The Flight Attendant

41DOwpZKXvL._AC_US218_Chris Bohjalian’s The Flight Attendant is a book everyone who travels needs to read – maybe just not while you are on a plane.  If you’ve read any of Bohjalian’s books, you know his stories are compelling page turners, full of intrigue and twisting plot lines – this one is no exception.

Cassie is the well-preseved middle-aged flight attendant for first class international flights with a trailer park background morphed into a sleek attractive boozy lifestyle.  She meets Alex in seat 2C and the ride begins.  I won’t tell you much about the story – you need to read it yourself and enjoy the many twists and anticipate who will do what and where, but to tempt you – this is a thrilling chase with murder and espionage and those fearful Russians. You will constantly question who is the unreliable narrator and probably be surprised at the ending.  Maureen Corrigan has an excellent review for the Washington Post, if you want more details – Book Review.

As an added treat, Bohjalian referenced a number of authors I wanted to find. I actually stopped mid-chapter to find the Italian philosopher Carlo Levi’s essay on “Humanism,” and then found myself googling other philosophers.

Others mentioned in his acknowledgments – his research for the story – are now on my list to read:

  • Sarah Heploa’s Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget (page 214)
  • Heather Poole’s Cruising Altitude
  • Patrick Smith’s Ask the Pilot  
  • Richard Whittle’s Predator (a history of drones)

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The Black Painting

When I visited the Prada museum in Madrid, the focus was Diego Valazquez’s intricate “Las Meninas,”  but the image of one of Goya’s “Black Paintings” – the disturbing portrait of  Saturn Devouring His Son  is hard to forget.  Neil Olson imagines a mysterious missing addition to the famous collection the seventy year old artist painted on his walls – a self-portrait of Goya which hangs in the study of a wealthy collector, who uses it to control his family in the story of The Black Painting.

51jz+yvAOjL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_  The power of art to evoke personal epiphanies is one of Olson’s themes as he weaves a complicated tale of greed and anxiety in The Black Painting.  The painting covered the wall behind the locked door of the Morse patriarch’s study, and was rumored to cause death and madness.  The famous painting was long ago stolen, when the grandchildren were young,

Before he dies, the family is summoned to Owl’s Point to hear Alfred Arthur Morse’s conditions for distributing his wealth – the mansion as well as an extensive art collection.  When she arrives at the mansion, Teresa, a student of art history,  finds her grandfather dead, his face contorted in an expression of horror and his gaze fixed on the spot where the Goya painting once hung,   The mystery of its thief and the patriarch’s diabolic intentions for his progeny create a thrilling story of deceit, corruption, and dark family secrets.

Olson cleverly allows the reader’s imagination to fill in the creepy details of the Goya painting , which is never actually described in any detail—a device that allows the reader to create a personal image of horror.  A gripping tale you will read in a sitting…

 

 

Thrillers with Heat – Sunburn and The Dry

Set in Australia, Jane Harper’s The Dry has a dried-up river and bush ready to burn; Laura Lippman’s Sunburn leaves its mark in familiar ground for this reader – Baltimore, Ocean City, and Delaware.  Both are gripping tales of murder with compelling twists and surprise endings – both are page-turners.

shopping-1In The Dry, the brutal murders on a farm bring federal agent Aaron Falk back to the town where he and his father were banished years earlier when Aaron’s friend was found drowned in the river.  When Aaron returns for the funeral of his best friend and his family, he uncovers raw wounds the town has never forgotten, and suspicion that he was responsible for the girl’s death twenty years earlier.  Mysteries around the all murders seem connected, and as he stays to investigate, the story leads him to surprising revelations about the people he thought he knew. The villain is cleverly concealed until the very end, and not one I suspected.

UnknownIn Sunburn, Lippman keeps the reader off balance, acknowledging as the story opens that Polly Costello has killed her abusive husband and abandoned her two girls, one disabled with cerebral palsy.  Nevertheless, Polly seems to be a sympathetic character – her life sentence is pardoned by the governor, and she wins an insurance settlement against the hospital where her disabled daughter was born.  The handsome private detective, hired by a crooked insurance salesman for his share of the money, falls in love with her.  Will he turn her in or run away with her?  Lippman’s clever twists are not that simple, and she maintains the suspense – juggling the good guys and bad guys, and flipping intentions back and forth with another murder in the middle of it all.  It’s fun to read, and the ending is a satisfying surprise I did not predict.

 

It Happened in Monterey

I miss chatting with bookstore owners who are avid readers. With only one independent bookstore on the island (BookEnds in Kailua) and a perfunctory Barnes and Noble at the mall, the pickings are slim in Hawaii. On a recent trip to the Monterey Peninsula, I found four independent bookstores within a five mile radius, and with booksellers happy to share their favorites. Of course, I could not get out of a store without buying a book or two.  img_4298

At Bookworks in Pacific Grove, I found two books: an older (2012) Donna Leon mystery I had not read, with my favorite sleuth, Commissario Guido Brunetti – “Beastly Things,” and Joanna Trollope’s “Sense and Sensibility” (2013), her modernized version of the Jane Austen classic.

At Old Capitol Books in Monterey, I found myself scanning the stacks of old used books, some rare editions, checking off those I had read. Looking for favorite authors, I found an Amy Bloom book I had not read (at least I don’t remember reading it) – “Lucky Us.”

In Pilgrim’s Way, the charming bookstore connected to a garden in Carmel, I decided on “The Green Thoreau” and Scottish author Beatrice Colin’s “To Capture What We Cannot Keep.”

Chatting with the proprietor led me to another independent bookstore not far away – River House Books. There I found the first of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache books – “Still Life” – recommended by a good friend, and Amy Bloom’s new book – “White Houses.” The bookseller commisserated about “Manhattan Beach” – like me, she had not been able to finish it – but I plan to try again. And her recommendation for the best page-turner she had read recently – “The Dry” – went to the top of my to-read list.

With this stack, Laura Lippman’s “Sunburn” on my iPhone and Navin’s “Only Child” on audible, I am ready for a long flight – unless, of course, the movie selection has an Oscar nominee to distract me.

The Woman in the Window

shopping   Although I had sworn off all books with a girl or woman in the title  and anything recommended by Gillian Flynn, I read The Woman in the Window in one sitting after a fellow reader insisted, giving me the real name for the A.J. Finn pseudonym.  If you are a Hitchcock fan, you will see traces of favorites like Gaslight and Vertigo in the plot, with Rear Window playing a leading role.   If you are an astute problem solver, you might figure out who the real villain is – I didn’t.  If you want a thrilling psychological drama, with an unbalanced Ph.D. (psychologist) as the lead character, The Woman in the Window will keep you turning pages to the finish.

Anna is an agoraphobic psychologist, who drinks her day away with red wine while keeping tabs on her neighbors in her stylish and expensive neighborhood, through the lens of her camera.  Although Finn offers hints for the cause of her disability, the reason is revealed much later, after Anna has befriended the new neighbor, psychoanalyzed the frail son, and thinks she has witnessed a murder.  The author maintains the suspense by exaggerating Anna’s helplessness while, at the same time, teasing with references to the old black and white horror/mystery movies she continually watches during the day – when she is not watching her neighbors.  The actor James Stewart plays in the background while Anna tries to decipher what has happened – has she tipped over into insanity or witnessed a crime.  No spoilers here – have your own good time reading it, maybe with a glass of red wine – and all the lights on.