Book Reviews: Save Me by Lisa Scottoline, Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon, Red on Red by Edward Conlon, The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo, and Favorite Sons by Robin Yocum

Save Me
Lisa Scottoline
St. Martin’s Press, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38078-X

Bullying, and shining a spotlight thereon, is heralded as the reason this novel was written, but it plays such a minor role in the story that one wonders why it is even raised, except perhaps for the widespread publicity attendant to the subject.  It does occupy, along with much extraneous and superfluous background, about the first half of the book.  It is not until this reader got past that point that a modicum of interest arose.

The plot is a mishmash of twisted lines.  It begins with a fire in a newly opened elementary school, in which three persons are killed and two young children injured, one of whom is the young victim of the bullying, the eight-year-old daughter of Rose McKenna.  Rose, serving as a lunch mom, saves two girls (one of them the bully), ushering them toward an exit, and returns through the fire to save her daughter, who is locked in the bathroom, emerging initially as a “hero,” but then criticized when it is learned that the bully was injured in the fire (how?  It seems she returned to get something she had left behind) and Rose is accused of ignoring her in favor of her own daughter.

Faced with civil and criminal charges, Rose undertakes to discover the reason for the fire (officially attributed to accidental causes) when she suspects foul play.  This leads to further action, somewhat beyond belief.  The novel is carefully constructed and well-written, but somehow doesn’t fulfill its purpose, since, essentially, it is a murder mystery, but so overloaded with superfluous subplot that it becomes burdensome to read.  The author usually writes legal thrillers which I have found to be so much better, and I for one hope she returns to that milieu.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.


Drawing Conclusions
Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1979-7

Unlike previous novels in the series, this mystery lacks many instances of the refined palate enjoyed by Commissario Guido Brunetti’s life.  There is some, but not much, of his charming home life.  Instead in this, the 20th entry in the series, we have a deep study of the man and his ethics drawn into a mystery he informally investigates.

It all begins when a retired school teacher is found dead of an apparent heart attack by a neighbor who calls the police, and Brunetti and his assistant respond.  The medical examiner rules it a natural death, but the detective is disturbed by bruises on the woman’s body, so he continues unofficially to look into the circumstances of the death.  This leads to a philosophical judgment on his part, quite unlike the stickler for the law that he usually is.

Each book in the series is an enjoyable read, and this one certainly is no exception.  The descriptions of Venice, its buildings and churches, continue to warm the heart of one who fell in love with the city years ago (and is about to renew the friendship in September). Let’s hope we can continue to recommend the series well into the future.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.


Red on Red
Edward Conlon
Spiegel & Grau, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-51917-5

Having first turned his hand to a memoir of life in the NYPD, Blue Blood, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Non-fiction, the author, a working cop and detective, has now turned his efforts to fiction.  In this novel, it seems there is plenty of real life fact to go along with the fabricated story about two NYPD detectives.

Nick Meehan transfers into an upper Manhattan precinct from a miserable post in the Bronx under the auspices of Internal Affairs, ostensibly to get the goods on another detective, Esposito, as being “bent.”  Unexpectedly, the two are partnered and develop a close relationship, and Nick is torn by his own self-doubts and unstable personal life.  It soon appears that “Espo” is sort of a genius, conjuring up various scenarios to close cases as well as to help Nick’s love life.

The novel is full of detail on how a detective squad works, solving crimes and interacting with each other, written, obviously, by one who knows whereof he writes.  It is amusing at time, sad at others, but throughout, rings with authenticity and emotion, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.


The Redbreast
Jo Nesbo
Harper, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-206842-2
Mass Market Paperback

During World War II, Norway was occupied by the Nazi army, and the head of the government lent his name to the English language synonymous with traitor—Quisling.  About 400 Norwegian youths volunteered to fight with the Germans on the Eastern front against the Russians.  Most of them did not survive the war. But those that did and returned to Norway were branded traitors and sentenced to years in prison.

It is against this challenging backdrop that the author has created a superb mystery novel equal to the best of the Scandinavian writers. He introduces Harry Hole, an irreverent, alcoholic detective on a par with Harry Bosch and his contemporaries.  The story moves from events during the war to present times and back and forth.  A series of murders takes place in Oslo, and little by little Harry follows the leads subtly provided, ignoring the powers that be who tell him to ignore his intuition and “be a good boy.”

The roots of the story are gleaned from the author’s own background—his father served in the Leningrad siege and his mother in the resistance. The novel was first published in Norway in 1997 and won the Glass Key Award for best Nordic crime novel and later voted the best Norwegian crime novel ever written.  It is the author’s second book [his third has just been released in hardcover] and we look forward to many more. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.


Favorite Sons
Robin Yocum
Arcade Publishing, June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-61145-004-0

Sometimes a first novel is born from an author’s prior background, reflecting authenticity and deep understanding.  Such is the case in this debut novel with a plot more complicated but more meaningful than a simple plot summary can convey.  In its utter simplicity, the novel traces the ramifications of a decision taken by four 15-year-old boys, 30 years after the fact.

The book centers on Hutch Van Buren who seems a shoo-in to be elected Ohio’s next Attorney General, leading in the polls by about 18 percentage points.  Until, that is, it comes to the surface that he and three friends covered up the murder of a retarded youth, allowing a pedophile to be convicted of the crime.  After his release from prison, the convict threatens to expose Hutch unless he quashes another charge of molestation.

The novel delves deeply into the psychological impact on Hutch, and looks into various other issues, including corruption, bribery, and the criminal mind.  It tests the limits of friendship, and weighs heavily in on the question of whether truth and justice should prevail.  This is a worthy book, especially so coming from a first-time novelist, and we hope there is another forthcoming.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.