Tana French: The Secret Place & Josephine Tey: Miss Pym Disposes

thesecretplaceBoth Tana French and Josephine Tey have books that are among my favorites as well as books I can’t slog my way through (confession: I can’t read Tey’s The Singing Sands).  I love Tana French’s Broken Harbor so much it’s one of my favorite contemporary mysteries; but there are other times when her books are a tad too long and a tad too over determined.  This is one of those times.

French’s prose skills are among the most beautiful of all contemporary mystery writers.  She catches an atmosphere, she has an ability to make you feel a place in your bones, like no other writer.  That’s no small skill, and in her new book the place she is out to capture is a Catholic girl’s school in Ireland.  French has always been interested in the otherworldly nature of the woods, or the forest, the ones that you might encounter in a fairy tale.  The woods in fairy tales may hold enchantment or danger; in this novel, the woods surround the school and supply both elements. read more

Louise Penny: The Long Way Home

The Long Way HomeSome writers write with their smarts on their sleeves (Jeffrey Deaver and Thomas Perry come to mind) and some with their hearts on their sleeves. Louise Penny belongs firmly in this second category, and in none of her novels has her heart been more front and center than in this one, a deeply moving examination of the relinquishment of power, love, and attachment as well as an examination of the painful but necessary process of change and growth.

It almost seemed at times as though Penny couldn’t stop the words from rushing over the page, and as a reader, I couldn’t stop myself from rushing to inhale them as fast as she was throwing them down. Gamache has retired and settled in Three Pines with Reine Marie, with frequent visits from his new son in law, Jean Guy Beauvoir. read more

Karen Dionne: The Killing: Uncommon Denominator

thekillingKaren Dionne joins us to launch what is not really an adaptation of the AMC show “The Killing,” but a prequel using the characters and setting familiar to any fan of the show. Reading the cover, it’s interesting to see the progression: “The Killing” began as a Danish show, “Forbrydelsen,” was developed by Veena Sud for U.S. television, and is now a novel by Karen Dionne.  At that point of removal I think the work becomes so far from the source that it’s now Dionne’s own.

For those of you not fans of the show, it’s a police show set in Seattle, featuring the uncompromising, workaholic, single mother Detective Sarah Linden; and the slightly less tightly wound Detective Steven Holder, back from working undercover.  Dionne goes backward in time from the show. read more

Mary Logue: Lake of Tears

Mary Logue has long been one of my favorite authors and after waiting an increasingly long time between installments, I’m more than eager to pick up one of these tightly written, exciting and emotionally resonant novels.  Unfortunately I inhale them far too quickly and am forced to settle in for another long wait for the next book.  Logue’s main character is deputy Claire Watkins, who works in tiny Fort St. Antoine, Wisconsin.  She lives with her husband, the laconic pheasant farmer Rick, and her now almost adult daughter, Meg. read more

Louise Penny: How the Light Gets In

Louise Penny has always possessed a “voice”, a recognizable prose style and way of telling a story, but as her career has progressed you can feel the originality and power of her voice increasing.  She’s exploring deeply personal themes and rigorously examining her characters from the inside out,  giving them a little (or big) shake. While Gamache has some mystery left (and hence some of his own mythic power) there’s lots we’ve learned about him as readers since the publication of Still Life. read more

Tana French: In the Woods

“What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with the truth is fundamental but cracked…”

Tana French has obviously learned a few lessons from more established writers like Val McDermid and Denise Mina, and her first novel is a richly textured and complex character study as well as a precise explication of a particular crime. There are two main plot threads. One of them involves the disappearance of three 12 year olds twenty years in the past. Two of them were never found; the third is discovered with blood in his shoes clinging to the side of a tree. French infuses the memories of the boy—who is now a police detective—with fairy tale lore and language, giving the past an almost dreamy, otherwordly quality. In an early version of Cinderella, for example, the stepsister cuts off bits of her feet to fit into Cinderella’s slipper, so the slippers are filled with blood. Even the title, In the Woods, references the location of most fairy tales. French comes back again and again to the theme that children think differently—on the slim chance of seeing some kind of “marvel”, they’ll take a bigger risk, unheeded, because of their very youth. This gives her narrative a good deal of power and resonance. read more

Jane Casey: The Reckoning

Our book club recently read and enjoyed Jane Casey’s first novel, The Burning, prompting me to turn to her second, The Reckoning. Casey’s series is a British police procedural centered on Maeve Kerrigan, an ambitious, hard working, clueless-about-her-lovelife young woman who may remind readers of Helen Mirren’s indelible Jane Tennison.  Though Kerrigan is younger than Tennison, even all these years later, she’s experiencing the some of the same kind of sexism and suspicion ladled on Tennison. read more

Tana French: Broken Harbor

The two signature books of the summer, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Tana French’s Broken Harbor, share a theme: the recession, joblessness, and the losses that come with those circumstances.  In Gone Girl, Flynn’s characters lose their jobs and investments and are forced to leave Manhattan for the wilds of Missouri, where they are fish out of water.

The former Dubliners in French’s novel, Pat and Jenny, find their dream home in a development that never “developed,” far out from the city and away from any of their friends or former lifestyle.  And their move was made for the most prosaic of reasons:  so their kids could grow up in a real house with a backyard.  Like Flynn’s characters, Pat has lost his job, and the development is a ghost town. read more

Louise Penny: A Rule Against Murder

This may be the most traditional of Louise Penny’s now four novels, though she has been labeled from the beginning as a “traditional” mystery writer. And indeed, she does write in the same tradition as Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey and Agatha Christie (a tradition they helped create), but she has managed to make this old form her own. She has an exceptional gift with prose, and the character development she brings to her writing is very modern. In each book, Penny has managed to slightly change up her formula to make each story feel fresh, and this one is no exception. read more

Louise Penny: Still Life

This is an elegantly written, compelling, and masterful first novel. If I were a betting woman I’d advise anyone interested in such things to lay aside a first edition; I plan to myself. It has so many wonderful aspects of a traditional mystery, somehow brought into the present and made fresh by the kind of lovely writing that is a rare discovery. My advance copy has pages and pages dog-eared so I could go back and reread various passages. The setting, a remote and tiny Canadian village called Three Pines, is visited by the death of one of its most beloved residents, retired school teacher Jane Neal. The head of the homicide division of the Surete in Quebec, Inspector Armand Gamache, is sent with his team to Three Pines to investigate. It’s hard to say what’s the more interesting part of this novel — Inspector Gamache himself, the setting, or the vividly drawn citizens of Three Pines, including the dead Jane Neal who we come to know as we read the book. read more