Category Archives: R.I.P. IV

The Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

0312340710.01._SY190_SCLZZZZZZZ_ The Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

Translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder

Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2006

Winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award 2005

At a birthday party for an eight-year-old boy a medical student discovers a toddler chewing on a human bone.  The bone, a rib, was found at a construction site on the edge of the growing city of Reykjavik.  With this discovery Detective Inspector Erlender Sveinsson and his colleagues must solve a crime that is decades old.

Erlender has his own problems, his estranged daughter is gravely ill, and his colleagues are not always as helpful as they could be.  The detectives dig back into the 1940’s,  trying to find out who owned the land  and identify a 60-year-old corpse.

Within this well crafted crime drama Indridason draws  a devastating  portrait of domestic violence.   With clarity and compassion he tells of a mother’s loss of self at the hand of her abusive husband, and of her childrens suffering.  This is one of the most honest descriptions of an abusive relationship that I have read.  Irdridason is a master storyteller, weaving different times together in a graceful novel of love and heartbreak.

I am fascinated by all the crime fiction coming out of northern Europe.  I think Irdridason is one of the best in the bunch.  I look forward to reading his other novels.

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Filed under Mystery, Orbis Terrarum 2009, R.I.P. IV, Review

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

0307341569_01__SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Shaye Areheart Books, New York, 2009

Somehow I missed Flynn’s first novel Sharp Objects but after reading Dark Places it is now on my list.

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered.  She ran from her house into a snow storm, survived, but lost some toes and ends up testifying against her brother, Ben, for the murders.  Ben goes to prison and twenty-five years later, after living off a trust fund created by the public at the time of the murders, Libby is running out of money.

Enter The Kill Club, a group obsessed with notorious crimes.  They believe Ben is innocent and as Libby tries to find a way to profit from their obsession she starts to doubt her own testimony.

Because of her doubts, and the possibility of financial gain, Libby begins to revisit the past.  She locates people from her home town, trying to find the truth.

The novel moves back and forth in time, telling the story from several points of view.  There is Libby, trying to remember what actually happened.  What did she witness?  Was she coached by her psychiatrist?  Did the prosecution put words in her mouth?  There are flashbacks of Ben on the days leading up to the murders, and of his Mom, Patty and her desperate struggle to keep her home and keep her children fed.   At times this feels a bit disjointed but Flynn’s ability to place her reader into the heads of her characters and the clarity of the different voices pulls the story together.  There is a  mystery buried here and in the end Libby is again running for her life.

Libby is not a very likable character, she’s whiny, mean and desperate.  By being forced to evaluate her own history she begins to gain a sense of self and becomes, in the end,  likable.  Flynn portrays the grinding poverty of Patty struggling to keep her family together, the desperation of Ben, an adolescent boy trying to fit in and the mass hysteria that builds around this type of crime in a way that reflects on American culture.  Very driven and very creepy.  The more I think about it the more I like it.

Gillian Flynn has a wonderful web site were she talks about women, power, anger and violence.  Visit her here.

Reviews:

Carrie’s YA Bookshelf

Cheryl’s Book Nook

Life In The Thumb

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Filed under Challenges, R.I.P. IV

Banned – In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

067960023X.01._SY190_SCLZZZZZZZ_ In Cold Blood : A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences

by Truman Capote

The Modern Library, New York, 1992

The book that changed true crime journalism, first published as a serial in the New Yorker in the fall of 1965, began as a one-column story on page 39 of the New York Times dated November 16, 1959.  It read “Wealthy Farmer, 3 Of Family Slain.

The victims were members of the Clutter family, proud owners of the River Valley Ranch, outside the town of Holcomb, Kansas.    The father Herbert,  the mother Bonnie,  their son Kenyon, fifteen, and the youngest daughter, Nancy, sixteen.

Two weeks later Truman Capote, a writer from New York City,  was on his way to Kansas.  Capote’s interest in the murders lead to an extended investigation.  He  spent the next six years interviewing people from the farming community of Holcomb, friends and family of the murder victims,  policemen and agents involved in the investigation, and eventually the murderers, Richard Eugene Hickock, and Perry Edward Smith as well as their families.

Capote wished to create a new form of literature, something based in fact that used the arts of fiction.  He worked in a way no journalist had every attempted, and by the time the articles appeared, had created a work  that mesmerized the country.

He interviewed the people who had first entered the house on that quiet Sunday morning, including Nancy’s best friend, Susan.

“So I did,” said Susan in a statement made at a later date.  “I called the house and let the phone ring–at least I had the impression it was ringing–oh, a minute or more.  Nobody answered, so Mr. Ewalt suggested we go to the house and try to “wake them up.”  But when we got there–I didn’t want to do it.  Go inside the house.  I was frightened, and I didn’t know why, because it never occurred to me–well, something like that just doesn’t.  But the sun was so bright, everything looked too bright and quiet..”

