Marie’s Reading: “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick deWitt

sisters brothersEli and Charlie Sisters are known throughout the Oregon Territory as deadly killers.  They’re on a job for a man known as the Commodore.  The brothers are to hunt down and kill a gold prospector in California.  The story follows their mission, and the side adventures they have along the way.

The novel is narrated by Eli, who does not share his brother’s love of drinking and killing.  Eli does, however, really love his brother.  As the story goes on and he starts to grow a conscience about this particular mission, Eli begins to think that this life might not be for him anymore.  But how can he make a break and not lose his brother?

One of my favorite aspects of how deWitt tells this Western is in his characterization of the brothers, Eli in particular.  It’s when Eli’s character and story arc really clicks that the novel drew me in the most.  These two are hired guns, but there’s enough backstory to tell you  that Eli and Charlie came from pretty troubled circumstances.   There’s also a curious spareness, almost a flatness, to Eli’s narration–as the story went on, I began to read it as an unwillingness on his part to do too much self-examination.  You get the sense he doesn’t like what he’s become, doesn’t like his temper or his circumstances, but he doesn’t see a suitable way out.

Though it’s violent (sometimes intensely so), it’s also darkly funny, and the tone is never terribly intense.  There’s a wonderful sense of place, too–the West Coast in the early 1850’s comes through as an area full of danger, freedom, and promise.  The story is very fast-paced and compelling, and, as I said, Eli is a fascinating and complex narrator.

If you like Westerns with great characters, some moral quandaries, a nice setting, and plenty of shoot-outs, give this one a try!

–Marie

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Marie’s Reading: “Don’t You Cry” by Mary Kubica

don't you cryDon’t You Cry by Mary Kubica is everything I want in a thriller.

I love thrillers.  I love the suspense, the just-this-side-of-credible motivations and reveals, the mystery element, the cliffhangers, the insanity, the secrets.

(Reading over that list just now I realize I’m also describing why I love Gothic fiction, too–just throw in some heavy atmosphere and deep sense of the uncanny to the above, and you’ve got Gothic!)

Anyway, Don’t You Cry is a great choice if you’re a fan of books like The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins or Her by Harriet Lane.  It’s got a fast pace, a great puzzle, and a really good reveal at the end.  It’s very cinematic, too–the writing is very scene- and plot-focused, almost like a crime show.  Actually, that describes the overall tone and feel of this novel pretty well: it’s like a TV drama.  There’s a very good dose of Crime Fiction in this particular book.

The story is told in two alternating voices.  There’s Quinn, who awakes one day to find that her reliable, kind roommate Esther has disappeared.  Quinn finds some mysterious letters among Esther’s possessions, and begins to try to unravel why Esther has gone missing.  The other story is told by Alex, a recent high school graduate who feels he’s wasting his young life in his small town taking care of his alcoholic father.  Then all of a sudden a mysterious young woman shows up in town, and Alex is immediately smitten.

For both Quinn and Alex events turn dark and sinister very quickly.  Only at the end do we see the connection between these storylines.  All the way through, though, there are themes that tie everything together beyond just the plot–Kubica puts a lot of emotional focus on the relationships between parents and children, and the theme of abandonment.   There’s a nice emotional buildup right alongside the intensifying plot buildup, which makes the ending more satisfying.

If you’re after a fast, compelling, and twisty thriller, give this one a try.

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “In the Woods” by Tana French

In the WoodsActually, I just read that one first.  I couldn’t stop there.   As soon as I was done I needed more Dublin Murder Squad.  So now I’m reading The Likeness.  And then I’ll move on down the line until I’ve read them all!

I’m just sorry I hadn’t read these when I wrote that post about Crime Fiction for the Maine Crime Writers.  In The Woods would most definitely have been on my suggestion list.  The first in the series, it’s about a team of detectives trying to solve the murder of a young girl, even as one of the detectives tries to simultaneously solve a mystery from his own past.

Tana French’s police procedurals are compelling, atmospheric, and stylistically complex.  They’re moody pieces of crime fiction, rather than mysteries–some mysteries never get solved in her books, loose ends are left dangling.  I’d also classify the Dublin Murder Squad books as psychological suspense.  French delivers that delicious blend of mystery and suspense and atmosphere that makes crime fiction the fabulous genre that it is.

I also love French’s unflinching and honest depiction of Ireland and the Irish, of the society and its tensions.  Her Ireland is not sentimental.  It’s an Ireland full of a sense of history (recent and not), and a sense of national identity.  She gives a lot of evocative attention to the beauty of the landscape and the weather, but also pays attention to the undercurrents of society, government, and community.

If you enjoy character-driven fiction with an absorbing sense of place, believable and unique character voices, and well-constructed mysteries, do give the Dublin Murder Squad a try.  You also might like French’s work if you enjoy Kate Atkinson, S.J. Bolton, or Gillian Flynn.  While every Dublin Murder Squad novel features a different narrator and a new situation, the world is steadily built and characters grow as the books go on.  So do start with In The Woods and then go on from there.

When I’m done, though.  Don’t sneak the later ones out from under me. I’m warning you. I’m the librarian.  I’ll know.

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins

Girl-on-the-TrainWithin the first few pages of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, we learn that our primary narrator regularly gets drunk on the train and has made up names and life stories for a couple whose house she watches out the window at a regular stop.

Yes, I thought to myself.  Totally off her nut.  This is going to be a great story!  Yes!

I wasn’t wrong.

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Marie’s Reading: “The Uninvited” by Liz Jensen

uninvitedI talked about Liz Jensen and her fantastic ability to create unique and original character voices in my post about her bawdy romp My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time.   She certainly delivers another great narrator and another great set-up in The Uninvited.

Here’s the story: Hesketh Lock, an anthropologist who suffers from Aspberger’s syndrome, works for a firm called Phipps and Wexman.  His primary duty is to do PR troubleshooting–when something goes wrong at your firm, Hesketh comes in to identify what went wrong and to make sure nothing like it happens again.  At the start of the book, he’s investigating a case of corporate sabotage in Taiwan.

At the same time, there have been several murders committed by children.  It is always the children attacking their parents and grandparents, always in something like a fugue state.  Eventually, the problem becomes almost apocalyptic–to the point where children everywhere seem to have been somehow possessed.  Even Hesketh’s own stepson succumbs to this bizarre behavior.

Hesketh’s talent is in solving puzzles and connecting dots.  Over the course of the story he discovers the link between the corporate sabotage and the murderous children, and then has to deal with the consequences.

I don’t want to give too much more away than that about the plotline.  Part of the interest of this novel is trying to figure out the connections and then to uncover the implications.  This really is not an altogether straightforward narrative, and that’s a good thing.

This is a dystopian novel with a twist.  The apocalypse has happened, but it’s not the one we think or the one we expect.  The kids are there to give a warning to the grown-ups, and it’s ignored at our own peril.  It’s sort of an inverse apocalypse story, an original take which is really refreshing in this our apparent golden age of new-wave sci-fi dystopia novels (Hunger Games, etc.).  The Uninvited feels more old-school, a lot more like A Canticle for Leibowitz or Earth Abides.

In all, I found this to be compelling, creepy, atmospheric, and very nicely plotted.  I enjoyed the emotional distance Hesketh offers as a narrator.  I also loved the rather open ending.  As a dystopian novel it hits all the marks, including raising philosophical and moral questions about the future of humanity.

If you enjoy dystopian fiction and are after something that feels pretty new and fresh, definitely give this a try.

–Marie