Books Read 2004

I kept handwritten records in 2004 of the books I read, through October, anyway, and have transcribed them here. Others lists exist for 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2002 and 2003.

January

Holidays and Holy Nights: Celebrating Twelve Seasonal Festivals of the Christian Year (2003) by Christopher Hill. Non-fiction. Very fun to read. I learned a lot about the history of Christianity and Catholicism, and I liked the combination of Christian rituals with seasonal changes, psychology, pagan celebrations. The illustrations were the only disappointment in this book.

The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island  (2003) by Linda Greenlaw, for bookgroup. Set in Maine. Non-fiction. Easy to read. Liked the format of small chapters not in linear order — some island history, some biography, some profiles of others, some events during a 9-month lobster season off Isle au Haut.

Our Lady of the Lost and Found (2002) by Diane Schoemperlen. Fiction. The Virgin Mary comes to live with a writer and get some R&R for a week. Set in Canada. Some chapters of history, lore and Virgin Mary sightings mixed in with the novel. Plot a little slow, too much repetition, but some great nuggets in here.

No Harm Done (1999) by Ruth Rendell, in the Inspector Wexford series, set in Kingsmarkham, England. Plot based partly on The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey. Domestic violence, pedophilia. Good.

February

Likely to Die (1998) by Linda Fairstein, in the Manhattan Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper series, set in NYC and partly at a conference in England. Involves the stabbing of a neurosurgeon. Love her stuff — good character development over the series.

It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness (1995) by Sylvia Boorstein. Non-fiction. OK. Short, some good lines, too many anecdotes that aren’t enough to the point.

The Franchise Affair (1948) by Josephine Tey. Classic mystery about young women kidnapped to act as slaves for a woman’s mentally ill brother. Good.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage (1959/1994) by Alfred Lansing, for bookgroup/community read. Non-fiction. Story of Shackleton’s  and 27 other’s  aborted trip to walk across Antarctica. The “Endurance” sank, they lived from 1915-1917 on ice, killed all their dogs, killed penguins, seals, sea leopards, albatross, etc.  Others in my bookgroup admired their ability to endure. All the humans survived but many died soon after on other voyages, of drinking problems, in hideous ways. Besides the litany of animal killings, the book was just too repetitive.

Playing with Fire (2004) by Peter Robinson, in the Alan Banks series. Annie Cabot and Winsome have featured roles in this one. Good plot but not enough other elements.

March

Cold Hit (1999) by Linda Fairstein, in the Manhattan Asst. DA Alex Cooper series.

Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics: Lifestyles for Self-discovery (1986) by Marsha Sinetar. (Re-read). Non-fiction. One line I really connected with: “to have a goal means you have to pick a spot you want to reach eventually. That takes the fun out of it for me.”

The Dark Side of the Light Chasers (1998) by Debbie Ford, non-fiction about the shadow side of ourselves. “The purpose of doing shadow work is to become whole.”

Hearing with the Heart: A Gentle Guide to Discerning God’s Will for Your Life (2002) by Debra Farrington, non-fiction about listening for calling.

The Call: Discovering Why You Are Here (2003) by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, non-fiction about the call to be a whole human being, ego and essence, led from the deep stillness at the center of our being.

April

The Murder Room (2004) by PD James, in the Dalgleish/Mishkin series.

A Retreat with Thomas Merton: Becoming Who We Are (1996), by Anthony Padovano, non-fiction. Really good. 112 pp.

The Dirty Duck (1984) by Martha Grimes, in the Jury/Plant series, set in London. Americans on a tour are being killed by a Christopher Marlowe nut.  Not as good as her usual.

Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate (2003) by MC Beaton. A cosy set in England. Not good — dialogue was unnatural.

The Winter Queen (1998) by Boris Akunin, for bookgroup.First in the  Erast Fandorin series of historical detective novels, set in 1870s Russia, about adoptees and world domination. Good writing, but wandering plot and no likable characters.

May

Killing Time (2002) by Elisa Title, crime fiction set near Boston, MA, with Natalie Price, superintendent of a prison halfway house. OK dialogue but Natalie too impulsive to be believable. [I have absolutely no recollection, 7 years later, of having read this book or anything about it. That’s unusual.]

Good Blood (2004) by Aaron Elkins, in the Gideon Oliver series, with Julie, set in Stresa, Italy.

Naming the Powers (1984) by Walter Wink. Non-fiction about Christianity. Many of Wink’s ideas similar to Girard’s.

Curses (1989) by Aaron Elkins, with Gideon and Julie Oliver (and Abe Goldstein) in Tlaloc, the Yucatan Peninsula.

June

Madame Bovary (1856 ) by Gustav Flaubert, for bookgroup. Classic literature. I liked it. Very Girardian.

Murder Walks the Plank (2004) by Carolyn Hart, in the Annie Darling series.

Fellowship of Fear (1982) by Aaron Elkins, with Gideon Oliver in Germany, Italy and Spain. Meets FBI agent John (and Marti) Lau in this book.  KGB, NATO, etc.

Final Jeopardy (1996) by Linda Fairstein, in the Alex Cooper series. Alex’s actress acquaintance Isabella Lascar is killed at Alex’s Martha’s Vineyard retreat.

July

The Ladies Auxiliary (1999) by Tova Mirvis, fiction about a Jewish Orthodox community in Memphis, TN. Excellent. I loved it.  Batsheva — a young single mom, new to the community — is somewhat of an outsider. Elements: teen girls and rebellion, community, scapegoating, insiders/outsiders, letter/spirit of the law.

Sad Cypress (1940) by Agatha Christie, a Poirot. Elinor is accused of the murder of Mary Gerrard. OK.

There is A Tide (1948, aka Taken at the Flood) by Agatha Christie, a Poirot. Rosaleen, “Enoch Arden.” OK.

The Hollow (1946) by Agatha Christie, a Poirot, with Inspector Grange. Gerda. Good.

Elephants Can Remember (1972) by Agatha Christie, a Poirot, with Ariadne Oliver. Molly and Dolly – twins. Not that good.

Murder in Retrospect (1942, aka Five Little Pigs) by Agatha Christie, a Poirot. Crale (artist). OK.

The Moving Finger (1942) by Agatha Christie, a Miss Marple. Anonymous letters. Good

Funerals Are Fatal (1953, aka After the Funeral) by Agatha Christie, a Poirot, with Inspector Morton and Mr. Goby. Cora is killed. Good.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim ( ) by David Sedaris. Non-fiction, humourous essays. Good.

August

The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928) by Agatha Christie, a Poirot.  Poirot is on The Blue Train, headed for the French Riviera, along with Katherine Grey, a young British woman taking her first holiday, having received a large inheritance. While on board, Gray meets an American heiress,  Ruth Kettering, who is leaving her marriage to meet her lover. The next morning, Ruth is found strangled, and the  famous ruby, Heart of Fire, is missing. Pretty good.

