Thursday, May 22, 2008

3 by Roddy Doyle: THE SNAPPER (1990), THE VAN (1991) and PADDY CLARKE HA HA HA (1993)

When I recently learned that Roddy Doyle would highlight the fall event that I am co-chairing, I reached for several of his books to refamiliarize myself with his work.

Many of you will be familiar with his Barrytown trilogy: THE COMMITMENTS, THE SNAPPER, THE VAN from the feature films that were adapted from each of them. All three novels follow the Rabbitte family, a motley crew of lovable "ne-er do wells" who live in the projects in Dublin. It is Doyle's talent in writing authentic dialect that makes each of these books sing.

PADDY CLARKE HA HA HA is a triumph of childhood narrative from the perspective of 10-year-old Paddy who fumbles his way through the schoolyard and home life where the tension between his parents is palpable. Doyle was awarded the Booker Prize for this book in 1993 (beating out Canadian favourite Carol Shields' THE STONE DIARIES). Fellow novelist Nick Hornby calls Roddy Doyle "the best novelist of his generation."

I'm looking forward to laughing out loud along with Doyle's other characters in THE COMMITMENTS, A STAR CALLED HENRY, THE WOMAN WHO WALKED INTO DOORS and THE DEPORTEES before meeting him in October.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN by James Lee Burke (2007)

Set in New Orleans in the weeks following the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN offers up people under extremis at their best and their worst. Among other places Burke takes us into the dome where many victims were "rescued" and where looters and criminals raped with abandon among the human waste. Talk about "man's inhumanity to man."

In the through line of the narrative, a young black criminal tries to make right all of his wrongs by apologizing to the family of the girl he gang-raped a few years previous and offering them blood diamonds he stole from the local Mafia hood as compensation.

TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN will make you feel like you are there, swirling in the detritus along with local cop Dave Robichaux. But, don't take my word for it. Go to Ian Rankin's website and find out why he calls Burke's new book the best book he read in 2007.

THE CHAMELEON'S SHADOW by Minette Walters (2007)

My friend Helen has encouraged me for years to read Minette Walters and this recent novel was my first go round. Walters doesn't shy away from gruesome detail if it develops character or pushes the plot forward, nor does she pussyfoot around bad human behaviour and its consequences. Satisfyingly, the evil characters (both male and female) get caught in THE CHAMELEON'S SHADOW but not before you are led on an adrenhaline-pumping chase that touches on prostitution, crack-cocaine, spousal abuse and death in the line of duty.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

ORPHEUS LOST by Jeanette Turner Hospital (2007)

Leela is a mathematics post-doc fellow who is captivated with numbers in musical instruments and her boyfriend Mishka is a passionate musician who plays the violin and the oud, a Persian instrument like a lute. They are both obsessed with their avocations and committed to each other. Committed, that is, until Mishka meets a Muslim student in a class at Harvard who claims to know his father in Beirut. That piece of information turns Mishka's world upside down.

Using the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice as a motif, Turner Hospital probes the terrifying underworld that threatens to draw both Mishka and Leela down. Past and present are masterfully linked in this story of love, fear and terror. It is all too convincing not to be real.

If you liked DUE PREPARATIONS FOR THE PLAGUE, you will love this book.

Friday, May 02, 2008


When a Senegalese "vu cumpra" is murdered in broad daylight in front of a group of American tourists who are gawking at his wares (fake Versace, Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags produced by the same factories that make the authentic ones!), Inspector Brunnetti finds himself curiously compelled to solve the death at the hands of a professional killer.

What Brunnetti discovers leads him to co-opt one of his father's oldest friends, a discreet Venetian gem dealer. And, as the layers of government corruption are peeled away, Brunnetti realizes what matters most.


When the police break into the home of a local pediatrician and remove his adopted son, he finds himself defending his family in the only way that makes sense to him: breaking the nose of one of the officers. As Inspector Brunnetti begins to peel back the layers of this bizarre case he finds himself questioning his own morality.

Yet another gripping read delivered by Donna Leon, who has developed one of the most believable detectives in English language fiction.