Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Undone by Karin Slaughter

Undone may be Karin Slaughter’s seventh book in her Grant County series, but it is the first for yours truly. I am now sorely tempted to go and read the rest.
Undone sees Faith Mitchell and Will Trent investigating a grisly case of kidnap and torture, after a young, successful, mutilated and naked woman blindly runs out into the oncoming path of an elderly couple’s car. Sara Linton is the doctor who tends to the woman when she is brought into the hospital.
All three characters are dealing with their own personal issues while attempting to solve the case. Will soldiers on in the police force, trying to keep his illiteracy a secret from everyone except Faith, who is herself coming to terms with two sudden health matters of her own. Sara, meanwhile, carries a letter around in her coat pocket, wondering whether to open it.
As the case progresses, three more women of similar looks and lifestyle go missing. Faith and Will are hindered in their investigations by the fact that none of the girls were liked or loved, apart from two children between the four of them.
Slaughter imparts such intimately morbid details into the torture of the girls that one has to read a sentence twice to ensure that they got it right the first time. Although grisly, it is far from gratuitous, and Slaughter writes with empathy towards the plight of the girls. There is even some dark humour thrown in for good measure.
I did not have to have read any of the previous Grant County novels to understand the characters or the story, I could just jump straight in. Slaughter does not fleetingly refer to events in Faith or Will’s history that leaves the reader wishing they had read the other six books first, nor does she regale us with the intricate details of each of her main characters. Instead she lets us work them out for ourselves, and leaves little signposts as to what their lives have involved. Yet with Sara she does give us more, and deservedly so.
Undone can surely sit proudly alongside the rest of Karin Slaughter’s books, and confirms her as one of America’s best crime thriller writers.

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

A word of warning, and I know this from personal experience: do not read Sophie Kinsella’s Twenties Girl while eating, unless you are around someone who can perform the Heimlich manoeuvre. I was lucky this time.
From the second page, Twenties Girl is laugh out loud funny, poking gentle fun at everyday annoyances like family, the elder generation’s paranoia over modern technology, and funerals. Yes, I said funerals. It was a line within the first twenty-two pages during a funeral that nearly packed me off to my own.
The memorial service in question is that of Lara Lington’s great-aunt Sadie, who has just died at the age of one hundred and five, and this seems to be all that the family know about her. However, when Sadie appears to Lara in the middle of the service as a twenty three year old ghost, Lara quickly learns that her relative was not just some old lady who liked knitting.
Lara is coerced by Sadie to halt the funeral, and accuse the kindly nurses at her care home of murder, all so that Sadie can find a necklace. However this is just the start of Lara’s humiliation at Sadie’s hands. Yet, having a ghost around can prove to be fruitful for Lara, too; and she and Sadie are quickly pairing up on matters of love, work and revenge.
During her quest to find Sadie’s necklace, Lara uncovers a family secret that proves her great aunt was not simply someone famous for receiving birthday cards from the Queen.
Sadie is a feisty, tenacious, strong willed, opinionated woman who knows how to have a good time, and will go to any lengths to have one. She and Lara exchange amusing banter on everything from fashion, music and television, and shows that although the elder generations may not care for the current trends, even their twenty year old selves would not have approved.
Joyously heart-warming and hilarious one moment, guiltily heart-breaking and tearful the next, and sometimes both at the same time, Twenties Girl is a delightfully witty story with a moral centre. I’m off to track down the rest of Kinsella’s novels.

