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Friday, January 3, 2014

Bring Up the Bodies; The Fire Witness; Deeply Odd; and Three Stations

Hilary Mantel.  Bring Up the Bodies.  ©2012   This whole novel is an internal dialog in Thomas Cromwell’s head as he sets about the task of destroying Anne Boleyn so that Henry VIII can marry plain Jane Seymour.  As in Wolf Hall, Cromwell comes out looking better than one might expect.  As “Secretary” he is all powerful as long as he has the king’s trust.  He must do the king’s will, and he sets out to get the job done with the least possible collateral damage and the maximum positive benefits for his family and colleagues and for England.  I don’t see this as analogous to the Nazi bureaucrats who claimed they “were only following orders.”  It’s a fascinating read as Cromwell goes about building the case against Anne and four of her alleged lovers.  As in Wolf Hall, it’s hard to know when Mantel is filling in the blanks and when she is relying on actual documentation.  Twice she mentions that Cromwell has kept his deceased daughter’s notebook, and I assume that it actually exists.  Details from Anne’s execution are interesting.  Henry brought in a French executioner from Calais, and he sent the order before Anne’s trial.  On the day, Cromwell himself tested the scaffold to make sure it was sturdy, and he examined the executioner’s sword.  The blade was four feet long, two inches wide and rounded at the tip.  Unlike the English axe men, The Frenchman did not have his clients rest their head on a block.  They knelt blind folded and whoosh.  He was paid 27 pounds for taking off Anne’s head and the head’s of her four supposed lovers.  Someday I hope Mantel or another writer will do a novel about Cromwell’s early life.  Just here and there through this book we learn that his abusive father was a blacksmith from whom Cromwell fled at age 15, that he made his way briefly in Calais as a card sharp, that he was a mercenary soldier for the French against the Spanish, that he learned accounting working for the Frescobaldi family in Italy, that he learned French and Italian during his travels and maybe Spanish and Flemish and that his English was better when he returned to England than the lower class version he spoke when he left home.  December 2013
Lars Kepler.  The Fire Witness.  ©2011   Joona Linna, a detective with the National Police in Stockholm, is sent as an observer to the scene of a double murder at a school for troubled girls.  One of the girls, Vicki, is missing and presumed to be the murderer when a bloody hammer is found under her pillow.  This seems confirmed when she steals a car while the woman who owns it is peeing in the woods.  Unfortunately the woman’s four year old son is trapped in his car seat in the rear and this makes Vicki a kidnapper as well as a car thief and a murderer.  For Joona the murders don’t add up, because the bludgeoning with the hammer would have taken considerable strength, but as an observer he is powerless to guide the investigation beyond suspicion of Vicki.  The twists and turns that follow make this one hard to put down.  I didn’t see the finger pointing at the real murderer until close to the end, when Joona finds a witness to the crime in a most unusual way.  When that’s all settled, Kepler sets up his next book about a creepy and manipulative serial killer, whose threats had earlier forced Joona to fake the deaths of his wife and daughter and live apart from them for the past 12 years.  January 2014
Dean Koontz.  Deeply Odd.  ©2013   I had read two other novels by Dean Koontz, so I thought I knew what to expect, but this mystery is in a class all by itself.  At a truck stop Odd Thomas (the “T” was accidentally left off of his birth certificate) is almost shot by an evil cowboy.  He escapes onto the highway, but the cowboy catches up in his semi trailer and blows Odd off the road.  Odd is picked up by Edie Fischer, age 86.  She is driving a specially modified stretch Mercedes limousine and looking for a chauffeur, because hers just died at age 92.  She’s also looking for adventure.  Together they track the cowboy, who seems to be involved in the kidnapping of several children.  They see the semi at another truck stop, and pull in to try to find him.  Edie gives Odd the pistol in the glove compartment and tells him not to worry because she has others.  In his search through the truck stop, Odd steps into an alternate reality and gets shot in the throat, but the wound is gone when he returns to his own world.  He’s helped by the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock and eventually he and Edie get back on the road, trailing the cowboy’s semi by using Odd’s paranormal senses.  The quest goes on.  They meet some of Edie’s unusual friends and end up outside the cowboy’s estate, where he has invited a large group of Satan worshipers to participate in the slaughter of 17 kidnapped children.  In the course of rescuing the children with the help of Alfred Hitchcock, Odd finds a girl who has the same powers he does.  It’s a fantasy.  I liked it, especially Edie.  December 2013
Martin Cruz Smith.  Three Stations.  ©2010  This is the seventh novel featuring Arkady Renko, a police inspector in Moscow, where the justice system and everything else seems to be corrupt  Two things are going on in this mystery.  First a young and unwilling prostitute named Maya tries to escape to Moscow with her newborn baby from the “club” where she has been working.  On the train two hustlers drug her and steal the baby for sale to an army general and his wife.  Meanwhile Renko and his partner Zurin find a young woman murdered in an abandoned trailer at Three Stations, so called for the three subway stations that surround Komsomolskaya Square.  It’s supposed to look like suicide, but Renko can’t accept that and gets fired for continuing to pursue the case.  Eventually he is able to prove that the woman was one of five victims of a serial killer.  As for Maya, the criminal organization that controls a big chunk of the prostitution trade sends two thugs after her.  She gets some help from the homeless youth who live in the streets around Three Stations and towards the end meets Renko and recovers the baby.  Things don’t go well for the two thugs.  One is killed by an attack dog owned by one of the street children and Renko finishes off the other one.  As I noted when I read Stalin’s Ghost, one comes away feeling fortunate not to be living in contemporary Russia.  January 2014

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