Book Reviews: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, Some Like It Hot by K.J. Larsen, and Lifetime by Liza Marklund

The Winter PeopleThe Winter People
Jennifer McMahon
Doubleday, February 2014
ISBN: 978-0-385-53849-7
Hardcover

There are many forces alive in the world, mysterious and powerful, evil and benign. In the Maya culture, prominent in Meso-America in the centuries before the Common Era (more than 2,000 years ago) it was normal to bury one’s dead at home. That way, the family could keep track and hopefully influence the passage of the dead loved one from the underworld around the circle to heaven. The Maya were heavily influenced by mysterious forces and had already developed such a Christian-like religious culture they readily absorbed Spanish Catholic religious teachings in the Sixteenth Century. It’s unfortunate there were no Maya priests in West Hall, Vermont, during the early Twentieth Century to make sense of the forces that swirled around the Devil’s Hand, the winter people, and the too-frequent disappearances and murders that occurred.

Explanations in this moody, dark “literary thriller” are hard to come by. It is not a novel of the occult. What raises its quality to a high level is the careful character illuminations, the consistency of strong writing and the internal logic of the piece.

Sara Harrison Shea dies in 1908, not long after her daughter, Gertie also dies. Now move ahead a whole century. A young woman, Ruthie, living in the same isolated farm house, wakes one morning to find her mother missing. In her search she finds parts of a diary written by Sara Shea. The diary becomes a substantial part of the narrative which shifts the reader between the early part of the last century and our modern day. The author is adept at using appropriate language and construction of the narrative to evoke the periods which adds immeasurably to the atmosphere. No matter where in the book one is, the open pages seem to send a subtle atmosphere into the reader, so we are transported at times, into the world of the woman we come to know intimately, the victim, Sara Harrison Shea.

The novel is excellent in all aspects. The moody, limited view of the untrustworthy narrators, in the last and in the present centuries, work well and while the thoughtful reader will be left with many questions, in the end, we close the book with a satisfied feeling and we will wonder.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Some Like It HotSome Like It Hot
A Cat DeLuca Mystery
K.J. Larsen
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0096-0
Hardcover

Continues the frequently outrageous efforts of a Chicago feminist private investigator. Her name is Cat DeLuca and she owns an agency called Pants on Fire Detective Agency. Her principal focus—when she has a client—is to make cheating and divorce as painful and expensive for the male member of the marriage as possible. She is aided and frequently abetted by members of her family who are cops and sometime denizens of the lower orders of Chicago thuggery.

It is an amusing set-up. The characters are neatly funny and multi-dimensional. The writing, like the plots, is slick, fast and clean. There are no deep insights here, unless unintentional, these stories are not meant to make us sit back with thoughtful mien and think, “Ah, there’s an original idea.” No, these novels are meant to amuse, entertain and divert readers and that requires careful thought, writing expertise and good plotting. You get that in shovelfuls here. The language is frank and sassy. The author pulls few punches.

The beginning of the book finds Cat observing a cheating fellow and his latest inamorata in a Chicago hangout. The beginning of the plot starts two pages later when Cat’s ex-classmate, Billy Bonham, attempting to establish his own detective business appears on scene disguised as Santa Claus. Suddenly unmasked and un-pantsed, Cat is forced to save the semi-nude Santa from pursuers with guns and the keepers of morality in the city who take a dim view of nearly naked men running down the streets of the town. From this auspicious beginning, the story ascends (or descends, depending on your point of view) into a morass of cross and double-cross and some delightful mayhem, thievery and all-around bad moves.

I received the book as a gift from the publisher with the usual lack of expectations regarding this review. I recommend Some Like It Hot, as a pleasant divertissement and note that yes, la Monroe is present here. Sort of.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

LifetimeLifetime
Liza Marklund
Emily Bestler Books/Washington Square Press, September 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4516-0700-0
Trade Paperback

A problematic difficult suspense thriller with deeply flawed characters swimming in a dangerously corrupt and somewhat dysfunctional society. The novel’s title refers to the sentencing structure of the Swedish criminal legal system. It is a gritty, sometimes shocking, story of betrayal, corruption, bad marriages, newspaper reporters in emotional hell, and what appears to be a vast shadowy network of thugs for hire.

Patrol officer Nina Hoffman responds to a call of shots fired. The street and block are instantly recognizeable as close to two people she knows well. One is Julia Lindholm, her ex patrol partner and long-time friend. The other person is Julia’s husband, one of the most revered police in in all of Sweden, David Lindholm. To her deep consternation, the altercation appears to have taken place in the Lindholm home. Ethically, Nina Hoffmann should stay away from the scene, but her superiors insist she lead a team of officers in to secure the site. What she finds is devastating. David Lindholm has been murdered. He was dispatched by one shot through the head. A second bullet has destroyed his genitals. His wife lies in the bathroom in shock and their four-year-old son Alexander is missing.

Meanwhile, across town, newspaper reporter Annika Bengtzon is in a taxi with her two young children, fleeing a fire that has destroyed her home and all her belongings. It was a fire deliberately set. The fire further complicates her life because her husband has just nastily walked out after admitting an affair.

The story follows the patrol officer and the reporter on conflicting and reluctant paths that ultimately intersect as Annika tries to prove that Julia is innocent of murder and Nina continually tries to distance herself from the entire affair. Both women are frequently driven to the edge of despair by the case and complicating personal issues. Nowhere in the novel can any stalwart male supporters be found, which is interesting and refreshing. But at times the emotional turmoil seems overwhelming.

This was not a fast, slick read. The author has taken on a large number of perceived shortcomings in Swedish society which left this reader shaking his head in wonderment. She also examines in sometimes painful and rich detail the struggles of two talented women. The most fascinating thread of the novel is the painstaking efforts of the reporter Bengtzon to find evidence supporting her belief that the accused is not guilty of murdering David Lindholm. Following the tangled well-twisted threads of the novel are not helped by a really rough translation. At times the dialogue is so stodgy and stiff as to bring a smile and at others a groan of frustration.

In spite of its shortcomings in the English language version, this novel is strongly recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

 

Advertisements

One thought on “Book Reviews: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, Some Like It Hot by K.J. Larsen, and Lifetime by Liza Marklund

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s