents’ care. When he takes her to her apartment, he is surprised to see how different it is from the rooms of his sisters: Unlike them, Maud has no pictures on the walls, no decorations, dark brown furniture, and “a carpet of the kind intended to endure all insult.” Nothing personal is visible. Maud’s faculty advisor has confessed to Tim that she herself had to “teach [Maud] that she had a private life…something between work and sleep. Something discussable.” Tim, fascinated by Maud’s remoteness, bends to the task of caring for her and eventually begins to court her, introducing her to his own life, one of privilege and casual wealth, parties, and music, his own guitar-playing sometimes performed on his nearly priceless Lacote guitar.

Andrew Miller, one of Britain's most celebrated young authors.

Andrew Miller, one of Britain’s most celebrated young authors.

Because he tells the reader what he thinks, Tim seems to be the focus for the beginning of the novel, but Maud emerges as the primary interest in the middle part of the novel as British author Andrew Miller creates a unique novel, one which breaks all the “rules” of structure, character, and plot but still manages to engage and involve the reader. Miller, in fact, specializes in unique twists. In 1999, he won the IMPAC Dublin Award for his debut novel Ingenious Pain, in which the main character is unable to feel any pain. Oxygen, his second novel, manages to be both thrilling and exciting though the entire novel deals with death and the guilty feelings that the characters all feel regarding their lives. Pure, an historical novel set in pre-revolutionary France, is concerned with the removal of over fifty-thousand rotting corpses from a putrid cemetery in a heavily populated area of Paris, and yet it becomes inspiring in its revelations about the main character and the conditions that lead to revolutions. In The Crossing, Miller maintains the clean prose and stunning descriptions for which he has always been noted, but here he accomplishes the nearly impossible feat of keeping the main character herself a mystery for the entire novel, a person with seemingly no personality or observable feelings for other people and no commitment to those around her, a “heroine” who is in no way heroic.

The classic Nicholson 32 sailboat which Maud takes on a trip

The classic Nicholson 32 sailboat which Maud takes on a trip

To add to the complexity and the sense of distance from Maud, Miller illustrates her life in three sections, each told as a different genre. In the first part, a domestic drama, Maud and Tim eventually set up housekeeping in a small house near his parents, and she remains committed to her job doing medical research out of town while he works on a concerto at home. Years pass, and gradual changes occur in their lives. Then a horrific accident upsets their world. Maud’s response is to take the boat which she and Tim own, a Nicholson 32, and set out to sea. This middle part of the novel is an exciting adventure story of Maud against nature as she battles huge storms at sea while heading south in the Atlantic from England, emulating a heroine, Nicolette Milnes Walker, who became the first woman to sail, non-stop, alone, across the Atlantic in 1971. When Maud is due west of Senegal, she heads across the Atlantic toward Central and South America, fighting the weather, the damage to her boat, and her own injuries and lack of sleep all the way. The third separate section, takes place when Maud lands in an unknown country, presumably in South America, and is discovered by the remnants of a religious cult who, conveniently, speak both English and Spanish. Their religious rites involve snake-handling and illustrate an idealized symbolic and religious experiment in creating a new society.

Nicolette Milnes Walker, author of When I Put Out To Sea, was the first woman to sail non-stop across the Atlantic, heroine to Maude.

Nicolette Milnes Walker, author of When I Put Out To Sea, was the first woman to sail non-stop across the Atlantic, heroine to Maude.

In the course of the novel Maud remains almost totally self-absorbed, and at the climax in the conclusion, when characters traditionally recognize something important about life or themselves, the reader is left wondering about Maud’s final action and what that action means. Has Maud really learned something or changed? If so, what has she learned? Has she done what is “right,” either for herself or for the world around her, and how is that determined? This is, perhaps, Miller’s most daring novel, in that it challenges the very basis of one’s expectations regarding writing and novels. The three sections give a great deal of information about Maud, but since these come without including any revelations about what she herself feels, she appears to be more like a robot, an accumulation of details, rather than an adult with feelings and commitments. Nevertheless, we find her story exciting and involving, and this makes the reader wonder, suddenly, if Miller is suggesting that when reading and interpreting an author’s plot, we automatically interpret the action in terms of our own lives, experience, and values. Is my interpretation of Maud and what she will do at the end of the novel based on my own background and values? And is this the ideal regarding writing that Miller is aiming for?

