I didn’t read a single bad book last year, and the streak remains intact with Tana French’s “In the Woods,” narrated by Dublin homicide detective Rob Ryan, whose latest case, the murder of a twelve-year-old girl, takes him back to the woods where, as a child, his two best friends vanished; he was found covered in blood with no recollection of what had happened.
For those who don’t like ambiguity, I will tell you that the disappearance of Rob’s friends remains unresolved, but this doesn’t detract from the story. Rob is a fully-drawn character who remains sympathetic as his life begins to unravel; his partner/closest friend, Cassie, who narrates the follow-up “The Likeness,” which I’ll be reading next, is also very likeable. Though the murder and its perpetrator are disturbing, it was the dissolution of Rob and Cassie’s friendship that I found most wrenching.
After I read (and loved) Kate Morton’s second book, “The Forgotten Garden,” I decided to go back and read her first, “The House at Riverton.” “House” is narrated by 99-year-old Grace Bradley, who was a maid at the titular house in the early 1900s. During a party, she witnessed the death of one of the guests; now, 75 years later, a movie is being made about the incident.
To say that “House” doesn’t quite hit the heights of “Garden” is not at all an insult; I liked it very much. Grace, both in the early part of the 20th century and in 1999, is an engaging narrator and the story is suspenseful, with a tragic, haunting denouement.
“The Forgotten Garden,” by Kate Morton, is about an Australian woman who, after the passing of her grandmother, Nell, journeys to Cornwall to continue Nell’s search for answers about her heritage. I figured out part of the solution early on, but no matter– I LOVED this book, with its lovely, evocative language and excellently-crafted characters.
“Guernsey,” written by Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece Annie Barrows, is an epistolary novel (in the form of letters) about Juliet Ashton, a writer, and her communications with the citizens of Guernsey, a island in the English Channel. Though the story takes place just after World War II, the tone is– for the most part– light and pleasant. I felt the ending was a bit abrupt, though.
“Revenge of the Spellmans,” by Lisa Lutz, is the third in a series of humorous mysteries focusing on Isabel Spellman, P.I., and her family. It was an enjoyable read, as all the books have been, but I thought “Curse of the Spellmans,” the second book, was funnier and had a better mystery.
Though I liked Kate Atkinson’s “One Good Turn,” I didn’t feel that it measured up to either its predecessor “Case Histories” (reviewed here) or its follow-up “When Will There Be Good News?” (reviewed here) For the most part, the characters, the strength of the other books, didn’t feel as rich and deep, and I’d have liked a conclusion that provided more of an explanation for why the preceding events occurred. Nonetheless, I look forward to the next book chronicling the (mis!)adventures of Jackson Brodie.
I liked Jackson Brodie, the main character in Kate Atkinson’s “When Will There Be Good News?” so much that I decided to go back and read the two previous books featuring him, of which “Case Histories” is the first.
Much like “When…,” “Case Histories” focuses on intertwining stories of crime; though the coincidences bothered me a bit, I ultimately decided that I liked the “we’re all connected”-ness of them. Also as with “When…,” the characterizations shone — Atkinson is so good at capturing humanness. I also admire her ability to alternate between humor– I literally laughed out on several occasions– and heartache– I also cried on several occasions.
I did leave the book with some unanswered questions–or maybe, more accurately, things I’d liked to have seen explored further– but, even more than that, I left with a sense of hope.
Well, “When Will There Be Good News?” is certainly a most apropos title. The story is a bleak one– a multiple murder occurs in the first few pages (don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler)– but thanks to likable, fully human characters, rarely a depressing one. In fact, I feel that the story is almost secondary– the characters make the book.