In The Writer's World

The State of the State

A friend of mine who shall remain nameless in the interests of privacy is under the weather and likely to be so for a while. Since she is not able to garden, she asked me to compile a summer reading list to keep her from going insane. It only makes sense to share.

I’ve discovered a lot more wonderful books this year because I can now listen to audiobooks while driving. Like so many things electronic, it’s a miracle. The vehicle lacks a CD player. They seem to be passe. But I “read” while I drive, and it’s easier than CDs. As a result, I absorb twice as many books per month. Just today I drove to the coast to visit bookstores, and listened to A Killer Harvest by Paul Cleave. It’s actually pretty good, set in Christchurch, New Zealand. A crime thriller with some very interesting twists…. No spoilers here.

The List

Ohio by Stephen Markley. A brilliant debut novel and a blistering social commentary. It’s raw and scary and not pretty, and it oozes truths about our culture that are hard to face. I read it over a period of six months because I was too chicken to digest all at once. The story is told from four viewpoints: two men and two women in their late twenties have returned to their hometown in Ohio on a hot summer night. They graduated 10 years previous, and we learn their histories through a variety of stories and meetings. There is the mystery of what one of them is carrying that night, the mystery of what happened to one of their classmates who left shortly after graduation and has not been seen since. Wars, drugs, economic insecurity, minor pettinesses, and even a murder have taken their toll. Markley’s craftsmanship is unsurpassed. The conclusion will leave you breathless.

The Dry by Jane Harper. A top-notch traditional crime mystery by an emerging Australian writer. Melbourne financial criminal investigator Aaron Falk returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of a man who was his best friend 20 years ago, and the past shows up to haunt him. The past would love to run Falk out of town for a second time, but this time he’s not going. The friend murdered his wife and small child before taking his own life. This is not something Falk can get his head around. And, by the way, Falk also has to solve that mystery from 20 years ago while he’s at it. The setting will eat you alive. A brilliant debut, and by now Harper has two more books to her credit.

Deadline by John Sandford. My Dear Sister turned me on to the Virgil Flowers detective novels by John Sandford. This book is littered with laugh-out-loud humor and a plethora of murders as state investigator Flowers travels to sleepy Trippton, Minnesota to investigate a series of dognappings. Winky Butterfield and his friends are upset. All their good hunting dogs have disappeared, and in rural Minnesota this is nothing to laugh about. Meanwhile, people are getting killed right and left. Virgil always has a woman around, but that usually doesn’t interfere with his investigative side. This is Book #8 in the series, which is crude and politically incorrect, and it’s my favorite by a longshot.

The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason. A haunting and memorable read, The Winter Soldier follows young medical student Lucius from a wealthy home in Vienna to a remote medical facility in northern Hungary during World War I. There are no glorious rides into battle; rather, there is privation, gangrene, amputations, and disease as war ravaged soldiers present themselves at this far-flung clinic. Even more intriguing is the bossy and mysterious nurse who runs the clinic. One particular soldier will not be cured, haunted as he is by a strange malady–what we now call PTSD. And this, we learn, is the crux of the story and its surprising conclusion. What a lovely war, indeed.

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker. In the first of a gentle series by Martin Walker, Bruno and his associates attempt to solve what appears to be a hate crime in a small village in the Périgord region of southwestern France. Sprinkled throughout the mystery are tennis matches, delightful meals, wonderful wines, the beautiful French countryside, and even romance. The pace is relaxed, the love affairs discreet. And finally, the puzzling murder is solved. This is only the beginning. To date, there are 10 books in the series.

Crimson Lake and Redemption Point by Candice Fox. What is going on with the Australians? Here are two more juicy crime novels, these by Australian author Candice Fox. Her series features disgraced Sydney police detective Ted Conkaffey who moves to Queensland after being wrongly accused of abducting and raping a young teenager. Once there, he is advised by his lawyer to look up one Amanda Pharrell, private investigator. Amanda served 10 years in prison for murdering another student when they were in high school. They become the regional and much-despised odd couple. Amanda lives somewhere on the autism spectrum–or maybe not, it’s hard to tell. Ted lives in fear of people who attack him day and night, throw bricks through his windows, and otherwise make life miserable. Each novel solves a couple of local mysteries that Amanda and Ted are hired to investigate. And then there are the equally intriguing mysteries of their pasts. Why did Amanda kill that girl? Who really abducted the teenage girl that caused Ted’s downfall? At the beginning of it all, Ted adopts a wounded mother goose and six goslings! Gritty stuff is punctuated by wild behavior on Amanda’s part and some real laughs. Please, Candice, keep this one going!

Happy reading, dear friends.




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