THE FOURTH DEADLY SIN by Lawrence Sanders

Written in 1986, this was the fourth in the Deadly Sins series by prolific writer Lawrence Sanders, author of 22 popular books, which included three series.

The protagonist is Captain Edward X. Delaney, now retired NYPD Chief of Detectives, who is asked by the current Chief to investigate a high-profile murder of a well-loved psychiatrist. That serves Delaney’s purpose as well, which is to keep his mind engaged in such thought-requiring endeavors.  In this case, a New York psychiatrist is brutally murdered and there are six suspects – the psychiatrist’s six patients.

I found the dialog stilted and unrealistic, and the retired Captain’s home situation odd.  His wife was murdered years ago, and he is now married to the wife of a man whose murder Delaney investigated also years ago.

It dragged on with too many expositions of what the man was thinking and how he was going about the investigation.  In addition, the police help assigned to him were instructed to get to know the six suspects by claiming to be something else, thereby conning them into revealing more about themselves.  I doubt that the police investigators actually do this.  Very weird.  Also, Delaney’s screwball quasi psychological explanation of the motivation of the killer was just ridiculous.

An OK mystery, about 150 pages too long, but it did evoke the Manhattan of the 80s, which was nice.

In case you are not up on your Deadly Sins, the fourth is Envy.

WORLD AND TOWN by Gish Jen

Hattie Kong, a 68 year old retired Biology teacher who was born in China but came to America after the Communist takeover. Her father was a descendant of Confucius, and her mother was an American missionary.  Hattie was sent to live with relatives in America when things began to get iffy in China, , but the parents were not able to leave and died there. After Hattie loses both her husband, and her best friend to cancer in a period of two years, she moves to the fictional Vermont town of Riverlake, where she lives in the mountains along with her three dogs. She has a small circle of walking friends, she paints, yet her days are still lonely. Her son Josh calls now and then to make sure all is well, but they rarely have very much to say to one another.

Before long an immigrant family from Cambodia, also trying to start a new and more peaceful life, move into town near Hattie. The Chung family is living in a trailer on church property. The family consists of a mother, father, teenage daughter and son and also an infant son here in Vermont. They also have two additional girls who were placed in foster homes prior to the family moving this area. While other members of the community struggle to sort out what their duty to the newcomers should be, Hattie has both the time and the willingness to assist this family in their transition to life in Vermont. Although the family is reluctant to let an outsider into their circle, Hattie takes to Sophy, the fifteen year old girl, who begins to open up and share with her the Chhung family’s painful past. When another neighbor, Ginny introduces Sophy to a fundamentalist Christian church, Sophy becomes obsessed with the its teachings and she begins to cool her relationship with Hattie, who is opposed to their beliefs.

Just as the Chungs arrival to the area changed Hattie’s life, so has the arrival of a former lover from her youth, Carter Hatch. He, like Hattie and the Chungs, moved to the area to start a new life. Carter and Hattie had worked together in neuroscience research,  had a relationship, but he rejected her due to his parents’ desires and wishes for him. They both married other people. Now Carter is divorced and retired, and back in the picture again.

There is a fairly strong strain of anti-fundamentalist Christianity in this story, with first Ginny being influenced by the church people to reject her husband of 37 years, and then influencing the young and impressionable Sophy to reject her family.

Different characters narrate their portions of the story in their own vernacular and rhythm, which some readers found hard to follow but which I really loved.   We learn of the difficult and tragic background of the Chungs,  the background to the marriage of Ginny and her husband, and throughout the events in the current time, we learn more and more about Hattie’s late husband and deceased friend.

Very enjoyable book, giving us much to think about concerning who is family, who is neighbor,

 

1Q84 by Haruki Marakami

925 pages of tedious story telling, overfull of breast descriptions, boring sexual acts, murder, cult sex, other sex, boring sex, and oh, yeah, some horsesh*t lame sci fi attempt about a different dimension world.

The female protagonist exits a blocked freeway to emerge in a different world.  Well, it looks the same, all except that police have different weapons, and there are two moons in this world.  She names it 1Q84, for First Question Mark 1984.  She is an assassin, working with a small secret organization to kill men who commit terrible sexual deeds.

The other main character is a writer and is sucked into ghostwriting or actually ghost rewriting a story written by a teenage girl, which is filled with tales about the Little People and other weird stuff, which she claims is true.

Back in grade school, the writer and the girl who attend the same school, never speak, but one time she takes his hand and squeezes it, and that becomes the basis for a lifelong love affair for both, although that year they part for different schools and never see each other again.

Very little is actually explained, it is not a fun story, it doesn’t make sense and it is hours and hours of my life I will never get back, nor will I ever read any more of Marakami.

Translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel.