Also by Andrew Miller:  INGENIOUS PAIN,       OXYGEN,      PURE,

Photos, in order The photo of the Lacote guitar is a still from this video:  https://www.youtube.com

The author’s photo appears on https://www.toppingbooks.co.uk/

The Nicholson 32 sailboat, which Maud takes across the Atlantic, is shown here:  http://www.yachtsnet.co.uk

When I Put Out to Sea by Nicolette Milnes Walker, the first woman to sail alone, non-stop, across the Atlantic is available on https://www.amazon.com/When-I-put-out-sea/dp/B003KDHKVG  Maud admires her.

THE CROSSING
REVIEW. Book Club Suggestions, England, Exploration, Literary, Psychological study
Written by: Andrew Miller
Published by: Europa
Date Published: 01/10/2017
ISBN: 978-1609453473
Available in: Ebook Paperback

“Deep in Honduras in a region called La Mosquitia, lie some of the last unexplored places on earth. Mosquitia is a vast, lawless area…of rainforests, swamps, lagoons, mountains…and the thickest jungle in the world….For centuries, [it] has been home to one of the world’s most persistent and tantalizing legends. Somewhere in this impassable wilderness, it is said, lies a “lost city” built of white stone. It is called Ciudad Blanca, the “White City,” also referred to as the “Lost City of the Monkey God.”

cover lost city

No one knows whether the “Lost City” actually exists and, if it does, whether it was built by the Mayas or some other, unknown indigenous group, but Mosquitia’s thirty-two thousand square miles, filled with rainforests, swamps, lagoons, rivers, mountains, ravines, waterfalls and roaring torrents have been virtually impassable throughout modern history, and early maps have labeled this place “Portal del Infierno,” or “Gates of Hell.” Any adventurer willing to test himself against these natural barriers would also have to be willing to deal with deadly snakes, jaguars, catclaw vines, with their hooked thorns, and hordes of insects and flies carrying unknown, possibly virulent diseases. And if someone were still determined to look for this lost city, s/he would also have to deal with equally dangerous human problems: Much of the area surrounding Mosquitia is ruled by drug cartels.

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In February, 2015, an expedition of researchers decides to investigate this area, fearing that the on-going clear-cutting of the land could lead to the inadvertent discovery and destruction of ancient ruins and artifacts from the “lost cities” in Mosquitia. Author Douglas Preston joins a small group of researchers headed into a part of the jungle which “had not seen human beings in living memory.” Scientists, archaeologists, photographers, film producers, a British veteran skilled in jungle warfare and survival, and an expert in “lidar,” a form of radar involving Light Detection and Ranging, have been granted ten days to set up camp, do their research, and then leave the area, empty-handed. The President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, has provided army rangers, many of them members of indigenous Indian groups, for the protection of the researchers, and everyone involved in the project is to operate under the greatest of secrecy, revealing nothing about the location, keeping all notes, maps, and photographs under guard, and protecting the isolation of this area from those who might want to profit from the illegal sale of its artifacts.

The howler monkeys keep author Preston up most of the night on his first night in the jungle.

The howler monkeys keep author Preston up most of the night on his first night in the jungle.

Douglas Preston, well known co-author with Lincoln Child of a thriller series, has also worked as a writer and editor for the American Museum of Natural History, doing additional writing for National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian, and the New Yorker, and this trip would be part of a story for National Geographic, its photographs supplied by David Yoder, also on the trip. Preston’s unique talents here – both his fiction writing experience and his scientific work – would allow him to recreate the historical background of the trip and the real events during the trip in ways at least as exciting as the fictional events of his thrillers. While other members of the research group would be taking notes and writing about their scientific and historical discoveries and their technical research, Preston would be able to provide a more general, less esoteric, presentation to the general public through his National Geographic story and through this book.

A fer-de-lance, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world, appears at camp, the first night Preston is there.

