Sunday, August 27, 2006

DEAD SOULS by Ian Rankin (1999)

Inspector Rebus stumbles upon a freed paedophile at the Edinburgh Zoo while he is stalking someone who has been poisoning the animals. By outing Darren Rough, Rebus has roused the local vigilantes from the housing project where Rough has been located since completing his sentence.

In addition to his troubles with the former paedophile who has been out for a year and not re-offended, Rebus has to deal with the apparent suicide of his colleague Jim Margolies who has hurled himself from Arthur's Seat on a dark and stormy night. And, if that isn't enough, a convicted murdered who has served his time in US jails, is looking to play games with Rebus as his pawn.

This is crime writing of the highest order.

Read Ian Rankin.

Monday, August 21, 2006

THE HANGING GARDEN by Ian Rankin (1998)


Any book that begins by quoting both T.S. Eliot and the Lerner and Loewe musical BRIGADOON is a must read as far as I'm concerned. That it happens to be a rapid fire murder mystery makes it all the more charming.

In THE HANGING GARDEN Rebus is trailing a WWII war criminal when their paths cross with a Chechen gangster who is running prostitutes out of eastern Europe. It becomes very personal when Rebus's only daughter Samantha is the victim of a hit and run. Rankin makes you hypothesize how the rules of the game change when family is threatened.

LET IT BLEED by Ian Rankin (1995)

I'm beginning the back-to-school Rankin-reading blitz. I just can't get enough of his fast-paced literary thrillers featuring Detective John Rebus, who speaks his mind often to his own detriment. But, his Edinburgh bravado has its winning ways.

Rebus is, as usual, in the wrong place at the right time. Three storylines interweave: the Lord Provost's daughter seems to have been kidnapped; a city counsellor is caught shredding documents; Rebus finds himself on the invitation list to a private shooting party hosted by the Scottish Office's Permanent Secretary. It can only me corruption at the heart of modern Scotland.

THE LAST HEATHEN by Charles Montgomery (2004)

Shortlisted for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction, this memoir is subtitled "Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in Melanesia." Montgomery's great grandfather was the Bishop of Tasmania at the end of the 19th century. At that time, the volcanic islands that make up Melanesia were a hotbed of cannibalism and witchcraft. Travelling in his relative's footsteps, Montgomery explores the effects of colonialism and marvels at cultural anthropology and myth making.

A compelling read.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A WAY OF LIFE, LIKE ANY OTHER by D'Arcy O'Brien (1977)

Set in Hollywood in the 1950s this is about a former cowboy movie star, his leading lady wife and their son. Their heyday far behind them, the husband and wife split and she spends the rest of her life searching for the perfect man through her alcoholic stupor. She thinks she's found him in a short, stocky sculptor.

The best part about this book was the epigraph attributed to Benedict Kiely: "There's what I want on my tombstone: Growth, Self-Deception, and Loss."

Don't bother reading it. That's 3 hours of my life wasted.


The narrator, Devlin Stead, was born in St. John's Newfoundland in the late nineteenth century. Through this bildungsroman we witness Devlin's early years when his doctor father abandons his wife and son to explore the Polar seas in the company of Lt. Robert Peary and Dr. Frederick Cook. Devlin's mother dies when he's only six and he's raised by his aunt and uncle until he decides to pursue a dream in New York under the tutelage of Dr. Cook from whom he has been receiving letters for many years.

Devlin learns truth after truth about his past and comes to find himself secure in love at last.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

MONSTER by John Gregory Dunne

Screenwriter and novelist John Gregory Dunne chronicles the years it takes to pitch, draft and re-draft a story for the big screen. He and his wife Joan Didion collaborated on the script for UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL, a movie finally made once Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer attached their names to the project--8 years later.

Ten years ago the best "script doctors" in the business (Dunne cites Carrie Fisher a.k.a. Princess Leia for one) got paid upt to 200k for one week's work.

There's a gig worth getting.

Monday, August 07, 2006

EVERYMAN by Philip Roth (2006)

Roth's 5th novel of the 21st century takes its title from the allegorical early English play about the summoning of the living to death. In it his everyman is a retired advertising executive who lives alone outside of NYC along the Jersey Shore and paints watercolours, an avocation of which he has dreamed. He has three failed marriages behind him, a doting daughter, an iconic older brother and two sons who have alienated him most of their adult lives.

Every word in this 182-page novel counts. Roth manages to get the reader on side from the opening sober scene at the graveyard where the cast gathers to contemplate this life.

"The terrain of this powerful novel is the human body. Its subject is the common experience that terrifies us all."

MORTAL SINS by Anna Porter (1987)

Journalist Judith Hayes gets an exclusive interview with secretive businessman Paul Zimmerman thanks to her friend Marsha Hillier. For some reason Zimmerman is ready to spill the beans about his private life. Hayes is invited to a special dinner party chez Zimmerman and there, in the company of strangers, bears witness to his unexpected death at the table. What follows is a journey into Zimmerman's obscure past in Hungary.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

NIGHT GAME: A KATE HENRY MYSTERY by Alison Gordon (1992)

Kate is in Florida covering the "Grapefruit League" pre-season training for the Toronto Titans, when their pre-season rituals take a sinister turn. A rookie from the Dominican Republic is arrested for the murder of a blonde bombshell reporter, and Kate sets out to clear his name.

You get an inside peek at the complicated relationships between players and their wives and families during life on the road. Many of the adults follow Oscar Wilde's advice that the only way to deal with temptation is to yield to it.

SAFE AT HOME: A KATE HENRY MYSTERY by Alison Gordon (1990)

Ace reporter, Kate Henry, is about to break a story featuring a gay baseball player on Toronto's major league team. The news is sure to throw the sports world a curve ball. At the same time, Kate's lover, Detective Andy Munro, is trying to find the person responsible for the murders of two young boys. When their paths cross, Kate and Andy find that it's just not safe at home.

This novel clips along right to its satisfying end.

Perfect summer reading.

MOUTHING THE WORDS by Camilla Gibb (1999)

This is Gibb's debut novel. In it she writes convincingly from the perspective of Thelma, a young girl who has moved from England to Toronto and tries to make sense of her new world. Themes of incest and self-discovery make this book uncomfortable, but important reading.