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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Wicked," "Night Train" and Six Mysteries

C.J. Box.  Out of  Range.  December 2011   In a moment of weakness, I picked up another C.J. Box novel, a prequel to Free Fire.  Joe Pickett, the Wyoming game warden is assigned to fill in in Grand Teton National Park after the warden there commits suicide.  It’s kind of fun but the plot is just too fantastic.  Who tries to develop an upscale community based on the premise that the meat the home owner will consume will be raised on site?  And who tries to drive a game warden to suicide by tapping into the water supply in his home and systematically introducing drugs into his drinking water? 

Robin Cook.  Crisis.  December 2011   New York medical examiner Jack Stapleton Is getting married, finally, on Friday.  On Tuesday his sister in Boston calls to ask him to help defend against a malpractice suit against her husband.  All Jack has to do is get up to Boston, exhume and autopsy the deceased rich lady, avoid being killed by the shyster lawyer’s muscle man, prove there was a murder and get back to riverside Drive in his tux by 1:30 PM on Friday.

Robin Cook.  Marker.  November 2011   Dr. Laurie Montgomery and Dr. Jack Stapleton work in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in NYC doing autopsies.  They are lovers, but she is 43 and wants kids, and he has trouble committing because he lost his wife and kids some years ago under tragic circumstances.  Laurie notices a pattern of young healthy patients dying for no discernible reason after elective surgery in Manhattan General, a part of the AmeriCare Health Insurance Co. network.  Laurie gets pregnant.  When she collapses and is rushed to Manhattan General for surgery for an ectopic gestation.  It is just at this point that Laurie has amassed the data to prove her theory that the mysterious deaths are the work of a serial killer.  Jack goes through her notes and realizes that all of the patients who died had been tested and found to have an inheritable defective gene.  Laura too has such a gene, and he rushes to the hospital and enters her room just after she too has been injected.  Jack calls for a Code Red and his prompt action and knowledge that she was injected with an overdose of sodium saves her life.  This is a real thriller, a great read, but the premise for the crimes is just unbelievable.

Clyde Edgerton.  The Night Train.   January 2012   It’s 1963 and people in the small North Carolina town where two 16 year olds, Dwayne who is white and Larry who is not, work together in a furniture restorer’s shop.  They share an interest in music and don’t seem to understand that they shouldn’t be friends.  There’s lots of talk in town about Martin Luther King but there haven’t been any sit-ins or other “provocations.”   Larry is taken under the wing of a jazz musician called the Bleeder and is able to pass on much of what he learns to Dwayne, who in turn passes it on to his band.  The band gets a chance to play on a local talent and variety show and when asked to do an encore breaks into a perfect imitation of James Brown and his group doing “Night Train” on the record album, Live at the Apollo.  There is silence in the all-white audience and the show’s producer and star gets fired.  The novel is a telling recreation of life in a small segregated southern on the cusp of the civil rights revolution in America.

Gustave Flaubert.  Madame Bovary.  November 2011   I tried to reread this.  Emma was bored and so was I.  There were none of the compensations that I found in a recent reading of George Eliot’s Adam Bede, so I quit.

Tony Hillerman.  The Shape Shifter.  December 2011  This time it’s all Joe Leaphorn a month after he retired.  In a magazine a friend sees a picture of an extraordinary Navajo rug that was supposed to have burned up in a trading post fire along with a guy on the FBI most wanted list.  Is it the same rug and was the body found after the fire really who the FBI thought it was?  Leaphorn sorts it all out, including finding a way to get Tommy Van back to the his Hmong roots in Laos.

Elmore Leonard.  The Switch.  December 2011    It’s not the “Ransom of Red Chief” or The Kidnapping of Aaron Green, but it is an interesting kidnapping.  There’s only one likeable person, Mickey, the kidnapped wife of a shady businessman.  She turns the tables on her husband after he refuses to ransom her.  Life at the couples’ country club and the people who inhabit it don’t come out smelling very good.

Gregory Maguire.  Wicked.  December 2011   This tells the story of The Wizard of Oz from the witch’s point of view.  If you don’t like fantasy, you may not like this.  It’s a commentary on prejudice, the excesses of religious fanatics, the ever present possibility of moving toward fascism, and, of all things, animal rights.  I liked it a lot.  I don’t think I’ll try his next novel which I understand is the story of the younger of the ugly sisters in the Cinderella.

Ian Rankin.  The Falls.  December 2011  (Playaway)   Rebus, his new lady friend Jean, and a detective named Siobhan solve several murders and answer the question about whether some of them were murders at all and whether some or all of them were the work of a serial killer.  Two of the keys are tiny model coffins found near the bodies and an online computer game that was being played by one of the victims

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