A fer-de-lance, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world, appears at camp the first night Preston is there. This one is being “milked” of its venom. Note the length of its fangs.

On his first night, after hacking his way into the jungle to make a place for his hammock, Preston discovers the howler monkeys, and later has an encounter with a fer-de-lance, one of the deadliest snakes in the world. “In a strange way the encounter sharpened the experience of being here,” he says. “It amazed me that a valley so primeval and unspoiled could still exist in the twenty-first century. It was truly a lost world, a place that did not want us and where we did not belong.” The next day the group slashes its way to the top of a hill and plaza, where they find geometric mounds and terraces and a large stone, probably an altar stone, hidden among the heavy vegetation, then more and more mounds and plazas. One scientist concludes that “all this terrain, everything you see here, has been entirely modified by human hands.” The lidar survey had been proved correct.

The were-jaguar effigy was found poking up from the ground on the first day of exploration of the site.

The were-jaguar effigy was found poking up from the ground on the first day of exploration of the site.

After a delay for torrential rains, they later return to the base of the pyramid they have been investigating, and discover some “weird stones.” Dozens of carved stone sculptures are poking out of the ground. The first thing Preston sees is “the snarling head of a jaguar sticking out of the forest floor, then the rim of a vessel decorated with a vulture’s head and more stone jars carved with snakes.” These were “lying here undisturbed since they had been left centuries ago – until we stumbled upon them…proof, if we needed it, that this valley had not been explored in modern times.” To protect the site containing the “were-jaguar” and the vessel, the archaeologist tapes it off, allowing only the three archaeologists from among the ten people in the group to go inside the lines, that “jewel of a place, as pure as you could find, untouched for centuries.” Much more lay below the surface, but it would take excavation a year later to see how much more.

Harrison Ford, active in Conservation International for fifteen years, is currently Vice Chairman of the group which has financed the second trip to the "Lost City." Here he consoles a baby orangutan at a sanctuary in Borneo.

Harrison Ford, active in Conservation International for fifteen years, is currently Vice Chairman of the group which  financed the second trip to the “Lost City” in 2015.  Here he consoles a baby orangutan at a sanctuary in Borneo.

Eventually coming out of the expedition with only their photos, and leaving every artifact behind, marked with tape, the group returns, and Preston writes a brief announcement about the discovery of a lost city in the Honduran rain forest, a story that goes viral and becomes front-page news. Academic controversy immediately results, some academics claiming that the expedition has made false claims and exaggerated the importance of the finds. The academic jealousies do not abate. In the meantime, most of the participants in the expedition have had to be hospitalized, and treated, some for many months, for leishmaniasis, an often fatal parasitic disease with “a long and terrible history,” almost unheard of in modern times. Soldiers guarding the site have also been diagnosed with this disease, which has no known cure, raising questions about pandemics and the possible reasons for the total abandonment of the “lost city,” seemingly overnight. A second trip in 2015, in which Preston also participated, has led to further discoveries, this expedition having been financed by Conservation International, of which actor Harrison Ford is currently the Vice Chairman. The first artifacts removed from the site in 2015, the “were-jaguar” metate and the vulture jar, have been presented to the President of Honduras, and the country is now gearing up to protect and promote its own heritage. The rest of the story will continue, and I suspect that National Geographic will keep us all up to date.

Somewhere in Honduras is a river like this, and somewhere along this river is the site of the Lost City. Photo by Dave Yoder, photographer for the expedition.

Somewhere in Honduras is a river like this, and somewhere along this river is the site of the Lost City. Photo by Dave Yoder, photographer for the expedition.

