Tag Archives: thriller

Do Not Become Alarmed

shopping-3Maile Meloy hooked me with her Apothecary series for young adults; when Meloy’s fellow Guggenheim winner, Ann Patchett, praised Do Not Be Alarmed, the book became my next must read. Unfortunately, I started the book late at night and pulled my first all-nighter in a long time to finish it. I just couldn’t put it down.

If you’ve cruised to the Panama Canal and toured the Central American countries along the way, you will immediately connect with the venue. When three families decide to explore one of the ports of call – what seems like Costa Rica (although Meloy does not actually name it), their lives are traumatized and changed forever. The husbands take advantage of a golf club connection to spend the day on the links and the three wives with children ranging from six to fifteen hire Pedro, a handsome young local, to drive them to ziplining through the trees. When Pedro’s vehicle gets a flat tire, the plot takes the turn from happy vacation to danger.

The parents’ interpersonal issues offer some relief to the constant terrors the children face, from drug-dealing kidnappers to hungry crocodiles. Meloy manages to feed their helplessness and shows a range of ways people deal with threat.  But it’s the children who captured my attention, from 6 year old June who worries about her bunny, eight year old diabetic Sebastian who will not survive without his insulin, fourteen year old Isabel blooming into adolescence, and calm centered eleven year old Marcus. My favorite was Penny, an eleven year old who reminded me of Reese Witherspoon in her perspicacious role as a teenager in the movie “Election.”

Do Not Become Alarmed is a thrill ride; the ending brings all the strings together as almost an afterthought. And you wonder what kind of lives they will all have, especially the children, years later when their misery catches up with them.

If you liked Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Meloy’s Do Not Become Alarmed will give you the same thrilling yet thoughtful experience. You may find it as impossible to put down as I did.

 

Read my review of The Apothecary –  here

Conclave

9780451493446_p0_v1_s192x300  In Conclave, Robert Harris tears away the illusion of the Pope’s selection as the sacred inspiration of holy men and exposes the political machinations and corruption behind the scenes.  Although he dots the scenes with familiar Latin invocations and old-fashioned prayers, the inside debates and secret maneuvering are worthy of a political party convention.

Four candidates vie for the top job in the church: Tremblay, a Canadian who knows how to spin the media; Adeyemi, a charismatic Nigerian conservative; Tedesco, an archconservative Italian from the old school of Latin Masses; and Aldo Bellini, an intellectual Italian who would continue the Church’s reform.  Cardinal Lomeli, the well-meaning Dean of the College of Cardinals, manages his colleagues and the vote, as behind the scenes revelations threaten the process.

As the plot slowly builds to what seems an inevitable conclusion – the naming of an obscure third world cardinal who miraculously appears almost too late for the closed meeting – Harris turns the plot upside down.  Like the reference Harris makes to the painting of Peter, the first Pope, who hangs feet up on the cross, the papacy flips head over heals.  The last impenetrable glass ceiling is cracked but almost no one knows.

I read Conclave in one night – a thriller without a murder.

Listening to The Turn of the Screw

61biobf7pal-_sl150_         Henry James’ classic The Turn of the Screw has always had a scary plot – no matter how interpreted.  The first time I read this short book, I worried about ghosts creeping up to the  window; later in college, the specter of a mad woman governess who imagined ghosts seemed just as thrilling.  Thanks to a friend who recommended Emma Thompson’s interpretation of The Turn of the Screw on Audible,  I am again convinced the ghosts are real, and the audiobook has me checking the locks on windows and doors.

Emma Thompson easily portrays the new  governess to two angelic children in a remote English country house. She becomes convinced that the children are conspiring with a pair of evil ghosts, former employees at the estate – a valet and a previous governess. In life, the two had been discharged as illicit lovers, and their spectral visitations with the children hint at Satanism and possible abuse. The governess is convinced she must protect her two charges; in her effort to shield them, she traumatizes the little girl and kills the little boy.  The reader must decide whether the ending is the result of a governess gone mad or the evil ghosts are real.

The story is full of dark “dreadfulness,”  and Emma Thompson easily switches from the well rounded vowels of the governess to the high- pitched voices of the children.   Emma Thompson’s terror becomes tangible as she describes the apparitions, and you can almost imagine the silent screams of the ghosts. But when, as the housekeeper, she uses a quavering voice to deny them, the first hints of the governess’s possible mental instability appear.  Which terror is real – ghosts or madness or possibly both?

