Archive for the ‘Fiction–Thrillers’ Category

Above the canopy
Originally uploaded by Gasparino1

What may at first glance seem like a carpet of Yucca, is actually palm tree fronds, 15 feet above the ground. The huge, sprawling Live Oaks, like bearded ladies, stretch their arms even higher above the canopy. We are not in East Tennessee anymore, but are enjoying a beautiful island on the Atlantic called Amelia. So different than the carpet of pine needles and the leafless deciduous trees of my Tennessee home, this biosphere, home to alligators, snapping turtles, and blue herons holds a beauty all its own. Nevertheless, I get a bit homesick for the smells of the pine forest and the hazy mountains above Knoxville.  Of course, a week-long vacation calls for a good novel, and my current choice has kept me really close to home.  Carved in Bone, the first foray into the fictional genre for the team of John Jefferson and Bill Bass (or Jefferson Bass) has East Tennessee as its backdrop.  This page-turner combines the best of forensic anthropology, taught by the foremost authority and teacher of that subject, with a great story filled with murder, suspense, and good old southern politics.  From the outset, the reader is drawn into the story as they are walked through a real forensic case with the discovery of a body in a cave in fictional Cooke County, TN.  A reader familiar with Tennessee will assume that the writers are referring to Cocke County which is in the mountains and would be the distance and direction the book’s protagonist, Dr. Brockton, drives to investigate this case; but any reader will have no problem imagining this small town where cockfighting, marijuana, and nepotism still reign.  If you liked Death’s Acre,you will love this as well, and be familiar with the knowledge and techniques employed to conduct a real forensic investigation.  More books like this will give shows like CSI a run for their money, because in this book, the writer has lived the life of the protagonist.  This writer has fished bodies covered with adipocere out of the river, has simmered flesh off of bones before examining them, holds the keys to the nation’s (maybe the world’s) only Body Farm,and has passed on his knowledge to thousands of students, producing medical examiners, forensic detectives, and police officers who are competent in their fields.  Mystery lovers as well as forensics fans will enjoy this book, and can check out the newest offerings on www.jeffersonbass.com.  You can even take a tour of The Body Farm.  Go there–if you dare.


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On our drive back from Florida, we had a couple of guests with us.  The woman, a confident Italian from Miami was very interesting.  Being a forensic pathologist, her work was exciting to me, albeit morbid; and some of her cases, while intriguing were simply horrific.  The one she was focusing on at the moment, seemed all but impossible.  I was amazed that she would open up to me a total stranger.  Her friend, well he didn’t seem so intelligent at first; could really surprise you.  He had an instinct about him.  Not much got past Marino, and he always had a buddy in this or that town or department that could do him a favor or two.  Oh, he was a colorful character all right, and his language was much too colorful for me, I might add.  My DH and I were both glad that our children were occupied watching the Sound of Music in the back seat–headphones on and completely absorbed.  We on the other hand had been transported to Richmond, Virginia where Dr. Scarpetta had once been Chief Medical Examiner.  She had been called back, reluctantly it seemed, by the man who had replaced her.  He was an unfriendly sort of man, by all accounts, and with a huge chip on his shoulder and a score to settle with Scarpetta.  Nothing was as she remembered it.  There seemed to be chaos in her old department; and even former colleagues and friends had grown sickly and incompetent under the thumb of the new department head.  Trace was my first Patricia Cornwell novel, and we decided to listen to the audiobook on our long 12 hour drive.  I had been enthralled by her Portrait of a Killer:  Jack the Ripper–Cased Closed.  It was amazing to me that by applying modern forensics, one could solve an almost 200 year-old crime.  I have no doubts that she has the right man.  However, Trace had me a little too uneasy.  Maybe it was because I share the same surname as the killer.  I kept thinking, “Great, now all the people I went to highschool with will be saying, ‘We always knew she was weird’.”  Maybe it’s because I wanted the main characters, the heroes, the protagonists to have stable relationships themselves.  I was grieved that their personal lives were so screwed up.  Maybe Cornwell is implying that people in that line of work (forensics, homicide, etc.) are incapable of having normal, healthy relationships. 

I gave my dad a call, because I knew he liked Cornwell.  We talked about the book for awhile, but somehow it led into a discussion about a new Irish pub that opened up in town; and how to order the house specialty which is a beer that predates Guiness called Smithwick.  It’s pronounced “Smittick”, and my dad informed me that to call it “Smithwick” is to sound like a complete idiot.  The topics of conversation seemed to fit so well together that it must imply that Trace, and maybe the other Scarpetta novels are the kind of books that one drinks a beer with and not simply a cup of coffee.  Well, there is a Proverb that says, “Give…wine to those who are in anguish.”  So, the next time I decide to depress myself with one of these novels, I’ll go get myself a Smithwick and make a night of it.

