Staff Picks for August
This is not a typical mystery, but then so many of the best aren’t. Like other brilliant writers of darkness—K.C. Constantine, the early years of Daniel Woodrell—Sallis is far from a household name, but he produces literary crime fiction of the highest caliber. Dr. Lamar Hale is the central figure of the book, and of the town of Willnot, and we catch glimpses of a large cast of characters as they relate to him. The big sensation is the discovery of three or four bodies, buried so long ago that identification is impossible and, in spite of the best efforts of the police, FBI, and forensics experts, no solution is forthcoming. Interspersed throughout the narrative are memories of family members and people from a distant time, reminiscences of books, stray philosophical musings, and much more in a kaleidoscope of elements, all jumbled together in what often appears to be stream of consciousness. The dialogue throughout, always brief, is pitch-perfect:
“She’s right good at being mad.” “Some have the gift.”
“What’s your day look like?” “The usual. Save a few lives. Curse the darkness. Eat lunch.”
“Life rarely gets the detour signs up in time.”
Willnot is a little Zen, but witty, colorful, and smart, all contained in a compact little package that you will enjoy and wish went on for a lot longer. $26.00
While the premise of A Gentleman in Moscow may sound claustrophobic, the reality is anything but. Towles has created an expansive world inside The Metropol Hotel: a world filled with hidden passages, jewel-like rooms, cosmopolitan conversation, exotic culinary delights, intrigue, and, yes, excitement. At its center is Count Alexander Rostov, an early hero of the Soviet revolution whose usefulness—and bourgeois tastes—have no place in the new Russia. Instead of death, he is granted purgatory, a lifetime to be spent in the Metropol with no hope of parole. So begins an absolutely captivating drama that unfolds over the decades, moving from 1922 and meandering deeper into the 20th century. We see the rise and fall of the dapper Count’s spirit mirrored in the fortunes of the Soviet Union. We see the comings and goings of friends and lovers. We are party to the gossip, the secrets, the minutia of a world-class hotel and its elite guests. And every bit is fascinating! All of this adds up to a memorable tale that is a joy to read and, much like a well-wrought play or the Bolshoi Ballet, enchants to the very end. While the overall mystery element is slim, there are multiple instances of intrigue and thrills, as well as a splendid homage to Humphrey Bogart and his many crime/adventure films. To be signed. $27.00. September.
The story is well-known. Living in Paris in 1922 and trying to begin his career as a novelist, Ernest Hemingway entrusts a suitcase apparently filled with his work, to his wife, Hadley. At the train station the suitcase is stolen. The contents never recovered. What was the quality of the work involved? And how much would it be worth today to scholars and collectors? Does anybody care? Fortunately first-time author Shaun Harris does and his answer is this incredibly entertaining blend of mystery, action, and humor. Henry Cooper is trying to write a novel while staying at a Baja cantina where he has befriended the owner, an ex-pat, Grady. A small-time thief shows up with a stolen first draft of “A Moveable Feast”, and a tale about a suitcase worth millions. The trio is joined by Digby, an ex-DEA agent, and the search is on. Imagine The Treasure of the Sierra Madre starring the Marx Brothers and directed by the Coens. A mad chase through Mexico involving American ex-pats, drug lords, hit-men, con-men, a Southern bookdealer intent on getting the manuscript, and the beautiful La Donde, the country's most feared assassin. A welcome addition to the caper novel genre. PBO. $15.95.
Poor Sophie Duguet. She’s crazy. Not cute, movie star crazy, but really off the rails. Or is she? She keeps misplacing things, minor things like the mail, major things like her car! She’s picked up for shoplifting but has no memory of doing so. But if anyone ever had an extenuating circumstance, it is she. In Pierre Lemaitre’s newest thriller, the author brings us a portrait of a woman who believes she has committed more than one murder and must keep on the run to stay one jump ahead of the gendarmes. She has done inexplicable things that even she can’t understand. Devastated by the death of her husband in a road accident, she has seemingly lost her ability to cope with day-to-day life.
Enter Franz. He is not your garden-variety stalker. No, he is much worse than your run-of-the-mill psychopath. He’d been acquainted casually with Sophie’s late husband and is a world champion at holding grudges. After Vincent’s death, he decides to get even in a most heinous way.
The novel is structured brilliantly. After immersing us in Sophie’s story, which leaves us shaking our head and happy we are in better shape than she, we learn of Franz and his low down tricks. This causes the reader to think, ‘Aha! So THAT’S why she did that!’ and then, when the senses-shattering climax is reached, we can only sit back in our easy chair, drenched in reading sweat, and say, ‘Whew! Of course!’
Now that’s a good read. $26.99. September.
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