The end of July 2019 means I’ve been at these monthly reading round ups for 17 months. I know a year and a half would be a more usual time frame to mark but I like to be a little different.
This month I’m going to start with my favourite detective fiction writer.
The Impossible Dead is the second Rankin novel to feature Inspector Malcolm Fox. Fox works with the Professional Standards division, otherwise known as the Complaints
The story opens with Fox and his colleagues heading over to Kirkcaldy to investigate detective Paul Carter. Carter is accused of taking advantage of his position to extort sexual favours from women he encounters in his rounds. On top of this Carter was turned in by his uncle, a retired cop.
Haunted by the Past
It turns out there is more to the case than initially meets the eye. During the investigation both Carters end up dead. First the uncle and then Paul Carter. The uncle’s death involves Fox in a mystery that involves the apparent suicide of a Scottish Nationalist thirty years previous. This is out of Fox’s remit, but he keeps getting deeper and deeper into the case. Like Rebus, Fox is willing to break the rules, and runs the risk of becoming a subject of an investigation by Professional Standards.
While watching him investigate the case, we also learn more about Fox’s personal life. His father is in care, and his sister barely gets by in life. This leads to a whole lot of conflict in the family. Fox, who is divorced, is portrayed as a man with a great deal of emotional armour when it comes to relationships. He also seems to have a strong moral centre, which keeps him from fully reconnecting with an old fling. Even with his Complaints teammates Kaye and Naysmith, he only gets so close.
There is a lot of covering up going on in this story. From the officers who were covering up for Paul Carter to the people who are covering up what happened 30 years ago. Those higher up on the ladder want Fox to deliver an acceptable report on Paul Carter, and to leave the other case alone. However Fox’s strong sense of morality won’t allow him to do this, and this leads to him eventually cracking the old cold case.
The pacing in this is different from the Rebus novels, with more focus on detailed police work and conversations. The Fox books make a great change of pace for Rebus fans.
July 2019 marked the paperback release of Louse Penny’s latest Inspector Gamache novel. Penny’s husband Dr. Michael Whitehead, the inspiration for Gamache, died in 2016. In the forward to this book, Penny writes about how she thought she might never write another Gamache novel after his death. Eventually she started to write again, and it was Gamache that she chose to write about.
This most recent novel picks up where Glass Houses ended. Gamache is under suspension, The investigation into his last case is dragging on longer than many of those around him thought it would. The investigators are also coming down hard on Beauvoir, Gamache’s right hand man, and also son-in-law.
Meanwhile Gamache is invited to the reading of a will. The woman who made it worked as a cleaner in Three Pines. Myrna, the Three Pines bookstore owner, is also invited. As well there is a young man. The three claim not to know why they are invited. The woman, worked as a cleaner in Three Pines. She was poor and was often referred to by the seemingly inappropriate title of The Baroness. When the will is read it claims that her three children are to divide a huge fortune, that appears to be a hoax.
Shortly after the will is read, one of the heirs is found dead. The rickety old house where the will had been read has collapsed around him. While officially sidelined, Gamache must help find, not only the killer, but the drugs that went missing at the end of his last case.
The search for the killer takes the reader down one of the side paths that Penny is so skilled at creating. This time it involves the Second World War, stolen Jewish Treasure, and perhaps even a very famous family. There is a dark and cruel secret hidden in the family’s past. What effect will it have on the current generation?
Meanwhile the search for the drugs will put one of Gamache’s young proteges at risk. The storyline about the drugs makes this one of the darker novels by Penny and the climax leaves the reader wondering whether this is the end of Gamache as a policeman or not? At the same time, new relationships spring up in Three Pines that hold out a hope for a brighter future.
The subtitle of The Hungry Years is: Confessions of a Food Addict. While it says food addict, the book really is about addictive behaviour in general. The Hungry Years follows Leith as he tries to deal with his weight, his relationship to alcohol, and his relationships with women.
In the early part of the book we see Leith trying to find the magic bullet that will help him lose and keep off his weight. A good portion of the book concerns itself with Leith investigating the claims of the Atkin’s diet. Along th way we read a lot about his failures.
Eventually he comes to the realization that food is a symptom of his addiction and not the source. He finally takes himself to therapy, where he comes to terms with some of his past, and starts to gain control of his food. By the end of the books you hope that he will continue on this path. Leith doesn’t quite get to the link between addiction and trauma, but his book is heading in that direction.
I came across this book several months ago. I’ve been reading a lot of books about Americans living in France post-World War II. One of the interesting parts of the story is that Walter Wells got his break in France after being hired by Mort Rosenblum. Rosenblum is the author of a book on Olives that I reviewed last month(link at top).
The story of the Wells’s begins when Patricia applied for a job as a writer at the New York Times, where Walter was her editor. Both were in there thirties and divorced. It was pretty much love at first sight. Eventually they took the opportunity to go to France. They thought it would be a good way to spend a couple of years. Around 40 years later, they are still living there.
One thing I really like about their story is that it gives a more in-depth look at what it was like for Americans adjusting to life in Paris. The closing down of Paris in the month of August features in a lot of books, but the Wells’s go further. They describe well the bureaucratic idiosyncrasies they had to deal with. The passive-aggressive behaviour of their French neighbours, and the high cost of buying a farm.
Overall though, there love for their adopted country and each other is what really shines through in this book. At times each has been the high-profile partner, and the other has willingly stepped into the background to help each other thrive.
I picked this one up on a discount table a few months ago. It languished on my shelf for a few months before I got around to it.
The book was originally published in 2002, and this is a re-release. Lewis does a good job of gathering up stories. Many of them are well known, but there are also many from virtually unknown soldiers, and civilians. The book does a good job of laying out the horrors war, but also the ways in which people were able to push themselves in their struggle to survive.
Although it does a good job of compiling stories from most of the major nations involved in the war, the story it tells is still very much close to the official version. You should check out some of Simon Whistler’s YouTube videos to see how the official histories often give a distorted view. This one is a good one to start with.
The other thing missing in the book is the role of women in the war. There are two or three short sections focused on women, such as an excerpt from Anne Frank’s diary, However, other than a piece from a woman riveter, the women in this book are portrayed as either simply man-hungry over victims. A couple of sections on women such as Nancy Wake, the White Mouse, would make this a better book.