Monday, February 13, 2012

They Did it with Love by Kate Morgenroth

I admit that among my favorite genres to read, mysteries rank pretty high. They Did it With Love  is a good, old-fashioned murder mystery. It has all the right elements: multiple characters with opportunity and motive, red herrings galore, clever investigators, and the predictable, unpredictable twist.

Dean and Sofie Wright lead a comfortable life in Manhattan. After Sofie's father dies, Dean suggests that they might like a change in residency and move to the suburbs - Greenwich, Connecticut. When she agrees, he moves quickly and finds the couple a home in a neighborhood where everyone lives a very privileged life. The hallmark of acceptance is an invitation to the Mystery Book Club, which is extended to Sofie. Sofie just happens to be mystery buff and channels Agatha Christie and Miss Marple. At the book club meeting she meets Priscilla - married to Gordon, Susan - married to Henry, Ashley - married to Stewart, and Julia - married to Alex. The rules of the book club are indicative of a "Stepford Wife" mentality - no shoes in the house (all members have designer shoes just for book club wear), a book must be read in its entirety, and if a member becomes pregnant she must drop out. Priscilla is the most controlling of all the members and as the book progresses sets her sights on Dean. The reader knows that this isn't the only secret harbored by the members and spouses and, in addition, is acutely aware that they will be instrumental as the book unfolds.

But then, one of the book club members is found dead. Is it a suicide or murder?  The police investigation commences and Sofie, who firmly believes that it is murder, takes it upon herself to help the detectives in unraveling the mystery. Interviews are conducted, Sofie manipulates an ally, and eventually an arrest is made. Throughout this process the reader learns of the deviousness of some of the members and the secrets of others. 

This was a surprisingly, engaging mystery. It was a bit slow to start, especially when all the couples are are being introduced. Initially, it was hard to keep them straight, but soon Morgenroth's characterization gives the book club members and their spouses individual voices. The author paves a path to the solution, but with a few detours and roadblocks along the way, and, finally, completes the revelation in a most unexpected way. It is clear that Dame Christie is right when she asserts, "'Nobody knows anybody - not that well!'

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Confession by John Grisham

It was twenty years ago that I first read a  John Grisham book. When The Firm was published, I felt that I had found a new author to collect. However, after a few books they started to all sound the same and I became very frustrated that he never really grasped the idea of bringing a book to closure. And so I tired of them and stopped reading after The Testament. With this mindset I was not looking forward to reading The Confession when I saw it on the list of books for our community book group.

The Confession is typical Grisham - some suspense, a treatise against capital punishment, didactic, and a very quick read. Donté Drumm has been incarcerated for 9 years in a Slone, Texas prison for killing Nicole Yarber, an effervescent high school cheerleader. He maintains his innocence, his confession was coerced, a body was never found, and now he is awaiting awaiting death by lethal injection. Keith Schroeder is a Lutheran minister at St. Mark's Church in Topeka, Kansas. His wife, Dana, is the church secretary and is visited on a Monday morning by Travis Boyette. Boyette is living at a halfway house on parole, awaiting to be granted his freedom. He insists upon seeing the minister and in their meeting confesses that he is a dying man and that he is the real killer of Nicole Yarber. The admission should be enough to warrant a stay of execution. 

Boyette agrees to be driven to Texas by Schroeder to finally come clean about the murder if it were to help free Drumm. What ensues is a  drive filled with unexpected difficulties and dilemmas. In Texas, Robbie Flak, Drumm's lawyer, files petition upon petition with the courts and governor. The reader senses the urgency, where the government does not. Throughout the ordeal we meet the mothers of both Nicole and Donté. Although they both are or will be in a situation where they face the loss of a child, they elicit totally different reactions by the reader. The drama continues and again, as characteristic of a Grisham novel, the book is wrapped up quickly and neatly 415 pages later. To disclose that drama would result in a major spoiler. There is some suspense, to be sure. But given the author's bent on the death penalty, one just wonders how he will get to the inevitable ending.

Not being a part of the legal community or having any training in law, I do question the authenticity of the inner workings of the courts and means to stay an execution. Grisham portrays those characters with contempt and repugnance. One other point of contention I had with the book was the point Grisham makes early on about Nicole using her cell phone and texting her mother at least 4 times right before she disappeared. In 1998 this wouldn't be the case. I know there are those that enjoy Grisham's books and anxiously await the publication of each new one. one  I will wait for one that is a bit less predictable with an ending that has been crafted and not packaged.