Jul. 30th, 2006

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minette walters -- disordered minds

howard stamp was convicted of brutally murdering his grandmother more than 30 years ago, and committed suicide in prison.  councillor george gardener who lives in howard's old neighbourhood, believes that the somewhat retarded howard was railroaded, and wants to clear his name. jonathan hughes is an anthropologist who has included stamp in his book about miscarriages of justice, and whose agent thinks there's money to be made from a book concentrating on howard's case.  despite a rocky start to their relationship gardener and hughes end up working together to find the true killer.

while i can't say i ever feel good after finishing one of minette walters'  psychological crime novels, they always make me think.  which is pretty extraordinary for a crime novel.  walters mines some of the darkest reaches of the human psyche, but her characters don't seem particularly bizarre; in fact they usually seem perfectly ordinary to me.

the plotting is, as usual -- or even more so than usual -- extremely well done.  the reader is actually told a lot, and knows a lot more than any individual character, but never too much, and as so often, i really enjoyed trying to work out what happened for myself.  the style is new; there are book excerpts, police reports, newspaper articles, emails, and flashbacks interspersed with the narrative.  the psychology of the investigating characters is given a prime place -- and here's where i am having issues.  while i don't mind the idea, the approach seemed heavy-handed, and then it transpires that jonathon's neuroses are almost magically healed by extended exposure to the spunky miracle that is george ... umm, no thanks.  also, minette walters is probably famous enough for her editors to hold back now -- please don't.  this book needed a lot more cutting and polishing than it got.

still.  i'd read it again.
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stephen greenleaf -- book case

a john marshall tanner mystery (he's a san francisco private detective).  a manuscript has been left with the publisher of a small press, which said publisher thinks will be a bestseller, destined to save his bankrupt business.  unfortunately, nobody knows who the author is.  JMT gets hired on to find out, and quickly comes to thinking that the manuscript is a roman à clef, that the events described really happened at a prestigious SF school, and that the author was wrongly accused.  so quickly that he sorta lost me there, but hey.

it was a decent read, with the requisite twistiness to absorb me for a night.  JMT is a wee bit much of a self-congratulatory smug liberal, but i'd probably rather hang out with him than with the literati at the small press publication party with which the book opens -- never having been to one, greenleaf describes it in a manner that makes me never want to go to one either.  :)

lisa appignanesi -- paris requiem

paris, 1899, la belle époque, is the setting for this novel that juggles murder, racial prejudice, dysfunctional families, medical research.  james norton, a boston lawyer comes to paris to convince his ex-pat reporter brother rafael and ailing sister ellie to return home to their mother.  the day he arrives his brother's fiancée olympe, a jewish actress, is found drowned.  was it murder or suicide?  rafael seems obsessed with finding out.  ellie behaves cryptically.  instead of packing up the siblings and returning home, james gets sucked into the maelstrom of paris's seedy underbelly.

sounds promising, no?  the milieu is brought to life well, including the entire style of the book.  alas, it didn't hold together well for me.  i never cared about any of the main characters; worse, i took a dislike to them.  i actively disliked ellie pretty much from the start, a passive-aggressive woman who trades on her illness, rafael remains flat and shallow, hurrying about without communicating what's going on in his mind, and james is a mostly ineffectual goody-two-shoe whom chief inspector durand should have tossed in jail when it became first obvious that he was interfering with the investigation.  we don't really find out enough about olympe for me to care, though what we do find out made me want to know more.  frustrating.  the only character i found really interesting is marguerite de landois, a wealthy comtesse who befriended olympe, and who takes james under her wing.

the great depiction of the milieu might makes this worth reading despite its flaws (and of course not everyone will dislike the characters as i did).  i came out of it adding a couple of non-fiction books on the period, and specifically on the dreyfus affair to my reading list.
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since my memory is getting worse, and i really want to write at least nano reviews of the books i read, i've decided to make another list (i already have a huge one with books i want to acquire if i come across them used).  this list will feature the books i've read this year.  it'll take some effort to retroactively determine that, so i am gonna start with the ones i can easily remember because they're still piled up next to the futon.

newly added:
brian stableford -- architects of emortality -- 2006-07-30
lisa appignanesi -- paris requiem -- 2006-07-26 -- review
stephen greenleaf -- book case -- 2006-07-21 -- review
minette walters -- disordered minds -- 2006-07-19 -- review
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i just ranted about fundamentalists in the context of andrea yates elsewhere, but this NYT article cheered me a bit.

Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

"When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross."

America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state."

I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.

Mr. Boyd lambasted the “hypocrisy and pettiness” of Christians who focus on “sexual issues” like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show.

he only lost 1000 of his 5000 people strong congregation.  there is hope even among evangelical christians.

via [personal profile] joedecker.


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