Do the Windows Open? (1997) by Julie Hecht, a collection of nine short stories about our absurd modern world. Hilarious, well-written. Loved it.

Bald in the Land of Big Hair (2002) by Joni Rodgers, funny and moving non-fiction by a woman with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Chapters about her husband, children, barfing,remission, alternative treatments, etc. Really liked it.

Devil in the White City (2003) by Erik Larson, for bookgroup. Non-fiction, history and sociology. Set at the 1893 Columbian Exposition (i.e., Chicago World’s Fair) from May-Oct. About the architects who were active at the time, particularly the Fair’s director of works, Daniel Hudson Burnham, and a serial killer on the loose, Henry H. Holmes, MD. A lot of info packed into this book.

Monday Mourning (2004) by Kathy Reichs, in the forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan series. Also Andrew Ryan, Luc Claudel. Set entirely in Quebec. Concerns the “Stockholm phenomenon.”

September

The Dante Club (2003) by Matthew Pearl, for bookgroup. Historical crime fiction, set in Boston in 1865, with Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., JR Lowell, George Washington Greene and others from the Dante Club, formed to translate Dante’s works. When a few people are killed in the manner of punishing death described in Dante’s Inferno, these guys notice and investigate. Very good. Not the kind of thing I tend to like, but I liked it a lot.

Nemesis (1971) by Agatha Christie, with Miss Marple. One of my favourites.

October

The Good Earth (1931) by Pearl Buck, fiction, a novel of family life in a Chinese village, around 1910. Didn’t really like it [and can’t recall it at all 7 years later], but it won a Pulitzer Prize!

The Clocks (1963) by Agatha Christie, with Poirot.

At Bertram’s Hotel (1965) by Agatha Christie, with Miss Marple.

* * * * * * * * *

did not record the rest of October, nor November and December

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Books Read 2003

I kept handwritten records in 2003 of the books I read (except from March through May, for some reason) and have transcribed them here. Others lists exist for 2011, 2010, 2009, 2004 and 2002.

January

A Fearsome Doubt (2002) by Charles Todd, in the Ian Rutledge series, set in England, post-WWI. Two cases: The widow of a man Rutledge sent to the gallows in 1912 tries to reopen the case; and in the present, 1919, there’s a killer of war amputees in Marling. Themes include disabilities (sight-loss and limb-loss), emotional and physical scars, mercy killings.  Good.

The Last Temptation (2002) by Val McDermid in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series. This one is set mostly in Berlin and in Belgium. Several converging stories, including Tony profiling a killer whose grandfather was in a Nazi ‘hospital’ (i.e., tortured) and who later tortured the grandson, and Carol undercover trying to snag some smugglers of humans. Themes of betrayal, humiliation and power. McDermid is always good but sometimes too graphic, too much torture, for me.

Brideshead Revisted (1945) by Evelyn Waugh, for bookgroup.

February

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2001) by Dai Sijie, for bookgroup. A short novel, set in the 1970s, about the “reeducation” of educated Chinese in rural parts of the country.

1984 (1949) by George Orwell, detailing a dystopian future. Read for bookgroup/community read.  Seemed like more a conglomeration of political and social science tracts than fiction. Key aspects: Winston Smith; the 2-minute hate; thought police; people vaporised and their names erased from public records; Newspeak; oligarchical collectivism; doublethink …

More Ready That You Realize ( ) by Brian McLaren: evangelism for the non-fundamentalist Christian. Very readable, some good ideas, but kind of light-weight.

The Sixteen Pleasures (1994) by Robert Hellenga. Set in Florence after the terrible Arno flood of 1966, it’s the story of 29-yr-old narrator Margot Harrington, a book conservator, who has come to Italy to help save the art and is asked by Carmelite nuns to sell a Renaissance manuscript of 16 erotic poems and drawings. Themes: self-discovery; journey; sensual pleasure vs. mechanics of life. The book has a bit of a fairy tale nature.

March-May: forgot to keep track

June

Twenty Blue Devils (1997) by Aaron Elkins, in the forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver series, involving coffee in Tahiti. With John Lau of the FBI.

Old Bones (1987) by Aaron Elkins, in the forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver series, in France, with WWII repercussions. Begins with a drowning off Mont St. Michel of a Resistance hero.

My Only Story (2000 ) by Monica Woods, a somewhat unconventional love story set in Portland, ME and Mass.

Skeleton Dance (2000) by Aaron Elkins, in the forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver series, at a paleontologists’ institute in Les Eyzies-de Tayac, France.

July

Loot (1999) by Aaron Elkins, NOT in the forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver series. About WWII art looting by the Nazis.

The Deadhouse (2001) by Linda Fairstein, in the Manhattan Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper  series, set on NYC’s Roosevelt Island.

Make No Bones (1991) by Aaron Elkins, in the forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver series. Set at the Western Association of Forensic Anthropologists’ conference in Oregon.

Turncoat (2003) by Aaron Elkins, about WWI collaborators. A stand-alone thriller.

The DaVinci Code (2003) by Dan Brown, involving Opus Dei, the Priory of Scion, DaVinci’s Last Supper, Mary Magdalene, cryptology, codes, symbologist Lauvre, St. Sulpice, Knights Templar, etc.

August

The Mermaids Singing ( 1996) by Val McDermid, in the Carol Jordan/Tony Hill series. … Lots of sexual torture. Trans-sexuality is central.

Prodigal Summer (2000) by Barbara Kingsolver, for bookgroup. Three related stories: one about pregnancy and coyotes, one about farming and moths, and one about old folks, reconciliation, grafting and chestnut trees.  Other themes are predator/prey, fecundity, legacy, and generations. So-so.

Fox Evil (2002) by Minette Walters. Not as good as her others. “Fox Evil” is an opportunist, who looks like the son of wealthy couple.

Close to Home (2003) by Peter Robinson, in the Alan Banks series. Two plots: the bones of a childhood friend of Banks’, Graham Marshall, who died in 1965, have just been found; and the son of suicide rocker Neil Byrd has just died accidentally. Not as good as his usual. Too much about the Kray Brothers and mafia/mob stuff and bent coppers. Annie Cabot is a minor character in this one as Banks’ and Michelle Hart’s relationship advances.

September

Original Soul: Living with Paradox and Originality (2000) by Thomas More. Non-fiction. ” 50 fresh interpretations of living with originality rather than conformity. ”

Trial By Jury (2001) by D. Graham Burnett, a non-fiction account of a jury foreman in a NYC murder trial. Law vs. justice.

The Secret Life of Bees (2002) by Sue Monk Kidd, for bookgroup. I didn’t make any notes and can’t recall the book at all now, but a review says “It’s 1964, the year of the Civil Rights Act, in Sylvan, S.C. Fourteen-year-old Lily is on the lam with motherly servant Rosaleen, fleeing both Lily’s abusive father T. Ray and the police who battered Rosaleen for defending her new right to vote.” I don’t think I liked it.

