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Monday, April 25, 2011

The Devotion of Suspect X

The Devotion of Suspect X
Keigo Higashino
Minotaur, 2011

Yasuko Hanaoka thought she had escaped her abusive ex-husband Togashi. When he shows up one day, the situation quickly escalates and Togashi ends up dead. Yasuko's next-door-neighbor Ishigami offers his help, not only disposing of the body, but plotting the cover-up as well.

This psychological mystery is fascinating in its character development. The action is slow to build, but the interesting cultural tidbits about life in contemporary Japan should help interest the reader while the plot moseys along for the first half of the book. Ishigami, the next door mathematician, is at first a secondary character, but his cleverness and obsession is slowly revealed until the reader is hooked into his complex and compelling reasons for helping a near stranger escape her just punishment for committing such a violent crime.

Even though the “mystery” here is not such a mystery (we know who the killer is), the true suspense is following the detective as he slowly unravels Ishigami’s many-layered cover-up to a totally unexpected ending. In fact, I would like to read it again in order to see if the clues to his ultimate plan are strategically placed throughout the story. Other more experienced mystery readers may see what’s coming, but I sure was fooled. The author’s gift is the skill in which he unveils Ishigami’s plan bit by bit, so that the reader discovers each element of his scheme as the detective does. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.


Higashino is a best-selling crime novelist in Japan. The Mesa Public Library does not own any other translated books by this author.

Other titles you may enjoy:

Out by Natsuo Kirino (2003) After strangling her husband, Masako Katori, a middle-aged wife and mother working the night shift at a Tokyo factory, enlists the aid of four co-workers to conceal the crime.

Inspector Imanishi Investigates by Seicho Matsumoto (1989)
Inspector Imanishi Eitaro is assigned to investigate the murder of an unidentified man at a train station outside Tokyo. Imanishi travels throughout Japan, sifting and weighing evidence and encountering plenty of clues before he can identify a suspect.

Rei Shimura Mystery Series by Sujata Massey
First Book: The Salaryman’s Wife (1999)
During a sightseeing trip, Rei Shimura, a young Japanese-American English teacher living in Tokyo, stumbles upon the body of the wife of a powerful businessman and turns sleuth to solve the crime, crashing a funeral, masquerading as a bar girl, and pursued by police in her search for clues.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Skippy Dies

Skippy Dies
Paul Murray
Faber and Faber, 2010

We first meet Skippy, a 14-year-old boy at Dublin's venerable Seabrook College, when he dies in the very first chapter. Why Skippy ends up dead on the floor of the local doughnut shop and what happens next unravels a mystery that links the boys of Seabrook College to their parents and teachers in ways nobody could have imagined. With a cast of characters that ranges from hip-hop-loving fourteen-year-old Eoin, MCS executioner, Flynn to basketball playing midget Philip Kilfether, readers will love to eavesdrop on teenage boy conversations and dramas. Packed with questions and answers on everything from Ritalin, to M-theory, to bungee jumping, to the hidden meaning of the poetry of Robert Frost, Skippy Dies is a touching portrait of the pain, joy, and anxiety that adolescence brings.

This is a long, intricately plotted and carefully planned novel that is thoroughly enjoyable and memorable. Readers will identify with teen and adult protagonists in this story: Skippy who is struggling to cope with his mother’s illness; Ruprecht who is a near genius who has his reasons for his string theory obsession; Carl, a psychopath who is in love with the same girl that Skippy is; and Howard, the history teacher who is a former student of the same school. Each character is fleshed out so well that I could imagine his or her life after this glimpse into their world, a world where adults are as confused as the kids are but somehow they try to help each other the best they can.

Warning: make sure you have a block of time to devote to this book; you won’t want to put it down!


Other books by this author:
An Evening of Long Goodbyes (2004)

Other titles you may enjoy:

The Children’s Room by A.S. Byatt (2009)
A tale spanning the end of the Victorian era through World War I finds famous children's book author Olive Wellwood taking in a runaway and exposing the boy to dark truths about her family's summer bacchanals at their rambling country house.

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris (2006)
As the new term gets under way at the elite St. Oswald's Grammar School for Boys, a number of increasingly devastating incidents occurs, leaving the unraveling school in the hands of the only person who can save it, Roy Straitley

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon (2004)
An eighty-nine-year-old former detective in rural England becomes involved with a young refugee from Nazi Germany whose sole companion, an African grey parrot, spews out a series of numbers that could hold the key to a dangerous secret.

Monday, April 11, 2011



Jonathon Franzen

FSG, 2010

The idyllic lives of civic-minded environmentalists Patty and Walter Berglund come into question when their son moves in with aggressive Republican neighbors, green lawyer Walter takes a job in the coal industry, and go-getter Patty becomes increasingly unstable and enraged.

