Sunday, May 28, 2006

NOTHING LOST by John Gregory Dunne (2004)

Dunne's final novel (he died unexpectedly in December 2003) shows his fascination with "the forgotten, the rejected and the left behind." When a lurid murder comes to trial in small town America, there is a media circus as the celebrity machine comes to feast on the events.

There is a cast of memorable and credible characters including a defense attorney whose real father was a Las Vegas mobster, a tough gay former state's attorney, a sociopathic supermodel and sister of the accused, and a glamorous right wing congresswoman who is a gubernatorial candidate.

No one escapes Dunne's unsentimental narrative.

DEMOCRACY by Joan Didion (1984)

Inez Christian Victor is the wife of a U.S. senator who has designs on the presidency. Set in the years following the fall of Saigon, DEMOCRACY is a political satire as well as bildungsroman. Inez is spunky, intelligent and self aware. The politics of that time are inseparable from private life and join to assure both public and private disaster.

Didion's eye for social commentary is precise.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


A collection of linked stories that weave together to form a novel, THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE honours the lives of several tough Black American women who inhabit the margins of society because they are either on welfare, are prostitutes or are lesbians. When it was first published in 1980 one critic wrote that "vibrating with undisguised emotion" the book " springs from the same roots that produced the sings of sorrows proudly borne by black women in America."

LARRY'S PARTY by Carol Shields

Larry Weller is a florist who lives in Winnipeg with his wife Dorrie and his young son Ryan. He builds topiary mazes after "getting the bug" during his honeymoon visit to Hampton Court Palace. As he learns more about designing these labyrinths he also negotiates his way more adeptly through his relationships with his son and with the women in his life. Shields, as usual, shows herself to be the master of communicating what is remarkable about an ordinary life.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Detective John Cardinal faces his own criminal past again when his partner Detective Lise Delorme is assigned to determine the source of Cardinal's income that enables him to pay for his daughter's graduate education at Yale. Delorme and Cardinal are put on murder cases of children as yet unsolved. Once they discover the remains of a thirteen year old Native girl in an abandoned mineshaft on Windigo Island, a killer strikes again. Set in Algonquin Bay (fictionalized North Bay, Ontario) and in the Toronto forensics lab, FORTY WORDS FOR SORROW is fast-paced and, at times, terrifying. It makes you really wonder about youth in care.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Detective Carol Jordan is wooed back on to the front lines of police work by a series of cold cases including missing children. Recent murders of prostitutes are especially difficult for Jordan to face since she is recovering from being raped when she went undercover in Berlin. The narrative twists and turns with the snap of the sexual predator's fingers. It is compelling and sickening to read.

KICK BACK by Val McDermid

Detective Kate Brannigan uncovers a mortgage theft scam that is run by a salesman who works for a greenhouse building company. In addition to fraud, this novel keeps you flipping through it because of twisted relationships between the characters. I can easily lose myself in such a fast-paced tale.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


I've recently become interested in murder mystery writing. A friend gave me McDermid's book insisting that she wrote at the top of her game. Set in a remote village in northern England, A PLACE OF EXECUTION is fast-paced and thought-provoking. It addresses the failure of the justice system and the messiness of ethical decisions and their ramifications. I was not disappointed and have picked up another McDermid book to see if she really is such a consistently fine storyteller.

NIGHT by Elie Wiesel

This brave and haunting memoir written by the Nobel Prize winner demands to be read over and over again. Wiesel is just a boy when he and his family are taken to Auschwitz and then he is moved to Buchenwald with his father. What astonishes me each time I read this book is how he manages to remain a man of faith in face of the atrocities he witnessed and experienced.