The Long Close Call (2000) a psychological thriller by Julia Wallis Martin. Involves a bank robbery and kidnapping. I liked all her books (there are only 4 of them as far as I know).

October

A Place of Hiding (2003) by Elizabeth George. This one is not in the Lynley/Havers series but instead it’s Lynley’s friends Simon St. James and wife Deborah investigating on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. A bit long and not as capitivating as her series, but the plot is complex with lots of character development. Elements include WWII repercussions, stolen art, injustice and betrayals, revenge, sex (with minors, vs. love) and infidelity.

The Bear Went Over the Mountain (1997) by William Kotzwinkle, for bookgroup. Surreal satire/fable. The bear becomes more human while the human becomes more bear. Set in Maine, NYC, Los Angeles, etc.

November

Interpreter of Maladies (1999) by Jhumpa Lahiri, for bookgroup. Nine short stories, set in U.S. and India. I thought the ones set in the U.S. were the best; the ones set in India seemed flat.  The idea of the interpreter of maladies: the difficulty, sometimes the impossibility, of expressing our pain, our experience.

The Distant Echo (2003) by Val McDermid. Crime fiction set mostly in Scotland and a little on the West coast and in GA, in the U.S.  Four people were suspected in a killing in the 1970s, and when the case is reopened 25 years later, the real killer begins killing them off.

December

Dialogues of the Dead (2001) by Reginald Hill, in the Dalziel/Pascoe series. Lots of wordplay, paronomania. Great ending(s). Always a pleasure to read this series.

Dead Men’s Hearts (1994) by Aaron Elkins. Julie and Gideon Oliver on a trip/cruise to the Valley of the Nile Egypt. Not that great. Hard to follow the two skeletons with the same numbers on them.

Books Read 2002

I kept handwritten records in 2002 of the books I read and have transcribed them here.  Others lists exist for 2011, 2010, 2009, 2004, 2003.

January

Bloodroot (2001) by Susan Wittig Albert in the China Bayles series of (amateur sleuth) crime fiction, set in  Mississippi. I thought this was the best of the series. Key motifs were dreams, heredity, Huntington’s Disease, property ownership, births “on the wrong side of the blanket.”  Almost no appearances by McQuaid or Ruby in this book.

Killing the Shadows (2000) by Val McDermid, a thriller featuring crime profiler Fiona Cameron. A very dark story. A lot of intertwined plots.  Voyeurism, psychological profiling, and all kinds of communications technology feature strongly. Too much “had she but known” at the end of chapters.

Aftermath (2001) by Peter Robinson in the Banks police procedural series. Excellent, most (not all) of the violence is retrospective, complex plot elements are deftly woven together.  Plot involves a serial killer and sexual crime and abuse investigations of children.  Set in Leeds and Eastvale, mostly.

February

In the Midnight Hour (2001) by Michelle Spring in the private investigator Laura Principal series, set in Cambridge, England. Motifs are lost children (search for a lost child, Laura’s miscarriage and her ambivalent feelings about it), courage and cowardice. I thought it was her best to date.

Fraud (2001) by David Rakoff: Humorous nonfiction essays. I think he’s better than Sedaris, whom I also like. Essays on climbing Mt. Monadnock on Christmas as a non-sportsman, gay New Yorker; Steven Segal and the Omega Institute; being Canadian; being Freud in Barney’s Dept. store window; the Loch Ness Monster; tracking school with Tom Brown; his cancer and treatment at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto; et al.

Unbreathed Memories (2000) by Marcia Talley, in the amateur sleuth series featuring Hannah Ives, a middle-aged breast cancer survivor. Set in Annapolis and Baltimore, MD.  The plot is simple, concerns family relationships, not all that interesting.

Occasion of Revenge (2001) by Marcia Talley, in the Hannah Ives series, set in Annapolis and Chestertown, MD.  Again with the “had she but known” stuff at chapter ends. But this plot was better than the one in Unbreathed Memories.

March

Lying Awake (2000) by Mark Salzman, excellent fiction that reads like non-fiction, about a nun with a neurological disorder than gives her visions. Explores daily life in a Carmelite monastery. The nun, Sister John of the Cross, has to decide whether to give up her visions, and her sense of being very close to God, in order to maintain harmony in her community. I’ve recommended it a lot.

A Place of Execution (1999) by Val McDermid, a police procedural with Inspector George Bennet, DS Tommy Clough. A solid mystery, minimal gore, lots of puzzles, great characters.

Adam and Eve and Me (2001) by Ruth Rendell: Not really a mystery, as we know who did it from the start. Some sections and character development strong, some not. Schizophrenia. It almost seems like cheating when the murderer is psychotic and unaware of what she’s doing. All the plots fitted together nicely but it was a little over-complicated, I thought.

April

A Test of Wills (1996) by Charles Todd, in the Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge historical mystery series, set in Warwickshire, England, after World War I. Rutledge hears the voice of Hamish in his head; Hamish is a Scottish soldier he killed for insubordination. Complex plot, great ending. A bit difficult to keep characters straight.

Hunting Season (2002) by Nevada Barr, in the Anna Pigeon/National Parks series. Set in Natchez Trace Park in Mississippi. Plot involves illegal hunting, bent and murderous rangers, stolen land, racial tension.  Good plot and action, with history of the area.

Dressed to Die (1998) by Beverly Connor, in the Lindsay Chamberlain series. Chamberlain is a Univ. of Georgia forensic anthropologist. Two major plots, involving stolen archaeological artifacts, are neatly related. Lindsay’s brother Sinjin appears in this one.

May

Death by Darjeeling (2001) by Laura Childs, a “tea shop mystery.” Set in Charleston, SC. Pleasant enough mystery but chapters extremely short (2-7 pp each) which makes the story disjointed. The motive for the murder isn’t known until the killer is identified. Not that well written: too much description of eye movement (glistening, widening, etc.) and of how people talk. The characters seemed caricaturish, not real. The tea info was fun.

The Nanny Diaries (2002) by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. Fiction (based on real life) about a 21-year-old nanny and the family she works for for 9 months in NYC. Funny.

Dead Cat Bounce (1998) by Sarah Graves, the first in the home repair series. Jake Tiptree was a financial trader; she comes to Eastport, Maine to live and renovate a house, and ends up a sleuth.  I figured out the killer by page 107 (of about 300 pages). Too many comparisons with “downeast” and the rest of the world. Some editing errors, too much “had she but known.”  Themes of revenge, promises and doing one’s duty, children protecting parents. FBI involved. Read for bookgroup.

The Chalon Heads (2001) by Barry Maitland, in the Kathy and Brock series. A police procedural with specialised knowledge. Extremely complex, good crime novel featuring stamp collecting. Set in Surrey and London.  Quite gruesome.

