Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wouldn't A Restraining Order Have Been Easier?

Six Years
Harlan Coben
Dutton Adult 
Available Now

Reviewed By Kemper
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Jake Sanders thought he’d met the love of his life in Natalie, but she dumped him abruptly to marry her old boyfriend, Todd.  At the wedding, Natalie made Jake promise that he’d never try to contact her again.  Six years passed as Jake taught political science at a small New England college, but he never got over Natalie.   When he comes across Todd’s obituary, Jake thinks that his promise no longer applies so he heads to the funeral to bang the widow pay his respects.

However, Jake gets a big surprise.  The widow at the service is not Natalie, and Todd had been married to this woman for years before the wedding that Jake witnessed.  Adding to the weirdness, it turns out that Todd was murdered, and it’s as if Natalie never existed.  Jake starts digging into the past to find Natalie and uncovers a lot of very dangerous secrets. 

Here we’ve got a high concept thriller by a very capable genre writer, and it works well in that context.  I particularly enjoyed the early part of the book when a confused Jake can’t even find someone who admits remembering Natalie or confirm a single fact about her.  That gave the whole thing a slightly creepy feel.  

However, there were a couple of factors that weighed the whole thing down.  As a college professor who was a bar bouncer in his youth, Jake makes a pretty good amateur sleuth character in that he’s smart and can hold his own in a fist fight while still seeming over his head.  The problem is that the whole plot hinges on this idea that even though Jake has pined for Natalie since he lost her, he was able keep his promise to the point where he never even tried to do a Google search or look her up on Facebook once in six years.  Yet when he’s trying to track her down and he gets several valid warnings that he could do her harm by looking, he keeps going.  There’s some internal character conflict there that Coben does try to have Jake rationalize, but I never really buy it.  Also, there’s just too much suspension of disbelief required at a couple of points.   None of this was enough to make me dislike the book, but it did cut down on my enjoyment of it.

It’s a competent thriller with a nice hook to it, but frankly, I had a good idea of the explanation for what happened to Natalie fairly early in the book.  I would have liked a few more surprises along the way and some more consistent behavior from the main character who claims to be doing it all for love.

Also posted at Goodreads.

Hard to Read But Too Important Not To


Random House
$27.00 hardcover, available now

Reviewed by Richard, four horrfied, repulsed, politically appalled stars of five

The Book Report: I'll keep this short. Boo set out to tell the story of the cost that average Indians are paying for the rapid rise through the capitalist ranks that their country has embarked on. She chose as her lens the small tragedy (in the cosmic scheme of things) of a death and subsequent court case surrounding the death in Mumbai's slum called Annawadi.

Really and truly, this is all one needs to know; names, places, details aren't going to make this any easier to pre-process. One is best advised to enter into this book with little information about the events chronicled. It simply cannot be fathomed by those of us with thirty dollars to spend on a book, with access to a free public library, with an education sufficient to read the text, with lives so easy that we possess time to pass, as opposed to needs to meet, what this story will reveal. I will not steal Boo's thunder with a fuller report.

My Review: I hate this woman's writing. It feels so chilly and so removed from the subject that I can't believe how much praise this aspect of the text has received. It's the kind of gawdawful New Journalism crapola...get in the middle of the story, get all the juice and dirt, and then spew it back at a faux-objective remove...that I associate with Norman Mailer's terrible Executioner's Song, of unlamented memory.

The story is this generation's 12 Million Black Voices. It deserves so much more than it got from its author. It is, quite simply, necessary reading for free marketeers and libertarians and their misguided, often foolishly optimistic, ilk.

THIS IS WHAT REALLY HAPPENS IN YOUR TERRIBLE, UNFORGIVING, “COMMUNITY STANDARDS” WORLD. Read it. Recognize yourselves in the unseen overclass. Your tax-o-phobic refusal to recognize your duty to your fellow human beings leads directly to this world, its injustices and cruelties, its inhumane and indifferent treatment of the innocent-of-any-crime hoi polloi.

If you don't feel deep and humiliating PERSONAL shame after reading Boo's awful story, I fear you are a sociopath.

Italian Procedural Series Awesomeness

Bitter Lemon Press
$13.95, Available now

Reviewed by Richard, 4.9* of five

The Book Report: Avvocato Guido Guerrieri, lawyer of Bari on Italy's southeastern coast, is fast approaching forty, newly separated from his wife of ten lost, bored years, and in the grips of the worst constellation of anxiety symptoms since Mr. Monk on the TV.He's moved into an apartment that he couldn't describe if you held a gun to his head, and he's absolutely unable to muster even a fake interest in his clients' problems. He sits, smiles, nods, files paperwork by rote, and in short lives on autopilot.

And then in walks a woman with a case. No money, but a case.

Non-European citizen Abajaje, Egyptian by birth, wants Guido to defend boyfriend? fellow sufferer from race bias?...Abdou, a Senegalese immigrant and fake handbag selling beach vendor, against charges that he, a multilingual schoolteacher in Africa, with a love for children, did willfully restrain and cause harm to a child. The police are sure he did it; the few witnesses are sure it was him they saw acting strangely and cruising around the beach at the relevant time; what's the big deal here, anyway, he's just a black dude who talked to the kid, must be him who killed little Ciccio.

Except he was in Naples at the time. Guerrieri, in spite of himself, is intrigued by what the case doesn't have, proof, and what it does have, the defendant's improbable, unprovable, but true, alibi. Is truth capable of beating out prejudice in an Italian justice system not known for its love of Veracity, but more for her sister Verisimilitude?


My Review: For 137pp, Carofiglio sets the stage with Guerrieri's craziness, his lackadaisical work habits, his depressed past and anxious present. It's all very nicely written, eg:

"You are intelligent, Avvocato. I have always thought of myself as more intelligent than other people. This is not a lucky thing, but it is hard to understand that.If you think yourself more intelligent than others, you fail to understand a lot of things, until they are suddenly brought home to you. And then it's too late." (p112, paper edition)

Thus Abdou the Non-European citizen to his lawyer in the prison's meeting room. I was regularly able to pause and appreciate the euphony and the accuracy of Carofiglio's writing. It shines through the book that he was a judge, in fact one of the judges who very bravely brought in guilty verdicts against Mafia defendants in the 90s trials that revolutiionized Italy's southern social structure.

So it's no surprise to anyone that, in the last ~130pp, Carofiglio delivers the best, most complete, court trial I've read between book covers. It's a gem. It's pitch-perfect, and it's so nicely built that I hate to reveal it in detail. It's different than the standard American courtroom drama, because it's about the words, not the deeds, of the players. It's like listening to a fine old radio drama after watching an episode of "Starsky and Hutch" on AntennaTV.

It's a pleasure. I'm delighted to have found Sig. Carofiglio and Avv. Guerrieri at last.