Meet Raylan Givens – Pronto

Elmore Leonard is simply one of the best crime writers around – sharp, funny, and a keen observer of the human condition. I don’t think he can write a bad book. But, in my opinion, Pronto is not one of his best. It is, however, notable for introducing Raylan Givens, a wonderful character that ended up starring in the TV series, Justified, and maybe that’s reason enough to read it.

Pronto is certainly entertaining but if you’ve never read anything by Elmore Leonard, start elsewhere, perhaps Get Shorty or Rum Punch.

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Ordinary Grace is an extraordinary novel

William Kent Krueger usually writes mysteries, the Cork O’Connor series, which is a treasure in itself. Although Ordinary Grace has more than one murder mystery at it’s core, it is more than a mystery story. The narrator is middle-aged man looking back at the summer he was thirteen. It was a season marked by deaths – accident, natural, suicide, murder – that tore apart a small town and the narrator’s family.

The level of suspense as the tragedies unfold kept me up reading into the small hours. I wanted to know who done it, but even more, I was rooting for Frank, the young protagonist, and hoping that he and his family could find resolution.

Ordinary Grace is also a meditation on life and death, good and evil, but it is never preachy and never ever boring. It was a NYT Bestseller last year and may well be a literary classic, but it is also a page-turning read. Highly recommended. I’m putting it on my permanent shelf, which is a very small space.

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Murder Most French

If James Bond had been born female and French, he might be as daring and charming as Aimée Leduc, the heroine of Cara Black’s mystery series set in various Paris neighborhoods. Aimée is a kickass private investigator who manages to be every bit as valiant as James ever was. What’s more, she does it without the gadgets and while wearing (very) high heels. Murder in the Marais kept me engaged with its tightly plotted suspense, colorful setting and likeable heroine. I read it at the beach, and it is a perfect beach book, but it’s also good enough to read anywhere. I’m not going to rehash the plot beyond saying that the villains deserved everything they got. You should read it for yourself. I’m off to Amazon to load another Aimée Leduc mystery on my Kindle.

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Voices from the Past

The recent flurry of concern about Harper Lee’s newly discovered prequel to/early version of To Kill a Mockingbird reminded me of a book I’d read and loved a few years ago. Elizabeth Spencer is better known for A Light in the Piazza, which was made into a movie and more recently a Broadway play. But her Voice at the Back Door is, in a very true sense, the book that came before To Kill A Mockingbird.

Published in 1956, Voice at the Back Door addresses the burdens of racial divisions in a Mississippi hill county. It is beautifully written with evocative descriptions and characters you care about. A review in The New Yorker called it a “practically perfect novel.”

Beyond that, this book is an example of authorial courage. Ms. Spencer, who lived in Mississippi, was reviled after the publication and moved to Italy. Eventually, she moved back to the US but never back home. The Voice at the Back Door is in my “permanent collection.” I lend it out and if it’s not returned, I buy another. If you haven’t read it, I hope you’ll find a copy soon.

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Smilla’s Sense of Snow – worth reading again and again

There are a few books – and movies – that reveal something new each time you read or see them. this is one of those.  Smilla Jasperson is a scientist who studies ice, an authority on Artic ice. As a heroine, she is a more realistic forerunner to Stieg Larsson’s Lisabeth Salander, a young woman with special skills determined to find justice despite resistance from the powerful. For Smilla, the cause is the death of a boy, a fellow Greenlander living in Denmark. They were friends, and she doesn’t believe his death was an accident.

As you’re reading Smilla’s Sense of Snow, you might wonder, why Peter Hoeg interrupts his suspenseful narrative to provide technical information about ice, its behavior and formation. When you get to the end, you will understand. To say more would reveal too much.

I read Smilla’s Sense of Snow when it first came out in the early nineties and remember thinking enough of it to pass the book on to a friend. Back then, I came to the book solely as a reader. This time around, I was looking for well-written thrillers because I’ve become a writer and wanted to try my hand at that genre. You learn by studying the masters, and this is masterfully written and realized. I’m not passing this copy on. Smilla’s Sense of Snow has a place in my permanent collection.

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Titanium by Linda Varner Palmer

Riley and Zander meet when he interrupts a possible mugging or something worse. Whoever was after her doesn’t give up. There is nail-biting suspense in this romance. Zander, the hero, is a veteran who served in Afghanistan, where he suffered physical and emotional wounds in a horrific attack. Riley, the heroine, is a college student, working at a lousy job to put herself through. She’s been raised by her aunt and uncle because her mother died and her father abandoned her. At least that’s what she thought, but that might not be the whole story. Her father wants back in her life. His re-entry brings trouble.

Linda Palmer weaves sweet romance, the terrible costs of war that don’t end when fighters leave the battlefield, and the dangers of celebrity into a well-written page turner. I received a review copy from the author and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Zander and Riley are appealing and realistic; you will want to get to know them better, and you will be rooting for them.

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A Delicate Truth by John LeCarré

Have you ever, perhaps while standing stocking-footed in an airport security line, thought that, at some level, the terrorists have won? Take that feeling to the power of ten and you approach the outrage that permeates A Delicate Truth. There is little of the ambiguity that shaded John LeCarré’s early works, no good people doing questionable things for good reasons. Now, those with power are corrupt or complicit; those that aren’t are befuddled and ill equipped to survive in the treacherous new world of out-sourced espionage.

Carré’s moral sense powers his writing, but in this instance, it overwhelms the plot, forcing convolutions that don’t quite make sense. One of the key characters, Giles, behaves in ways that are inconsistent to the point of confusion, and the late reveal about his personal life did not clarify it for me.

.John LeCarré is among my favorite writers. Although I did not find A Delicate Truth to be among his best books, I still think it is worth reading. However, if you haven’t read any of his other books, don’t start here.

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