The River by Peter Heller (Edgar Award Nomination for Best Novel)

The tension is palatable from the very beginning.

What they wanted by giving themselves almost a month, more, to cross the lakes and run the river was a voyage with no end date…Most of their previous river trips had been a hustle, because they were students with jobs and so their time off was short. They wanted to try this, to feel.what it was actually like to live in the landscape a little. But now everyrhing had changed. The fire they’d seen the other night and the early frost changed it. (p. 19-20)

The fog, and the impending fire, are not the only things that threaten Wynn and Jack, two friends canoeing in Canada. They encounter two men who are drunk, and then they overhear an argument between a man and a woman coming through the fog. Later, they stop a man in a canoe from going over the falls, and when he approaches them they can see he is in a state of shock. His wife, it seems, has disappeared. Did he kill her? Were they attacked by the two drunks? Was it a bear that caused such harm?

He (Jack) was forming a theory. He was gathering evidence and he would indict and convict the man before they even met him again. Wynn wouldn’t. It was plausible. It was. A whole handful of possibilities. The Texans with their quiet motor could have stalked the couple in the fog. The poor man, Pierre, in the grip of terror, had lost his wife and fled this new bear here by the falls, or fled them. Thinking that they had been the ones who had taken her in the mist and were now probably after him. (p. 106)

The two young men care for the woman, struggle to keep them all alive, and outrun both the fire and the man ahead of them whom they suspect is a threat. It seemed unrealistic in places, that they could escape the fire or escape their hunger. My interest waned…and then, at the end, my heart broke. I thought I would like it much more than I did, as the beginning was so strong, and the ending so piercing. Maybe I just didn’t like how upsetting it was, and for the ability to imbue that much emotion, Peter Heller ought to win something.

I have read four of the five books listed for Best Novel. So far, my favorite two are Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham and Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland. After a brief summary post of the Edgar Award contenders, I will return to Japanese literature. And, soon there will be a few books reviewed for Boekenweek which begins March 7. (Boekenweek is a ten day celebration of Dutch literature which first began in 1932.)

Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland (Edgar Award nomination)

Art has a way of putting everyone at their most transactional. I’m invisible until someone calculates my value. (p. 37)

I devoured this book like I did the latte macchiato and ginger cookie from Peet’s, the traces of which you see above. It absorbed me completely and drew me into the art world in ways I have never been aware of before.

As I began to pull my thoughts together for this post, I realized that the narrator (for it is told in first person) never identifies herself. All we know is that she is a young painter, with an alcoholic mother left behind in Gainesville, Florida, and that she admires a group of artists called Pine City beyond what some might call normal admiration.

Who of us hasn’t been enchanted with a figure which seems to loom larger than life? Be it an artist, a writer, a singer, we seem to look for heroes, and then elevate them to impossible heights. Such is the way with Pine City, artists who are on the cutting edge, who cling to themselves and carve a successful path for their work to be recognized.

Somehow it doesn’t matter how old you grow, or how sophisticated you become. The people who impress themselves upon your consciousness at nineteen ill never shrink of fade from memory. They will always be just a few steps ahead, and you’ll both hate and worship them for it, because you cannot help but compare yourself. (p. 80)

Pine City is not the only object of her admiration; there is also her friend, Max, a woman who seems to have it all: style, fame, and a rich husband from the art world. They live in a house designed by one of the members of Pine City, Carey Logan, who has used sculpted hands for doorknobs, the crook of an elbow at the top of a landing of stairs…

The novel centers around Carey, a woman who has allegedly committed suicide by sticking her feet in boots filled with cement and filming herself walking into a lake where she drowns. The whole thing is filmed, as her final piece of art. Carey evolved from sculpture showing bodies in decay to performance art, where she hugged people, or smelled their breath, or did equally bizarre things that constitute art in the art world.

“I’m creatively lonely all the time.”

“Right? It’s so dissonant. I want to be an individual. I want my work to be so unique that everyone says there’s nothing like it, but then, I’m always looking around, like who’s making tracks? Who can I follow? How am I supposed to do this? (p. 156)

Really, as I think about it, Fake Like Me is more about what happens when the objects of our admiration can not bear up to our affection. It is about the loneliness inherent, perhaps, to each of us. It is about finding a place of contentment with who we are and what we do. I found it extremely well written, and very powerful.

Two of the Five Books listed as finalists for the Edgar Award this year: Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham and The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

I have taken a short break from Japanese literature because guess what? Our library has all five of the five books listed for the Edgar Award’s Best Novel. Really, it is nothing short of a miracle, and as all five of them are in my hands at the moment, I decided I must go ahead and read each one.

Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham was excellent. I actually cared more about the girl who was discovered hiding in a secret room, coming out only to feed two chained up dogs when she felt she couldn’t be found, than I did about the murder of a teen-aged figure skating champion named Jodie.