Capote captured people’s thoughts and carefully put them into words.  Here is Andy Erhart, a friend of the family;

Of those present, none had been closer to the Clutter family than Andy Erhart.  Gentle, genially dignified, a scholar with work-calloused hands and a sunburned neck, he’d been a classmate of Herb’s at Kansas State University.  “We were friends for thirty years,” he said some time afterwards, and during those decades Erhart had seen his friend evolve from a poorly paid County Agricultural Agent into one of the region’s  most widely known and respected ranchers: “Everything Herb had, he earned–with the help of God.  He was a modest man but a proud man, as he had a right to be. He raised a fine family.  He made something of his life.”    But that life, and what he made of it–how could it happen, Erhart wondered as he watched the bonfire catch.  How was it possible that such effort, such plain virtue, could overnight be reduced to this smoke, thinning as it rose and was received by the big, annihilating sky.

And Capote was ingratiating, he gained people’s trust, most significantly the trust of  Smith and Hickock.  In Cold Blood recreates the wild cross-country journey they took after the murders.

Approximately four hundred miles east of where Arthur Clutter then stood, two young men were sharing a booth in the Eagle Buffet, a Kansas City diner.  One–narrow-faced, and with a blue cat tattooed on his right hand–had polished off several chicken salad sandwiches and now was eying his companion’s meal: an untouched hamburger and a glass of root beer in which three aspirin were dissolving.

“Perry, baby,” Dick said, “you don’t want that burger.  I’ll take it.”

Perry shoved the plate across the table.  “Christ, can’t you let me concentrate?”

“You don’t have to read it fifty times.”

The reference was to a front-page article in the November 17 edition of the Kansas City Star.

In Cold Blood is probably the best account of an American crime ever written and the model for all future true-crime books.  It conveys the environment created by these murders, the impact on those who suffered the after effects and the life stories of the two men who committed the murders in cold blood.

For wonderful insight into the author and his creative process see Capote, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.

In Cold Blood is a Banned Book.

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

Banned, but later reinstated after community protests at the Windsor Forest High School in Savannah, Ga. (2000). The controversy began in early 1999 when a parent complained about sex, violence, and profanity in the book that was apart of an Advanced Placement English Class. Source: 2004 Banned Books Resource Guide by Robert P. Doyle.

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Filed under BannedBooksWeek, R.I.P. IV

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian

The Historian

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2005
A dense, multi-layered version of the Dracula story written for the Twenty-First century.   A story within a story that  follows a young women as she searches for her father and discovers her family history.
You already know, my father said, that before you were born I was a professor at an American university.  Before that I studied for many years to become a professor.  At first I thought I would study literature.  Then, however, I realized I loved true stories even better than imaginary ones.  All the literary stories I read led me to some kind of –exploration–of history.  So I finally gave myself up to it.  And I’m very pleased that history interests you, too.
The young women (we never learn her name) discovers a strange book in her father’s library.  It contains only one  image, a rampant dragon, and,  buried in the image. a  name.  After asking her father about this book he begins to tell her it’s history, where he found it and where it lead him. When her father disappears, leaving her a cryptic note and a packet of letter,s we are drawn with her into this strange tale.
This was my second attempt at reading The Historian and I really wanted to love it. So many bloggers I admire do.  But, like my first attempt,  I found myself struggling with it  about two-thirds of the way through.   Kostova has certainly put lots of effort into this book and I enjoyed her writing when it touches on European history, the cities along the journey and the countryside.    I found the story disjointed, wanted more of some things and less of others.  The scary parts never really grabbed me and I found the ending very unsatisfying.  Maybe I’m jaded.  My favorite vampire stories are Dracula and Interview with a Vampire, and nothing else I’ve read has come close.
From what I’ve observed  people either love The Historian or hated it.  You should certainly give it a try.  I just think it needed a better editor.
Other reviews:

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How Love Came to Professor Guildea – Robert S. Hichens

rip4shortA different kind of ghost story written by Robert S. Hichens.   Hichens, the  author of  The Garden Of Allah ,  was born in 1864 and died in 1950.  He was Oscar Wilde’s confidant and a friend of the young Somerset Maugham.  He is most famous for this strange tale, selected by Dorothy L. Sayers for her anthology of detective, mystery and horror stories.

Two very different men, one a priest, the other a scientist and researcher, become friends.

Dull people often wondered how it came about that Father Murchison and Professor Guildea were intimate friends.  The one was all faith, the other all scepticism.

These two discover an instant intimacy that surprises them both.  They share dinners and long philosophical discussions about human behavior, faith and rationalism.  Then, one cool  evening, everything changes for Professor Guildea and Father Murchison is forced to witness an unexplainable decline.

Father Murchison suddenly remembered the first evening he had spent with Guildea, and the latter’s expression of disgust, at the idea of receiving warm affection from anyone.  In the light of the long-ago conversation, the present event seemed supremely strange, and almost like a punishment for an offence committed by the Professor against humanity.  But, looking up at his friend’s twitching face, the Father resolved not to be caught in the net of his hideous belief.

Is Guildea going mad?  Is his house haunted?  If so, it is a very unusual kind of ghost.  Hichens’s writing is dense and descriptive, the dialogue between these two men is perfect in tone.  They hold each other at a distance but admire and like each other.  This makes the ending to this story even more disturbing.  Sayers spoke of the “delirious nausea” it provoked in her.  I  agree with that sentiment, the story is chilling.  After learning a bit about Hichens’  friendships with Wilde and Maugham, I find the story of this relationship even more intriguing.

