Tuesday, January 27, 2009

R.I.P. John Updike

John Updike passed away today. I discovered Updike in high school -- an assignment had me writing about a contemporary American author. I don't remember the librarian's name, but I'm forever in her debt for introducing me to Updike.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Duma Key by Stephen King

Duma Key by Stephen King (audio)
Protagonist: Edgar Freemantle
Setting: Duma Key, Florida
Rating: 5.0

I was wary of horror master Stephen King’s latest book, and sought out opinions before deciding whether to even read it (after all, it is a long book, and I’d grown tired of King’s books, which all seemed to have the same voice). But this, muchachos (as Edgar’s friend Wireman would say), is one great book. Yes, there are elements of the supernatural, but they don’t overwhelm the story, which is really about Edgar, redemption, and good and evil.

Owner of a construction company, Edgar loses an arm and suffers brain injury in a horrific crane accident. He sells his business. His wife, unable to put up with his bouts of anger, divorces him. So Edgar takes his psychologist's advice and moves far from Minneapolis – to the fictional Duma Key island off Florida’s West coast. Here, he astounds the Florida art scene with his Dali-like paintings. But his hand is guided, in part, by some other force and his works are more than paintings – they are a window into the future and the past. His life and his experiences are intertwined with the only other residents of Duma Key – the elderly Elizabeth Eastlake and her caretaker, Wireman, both of whom have also experienced the island’s eerie power. A battle of good versus evil eventually ensues.

This book unravels slowly, and wonderfully. Much of the first part is gothic, but then King starts ratcheting up the suspense – and the terror. This is undeniably a King book, but a different kind of King. It also may be one of his finest works. I’m glad I didn’t miss out on it.

Other recent reads:

The Demon of Dakar by Kjell Eriksson
Protagonist: Ann Lindell
Setting: Uppsala, Sweden
Rating: 3.0
Although this is billed as an Ann Lindell mystery, there is little to be seen of the detective or her colleagues. The book focuses more on the victims and killers (yes, plural – there are several bad guys). The first murder is that of restaurateur and drug smuggler Armas, killed by the brother of a Mexican man who was caught and jailed for smuggling drugs for Armas. There are several characters and several stories in this book, and they do intersect at some point. While the stories are interesting, and the book was readable, it was very light on the police procedural aspects. This could have been a stronger book with more of an emphasis on the detective work. It also could have been a better-edited book. If typos annoy you, this book will have you gritting your teeth.

Lamb to the Slaughter by Aline Templeton
Protagonist: Det. Insp. Marjory Fleming
Setting: Kirkluce, Scotland
Rating: 4.7
Now this is the way to write a police procedural. Strong detectives with interesting family lives, and a good mystery, of course. A sheep is killed, then an elderly but influential man in town, and finally a young thug. They don’t seem to have anything in common, yet the detectives are convinced there is only one killer. Meanwhile, town residents are divided over a big grocery chain that wants to move in, which would force out the craft center. Elderly residents are being terrorized by motorcycle-riding teens. And Fleming’s own teenage daughter is caught up in the lure of these bad boys. Templeton writes about these small towns with wonderful details (even if they aren’t real) and creates just-as-interesting characters.

Rating system:
5.0: Wow!
4.0: A book I'd recommend
3.0: Mediocre to good
2.0: Pretty Bad

Friday, January 16, 2009

Edgar Nominees and More

The Edgars have been announced. A partial list is below and the full list is here. This means much more reading for me -- I've not read any of the Best Novel or Best First Novel nominees. But also exciting for me is that favorite author Andrew Taylor (see post below) has won the 2009 Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers' Association for sustained excellence in crime writing. Taylor is not as well known here in the U.S., and that's a great pity.

Best Novel
• Missing, by Karin Alvtegen (Felony & Mayhem Press)
• Blue Heaven, by C.J. Box (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
• Sins of the Assassin, by Robert Ferrigno (Scribner)
• The Price of Blood, by Declan Hughes (Morrow)
• The Night Following, by Morag Joss (Delacorte Press)
• Curse of the Spellmans, by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster)

Best First Novel by an American Author
• The Kind One, by Tom Epperson (Five Star)
• Sweetsmoke, by David Fuller (Hyperion)
• The Foreigner, by Francie Lin (Picador)
• Calumet City, by Charlie Newton (Touchstone)
• A Cure for Night, by Justin Peacock (Doubleday)

Best Paperback Original
• The Prince of Bagram Prison, by Alex Carr (Random House Trade)
• Money Shot, by Christa Faust (Hard Case Crime)
• Enemy Combatant, by Ed Gaffney (Dell)
• China Lake, by Meg Gardiner (Obsidian Mysteries)
• The Cold Spot, by Tom Piccirilli (Bantam)

Best Fact Crime
• For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder that Shocked Chicago, by Simon Baatz (HarperCollins)
• American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century, by Howard Blum (Crown)--one of January Magazine’s favorite books of 2008
• Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution, by T.J. English (Morrow)
• The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Hans van Meegeren, by Jonathan Lopez (Harcourt)
• The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale (Walker & Company)

Best Critical/Biographical
• African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study, by Frankie Y. Bailey (McFarland & Company)
• Hard-boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories, by Leonard Cassuto (Columbia University Press)
• Scene of the Crime: The Importance of Place in Crime and Mystery Fiction, by David Geherin (McFarland & Company)
• The Rise of True Crime, by Jean Murley (Praeger)
• Edgar Allan Poe: An Illustrated Companion to His Tell-Tale Stories, by Dr. Harry Lee Poe (Metro Books)

Best Short Story
• “A Sleep Not Unlike Death,” by Sean Chercover (from Hardcore Hardboiled, edited by Todd Robinson; Kensington Publishing)
• “Skin and Bones,” by David Edgerley Gate (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, October 2008)
• “Scratch of a Woman,” by Laura Lippman (from Hardly Knew Her; Morrow)
• “La Vie en Rose,” by Dominique Mainard (from Paris Noir; edited by Aurelien Masson; Akashic Books)
• “Skinhead Central,” by T. Jefferson Parker (from The Blue Religion, edited by Michael Connelly; Little, Brown)

Best Juvenile
• The Postcard, by Tony Abbott (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
• Enigma: A Magical Mystery, by Graeme Base (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
• Eleven, by Patricia Reilly Giff (Random House/Wendy Lamb Books)
• The Witches of Dredmoore Hollow, by Riford McKenzie (Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books)
• Cemetery Street, by Brenda Seabrooke (Holiday House)

Best Young Adult
• Bog Child, by Siobhan Dowd (Random House/David Fickling Books)
• The Big Splash, by Jack D. Ferraiolo (Amulet Books)
• Paper Towns, by John Green (Dutton Children’s Books)
• Getting the Girl, by Susan Juby (HarperTeen)
• Torn to Pieces, by Margo McDonnell (Delacorte Books for Young Readers)