June

Women of the Silk (1991) by Gail Tsukiyama. Fiction, read for bookgroup. Set in China from 1919 t0 1939, about a daughter given to silk work at age 8 after living on a farm until then. Similar to Amy Tan’s books in voice and dialogue but more gentle in tone. Moving. Lots of sad deaths. Themes of pain (of sex, birth), hairdressing as a ceremony equivalent to marriage, fate (resigning oneself to it or fighting it), and some interesting exploration of relationships.

Scene of Crime (2001) by Jill McGown, in the Lloyd and Hill series. Both are DIs, in Malworth, England. Plot is strong, characterisation a bit weak and no unifying themes.

April Fool Dead (2002) by Carolyn Hart, in the Annie Darling series. Too much awkward reference to mystery authors and books, as always in this series. Writing style simplistic (as always in this series). I think I read them because they are exceedingly cozy and sometimes I’m in the mood for that. In this one, Annie plans a Whodunnit media/PR event for Emma’s latest book. Someone else creates a similar flyer and posts it everywhere, with 5 crimes from the past alluded to — all are designed to draw attention away from the killer’s own crime.

July

Questionable Remains (1997) by Beverly Connor, in the Lindsay Chamberlain series, set in Georgia, with two plots, involving 1500s Indians and Spanish conquistadors, and contemporary murders for insurance money. Themes include Native Americans’  beliefs, “enemies,” caving, and greed.

The Weight of Water (1997) by Anita Shreve, for bookgroup. A historical novel set in the Isle of Shoals, in NH/ME, specifically on Smuttynose, in Maine. Includes a murder story from 1870s, via a diary, told in alternating chapters with the contemporary story about 5 people on a boat out of Portsmouth.  Somewhat choppy feeling. Tragic. Themes of carelessness and fragility, transplants/roots, holding on, choices, the weight of stories.

The Echo (1997) by Minette Walters, suspense novel set in London in the present day. Good story, a bit too complex, kept forgetting who was who. Ending a bit anti-climactic.

Animal Husbandry (1998) by Laura Zigman, a singleton novel similar to Bridget Jones’s Diary. Set in NYC, present day. Light read, a bit hard to get into at first but then fun. Jane Goodall (not the famous one) researches extensively to determine why her latest relationship didn’t work out and eventually publishes her theories under a false name with false credentials in her friend’s men’s magazine.  Each chapter begins with text of actual scientific work on love, sex, mating.

August

Cat on the Scent (1998) by Rita Mae Brown, an animal mystery set in Crozet, VA. Plot involves a business partnership formed to buy up land with underground water sources. Meh.

Stones from the River (1994) by Ursula Hegi, for bookgroup. An epic novel about secrets and stories. Set 1915-1952 in Burgdorf, Germany, this is the story of the main character, Trudi Montag, a Zwerge (dwarf), and her passions, resentments, revenges, loves, stubborness, courage … her life.

Airtight Case (2000) by Beverly Connor, in the Lindsay Chamberlain series, set in the Great Smokey Mountains. Complex, well-plotted (plot involves forging historical documents), all story lines (including one from the 1700-1800s) pulled together. At the outset, Lindsay is attacked and buried with two hikers who tried to help her but were killed; she gets out and has memory loss but recovers most of her memory in a few days.

Hard Eight (2002) by Janet Evanovich, in the bounty hunter Stephanie Plum series, set in “the Burg,” New Jersey, with Lula, Ranger, Morelli, Grandma Mazur, and Stephanie’s sister Valerie. Plot so-so, but funny as usual, though could use more Grandma Mazur.

September

Grave Secrets (2000) by Kathy Reichs, in the Tempe Brennan (forensic anthropologist) series. Tempe investigates 1982 savage murders in Chupan Ya with the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation. Then she’s asked to help on a contemporary murder case and missing persons case of the Canadian ambassador’s daughter.

Evan Can Wait (2001) by Rhys Bowen, in the Constable Evan Evan series, set in Llanfair, North Wales. So-so, a little boring, though plot was pretty good. Some folks comes to town to film the raising of a WWII plane from a lake; one of the guys snoops around for other stories and gets killed in a slate mine. Involves looted art. Alternates between the present and an account of someone’s pre-WWII crimes.

October

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (1996) by Rebecca Wells, fiction, for bookgroup. Set in Thornton, LA in the 1930s to the present. Fun. Themes include race relations, mother-daughter bond (forgiveness, envy, etc.), loss (of loved ones, self, sanity), religion vs. spirit.

And Justice There is None (2002) by Deborah Crombie, in the Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid series, set in London. Her books are always good. This one involves the antiques business, drugs habit, black-white relationships, Notting Hill and Portobello Road.

Innocent Graves (1996) by Peter Robinson, in the Alan Banks (police procedural) series, one of my favourite crime series, set in Eastvale (outside of London).

Acid Row (2002) by Minette Walters, suspense set in Bassindale Estate (near London?), a low-income neighborhood with maze-like streets and only two egresses. Two separate stories — one about pedophiles and rioting, another about a 10-year-old runaway girl — are tied together very lightly. Villains and heroes.

November

Miss Pinkerton (1932) by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Several stories about Hilda Adams, a nurse-turned-PI.  Classic mystery.

The Wedding (1995) by Dorothy West. Fiction, for bookgroup. Novel about gradations of race (colour) and class in one African-American family now living on Martha Vineyard’s “The Oval. ”

The Cranefly Orchid Murders (2002) by Cynthia Riggs, a mystery set on Martha’s Vineyard (West Tisbury), with 92- and 11-year-old sleuths. Plot is about the sale of a piece of land that everyone wants — one for a commune, one for a golf course, one for conservation trust, one for housing development. OK book. Some characters seemed unnecessary, didn’t seem to have a purpose.

The Grace Maurice (2002) by Martha Grimes in the Richard Jury/Melrose Plant series. Horses, Premarin (the Wyeth-Ayerst estrogen replacement, taken from tortured pregnant mares) and the Ryder family are the focus of this one. Melrose buys a horse, Aggrieved. He also hires and fires an ornamental hermit.  Melrose is my hero.

December

The Lovely Bones (2002) by Alice Sebold. Fiction, for bookgroup. This book, about a 14-year-old girl  raped and killed and now (1970s) in heaven, was pretty bad in many ways.

One Man’s Meat (1942) by EB White, essays that are totally relevant 60+ years later. Excellent.

Books Read 2011

Once again (2010, 2009, 2004, 2003, and 2002), I’ve kept track of what I read this year.

January

Snow Angels (2009) by James Thompson, an Inspector Kari Vaara novel. Very dark police procedural set in small-town Finland, about 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle, in December. The weather is cold, it’s always dark, most people are alcoholics or Lutheran fundamentalists, and the suicide rate is high. So is the murder rate.  Told in the first-person, the book begins with the brutal murder of a beautiful Somali woman. When he’s not trying to solve her murder case, Kari is home with his new and pregnant American wife, the manager of a large ski resort, who is trying to adjust to her emotionally cold, foreign environment.

