Saturday, February 17, 2018

Clawback

This is the 11th novel in J.A. Jance's "Ali Reynolds" series. When I lived in Seattle, I was an ardent consumer of her J.P. Beaumont books, which were largely set in Seattle,  but I sort of fell away from reading when she moved her base to Arizona with the Joanna Brady series.
Ali Reynolds is a former Los Angeles TV newscaster who was let go and replaced with a younger-faced woman. Coincidentally, she discovered her husband was cheating on her. Leaving LA, she returned home to Sedona, Arizona, where her parents ran the Sugarloaf Cafe, and became a blogger. By the time of this book, she has become a consultant to the Sedona police department and she is married to an old flame, B. Simpson, owner of a high-tech/ computer security firm, and her parents have sold the diner and retired. When the news breaks that the company where her parents invested all their savings has gone bankrupt, Ali's dad decides to go the house of his long-time friend and financial advisor and confront him. Instead, he finds the man and his wife dying from multiples stab wounds. When he calls 911 and then tries to help them, he is arrested for their murders. Now Ali is determined not only to clear her father of the murder charges but to track down the mastermind of the Ponzi scheme and get some of their money back. Fortunately she has the substantial resources--human and technological-- of her husband's firm to bring to bear on the hunt. Ali and company are blind-sided by the identity of the real killer, who will stop at nothing to get away.
Not a best-seller but an engrossing read, and I think I will go back and start at the beginning! Of course, having gone to Sedona last fall for the first time will make it even more fun to read this series.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World

This book by lawyer Linda Hirshman gives an inside look at the workings of the Supreme Court--like sausage, you my not like what you find--along with her  biographies of the legal careers of Sandra Day O'Connor (SOC) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG). They were both remarkable women but so very different in their approach to their legal careers and their adjudications. O'Connor could not get a job with a law firm after she graduated from law school--they offered her a position in the stenographers' pool--so she pursued politics as a Republican and eventually became majority leader in the Arizona state legislature. RBG was asked when she entered Harvard Law School why she was taking a place that could have gone to a man. Once graduated, she pursued an academic career becoming a professor at Columbia when Harvard would not have her. Whereas SOC was president of her local Junior League and actively supported Republican candidates, including Barry Goldwater, RBG went to work for the ACLU.
Being the first woman on the court (FWOTSC), O'Connor brought a woman's perspective, if not a liberal one to discussions and decisions. She was very canny in finding a path forward that would elicit the least resistance from the otherwise all male body. She often utilized the "concurrence"--agreeing with the majority opinion and writing a separate comment--to make conservative decisions more liberal and liberal opinions more conservative according to Hirshman. She was the consummate pragmatist.
Ginsburg is, as described by one of her clerks, a "cause lawyer;" that is, she looks at the long picture, both history and future and strategically chooses and works cases to build a foundation toward her goal of justice for all. Although she has been consistently pro-women's rights, she has also consistently been pro-rights for anyone at a disadvantage when up against larger forces.
This is a fascinating book, although at times a bit hard to wade through. Totally worth the read. Much more detailed review of the book from The NYT, a brief review from Kirkus, and an interview with the book's author by NPR's Nina Totenberg.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter

This is the first installment in Malcolm Mackay's "Glasgow Trilogy" which centers on the criminal underworld of that Scottish city. Library Journal refers to this book as an example of the increasingly popular body of Scottish crime literature known as "tartan noir."  Our protagonist, Calum MacLean, is a 29-year old loner who kills people for money. He doesn't want the "security" of working for one of the crime syndicates--he's strictly freelance. But his mentor, who works for the up and coming Peter Jamieson organization, is aging and recently had surgery, so Calum is tapped to do a job taking out someone who has been encroaching on Jamieson's territory, namely Lewis Winter. Seems a simple enough job, but what his new employer fails to tell Calum is that Winter is being backed by a group that wants to challenge Jamieson for territory and business and that this group will take the death of Winter as a challenge that cannot go unanswered. And so the hitman becomes the target. Add to this mix the wily, beautiful, but aging live-in girlfriend of Winter, the corrupt cops in the pockets of the various syndicates, and the lives-for-his-job detective charged with solving the murder of Winter and you have a colorful yet totally believable cast of characters living out their gritty lives in a city with a dark underbelly. I would definitely read the sequels: How a Gunman Says Goodbye, and The Sudden Arrival of Violence. More detail in the reviews from The Guardian, Publishers Weekly. More about Mackay in this interview in The Independent.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Celine

I really liked this novel by Peter Heller, although the review sources are not as infatuated. I recognize its faults and yet still thoroughly enjoyed the trip. The characters, gradually revealed through both their own actions and reflections, and those of the people around them, are complex and intriguing. The settings are so richly drawn that you feel like you are there. Celine has been dubbed "The Prada PI" in an article in her alumni magazine because she comes from "old money" and that is how her new client, Gabriela, finds her. Celine specializes in finding lost family members, not just a professional job for her but one that carries deep personal meaning. At the age of 68, and struggling with emphysema from years of smoking, she nevertheless feels compelled to take on the case of this young woman who lost her mother to a freak accident when very young and then lost her father to grief over his wife's death. He supposedly died in a bear attack almost 2 decades ago, but Gabriela remains unconvinced. And as Celine and her husband Pete begin to investigate, it quickly becomes apparent that somebody very much does not want them to find the missing/ dead father. Set initially in New York City and then in the beautiful country of Wyoming and Colorado during the fall, you will feel the crisp air and immerse yourself in the brilliant foliage and dark forests. Celine will continually surprise you and, in fact, you will not come to know her full story in this book. If you can suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself, NPR suggests, you will "understand that Celine is also such a joy to be with...like stumbling across the sweetest, most dazzling grandma EVER at the corner bar, and then finding out three hours later that she was also a shooter for Mickey Cohen's mob." But the outcome is very satisfying and the clever plot will keep you engrossed to the very end.
Reviews provide more detail: NPR, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, NYT.

