After being beaten nearly to death in a robbery, Toby heads to Ivy House, the old family manse, where his uncle Hugo is dying of brain cancer. Toby’s always considered himself a very fortunate guy, until the attack and his less than full recovery afterward. While he’s trying to heal at Ivy House as well as care for his uncle, a human skull is found in an elm tree on the property.
Of course a whole skeleton follows, which brings the detectives calling. Whose body is it? How did it get there? Toby, caring for Hugo and not having the greatest memory after the attack, tries to answer these questions as best he can–both for himself and for the detective who seems to have Toby on the list of suspects.
French’s writing is lavishly detailed and so finely wrought you want to savor every sentence. The story is atmospheric and compelling, and the characters are all well-developed and authentic. There’s still an element of crime fiction in this stand-alone, but it takes a backseat to a story of identity and family. It’s also fun to see the other side of the usual stories French writes, which focus on the detectives of the Dublin Murder Squad and their investigations. Here we’re with Toby the whole time as he tries to piece together his recollections and make sense of the present.
I really enjoyed the relationship between Toby and his cousins, Leon and Susanna. They grew up together, almost like siblings, and their bond is clear, in all its complexity and history. A lot of their relationship relies on memory now, and memory is a big theme in the novel–how people experience and thus remember things very differently, including relationships.
If you enjoyed French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, definitely check this one out–it’s not a crime novel, as I said, so you might miss that, but everything else great about French’s work is on display here. Fans of Gillian Flynn and Kate Atkinson who haven’t tried French yet certainly should as well.
I took October off for reading scary stuff for Horror Month and re-reading The Shining and IT and The War of the Worlds. But I did manage to pick a few off the TBR list here and there!
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. I really liked The Owl Killers, so I wanted to come back to this one–I remember beginning it almost ten years ago and then never getting beyond the first chapter. This is a loose retelling of The Canterbury Tales, set against the backdrop of the Black Plague in 1348. I really enjoyed it! The characters, each with a secret, are very distinct and well-drawn, and the atmosphere is great.
The Thing About December by Donal Ryan. I went through a contemporary Irish fiction phase a few years ago, and added this one to my list. I enjoyed it very much! Johnsey, lives in rural Ireland, and he inherits the family farm after his parents’ deaths. He’s a man who doesn’t quite fit in, and this makes for a melancholy read–it’s lyrical, though, with passages of beautiful writing and imagery.
Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart. Why the shift to third-person narration in this third book? One of the things I enjoyed best about the first two was being inside Constance’s head. I really missed that in this novel. I also missed the mystery element. But the story itself was fun, and ripped from the mid-1910’s headlines, with young women getting hauled into court on charges of “waywardness.” As ever, funny and fun, with a nice pace and great characters.
I’ve managed to cross a few more off my list by beginning them and realizing that I’m no longer interested. I’m in a bit of a fiction slump, but I’ve got some good nonfiction going: In the Great Green Room, a biography of Margaret Wise Brown, and Friends Divided, a new book about the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
Surprise! The Smekday Meme has come around again!
This time around I have nobody to blame but myself. Maybe it’s spring fever, maybe it’s boredom, maybe it’s the reading challenge, I don’t know. But I’m having one tough time sticking with a book lately.
Here is the state of my Current Reading pile, as ever in descending order of where the bookmark is:
The Boilerplate Rhino: Nature in the Eye of the Beholder by David Quammen
The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill
The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Disclaimer by Renee Knight
David McCullough’s John Adams gets an honorable mention, from where it’s sitting bookmark-less and forlorn and about-to-be-read-sometime-soon on the bookshelf. Judging me.
So who’s getting benched for the rest of this reading season? I’m afraid it’s the immensely promising The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley by Jeremy Massey.
I got two chapters in, and enjoyed what I read. The set-up is great: A widower who works at a funeral home accidentally kills a notorious mobster in a hit-and-run…and then has to oversee the funeral arrangements. The voice is wonderful, and I’m really into Irish fiction lately.
But alas, it stayed too long on the bedside table. Time to set it free.
Stay tuned, we’ll see how well I do with the rest of this current reading. We’ll measure success rate by comparing the number of Smekdays to the number of actual reviews I post in the coming weeks.
Actually, 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.
I was shelf-reading yesterday afternoon in the adult fiction section and this title caught my eye: The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke. Shelfari says I read it in August 2013. Wow. As soon as I saw it I thought, Oh yeah! That book!
And then I said to myself, “Self, you big stupid, you spent an hour and a half writing that blog post about Oculus and you didn’t mention this novel! How could you do that? It’s so obviously the perfect book companion to that movie! You loved it and it didn’t even occur to you to mention! You should feel bad about yourself.”
Shelf-reading makes me surly. Keep that in mind if you ever see me loose in the stacks.
Anyway! The Boy Who Could See Demons. It’s the story of a young boy named Alex who has his own personal demon, a creature named Ruen that only he can see. Ruen is trying to convince him to kill someone. Alex begins to harm himself and others during blackouts, always believing that Ruen is responsible. Enter Dr. Anya Molokova, a child psychiatrist whose own daughter suffered from severe schizophrenia.
It’s taut, gripping, suspenseful and moving, with a twist at the end that’s both surprising and sad. The storytelling is intricate, and there’s a lot of discussion of dealing with mental illness–either your own or that of someone you love. You never quite know what’s real in this story until the very end. It’s a great ride that’s a nice choice for readers who like a lot of suspense and dark fiction over straight-up Horror. And, of course, a nice read for people who enjoy twisty-turny movies like Oculus.