Echoes from the Dead (2008) by Johan Theorin, set in a very sleepy summer village on the island of Öland, Sweden . Crime fiction told from the perspective of three people (plus another one in the epilogue …. sort of oddly): Julia, now living in Gothenburg, whose son disappeared 20 years ago and who has been depressed and teetering on the edge of alcoholism ever since; her father, Gerlof, doing a little sleuthing while living in a senior’s home  in Öland; and a killer, Nils Kant, as we see the arc of his life from childhood onward. Complex plot, maybe a little too complex, with several twists. The strength for me was the characterisation of Julia and, particularly, Gerlof.

February

The Darkest Room (2009) by Johan Theorin, again set on the island of Öland, Sweden, mostly at a house on Eel Point. This book is both ghost story and crime novel. Again there is an element of past and present alternating in the storyline: From the mid-1800s, people have died at Eel’s Point, about every 20 years, by drowning, through cold exposure, and by other means. Now, Joakim and Katrine Westin and their two small children have moved to the neglected manor house at Eel’s Point to start a new chapter in their lives, but tragedy soon strikes them, too. Gerlof Davidsson is the only character from the first book to have a (semi-) major role in this one; his niece, Tilda, comes to the island to join the police force, and together they investigate and ponder the crime(s).  I preferred this book to Theorin’s first.

Dark Alchemy (2003) by Sarah Lovett: Just couldn’t get into this one.  Features Dr. Sylvia Strange, a forensic psychologist who helps the FBI, teamed this time with Edmund Sweetheart, a counter-terrorism expert and sumo wrestler, to investigate deaths of laboratory scientists working with neurotoxins. Settings are the American southwest (near Los Alamos National Labs) and Salisbury, England (near Porton Down military and science park).  At the center of the plot is Dr. Christine Palmer, a renowned toxicologist and possible sociopathic poisoner. The plotting, especially as the book goes on, feels jumbled and haphazard, the characters not that interesting or appealing, and the ending unsatisfying — I’m not actually sure who did what, nor do I care. But I figured out long before it was revealed (on the last page) how the poison was administered to a main character, so that unveiling was as anticlimactic as the rest of the plot was confusing.

The Sisters From Hardscrabble Bay (2010 ) by Beverly Jensen: For bookgroup.  An OK book but I lost interest about 3/5 of the way through.  The book is set from 1916 to 1987, in New Brunswick, Canada, and in southern Maine and Boston. Focuses primarily on sisters Idella and Avis Hillock (mostly Idella), from the time of their mother’s death in childbirth to their father’s death, Idella’s husband’s move to the nursing home, and finally, Idella’s death. Apparently the “novel” is actually a collection of stories, in various voices and with various emphases, published together when Jensen died while working on the manuscript(s). For all that, it hangs together pretty well. There was just nothing captivating about it. The girls had a hard life, and hard-working Idella, with low expectations from life, made the best of hers (as she says), while desperately needy but punk tough Avis rather shambled along.

While I Was Gone (1999) by Sue Miller, an Anne-Tyler-like novel of domestic bliss (or is boredom?) and its unraveling, told in the first-person by a married wife and mother (and veterinarian) of almost 50 whose traumatised past intersects with her seemingly settled present.  The husband’s response seemed over the top to me, but then so did her actions. I enjoyed the communal house scenes from the late 1960s.

March

Testimony (2008) by Anita Shreve, for bookgroup. An OK book, about a videotaped sexual assault at a Vermont prep school — or a consensual sexual  encounter, depending on how you see it — and its aftermath, told from many people’s points of view: the 14-year-old girl involved, the boys involved (ages 17-19), the headmaster, the parents, the press, the roommates, those who furnish minors with alcohol, and many others. As the story unfolds, the reader sees that the event was perhaps triggered, at least for one boy, by another pivotal event involving adults. Questions of complicity, cause, blame, criminality, character, etc., are left to the reader.

Silent Mercy (2011) by Linda Fairstein, in the Alex Cooper series. Almost all the action takes place in NYC, from the Little Italy/Soho area to the Bronx, and religious locales are the primary venues: Mount Neboh Baptist Church, the old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. (There is also some action in New Jersey and on and near Nantucket Island.) The women targeted are outsiders, and also religious: a Jewish activist, an ex-communicated Catholic priest, a Protestant minister. At the same time, Alex’s team is  trying a case against a priest charged with molestation – a priest with friends in high places.  Good read.

April

Lucifer’s Tears (2011), second in the Kari Vaara series by James Thompson. This one is set in Helsinki, where Vaara and his pregnant wife Kate have moved. Kate likes living in the city; Vaara struggles with severe headaches, insomnia, and persistent emotional stress, and with a job he doesn’t really like. He and his odd, arrogant and very intelligent partner Milo investigate the torture and murder of a woman, probably by her husband, who happens to be a friend of Vaara’s higher-ups in the police. Separately, Vaara is told to find out whether a 92-year-old national hero committed war crimes during WWII — along with Vaara’s grandfather. Making life just that much harder for Vaara is the prolonged visit of Kate’s fundamentalist Christian sister and drunken brother from the States, here to care for her during and after the pregnancy.  Much detailed sexual description, description of Finnish cultural traditions, and extensive political and historical background concerning Finland, the Soviet Union, and Germany. Much better than Thompson’s first Vaara book, I thought.

The Imperfectionists (2010) by Tim Rachman, for bookgroup. Interesting debut novel, with each chapter told from the (3rd person) point of view of a different person, all of them somehow related to a fictional English-language international newspaper based in Rome — as editors, writers, stringers, publishers, readers, or characters related to these characters. The people chapters are set in the present (2007), alternating with brief chapters about the history of the paper from inception in 1953 until 2007. There are numerous betrayals, and mostly sad, humiliating, and cruel things that happen;  few of the characters are likeable.   In fact, they are quite imperfect.

May

The Troubled Man (2011) by Henning Mankell, the last Kurt Wallender book.  The plot is a bit convoluted and boring (unless Cold War and post-Cold War Swedish naval history is of interest to you). More engaging are Wallender’s thoughts about his life, aging, his health, his family, etc. The setting is primarily Wallender’s small town of Ystad in Skåne, in southern Sweden, but also Stockholm, Latvia, Copenhagen, Berlin, and various islands off Sweden’s southern coast, in the Baltic Sea.

June

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø (2006) in the Harry Hole series, set in Oslo and other parts of Norway, as well as in Germany. Set in the present (1999 and 2000) and during WWII, in the Nazi-led Norwegian front against the Soviets. A bit hard to follow, although the reader figures out pretty early that identities are confused in some way. Several plots in this book, including an unresolved one involving a psychopath in the police force, and another focusing on neo-Nazism in Norway. Didn’t enjoy this book much but I liked the main character (Hole) enough to read the next in the series. (There are two books before this in the series but unfortunately they haven’t been published in English yet.)

