Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reading and Recuperating

Not that I've ever needed an excuse to read, but if I did, recuperating from surgery is a good one. The first several days home from the hospital saw me napping as much as anything else. (The pain meds may have had something to do with that.) But in between the naps in my recliner, there was always a book at hand - nap, read, nap, read....
I did not want the onus of library books at this time so I turned to the unread stash on my bookshelves. If anyone had asked me if I ever read any of David Liss's novels before, I would have said yes. I thought I had. I thought liking him as an author was the reason I bought The Whiskey Rebels at a garage sale a couple years ago.
After reading this intriguing historical novel, I discovered I do like Liss as an author and I haven't read any of his other works. Our library only has one of his books - The Coffee Trader - which is now on my list of 'to read'.

I have often remarked that my favourite way of learning history is to read a well-researched and well-written historical novel. Such is the case of The Whiskey Rebels. If I ever studied or read about The Whiskey Rebellion in the past, I had forgotten it. And while I was always more interested in reading about the Civil War era than the Revolutionary War era, I have read and enjoyed the history of the Revolutionary War.
This book is set in post war Philadelphia in 1792. Alexander Hamilton is Secretary of the Treasury. He is engaged in a bitter power struggle with political rival, Thomas Jefferson, over the creation of the fragile young nation's first real financial institution: The Bank of the United States.
While real historical figures play a role in the novel's plot, they are not the central characters. Two protagonists, Ethan Saunders, a former spy for General Washington during the war and Joan Maycott, the widow of a war veteran who trades his promissory notes for payment of service during the war for land in the wilds of western Pennsylvania, alternate relating this well plotted mystery.
I am guilty of naively assuming the great political divide in our nation was born in the 20th century. I assumed everyone was on the same side and had the same agenda of getting our young country on its feet in the late 1700's and early 1800's. Reading The Whiskey Rebels points out how untrue that was. It also reminded me of how much I love historical fiction. I must read more of it in the future.

My other four reads during the mending period were two Minette Walters - The Chameleon's Shadow and Disordered Minds - and the next two in Anne Perry's William Monk series - Weighed in the Balance and The Silent Cry. Both these women remain at the top of my most favourite authors. The two Walters books are as dissimilar as possible - one featuring a crippled Iraqi war veteran set in 2006; the other about a wrongfully convicted twenty-year-old mentally retarded man set in 1970. What is the same is Walters's amazing ability to write such psychologically compelling novels.

Anne Perry's books are more adventures of the Victorian private sleuth, William Monk and his two companions in detecting, Nurse Hester Latterly and Barrister Sir Oliver Rathbone (whose name had to have been chosen because of Basil Rathbone).
In The Silent Cry Monk must spend a good deal of time deep in London's dangerous slums. He experiences feelings of having been there before and flashbacks that lead him to recovering some memories of his past life.
Hester's knowledge of plants and their medicinal properties help Rathbone win his case in Weighed in the Balance. I was so proud of myself for spotting the bouquet of Lilies of the Valley in an early description of the room where the death occurred and holding on to them as the cause of death all the way through the book even though it was made to appear poison from the bark of yew trees was used. My own detecting abilities remain sharp.

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