Tangerine

shopping-1  A page-turner, with traces of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Hitchcock’s Gaslight, with two unreliable narrators, and with no “girl” in the title, Christine Mangan’s Tangerine has all the elements of a chilling thriller.  I was sorry to have it end.

Alice and Lucy meet as roommates at Bennington College in Vermont – Alice, the frail wealthy orphan with a trust fund and Lucy, the poor striving local girl on scholarship.  Although the plot proceeds predictably, with Lucy insinuating herself into Alice’s confidence, and Alice depending on Lucy to shore up her insecurities, the story makes a sharp turn when Alice finds true love with a Williams College boy in her senior year.

As the story shifts to Alice escaping to Tangier with her questionable husband, Lucy reappears in her life, and the mystery of the exotic surroundings adds to the intrigue.  Murders – more than one – dot the scenery, and Lucy evolves into a dangerous yet persistent terror.

Through flashback the reader understands Alice’s trauma filled life, with the death of her parents and the murder of her college love.  Referencing writer Paul Bowles, the novelist who wrote about Westerners who lose themselves in Morocco, Mangan gives Lucy and her shady Moroccan friend Youssef the motivation for  evil, ” You must read him {Bowles}, if you want to understand this place.” The “Tangerine” of the title refers to a native of the Moroccan city, Tangier, and the narrators do lose themselves there.

Poor Alice – despite her efforts – she seems doomed and outwitted at every turn.  This book is a movie waiting to happen.

After reading the book in one sitting, I decided to find Paul Bowles, and have ordered his The Sheltering Sky from the library.  The New York Review of Books offered a useful resource for his life and writings in Tangier – The Hypnotic Clamor of Morocco.

Related ReviewNew York Times: Trusting in the Sheltering Sky

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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.

 

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.

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.

 

A Circle of Wives

9780802122346_p0_v2_s260x420Who killed the plastic surgeon with three wives?  Alice La Plante’s latest who-dun-it expands the likely suspects beyond the obvious possibilities in A Circle of Wives to sustain the mystery until the end.

When Dr. John Taylor, the altruistic plastic surgeon who saves children’s lives, is found murdered in a hotel room, his reputation suffers some tarnishing when his three wives appear at the funeral.  La Plante alternates the action among the three: Deborah, the long-suffering and calculating first wife who holds the ten million dollar life insurance policy and orchestrated her husband’s life; MJ, the seedy accountant who loves to garden and has an abused brother who needs money; and Helen, the ambitious doctor who is pregnant with his child.  The fourth voice in the story belongs to the young detective, Samantha Adams, who pursues the murder, and has her own personal problems, not the least of which is her lack of self-confidence. As she interviews each wife, her own story weaves into the drama and nothing is as it seems.

With La Plante’s style of short sentences and steady dialogue, the story clicks along at a steady pace, and will hook you into solving the crime as you read.  As she slowly reveals the possible motivation that each wife has to kill, La Plante manages to distract and foil the reader through a series of viable possibilities.

Sam Adams solves the case and confronts the murderer, in a scene worthy of Agatha Christie – all questions are answered, all loose ends resolved – yet the story ends on ambivalent note – will the murderer be punished or held accountable?  Unlike Monk or Columbo, Sam Adams seems satisfied without the “admissible evidence to convict.”  You can decide if justice is served.