The Sentinels: Fortunes of War by Gordon Zuckerman

The Sentinels: Fortunes of War by Gordon Zuckerman is a World War II story with a difference. Instead of focusing on Hitler or the persecuted Jews, Zuckerman weaves an intelligent tale of six super-wealthy, super-clever economics students who come up with a plan to prevent the War from escalating any further.
Cecelia Chang, Claudine Demaureux, Tony Garibaldi, Ian Meyer, Jacques Roth and Mike Stone formulate a strategy to take money out of the pockets of the German industrialists who are prolonging the War and initiating their own schemes for their own financial benefit.
With the six of them living across three continents, they must work together and on their own in order to make this happen; something that is given an extra edge considering that they live in a world without mobile phones or email. However when the German industrialists realise that something is wrong, the six sentinels must call on their familial and political ties, as well as their own guile and survival skills.
The characters are strong, faulty, yet clever, and despite them all being rich and intelligent, they are also likeable, their dedication and determination to carry out their plan is admirable.
Fortunes of War skilfully entwines political drama, dangerous romance, riveting action, and set against a well-worn historical background while giving it a fresh look. However in some places the book seems to move too quickly. One sentence following on from another can be a leap of months, which seems to simultaneously take away the urgency of what the sentinels are trying to do, while feeling as though there was a lot more in between.
Setting the time-warps aside, Fortunes of War is a gripping political thriller that rewrites the World War II genre. If you think you’ve covered every possible angle on this period of history, think again.

The Shiksa Syndrome by Laurie Graff

Laurie Graff’s The Shiksa Syndrome is a witty, lively rom-com that tells of Aimee Albert’s struggle to attract a nice, Jewish man, until one mistakes her for a non-Jewish woman - a shiksa. Josh Hirsch’s anti-Oedipal feelings towards Jewish women and his affection for Aimee lead her to keep up the charade of being a shiksa. She empties her Manhattan apartment of menorahs and Torahs, and even has to skip a Passover ritual to accommodate him; in the hope that he will soon introduce and ‘convert’ her to the Jewish traditions.
Meanwhile, her shiksa friend Krista lands a Jewish companion, and soon it is Krista who is being welcomed into the Jewish community. Aimee has to dig deeper and deeper in order to maintain the pretence of being a non-Jew, even having to disown her parents and sister while in Josh’s presence. As her situation becomes ever more outrageous and whirling out of her control, she is forced to decide whether she holds Josh or her identity in higher esteem.
Although on the surface, Aimee seems foolish for even temporarily sidestepping around her cultural identity to appease a man, she is nonetheless a smart, intelligent woman who can think on her toes. She manages to fit her alter-ego around the loss of her boyfriend on 9/11, while heading a major product launch at work, and trying to overcome her fear of driving.
For those who are wondering just why this Josh is worth all the effort, it is he who helps her exorcise her driving demons in his big BMW with heated seats.
Graff’s novel offers a sparkling insight into the traditions and values of the Jewish faith, as well as giving gentle nudges to the little clich├ęs that go with it: the logic, the guilt, and the women. Yet it also raises the question about staying true to one’s identity, one’s faith in difficult circumstances; and this is talking Jews in New York, not Protestants under Queen Mary.

Mortal Path Book One: Dark Time by Dakota Banks

In the seventeenth century, a young mother-to-be is accused of witchcraft, and burned at the stake. As the flames engulf her body, a demon of the underworld hears her longing to wreak vengeance on the woman who accused her, and offers her an ultimatum: death, or life as his assassin.
Three hundred years later, Mahlia Crayne is getting tired, sick of murdering innocent people at the behest of the demon. Yet she manages to find a way to break out of her sentence: for every life taken, should she save another, she will be released. Of course the small print makes this more difficult for her. As well as being robbed of her superhuman speed and strength, she will also age faster than she had previously. Her time is running short.
Fear not, she does not turn into a girl scout, pulling old ladies out of the way of oncoming lorries, and stopping babies in their prams from rolling down a long flight of steps. Saving a life can often mean taking another.
Maliha is a mix of Lara Croft and a human Terminator, she would be marvellous in a video game. She is also a strong character in any book. The real heart of the story lies in Mahlia’s past, at what she lost; her husband, her baby, her life. Now she is living in our present, moving with the times, making herself comfortable, creating a public identity for herself with a career that brings in a lot of money, and educating herself.
She tries to have some semblance of normality by having close friends, but living in an apartment with a security system that puts Fort Knox to shame makes it slightly difficult. Add to that her constantly youthful looks raise a few eyebrows.
In Dark Time, Dakota Banks combines daredevil action, poignant romance, the past, the present, the paranormal, all infused with modern technology. It is the first in a series of books that looks set to be a strong, intriguing storyline, and I intend to find out what happens at the end.