Friday, October 15, 2010

October Reads I

"He had this black and white photo of her, and it was the spitting image of Maureen ... skinny and slitty-eyed ... called her a sidewinder."
"As in snake?"
He nodded.
"Because she never looked him in the face ... just stabbed him in the back." It sounded halfway reasonable till I realized he feels like that about all women. 'They're all snakes,' he said, and snakes have shapes. If you can't recognize the poisonous ones you're a dead man."
There were only 63 pages left to read in this Minette Walters' thriller until reading the above lines gave me the reason for the title of her eighth novel. I know every time I finish one of her books, I say, "This one is the best." This one is the best - so far.
There's a fine line between justice and revenge; love and hate; compassion and indifference. When "M", a white, middle class, English teacher returns home after an evening of parent-teacher conferences at her school and discovers her black neighbor dying in the street in front of M's row house, she is incensed both at the indifference of the neighborhood residents and the racist policeman assigned to the case. M is convinced the woman, "Mad Annie", was murdered. Her attempts to have the police look at that possibility fail. The case is closed as an unfortunate traffic accident.
Twenty years have passed. M and her husband, Sam, - the 'Ranelagh's' - who have lived in Hong Kong and Sydney during those years - are now back home in England. The subject of "Mad Annie's" death has never been mentioned in all that time. Sam is blind-sided to learn his wife has spent those years corresponding with people back in England, steadily building up a case file in order to discover Ann Butt's murderer.
Walters builds her story just as carefully. Along the way the reader is enmeshed in the dark side of human nature. From reading eight previous Minette Walters' mysteries, I know how difficult it is to figure out the identity of the murderer. The Shape of Snakes was no exception. Few of the characters escaped my certainty of who dun it, including M's husband, Sam and his pal, Jock.
I still love that her novels are all stand alones and don't have to be read in any order. I also love that I have her tenth book waiting on my bookshelf.

The last two of Rita Mae Brown's "Sister Jane" foxhunting books were included in the first half of my October reads. The Tell-Tale Horse and Hounded to Death are number six and seven. I've learned that both victim and perpetrator are usually from the "new" characters in each mystery - but not always. Once in a while the victim and/or the murderer is/are characters we've met in previous tales.
I consider these "light" mysteries - fun, easy, quick reads; something to bring me down from the psychological heights of a Walters novel. I'm assuming the next book in the series will soon be out.

The cover of Sheri Reynolds' Firefly Cloak caught my eye. The inside cover flap caught my attention. "Eight year old Tessa Lee and her brother Travis are abandoned in a campground by their desperate mother and her boyfriend of the moment. They are left with only two things: a phone number written in Magic Marker on Travis's back and their mother's favorite housecoat - a housecoat painted with tiny fireflies." Seven years later, when their mother is spotted working at a nearby seaside tourist trap, fourteen year old Tessa sets off alone to find her.
This is a well written, coming of age story of family love and redemption. Another of Reynolds' books, The Rapture of Canaan, was an Oprah Book Club pick a few years ago.

I'm becoming more of a fan of Ruth Rendell's so I decided to read one of her Inspector Wexford mysteries, No More Dying Then. I didn't feel like I got a very good picture of Wexford from this one reading. His partner, C.I.D. Mike Burden, was more featured in this one so I will try another Inspector Wexford novel. This one was published in 1971 and was tenth in the series. The Inspector was in his 40's then. I wonder how he will be portrayed thirty years later? I don't recall watching any of the series when they appeared on television between 1987 and 2000.

One of Rendell's stand alone mysteries, 13 Steps Down, was more to my liking. A man obsessed with a supermodel, the number 13 and a mass murderer from fifty years past is the focus of this novel. When his obsessions propel him to murder, his elderly landlady and her friends become involved.
There's no question about the who in this who dun it. However, there are some amusing moments and even a bit of pity for the bumbling stalker.
As I said, I'm becoming more a fan of Rendell. Her books will keep finding their way into my book bag.

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