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OCTOBER 26, 2008
What the Dead Know ~ Laura Lippman
What the Dead Know keeps popping up on all kinds of lists and has won several awards including the 2008 Anthony Award for best novel and the 2008 Macavity for best mystery novel. With accolades like this I decided I needed to read it for myself. Those of you who know me, would figure this one is right up my alley. It's a cold case about two sisters, Heather and Sunny Bethany, who went missing on an outing to a shopping mall over 30 years ago. Gone without a trace, the question becomes, how could someone kidnap two girls without anyone seeing anything. Fast forward to present day. Baltimore, Maryland, slick road conditions, a hit and run accident. The woman driver skids out of control, hits another vehicle, doesn't stop and takes the next exit, abandoning her car. She is picked up by police, disoriented and disheveled. She initially refuses to say who she is but in order to stay out of jail for her part in the hit and run she claims to be one of the missing Bethany sisters and fingers a cop as the perpetrator of the crime.
Though the plot was entertaining and perhaps, even a bit predictable, the story itself was not the main appeal of this book. It was clearly the writing style that has made me a fan of Laura Lippman. She knows her subject and ranks right up there with the big boys. The dialog is gritty and she knows her way around words, her characters real the story is fast paced and could have been plucked from the headlines.I like the way the story unfolds, revealing things in layers. And, an added bonus, books are part of the character's lives. They read, they go to libraries for pleasure and research. Seems natural to me.
Lippman is the author of a series featuring Tess Monaghan and several standalone thrillers. One reviewer, though giving What the Dead Know, high marks, felt, Every Secret Thing is a better novel and more deserving of praise. Another to add to my TBR list.
Many years ago, our book group met to discuss Robert James Waller's best seller, The Bridges of Madison County. I loathed everything about that book and couldn't wait to share my views during our meeting. Nights in Rodanthe is the first book since then to arouse such a negative response from me. It is eerily similar to Waller's book in its unrealistic, predictable plot, bad prose, and one-dimensional characters: a middle-aged woman, unhappy and unfulfilled, has a chance meeting with a stranger, who is a cold, unemotional loner. In the space of a few days, they fall passionately in love and our hero is miraculously transformed into a caring, sensitive human being due to our heroine's influence. Although they never meet again, she keeps all of his letters and eventually shares details with one of her children. Hello...does anybody recognize the plot? Yup, straight from Bridges of Madison County!
**** ckubala Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was not quite what I expected. An international thriller by a new voice, a long awaited translation that had been a sensation in Europe led me to believe I was picking up one of those fast paced, quickly written stories. I never expected the depth of plot, well, actually several stories, layered quite neatly, one upon the other which finally came together with excellence. Yes, it's a thriller, but also a locked room mystery, a study in greed, corruption, the world of finance, violence against women and throws in a love story for good measure. It's long; I think it could have been cut down but in the end that didn't bother me. The setting is Sweden, but locale is not developed as well as I might have liked. Some reviewers thought the characters not well drawn and didn't care about them. For me, the characters are what captivated me and kept me reading to the very end.
Journalist Mikael Blomkvist, (Larsson did work for Tidningarnas Telegrambyra, the largest Swedish news agency) is arrested for libel of a businessman, Wennerstrom, having written a story about him that can't be proven. He is sentenced to gaol and though the sentence is short, his career as co-owner of the newspaper Millennium becomes a shambles. Enter, Henrik Vanger, an elderly, wealthy businessman seeking closure to the long ago disappearance of his niece, Harriet. Vanger is the patriarch of a well-known and large Swedish family Vanger proposes to hire Blomkvist to write his biography and to solve the mystery of Harriet's disappearance. He details that day in 1966 when most of the Vanger family was gathered for their annual dinner and board meeting on Hedeby Island. Off island there was a Children's Day Parade planned by the sports club of Hedestad. Harriet had gone to Hedestad to see the parade with some school friends, came back to Hedeby just after 2 in the afternoon. At 2:15 a farmer collided with an oil truck and caused a horrific explosion cutting off any means of anyone coming or going from the island. Moments before the crash, Harriet had told Henrik she needed to talk to him but he was busy and told her he'd catch up with her later. The accident happened, all heck broke loose, and that was the last time Vanger saw Harriet. With all the confusion of the bridge accident he didn't even realize she was missing until the next morning. There were many people on the island that day and Vanger spent the ensuing years trying to figure out which of them had killed Harriet, as he was certain she was murdered, probably for something she knew and had tried to tell him. No body was ever found; she could not have run away as the bridge was the only way out. The author describes this as a locked-room mystery in island format. Blomkvist is hesitant to take on this assignment but is lured by the payment offered, Wennerstrom 's head on a platter.
Larsson includes a family tree and thank heavens he does as it would be difficult to keep all the Vangers straight without it. There are a multitude of suspects and other great characters with varying roles to keep the story interesting and entertaining. One character, Lizbeth Salander, odd girl out is a fascinating study throughout the story. She plays a central part in her role as a sort of investigative assistant to Blomkvist. Fittingly her birthday is Walpurgis Night, an old pagan festival.
The Blomkvist character reads novels throughout the story, one of which is Val McDermid's Mermaids Singing. He pronounces it grisly. Be forewarned that Larsson also presents a grisly and violent tale.
For a first time effort I'd call this one first rate. Four star rather than five for some plot flaw
This was a very interesting book and not what I usually choose to read. It was refreshing to read of a woman who realizes that education will make a difference in her life. She wants something more and embraces the hard work that it will be to achieve her goals. It's kind of a cinderella story with the heroine being her own fairy godmother. Realistic in its portrayal of the difficulties in being from a hardworking but not privileged background and the differences there are between classes. I could have used less foul language and her choices of relationships left much to be desired (and why she doesn't decide to give up alcohol when one after another embarrassing events happen to her because of her imbibing, I'll never understand) but even in this area of her life she grows and changes. Ultimately it is a satisfying ending and that's really the most important part for me.
*****posted by bas bleu An extremely gripping debut novel, full of twists and turns, The Gargoyle takes the reader on an imaginative journey. The narrator, a handsome porn star, crashes his car and is grotesquely disfigured, with burns over most of his body. The only thing that brings him solace is imagining how he will kill himself to end his misery. Then a woman, a schizophrenic sculptress from the hospital's psych ward, starts visiting his room. She tells him that they have been lovers for 700 years, and she returns day after day, like Sheherazade, to tell him their story. This was a meticulously researched, intense novel with a compelling, albeit unlikable, protagonist, a complex narrative structure, and a beautiful and tragic backstory. Readers will be both drawn to and repelled by this novel, and it will remain in their minds long after the last page has been turned.