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Kiss Me Again StrangerThe day might have started like one of her novels.  There is a young woman caring for her invalid grandparents, shuffling through the stacks of old and pointless magazines and newspapers that littered the side tables so that one couldn’t even find a place to balance a cup or a notepad should it be needed.  And then, her hand strikes something different; a small brown hardback book.  She is at once intrigued, being the bibliophile that she is, she refrains from simply stacking it and pauses to check out the title, copyright, etc.  “Daphne du Maurier” she sighs.  “Where did you get this?”  She looks longingly at her grandfather.  “I guess it’s been here for years” he replies.  She sighs again, noticing the copyright of 1953 and the excellent condition of the binding and the pages.  “I haven’t read this.”  She hadn’t.  “May I borrow it?”  Then the answer she hoped he would give, “Well, just take it.  I’m sure we’ve read it sometime or other, but I don’t expect we’ll ever be reading it again.”  What a great gift, they have no idea, her grandparents.  The book is stacked neatly among her other things in anticipation of her departure, and every so often her eyes glance over to make sure it is still there, not just some phantom toying with her heartstrings.  When she finally makes her way home, the book is laid on her bedside table; but there are chores to be done and other matters to attend to.  The woman blindly completes each task, not taking time to enjoy each moment, forgetting to say the soft words to her family that bring comfort, assurance, or bind up wounds.  Her thoughts are elsewhere.  They are in Italy, or beside some clear waterfall, and more oft than not in heaven.  A child asks for water for the third time, her husband goes out to water the garden, but she is oblivious, caught up in her own fantasies; but all the time being shaken back to reality.  However, this is not a du Maurier novel or short story, and this woman’s response, thank God, is not morose.  She does in fact pull herself back into the real world, remind her husband and children how much she dearly loves them, repents to them for her apathy and antagonism, and repents to God for her discontentment; and still looks forward to next month’s vacation–with her family.  Had this been a du Maurier novel it would have ended quite differently.  Our heroine might have found herself atop some Mountain of Truth “Monte Verita'”, and leaving her husband, joined the immortals that live there only to find that it isn’t all that it is cracked up to be and there is still sufferring on that mountain–leprosy in fact.  She might have gone on vacation without her husband and gotten caught up with a crippled photographer, and when he intimates that he might reveal all to her husband, she throws him off a cliff.  Another possibility is that she might become the “sufferring servant” of the family and play the part of a martyr that her family would only be too glad to get rid of.  This is the stuff of a du Maurier novel.  Her writing isn’t just macabre, it is human nature at it’s worst.  She is able to take very real scenarios and situations, and bring swift judgement.  Sometimes it is the type of vindication that we all wish would happen.  Sometimes not; but either way her stories are never the “feel good” type.  Why then would you pick one up?  Daphne du Maurier excells in her descriptions of people and places.  Her pen and paper are the brush and the canvas.  It is hard not to enjoy her words.  As for her subjects, most are very interesting.  Her plots are full of twists and turns and the endings are always unexpected.  My favorite book by du Maurier is of course Rebecca.  This is one of the greatest dramas ever written and the words, from the first sentence, seem to soar off the page:  “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.  It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me.  There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate.  I called in my dream to the lodgekeeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate, I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.” 

 Another of my favorites is The House on the Strand.  This is one that I wish could be made into a movie.  It involves time travel, a mystery, and a house that is the center of two worlds. 

 The book, Kiss Me Again Stranger:  Eight Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier contains the title story as well as some more familiar stories including “The Birds” which Hitchcock made famous.  The stories differ in their length as well as the degrees of angst they produce in the reader; but I believe essential in understanding du Maurier as a writer. 

The young woman I spoke of before devoured the pages in the evening long after her husband and children had gone to sleep.  When she closed the book, she sighed once again, only this time it was with the knowledge that she had completed something.  She carried the book to her library and shelved it next to her copy of Rebecca and then perused the empty spaces among her stacks.  Well, it’s late.  She shrugged her shoulders and went to bed.  Her challenge now became not to think of old, twisted apple trees, or a girl who sleeps in a graveyard.  As she drifted off to sleep she heard a rushing sound, as if a great flock of birds were beating their wings as one.

