Friday, April 09, 2010

Five Books I've Read or Listened to Lately

Time on the road means more audiobooks than real books; of this list, three were audiobooks, one was a book on Kindle, and only one was an actual printed book. My impression of the iPad is that the reading interface is easier on it, which is another reason to want one — but I still prefer the experience of words on paper.

1. Chris Grabenstein, MIND SCRAMBLER. Chris Grabenstein is one of crime fiction's true good guys, and I've been a fan of his John Ceepak/Danny Boyle mysteries since the beginning. The series took a dark turn with the fourth book, HELL HOLE, and goes even darker with this one. John Ceepak is a former MP who is now the best police officer Sea Haven, NJ has ever seen; Danny Boyle is his much younger, occasionally clueless partner, who narrates the books. In MIND SCRAMBLER, Ceepak and Boyle are in Atlantic City to depose a witness when Danny runs into his old girlfriend, Katie, who's now working as a nanny for a world-famous illusionist and his family. Katie is murdered in a particularly lurid and ugly way, and Danny is determined not only to find her murderer, but to clear Katie's name.

2. Zachary Lazar, EVENING'S EMPIRE. In 1975, accountant Edward Lazar was shot to death in a parking garage in Phoenix, Arizona. No one was charged with the crime, but authorities knew Lazar had died because he was about to testify before a grand jury in a massive land fraud and corruption investigation; later evidence identified the shooters as career criminals, working under contract. Lazar's son Zachary, seven at the time of the murder, set out 30 years later to find out what put his father on the path that led to his murder. It's a complex story about a complex network of criminal behavior, not always easy to follow but ultimately rewarding. Zachary goes to great lengths to keep himself out of the story, but the subtext — of a son looking for his father's redemption — is inescapable.

3. Connie Willis, BELLWETHER. Romantic comedy meets chaos theory in this charming and uncannily prescient novel about a fad researcher's efforts to save a colleague's job. Written almost 15 years ago, this book is as timely today as it was in 1996. Along the way, Willis offers fascinating bits of history about fads and some rather profound insights about the madness of crowds.

4. Vivian Hopkins, PRODIGAL PILGRIM, A Life of Delia Bacon. Delia Bacon is the primary subject of my own research these days. She's remembered, if at all, as the originator of the theory that Francis Bacon (no relation) wrote Shakespeare's plays, but before that obsession captured her, she was a bright, energetic, intellectual woman of the generation that included Margaret Fuller, Harriet Beecher Stowe (a classmate) and the Peabody sisters. Emerson backed her research, and she charmed Thomas and Jane Carlyle; Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the preface to her magnum opus, although he could not get through the text itself. This academic biography, written in the 1950s, gives Delia her due but is often tedious. Delia's overdue for a new one.

5. Martha Stout, THE SOCIOPATH NEXT DOOR. Four percent of the general population are sociopaths. Once Stout explains this and tells us how to recognize them, she's still got most of a book to fill, and this book suffers from some padding. That said, the case studies are fascinating, and Stout's history of research such as the Milgram experiment is extremely useful for writers of crime fiction. It also had me checking the condition of my own conscience rather anxiously; if 1 in 25 Americans is a sociopath, I want to be sure that one isn't me.

No comments: