Saturday, August 17, 2019

Mightier Than the Sword by Jeffrey Archer

Opening the 5th installment of the Clifton Chronicles is the IRA planted bomb on the MV Buckingham. The reader was left hanging at the end of Be Careful What you Wish For as to how many passengers would die and how much of the ship would be destroyed. 

 Much of the novel centers around Harry Clifton and his devotion to the release of Anatoly Babakov, the Russian author who has been imprisoned in Siberia for writing a book on the real Joseph Stalin, Uncle Joe.  His visit to the North Side of Pittsburgh was descriptive and spot on. Entrusted with the knowledge of where to find the sequestered book Harry finds himself in a precarious place from which he must extricate himself.

Emma Clifton continues on as chairman of Barrington Shipping in the troubling times after the IRA bombing. She continues to work diligently to keep the company afoot despite the machinations of Lady Virginia Fenwick who is fiercely determined to cause the demise of the company and Emma.  In order to do this she files a libel suit against Emma. This action permeates the pages of the book and the result of the trial is the ultimate cliffhanger.

Giles Barrington's political career as a member of the House of Commons cruises toward defeat as he, while still married, has a torrid one night stand with an interpreter in Berlin. The consequences of his action has far-reaching effects into not only his life but also his country's security. Was Karin to be his love or is she a spy for the Russian government. 

Much of the novel centers around the banking and stock world of Farthing's 
Bank with Sebastian's mentor's death. The takeover by Adrian Sloan and his dealings with Lady Virginia push Sebastian out. The plotting on both sides keeps the reader on her toes sorting out how each will out maneuver the other. The love story of Sebastian and Samantha illustrates the conflict of idealism and the desire to pursue monetary rewards. She haunts him and he pursues her to what seems the ends of the earth, only to find out she has been harboring a secret from him.

The decisions each person makes in the course of these novels have far-reaching repercussions. They are page turners and, of course, end in cliff-hangers. Storytelling at its best.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing by

It is hard to ignore a book that has stood atop the NYTime Best Seller list for 21 weeks as of 15 August 2019. The book was chosen in April for our September Gables Book Club selection to insure that members could get on a waiting list to borrow it. It was worth the wait for sure.

The prologue sets the stage for the novel and immediately creates the tension that the reader will experience throughout its course. A body has been found by two young boys and the sheriff of the small town embarks on an investigation as to whether it is an accident or murder. 

Set in  Barkley Cove, North Carolina, it is the story of Catherine Clark, known as Kya or The Marsh Girl. At the novel's onset, Kya is 7 years old and lives in the swamp with her parents and siblings. Not being able to take the abuse of her husband any longer, her Ma up and leaves the house one day, abandoning Kya and her brother. Not long after, Kya's brother Jodie leaves and Kya is left on her own with her alcoholic father, who is sometimes present and more often, not.  Pa eventually leaves her when she is 10. In order to sustain her life, Kya resorts to harvesting oysters and trading them to Jumpin', the owner of a gas station and fishing supply store, for food, gas, and other necessities. His wife, Mabel, also becomes a surrogate mother to her and helps her with clothing and guidance through puberty. 

Although brought to school one day when she was six by a truant officer, Kya was ridiculed by the other children and never returned. She became self-sufficient and self-reliant. The novel retells her childhood and young adulthood in alternating chapters of flashback and present day. Jumping from 1952 to 1969, the reader learns that one of the town's notable citizens, Chase Andrews,  has been found dead, apparently having fallen from the local fire tower.   

When she was 14, Kya met Tate Walker who befriends her and teaches her to read. Their relationship blossoms into love but Tate, who is 4 years older, insists that making love waits until she is older. He leaves for college, promising to return to her. Once again she is abandoned. She spends her time collecting and sketching wildlife in the marsh. She becomes quite the naturalist. When she is 19 she meets Chase, who professes to be in love with her and convinces her to have sex with him. He woos her with the premise that he wants to marry her. 

When Tate returns to Barkley Cove, a biologist, to research the marsh, he visits Kya and asks for forgiveness. Not wanting to be hurt again, she refuses. He does, however, convince her to submit her drawings to a publisher. The description of her specimens and her observatory powers are fascinating.

As one who knew Chase and was an easy scapegoat, Kya was charged with his murder and stands trial. To see how that ends, you will need to read the novel, because I do not want to include any more spoilers here. 

This is definitely one novel not to be missed. Although the alternating chapters and date changes can be a bit problematic until the reader understands what Owens is doing, it was a heart-wrenching and emotional read. Kya is an endearing character and the chutzpah she shows in her maturation is laudable. Infused with themes of abandonment, loneliness, class and racial divides, and lost love, Where the Crawdads Sing will be one of those novels that will stand the test of time.

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

This novel was chosen for our August book club meeting. There are a number of threads
that come together in this novel. There is mystery, murder, a romantic involvement, empathy for an autistic person, and righting a wrong. 
Joe Talbert is a struggling college student who must right a biography of a hero for a class. He travels to Hillview Nursing Home to pick his subject. Suggested by the receptionist and director of the nursing home, he meets with Carl Iverson. Carl has recently been moved from prison to the nursing home because he is suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer. As they were becoming acquainted, Joe receives a phone call from his mother, who has an alcohol problem. She is in the process of being arrested and needs Joe to drive the 2 hours to come get his brother, Jeremy, who is autistic and needs to be in someone's care. This sets up the struggle that tears at Joe - his college career and his devotion to his brother. When he brings Jeremy to his house, he meets Lila, who seems to understand the needs of and his able to communicate with Jeremy.

Iverson had been in prison for 30 years, convicted of the rape and murder of Crystal Hagen, his next door neighbor. As Joe begins to interview him and hear his denial of guilt, Joe becomes convinced that he may actually be innocent of the crime. Enlisting the aid of Lila, the two set out on a course to delve deeper into the facts surround the crime. They manage, with the help of a professor, to obtain copies of the trial transcripts and evidence. In the evidence they find Crystal's diary, part of which was written in code. They deduce that the code is the key to the murder and set about to decode it, something that was never done during the trial. 

Throughout the novel much is revealed about the secrets and guilt that each of the characters carries with them. Iverson reveals what happened in Viet Nam, Lila discloses parts of her lurid past, and Joe, recounts the details of his grandfather's death. Each one of these revelations has been buried in their past, giving meaning on a philosophical level to the title of the book and substantiating the theme of guilt and second chances . 

To be able to prove Carl's innocence before he dies, Lila and Joe embark on a dangerous and risky journey that puts their lives in peril. This hazardous course proves to be the crux and climax of the novel. They enlist the aid of police detective Max Rupert, the central figure in a number of Eskens books.

The Life We Bury a fast-paced and satisfying read and with its premise of rape and murder, was also a disturbing one. The reader is drawn in quickly and follows the characters to the resolution of the mystery.