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People’s tastes in literature differ about as much as tastes in music.  Take one DF (dear friend) for instance.  When, I recommended Ted Dekker’s Circle Trilogy, Black, Red, and White, she just replied that she had tried to read it, but didn’t like it at all.  “I think it was too fast paced for me…or maybe it’s just I’ve spent so much time reading 19th Century English literature.”  Jane Eyre is her favorite.  She has read it countless times, and I’ve heard her remark more than once that she just wants to “be Jane”.  I used to chuckle about this, until I really thought about it.  What does that say about her that she wants to insert herself into this really dark tale?  Is she looking for a mystery man, full of dark secrets, not the least of which is (I don’t want to spoil it) something he keeps locked away in his lonely old house, or does she want to be persecuted by a wicked Aunt, but through hard work and study be able to make something of herself?    Granted, I like the book, despite it’s darkness; but do I obsess about it?  Absolutely not.  I will not write any more about this Bronte work because I’m hoping my friend will defend herself with some choice comments as to its merit and beauty.  Someone who really loves a book, should write about it.  So, come out with it, and be convincing, please!

Another friend of mine borrowed the first book in the Circle Trilogy last week.  She asked for the next two books today, as she had already finished the first one.  I asked her if she liked it, but strangely she said, “Yes.”  In sort of a questioning way, and then after much thought said, “Yeah, I liked it.”  In my head I’m thinking, “Okay, you read the first 300+ pages in less than a week and you’re asking for the next two, and you’re not quite sure if you like it?”  I told her about my first friend and her comments about 19th Century English Lit., and this friend said, “She should read Jane Eyre.  I’m reading it now and ugh.”  Now don’t assume this friend (#2) is not well read.  Her mother was my college English professor, and is also something of an Anglophyle (her mother that is), so friend #2 has cut her gums on Dorothy L. Sayers and T.S. Elliott.  As to her actual tastes, I’m not quite sure.  I know that we spent a winter together fighting over Brock and Bodie Thoene’s Zion Chronicles, which is a Christian Historical fiction series set in Israel during the 1940’s, during the time it became a nation. 

I think my tastes in books could be defined as various shades of passion.  There are some genres, of course, I just don’t read at all (horror, romance, etc.); but of the books I read, I really just love them all.  If you had asked me two weeks ago what my favorite genre was, I would have said “mysteries”; however, the same question several months ago would have been answered with “historical fiction”.  This week, however, I think I have indeed discovered what one genre it is that affects me like a drug.  When I’m not reading it, I think about it.  I want to talk about it to everyone I meet (well, that’s almost any good book I’ve read), I stay up much too late reading it, and when I have to turn out the lights, I’m sad because I can’t be reading.  I walk around the house almost in a daze, wondering if there is anyway I can just enter that world I’m reading about.  I don’t do the things that need to be done, because I just have to finish this chapter in the book.  I carry the book with me and attempt to read it everywhere:  in the school car line, at traffic lights (this can be dangerous), in the waiting room at the chiropractic office, between dance classes.  I take baths instead of showers, because you can’t read in the shower.  My DH sees the effects and wonders if I’m reading something that is going to “edify me spiritually”.  “Who cares?” I reply.  “I need this.  I need an escape every once in awhile.  I need to read about a place that is so unlike my own little world and that can transport me there every time I pick up the book.” Now, I admit I have discovered that what I’m really longing for is Heaven and God, but I don’t take the time to remind myself of this when I’m in the midst of a good read.  Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier is one such book.  It is pure fantasy, and I realized the first fantasy I had read since reading The Lord of the Rings.  I have always loved folklore, especially Irish, and Marillier brings to life the old tale of the Wild Swans and weaves a story of love and sacrifice that leaves you heart sick until the very end.  Many may remember this fairy tale of a young girl who must free her six brothers from an evil spell that has changed them into swans.  She is called to a difficult and painful task by “the Fair Folk” and in addition is required to complete her task without utterring a sound.  This story will leave you breathlessly wanting more.  In fact, I am having to force myself to stick to my self-imposed rule:  Alternate Fiction with Non-fictionObviously, this rule is a good one, else nothing would get done around my house.  So, if you want fantasy, choose Daughter of the Forest, if you want a good, unique, “fast-paced” thriller, read Ted Dekker’s Circle Trilogy, if you want an exciting historical novel try the Thoene’s Zion Chronicles,  and if you’re a hopeless romantic and really want to be bummed out, read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.   (Oooooh, I’m going to be getting some comments now, I know.)

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