Nemesis by Jo Nesbø (2008) in the Harry Hole series. Much better read than The Redbreast, I thought. Mainly set in Oslo, also briefly in Brazil and the Middle East.  Gypsies are prominent characters. The plot begins with a bank robbery that ends up in cold-blooded murder, and soon a secondary plot has Harry at its center when a former lover is found dead the night after he has visited her and returned home with little memory. Thematically, this is a book about revenge, retribution, and violence.

The Devil Star (2009) by Jo Nesbø, part of the Harry Hole series set in Oslo. Satisfying.

The Night Killer (2010) by Beverly Connor, in the Diane Fallon series, set in Georgia. I enjoy this series. This book covered a lot of ground: gold, arrowheads and other treasures in the ground; family enmities; church sects and conflict between fundamentalists and others; caving (as often); Medicare fraud; and so on. One bit of the plot seemed weak to me but overall, I thought it a good addition to the series.

July

The Redeemer (2009) by Jo Nesbø, in the Harry Hole series, set in Oslo and surrounds, and a little bit in Zagreb. The most interesting, and in some ways, most heartbreaking, so far. Harry’s boss Bjorn retires to Bergen and a new boss from the Secret Service arrives; a paid assassin comes to Oslo; high-level members of the Salvation Army are implicated and involved in crimes and misdemeanors.

Death Angels (1997/transl. English 2009) by Åke Edwardson, the first in the Inspector Erik Winter series, set in Gothenburg, Sweden, and in London and southeastern surrounds (Brixton, Croydon, Peckham). Somehow I missed this book and read the more recent ones first. Introduces Steve MacDonald, Winter’s British counterpart, as they investigate torturous murders of young men in both locales, with the help of their friends in the restaurant and porn businesses. Quite poetic in places. And quite a bit of reference to regggae music.

Dead by Midnight (2011) by Carolyn Hart, in the Annie Darling series. The usual fare for this series, which I read, despite the awkward writing, for the setting, the lowcountry ambiance, and, a little, for the plot, though this was predictable from the get-go.

Half Broke Horses (2009) by Jeannette Walls. For bookgroup. Excellent memoir in the shape of a novel by the author of The Glass Castle. This one’s about her responsible, hard-working, resourceful, no-nonsense grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, who worked as a maid, a teacher, a ranch hand and who was a mom, wife, poker player, car driver, airplane aficionada, and horse-breaker. An engaging story.

The Shadow Woman (1998/2010 transl.) by Åke Edwardson, in the Inspector Erik Winter series, set in Gothenburg, Sweden. A story of multigenerational murder.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø (2007, trans. 2010) in the Harry Hole series, set in Oslo. Introduces Hole’s new partner, Katrine Bratt. Complicated mystery, reaching decades into the past, about a sadistic serial killer who builds a snowman as a calling card.

The Preacher (2004/trans. 2009) by Camilla Läckberg: In the Patrik Hedström series, set in the small town of Fjällbacka, Sweden. The body of a woman is found in a public place, along with two female skeletons underneath it; all have been tortured. While Patrick’s girlfriend Erica (who featured largely in Ice Princess) is home heavily pregnant and entertaining a procession of rude summer guests, Patrick and his more-or-less conscientious team members open old wounds as they investigate these murders and another abduction. Parent and child relationships are at the heart of this book. As in Ice Princess, the plotting and tempo are good (though I strongly suspected whodunnit fairly early on), characters appealing if a bit dull, and the writing fair but sometimes formulaic and awkward. I don’t know if this is the fault of Läckberg or the English translation.

August

Last Rituals: Icelandic Novel of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft and Modern Murder (2005/trans. 2007) by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, the first in the Thora Gudmundsdottir series, set mostly in Reyjavik, Iceland. Thora is a lawyer who’s asked to investigate the murder of a German college student, Harald, by his parents, who don’t believe the police have arrested the right person. Harald is extremely interested in sorcery and witchcraft in Europe dating to the 15th century, so (too) much of the book focuses on old magic texts, spells, and medieval history. Despite some gruesome aspects of the murder and of the activities of Harald and his circle of friends, the book is essentially a cozy. I enjoyed the writing and the budding relationship between Thora and Matthew, a German investigator but felt that the plotting was too slow, too cumbersome.

My Soul To Take (2006/transl. 2009) by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, the second in the Thora Gudmundsdottir series, set at a holistic retreat center in Snæfellsnes, a magical area in western Iceland. Thora and Matthew investigate two murders related to tangled family history. I figured out whodunit 180 pp before the end, so the ending was a bit anticlimactic but the writing and plotting generally are pretty tight. This book wasn’t saddled with excessive history, either, like the first in the series. In a sideline, Thora’s 16-year-old son becomes a dad; the depictions of Thora’s interactions with her kids seem a bit disinterested, almost to the point of neglect.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) by Jonathan Safran Foer: A sweet novel of loss, grief, and how we compensate.

Now You See Me (2011) by SJ Bolton. When a murdered woman falls into DC Lacey Flint’s arms, Flint becomes involved in a murder investigation in London that seem to have many parallels to the Jack the Ripper Case of 1880s. Excellent character development, good writing and plotting, and just the right amount of Ripper history thrown in. Warning: Depictions of torture and murder are exceptionally graphic.

Depths (2004/trans. 2007) by Henning Mankell, a novel (not part of the Wallender series). A briskly written book, alternating with some poetic passages. Set in 1914, as the War is beginning, the book is about and told from the point of view of a naval engineer, Lars Tobiasson-Svartman, who begins the book on board a Swedish navy ship, with a covert mission to find and chart navigable channels. While doing this, he discovers a barren skerry (rocky island) where a young woman lives alone. He becomes obsessed with her, and with measuring distances between things and within himself. A dark book. Reminded me of a much shorter and less complex Moby Dick in some ways.

Sun Storm (2003/trans. 2006) by Asa Larsson, the first in the Rebecka Martinsson series, set in Sweden. This one is set in winter in northern Sweden, in Kiruna, when Stockholm attorney Martinsson goes home to help her rather hapless friend Sanna, whose brother, a celebrity Christian, has been murdered. Some of this book was difficult for me to read (involved animals). Generally, I thought the plotting (which revolves around the power wielded by a charismatic conservative church in Sweden) good, the writing passable, the characters interesting and well depicted.

