In late July I wrote about the books I had saved up to read on a family vacation in Vermont
and I promised reviews when I returned. I also wrote:
“But I think that lovely 2-year old might keep me more distracted than usual.”
Very much the case. ☺ I only read two of my five books, certainly a low for me on vacation. However, they were two extremely good ones. Here is my report.
The Whites by Harry Brandt. That is a pen name for highly regarded New York novelist Richard Price (Lush Life, Clockers). He is a stunningly excellent writer, whoever he says he is. The title does not refer to race but literature. Every member of a group of cops,old friends, has a case they call “the white”, the big one they can’t forget, the horrible crime they couldn’t quite pin on the person they knew was guilty. The white whale of their career. When one of those suspects turns up murdered, bleeding out at Penn Station, it looks like justice has finally caught up with him. Maybe. And maybe it is something else.
The story revolves around Billy, the only one still working as a cop, who has pieced together a real life. Never mind that he works nights; that his father, who lives with him, is deteriorating from dementia; that his hard-working wife suffers from bouts of depression, carrying something inside she can’t even talk about. And then an unknown someone starts to threaten his family in mysterious ways for some unknown reason.
It’s a dark story, with all the characters carrying darkness within as they deal with the darkness outside. There are only a few faint beams of light. Did I believe all of it? Or even most of it? Afterwards, perhaps not. While I was reading, it seemed as real as real life. That is the power of the writing.
A note: this is a complicated story with a lot of characters, so pay sharp attention at the beginning.
I like Ann Cleeves books a lot and have been looking forward to jumping into her most recent Shetland mystery, Thin Air.
It did not disappoint. I usually enjoy the remote, strange and beautiful setting, and must confess that though I have never been there, I have been to the Orkneys. They are almost as remote, and I have fun picturing it all. Cleeves often weaves in old customs and old legends, without overdoing it, adding an lovely extra dimension to the story.
A group of friends have come up from London for a traditional “hamefarin”, a party to introduce a new bride to the Shetland-dwelling family and friends. And one of the women disappears. Just like that, into thin air. Of course it is not “just like that” and it becomes a job for Detective Jimmy Perez, the series protagonist and Shetland native,plus some investigators from the bigger world. It is “simmer dim”, the mysterious days of the long summer twilight. Anything can happen, it seems, even the repeated appearance of the ghost of a long-ago drowned little girl. Jimmy’s job is to see through the mists and uncover the real story.
It’s wonderful twisty, traditional mystery with a very rich background. I thought I’d guessed the crucial fact early on, a possible connection between characters, well-buried in the story. Nope. I could not have been more wrong. The solution was a surprise, but the kind where you say, “Ah. Now it make sense.” Who doesn’t recognize that as classic mystery writing?
Media news: PBS is running a series based on Cleeves Shetland books, and the ones I’ve seen are excellent, with actors familiar from other BBC productions and great scenery. And rumor has it that there is a movie deal for The Whites.
In case there are any doubts – ☺ – I am strongly recommending both books.