Another month has gone by. This has been an odd month for me. A couple of unexpected bills meant that I didn’t get around to as many restaurants this month as I usually do. As a result my May 2019 reading round up is only my third post of the month. Things are looking up already for June, and I expect I’ll be back on a more or less typical production level next month.
The books for this month are heavy on the crime fiction and light on the food. I dug into a couple more of the Ian Rankin books I picked up in late March, and gave Jack Reacher another try. I also read a food biography, and a book dealing with the Residential School history hear in Canada. I’ll start with the Ian Rankin books.
One of Rankin’s earlier books, Bleeding Hearts was originally published under the name of Jack Harvey. The story considers an assassin , Michael Weston, who has been perfect, except once. That one missed shot, one that ended up killing a little girl, has haunted him. Along with that the missed shot put a dogged private detective named Leo Hoffer, bankrolled by the girl’s father, on Weston’s tale.
Weston, in addition to being an assassin lives with Hemophilia. This plays a part in the story and allows the reader to learn something about the disease. Rankin clearly put good effort into the research for this element of the story.
After some preliminaries the story gets going with Weston shooting an investigative journalist. Yet, no sooner is she shot than the police start to arrive. Weston barely gets away, and is left with the question who tried to get him? After fleeing the city he decides to return and investigate. As he returns he brings with him Belinda the daughter of his friend, and armorer Max. Together they search for clues, and get closer and closer to an encounter with Hoffer.
The book is cleverly and well plotted. There are, as in any good thriller, plenty of twists and turn. While Rankin gives the reader a sympathetic portrayal of Weston, the fact that he kills people for a living is never far from the surface. I also really like the fact that Belinda, as the daughter of the armorer isn’t written as some kind of naif. She knows what her father does and realizes that as she supports him, she’s supporting what he does as well.
The plot also builds well. Things are not what they appear with any of the main characters, including the original victim. How everything unwinds is not entirely satisfying, but makes you feel that it would be good if Rankin had come back to these characters again.
May is a good month for me to read a book built around the Doors Open concept. Winnipeg runs it’s version during the last week of May, and over the years I’ve participated at Holy Trinity Anglican as an occasional guide.
Mike MacKenzie, the main character in Doors Open is a tech millionaire with too much time on his hand. He has started collecting art and while sitting around with a couple of friend he gets into a discussion on what it would be like to steal some art. As the conversation continues, one of the trio, a retiring art professor comes up with a more concrete plan: To steal several paintings from the National Gallery of Scotland Annex. The plan is ingenious. Create some forgeries and walk away with the real paintings.
The plan is simple, but as it goes from theory to practice, more and more people are brought into the circle. Some of these are really bad people. Soon the conspirators find themselves being pursued by the police, working with a local gangster(a bully at the school MacKenzie attended), and having to deal with a sadistic enforcer from the Swedish Hell’s Angels, who has been sent to collect a debt.
It turns out the forged paintings aren’t the only things that aren’t what they appear to be. Could someone in the group be playing the others for suckers. It’s quite clear that MacKenzie has got himself into something much bigger than he expected, but the adrenaline of the activity keeps pulling him in deeper and deeper. In the end everyone is at risk including Laura, an art auctioneer, and the object of MacKenzie’s amorous attentions.
One thing I liked about the story was the incompetence of MacKenzie as a criminal. The project was bound to fail from the start, but he’s unable to see this. His need for excitement and the rush of being involved in the theft overrule all his judgment. You end up feeling sorry for him, because even though he’s a thief, he doesn’t seem to deserve to the fate that the climactic scene has in store for him.
This isn’t the best Rankin novel I’ve read, but it makes a good beach read.
This is my second Jack Reacher novel. While I really like the Jack Reacher character, I’m not sure I’m as enthused about the stories themselves. In particular I don’t like the fact that the villains in the series are so sadistic. In both of the first two novels, the main villains are people who enjoy personally inflicting cruel and violent punishments on their opponents or any followers who they feel are disloyal.
