This installment: Gamache again, top form (f); WWII in London (f); bringing the horrors of slavery home (f); a subtly spellbinding novel (f); and a post Civil-War novel (f).
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
Another Three Pines mystery in which Gamache is charged with reforming the police academy which has rot at its core and was turning out brutal recruits. Four young people get into the deadly action neck deep, including a fascinating goth-girl who goes against the dominant paradigm but displays excellent detecting instincts. There’s a baffling map as well. I like these mysteries because the characters are nuanced and the atmosphere of Three Pines is eccentric and charming.
In The Dark by Deborah Moggach
WWI in London and Eithne is forced to take on boarders when her husband is at war. Her teenage son, Ralph, is very attached and loyal, though beset by the usual adolescent anxieties. But then the local butcher with big schemes enters their lives, dad is declared dead, and their pinched lives get weirdly transformed: lots to eat, electricity, a motor car, and the possibility of total upheaval. Ralph tries to join up (too young) but a deus ex machina delivers his wish and releases mother and son to a new life. An especially fascinating character: the boarder Alwyne who spouts Communist doctrine and has a big secret. Atmospheric.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
When Cora comes of age, plantation life gets especially dangerous and she takes a desperate gamble to escape. It’s a terrifying, fraught journey with the possibility of discovery at every juncture. Especially with the brutal Ridgeway on her trail, a very determined patroller. She thinks she’s found safe haven in South Carolina, despite a very weird stint as part of a living history exhibit, but then she has to flee again and make her way to Tennessee and finally North. Cora is smart, courageous, and does what needs to be done, including killing. This book brings the horrors of slavery home vividly. A powerful read.
Autumn by Ali Smith
Young Elizabeth has a very good friend, her eccentric middle-aged neighbor Daniel. Her mother does not approve. Now Elizabeth, middle aged herself, visits very old Daniel who may be on his deathbed in a care home. But there’s lots of life still inside him –we’re privy to his free-floating, elegiac thoughts. The tone of the book is autumnal itself as society slumps into dysfunction and paranoia and personal lives diminish and fray with time. A fascinating element: Elizabeth’s study of an obscure real-life pop artist whose life ended tragically. Smith’s style takes some getting used to, as it leaps from era to era in very short chapters, some of which are impressionistic tone poems. Subtly spellbinding.
News of the World by Paulette Giles
An ex-newspaperman dubbed Captain Kidd makes a skimpy living traveling around the west post Civil-War, reading curated news clips to all and sundry. Then he’s saddled with a challenging task. A 10-year old girl, abducted by Indians 4 years earlier and then cast out, needs to be delivered to her remaining relatives in San Antonio. She’s initially mute and furious but also strong and enterprising, which is very useful as their journey is fraught with hostile happenings. Ultimately the pair develop a powerful bond—two independent souls against conventionality and prejudice. Vivid and atmospheric.
Back next week.