After listening to the story, I agree with Brad Leithauser, the editor of The Norton Book of Ghost Stories: “Consigned to everlasting misery, the damned are restless in their perdition. Some of them are too nasty for hell, and they sometimes get in among us.

If a book club is looking for a classic to discuss, The Turn of the Screw would be a great selection – especially around Halloween.

 

Eileen – Man Booker Finalist

9781594206627_p0_v1_s192x300   Be prepared to feel down and grudgy as you start to read  Ottessa Moshfegh’s Man Booker Prize finalist Eileen.  Although the sentences flow, the words create an uneasy sensation – at times, I wanted to put the book down to take a shower or vacuum the rug.  At the end of the first chapter, Eileen warns the reader:  “In a week, I would run away from home and never go back.  This is the story of how I disappeared.”  This hopeful promise motivated my reading through the misery

As she begins to tell her story, Eileen looks back before her life-changing incident fifty years earlier the week before Christmas 1964.  Each long chapter is titled with the day, starting with Friday and climaxing on Christmas Eve.

Having left college to return home to nurse her ailing mother, Eileen finds herself now stuck with her alcoholic father, a retired policeman.  Her caring for him is minimal, no cooking or cleaning involved; she buys his liquor and ties his shoes.  They live in squalor and a haze of perpetual drunkenness.  In her job as a secretary at a correctional facility for boys, she fantasizes about one of the guards and imagines her father dying, leaving her free to move on.

By Monday, her examination of self is interrupted by a newcomer to the prison staff, Rebecca Saint John, a recent Harvard graduate. Beautiful and cheery, she is the antithesis of Eileen, yet they make a connection.  Suddenly, the mood shifts. Eileen now has a friend – and her father’s gun.

“And I felt in a way that just by knowing her, I was graduating out of my misery. I was making some progress.”

Throughout the laborious build-up,  as she reveals her inner demons and dreams of escape, Moshfegh has Eileen intermittently interrupting her own story, commenting as her older self. The narrative moves slowly until the climax, then takes on the frantic suspenseful pace of a murder mystery.  On Christmas Eve, the story takes an eerie turn.   Something bad and unexpected is about to happen, and it does.

Eileen confirms she has survived, now living a quiet life in New York City, but to tell how would spoil the story.

I understood author Jean Zimmerman’s assessment of the novel for NPR as “funny awful.”  I might add other adjectives: weird, bizarre, dark  – with strange shades of Capote and Hitchcock – but I couldn’t put it down until I finished it.

 

 

The Quality of Silence

9781101903674_p0_v4_s192x300Rosamund Lupton’s newest suspense thriller – The Quality of Silence – had my undivided attention throughout the day.  Following a mother and her deaf daughter as they drove a ten ton rig in a fast-paced chase through the Arctic cold, I could not put the book down until I finished.  What a ride.

The story focuses on Ruby, a clever ten year old who was born deaf, and her mother, Yasmin, a beautiful astrophysicist, as they search for Matt, father and husband presumed to be dead in a lethal explosion at an Eskimo village.  Not willing to believe he is dead, the mother and daughter hitch a ride along the Dalton Highway in Alaska to the Arctic Circle to find him.  When the driver of the truck has a stroke, Yasmin takes the wheel to drive into a snowstorm and across narrow frozen rivers.  Afraid to leave Ruby to try to communicate with strangers, she takes her along, but when they realize they are being followed, the tension escalates.

Villains come from obvious as well as insidious sources.  Lupton uses the effects of fracking on the environment as the major villain in the story, with  sharp observations about its effects on the ecosystem, and the dire consequences for the environment in the future.  As a ten year old deaf child, Ruby feels excluded from friends at her mainstreamed school as she deals with silent bullies.  And, Yasmin worries that her wildlife documentary-maker husband, Matt, who has been working for months in the Arctic night, has betrayed her with an Inupiaq woman; his last email – “I kissed her because I missed you.”

Lupton cleverly uses Ruby’s young voice as a distraction from the terror, and grounds the story in the family dynamics.  Ruby’s optimism was often a welcome distraction from the nail-biting drama.

All ends well with the bad guys getting their due, thanks to Ruby and her tech savvy.  Once again, Lupton delivers  a satisfying and compelling tale.  All of Lupton’s books offer a thrilling ride, but this one was chilling.

I look forward to the next one.

Reviews of Other Lupton books: