Tag Archives: mystery

Idaho

9780812994049_p0_v4_s192x300   Emily Ruskovich’s Idaho is a shattering and thought-provoking story, centered on a complicated collection of characters, connected by a mother’s murder of her own child.  Reading to discover the motive brings no satisfaction; Ruskovich is more interested in the inner workings of each mind, not just the killer.  Learning of Rustovich’s O’Henry award prompted me to read Idaho, but no surprise ending here.  The story weaves in and out of lives, backtracking, going into the future, dwelling on the present.  At times, the circular pattern is hard to follow as each character is slowly revealed.

The cast of characters meander in and out of the story, with flashbacks to the central focus, the murder of six year old May and her older sister June’s running away from the scene – never to be found. Later in the story, artist’s renderings of June’s appearance as she might be at different ages adds to the strangeness.

Jennie pleads guilty to cutting off May’s head with a hatchet while May sang in the back seat of their truck.  She begs for a death sentence, but is sent away to prison for life.  There she meets Elizabeth, a younger woman who has murdered her boyfriend and the neighbor who witnessed it.  Jennie attends poetry classes and takes notes for Elizabeth, who has been banned from class for her attack against another inmate.

May’s father, Wade, has inherited his family’s penchant for early onset dementia – all males seem to succumb in their fifties.  Ann, a music teacher at the local school, gives Wade piano lessons – his effort to focus his mind to strengthen his oncoming memory loss.  Before too long, Ann offers to marry Wade to care for him as he declines.

Almost as an aside, Elliot, an older boy with one leg from a horrible accident at the school, has the attention of both Ann and June, who has a secret crush. Rustovich connects his life as a tangent to the main action – another lesson in life’s struggles.

Are you keeping up?  Amazingly, Rustovich intertwines the lives of all the characters, although not until the end does her clever weaving become apparent.  The murder may be the focus but it is not the point.  Jennie’s sudden act may have been a moment of anger, but more likely an unthinking inexplainable move of frustration in the moment.  The author never really worries about the horrible act; the murder just makes no sense.

“Whatever brought that hatchet down was not a thought or an intention. No, the hatchet caught on the inertia of a feeling already gone.”

As Ann continues to discover more about the murder before Wade loses all memory, her pursuit of the truth seems to be a race with his decline.  Ultimately, he loses all memory and she is left with only Jennie as her source of information.  In the end, Ann creates a new life for the now elderly Jennie, and when the two wives eventually meet, it is not as dramatic as expected.

Their lives go on, despite the horrors – as does all life.  Maybe that was the point the author wanted to make.  The book is difficult to read, but full of thoughtful diversions leading back to how people cope.

 

 

 

The Sleepwalker

9780385542555_p0_v1_s192x300Chris Bohjalian’s The Sleepwalker had me reading until I found out whodunnit.  Unfortunately, I read until I went to bed – and then had trouble going to sleep.  I resisted googling “sleepwalking” – better not to now how factual the references were.

Bohjalian’s sleepwalker is a beautiful architect with an English professor husband and two  girls, one a college senior, the other nine years younger; she suffers from a sleepwalking condition that may have caused her death.  Her history reveals a night when she almost jumped off a bridge and another when she spray-painted the hydrangea in the front yard – remembering neither event.

When Annalee’s sleepwalking seems to be in remission, her husband leaves for an out of town conference, despite the possibility she might walk into the night without him nearby in bed.   The next morning, her daughter discovers her missing, and as the search continues, possible perpetrators emerge until finally the body is found – only to restart the investigation and the story in a different direction.

Throughout the plot, red herrings draw the reader into fake paths, highlighting character flaws and revealing salacious possibilities. Bohajlian builds the suspense with background on each of the suspects – the husband, of course; the detective who shared coffee and her condition; possible unknown lovers.  But I never guessed who really did it and how, despite the killer’s short ramblings of anonymous notes between the chapters. No spoilers here.

A fast-paced thriller with Bohjalian’s trademark surprise ending, The Sleepwalker is a mystery with Gothic tones and Alfred Hitchcock intrigue.