Once again this story opens with Reacher being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He stops to help an injured woman who is having trouble with her dry-cleaning. Just as he does this, the woman is kidnapped. Rather than dispatching Reacher, the kidnappers decide take him along. Not surprisingly this is a bad move on their part.
Die Trying concerns a renegade militia in Montana that wants to set up an independent country. The woman they kidnapped is an FBI agent who they hope to use as a pawn in their strategy. The action is fairly predictable.
What I do like about the series is that the way in which Reacher thinks his way through every situation. I’m going to give a couple of more of these novels a try, but I’m not sure I’m going to stick with the series the whole way through.
This is a quite interesting memoir. Trail of Crumbs, follows Sunêe’s life from an abandoned child and life in an orphanage in Korea, to her adoption by an American family, through travels to Europe, a relationship with Olivier Baussan, the founder of L’Occitane en Provence, among other companies, and on to a life on her own.
Throughout the book she also shares recipes that are representative of various stages in her life. The subtitle of the book is: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home. The main part of the book chronicles her relationship with Baussan. He comes across as a golden child whose life has been one where he bends everyone to his will. He offers love to Sunée, but it’s love with strings attached. He expects her to accept everything he wishes for her without giving any thought to what she wants and hopes for in life.
The theme of others wanting to impose their life on Sunée, is something that runs through the book. Her family back in the States keep hoping she will settle down and adopt a lifestyle that they are comfortable with. She also finds herself drawn to people who like her, are restless and trying to find a home base.
One of the things that I really liked about the book is that it doesn’t come with a happy ending. In the end, Sunée finds herself on her own, and has a degree of contentment with that, but she is still searching. So many of these type of memoirs tend to end with the author finding what they think is their true love, or their true purpose, whereas Sunée is still searching, but is at least doing so on her own terms.
A Knock on the Door – Truth and Reconciliation Committee (Canada)
This is the second book that I have read regarding the history of the Indian Residential Schools and the process of Truth and Reconciliation. A Knock at the Door, details survivors accounts of the Residential Schools system. The material is drawn from the conversations that were held as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s various gatherings throughout the nation of Canada.
A Knock on the Door chronicles the efforts of the Canadian government, with the assistance and encouragement of the Church, to eliminate Indigenous culture in this country. The book does a really good job of blending in the legal and political decisions made along with the stories of Indigenous people who were affected by these decisions.
The stories of survivors are often at once heartbreaking and infuriating. At the heart of the moves by the government was the Doctrine of Discovery. The most destructive part of this Doctrine is that it treated the Indigenous people already living in North and South America, Africa, and Asia as non-humans. The residential schools were an attempt to impose a Christian identity on the Indigenous population of Canada.
This foundational idea is important to remembers, because it serves to remind us that the Indigenous people weren’t dehumanized as a result of the Residential Schools, but the Residential Schools functioned because the Indigenous people has already been dehumanized before the schools were ever opened.
Along the way, some schools ended up being little more than labour camps, the students education playing second fiddle to the school’s need to finance themselves(the schools were almost always chronically underfunded). The punishments both physical and psychological were often horrific. Even in age when corporal punishment was standard in most schools, the Residential Schools ratcheted such punishments up. The book pulls no punches in laying out the ongoing damage that these schools inflicted on Canada’s Indigenous population. Yet, at the same time, it gives space for those whose experience of the schools was positive to speak their piece as well.
The goal of these schools was to take the Indigenous population of Canada, and turn them into good non-Indigenous, Christian citizens, by destroying their culture, and languages. They didn’t do this, instead leaving a broken Indigenous population that the country still largely turns it’s back on.
Despite this A Knock on the Door, doesn’t end on a note of despair. Rather it offers constructive ways forward for the non-Indigenous and Indigenous populations of Canada to reconcile. The book concludes with the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a jumping off point in moving towards reconciliation. At the book of the book there is a good selection of notes, to allow even more follow up on the topics covered in the book.