Sleep No More

One of my all-time-favorite mystery writers is P.D. James. This is one of 2 collections of short-stories published posthumously that I recently checked out from the library. The other is The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories. James wrote  21 books and I think I have read almost all of the fiction entries. I don't find the short stores as satisfying, although they are certainly clever and often surprising. Nobody gets away scott-free--or do they? The advantage, of course, is not getting drawn into a longer work that keeps me from going to sleep at night!
The Washington Post provides synopses of the 6 short stories in this volume and says of the collection, "James was never much interested in ax-murderers or serial killers; she preferred to examine respectable citizens who turn to crime. The stories collected here are variously surprising, sardonic and darkly humorous, and are always intelligent and beautifully written."

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Sympathizer

This first novel from USC professor Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer for fiction in 2016 (among several other awards) and was the January reading selection for my book group. It is one I would probably never have finished on my own but feel it was well worth reading. It was slow to get started for me, but once I got past the first 100 pages, I was hooked.
The story deals with the fall of Saigon and the aftermath for several S. Vietnamese refugees, mostly members of the military or police who worked with U.S. military and CIA. The protagonist is a bastard, born to a teenage Vietnamese mother and a French priest father. As a result he is never accepted by the Vietnamese people and so is perhaps ripe for conversion to the Communist cause. He meets his two lifelong friends in high school, Man, who later becomes his handler, and Bon, a S. Vietnamese who works for the CIA. The Protagonist is known only as the Captain and many characters are also identified only by their role. In his public role, the Captain has served as the personal assistant to the General, who is head of the National Police, for years when Saigon falls. The Captain, the General, and Bon are among those on the last plane to get out of Saigon, arranged by Claude, their CIA contact. The description of the fall of the city to the N. Vietnamese communists is heartbreaking for it is a lethal betrayal of thousands of S. Vietnamese by the United States. Bon's wife and son are killed in the last few moments and the Captain has to literally drag him onto the plane. They are sent to refugee camps and finally settled in southern California in menial jobs.
But the large refugee community, outsiders in their new homes, never give up on returning to Vietnam, and the Captain is charged by Man to monitor any efforts to mount a resistance effort. The General continues to work with Claude and a sympathetic congressman to put together funds and re-train a group of soldiers who will go back and re-ignite the fight. Bon will be among the group that returns to Cambodia to organize other Vietnamese and take the fight to the communists. Although Man strongly warns the Captain about being among those who return, his advice is ignored for the Captain feels he must somehow protect Bon on this suicidal mission, and the final few chapters deal with the consequences. Yet another betrayal is underway, for the communists are not liberating their countrymen but killing them.
The author was born in Vietnam and raised in the United States. He was immersed in a refugee community that told and re-told their stories, so this is a unique perspective on that war. It was an eye-opener and a heart-breaker of a book. It is important to have this perspective because what we were told about the war was so much propaganda. As the Captain points out, "They [the Americans] owned the means of production, and therefore the means of representation, and the best that we could ever hope for was to get a word in edgewise before our anonymous deaths."
More detailed reviews are available here: The New York Times, The Guardian, Kirkus.
And an interview with the author by Terry Gross (NPR's "Fresh Air" program) is here: NPR

Monday, December 25, 2017

Magpie Murders

This book was actually a birthday present from sister-in-law, Patty, and I was excited about reading a mystery written by Anthony Horowitz, the creator of both the Foyle's War and Midsomer Murders series. That being said, I had to start this book 3 times before I finally got into it, even though it started out in lovely English cozy style and then on page 3 the narrator tells us that the story to come changed her life; she goes on to say "Unlike me, you have been warned."  Susan Ryeland is a book editor for a small London press, and specifically for one of their cash cow authors, mystery writer Alan Conway. She is all set to have a good read on a rainy weekend of the newest Conway script for his 9th book, but finds that the final chapters are missing. And then Alan Conway dies. It could have been an accident, or even suicide, but Susan begins to suspect murder. It is a story within a story, the first being the story in Conway's book, featuring his Hercule Poirot-like protagonist Atticus PΓΌnd. Conway is planning to kill off his money-making character in this book, and that will turn out to be at the crux of solving the mystery surrounding Conway's own death. The stories are told with the expected expertly detailed English town and country settings as well as detailed character development. I did occasionally find the transitions between the two stories a little hard to follow, however. And the ending was a total surprise to me, so well-done on that score. 
Great review by The New York Times, USA Today, Kirkus, and NPR.
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