This installment: a rich and strange novel from Australia (f); old age miseries in Hungary (f); an ad hoc detective in seamy LA (f); a dark Scandinavian mystery–what else?(f); a bisexual LA Ronde (f); and another Scandinavian mystery—a stew of intrigue (f).
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker
Mixed feelings about this one but rich and strange enough that I persevered. Four sisters, a brutal father’s suicide, a checked-out mother and her new hubby, a greedy, overbearing policeman. Hariet, the youngest, finds brief respite with an aunt and her lover but is forced back home where she faces nightmarish strictures and demands. She keeps a spirit guide named Jasper, a seahorse, in her pocket and makes beautiful pottery and hippie crafts. A few friends, teachers, and family members give her what support they can but it’s an uphill battle all the way. A rapturous tone that sometimes get a bit much, but such a demonstration of the power of creativity and love against great odds.
Iza’s Ballad by Madga Szabo
I think of Szabo as a stealth writer. As with The Door, I struggled to get into the book but knew if I kept at it I would be richly rewarded. Ettie’s world has collapsed with the death of her husband. Her daughter Iza, a physician, wants to do right and brings Ettie to live with her. It’s a miserable experience because Ettie is removed from everything familiar, tussles with the housekeeper to do chores, is thoroughly deracinated in the city, and is essentially hollowed out. This book explores the nature of home, of relationship, and how the best intentions can go terribly astray. Sad, moving, deep sense of place.
IQ by Joe Ide
This book kept me company while waiting for my car to be fixed. Otherwise I might not have stuck with it but again, glad I did. Isaiah Quintabe (of the title) has become an ad hoc detective for his tough LA neighborhood. Preternaturally smart, haunted by his brother’s death which left him completely on his own at 15, he’s a guarded, solitary, self-made man. But he needs cash fast—we eventually find out why—and takes on a crazy job to find out who’s threatening a rap star on the skids. Ugly all around: dubious associates, slavering dogs, the sleazy, now successful sidekick from long ago who got him the job and insists on being involved. Lots of action flipping back and forth from 2005 to 2013, lots of ghetto talk. A fascinating look at an unusual man with an intrinsic moral compass trying to navigate in a swamp.
No Echo by Ann Holt
It’s a particularly weird murder case. A well-known chef’s body turns up right behind police headquarters, and investigation shows he might have been murdered “twice.” Lots of tension among the team of detectives, as Hanne returns after a break, still not recovered from the death of her lover. The myth of Narcissus is often invoked; no one seems to be able to characterize the true nature of that chef, and he has lots of enemies. I didn’t completely sort out all the plot elements but I love dark Scandinavian mysteries and this is an especially good one.
Enigma Variations by Andre Aciman
A bisexual La Ronde set primarily in NYC. Linked stories follow characters in and out of cafes, tennis courts, parties, and of course each other’s beds. It’s not madcap, though, or even particularly sexy. More an exploration of obsession, attraction, jealousy, and circuitous routes of connection. The first story features a boy in Italy, Paolo, who’s inexorably drawn to a local cabinetmaker, and he plays a central role in subsequent stories throughout the years. These are sophisticated folks whose lives appear smooth but there’s roiling emotion right under the surface and history that haunts and shapes the duos. Intriguing.
Stone Coffin by Kjell Eriksson
A mysterious prologue on an unnamed tropical island, and then to Sweden where a mother, grieving for her dead mother, is a hit and run victim along with her little daughter. And where is her husband? Among the missing. Here’s Ann Lindell’s latest case, and she’s facing her own challenges with relationship. There’s a drug company, animal rights protestors, a mistress—all in all, a rich stew of intrigue. What I especially like about these Scandinavian mysteries: so much more than who dun it; the perpetrators, the victims, and the investigators all have complex stories and dark secrets. Yes!
Back next week.