The characterization in this novel was fabulous, particularly the relationship which was forged between the traumatized girl, Evie, and a psychologist named Cyrus. He was strong enough, and compassionate enough, to provide a safe place for her, for he, too, knew what it was to have endured a most terrible tragedy as a child.

So, Jodie’s body is found in the path. Suspects are interviewed. The murderer is found, and it is all done quite skillfully. But, it is Evie and Cyrus who will remain foremost in my mind for a long, long time.

In many ways, The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths could be thought of as similar to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. There is a school, Talgarth High, around which murders happen, and a delicious gothic feel to the whole academic environment. But, it did not strike me nearly as powerfully as The Secret History, a novel I most assuredly admired.

The Stranger Diaries is based on the ghost story entitled, The Stranger, written by a R. M. Holland, a writer who used to live at the school about one hundred years ago. His study was on the top floor of the Old Building, and it is within his study that he seems to appear again one autumnal night.

The Stranger depicts a marvelous portion in which initiates to the Hell Club must climb blindfolded, with a candle, to the first floor landing’s window. There, they had to light their candles and shout, “Hell is empty!” Only then could they remove their blindfolds and return to their friends for feasting and revelry.

“Hell is empty and the devils are here,” is a line taken from The Tempest. It is an oft repeated refrain throughout this book, and perhaps my favorite part, for truly, I found the story of the murders themselves rather mundane.

Tonight I will begin Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland, as I make my way through all five nominations. The winner will be announced in New York City on April 30, 2020, but I will be sure to tell you my favorite long before that.

Malice by Keigo Higashino

I’d had my eye on him ever since his books started hitting the shelves. Half of me was proud that my childhood friend had made it, while the other half was envious of his success. We’d often talked about becoming writers when we were kids. We both loved books and were constantly recommending our favorites to each other, reading and swapping them when we were finished. Hidaka turned me on to Sherlock Holmes and Arsene Lupin. In return, I gave him Jules Verne. (p. 146)

Several fellow bloggers on Twitter have mentioned that Malice is one of their favorite books by Keigo Higashino. While my personal favorite of his, so far, is Naoko, I have thoroughly enjoyed the puzzle within Malice.

The story revolves around a famous author, Kunihiko Hidaka, who is found brutally murdered in his apartment the night before he is to move to Vancouver. His best friend, Osamu Nonoguchi, is interviewed with surprising revelations.

Keigo Higashino takes us back to elementary school, in fact, to the very prejudices we are brought up with as children. Through a series of interviews and analysis from police detective Kyochiro Kaga, a former classmate of Osama Nonuguchi’s, we come to the startling truth. It is a revelation of the power of malice, long coddled in a child’s heart.

About the author: Keigo Higashino is the bestselling and most widely read novelist in Japan, as well as several other Asian countries, with hundred of millions of his books sold worldwide. His work has been adapted for dozens of television series and films in several countries and languages. He won the Naoki Prize for The Devotion of Suspect X, the first novel featuring his character Detective Galileo, and the English translation was a finalist for the Edgar Award for the Best Novel and the Barry Award. He lives in Tokyo, Japan.

The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda (a most excellent beginning to the Japanese Literature Challenge 13)

I can’t help feeling there’s something inexplicable about this crime. I don’t know how to express it precisely, but there’s something incoherent or indefinable about it, something the human mind isn’t equipped to engage with. (p. 63)

How I love an intriguing mystery, a well written, well developed story that has not been manipulated for “twists and turns” but naturally unfolds it’s layers as a flower unfurls its petals. You can trust a Japanese author to do just that, and Riku Onda does it magnificently in her novel, The Aosawa Murders, which won the 59th Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, beginning with a police interview conducted with Hisako Aoswara which only gives the barest glimpse into her account. Gradually we become aware of a certain crepe myrtle tree, a blue room, and a strange letter left under a vase for a single flower at the scene of the crime. The fact that Hisako is blind only serves to obfuscate her side of the story.

What becomes clear Is that seventeen people have died by drinking poisoned soft drinks or sake at a birthday party for Dr. Aosawa and his family. The drinks were brought and left by a messenger wearing a black hat and a yellow raincoat. Only one person in the family has survived: the beautiful young daughter who is blind, Hisako.

One by one we read the perspectives of the people who can give their account of what has happened. First, is a conversation with Makiko Saiga, the author of the book Forgotten Festival, which gives her side of the story as she was a neighbor Hisako’s age when the murder occurred. Then, we have the point of view of her assistant who points out a few discrepancies in Makiko’s book.There is an excerpt from Forgotten Festival, an interview with the housekeeper’s daughter, and the detective’s thoughts himself. From these testimonies, and several others, the truth is gradually revealed.