The Blood Spilt (2004/trans. 2007) by Asa Larsson, the 2nd in the Rebecka Martinsson series, again set in northern Sweden, near Kiruna. It’s been almost 2 years and Rebecka is still a mess after the events of the previous book. She goes with a colleague to investigate the murder of a compassionate, feather-ruffling feminist cleric and feels a sense of peace in the area, so she takes a cabin for a few days, eventually venturing back to her grandmother’s house, with Nalle, a sweet young man from the community who has Downs Syndrome. Inspector Anna-Maria Mella makes an appearance in this book, too, and more murders ensue. The novel is told in the 3rd person from the pov of a number of people, which gives a strong sense of the character of the community, and also from the pov of one lone female wolf, ousted from her pack, who lives in the woods nearby. The writing seems better than the first book, though again there is violence to animals — in both books, as soon as Larsson starts to talk about an animal in particular, describing it in detail, you can be pretty sure something bad is going to happen to it; unsure whether I will read any more of this series because of this.

A Necessary Evil (2006) by Alex Kava, in the Maggie O’Dell series. Picked this up on vacation; it was the earliest in the series available at the store, but it’s not the first in the series, and the previous books are referred to quite a bit in the course of the plot, which involves a. women being killed in the Washington DC area and only their torn-off heads found; and b. priests being killed, execution-style with a dagger, all over the U.S. (Nebraska, Missouri, Boston, Minnesota and Florida). Pretty well-written and -paced, but the plotting is a bit too obvious; I knew who both perpetrators were about halfway through the book. (And, coincidentally, this was the third book I read in a row about priest killings!)

The Stonecutter (2005/transl. 2010) by Camilla Läckberg, the third in the Patrik Hedström series, set in the small town of Fjällbacka, Sweden. Two stories dovetail, one about a spoiled woman from the 1920s-40s and the other a contemporary story about the drowning murder of an 11-year-old girl. In every piece of the story — both plots, the Patrik and Erica story, the story of Erica’s sister Anna, etc. — children, and families and parenting are the strong focus. About 2/3 of the way through the book, it was pretty obvious who the murderer was. Still, a good story.

The Gallows Bird (2006/transl. 2011) by Camilla Läckberg, fourth in the Hedström series set in Tanumshede (near Fjällbacka), Sweden. Another story essentially about parenting gone wrong, fertile ground for Läckberg. In this one, a woman seems to have crashed her car after drinking too much, but it soon turns out that what looked to be an accident is murder, and one of several of the same type. At the same time, a reality TV show (Big Brother-like) is set in the town and creates problems of its own. And, Erica and Patrik get married. The book’s title, by the way, seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with anything in the book, though apparently a ‘gallows bird’ is “one who is destined or deserves to be hanged,” which matches the perceived justice motive of the murders.

Tooth and Claw (2009) by Nigel McCrery, the second in the Mark Lapslie/Emma Bradbury police procedural set in Essex, England. Much better than the first book (Still Waters, 2007), I think. Excellent plot, which of course makes use of Mark’s synaesthesia (a neurological mix-up of the senses; in Mark’s case, he tastes sounds, and he can also, we learn, hear smells). Chapters alternate between the criminal investigation and the perspective of the killer, whose name, thoughts and actions the reader knows almost from the start. Quite grisly reading, this book will appeal to fans of Val McDermid’s Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, as well as to Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell readers.

Bad Intentions (2011) by Karin Fossum, in the Sejer/Skarre series set somewhere in Norway; the Scandinavian setting is trivial in her books, although the cold is mentioned a lot in this one. As noted previously, though Sejer and Skarre are police, the books aren’t really police procedurals. This one, at a little over 200 pages in hardcover, was more of a short story and probably would have been stronger had it been. As in all her books, children (teens, in this case) are the focus of the plot, which doesn’t actually include a murder in any conventional sense. It does include a lot of “bad intentions;” like When the Devil Holds the Candle, this book explores complicity, culpability, intentionality, simple care-lessness. Mothers, and animal cruelty, are sidebars. I don’t think this book will be satisfying for many crime fiction readers. Sejer and Skarre are still unknown quantities for me, their personalities vague in the extreme, though I’ve read seven books featuring them.

September

Forty Words for Sorrow (2000) by Giles Blunt, in the John Cardinal series, set in Algonquin Bay, Ontario. This is my first read in this series and I’m pretty impressed. Plotting excellent, but more than that, I feel like I really got to know the protagonists well in just 325 pp. There is a lot of cruelty and graphically described torture (of teens) in this book, so it won’t be something everyone would want to read. Plot involves a couple who, for reasons of their own, enjoy taking teenagers as prisoners and inflicting pain on them. Subplot involves Cardinal’s new partner, Lise Delorme, and her investigation of Cardinal’s possible involvement in a kickback scheme. Also a fair amount of time spent on Cardinal’s relationship with his wife, Catherine, who is bipolar. “…what people really need is 40 words for sorrow. Grief. Heartbreak. Desolation. There were not enough, not for this childless mother in her empty house.”

The Inspector and Silence (2007/transl. 2011) by Håkan Nesser, in the Chief Inspector Van Veeteren series, set somewhere in northern Europe — many of the place names sound Dutch. (Nesser is Swedish.) In this one, Van Veeteren travels to (fictional) Sorbinowo, to a forested area with a lake where a religious sect, Pure Life, has a summer girls’ camp, to investigate phone calls about a missing girl and a possible murder. He’s met with much silence. These books are slow-paced, with a lot of dining and ruminating; most of the action takes place in Van Veeteren’s philosophical thoughts, as he doubts, questions, and ponders. In this one, he’s reading a book about being an observer; those ideas are part of his thoughts.

Flash and Bones (2011) by Kathy Reichs, in the Tempe Brennan series. This one is set completely in and around Charlotte, NC, with NASCAR at the center of both crime plots, one involving a teen couple missing for 12 years (with right-wing ties) and the other a body found in a landfill adjoining the Speedway during Race Week.

The Delicate Storm (2003) by Giles Blunt, in the John Cardinal series, set in Algonquin Bay, Ontario, and in Montreal. During a colossal ice storm, Cardinal and Delorme investigate a murder that’s connected with the Royal Canadian Mounties, the CIA, and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, all relating to the (actual) October Crisis of 30 years before. Some very funny bits of writing, and some poignant ones.

Black Fly Season (2005) by Giles Blunt, in the John Cardinal series, set in Algonquin Bay, Ontario, and in Toronto. Lately, I feel that every book I read is more gory and grisly than the one before. This has got to be one of the most gut-wrenching, with crimes committed (as we learn fairly soon into the book) by someone who considers himself a priest of Palo Mayombe, a variant of voodoo that involves human sacrifice. Most of the victims and near-victims are a bit hard to feel strong sympathy for, as they’ve either already chosen to check out of life via heavy drug use, are pathologically cruel individuals in their own right, or are hopelessly deluded about themselves and everything around them. The sections about Cardinal’s wife’s continuing struggles with bipolar illness are wrenching in their own way.

