This is an exceedingly clever novel. The inside flap of the dust cover gives three definitions of the word “plot,” and this book is about all three: a sequence of events in a narrative, as in a novel, for example. an immoral or illegal plan a designated section of land for a gravesite Jacob Finch Bonner (aka Jake) is once-promising novelist whose career didn’t pan out. After a well-received first novel, his second book foundered.
In Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl, sixty-one-year-old author Gerry Andersen has an accident that leaves him bedridden and heavily sedated for three months. Andersen’s young assistant, Victoria, goes on double duty as both secretary and nurse. In the evening a new woman, Aileen, enters the writer’s Baltimore penthouse as night nurse. Andersen, a successful author of literary fiction, is best known for his novel Dream Girl, which has brought him wealth, fame, and a number of awards.
Lucy Graham is a twenty-two-year-old children’s governess in the home of a respected Essex surgeon. She seems to have no past, having arrived penniless from London with a single glowing recommendation from an obscure school mistress. Local widower Sir Micheal Audley, the wealthiest man in the county, smitten by her beauty and charm, makes her an offer she can’t refuse. “The truth is that Lady Audley had, in becoming the wife of Sir Micheal, made one of those apparently advantageous matches which are apt to draw upon a woman the envy and hatred of her sex.
A number of readers have commented on Goodreads and Amazon that my detective Freddy Ferguson reminds them of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. I had never read Parker, so I picked up a copy of The Widening Gyre at the library book sale and gave it a go. The plot is fairly straightforward. Meade Alexander, a US congressman who is running for Senate, is being blackmailed by his opponent. Alexander is a devout Christian wooing deeply conservative voters.
This is the first Elmore Leonard book I’ve read that just didn’t do it for me. One of the great strengths of crime fiction is that its characters' motivations are always clear. The criminals and the people pursuing them are driven by the most fundamental human desires: greed, lust, ambition, resentment, revenge, justice. Crime fiction can be compelling because these desires drive us all, to some extent, and because characters who personify the extremes of these desires act out in flesh and blood the battles that most of us struggle with internally.
Elmore Leonard’s Glitz opens with Miami Beach detective Vincent Mora getting shot by a dopesick junkie in his way home from the grocery store. The bullet goes all the way through Mora, just missing his hip. After surgery and a brief hospital stay, the main character seems to disappear from the story. We next find ourselves, inexplicably it seems, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, following an American tourist and the cabbie who has become his full-time chauffeur.
Meursault, the main character of Albert Camus' The Stranger, is so passive and indifferent, he simply lets life happen to him, and what happens isn’t good. He tells his story as if he’s an uninterested and slightly befuddled spectator watching things happen to someone else. Meursault lives in Algiers. The year is around 1942, though the events of the war in Europe don’t impinge on the story. Meursault lives in a simple apartment and, working as a clerk in a shipping company, earns just enough to get by.
Sunburn opens with a thrirty-something man, Adam Bosk, observing a thirty-something woman, Polly Costello, in a roadside restaurant in the small town of Belleville, Delaware. She’s come from the beach, forty or so minutes to the east, and her sunburnt shoulders are starting to peel. Her observer wonders if he should make a move, introduce himself, strike up a conversation. She wonders too, as he takes a seat two stools down at the bar.
David Gordon’s unique thriller opens with a series of police raids in New York City. Local and federal law enforcement are under pressure from above as worries of an impending terrorist attack escalate. The cops, not knowing who their targets are, or where they may be lurking, have to look like they’re doing something to quell the public angst. So, like the authorities in Casablanca, they round up the usual suspects in a series of high profile raids.
The plot was good enough, but this one fell short on several levels, reading like a journeyman’s immitation of a John D. MacDonald novel. I didn’t like the strained smart-guy dialog, the wisecracks that fell flat or the banter between main character Lemuel Gunn and his girl Friday, aka Ornella Neppi. Much of the humor and wit just wasn’t that funny, though it might appeal to an older generation. Neither Gunn nor Neppi came off as fully-formed characters worth caring about until the very end.
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