 

The Queen’s Accomplice

9780804178723_p0_v1_s192x300  Women with power may be a threat to some but Susan Elia MacNeal uses this timely theme in her latest Maggie Hope murder mystery – The Queen’s Accomplice.  With the same British flavor as her other five books in the series, MacNeal features the young British secret service agent with a flair for logic in the search for a Jack the Ripper clone who has been killing women agents.  Since first meeting Maggie Hope in MacNeal’s Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, I’ve enjoyed her feisty attitude and mathematical acumen.  Her forays into romance with fellow agents help too.

The Queen in this book is not the newly popular Victoria nor the young Elizabeth of the new Netflix series “The Crown,” but Elizabeth’s mother, who stood by her husband, King George, during the war.  Although she only has a minor role in the plot, MacNeal confirms the Queen’s influence and wartime support.   As a modern woman of the nineteen forties, Maggie Hope has many of the same issues as women today, and has the support of other women, including the Queen.

MacNeal cleverly connects Maggie’s service in the war to ongoing problems women face in their personal lives and in the workplace.  Although the book is a mystery with a killer to be found, the story offers confirmation of women’s rights in making their own decisions, and in being valuable for their contributions to society.

9780399593802   The book ends with a new adventure about to start, as Maggie waves goodbye to the Queen and boards a plane to Paris.  The Paris Spy will be published this summer – I can’t wait.

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The Black Notebook

9780544779822_p0_v3_s192x300 French writer Patrick Modiano, winner of the 2014 Nobel prize for Literature, creates a film noir atmosphere in The Black Notebook.  Obscure scribblings in a writer’s notebook  trigger scenes from the seedier side of Paris, and Modiano  keeps the reader off balance by jumping from past to present to dream sequences.  Despite its short length, The Black Notebook is complicated and intriguing.

The story of The Black Notebook revolves around the narrator’s attempt to discover what became of Dannie, a mysterious woman he met in Paris nearly half a century earlier.  When he met Dannie, Jean called himself a “spectator,” noting down everything in his black notebook, which he uses to recall their time together years earlier.

Dannie associates with the “Montparnasse gang,” a shady group of criminals who help her get a place to live and provide her with false identity papers. What she does in return is left unsaid. Although a police detective, Langlais, warns Jean to beware of the gang and exposes Dannie’s many aliases, Jean continues to help Dannie with her strange requests and yearns to run away with her – despite her confession of having killed a man.  Dannie disappears and Jean grows into a famous author, but years later, he bumps into the police inspector who reveals the answers to most of his unanswered questions.

Modiano’s short book reads like a meditation on memory – what we remember and how convoluted it becomes over the years.  The mystery of Dannie is never really solved, and the author ends with more unsettling questions.

The Black Notebook may be a book for our times with its confusion, uncertainty, and elusive promises.  In the end, Jean advises – “…don’t fret about it…”

River Road by Carol Goodman

9781501109904_p0_v2_s192x300   Carol Goodman’s mysteries cannot come fast enough for me, and her latest – River Road – has all the plot twists and Gothic flavor of her earlier books – The Seduction of Water and The Lake of Dead Languages.  Goodman once again mixes grief and revenge with office politics and murder.  Her mystery thriller brought back memories of the politics and secrets of academia, most notably the English department.

Nan Lewis, an English professor up for tenure at a state college in upstate New York, hits a deer on her way home from the department Christmas party.  The next day, Nan learns from the police that her favorite student, Leia Dawson, has been killed the night before on that same road.  The site is the same bend in the road where, years earlier, Nan’s 4-year-old daughter, Emmy, had been killed by a hit-and-run driver. Nan becomes the main suspect in the death of her student, but the investigation quickly spreads to include students and other professors in a tale full of unreliable narrators and red herrings.

As mysterious clues appear linking her daughter’s and her student’s death, a handsome police chief comes to Nan’s rescue more than once – adding an inevitable romantic storyline to the fast-paced killer pursuit.  The unforgiving cold weather adds to the drama, as well as Nan’s guilt over her daughter’s death.

A quick and satisfying read, River Road joins Goodman’s prolific output of books with murder, ghosts, and secrets.

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