Photos, in order:  The author’s photo appears on http://www.nctv17.com/

The howler monkeys, which kept the author up all night on the night he arrived to make his camp for the expedition, are shown here:  https://www.newscientist.com/

The dangerous fer-de-lance almost bites the author on the first night he is in camp in the jungle.  Note the length of its fangs.  http://www.capefearserpentarium.com/photos-23.html

The were-jaguar, found at the site of the Lost City, was partially buried among other effigies which were discovered at the Lost City.  A year later,  it was presented to the President Hernandez of Honduras.  https://rperon1017blog.wordpress.com

Harrison Ford, shown here with a baby orangutan at a sanctuary in Borneo, has been involved with Conservation International for fifteen years and is now Vice Chairman of the organization.  This organization financed the second expedition to the site in later 2015. http://yearsoflivingdangerously.com/

The photo of the winding river in Honduras, which may or may not be the river near which the Lost City was found, is by Dave Yoder, the photographer for the expedition. http://www.mirror.co.uk

LOST CITY OF THE MONKEY GOD
REVIEW. Reviews, Book Club Suggestions, Exploration, Historical, Honduras, Non-fiction, Social and Political Issues
Written by: Douglas Preston
Published by: Grand Central
Date Published: 01/03/2017
ISBN: 978-1455540006
Available in: Ebook Hardcover

Note: This novel, the author’s second, was WINNER of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Best Novel when it was published in Australia in 2015.

“In the early morning dark among the man fern of the damp hill’s foreslope, Toosey unbundled his bedroll and sat watching his backtrack and waiting. He built no fire and took no tea but sat on the blankets peeling a turnip with his knife, passing slices to his lips. A bone-splinter moon rose wondrous within the overspread of stars, the dark below the [gum trees] deepening into blue and then black, but still no one appeared upon the slope. Had he eluded them?” Thomas Toosey, father of William, hiding from pursuers.

cover WilsonRohan To Name Those LostIn 1874, the island of Tasmania, one hundred fifty miles off the southeast coast of Australia, is boiling with rage. Once a penal colony filled with the hardest criminals, and the site of almost total genocide of the original aboriginal inhabitants by the British, Tasmania, in 1874, is a seething cauldron of hungry men and the toughest of women, many of them homeless, trying to survive the only way they know – by using whatever weapons they have at hand to gain what they need to stay alive. Adding to the problems of the poor, the Launceston and Western Railway Company, run by the colonizers, has recently accumulated large debts at the hands of speculators, and the Tasmanian government has just decided to make its citizens pay for those losses. Learning that the legislature has “voted to confiscate our property, steal our money, and make ruins of our lives,” large crowds gather to take matters into their own hands. “It is because they believe us weak,” they decide. “Because they believe the undue exercise of power over the supine and the insipid is their prerogative.” Resentment against the police is high, and the tempers of the poor and hungry are shorter than short.

author photo rohan wilsonWithin this fraught atmosphere, Tasmanian author Rohan Wilson introduces several hard men, women, and children who are also dealing with emotionally exhausting personal problems, many of which involve long-standing resentments and hatreds. To accommodate both the general turmoil and the personal traumas of his characters, Wilson creates his own style of gothic novel, a form which allows him to recreate the horrors and abuses of the times while also creating overt sentiment and sympathy for some of the characters. The hero of the novel, if it can be said to have one, is twelve-year-old William Toosey, a street child, who discovers, as the novel opens, that his mother is extremely ill, probably dying. Rushing to find a doctor, whom he cannot afford, he is accosted by the sadistic local constable, Beatty, who refuses to let him pass, demanding information from William about the theft of some cases of beer and, with his junior constable, beating William on back and legs until he can hardly move. By the time William is able to get free and find the doctor, his mother is dead. The doctor does him a “favor,” however, granting him fourteen days to pay his bill. William decides to write to his long-absent father for help.

While hiding from pursuers, Toosey notes the present of the little rosella birds.

While hiding from pursuers, Toosey notes the presence of little rosella birds.

William’s father, Thomas Toosey, has been held incommunicado by a “deadman” who is about to claim the bounty placed on Toosey by Fitheal Flynn, a man whom Toosey has robbed. Flynn and a hooded man soon arrive at the shed where Toosey has been held, but Toosey has managed to escape into the bush. Hardened by his earlier life in Tasmania as a tracker and bounty hunter of the aborigines, Toosey is a killer, seeing “in the bullet, the knife, and the club a power that could make a man his own master,” and at age fifty-nine, he is still using those weapons to make his way in life. Now resting overnight in a cave, he still makes note of the kangaroo mobs and the small flock of rosellas “dipping and swinging and making horrible cries,” a natural but unlikely image ascribed to a man hiding for his life. Determined to “to do right” by his son William, who has written to him for help, Toosey is committed to acting like a real father.

