Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Complex and Exciting Mystery

Snow White Must Die, by Nele Neuhaus (Read by Robert Fass)

Wow! This is simply one of the best books I have read since I stumbled upon Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. While Larsson's story offered an intriguing plot that hinged on a single outstanding character, Neuhaus offers an incredibly complex plot that hinges on a cast of interesting characters.

The story, which takes place in Germany, opens with Tobias Sartorius who is being released from prison after completing a ten year sentence for the murder of two young women. Tobias has no choice but to return to the village of Altenhain where he and the victims had grown up.

Then, a woman named Rita Cramer falls from a bridge into traffic below causing a a terrible traffic pile-up. Police officers Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein become involved in the investigation when a witness claims that Cramer, who is Tobias's mother, was pushed off the bridge. Reluctantly, the police are dragged into a re-investigation of the earlier murders when another young woman connected to Tobias goes missing. And that's when the secrets of the village begin to unravel.

This is a complex story with many threads that tighten relentlessly and through surprising and interesting turns of the plot. Altogether, it makes Nele Neuhaus and her work an exciting discovery for English readers. If you love really good mysteries, this is a book you have to add to your list.

Finally, I listened to the audio version of this book read by Robert Fass. I especially recommend the audio version for the German flavor the narration brings to the book.

Fathers and Their Sons Who Commit Crimes

Defending Jacob by William Landay

A murder mystery that unfolds as a court room drama, Defending Jacob is a story told by the distraught father of the accused as he gives testimony. It's an odd position for Andy Barber who has, himself, been an assistant district attorney for more than 20 years. When a classmate of his son, Jacob, is murdered, he is surprised to find that Jacob is the prime suspect.

Through grueling testimony, Barber reveals both the history of the case and in flashbacks, the twisted family history, and his own efforts to focus suspicion in a different direction.

The case destroys Barber's career, ruins his happy marriage, and reveals his deepest secrets.

Landay carefully and skillfully reveals Jacob, the case against him, Barber's determination to clear his son, the complete annihilation of everything in Barber's life, and the secrets at the core of everything. The conclusion is unexpected, shocking, and utterly satisfying.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

This story begins with a dinner in an upscale restaurant in Amsterdam. The diners are two brothers and their wives. The younger brother and his wife arrive first and are seated. The older brother, a powerful politician, and his wife arrive with a flurry and the first hint that all is not as it appears.

As the dinner progresses, the friendly and courteous pretensions are chipped away and it is revealed that the diners must make a critical decision regarding their teen-aged sons.

The two cousins are involved in a horrifying incident that has resulted in police investigation. The two couples are determined to protect their children, but in serious conflict about how to do that.

The story is told through the musings and memories of the younger brother who has secrets of his own and shocking discoveries to make about his marriage and even the son he is trying to protect.

Both of these books focus on the two fathers and their desperate efforts to protect their sons. Both are well-written and suspenseful. Both are chilling because they leave you wondering, "What would I do if it were my child?"

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What to Keep and What to Let Go

Objects of My Affection, by Jill Smolinski

What do you do when your 19-year old son has a serious drug problem? For Lucy Bloom, the answer is simple and clear: Whatever It Takes. For Lucy, getting her son into a rehab program literally takes everything she has, including her relationship with the love of her life.

After she sells her home to pay for the rehab and her relationship ends because her partner does not want his life turned upside down by a teenage drug user, she finds herself broke and living with a friend and her family. When she is offered the job of helping an eccentric and somewhat notorious artist clean up her house, the job looks like a lifeline. Unfortunately, Marva Meier Rios is as cantankerous as she is eccentric and she blocks progress on the project at every turn.

Lucy's efforts to clear out the clutter is resisted at every turn, but Lucy is determined to finish the project. For better or worse, the job throws her back into contact with her ex-lover and in conflict with secrets Marva herself is determined to preserve.

And then Lucy's son leaves rehab and demands that she pay for treatment at Betty Ford and Lucy's plans for a rosy future for herself and her rehabilitated son collapse again.

In a strange way, this is a kind of "coming of age" story. Lucy has to give up her fantasy future with her son and come to terms with the boundaries between her life and his. It is a deep challenge many parents have to face and, perhaps, especially wrenching for a single parent.

This is a good story, well written and well told. I especially liked the parallel between the things -- and people -- we hang on to and the ones we finally have to let go.