Sunday, July 30

The Jealous One by Celia Fremlin

Review by Claire McManus

My book club's book for the month of June was The Jealous One, by Celia Fremlin.  We came to this book in a strange way.   One of our members had a copy of an old mystery lover's collection called Murderess Ink, edited by Dilys Winn.  In it there was an interview with several of the old-time greats of mysteries, and Celia Fremlin was one of them.   Apparently she was quite well respected in her time, but only one or two of us had ever heard of her, and none of us had ever read her.  Since her books deal with domestic issues, we decided to give her a try.   (We tend to like books that are mysterious but not filled with violence, graphic sex, or depravity.)
 
It turned out to be tough to find the book, but we were able to order copies through Amazon.com , and some of us were able to take out older copies from local library branches.
 
The story revolves around Rosamund Fielding, a Londoner whose happy and long-term (18+ years) marriage to Geoffrey is threatened by Lindy, the single woman who has just moved in next door.   Compared to Rosamund's workaday housewifery, Lindy is daring, plain spoken, and controversial.  She turns every man's head by consistently taking the man's side in any marriage, arguing that the wife is usually at fault when a husband is unhappy.
 
Before she knows it, Geoffrey is spending more and more time with Lindy as Rosamund fades into the background.   And then – Lindy disappears, just as Rosamund has had a dream that she's murdered Lindy.  (This isn't a spoiler—it happens within the first few pages of the book.)
 
This book generated lively discussion.  Fremlin is an extremely sharp observer of domestic life, and her observations are both penetrating and wickedly funny.   We found the character of Rosamund—who refuses to openly acknowledge her jealousy in any way—to be superbly drawn.  The pacing of the book is fast, too; just about all of us read it in a couple of sittings.
 
We ran into trouble, though, with the "mystery," which seemed rather forced.  I can't go into details without a major spoiler, but the whole second half of the book relies on a type of amnesia or possible delusion in the protagonist, and it's tough to believe that a woman as smart as Rosamund would fall victim to that.   There are a few fairly large plot holes, too, involving phone calls and unplanned visits to a mother-in-law.
 
What I found most interesting about the discussion was the way the group reacted to the character of Lindy.  Our mystery group has both men and women.  All of the women understood exactly what Lindy was up to, while it took the men longer to get it.  We understood Rosamund's refusal to acknowledge her jealousy, while the men didn't get quite that.   
 
All in all, though, we recommend this book highly.  Only one of us didn't care for it.   The rest of us definitely would like to read more of Celia Fremlin.  It seems a shame that she isn't mentioned as much any more.  She really was something special, almost a modern-day Jane Austen.   I would love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with her.

Saturday, July 22

The Book of the Dead by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Review by Andrea Maloney

The Book of the Dead
is the conclusion of the trilogy by Preston & Child which started with Brimstone and continued in Dance of Death . Special Agent Pendergast is in prison for a murder he didn't commit and his brother Diogenes is planning a criminal event so extraordinary it will leave people reeling.

The New York Museum of Natural History has just received a parcel filled with brown dust.  When it is revealed that the dust is actually the remains of the priceless gem collection stolen by Diogenes in Dance of Death the museum is left in the middle of huge scandal.

Meanwhile the Count of Cahors has offered made the museum an offer they can't refuse.  He offers them ten million euros to reopen the Tomb of Senef which is an Egyptian tomb that was on display in the museum when it originally opened back in the early 1900's.  When the display of the tomb was finished it was sealed up in the basement of the museum and forgotten. Realizing this is the event they need to get them out of the pit of bad publicity the museum director decides to take the count up on his offer. Of course the Tomb of Senef comes with a curse and soon bad things are happening again in the museum.

It's up to Special Agent Pendergast and his group of friends to stop Diogenes diabolical plans, help the museum get out from under the curse of the tomb and saves thousands of people from a fate worse than death. There's just one problem Special Agent Pendergast is locked up in a maximum security prison with no way out.

