Chiefs by Stuart Woods

chiefs

In looking for something different to read, I stumbled upon this thriller from the 1980’s, which was so much more substantive and nuanced than I ever imagined.

It begins in 1919, when Will Henry Lee is appointed the Chief of Police in the tiny town of  Delano, Georgia.  Things are fairly quiet until the first body turns up – that of a young boy, naked, with suspicious marks on him.  This case is niggling at him but life goes on and he is forced to move on with the times.  As the years pass, the case becomes buried deeper and deeper in layers of race, power, politics, and in simple human nature and the ultimate resolution is a shock to everyone.

This story is so carefully delivered, over time, even over generations, and the reader’s patience is rewarded with an exquisitely intricate plot.  There is a horrifying overlay of the deep south’s history of racial bias which, sadly, is quite poignant and relatable today.  So too, are the political power plays, the small town alliances, and injustices.  Timeless, apparently.

The writing, too, is sharp and clear, with poignant dialogue and a few great scenes.  My particular favorite scene is one in which the wife of Billy, Will Henry’s son, buys a shotgun and shows what a woman can do all by herself to protect herself from the nasty Klansmen who are out to get her and her husband.  I won’t give it all away, but I’d say that scene alone is worth reading the book for!

This book is a definite page-turner and one that will stay with me for awhile.  I’m not sure it’s a “must read” but it’s close!

 

 

The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

summer wives

Miranda Schuyler has just arrived back home to Winthrop Island to hide away from her life just a bit.  She just wants some quiet, to try to repair her relationship with her mother and her half-sister – if possible – and to heal, both physically and emotionally.  What she doesn’t expect is that on arriving back here, all of her memories and the emotions tied to them would come flooding back as well.  And with them, much of her understanding of her world might just be turned upside-down.

Beatriz Williams creates the most wonderful female characters – they are strong, smart, witty, and often rebellious without ever losing their femininity or grace.  They are characters who drive the plot, who outwit the demons, and who, while we guess will be victorious in the end, we never know exactly how.  There are always clever plot twists and there are sometimes dark details, but there is always a lightness and humor in the telling.  And Miranda, with her story, certainly falls in line with this pattern.

Williams also utilizes the shifting of voices and of time to build the story from various vantage points. I love this technique.  I find this builds suspense and keeps the motion of the story moving forward, even when we’re essentially hearing backstory.  It enriches both the story and the people in it and deepens our understanding of both.  Because sometimes it isn’t the “what” that is the mystery of the story but the “why” – and here is a good example of that.

I really enjoyed this book – and am hoping to read all of her books at some point!

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

the light we lost

This is a love story that starts, ironically, when the world feels like it might end – in New York City, on 9/11/01.  Lucy and Gabe feel it too – they reach for each other, barely knowing each other, and then it’s over.  But years later, when they meet again, the spark is reignited, and this begins a heartbreaker for Lucy that she endures quite in spite of herself.

The voice is what is unique in this story and I think is what engages the reader.  It is written from Lucy to Gabe, almost as a letter, which gives it a very intimate feel.  On the other hand, because we only hear Lucy’s voice, it can sometimes feel one-dimensional.  There is no layering of the plot, but rather a single-mindedness of the narrative becomes almost droning as the novel progresses.

What is more deeply troubling about this novel, however, is that once again,  the outwardly independent female character is bound to a male character and jumps to his beck and call each and every time.  I felt myself literally growing angry as Lucy again and again fell into this same pattern.  While Lucy does not go with Gabe when he needs to travel for his life work – hurrah for her –  she then pines for him throughout the rest of the book, answering his calls whenever he deigns to reach out and dropping everything for him when he needs her.  (Really?  We’ve not moved past that?). And while she notices when her new boyfriend, Darren, makes plans without her input- and gets angry about it – she never stands up to him or says anything about it.  Why can’t our female characters be unequivocally strong?  I’m tired of this.

I think this book was off to a great start, and had great potential but was just disappointing on multiple levels.  Oh, well!

 

No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal

no one can pronounce my name

Harit does not imagine how he will ever escape the droll and bizarre routine of his life, working in Men’s Accessories in a department store with the tedious and talkative Teddy, and then on returning home each day, having to dress as his dead sister for his mother to appease her denial of the death.  This just seems to be his life.  Likewise,, on the other side of their Cleveland suburb,  Ranjana is questioning how she should adapt to what she has found on her husband’s search history on their shared computer, which suggests the possibility of an affair.  Now that their one son is off to Princeton, does this mean that their life together will change?  Not that she’s been all that satisfied, as she’s had to express herself through the writing which she’s all but hidden from everyone but her little writing group that she sneaks off to once a week.  Eventually, her world collides with Harit’s in an unusual way, and the two of them find what friendship really means and how deeply it can enrich their lives and enable each of them to grow into their best selves.

This is a very quirky, sweet novel that highlights the immigrant experience and shows how important it is to find community and support from others.  Neither of these characters has just arrived to the United States and neither is young, but both are still grappling with finding themselves in the context of their families and their histories, given their own talents, limitations, and orientations.  They each reach out for friendship and learn that it may be hard to find honesty where you hope to find it.

