Modern Gods is a split-personality book, attempting to tell the parallel stories of two sisters, one filming a bizarre cargo cult in Papua New Guinea and the other attempting to make peace with the discovery that her new husband was once a terrorist. The two stories could perhaps come together with some logical tie, except that they do not — and the cargo-cult film does not seem to really get anywhere except, as cults are likely to go, to a bad end.
That said, what happens to terrorists after they get out of prison is a very interesting theme, and the author shows nuanced perspectives from the perpetrator himself, his new wife (who surely asked too few questions ahead of time), and the community as a whole. I love that part.
Love Like Blood tackles, a bit awkwardly, the topic of honor killings. The plot is satisfyingly convoluted, with a nice (horrible!) twist at the end; the characters are all complex and interesting; and the action moves steadily. It all makes for a satisfying, if not unforgettable mystery
I’m going to say that Thing We Have In Common is a mystery, since it contains a crime, and a serious one, the disappearance of a teenager, but the focus is on one of her classmates, a fat, friendless, and bullied classmate who is fascinated by the popular girl and convinced that a mysterious man is watching her and may bring her harm. The action is mostly in the girl’s mind, with short interactions with her mother and stepfather — and eventually the police. The peculiar logic of teenagers is perfectly captured, all the way to the disturbing, unsettled ending.
The Mistletoe Murder is the title story of a set of short mystery stories, all featuring a murderer who gets away with a crime, at least for a while. The stories show an abundance of small details and end up with the apparently least likely actor as the culprit, as in Agatha Christie novels. After reading them, I started wondering if the short story could be the ideal medium for mysteries.
Prisoner in the Kitchen: The Car Thief, the Murderer, and the Man Hired to Feed Them his an unpretentious, factual memoir of a professional cook who takes a job in a high-security prison in Montana and quickly develops good relationships with many inmates who work in the kitchen. As time passes he learns of the sometimes horrible crimes they committed and finds it very difficult to reconcile their pasts, and their rationalizations of their pasts, with his working relationships. I thought the no-nonsense description of the daily life in prisons very enlightening, as well as the deeper implications on whether we can really know and trust people around us.
His Bloody Project describes itself as a historical thriller, but one that is entirely made up — a good thing, since the author wisely avoids exposing dry trial transcripts and instead devotes most of the book to a supposed autobiography of the killer, a teenager who likely could not have written the text. The autobiography is interspersed with testimony from his neighbors, his lawyer, and a criminal psychologist who views the accused as a member of an inferior race and treats him accordingly as subhuman. Along the way we discover the tough life of sharecroppers in Scotland in the late 19th century (no wonder so many Scots emigrated to find better lives elsewhere) and the suffocating nature of village living. We will never know exactly what happened, and that’s a good thing.
Ian Mc Ewan has written a book with a very clever premise of the narrator being an unborn baby. But beyond that unique perspective, the plot of Nutshell is entirely expected from the start, and the unique perspective of the baby seems to bring little new to the story, except from an altogether overly precious knowledge of wine (the mom drinks a lot) and very repetitive sex interludes (her lover is assiduous, if mercifully brief). It could be quite fun if the unexpected point of view was fleshed out (haha) in more detail.