Want more escapism? Try A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons, a hilarious memoir by a scientist who studied baboons in Kenya for decades. Like the book about Alaska I reviewed this week, this one contains the occasional rant against poachers, bad tour operators, inept tourists, and the endemic corruption of the place, but the rants are contained and always resolve into yet another fun fact about baboons, life with the Masai, and the self-deprecating adventures of the author, who has been attacked by fire ants, swindled, and kidnapped by a bizarre truck-driving crew as he explores his surroundings. But the best parts of the book are the descriptions of the baboons themselves, scheming, deceiving, politicking in a way that can make humans slightly envious.
The heroine of Chemistry is suffering in a doctoral chemistry program (from which she will soon withdraw) and she can’t cope with her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, which seems to demand too much, too soon. The story describes her breakdown and slow healing, with a stream of consciousness re-discovery of what matters in her life. It’s a rather inspiring book despite the upheavals she has to go through!
A cheesy title does not mean a cheesy story, but in the case of Give Me Your Hand, it’s truth in advertising. Despite the enticing research lab setting, headed by a woman no less, and the always-welcome main character of a female psychopath, the very dark story of murders and coverups had too many bated-breath chapter endings, not to mention a wholly improbable succession of events. If you want to try reading it anyway, prepare to relish a wonderful secondary character: the mouse house caretaker, who reigns on his domain and judges everyone. He is the best part of this forgettable story.
Gaston Leroux, of Phantom of the Opera fame, wrote many other books including a series about a detective called Rouletabille, the first installment of which is The Mystery of the Yellow Room, in which a young woman scientist is savagely attacked in the yellow room of the title, a room that’s locked and at the door of which her father sat. Rouletabille, a young journalist, sets out to uncover the truth and finds that many actors in the French castle where the attack took place had secrets, some related to the crime and most not, and has to travel all the way to America to untangle the complicated motives and the shadowy author of the attack.
The book is over a century old, and moves at a very leisurely pace compared to modern mysteries — and most of the action takes place through deduction rather than direct investigation. It also appears that the next book in the series (which I will read soon!) is so heavily foreshadowed in this one that we already know its outcome. Still, a very enjoyable historical tromp.