These little "rat-kangaroos" are small marsupials, about the size of a rabbit, which hop on their hindfeet and dig for much of their food. Toosey snares one for food while he is in hiding. Photo by Dick Walker.

These potoroos,  “rat-kangaroos,” are small marsupials, about the size of a rabbit, which hop on their hindfeet and dig for much of their food. Toosey snares one for food while he is in hiding. Photo by Dick Walker.

The action and points of view alternate among William Toosey and the life he is leading after his mother’s death; Thomas Toosey, who is trying to reach his son William from another part of the island so he can help him; Fitheal Flynn and his “hooded man” who are trying to get back the money that Toosey has stolen from them; and Beatty and Webster, the local constables who are trying to capture any and all of them. Additional connections between Toosey and Fitheal Flynn and his hooded accomplice explain why Flynn’s hatred of Toosey is so visceral and unyielding and why he is willing to fight Toosey to the death. One more character, Jane Eleanor Hall, whose head is shaved and is thought, at first, to be a man, adds to the complexities and mysterious identities when she finds Flynn and his companion hiding in her house and offers to help them find Toosey if they pay her for her help.

This bulldog pistol features strongly in this novel.

This bulldog pistol features strongly in this novel.

As in other gothic novels, the action here comes fast and furious, with elaborate descriptions bringing it alive, and violence the usual result of interactions of characters. Interestingly, the “hero” here, young William Toosey, and the anti-hero, Thomas Toosey, are from the same family and have some love for each other, adding a humanizing, if not sentimental, touch. Toosey and Flynn, both bearing true hatred for each other, are fated to meet each other in a showdown, the outcome of which should require that both end up dead. Their place in the universe of violence which surrounds them, however, makes their fates seem less important than it is in most Victorian gothic novels, as their young accomplices, William Toosey and Flynn’s hooded mystery man would seem to have little future without them.  At one point, a melodramatic pronouncement adds a bit of moralizing to the novel: “The sound of love is to name those lost who lived for others,” the source of the novel’s title.

Rechabite man in his sash and elaborate dress, a vastly different appearance from what the local men are wearing.

Rechabite man in his sash and elaborate dress, a vastly different appearance from the dirty and tattered clothing of the local men.

Within all the misery here, Wilson does include one darkly humorous “take” on religion, unlike traditional gothic novels in which good, evil, and a genuine sense of a god and/or a devil pervade the action: At one point, Flynn and his exhausted and hungry accomplice, are waiting for a train when representatives of the Independent Order of Rechabites, a temperance group, elaborately dressed and holding ornate banners, leave the train to the beat of drums. The contrast with the rest of the waiting crowd leads Flynn to exclaim, “What in the name of fock…For the love of God, would you look at them,” clearly an indication that this Tasmanian gothic novel differs from traditional British gothic in important ways.

ALSO by Rohan Wilson:  THE ROVING PARTY

Photos, in order:  The author’s photo appears on http://freshfiction.com

Toosey, while hiding from pursuers, comments on the presence of kangaroo mobs and rosella birds.  http://pixdaus.com

The potoroo, or rat-kangaroo, is a rabbit-sized marsupial which hops on its hind feet and digs for much of its food.  Toosey snared one of these while in hiding and expected to use it for food.  http://www.potoroo.org/

The bulldog pistol, often worn hidden behind the back of Flynn’s hooded accomplice, plays an important role throughout the novel.  http://www.armeancienne.fr/

Men wearing the clothing of the Independent Orders of Rechabites get off the train as the locals are waiting.  Representing a tee-totalling, religious existence, they are an ironic contrast with the local men in their dirty and tattered clothing many of whom are drunk.  http://www.soldiersofthequeen.com

TO NAME THOSE LOST
REVIEW. Historical, Literary, Social and Political Issues, Australia, Tasmania
Written by: Rohan Wilson
Published by: Europa Editions
Date Published: 02/07/2017
ISBN: 978-1609453497
Available in: Ebook Paperback

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