Monday, September 25, 2006

THE COMMUNIST'S DAUGHTER by Dennis Bock (2006)

Bock's hugely anticipated second novel reveals layer by layer the life of Norman Bethune. A life that he guardedly offers up to the infant daughter he has yet to meet. In Spain, Bethune meets Kajsa, a formidable woman who works with an anarchist group to get prostitutes off the streets of Madrid and into respectable work raising orphans of the Spanish Civil war. Although pregnant by him, Kajsa never admits as much and Bethune finds out after the fact that she was allowed to deliver the baby, but then killed because she was suspected of having pro-Fascist connections.

In this series of letters, Bethune confides all to his imagined daughter. He tries to face the truths about himself and his past and tries to communicate to her the necessity of the Chinese struggles against oppression through the leadership of Mao and the communist revolution.

Rife with historical detail and gorgeous descriptive passages, Bock paints a convincing portrait of a flawed man.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER by Michael Connelly (2005)

Defense attorney Mickey Haller has just about had it with his suspect clientele. He has two ex-wives--one on the payroll running his office from her condo; the other raising his only child. To protect himself he curiously runs his business from the backseats of several Lincoln Town Cars that are chauffeured by a former client who is going straight.

Mickey gets picked by a Beverly Hills rich boy realtor to defend him in a case of assault which he claims he didn't commit. The twists and turns of this hyper narrative will keep you second guessing right until the murderer is revealed at the climax.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER will have me reaching for other Connelly books. I will certainly make a point of hearing him read at IFOA in October.

Monday, September 11, 2006

CERTAINTY by Madeleine Thien (2006)

Thien's debut novel tells the story of Gail Lim, a radio documentary producer, who lives in Vancouver with her doctor husband Ansel. She believes in the serendipitous nature of life--that eventually everything will connect in a meaningful way. In her attempt to make a documentary about a man who encoded a journal during WWII, Gail discovers that she must crack the code of her own father's past in war-torn Asia.

Thien's understanding of grief is accurate and her evocation of it eloquent.

This is a stunning novel in which the characters are fully formed. Thien is the bright new voice in Canadian fiction. You will be able to hear her read from CERTAINTY at this year's IFOA at Harbourfront in Toronto this October.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

THE GRAVE TATOO by Val McDermid (2005)

Atypical torrential rain drenches the Lake District and exposes a bog body that has been wildly tatooed. Local lore suggests it could be the corpse of the legendary sailor Fletcher Christian who led the mutiny on the Bounty against Captain Bligh. For four centuries people in the district have gossiped that Christian returned home to England after staging a massacre on the island of Pitcairn in the South Pacific. He told his story in confidence to the most famous man of the district, William Wordsworth, a school chum and longtime family friend. Wordsworth, at the height of his poetic power, may have turned the sailor's tale into a long narrative poem that he never published.

Enter Jane Gresham, a Lake District girl who has become a Wordsworth scholar. Jane discovers fresh correspondence between Wordsworth's widow and their son John that intimates the existence of such a poem. As she tries to follow the genealogical labyrinth to the possible whereabouts of this precious manuscript in the present, there are a series of troubling murders.

I couldn't put this book down because of its galloping pace and interweaving subplots. No stone is left unturned by McDermid in her research. I stayed up reading into the early hours even knowing I had to haul myself out of bed at 5 a.m. to row this morning.

Monday, September 04, 2006

TURNING ANGEL by Greg Iles (2005)

Following the current run of mysteries I seem to be devouring, I've added an author who is new to me: Greg Iles. Set in the American South and rife with the racial strife that continues to stain that area, TURNING ANGEL, follows Penn Cage (a prosecutor-turned-novelist) whose best friend Drew Elliott is desperate for his legal counsel once the body of a high school senior has been found near the Mississippi River. Penn plans to do all he can to help Drew (a respected town doctor who had been sexually involved with the murdered Kate Townsend) who saved his life when they were boys; however, Penn suspects Drew is hiding the truth.

The story is utterly consuming.