Wannabee mystery writers looking for inspiration will find three possibilities in the news section of this Sunday’s New York Times. I couldn’t help wondering why the elderly man was standing at the news stand, reading the front page – until I bought the paper.
The cover story – Twist in 97-Year-Old’s Murder: His Knifing was 5 Decades Ago – tells of a man knifed near Times Square over 50 years ago who survived until the old wound “done him in” in old age. Would he have lived to 100, were it not for that hapless encounter? And whodunnit? No clues – everyone is long dead.
Alan Cowell’s article – After Long Legal Fight, Inquest Is Set to Begin in Death of Putin Critic – recounts the mysterious death of a Russian who dared to criticize. Death by poison in his tea by spies? Could be fodder for the next John Le Carre thriller.
And best of all, the tale of a young editor at Dell, Vivian Grant, a frequent visitor to the Ayn Rand Murray Hill salon, who died of a botched abortion – but she was never pregnant. This story may already be taken: Joanne O’Connor lives in Grant’s former Manhattan apartment and is researching the details – including finding her cat.
Great Sunday for “truth is stranger than fiction.”
Although a recent review of Jane Gardam’s The Hollow Land promised a new paperback version of her children’s book, I found the 1981 hardback in my library. I was rewarded with a picture of a young Gardam on the back cover – quite different from the recent pictures I’ve seen of the 86-year-old, but still familiar.
The pages are yellowed and spotted, but the stories are as wonderful as Meg Wolitzer promised in her New York Times review.
In 1981, Gardam had already been nominated for the Booker Prize, had written three novels, and four children’s books. The Hollow Land won the Whitbread prize and her Old Filth, the book that led to her rediscovery in America, was decades in the future.
The nine stories center around the friendship of two boys, Harry Bateman, a city dweller from London and Bell Teasdale, from the Cumbria hillside where the book gets it name. Harry’s family rents a summer house on the Teasdale farm. From the beginning, the differences between the city and country cultures almost stop the action with a misunderstanding between the families. But the mothers resolve the issue, and the beat goes on. Secret hideaways, scary tall-tales around the fire, and daily adventures connect the stories, yet the down-home flavor of the dialogue and the British colloquialisms can be daunting and sometimes interrupt the action. But this is Jane Gardam, and for readers who stick with the stories, Gardam beautifully reveals the world through the eyes of a child,
Related Review: New York Times Review of The Hollow Land
Harriet Lane’s suspenseful thriller – Her – uses an unlikable revengeful protagonist to methodically stalk her unknowing prey. The book is a page-turner: you will know early in the story who the victim, Emma, is and her past relationship to the sly Nina – but you will wonder exactly how far Nina will go to exact her revenge. The ending will have you holding your breath.
As in her first book - Alys, Always – Lane focuses on the characters, slowly revealing the unlikely villain, until you are caught in the story and wanting to alert the poor target of the venom. In Her, Nina recognizes an old foe and carefully calculates how to exact revenge for something that happened so long ago that Emma doesn’t even remember it. Nina remains incognito as she slyly insinuates herself into Emma’s life – stealing her wallet and then pretending to have found it, luring her toddler into the woods and then alerting the police to his rescue. The chapters alternate between Emma and Nina, each relating the same incident, but from a different perspective – Nina, the stalker; Emma, the vulnerable target.
A great read – not only for the comparison of the lives of two forty-year olds – one who wears Prada, the other stumbling through parenting a toddler and a newborn – but also for the intense psychological thrills as the story quickly progresses to a climax. Harriet Lane has mastered the art of the dangerous female protagonist; I can’t wait for her next one.
Related Review: Alys, Always