Please forgive me if I hesitate over reviewing this novel. At over 550 pages it is a hefty tome to briefly explain if not to read. Yet, read it I did, in one feverish week. No, I wasn’t ill; I just needed to know what happened to these people and I can’t even explain why. The characters weren’t especially likeable. In fact, many of them were extremely unlikeable and even disagreeable. They weren’t especially sympathetic, either, since most of their problems stemmed from their own bad decisions. I think the reason I became “one” with this book for several days is the momentum the author created that pulls the reader in and locks her into place until she finishes the book.

The story is really many stories, all intricately plotted and carefully revealed bit by bit. The point of view changes between characters, some central to the story and some peripherally related, but each of which gives just a bit, just a hint, of the whole, sentence by enticing sentence. As a reader, I had an idea of what was going to happen, but I wasn’t quite sure until I actually experienced the next turn of events, and then I had the nerve to actually be surprised by it. I thought I knew the characters so well, you see. And yet, I had to keep reading to see if the other things I was pretty sure would happen actually did or not. And in that sense, this book kept me compulsively reading until the very end, when I snapped it shut with a satisfied sigh and promptly forgot all about it.

So, Miss Compulsive Reader, did you like the book? Yes and no. Yes, because I loved Franzen’s writing style, which is conversational and intimate and witty. As soon as I opened the book and started the first sentence, I just knew I would thoroughly enjoy whatever this book would bring because of the warm and engaging style it had. But I have to say the things I did not enjoy were the characters. I cannot even name one character that was not flawed in some monumental and disturbing way. I also think the many plot lines became too much for the characters to handle, and they got lost in their own world of things happening to them instead of them making things happen themselves. In other words, this book was enjoyable reading but completely forgettable.


Other novels by this author:

Strong Motion, 1992

The Corrections, 2001

Other titles you may enjoy:

Spooner by Pete Dexter (2009)

Losing his father shortly after birth, Warren Spooner endures a troubled childhood and even more troubled young adulthood that is marked by his dishonorably discharged stepfather, whose inexhaustible patience is tested by the difficult Warren.

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates (1996)

Judd Mulvaney, now age 30, and the youngest of the four Mulvaney children, looks back through his memories to tell the secrets that eventually ripped apart the fabric of his storybook family.

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich (2010)

After she discovers that her husband has been reading her diary, Irene America turns it into a manipulative farce, while secretly keeping a second diary that includes her true thoughts about her shaky marriage, its affect on her children, and her struggles with alcohol.

Friday, April 1, 2011

West of Here

West of Here

Jonathon Evison

Algonquin Books, 2011

Alternate stories set in a fictional town on Washington State's Pacific coast contrasts the goals of the pioneers who settled there in 1890 with the very different problems of the town's present-day inhabitants. Action jumps between the 1890s, when explorers, businesspeople, American Indians, and other characters were attempting to put the fictional town of Port Bonita, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, “on the map,” and 2006, when the current inhabitants are in the process of dismantling the dam that their ancestors built. You will need to make a list in order to keep the cast of characters straight – both in the historical chapters and the modern day ones – because they will make your head swirl. In fact, some may say the characters are too overwhelming, the plot lines too varied, and the switching back and forth too confusing to be enjoyable. I think, however, that the author does a good job keeping things straight. My problem is that I didn’t much care for any of the characters nor their fates, so I had a hard time slogging through this massive tome.

I’m not sure I can advise others to read this book or not. The best I can do is warn you of its size, ridiculous number of characters, and the slow and plodding nature of the writing. You will not thrill at the action and adventure of this novel, but you may appreciate the beautiful descriptions of the Pacific Northwest wilderness and the strong sense of place that the author evokes.


Other books by this author:

All About Lulu (2008)

Other books you may enjoy:

The Other by David Guterson (2008)

When two boys--John William Barry and Neil Countryman-- meet in 1972 at age sixteen, they're brought together by what they have in common: a fierce intensity and a love of the outdoors that takes them, together and often, into Washington's remote backcountry, where they must rely on their wits--and each other--to survive. Soon after graduating from college, Neil sets out on a path that will lead him toward a life as a devoted schoolteacher and family man. But John makes a radically different choice, dropping out of college and moving deep into the woods, convinced that it is the only way to live without hypocrisy. When John enlists Neil to help him disappear completely, Neil finds himself drawn into a web of secrets and often agonizing responsibility, deceit, and tragedy--one that will finally break open with a wholly unexpected, life-altering revelation.

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch (2005)

Miles O'Malley, a boy with a fascination for the sea, copes with the trials of growing up, his infatuation with the girl next door, bickering parents, and his fear that his life and his beloved Puget Sound are slipping away.

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig (2006)

Hired as a housekeeper to work on the early 1900s Montana homestead of widower Oliver Milliron, the irreverent Rose and her brother, Morris, endeavor to educate the widower's sons while witnessing local efforts on a massive irrigation project.