Monday, October 24, 2011

South American Novels

The Silence of the Rain
by: Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza

This crime novel is the first book of fiction that Garcai-Roza wrote.  He is an academic and a novelist, “late in life” as he says, having written this book at the age of 60.  In an interview he gave which is on the web site,, he says that crime and sexuality form the basic part of our psychological structure.  If you could only use two words to describe his novels, the words would be, crime and sexuality.  The main character, Espinosa, is a Brazilian policeman, living in Rio, “a public employee, a middle age person and a solitary man,” and in Garcia-Roza’s words, “a man with a critical mind and a romantic heart.”  Garcia-Roza also wanted to write about an ethical policeman.  In Brazil’s not-too-distant and repressive past, policemen were viewed as corrupt and not-to-be trusted and today Brazil still has a police force contaminated by the past, according to Garcia-Roza.

With this background in mind, the story begins with a suicide, but because of wrong conclusions, the suicide is treated as a murder.  Enter Espinosa, the main character, an honest policeman.  The story switches from third person to first person and back to third person.  We walk in Espinosa’s shoes as he covers the streets of Rio, which are described in detail; you feel the heat, see the shopkeepers, share Espinosa’s dinners which consist mainly of take-out.  He is divorced and through Garcia-Roza’s writing the intimacy and loneliness of Espinosa’s life are apparent.

Espinosa is unrelenting in trying to uncover the crime despite not much support from a corrupt police force and not much in the way of technological forensic help.  There is a beautiful widow to whom Espinosa is attracted, a $1-million insurance policy, two more murders, and a surprise ending that does not quite end the story.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lost in Translation

The Inugami Clan: a Gothic Tale of Murder from Japan’s Master of Crime 
By:  Seishi Yokomizo
"Set in the 1940's, this is the first in a series of mysteries featuring a private detective, Kosuke Kindaichi. "The elderly patriarch of a wealthy Japanese family of the title, dies inexplicably, leaving a will that virtually ensures a bloody battle for his fortune. Kindaichi is summoned by the family’s attorney to snow-covered northern Japan, where the gore-soaked feud plays out. Slowly the family’s sordid secret history is revealed as the members are ritualistically murdered, one by one." This book was a pleasure to read because it was so "campy." One can imagine the television series, since there are 38 Chapters! And they are listed like the Victorians wrote their books, "The Blood-Colored Will"; "The Fingerprint on the Watch"; "The Blood-Spattered Button"; "The Ill-Fated Mother and Son"; and more. A list of characters, is included, which helps.

Seishi Yokomizo is Japan’s most popular mystery writer. This is the first book in the Inspector Kindaichi series.

When I read translated books, I always regret not being able to read them in the original language. Nuances are lost in translation and the story line at times seems choppy.

Paper Butterfly 

Summary: "Mei, a private investigator in Beijing, China, is approached by a record company executive when one of his rising stars goes missing. The investigation leads her to a man called Lin, who hasn’t been heard of since 1989." Lin’s story is told in flashbacks and describes the cruel conditions of the labor camps in China where Lin was imprisoned. The author, Ms Lang, took part in the protests in Tiananmen Square, so the descriptions are vivid and gives Western readers an idea of what took place. The descriptions of the cities and towns are better than the characterizations. The second part of the book brings the past, Lin, and the present Mei, together. The setting makes this a worthwhile read.
by Diane Wei Lang 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Violins, Violinists, and Violence

Dance Macabre
by:  Gerald Elias
Minitour Books, New York
277 pp,

Daniel Jacobus, a blind and reclusive violin teacher is the protagonist of this interesting mystery written by Gerald Elias, a Boston Symphony violinist, who also wrote Devil's Trill, the first in this series featuring Daniel Jacobus.  Dance Macabre is the second.

Rene Allard, a famous violinist, is found grotesquely murdered, steps away from his New York apartment, after performing his Carnegie Hall swan song, on his way to retirement in France.  His protege, B Tower, seen bending over the body with blood on his hands, is arrested, tried and found guilty.  But - was he the murderer?  Jacobus is drawn into the investigation of the  murder.  Tower is now on death row, days away from his execution.  The search for clues takes Jacobus to Utah, and then to the inner New York subway tunnels, and the sewers of New York City (a little like the movie, "The Third Man.")  The murder weapon is a puzzle.  How was Rene killed?  The answer is very ingenious.

What sets this mystery apart from others is that woven throughout the story the author shares information about violins, violinists, and composers.  B Tower, while in jail, is not allowed to have a violin, but Jacobus encourages him to practice using an "air violin."  Arm and finger positions are described, as B Tower hears the music in his head as he "plays."

