Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Five Books I've Read or Listened to Lately

It's the height of the summer publishing season, with not one but four books coming out today that I can't wait to read: The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke, Damaged by Alex Kava, Faithful Place by Tana French, and Savages by Don Winslow. It's also the U.S. publication date of The Whisperers by my friend and client John Connolly — which you should buy from an independent mystery bookstore, so you can get a copy of "Love & Whispers," the CD of music he compiled as a soundtrack.

Anyway, this is why I will never catch up with my reading. At the moment I have three books going, strategically positioned in spots around my (small) apartment, and I'm listening to an audiobook recording of another — to say nothing of the manuscripts I'm working on for clients. Yes, it's a little distracting; it may not be the most efficient way to work. But it means that I finish several things more or less at once, and that gives me an inflated sense of accomplishment. So it works out, kind of.

These are five books I've finished in the last week or so. Driving from Gardiner to Bangor to Brunswick and back in one day helped with the audiobook part of the program.

1. Michael Koryta, SO COLD THE RIVER. This supernatural thriller has gotten more praise and attention than any book so far this summer, so my expectations were high. It's a solid summer read, in the tradition of Stephen King's best work. Filmmaker Eric Shaw, who had hoped to make it big in Hollywood, supports himself as a videographer at weddings and funerals. A woman asks Eric to make a biographical tribute video about her dying father-in-law, and gives him a bottle of spring water from her father-in-law's hometown — which, despite having been on a shelf for 70 years, is ice cold. Eric Shaw traces the water to its source, a spring in Southern Indiana that holds the truth of an old and terrible evil.

2. David Benioff, CITY OF THIEVES. The opening chapter of this book establishes it as the story of how the author's Russian grandfather survived the siege of Leningrad, although the grandfather tells the author to "make it up" where necessary. Seventeen-year-old Lev, alone in the starving city after his mother and sister flee, is arrested for looting the corpse of a German pilot. The NKVD colonel who runs the prison camp offers Lev and Kolya, a romantic young Army deserter, their freedom if they can procure a dozen eggs for the Colonel's daughter's wedding. What follows is an amazing odyssey, horrifying and hilarious and fiercely moving. Ron Perlman's narration is a perfect match of reader and material; I was so absorbed in the story I didn't want to get out of the car once I'd reached my destination.

3. Paul Doiron, THE POACHER'S SON. This will be the book I recommend from now on to anyone who wants to know what Maine is "really like." Mike Bowditch, a rookie Maine Game Warden, gets a mysterious late-night phone message from his estranged father, an alcoholic wilderness guide who's always supported himself on the fringes of the law. The next day, Mike learns that his father is the prime suspect in the fatal shootings of a real estate developer and a sheriff's deputy. Convinced of his father's innocence, Mike puts his own career at risk to get the truth. Look for this book to show up on many awards shortlists next year; I read it in a single day, and did not want to put it down even to walk the dog.

4. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, FEVER DREAM. FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast is one of crime fiction's oddest protagonists, and I realized in this novel that he's basically Batman: a wealthy, mysterious bachelor with a dark personal history and an endless supply of cool toys and unlikely skills. But this novel is a solid return to form after last year's disappointing CEMETERY DANCE, as Pendergast avenges the previously-unsuspected murder of his wife, Helen, 12 years earlier. (She had been mauled to death by a lion; I don't remember this being mentioned in earlier books, but anyway it turned out to be an elaborate murder plot.) When these books are good — and this one is — this series is as much fun as a Saturday morning cartoon, and FEVER DREAM is a perfect vacation read.

5. Kent Harrington, SATELLITE CIRCUS. Cheating a little, because I edited this book as it was being written — but it's just been published in e-format on Amazon, so I promptly downloaded it and read it again. It's just as good as I remembered it. British tabloid journalist Stanley Jones, on his last of last chances, arrives in the small Caribbean nation of Tortola to report on the disappearance of an American college student. The local police chief, Lawrence O'Conner, knows he has only days before American authorities take the investigation away from him, or worse. The Mary Waters disappearance becomes something more than a simple missing-persons case for both of them, as SATELLITE CIRCUS takes its place alongside the classic suspense novels of Graham Greene and John Le Carre. I'd say it even if I hadn't worked on the book: it's something very special, and I can't understand why it hasn't found a traditional publisher yet. At least the e-publication means Kent's hardcore fans won't have to wait.


Jen Forbus said...

Oh great! I got an unsolicited copy of THE POACHER'S SON. Wasn't sure if I'd read it, but I'll make time for it now. Thanks Clair.

AnswerGirl said...

So far it's the best debut I've read this year, and it moves like a forest fire.

AnswerGirl said...

The nice people at Penguin have just emailed to say that Tana French will be part of an online chat next Tuesday, July 20, at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time. The site says "EST," but surely they mean EDT, since that's the time of year . . . the link is http://us.penguingroup.com/static/pages/publishersoffice/subcontent/watercooler.html