Thursday, April 10, 2008

April reads

Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott (audio)
Protagonist: Lydia Brooke
Setting: Cambridge
Rating: 3.5
Lydia Brooke is asked by her former lover Cameron to finish a book on alchemy and Newton that was almost completed by his mother, who recently died in suspicious circumstances (drowned, clutching a glass prism). Lydia takes on the job of ghostwriter, finding that Cameron's mother had made some ties to 17th-century deaths and very similar present-day deaths. Usually, while I love the gothic and historical mysteries, Ghostwalk seems to ramble on a bit too much, throwing in an ill-fated romance and a storyline about radical animal-rights activists. In the end, the story was just not haunting enough to move it into the category of great mysteries.

Sideswipe by Charles Willeford (third in a series)
Protagonist: Hoke Moseley
Setting: Miami and Riviera Beach
Rating: 3.0
Willeford takes two separate story lines and ties them up neatly at the end. An old man becomes caught up with a convict, and you know it isn't going to end well. In the meantime, Moseley goes off the deep end, deciding he doesn't want to be a police officer anymore. Still, he manages to solve a crime here and there.

Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis by Cara Black (seventh in the series)
Protagonist: Aimee Leduc
Setting: Ile Saint-Louis, Paris
Rating: 4.0
A while back, I had read another in the Aimee Leduc series and not been bowled over. Lucky for me that I tried this, the seventh in the series. The character has become more rounded and interesting, and the plot -- involving environmental activists, bombings and an unexpected dip in the Seine -- was a great read. In this book, Aimee, a computer security analyst, gets a late-night call from a woman, pleading for her to go down to her building's courtyard. There, Aimee finds a newborn. Aimee, usually dressed in chic Chanel dresses and Manolo Blahnik shoes, immediately falls in love with baby Stella, nevermind the spit-up on her designer dresses. With one of the best sidekicks in detective fiction, Aimee is off to try to find the baby's mother -- and solve a murder or two along the way.

Angels in the Gloom by Anne Perry (3rd in a series, audio)
Protagonist: Reavley siblings
Setting: St. Giles, England
Rating: 4.0
Each book in this series just gets better. In this one, Joseph Reavley, injured at the front, returns to the quiet village of St. Giles. Perry's descriptions of war were riveting in the previous book, but so are her descriptions of the desperation in the men and women left behind -- especially the women, many of whom have lost their sons and husbands in war, and who are assuming greater roles in business. Of course, even in a quiet town such as St. Giles, there's a murder -- one of the men working on a top-secret project expected to change the outcome of the war. As Joseph investigates, Matthew Reavley is falling in love with a double agent and trying to find the identity of The Peacemaker, the man who killed the Reavleys' parents and is trying to bring peace, even at the cost of England. These books are much more than just mysteries; they are a sympathetic look into the costs of a world war.

The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang (first in the series, audio)
Protagonist: Mei Wang
Setting: Beijing
Rating: 4.7
When Mei Wang loses her job at the Ministry of Public Security, she opens her own detective agency (outlawed in China, so she has to call it information consultancy). Her first client is her uncle, who asks her to look into a Han dynasty jade stolen from a museum. This is so much more than a detective novel, though; the language is so detailed and so beautiful we feel we are reading a memoir -- the life of Mei's mother hangs in the balance after a stroke, and Mei's former-but-never-forgotten boyfriend returns for a visit from San Francisco. Author Liang, born in China and exiled after her involvement with the students' revolt that led to the Tiananmen Square massacre, has also written a memoir. Her second in the Mei Wang series, Paper Butterfly, is due out in May. I'm looking forward to reading both.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Protagonist: Richard Papen (narrator)
Setting: Vermont
Rating: 4.7
The murder happens on the first page of this book, but I was still spellbound enough to read the 500-page book in a few days. The novel unwinds everything that happened before -- what led a tightknit group of college kids to kill one of their own -- and what happens afterward. The group are scholars in classic Greek, and the story itself plays out like a modern Greek tragedy. This is a carefully constructed story, and well worth reading.

The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai
by John Tayman
Rating: 4.0
For 103 years, until 1969, more than 8,000 people afflicted with leprosy were exiled by the government to a remote piece of land, surrounded by high cliffs, in what author John Tayman calls the "longest and deadliest instance of medical segregation in American history, and perhaps the most misguided." This is the story of that segregation. Tayman not only tells us the history, but gives us some of the personal stories as well. Some of the handful of residents still left on Molokai have panned the book, but I found it to be a sensitive and moving story of what happened there, and what the government allowed to happen.

Rating system:
5.0: Wow!
4.0: Pretty good
3.0: Mediocre to good
2.0: Pretty Bad
DNF: Did not finish

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