937f297b51727f5593657455141434d414f4541How Love Came to Professor Guildea comes from a fabulous anthology called Black Water: The Book of Fantastic Literature, edited by Alberto Manguel and published by Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. in 1983.  I cribbed the bits about Hichens from Manguel’s short biography of the author.

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Filed under R.I.P. IV, Stories

The Houses of The Russians – Robert Aickman

rip4short

I discovered Robert Aickman quite by accident.  Years ago, while wandering through a used bookstore in Long Beach, California, I picked up a paperback called “The Wine Dark Sea” and opened it to the first pages.  Twenty minutes later I found myself in a comfy, rather tattered, leather chair deep in the recesses of the store, having no idea how I’d gotten there. 

devilsThe Houses of the Russians is from a collection of “strange stories” called Painted Devils, first published in 1964.  A group of English fishery scientists, students and economists are at a conference in the country.  Sitting in a local pub one evening they watch as their oldest colleague barely escapes being run over while crossing the busy road that runs through the village.  One of the fishery experts offer to buy the shaken old man a drink.  This begins a tale that takes place many years before in a small town in Finland and “a visible symbol of invisible grace”.

As a young man our storyteller had traveled to Finland with his employer.  Their job,  to find a house for an busy industrialist.  Wondering through the villiage of Unilinna the young man discovers a footbridge to an island.  The island is wooded and he can see several large houses, seemingly abandoned.  He crosses the bridge, walks up a path and comes to a building.

     Normally, I should have supposed the house to be empty, but it was not so.  There was a fence around the garden, a heavy wooden paling, something with the weight and solidity of the wooden railing across the footbridge.  Even so, there were gaps in it, and there was also a gate, which was lower than the rest of the fence.  I had been creeping along the fence looking through the gaps, but it was across the top of the gate that I saw a woman sitting among the tall grass and in all that mist.  She was not a young girl, but she had very fair hair, tied up at the back of the head.  She wore a loose brown dress and she was doing something with a machine of some kind, not spinning but possibly weaving, or possibly something quite different.

I find Aickman’s stories very subtle.  He was a master of description.  His use of commonplace settings, everyday events and ordinary interactions builds an atmosphere that is unexpected and utterly eerie.  The man wrote nightmares. There are scenes from some of his stories that are stuck in my head, even after twenty years.  Maybe not a good thing but, to me, quite marvelous.  If you are curious several collections of his stories have been reissued by Faber and Faber.  You can find them on the internet.

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Filed under R.I.P. IV, Short Stories

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

8d781baDEA114d286f59394f4b5251434d414f4541Mistress of the Art of Death

by Ariana Franklin

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 2007

What a great way to start my first R.I.P. challenge!  This is a great book, intriguing, well-written and fun.

Mistress of the Art of Death is an historical mystery novel, a genre I’m not very familiar with, but one I plan to explore.

Ariana Franklin is the pen name of  author Diana Norman, a retired British journalist who has written several biographies and historical novels.

In twelfth century Cambridge children are disappearing and being brutally murdered.  The Catholic townspeople are blaming the  Jews.  To save them from the raging mob the Jews are put under the king’s protection. King Henry II values them for their taxes and decides to intervene.  He sends to Sicily, to his cousin King  William, and asks that he send him a “master in the art of death”.

At that time the University of Salerno was training doctors who practised the most modern forms of medicine, including the new science of  forensics.  William sends an investigator, Simon of Naples and a student “expert in the morbid processes” but also a a speaker of several languages.  It just happens that this student is a women,  Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortses Aquilar.

The England of the twelfth century is backwards and steeped in superstition.  Adelia must struggle against religious prejudice, belief based on ignorance  and the debasement of women.  She must discover a  horrific murderer who is laying blame on the Jews and will likely kill again.  When asked to attend vespers and pray for the dead children her response is:

I’m not here to pray for them..I have come to speak for them.

Franklin’s characters are well drawn, their interactions believable and the historical tidbits are fascinating. It is a shame King Henry II is remembered only for the assassination of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and not for his system of Common Law.

I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery and plan to read the others in the series, The Serpent’s Tale and Grave Goods.

If you have any suggestions for other historical mysteries you think I would enjoy please leave a comment!

Other reviews:

BooksPlease

bookshelves of doom

Dear Author

Lesa’s Book Critiques

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Filed under Challenges, R.I.P. IV

R.I.P IV – September 1, 2009 to October 31, 2009

rip4300 Thank you Carl V at Stainless Steel Droppings!  I’ve been waiting with bated breath for this challenge,  reading about other people’s anticipation of the event and thinking about what I want to read.

Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, Supernatural…It’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IV!

My book pool:

Turn of the Screw – Henry James

The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

Mistress of the Art of Death – Ariana Franklin

We Have Always Lived in  a Castle – Shirley Jackson

The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova

Wait Until Twilight – Sang Pak

There are many other books that I could add to this list.

Stories by:

Robert Aickman

and from the Dark Water anthologies

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