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Posts Tagged ‘Alan Banks’

robinsonPeter Robinson’s series detective Alan Banks has little in common with David Baldacci’s Army Special Agent John Puller. But both the thoughtful Yorkshire copper and the cunning combat veteran face complex cases involving human trafficking and possible police corruption.

In Robinson’s deft Watching the Dark (Morrow, digital galley via edelweiss), the crossbow murder of a fellow cop eventually leads Banks to Tallinn, Estonia, where a pretty British teenager disappeared six years ago. Much to his dismay, Banks is accompanied by a Professional Standards officer, Joanna Passero, while his usual partner, Annie Cabbot, stays home investigating a migrant labor scam. When Banks discovers a link between the cases, he puts his and his colleagues’ lives in jeopardy.

baldacciSimilar peril finds Puller in the small Florida panhandle town of Paradise in Baldacci’s The Forgotten (Grand Central Publishing, purchased hardcover) when he uncovers evidence that his elderly aunt’s drowning death may be connected to the murder of a local retired couple. Puller takes his time piecing the puzzle and wrangling with local law enforcement, while an enigmatic gardener plots revenge at a wealthy tycoon’s gated estate. But all is revealed in an explosive finale that had me flipping pages.

nineteenSmugglers also play a part in Janet Evanovich’s new Stephanie Plum tale, Notorious Nineteen (Random House, library hardcover). I gave up on the flip New Jersey bounty agent a few books back as her adventures became more raucous, raunchy and ridiculous. But she’s in fine form in this entertaining escapade hunting for patients who have mysteriously disappeared from a local hospital. So, too, are Morelli, Ranger and other series regulars, including Rex the hamster and Bob the dog, but several cars lose their lives.

childsWhen Ruth Rendell assumes her Barbara Vine pseudonym, I think of a snake in a figure eight swallowing its tail, or of matryoshkas, the Russian nesting dolls. Just summing up The Child’s Child (Scribner, digital galley via edelweiss) requires many little gray cells. In this book-within-a-book, siblings Grace and Andrew Easton agree to share their late grandmother’s London houseEnter James Derain, Andrew’s handsome lover, who argues with Grace over her doctoral dissertation on society’s attitudes about unwed mothers. Two events further complicate their lives: James and Andrew witness a friend’s murder outside a nightclub, and Grace discovers an unpublished 1951 novel about a gay man who masquerades as his younger sister’s husband to give her illegitimate child a name. Vine’s artful storytelling encompasses sex, lies, murder and social taboos past and present. It’s engrossing reading even though the characters are often unsympathetic.

mcmahonJennifer McMahon also does some nifty time-shifting in her harrowing The One I Left Behind (HarperCollins, digital galley via edelweiss), as a successful architect confronts her past and a creepy serial killer dubbed Neptune. The summer Reggie is 13 and hanging out with fellow uncool kids Tara and Charlie, her has-been actress mother Vera disappears and is presumed to be Neptune’s last victim after her severed hand is delivered to the small town’s police station. A quarter century later, Vera reappears in a homeless shelter, but she is suffering from cancer and dementia. Reggie returns to her childhood home where she lived with her aunt to help care for her mother. Tara and Charlie are still around, as are several of Vera’s old boyfriends and Charlie’s cop father. So, too, is Neptune. Yikes!

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I’m not ready to close the book on 2010, or any other year for that matter. Perusing others’ year-end best lists, I’m gratified to see many of my own favorites (Tana French’s Faithful Place, Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile, Emma Donoghue’s Room) and that President Obama is reading John le Carre and David Mitchell. But mostly I see all the books I’ve read but still haven’t written about, plus all the ones I want to read, including the lovely stack from Santa and friends.

 Just yesterday I finished Peter Robinson’s Bad Boy, which was very good, and came out six months ago. It’s the 19th in the Inspector Alan Banks series, which is hard to believe. Was In a Dry Season really 10 books back? I’d like to reread it if I can find my copy. I’m always looking for books lost in my own house, and while searching for them, I inevitably turn up others I’d like to reread — or never read in the first place. A constant chorus seems to emanate from the shelves and stacks: Pick me! I’m next! Over here!

I’m on vacation at my mom’s but can’t escape the books begging for attention. In fact, my bed is shoved up against a bookcase on one side, and I fall asleep — and wake up — eye-to-eye with a shelf of Maeve Binchy novels, a couple of Barbara Kingsolvers and some Tony Hillermans. All read and read again, still enticing. I turn my head, and the TBR stack of new volumes threatens to topple off the nightstand.

Susan Hill understands. The prolific British author, best known forThe Woman in Black — although I love her Simon Serrailler crime series — also loses books in her house. It’s why she wrote Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home. Looking for one elusive volume, she turned up a  dozen more she’d forgotten about. So, swearing off new books for the most part and curtailing her use of the internet, she decided to “repossess” her own books. She writes:

“A book which is left on a shelf is a dead thing but it is also a chrysalis, an inanimate object packed with the potential to burst into new life.”

Her books also turn out to be a map of her own life, and her reading journey becomes a memoir. For fellow bibliophiles, the result is as hard to resist as the title — charming, anecdotal, opinionated. The temptation to quote is endless. “No matter what the genre, good writing tells.” And, “Ah here is Muriel Spark, sharp as a pencil, cool, stylish.”

She is talking about Sparks’ novels and stories, but Hill has led a literary life, and her descriptions of her encounters with older, famous writers are just as pointed. Edith Sitwell is haughty and terrifying, but the “small man with thinning hair and a melancholy mustache” who accidentally drops a book on her foot in the London Library offers “a small flurry of exclamations and apology and demur.” As she returns the book, she finds herself looking into the watery eyes of an elderly E.M. Forster. “He seemed slightly stooping and wholly unmemorable and I have remembered everything about him for nearly 50 years.”

She notes that knowing about a writer’s life is rarely necessary to appreciate their works but makes an exception, at least for herself, where Dickens and the Brontes are concerned. As for her own life, she has published books by other authors and found it an enjoyable sideline. She loves the feel and shape of books, the smell of them, the sound of pages being turned. She’ll put money on books — real books, printed and bound — being around as long as there are readers.

When I started this blog almost a year ago, I had the ambitious idea of giving away at least one of my old books for every new one I brought home. I would even chronicle this pruning of my collection in occasional posts, “Going, going, gone.” I think I did this twice before realizing the futility of my donating books or releasing them into the wild in any organized fashion. I always have a give-away box going, but it contains mostly recent acquisitions in which I’ve lost all interest. Rarely can I survey my shelves, stacks, piles, bins, carry-alls, table-tops, etc. and see a book I think I might not want to re-read — or get around to reading for the first time. Just reading Hill’s memoir has reminded me of at least half a hundred of which I already have copies.

So that’s my plan for 2011. Not to stop reading new books; I know my limits — as well as what’s on the horizon that looks wonderful. I’m already counting the months — eight — when the sequel to Lev Grossman’s  The Magicians is supposed to be published. But I am going to make a concerted effort to “repossess” the books I have, to indulge in the companionship of old friends, to acquaint myself with new-to-me volumes. I’ll let you know how it goes, and how often whimsy wins out over the call of the current. As soon as I get home later this week, I’ll probably start with Forster. Howards End is in the white wicker chest beneath the bedroom window. I think.

Open Book: I bought my copy of Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill (Profile Books) when it was published in the U.S. in early November. It moved to the top of my TBR stack about a week ago.

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