Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Small Death in the Great Glen by A.D. Scott

A Small Death in the Great Glen is the debut title by A.D. Scott, and I am eagerly awaiting the follow up to be released next summer. The story is set in the Highlands of Scotland in 1956. It’s already intriguing from an American point of view: the accents, the atmosphere, and the customs. Then we have a great cast of characters, many of them working at the weekly gazette of the small village all of them live in: Joanne Ross, the battered wife; McAllister, editor and keeper of secrets; Rob Mclean, eager young investigative reporter; Travelers; runaway Polish exiles; expatriate Italians; priests and policemen; gossips; and rogue politicians.

Of equal weight, are time and place. The setting is so beautifully detailed and lovingly drawn that it is a character in itself: the gray stones of the village, the vast sweeps of the glens. And a small village in Scotland in post war 50’s: the missing young men, the damaged ones that returned, the dour conservatism, the importance of music, the sly Celtic charm.

When a small boy is murdered, the staff of the paper becomes involved in an investigation to uncover the murderer, each for his own reasons. Ancient superstitions and modern prejudices as well as greed and corruption all interfere with finding the truth. But along the way, the characters, especially Joanne and McAllister, find out what they are made of, and what is critically important to them. Their pasts, their present, and what they want from the future finally become clear as they work to right the wrong done to a small boy.

Ms. Scott creates a colorful, fascinating world and a suspenseful story. Richly developed characters, and a tautly plotted adventure make this novel hard to put down. I am anxiously awaiting the next installment in the series (and I do hope it’s a series). Ms. Scott is to be congratulated. I find it difficult to believe this is a debut novel. It has the feel of a very seasoned writer. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Publisher: Atria; Original edition (August 3, 2010)
ISBN-10: 1439154937
ISBN-13: 978-1439154939

The Whisperers by John Connolly

Charlie Parker is one of my favorite characters. Mysterious and melancholy, he is surrounded by violence, yet not violent himself. Otherworldly, and haunted by his past, he can be funny and irreverent.  His friends are both lethal and loyal.

For those unfamiliar with Charlie, his back story is this: an ex NYC cop, now a private detective living in Maine. His wife and young daughter were killed some years ago in a gruesome way while he was out getting drunk. Nothing new so far.  Charlie tracked down, and killed the murderer, and discovered a gift for ridding the world of a particular breed of serial killer. Along the way he has acquired the friendship of Angel, a scruffy ex-thief, and Louis, an elegant and deadly hit man, who are partners in crime and in life. The exchanges between Louis and Angel are often hilarious, and occasionally, heartbreakingly sweet. They are unswervingly loyal to Charlie, and their intercession often saves Charlie’s life. Louis’ marksmanship and flair for drama reminds me of Harlan Coben’s Win Lockwood, in the Myron Bolitar series. Recently, Charlie has fallen in love with Rachel, and has had another daughter named Sam. Rachel can’t take the violence that surrounds Charlie and has taken Sam and moved to Vermont, leaving Charlie bereft and alone.

This may seem like typical detective drama so far, but Connolly has added another layer to Charlie’s story. When I say Charlie is haunted by his past, I mean literally haunted. His murdered wife and daughter appear to him and others. And Charlie, through his investigations, comes to understand that he is a little different than other people. We don’t quite know how yet, but the figures he battles aren’t quite human, and he is followed around by characters that aren’t quite human either. One, The Collector, so named because he takes a souvenir from those he rids the world of, sees himself as “ridding the world of evil”, yet one feels as if he will one day be a threat to Charlie, even though they have an uneasy peace for now.

In The Whisperers, Charlie is again battling unseen foes. A group of soldiers has brought antiquities home from Iraq that they are selling to help each other with medical expenses. One of the antiquities is a Pandora-like box that contains a power causing them to commit suicide. "The Collector" ( from a previous  case) makes an appearance, as well as the rather gruesome "Herod". Particularly interesting is the insight into the soldier’s hardships once they returned from Iraq. Tired of empty promises, abandoned by the government they served, the soldiers are forced to band together to survive in a country that has forgotten them, and the promises made to them.  Crimes are committed in the name of compassion, blending the ethcal lines.  iParticularly good was the therapist’s conversation with Charlie about his own Post-Traumatic Stress and the affect it has had on his own life. Connolly  A unique blend of crime fiction and the supernatural, Connolly creates an eerie world and a tormented hero who battles inner and outer demons. 
Publisher: Atria; 1 edition (July 13, 2010)
ISBN-10: 143916519X
ISBN-13: 978-1439165195

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

One of the great pleasures of this year is discovering a few authors I haven’t read before. Tom Franklin is one of these. I can’t believe I somehow overlooked this writer. He is everything one hopes for in a writer, especially a Southern writer: an unerring ear for dialogue, compassion, a poetic sense of the absurd, and courage. Above all courage. The power of this little book just stunned me.

The story is just heartbreaking. An awkward little boy, dorky and friendless, meets a black boy and they become uneasy friends. Later, the boy lands a date with the sexiest girl in high school. He is the last person to see her alive. Her body is never found and the lonely little boy grows into a lonely man, a pariah in his small, southern town. Treated with so much contempt that he is grateful when a creepy little admirer, who is sure he murdered the girl, starts hanging around Not much of a friend, but a friend.

Now it’s twenty years later, and Larry the loner, and Silas the black man, who is now the local constable, cross paths again when another girl goes missing. And Larry is the first person who is suspected. Betrayal, old secrets, friendship and the simple needs of the human heart are all laid bare as the story of what happened twenty years ago emerges. The story is both brutal and unutterably sad, as a sad as a wasted life. Larry has accepted his lot with such stoicism, the same uncritical acceptance of his father’s sadistic cruelty towards him, or the other children’s unthinking mockery, or Silas’ betrayal. The only innocent in the story is the most harshly treated, as is so often the case in Southern literature.

Tom Franklin is one of the few writers I know that can so perfectly capture a true Southern accent (Rick Bragg anyone?). As a Southerner, I know. And he is dead on. It’s not the Scarlett O’Hara Antebellum Southern. This is true redneck cracker-speak. And it’s essential to these narrow-minded; small-town; easily-led; prejudiced; malevolent hicks. And at the same time, there is great poetry in this book. Franklin creates a perfect sense of time and atmosphere.

Beautifully written, cleverly plotted, Mr. Franklin shows us again why writing is an art, not a science. I highly recommend Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. The redemption at the conclusion of the book is all the sweeter for the outrage one feels at the harm done Larry. The book has a lot to say about the way we treat those on the outskirts of life, and our prejudices. The message is a good one, and delivered by a master.

Publisher: William Morrow (October 5, 2010)
IBSN-13: 978-0060594664

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