It seems like we live in a very political time — but, it might give you some satisfaction to know that it could be worse after you read The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye. This debut mystery is set in 1845 New York City, where politics is in all aspects of life — what neighborhood you live in, what church you attend, what job you have. Even the newly organized police force only exists because a politician said it should, and others see the very existence of police as an infrigement of their civil rights and no different from a standing army. Timothy Wilde is an officer in the new police force thanks to the political pull of his older brother Valentine and a horrible fire that destroys his life savings and leaves him too scarred to go back to his old job as a bartender. Tim puts on the “copper star” and gradually comes to see the worth in what he does. When he encounters a blood soaked little girl who claims to know where the children’s bodies are buried he is in the hunt for a serial killer who is removing children from brothels. The descriptions of New York City and the way people lived in 1845 are very compelling, throughout the novel the author makes use of flash, an underground language akin to thieves cant which adds additional authenticity. This is a fascinating and enjoyable read and I am pleased that it’s the first in a series.
Author Archive for Susan Craig
Scottish author Denise Mina is a favorite of mine — not always easy to follow, but then, people are more her thing than a plot. Both the plot and the people in this second title featuring DS Alexandra Morrow are grim indeed. The story skips back and forth between two deaths — bad boy millionaire banker Lars Anderson hangs himself from a tree on his palatial estate, Sarah Erroll is kicked and beaten to death by home invaders. Dysfunction doesn’t even begin to describe both of these people and their families as Alex, five months pregnant with twins, discovers links between the two. Alex has her own dynamics to deal with after the death of her father, issues with her delinquent nephew and the appeareance of an old friend linked to one of the victims. Family is the overall theme — what people will (and won’t) do for flesh and blood. It’s a long, dense story and at times my attention wavered, but then I would get pulled back in by the complex characters.
Henry House was born in 1946 and spent his first year as “practice baby” in a college home economics program designed to teach young women how to be mothers. (Yes, this was really a common practice across the country). Typically babies were orphans and were put up for adoption after one year. Henry, however, steals the heart of the program director, Martha Gaines, and stays on, moving upstairs with her and seeing a succession of practice babies come and go. What he learns is not a good lesson — how to make a variety of women think they’re his favorite. At the age of 10 Henry learns who his biological mother is and loses his trust in Martha. Baby boomers will enjoy the side characters in Henry’s story — Benjamin Spock, Walt Disney, the Beatles– as he wanders from college towns to New York, Los Angeles, and London before returning to Wilton College. Henry is an engaging character and the mid-twentieth century setting is fun in this coming of age story.
If you like dark psychological mysteries you will like Blue Monday from husband and wife writing team Nicci French. You will meet Frieda Klein a complex, solitary London psychotherapist whose belief in the absolute confidentiality of her patients is tested when one of them shares dreams and thoughts that are disturbingly linked to the recent disappearance of a young boy. Similarities also exist between this child’s abduction and one of a girl twenty-two years ago. Klein ends up in an uneasy partnership with Detective Chief Inspector Malcolm Karlsson while she tries to cope with a immigrant builder, a mentor losing his edge, and a romantic interest who is moving. Plot twists abound, perhaps a little too much, but the characters are compelling. This is the first in a series, I’ll be interested in seeing what color Tuesday is.
This intriguing novel starts in Minnesota, at a big pharmaceutical research lab, where Marina Singh has worked for several years. Dr Singh’s colleague, Anders Eckman, went to the Amazon area to get a progress report from veteran researcher, Dr Annick Swenson, who has not been forthcoming on the outcome of her studies and the corporate funders are growing anxious. A brief report of Anders death arrives in Minnesota and Marina is sent to find out the details by her married lover, and boss, Mr Fox. The contrast between Minnesota and the Amazon region where the Lakashi tribe lives could not be more stark. Marina finds herself cut off from the world she knows, even wearing native attire after her clothes are stolen, as she tries to learn more about Anders’ death and the status of Dr Swenson’s research into the fertility of women of the tribe who routinely gnaw the bark of a certain species of trees and continue to have babies well into their 70′s. As Annika observes, what 70 year old woman wants to have babies? Good question, and one that this novel explores along with many others including the place of commercialism in medicine, culture and identity, good and evil. It’s a real tale, well told.
Private investigator Sam Blackman and his partner Nakayla Robertson have been hired by an insurance company to investigate a history professor’s malpractice suit against a spinal surgeon. They follow her to Connemara, Carl Sandburg’s home in Flat Rock, North Carolina, where she takes a fatal fall down a mountain. Before her death she utters the words, “It’s the Sandburg verses.” There are many mysteries here — why was she on the mountain, what about the Sandburg verses, did she have grounds to sue for malpractice, what mysterious research was she conducting before her death, and, of course, was she murdered or was it an accident? Let me just say that more murders follow, so you know the answer to the last question. Sam and Nakayla and likeable people with both a professional and a personal relationship. Sam uses a prosthesis leg due to his military service in Iraq which limits him a little physically. I think people will find the North Carolina and academic settings as well has the historical detail about Carl Sandburg interesting. I had never read any books by the author, Mark DeCastrique, but I plan to go back and see what I missed.
The 2012 All Iowa Reads title is Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains, only the second nonfiction book in the program’s nine year history. Strength in What Remains tells the story of Deogratis, or Deo, who as a 22 year old medical student barely escapes the Hutu slaughter of Tutsis in Burundi. He finds himself in New York City in 1994 with no English skills and $200. The story moves back and forth in time and place — from Africa to New York. And. although the horror of events in Africa is almost undescribable, living poor on the streets of New York as a young black man with no money is not an easy life either. Deo is helped by remarkable, generous people — but, the personal courage and fortitude needed to prevail is his. As a member of the All Iowa Reads Committee I recently did a program on this book with Kirkwood instructor, George Minot. He said the key to good nonfiction writing is to “make what is true believable.” Everyone should read this inspiring story from a great author who succeeds in that goal.
Susan Craig at the Library