Friday, January 26, 2007

Characters Shine Above the Gore in Deaver's Newest

It's hard to explain why I like Jeffery Deaver so much. His books are gory, violent and full of some of the vilest criminals on the bestseller list. But, they're also home to one of the most interesting protaganist I've encountered in a long time - quadriplegic criminologist Lincoln Rhyme (Just to be accurate, not all of Deaver's books are about Rhyme, but the ones I like are). In fact, like his creator, it's hard to explain why I like Lincoln Rhyme so much. He's abrupt, rude and intolerant of even the slightest human error. If I encountered him in real life, I would be terrified of him. On the page, however, he is brilliant, fascinating and even hilarious in a dark, wry kind of way. His girlfriend and professional partner, ex-model Amelia Sachs is almost - but not quite - as interesting. So, I guess the reason I like Deaver so much is because his characters are so good that I'll wade through all the blood and gore just to find out what happens to them.

Anyway, if you are a Rhyme-Sacs fan, you should definitely grab their newest adventure, Cold Moon. It pits the formiddable criminologists against The Watchmaker, a killer whose calling cards are the old-fashioned clocks he leaves next to his victims' bodies. As Rhyme and his team investigate the murders, they uncover more questions than answers. Meanwhile, Sachs has her own case to worry about - the homicide of a businessman - which she suspects points to crooked cops. To complicate the matters more for Sachs, her investigation also reveals some unpleasant rumors about her revered father, which trouble her enough to quit police work altogether. When The Watchmaker case turns upsidedown, Rhyme and Sachs realize they are dealing with a killer far more brilliant and dangerous than they ever suspected.

As with the rest of the Rhyme-Sacs books, this one takes a close and fascinating look at the work of forensic science. It's also a testament to Deaver's genius that he has come up with another plot full up twists, turns and many layers of subterfuge. My only real complaint with the story is a "girly" one - Deaver only briefly mentions Rhyme and Sachs' personal relationship. Otherwise, it's an intense, page-turning thriller with characters that you'll miss long after you close the book.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Diane Setterfield's Debut not light reading, but GOOD reading

"Tell me the truth..." So implores a young man in an ill-fitting brown suit of Vida Winter, Britain's best-loved fiction writer. The plea convinces the ailing writer to tell the true story of her birth and childhood, and her tale propels the plot in Diane Setterfield's novel The Thirteenth Tale. When biographer Margaret Lea is summoned to Winter's mansion, she is wary, knowing the famous novelist has given many made-up accounts of her early life. Margaret, a meticulous researcher and writer, will only accept the truth. When the writer and her would-be biographer finally come to terms, the real story begins...

It's a strange tale of twin girls reared by their absent (both physically and mentally) uncle, an aging housekeeper and a gardener. Since the "help" is so busy running Angelfield, the family's rapidly declining estate, they have little time for the girls, who are allowed to roam freely. As a result, the odd girls seem to bond only with each other, communicating exclusively in "twin talk." Although both of the girls are believed to be strange, even slightly retarded, only one (Adeline) shows abnormal tendencies toward violence. When a series of "accidents" happen, Adeline seems to be to blame. The household, however, deem it the work of Angelfield's ghost. Finally, a fire demolishes Angelfield, and Adeline eventually becomes best-selling novelist Vida Winter. Or so it seems. Margaret soon realizes that nothing is as it seems, and she must do some digging of her own. As she works to complete Winter's biography, the odd, frightening tale --the truth of Winter's life--begins to reveal itself. Herself a twin, Margaret finds herself inexplicably drawn into the sordid story, a history which affects her more than anything else she's ever worked on.

The Thirteenth Tale is a first-rate thriller, though one of a different nature. It's more literary than your average bestseller; in fact, it's actually an ode to reading and the power of stories. The story itself is as dark and somber as a Victorian mystery, laden with many layers of secrets and intrigue. Although it may be a little hard to get into, once you start hearing Vida Winter's story, you will not be able to put this book down. It's not light reading, but it's definitely good reading.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Pioneering Spirit Alive and Well in "These is my Words"

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I've heard all of my life about the Mormon pioneers. The women, especially, are highly esteemed for the grit they displayed while crossing the country - whether it was enduring childbirth in miserable conditions, mourning the loss of husbands and children, or simply washing, cooking and mending their way to Utah. They had to have been tough as nails to not only survive the journey to the West, but also to thrive in their new home.

Nancy Turner's These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine 1881-1901 is a fitting tribute to all women who helped settle the wild territories of the Western United States. Although Sarah Prine is fictional and neither a Mormon, nor traveling to Utah, her story reminds me of the pioneer stories I've heard all my life. Her exciting tale, told in journal form, begins when she is 17. Packed in a wagon with her family and their belongings, Sarah is heading from New Mexico Territory toward "greener pastures by way of Texas." She describes the journey in rich detail, making the trip and the other characters come alive. She is a fiery, opinionated character as well as a dead-shot with a rifle. Along the way, Sarah's family begins traveling with a group of soldiers, one of whom is a mischevious captain named Jack Eliot. Although Sarah despises the man, he becomes a pivotal part of her life. Eventually, the Prines end up on a pecan farm near Tucson, Arizona Territory. There, Sarah lives and grows through every kind of hardship and happiness. Hers is my favorite kind of story - one that combines history, romance and humor.

Turner's novel features a cast of unforgettable characters, which simply sparkle with life. Captain Eliot's a charming rogue, Savannah's sweet as a Saint, and Miss Felicity's antics made me laugh out loud. Turner also describes the land and the settlers' way of life with impressive and believable detail. All of these elements combine to make an unforgettable read.
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