A Trick of the Light (A Chief Inspector Gamache novel) (2011) by Louise Penney, with Gamache, Beauvoir and Lacoste investigating yet another murder in picturesque Three Pines, this time a childhood friend, and then enemy, of newly acclaimed painter Clara. This novel seems darker than most in the series, with serious relationship rifts among a couple of the Three Pines inhabitants and both Beauvoir and Gamache both still suffering from the botched factory raid.

The Erasers (1953) by Alain Robbe-Grillet, a strange murder mystery with a lot of repetitious elements, doubles, and similarities.

Fall of Giants (2010) by Ken Follett, the first novel in the planned “Century” trilogy. It’s an historical epic set at the time before, during and after World War I, following the lives of 5 interrelated families in Russia, England/Wales, Germany, and America. I read it for bookgroup. Did I mention that it’s almost 1,000 pages? I’m not a fan of epics or sagas — I never readthem if I can help it — but I really liked this and read it in less than a week. I was interested in most of the characters, and in the class struggles, though less so in the politics of socialism and the women’s right to vote. In hindsight, the book does seem to have been a lot of arguing about the virtues of going to war (or not), interrupted only by a surprising amount of out-of-wedlock sex (and subsequent births). On the other hand, I felt I got a good refresher course in the history of WWI.

October

By the Time You Read This (2006) by Giles Blunt, in the John Cardinal series, set in Algonquin Bay, Ontario, and in Toronto. Much different from the previous book in the series, with far less graphic mayhem. Cardinal’s wife commits suicide at the beginning of the book, but Cardinal isn’t so sure that it is suicide. Meanwhile, DeLorme is chasing down a pedophile who’s posted many shots of a young girl on the internet. Suicide and psychiatry are major themes.

The Future of Faith (2009) by Harvey Cox, for a class. Snoozy.

The Hand that Trembles (2007; transl. 2011) by Kjell Eriksson, in the (sort of) police procedural series with Ann Liddell, set in Uppsala, Sweden, and this time also in Bangalore, India, where a former Swedish politician has been contentedly living under an alias for a decade but has now been recognised, and in an isolated place away from the Swedish mainland called Bultudden, with only 7 or so houses; a human foot has been found nearby, which leads Liddell and a local colleague to investigate. Meanwhile, Liddell’s former mentor is reviewing an old case, the murder of a Nazi sympathizer. As other reviewers have said, the book is not a thriller but more the tale of ordinary, daily life, overhung with loneliness.

The Vault (2011) by Ruth Rendell, in the Inspector Wexford series, although Wexford is retired now and dividing his time between Kingsmarkham (Sussex) and London (staying his actress daughter Sheila’s carriage house in fashionable Hampstead). Four bodies are found in a coalhole in a patio, three from about a decade ago and one more recent.  The plot’s not really important; I couldn’t remember at the end why two of the people were had been killed. This is really more a novel about Wexford, his wife, their (grown) daughter Sylvia, Wexford’s difficulties transitioning to retirement, and his exploration of his adopted home of London.

The Space Between Church and Not-Church: A Sacramental Vision for the Healing of Our Planet (2011) by Caroline Fairless. I read this for a discussion group. The main idea of the book is for us to come together to help heal the Earth, it will benefit us to let go of the notion of human primacy and privilege; develop a new moral framework than includes a sense of place, awareness, gratitude, compassion and a willingness to serve (rather than to be a steward or manager of resources); and find ways to incorporate natural elements (water, earth, air, fire) and the arts into sacred ritual, which will express our longing for connectedness, break our hearts and move us, and lead us to practice love for the entire Earth community.

November

The Bone House (2011) by Brian Freeman. I haven’t read any other of his books. “Hilary and Mark Bradley are trapped in a web of suspicion. Last year, accusations of a torrid affair with a student cost Mark his teaching job and made the young couple into outcasts in their remote island town off the Lake Michigan coast. Now another teenage girl is found dead on a deserted beach . . . and once again, Mark faces a hostile town convinced of his guilt. ” Set mainly on Washington Island, Michigan, and the mainland nearby (including Green Bay) with a strong sense of place. Moves at a nice clip, with the ending full of deaths and near deaths.

Exposed (2008) by Alex Kava, in the FBI Agent Maggie O’Dell series. In this one, someone is mailing Ebola Zaire virus to targets around the U.S.

Black Friday (2009) by Alex Kava, in the FBI Agent Maggie O’Dell series. Nick Morrelli is in this one again. Mostly set in Minneapolis, at the Mall of America, where 3 backpacks explode on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Harkens back to the Oklahoma City bombings.

Damaged (2010) by Alex Kava, in the FBI Agent Maggie O’Dell series. Set in Pensacola, FL before and during a major hurricane.  Involves a rescue diving team, a for-profit body parts industry, a weak-willed mortuary owner, a very lethal bacterium killing U.S. service members with bone and joint implants, and a charming psychopath called Joe Black. The cover blurb says it’s unputdownable, but I kept putting it down.

December

Until Thy Wrath Be Past (2011) by Asa Larsson, the 4th book translated in the Rebecka Martinsson series, set in a village near Kiruna, in northern Sweden. Martinsson is a prosecutor who lives part time in Stockholm but really misses her childhood haunts near Kiruna.  Maxine Clarke’s review sums things up well, I think. I liked it a lot and didn’t find the “dead girl speaking” part stupid (like I did in the awful The Lovely Bones) … one thing I liked about it was her lack of judgment about anything and anyone; except once or twice, she only observes and describes her experience.

The Coroner (2009) by M.R. Hall, the first in the Jenny Cooper series. Cooper — who, at 42, has just been through a nasty divorce, lost custody of her teenaged son, and is popping pills to avoid full-blown panic attacks — is the new coroner for Severn Vale District, in the Cotswolds near Bristol (not far from Wales). As soon as she walks in the office door, she becomes aware of two cases that the previous coroner (who died suddenly) seems to have mishandled; trying to bring them to a proper conclusion proves difficult and dangerous. I really liked this book and felt, as an Amazon reviewer says, that it’s “one of those books where I felt I knew the characters and wondered what happened to them afterwards.” I also learned a lot about the role of the coroner in the UK. So nice to find a solid new (to me) series!

The Disappeared (2009) by M.R. Hall, the second in the Jenny Cooper series. Not as good as the first; the plot is complex, confusing and sort of boring (I still don’t know what exactly happened, or why), involving possible Islamic terrorist trainees, a nuclear plant, a brooding renegade lawyer, the Secret Service, and high-level political connections. Jenny’s actions are more irresponsible and self-defeating here than in the first book, so that after a while, I wasn’t really rooting for her. Still, the book is better written than most and I’m willing to read the next.

The Redeemed (2011) by M.R. Hall, third in the Jenny Cooper coroner series. Plot more interesting in this one than the previous one, about a pornography star turned ‘Decency’ advocate and a mega-church that both uses and fears her.  Jenny finally gets to the heart of her childhood trauma, too.