Monday, April 21, 2014

Nemesis, by Jo Nesbø

Jo Nesbø. Nemesis. New York: Harper, 2009. 474 pages. ISBN 9780061655517.
This is my second novel by Jo Nesbø, and I am now a confirmed fan. The first one I read introduced me to Harry Hole, an alcoholic police detective based in Oslo, Norway. There are ten Harry Hole novels that have been translated into English so far; this one is the fourth in the series, but the third to be translated, after The Devil’s Star and Redbreast (which is the one that I already read).

In this novel, Harry is in a committed relationship with Rakel, who is currently in Russia trying to keep custody of her son Oleg, whose father is Russian. Harry is approached by a former girlfriend, and he is tempted to spend some time catching up with her. However, after an evening with Anna, he wakes up and can’t remember the previous evening at all, and when he finds out she’s been murdered, he realizes that he has to solve the murder or he may end up being implicated for it.
At the same time that all of this is going on there’s a series of bank robberies in which the teller is threatened with murder if the money isn’t handed over quickly enough. And Harry is also fighting with his old nemesis, Tom Waaler, whom Harry suspects of murdering his former partner Ellen. There are enough twists and turns in the plot of Nemesis to keep you wondering the whole time. Harry is a very sympathetic character who nevertheless makes serious mistakes, especially as regards to his consumption of alcohol.

Jo Nesbø is another excellent Scandinavian mystery/detective/thriller writer. I’m looking forward to reading more of his works. I recommend Nemesis to anyone who likes Stieg Larsson or Jussi Adler-Olsen.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Warlord, by Ted Bell

Ted Bell. Warlord. New York: William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2010. 532 pages. ISBN 9780061859298.

In addition to the children's books that Ted Bell writes (see Nick of Time, which I reviewed on April 20), he also writes adult thrillers starring spy Alexander Hawke. This is not the first Hawke novel, and it begins as Hawke is slowly sinking into an alcoholic depression after losing his lover to  murder the previous year. However, a call from Prince Charles brings him out of depression, and he gets himself back on track so that he can solve a decades-old mystery about who murdered Prince Charles' uncle, Lord Mountbatten, as well as who is threatening the royal family today.

Hawke brings in old friends and colleagues, some from the U.S., to try to solve this case. It appears that there is a tie to terrorism, both the "New IRA" and Al Qaeda, and a lot is at stake as they try to track down who might be responsible for past and present violence. The plotting is fast-paced, and the characters are interesting and well-developed. The only thing that I found a bit disquieting about this book was the use of real people as the targets and characters in the book, including Princess Diana, Princes Harry and William, and Queen Elizabeth. I don't know why I found that so disturbing, but I did; I could only think about what they would think about a book in which they are portrayed being shot or worse, just for some reader's entertainment. But that's a minor quibble; I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary thrillers.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Nick of Time, by Ted Bell

Ted Bell. Nick of Time. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2008. 419 pages. ISBN 9780312380687.

Nick of Time is an action-packed and fun middle-grade adventure story. The story begins in 1939 when Nick and his family are living on an island in the English Channel where his father, a World War I veteran, runs the lighthouse. Nick's father is engaged in spying on the movement of German ships and submarines, and reporting his findings to Winston Churchill, currently on the outs with the prevailing government in Great Britain. When his father's activities put his posting to the lighthouse at risk, he and Nick's mother must sail to England to plead their case. While they're away, Nick and his sister stumble across a treasure chest lost by ruthless pirates. Nick and his sister team up with other patriots to use the contents of the treasure chest, a time travel device, to save Nick's family as well as two children who were kidnapped five years earlier. Nick of Time is an enjoyable adventure that will keep the pages turning.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Gentlemen of the Road, by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon. Gentlemen of the Road. New York: Ballantine Books, 2008. 206 pages. ISBN 9780345502070.

Zelikman and Amram are the two "gentlemen of the road" of the title. They are con men, staging mock fights to the death, and cleaning up on betting profits. After one such adventure they come across a young man who has been abducted from his family on the Black Sea, presumably in an attempt to protect him from warring factions at home. When his abductor/protector is killed, Zelikman and Amram decide to take him to his final destination, leading them into a fast-paced adventure.

My book club selected this book from a list of books that are being made into movies. At first I thought it was going to be a children's book, since it had large-ish type and included drawn illustrations with captions like many children's books do. But the level of violence is so high, against men, women, children, and animals, that it is clearly not intended to be a children's book. I may end up reading this again before my book club discusses it later this month, but I have to say that this wasn't one of my favorite Michael Chabon books. It's too short to care about any of the characters and it seems a little superficial. The writing is good, as is to be expected of Chabon, but I didn't see the point of the book. If he had lengthened the book and developed the characters more, it would have vastly improved the book for me. The movie is coming out in August, 2014, and I'm looking forward to seeing how they tell this story. I'm betting that they develop the characters a little better!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Divergent, by Veronica Roth

Veronica Roth. Divergent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2011. 487 pages. ISBN 9780062024039.