But, what is truth? How can any of us know what another’s experience has been? Consider this quote from the author’s assistant:

I hope you understand that truth is nothing more than one view of a subject seen from a particular perspective. (p. 59)

It was fascinating to read each account, to gain an understanding of what really happened as each piece was laid in place. It was a puzzle which was solved by seemingly unrelated pieces which fit together perfectly once they were laid down. I was surprised when all was known, but then again, I have never been a child in the blue room with a white crepe myrtle flower in full bloom.

About the author: Ricky Onda, born in. 1964, is the professional name of Nanao Kumagai. She has been writing fiction since 1991 and has published prolifically since. She has won the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers, the Japan Booksellers’ Award, the Yamamoto Shugoro Prize and the Naoki Prize. Her work has been adapted for film and television. The Aosawa Murders won the prestigious Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel. It is Riku Onda’s first crime novel and her first work translated into English.

The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda will be published in the U.S. by Bitter Lemon Press on February 15, 2020. But, I will send my copy to a participant of the Japanese Literature Challenge, U.S. only please. Simply leave a comment below, and I will draw a winner a week from today.

The winner of The Aosawa Murders is Nadia of A Bookish Way of Life. Thank you to all who commented here.

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson, my first foray into the Longmire series

I have long been enamored of Robert B. Parker’s character, Spencer. His combination of strength, determination and humor are three of the traits I most admire in men. And now, I can add Walt Longmire to this category.

Longmire is the sheriff of Absaroka County in Wyoming, an unconventional man who gets things done. His way. Snowstorms and mountains, huge snarling dogs and upstart young men are no match for Longmire, He takes them on and defeats their efforts to defeat him.

Tied in with this novel are the Native Americans of the Cheyenne Tribe, a group of people which Craig Johnson portrays as vividly as if they were living in my own town in the Midwest. Their bells, and the fringe on their clothing, their weapons and black eyes, are symbols of strength which Longmire accepts with the greatest respect.

I don’t think that the plot of this novel matters as much as the things that I have mentioned above; my greatest take away is the feeling of being in snow covered Wyoming with the bravest of men. But, if you should wish an inkling of the plot I will tell you that it involves the mistreatment of a fetal alcohol syndrome girl, and the repercussions to those who have done her wrong.

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

The Whisperer by Karin Fossum (a most excellent mystery, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson)

“The voice is a powerful tool,” Sejer said. “And you’ve lost yours. I used mine for all it is worth” (p. 208)

How is it I have never read Karin Fossum before? She has won the Glass Key Award for the best Nordic crime novel, an honor shared with Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo. Her Inspector Sejer series has been published in more than forty countries, and this is the first I’ve ever heard of him.

One of the things that compelled me about this book is the amount of compassion I felt toward each character. Ragna Reigal lives alone in the home she lived in as a child. Her parents are dead. Her son has moved to Berlin. She is all alone without a voice because surgery on her throat went awry, and all she can do is whisper.

She had the bag in her left hand, and with the right she opened the mailbox. Took out the local paper and church weekly, a brochure advertising furniture, and a very ordinary envelope. It was not often she got letters. Her surname was on the front fo the envelope: RIEGEL. Written in capital letters. She put her bag down on the ground. No address. No stamp. No sender. She stood under the street lamp and turned the envelope back forth. The paper was coarse, maybe recycled – it was thinner and grayer than normal paper. Goodness. A letter with no sender…she opened it and pulled out a folded sheet of paper with a short message.

YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.

How very alarming to receive such a message, which is only compounded when more of the same appear in her mailbox.

IT’S NOT LONG NOW.

I’M WATCHING YOU.

Interspersed with these messages we learn of her job at the Europrix, and her son, Rikard Josef, who does not live in Berlin after all. Nor does he manage an extravagant hotel as she has believed.

The most tender part is the way that Inspector Sejer questions her, gently helping her open up and reveal her story. Until he is not gentle anymore, but firm. She senses the change in his demeanor one day, and it is undeniable. Their relationship has taken on a suspicious edge.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this novel. More than a mystery, it was written with a fabulous ability to bring characters to life, to create an aura of compassion, to gradually build the tension from a whisper to a scream. It is the second book I have read for the R.I.P. XIV, and it is well worth looking for and reading as it has none of the typical American drama or anticipated conclusion.

It is no wonder The Dry by Jane Harper has won a multitude of awards

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I have spent the past few days secluded in my house because of “the wet”. The rain in Illinois is relentless, keeping me from swimming at Centennial Beach, or riding my Cannondale down the prairie path next to the river. It is understandable how the weather can drive people to distraction; the drought in The Dry, set in fictional Kiewarra in Australia, presents as a character itself. You can feel the heat pressing down on you from every page, as well as the despair which accompanies it.

Luke lied. You lied.

