Headed to Boston this afternoon for Robert B. Parker's public memorial service, and I'm not taking the computer with me. You can't imagine the anxiety this will cause me, but it's for the best. It will give me the chance to read a couple of actual books, and it will be the first step in reducing my online time, which I need to do for a whole host of reasons. I've made some real progress on my to-do list in the past several days, but a few projects remain outstanding. If you're waiting on something from me, be of good cheer: the end is near, and my to-do list should be clear by the end of the week.
It's been a month since I posted a reading list, which is symptomatic of a lot.
1. Robert Goolrick, A RELIABLE WIFE. In turn-of-the-century Wisconsin, a young woman with a past arrives to become the mail-order bride of the town's wealthiest man, who is fleeing demons of his own. This passionate Gothic is almost hallucinatory in its power, twisting and turning and treating its characters with all the seriousness they demand. The story takes several startling twists before reaching its shocking — but fully justified — conclusion.
2. Maeve Binchy, HEART AND SOUL. The lives and loves of people involved with a Dublin cardiac clinic, featuring several characters who originally appeared in earlier books (Scarlet Feather, Quentins, Nights of Rain and Stars). Literary comfort food, a nice book about nice people overcoming the usual obstacles — but at times this book felt more like notes for a novel than a fully-realized narrative. If you're a fan you'll enjoy it, but this is not the Maeve Binchy novel to start with.
3. P. J. Tracy, SHOOT TO THRILL. The computer geniuses of Monkeewrench are back after too long an absence, and this time they're working for the FBI. A serial killer — or possibly a group of serial killers — is posting live video of his murders to social networking sites, and the Monkeewrench crew is racing to track down the source. A couple of these murders happen in Minneapolis, which brings Detectives Rolseth and Magozzi into the mix. As usual, the pleasure of this book is the time spent with its characters, especially Detective Leo Magozzi, whose point-of-view dominates. You'll enjoy this book more if you've read at least one of its predecessors (Monkeewrench/Want to Play?, Live Bait, Snow Blind, Dead Run).
4. Lisa Lutz, THE SPELLMANS STRIKE AGAIN. In this fourth (and possibly final?) series entry, Isabel Spellman's quest to bring down a rival PI leads to her determination to free a wrongly convicted prisoner, which doesn't really have anything to do with her sister Rae's campaign to free another wrongly convicted prisoner, except that both files came from the office of their brother's girlfriend, Maggie, who used to date Rae's friend Henry, whom Izzy used to have a crush on. And the Spellman parents are acting strangely, and things keep disappearing from the Spellman home, and Isabel's mother makes her agree to a series of blind dates with lawyers . . . until everything becomes clear, cases are more or less resolved, and they all live happily ever after. Tremendous fun, and if this really is the last Spellman book, I'll be sad.
5. John Connolly, THE WHISPERERS. Cheating, because I read this in manuscript, and skimmed the UK edition that arrived last week only enough to see that it's essentially the same book I read in January. Either way, Connolly's latest Charlie Parker novel is one more advance in a series that gets sharper and deeper with every book. This time out, the Maine-based PI investigates the suicide of a recently-returned Iraq war veteran, and discovers a smuggling ring that is transporting uniquely dangerous goods across the US-Canadian border. The author's a friend, and I had a front-row seat for some of the research for this book, so I can't pretend to be objective — but it worked for me as both thriller and social history, a deeply compassionate look at the plight of the men who went to war and came back changed. It's out now in Europe, and will be available in the US in July.