Beatrice lives in a world defined by the citizens' prevailing characteristics. There are five factions that include Abnegation (to which Beatrice and her family belong), Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. At the age of 16 every citizen undergoes a personality test that predicts which faction they will most likely fit. Whatever the outcome of the test, however, each person has the right to choose their faction. Beatrice turns out to be an aberration in that she is a fit for not only Abnegation, but also Dauntless and Erudite. However, she follows her heart and chooses Dauntless, leaving her family and friends behind.

It turns out that Beatrice, or Tris as she's now known, is Divergent. The government doesn't recognize Divergents, and to be one is to live in danger. Tris has to hide her Divergent tendencies, and focus on passing the trials she must undergo to complete her Dauntless initiation. But trouble is looming, in some factions' plans for civil war. As Beatrice completes her Dauntless initiation she's faced with trying to protect her family and friends from the violence.

Divergent is the opening book of a series of three dystopian novels that address a corrupt, authoritarian government in a future world based in Chicago. I enjoyed the book, but not as much as the hype led me to believe that I would. I wonder if I'm nearing the end of my interest in YA post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction? I ran out of steam on vampires a few years ago, and now the dystopias feel like "been there, done that." Of course, since I'm a glutton for punishment, I'll probably read the rest of the trilogy, but I'll give myself a break first!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey, by Richard C. Morais

Richard C. Morais. The Hundred-Foot Journey. New York: Scribner, 2011. 245 pages. ISBN 9781439165652.

Hassan Haji was born in India and grew up in a family of restaurateurs. His grandfather built the first restaurant, and his parents have carried on the family business. As Muslims, Hassan's family fell victim to anti-Muslim violence in the 1960s; Hassan's mother was killed and their restaurant burned to the ground. In response, Hassan's father sold their land and moved the whole family to London. The family's stay in London was short, and filled with sadness and depression. A fallout with extended family members inspire Hassan's father to pick up and tour the continent, and they finally settle down in Lumiere, a village in France, where the family buys a beautiful old house and establish an Indian restaurant.

It doesn't take long before Hassan's father begins to ruffle feathers in Lumiere, beginning with the owner of a classy French restaurant across the street. They begin to compete in the markets over who gets to buy the best produce and fish, and then they begin to bicker over noise and other issues. This culminates in a horrific accident that results in everyone coming to their senses, and Madame Mallory, the owner of the restaurant across the street, takes Hassan on as an apprentice. The rest of the novel tells how he became an accomplished chef and after moving to Paris, eventually opens his own restaurant.

I really enjoyed this story, along with the mix of cultures and descriptions of the cuisines and various dishes. This is a very accomplished first novel, although it isn't without a few loose ends that I would like to have seen tied up. For example, the accident that brings the neighbors together was a kitchen fire in which Hassan was badly burned, enough that he required skin grafts. However, after that scene, the fire or his injuries were never mentioned again. One wonders how his burns may have affected his life. Nevertheless, these are minor points; the book is captivating and well-written. I recommend it to anyone who likes contemporary fiction. It's been made into a movie starring Helen Mirren which is slated to come out in August 2014.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

My Dear Rogue, edited by Katherine de Marne Werner

Katherine de Marne Werner, editor. My Dear Rogue: Sir Granville Bantock's Secret Romance that Influenced the Music of One of Britain's Greatest 20th Century Composers. Waitsfield, VT: Distinction Press, 2013. 329 pages. ISBN 9781937667108.

In 1936, Muriel Angus Mann met Sir Granville Bantock and commenced a relationship that lasted four years. Muriel was the 39-year old mother of three teenage daughters, and she was in the midst of a painful divorce. Granville was the 68-year old married father of four grown children, and not in the middle of a divorce. Highly energetic and charming, Granville began to court Muriel, meeting her family and promising her a future together.

Granville was a musician and music teacher who travelled the world conducting examinations for the Trinity College of Music in London. With their shared love of music, Granville and Muriel fell in love and corresponded faithfully for the next four years. Granville travelled to the United States a half dozen times during those years, conducting examinations up and down the Eastern seaboard and the Caribbean, and making time to meet with Muriel whenever he could. My Dear Rogue contains the letters that he wrote to Muriel during those years; unfortunately, her letters do not survive. Interspersed with his letters are some notes and commentary written by editor Werner's mother, Muriel's daughter Sis.

I found this book interesting as a study of the cultures and mores of the 1930s. The looming violence of World War II is always in the background, and in the end, prevents Muriel and Granville from meeting again. By 1940 Muriel has given up hope that they will ever marry, and she moves on to another relationship and marriage.

My Dear Rogue contains photographs taken of Granville and Muriel while visiting in South Carolina, as well as photos that Granville sent to Muriel of his travels around the world. It includes forewords written by two of Granville's grandchildren, as well as an afterword by a Bantock scholar. The afterword could have been better edited; I found numerous typographical errors in that section. Overall, though, this is an interesting story that evokes the time and society of 1930s South Carolina, with the shadow of the depression and European unrest always present.