These two lines repeat throughout the book, drawing me in, as I want to know what Luke and his friend, Aaron Falk, lied about. Luke can never tell, because he has been found killed, along with his wife and young son, in the very first pages. It is assumed, at first, that Luke took his life after killing his wife and son. But, why would he leave baby Charlotte crying in her crib? Why were the cartridges Remington, and not Winchester as Luke’s gun used?  Too many things point to the possibility that Luke did not, after all, commit the murders everyone in the town believes he has.

Aaron has come to the funeral in his former town at the insistence of Luke’s father, and he stays to uncover the murders of Luke and his family. It seems that each person in Keiwarra has a heavy load. For one thing, there is no money. The drought is killing the crops, killing the income, killing the hope and incentive in an already small and struggling town. Some of the people have turned to alcohol, or gambling; others are simply existing. But, most of them aren’t without suspicion. For there is another murder, of teenaged Luke, Aaron, and Gretchen’s friend, which is also shrouded in blame.

Aaron and his father left Keiwarra twenty years ago, unable to bear the accusations that they had a hand in Ellie Deacon’s, drowning. Ellie lived with her abusive father, Mal Deacon, and her cousin, Grant, under increasing strain which her mother left for her to endure alone. But, when her body was pulled sodden from the dark water, the reasons for her death were never clear. We only know that neither Luke, nor Aaron, would turn from the alibi that they were together on the day she died.

Jane Harper took me through the town, the people, the murders, with such carefully crafted details that I never once felt manipulated. I never once questioned a loose thread; they weren’t to be found. Nor, did I suspect the turns the story would take near its conclusion. It is no wonder, then, that her book has the following recognition and awards:

2018 BRITISH BOOK AWARDS
Crime and Thriller
Book of the Year

2018 BARRY AWARDS
Best First Mystery

2017 UK CRIME WRITERS’
ASSOCIATION AWARDS

Gold Dagger for
Crime Novel of the Year

2017 SUNDAY TIMES
Crime Book of the Year

2017 PRIX COGNAC
AWARD (France)

2017 ABIA AWARDS
Book of the Year

Fiction Book of the Year

2017 INDIE AWARDS
Book of the Year
Debut Fiction
Book of the Year

2017 AMAZON
Best Mystery and
Thriller Novel

2017 GOODREADS
CHOICE AWARDS

Best Mystery Thriller
Best Debut

2017 NED KELLY AWARDS
Best First Fiction

2017 DAVITT AWARDS
Best Adult Crime Novel
Readers’ Choice

(Thank you to my friend, Lesley, who brought it to my attention a few years ago.)

Some of the best reading I’ve done all year: Daphne DuMaurier Reading Week

I am most familiar with Rebecca, but I love My Cousin Rachel for creating an equally menacing woman with a duplicitous spirit. Questioning her selfish intent kept me guessing until the end.

Jamaica Inn was a dirty, nasty place filled with a mean, nasty man. I did not like him, nor reading of his thieving ways, but I liked how his niece was rescued by the one she loved. Not, by the way, the Vicar as one might have suspected.

And Frenchman’s Creek, which I have finished just now, has perhaps the best ending of all. After the adventure, and the trysts, and all the romance of loving a pirate, Dona must return to her husband and children. There is no other choice for a mother, after all.

None of the novels have contrived, easily manipulated conclusions like today’s authors are so adept at creating. They have neither the skill, nor the imagination, of Daphne DuMaurier. My month would have been strangely empty had I not indulged in three of her books at Heaven Ali‘s prompting. And for that I thank her.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

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It is a guilty pleasure of mine to read thrillers, in between the novels of translated literature which I so adore. But, sometimes I long for something effortless to read. Something distracting. Something which is both an engaging plot and uncontrived.

Perhaps you’ve seen my scorn for Gone Girl. Or, The Girl on The Train. Things got a little better with The Woman in The Window. But, Then She Was Gone turned out to be pleasant surprise.

I began it this week while walking on the treadmill at the health club. I searched my phone for something distracting, something plot driven, and I downloaded this as an audio book. It was narrated, in a lovely British voice, by Helen Duff. And it told a story which I quickly had to read in text rather than listen to in audio, as I am a much better reader than listener.

When Ellie Mack, a brilliant student and lovely daughter, disappears from home no one finds her until her bones are discovered much, much later in a ditch. This is told fairly early on; I am not spoiling any surprises. The novel goes on to explain her story, which is a rather intricate plot involving her maths tutor, specifically, while simultaneously revealing the tender heart of her mother. I found it quite compelling, and I ended it just now oddly satiated at the outcome of a rather distressing story since it was told so compassionately and effectively.

This is one thriller that did not disappoint me. (And now I am off to read We and Me by Saskia de Coster for Boekenweek, which is March 23-31.)