Violins, old New York apartments, and elevators all play a role in the solution of the murder.  Dance Macabre was a pleasure to read.  Any reader who ever took violin lessons would especially enjoy this book.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"The Life Well-Read"

Today, February 12, in the Wall Street Journal is full page article which is a challenge as well.  "Books beget books--and sometimes writers are moved to pay tribute to the ones that formed them."  Beginning with the year 987, in Baghdad, a bookseller named Ibn-al Nadim who cataloged books, but only books that he had personally seen and touched, commenting on all of them.  He is compared to Jorge Luis Borges who imagined heaven to be a huge library of books.  And as the writer in the WSJ says, they didn't just read books, they ingested them.  Within the article, there are listed five authors who wrote about books in journals and memoirs.  An article to be saved and savored.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Swedish Thriller

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Swedish Thriller
Mari Jungstedt
243 pp.
St. Martin’s Minotaur Press

"With solid characters and powerful descriptions of the dark Swedish Winter, this newest entry in the great tradition of Scandinavian police procedurals provides an engaging and twisty narrative that will fool even the most attentive reader."

This is a hard-to-put-down thriller set on the small island of Gotland, off the coast of Sweden. The descriptions of the winter weather surround the story of two murders and add to the chilly, mysterious atmosphere.

An alcoholic photographer, Henry Dahlstrom, is violently murdered in his dark room. Robbery is the supposed motive as Dahlstrom has won a considerable amount of money at the race track. Fanny, a 14 year old girl is the second victim in the story. Quiet, unhappy with her sad home situation, she lives with her alcoholic mother. Her only pleasure is working at the local stable where she can be with her beloved horses. Jungstedt deftly portrays what it is like to have an alcoholic parent and how, indirectly, Fanny’s homelife contributes to her murder.

The investigative team led by Anders Knutas works hard to solve both cases and the story has several other characters, sub plots, and false leads to confuse the reader and those of us who try and guess the murderer before the end of the story. And these characters may be used in future books as not all the questions are answered.. For Nordic atmosphere, fine characterization and a few surprises, I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My First Review

A Pale Horse
Charles Todd
360 pp.
Wm. Morrow, pub
"Behold a Pale Horse and His name is Death" could have been the theme for this 2008 novel in the Ian Rutledge series. Ian Rutledge is a Scotland Yard inspector who has his own torments having served in the first World War and feeling great guilt over the deaths of his men and the horrific scenes he had witnessed. In earlier books, you learn of his breakdown after returning home and the loss of his fiancee whom he released from their engagement because of his, what we now call, post traumatic stress disorder.

The authors, a mother and son writing team, both Americans, use a literary device in the stories – "Hamish," a voice Rutledge hears in his head, is a Scottish soldier who served with Rutledge in France and who died there while serving under Rutledge.. Hamish is his alter ego, his advisor, admonisher and protector, who comments while Rutledge makes his way through his investigations. The voice is a Scottish burr, which helps the reader differentiate who is speaking.

The story begins as a body is discovered in the ruins of Yorkshire’s Fountains Abbey, covered with a cloak, a gas mask over the face.

Meanwhile, Rutledge is called to find a missing man, one of the War Office’s own, who lives in the shadow of The Great Chalk Horse, cut into the hillside in Berkshire. The Horse overlooks a group of cottages which were originally built to house lepers and now house various inhabitants who choose to live alone with their stories and secrets, lepers symbolically.

Is the man found in Yorkshire linked to this group of people? In the narrative, scenes of trench warfare and gassing during the Great War are relived by Rutledge as the missing man had a part in creating the chemicals for the Allies. Rutledge doggedly investigates all the leads as he tries to put all the stories together.

I thought the first chapter, after reading the whole book, seemed out of place, introducing several characters that are not seen again, but still the book is well written and I am adding it to my Reading Challenge, Europe. And later, I plan to return to the other books in this series.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The 2011 Global Reading Challenge

What a challenging way to begin the New Year!  I found the Global Reading Challenge accidently, and am looking forward to posting the books I read and discussing them with the other bloggers on the web site.  I am also interested in the writing aspect of these books.  As a lover of words, or "just the right word" as Mark Twain said, I will be looking for those magical sentences that either transport me to another place or are so powerful that I remember them.  An example:  Pablo Neruda's poem, "Tonight I Can Write the saddest lines"  and the line ..."I loved her and sometimes she loved me too."  Sometimes says it all.