I believe the strength of this story rests in the character development, as each character is rich and layered and colorful.  Each one is traced out at different times in the story and we travel through time and country with each as they track back to the center of the action, successfully reinvigorating the story with a new understanding of each character. It is similar to the experience of getting to know those in our own lives as we ask more and more about them and learn more and more about their past.

This is an interesting read – colorful, quirky and sweet.  Enjoy!

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Nikki has been caught between feeling like she’d let her family down by walking out on her legal education and feeling resentful that they’d tried to control everything in her life.  She couldn’t imagine letting her family arrange and control as much as her sister did – even going to the extreme of seeking a possible arranged marriage! – but then again, here she was, working in and living above a bar.  Was this a better option?  When an opportunity arises to teach women in an Indian cultural center to write stories about their lives, Nikki applies and gets the position.  Little does she know that these women have stories to tell that will shock and amaze her.  And as she comes to know these women, she comes to also uncover the mystery surrounding a single voice that has been stifled forever…

This book was surprisingly engaging and ultimately suspenseful.  What started out quite innocent and almost superficial grew into a much more complicated plot and twisted and turned quite unexpectedly.  Characters that one would have guessed would have been staid and traditional showed not only a cheekier side, but actually true, deep-seeded bravery.  This made a book that I initially felt nonchalant about become much more meaningful to me.

I am still unsure if the sexually explicit scenes in this book are totally necessary.  I am not prudish and I do not shy away from this.  I know why they are here.  But I felt they were a bit too long.  (I almost got a little bored with the off -shooting they provided.)  I’d be interested to hear what others think about this.

A worthwhile read, in the end, though.  Please add comments –  I’d really be interested to hear what you all think about my issues with this book!

 

LETHAL WHITE BY ROBERT GALBRAITH

lethal white

After being thrust into the headlines by their prior notorious capture of a serial killer, Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott are struggling to regain their footing.  The fame has brought in much business but it has also strained their relationship.  Everyone is on edge, when an unwashed, terrified and possibly psychotic young man storms into their office twitching away and muttering loudly about a child having been murdered and buried, wrapped in a pink blanket many years ago.  Could this be connected to the new case of blackmail of the Minister of Culture, which they are being asked to investigate?  As Robin and Strike are thrown back into this case, their private lives become somewhat entwined and the suspense, as always, sustains you until the very last word.

What is truly magical about the writing of this novel is that while an incredibly intricate plot is unfolding, the characters who are acting in this story are vulnerable and human and so real the reader might reach out and touch them.  The pain of Cormoran Strike’s stump of his amputated leg is so palpable that each time he is forced by circumstance to go back out to follow another suspect, the reader can almost feel pain in their own leg in empathy.  And when Robin becomes angry at her new husband, who is quite the “arsehole” as is demonstrated in this story time and again, we want to slay him ourselves on her behalf.  Because they are so kind, we almost feel we have a personal stake in their success and that they are more than fictional characters from the mind of an author.

These are completely absorbing works of great suspense and highly recommend the whole series – and to read them in order is definitely worthwhile.  First, you’ll have the opportunity to read them all, and one is better than the next, but also they build on each other, with references to prior cases and prior history in their respective lives.

Highly, highly recommend these books!  You won’t regret them!

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

state of wonder

Marina is heartbroken by the news of the death of her co-worker, Anders, who had been sent to the Amazon to assess the progress of research being conducted down there.  But when she learned that she now was the one being sent after him to investigate his death, her feelings were, understandably, quite mixed.  Why would her boss, Mr. Fox, with whom she had an “un-bossly” relationship send her down into a perilous situation?  And what would she encounter with the strong-minded and controversial researcher with whom she’d trained and had a checkered past with herself?  After seeing Anders’ wife and 3 boys and their sadness and disbelief that their father could truly be dead, she felt it her duty, though, to go and to see for herself how he’d died and what she could do to bring back his effects to help them in their grief.  What she found was beyond what she could have ever imagined.

This novel was stunning in both beauty and its depth.  As Marina learns more and more about the Amazon —  its people, its natural habitat, its dangers and its wonders — so too, does the reader.  Because of the crispness of the writing, one can breathe in the heaviness of the air, hear the insects buzzing around ones ears, feel the murkiness of the water they bathe in, and see the filth on the clothing Marina is forced to wear because she’s lost all of her luggage on the very first day.

But there is also a layering to the story which gives it depth.  There is the search for how Anders became sick with his undiagnosed fevers and the tenderness of the relationship he’d developed with the boy raised by the head researcher, Dr. Swenson.  There is the research itself, looking into why the women in the local tribe maintained their fertility well into their sixties and seventies – and the ethical concerns surrounding this.  There is the controversial character of Dr. Swenson – her avoidance of oversight and reluctance to be beholden to those who are funding her research.  What is she hiding?

I will not say how this book ended – but I will admit to you that I cried as I read the last few pages.  There unexpected twists that tug at your heart and at least caught me quite off guard.  So well done!

I have to say, this is a must-read!