Tag Archives: mystery/suspense

Gerald Seymour, The Collaborator

12410702I spent one of the most wonderful fortnights of my life in Naples; I’ve also read Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah and thought the film made of it was brilliant, particularly the fact that they filmed at the “Vele”, the gigantic apartment complex that dominates Scampia, one of the wretchedly poor and indelibly criminal banlieus of Naples. The film “Gomorrah” seemed to me like an Italian version of “The Wire”, the inhabitants of the Vele as trapped in their customary roles – drug addicts, drug dealers, criminals – as any of the denizens of Baltimore’s West Side.

Why am I mentioning all of this? Because in The Collaborator, the story of a Mafia princess who is driven to turn against her family by a great wrong done to someone she loves, Gerald Seymour managed to bring back in Technicolor both my good (personal) and terrible (literary/cinematic) memories of Naples. Immacolata Borelli is a great character – she’s hard, cold, cruel, and sometimes self-righteous, but she also ends up being as immaculately brave as her name suggests. The Collaborator isn’t only her story, though; it’s also the story of Eddie, the young Englishman who fell in love with her and the thug Salvatore who’s never known another life and of Lukas, a hostage negotiator who’s “the best of the best.” And I think therein lies the reason why I didn’t completely love this novel (although I liked it very, very much!) Lukas’s thoughts just weren’t as Immacolata’s, even though on paper he was probably the most interesting of them all. I also wish Seymour had given us a little more to chew on, about why exactly, Immacolata felt so strongly about this particular friend that the friend’s tragic fate moved her to her great act of betrayal (from the perspective of her family) or renunciation of evil (from the perspective of everyone else.) We never got enough background on this, I think – was it the normality of the girl’s life that appealed to her, as tainted as she was by her own family’s criminality? Or was it just that the girl treated her as a person, rather than as the principessa of the Borelli clan. Given that Immacolata does all she does because of this friend, I felt that there should have been more information provided to us about her. Also, honestly, Eddie was kind of a dumbass, even though I did come to admire his courage under duress; if a girl won’t tell you her last name, give you her mobile number, or let you come to her place, chances are she’s just not that into you, Eddie! And if only he’d just recognized that fact, maybe a couple of people wouldn’t have been killed.

Still, The Collaborator was leagues above the quick suspense read I was expecting when I picked the book up at a charity booksale because it was about Naples; Seymour created an atmospheric, well-written, and almost unbearably tense portrait of a city and a woman in conflict between their best and worst selves, and I found a new-to-me author whose work I look forward to exploring!

(Read from January 12-January 14, 2013)

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Ann Cleeves, White Nights

6548062White Nights is the second of Ann Cleeves series of mysteries set in the Shetland Isles and starring Jimmy Perez, bearer of an unlikely name and vast amounts of knowledge of the locals. Although the mysteries are a bit underwhelming, I really like the atmostphere that Cleeves manages to create; the first novel of the series, Raven Black, took place in the depth of winter; this second one is set in midsummer when the sun hardly sets, and everyone gets a little bit crazy.

(Read from April 14-15, 2010)

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Jason Goodwin, The Bellini Card

bellinicardThe Bellini Card is the fourth in Jason Goodwin’s series of detective novels set in nineteenth-century Istanbul and “starring” the eunuch, Yashim, and his intrepid friend, Pawlewski, ambassador to the Sublime Porte from the no-longer-extant Kingdom of Poland. The Bellini Card finds our duo in pursuit of a portrait of the great Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet the Conqueror, and takes them out of the City to the murky canals of Venice, home of Giovanni Bellini, the painter whose handiwork they seek. Meanwhile, Yashim and Pawlewski are constantly comparing La Serenissima to their own beloved Istanbul (and usually the Western version comes up wanting.)

I’m warming up to these novels, perhaps because Goodwin is becoming a better and better writer of fiction. I felt the first in the series (The Janissary Tree) was marred by overlong and sometimes tedious explanatory passages on Ottoman history, but now Godwin seems to have found a way to integrate his immense knowledge of the topic within a suspenseful, well-written and sometimes humorous story. (And luckily, Yashim’s unlikely adventures with women were confined to a few short pages in this one, because that’s the point where I always think the writer is trying to have it both ways: Yashim can only have access to female witnesses by being a eunuch, but then Goodwin wants to make sure Yashim gets something besides delicious food and makes him always end up with some hot chick which I feel is cheating!)

(Read from April 13-April 14, 2010)

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Ann Cleeves, Raven Black

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPerhaps Ann Cleeves’s Raven Black suffered in mental comparison to Val McDermid’s stunning  which I’d read not long before, but the main reason to like this mystery was the setting (the main island of the Shetland archipelago). The characters were rather stock figures and none of the things that I was interested in (how Fran had come to marry Duncan in the first place, for example!) were ever really developed. Still, this was a nice atmospheric mystery and a good quick read, and I’ll probably borrow the rest of the series from the library so I can find out whether Jimmy ever buys that croft or not!

(Read from April 10-April 12, 2010)

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John le Carré, A Most Wanted Man

lecarremostwantedmanIssa, a young Russian (or possibly Chechen) man, Annemarie, an idealistic German human rights lawyer and Tommy, a world-weary Scottish banker come together – disastrously – in John LeCarré’s A Most Wanted Man. I found both Issa and Annabel incredibly annoying and self-righteous, so in the end, I agree with the Observer’s  reviewer, who noted that  “Issa is so annoying that if the gung-ho Americans ever did end up fitting him for a dinky orange boiler-suit, I don’t think too many readers would be weeping.” Amen!

Still, LeCarré has some fascinating things to say about the “War on Terror” and he’s a past master at creating an air of quiet menace and moral gray areas and A Most Wanted Man is very, very good. With slightly less irritating protagonists, I might have even loved it.

(Read from April 7-April 11, 2010)

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Val McDermid, A Place of Execution

7102552I had never read anything by Val McDermid before I happened to pick up a copy of A Place of Execution, and now, on the strength of this one book, she’s one of my favorite mystery/suspense novelists. The plot twist in A Place of Execution was beautifully executed, and I loved the characters in the small English village who have to cope with the disappearance and presumed murder of one of the village’s teenaged children. I kept thinking about this novel long after I’d finished it and about the question it poses of whether justice and the law are always the same thing.

(Read from April 7-April 8, 2010)

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C. J. Sansom, Dark Fire

6129923Dark Fire is the second Matthew Shardlake novel set during the reign of Henry VIII. This time, it’s the summer of 1540, and Shardlake is desperately trying to save a young woman who remains silent about a terrible murder she has supposedly committed while also trying to save his erstwhile master, Lord Cromwell, from the wrath of the King. If Shardlake can piece together the secret of “dark fire”, a weapon used by the Byzantines that has disappeared from existence after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, then Cromwell promises to help with Shardlake’s other case. Dark Fire is suspenseful, moving, and introduces Jack Barak, a character who quickly became a favorite of mine. He and Shardlake make a brilliant team, even as Shardlake displays (yet again) his propensity to fall for the wrong sort of woman.

(Read from April 3-April 4, 2010)

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