 

 

THE NINTH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX By Liz Jensen

Louis Drax is a boy like no other. He is brilliant and strange, and every year something violent seems to happen to him. On his ninth birthday, Louis goes on a picnic with his parents and falls off a cliff. The details are shrouded in mystery. Louis’s mother is shell-shocked; his father has vanished. And after some confusion Louis himself, miraculously alive but deep in a coma, arrives at Dr. Pascal Dannachet’s celebrated coma clinic…Full of astonishing twists and turns, this is a masterful tale of the secrets the human mind can hide.

Can you say “Munchausen syndrome by proxy”, boys and girls?

Interesting read, told both in the voice of the young boy in the coma, and in the voice of the doctor treating him.

Sure are a lot of f**ked up people in the world, and this story is full of them.  But nevertheless, in spite of the weirdos, I did really really like it.

THE CAT’S TABLE by Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient, yeah THAT Michael Ondaatje.

A spellbinding story – by turns poignant and electrifying – about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy in Colombo, the largest city of Sri Lanka,  boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the “cat’s table” – as far from the Captain’s Table as can be – with a ragtag group of “insignificant” adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys tumble from one adventure to another, bursting all over the place like freed mercury. But there are other diversions as well: one man talks with them about jazz and women, another opens the door to the world of literature. The narrator’s elusive, beautiful cousin Emily becomes his confidante, allowing him to see himself “with a distant eye” for the first time, and to feel the first stirring of desire. Another Cat’s Table denizen, the shadowy Miss Lasqueti, is perhaps more than what she seems. And very late every night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and his fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever.

As the narrative moves between the decks and holds of the ship and the boy’s adult years, it tells a spellbinding story – by turns poignant and electrifying – about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage. ”

Well, I found it neither spellbinding nor electrifying. Although the official plot description makes it sound like it is just chock full of adventure, it is a story in search of a plot, and the few events that do happen feel like Ondaatje realized that among all the musing and descriptions nothing was happening, so he stuck in some action stuff and called it good.

I found it somewhat boring and struggled to finish it, hoping for some big reveal at the end, but alas, that was not to be.

Remember Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog)? Read about that book HERE.  This is Three Preteens in a Boat to say nothing about a dog which they smuggle on board who then bites a sick man in the throat, and then totally disappears.

THE MIDDLESTEINS by Jami Attenberg

Key words:  fat, obese, eating, obsessive eating, middle class, Jewish.

OK, that about sums it up.  Here is the official story:

For more than thirty years, Edie and Richard Middlestein shared a solid family life together in the suburbs of Chicago. But now things are splintering apart, for one reason, it seems: Edie’s enormous girth. She’s obsessed with food–thinking about it, eating it–and if she doesn’t stop, she won’t have much longer to live.

When Richard abandons his wife, it is up to the next generation to take control. Robin, their schoolteacher daughter, is determined that her father pay for leaving Edie. Benny, an easy-going, pot-smoking family man, just wants to smooth things over. And Rachelle– a whippet thin perfectionist– is intent on saving her mother-in-law’s life, but this task proves even bigger than planning her twin children’s spectacular b’nai mitzvah party. Through it all, they wonder: do Edie’s devastating choices rest on her shoulders alone, or are others at fault, too?

With pitch-perfect prose, huge compassion, and sly humor, Jami Attenberg has given us an epic story of marriage, family, and obsession. The Middlesteins explores the hopes and heartbreaks of new and old love, the yearnings of Midwestern America, and our devastating, fascinating preoccupation with food.

This is a tight, standard, modernist story of a family, their ins and outs, their foibles and triumphs, a selection of anecdotes and incidents that, stacked together, make up lives. It’s straightforward,  where the story leaps through time and voice, where Edie’s chapters are titled after her weight at the time of the action, and the omniscient  narrator is casually dropping facts about things that happen in the future, outside the scope of the book’s parameters,  and the seeds of future events are planted throughout,

It’s also about food and its ability to comfort, to mask, to consume, to destroy. Yeah.  It’s mostly about food and fat.

MISS PYM DISPOSES by Josephine Tey

“To Lucy Pym, author of a best-seller on Psychology, the atmosphere at the college where she is lecturing is heavy with tension. Beneath the so normal surface run sinister undercurrents of rivalry and jealousy. Then comes tragedy. An accident? Or is it murder? Respectable, law-abiding Miss Pym discovers some vital evidence – but should she reveal it?”

Written in 1946, this British story is of a prim and proper author who visits a college for Physical Training of Young Ladies, at the behest of a former school mate who befriended her when she was being bullied.

In this school we Gentle Readers meet the several prominent seniors who make up the bulk of the characters, and it all revolves around who will receive what employment placement at the end of term.

Miss Pym finds herself in possession of knowledge that will lead to the discovery of who tampered with a balance beam, causing a student conducting a last-minute solo practice to fall, the beam to fall on her head, and her subsequent death.

I would call this a proto-cozy mystery, and a lovely read.

Josephine Tey was the author of a popular mystery series featuring Scotland Yard’s Inspector Alan Grant.