{eerie time}

John Hart’s Iron House started out rough, but turned into quite a page turner—finished it late last night. As I think I’ve mentioned before, outside of the Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes I was raised on, I don’t tend to read thrillers/suspense novels/mysteries—too often I feel like they’re done poorly, churned out at mass rates to stock airport bookstores.

IH exceeded my expectations by being just a well-crafted story. Again, the beginning was a little slow, but once I got into it, it clipped along at a good pace. What truly makes or breaks a mystery for me, though, is for sure the ending. A bad thriller ending can undo the author’s entire previous efforts to win my favor, however well they may have been doing thus far. IH‘s ending was neat—in that it made logical sense and left no loose ends—and, without spoiling, satisfactorily coincidental. The plot had a creepy orphanage (à la Jane Eyre on violent, violent steroids), brutal crime bosses, mental illness, and some unforgettable Appalachians. It did not have any of the components that I greatly dislike in books of this genre (namely, any kind of political connection, which never fails to confuse me), leaving it, all in all, quite a good fast-paced read.

{no excuse}

That’s right. None.

Without further ado/procrastination/general lack of desire to be productive, here are the books I’ve read lately:

The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson. In 1885, the body of a young pregnant woman is found floating in the reservoir in Richmond, Virginia. Suicide is suspected, but some clues point to foul play—especially once she is identified as Lillie Madison, whose close friendship with both of her male cousins has long been questioned by the family. Tommie Cluverius, one of the brothers, is eventually arrested and tried for her murder.

The real truth of what happened to Lillie Madison isn’t revealed until quite late in the book, even though much of the narration is from the point of view of Tommie himself. And dear God—I have rarely hated a book character as much as I hated Tommie Cluverius. Naively selfish, ignorantly misogynistic—it almost didn’t even matter to me whether he was found guilty or innocent, I so despised him. It’s a good thing I’ve never been called upon for jury duty.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I read this as part of my challenge (for the group book blog I write for) to read my way through 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die—and then of course missed my deadline for posting about it. I am going to write about it for the Book Blob at the beginning of June, however, so I will save my insights until that time.

The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller. 1920s London is reeling in the aftermath of World War I. Laurence Bartram, recently returned from fighting, receives a letter from Mary Emmett, the sister of his school friend, the eponymous John. John was found dead from a gunshot wound—thought to be self-inflicted—a few miles from the mental hospital where he had been admitted after his return from the war, and Mary wants to know why. Laurence begins his quest simply looking to find out more about his dignified and reserved friend—whom he hasn’t seen since they were in school—but gradually suspects John’s death to be more sinister in nature, as other veterans of his acquaintance keep showing up dead.

This book was well-written and a great page turner. The characters were sympathetic, multi-faceted, and always interesting. The only time it failed was at the end, which seemed both hastily concluded and not entirely clear. Other than that—I recommend!

{house still confuses me}

I saw Hugh Laurie’s book about 3 years ago in a European airport and was immediately intrigued. I’m a current fan of House, M.D., but first grew to love Hugh Laurie in high school when my dad would bring DVDs home from the library of Laurie and Stephen Fry in Jeeves and Wooster. And anyone that’s seen me in my most hysterical moods knows that I stop breathing from laughing so much at this.

So for some reason it took my dad sneaking his copy of the book in amongst my stuff when I moved last month for me to actually sit down and read The Gun Seller. In a nutshell, the main character, Tom Lang, is an ex-Army officer who is offered the job of assassinating an American businessman. Instead of accepting the money, he tries to warn the intended victim—and finds himself in the midst of an international minefield of terrorists, WMDs, and beautiful women.

Starting the book, I found it to be exactly what you would expect of a combination of Laurie and the above plot. The first-person narration is so constantly tongue-in-cheek that it would’ve gotten old had the plotline not been a bit violent and action-packed. However, I suspect that my admiration for Laurie as an actor and comedian made me more tolerant of his writing.

Toward the end, though, I definitely found my enthusiasm waning, namely because the plot just got so darn confusing. The double-crossers are double-crossing, Tom Lang is under cover as an undercover agent, a beautiful women is a victim but also might be an instigator…? I was confused. And still am.

Literally, the ending of this book (in simple terms) is a big explosion, and a bunch of bad people die. The problem was, by that point I wasn’t even sure who the bad people were. It’s unsettling to finish a book and not know who is dead and who is alive. And it makes me feel stupid.

So. I find myself forced to accept that while I do still love Hugh Laurie and may laugh/cry myself to sleep watching “Mystery” tonight, spy novels are really just not my thing.

{finalement}

It’s extremely rare that I start a book and don’t finish it. Call it what you will, I just can’t stand not knowing the ending of even a very very bad book. Blogging about the books I read has only reinforced this pre-existing neuroticism.

So about a third of the way through Death in the City of Light, I found myself in a pickle. I received an advanced reading copy DitCoL as part of a prepublication promotion, but such is the state of my reading list that I got around to it well after the finished copy had been released. Therefore, take anything I write here with a grain of salt: While books usually don’t go through huge changes after the ARC has been made, there’s a slight chance that some of what I mention here is no longer true in the final version.

Simply put—I wasn’t a fan of this book. I’m not a big true-crime reader by any standards (although I do love a good mystery), and maybe it’s just that this isn’t my genre. But I found DitCoL both slow going and hard to follow. It’s the report of the search for and trial of Marcel Petiot, a French doctor who spent much of Occupied Paris murdering wealthy Jews and mobsters. Author David King pulls no punches in the beginning chapters, which include a grisly description of Petiot’s secret slaughterhouse and begin building the environment of suspicion, terror, and disillusionment that characterized wartime France.

Unfortunately, after an inticingly gruesome start, the story fell apart. The reporting was too lengthy and drawn out, and I was frequently thrown off course by mentions of characters whom I no longer remembered. There were also a few chapters detailing the lives of Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre, which, while informative, really had nothing to do with Petiot’s story. The trial at the end, rather than being a culmination of the book’s suspense, felt flat and disappointing.

Of course, as a true crime author, King was limited in his writing. It can be difficult to turn dry details into drama, facts into fantastics. He did have some success, I believe, in painting an accurate picture of Occupied France and the complete chaos and confusion that followed the Axis surrender. Indeed, Petiot became very difficult to prosecute when the defense claimed he was a member of the French Resistance movement who had made some errors in judgment. What is the protocol for incriminating someone who murdered brutal inforcers of the Nazi regime?

As I said before, I’m not a big reader of nonfiction during my leisure time, so this book was good for me, a broadening of horizons. That said, I grew very frustrated with how long it took me to finish, especially since I have a whole list of wonderful books lined up and waiting. Take a look!

{Is Everyone Hanging Out WIthout Me?; Our Mutual Friend; On Canaan's Side; Maine}

I actually started Maine a couple of days ago, but it’s been slow going so far since I’ve started turboknitting in an attempt to finish a pair of leg warmers before the UO/OSU Civil War game this Saturday, which I will be attending! And hopefully wearing some kickass leg warmers. Maine is great so far, though. Reminds me very much of one of my lesser-known favorites and old-lady read, Colony.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!