Preston & Child have written another thrilling novel of epic proportions that races along at a breakneck speed ending with a final battle between brothers that only one will walk away from.

They do a brilliant job of weaving together all the storylines of the many characters while making it easy to follow the story.  Their characters at times are larger than life but that is part of their appeal to the reader. Each character has their own unique story that has been developed throughout Preston & Child's other books.

To read The Book of the Dead you will want to have read Brimstone and Dance of Death although Brimstone is not absolutely necessary to follow the storyline.

Thursday, July 13

The Next Ex by Linda L. Richards

Review by Pat Brown

I really enjoyed this book. First I fell in love with the title. It's kind of like that joke - "I'm always on the lookout for the next ex"

The Next Ex is a Madeline Carter novel. Madeline is a ex-New York stockbroker who now lives in L.A. and does day trading. I know nothing about the stock market beyond buying low and selling high. Richards makes it seem interesting and even understandable. (Though I still have no plans to actually try my hand at it)

Madeline is hired by Keesia Livingston to teach her how to trade online. Keesia is married to Maxi Livingston, the most powerful producer in Hollywood. At an A list party Madeline is invited to, she stumbles on to Keesia's murdered body.

Shortly after another of Maxi's four ex wives is found dead, a third is attacked and nearly killed. Madeline is convinced the murders are all related. When an attempt is made on her life, even the police begin to believe.

It was an enjoyable story, with enough twists and turns to keep me guessing. My only beef was when Madeline discovers a clue in a company that was only recently publicly traded. She knows the name of the company but can't seem to find out any useful information. But she does find out what the company manufactures. She doesn't know what the substance used in the manufacturing is - all she hs is a name. But instead of doing what even a vaguely literate computer person would do - Google it - she remains ignorant. I did an online search and had no trouble finding out the substance's identity. So why didn't Madeline? She's computer savvy - she spends her days trading and studying online. Later on she casually Googles something so it's not like she's ignorant of the process. My feelings where that the author needed her to remain ignorant a while longer so she never did what should have been second
nature for plot purposes.

But really, that was my only beef. I highly recommend this book. Madeline is smart and funny, and even when she gets herself into trouble, there isn't that sense of 'oh how could she be so stupid'. She makes it seem logical, which I figure is all I can ask of a writer.

Saturday, July 8

Season of Iron by Sylvia Maultash Warsh

Review by Pat Brown

Back in the mid 70's, as a teenager, I read William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. This was really my first introduction to the idea that groups of people could commit unbelievable atrocities on other people and get away with it. I was your typical teen, believing in fairness and justice and I wanted to believe that if something as horrible as this could go on, then the rest of the world would be outraged. When I realized the world wasn't, and in fact turned it's back on plight of the German Jew I was horrified.

But I have to confess I haven't gone out of my way to read stories which spotlight those days. I acquired Season of Iron because Slyvia herself handed it to me at Book Expo Canada last June.

I'm glad she did.

I'd have to describe this book as a quiet mystery. There's no flash and dazzle, no wild chases through city streets. There is a murder and a couple of attempted murders, all of which are solved by the end, though I'm convinced the 'real' story is the mystery of who these people are and how the two eras come together.

It opens in Toronto in 1979 and from that point on alternates between '79 Canada and 1930's Germany, chronicling the life of a Jewish family from the prosperity of middle class business owners to the horrors of the concentration camp they end up in. Who survives and who doesn't, and what it means in '79 is a wonderful journey of discovery and pure guesswork.

I actually saw some similarities between the way the German Nazis promulgated their hatred and the way some countries are doing the same thing today. It's a sad reminder that people don't really change and the lessons of history get lost in the ages.

Overall I enjoyed this book. It didn't hit me over the head with theatrics and high blown drama. Instead it is a well written novel, which introduces us to some pleasant, ordinary people who have the same kind of crisis in their life as all the rest of us do. When they get caught up in the horror of the day so are we. We grow to care about all these people, in the past and the 'modern' day. I recommend it to anyone who wants a good, solid read without the histrionics of many modern thrillers.