Friday, December 13, 2019

Blind Date With a Book

Books make wonderful gifts. What are your recommendations this year?

by Amy Marks and Paul D. Marks

I thought I’d do something a little different this time. Instead of me recommending books I’m turning it over to my wife, Amy, and some books she’s read and enjoyed. And I’ll have some non-fiction recommendations at the end. So take it away, Amy:

Picking books as gifts is kind of like setting up a friend for a blind date. You never know if they’re going to hit if off or have a miserable time. But, as they say, it’s the thought that counts. So, with that disclaimer, here are my recommendations for mystery/suspense books to gift. I like them and there’s gotta be someone else out there who will like them too.

In The Woods by Tana French

A twelve year old girl is found murdered in the woods near a suburb of Dublin, Ireland. The detectives assigned to the case, Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox, are cop-buddies who have each other’s backs and share a secret from the past. Twenty years earlier, three children went missing in the very same woods. One was found with his shirt torn and his shoes filled with blood, but with no memory of what happened. The two missing children are never found. What Rob and Cassie know is that Rob was that third child, the one who was found. His family had moved away after the incident in order to escape the accusations from the locals. And Adam (Rob) was sent to a boarding school in England where he started using his middle name, Rob. He returned to Dublin as an adult to join the murder squad. Cassie knows Rob’s secret and agrees to keep silent when he convinces her that they are the only detectives who can really investigate this murder. But the demons of the past cling and threaten to tear Rob and Cassie apart. Tana French writes with an intimacy that makes you feel that you know these characters personally. You can imagine throwing back a few pints with them at the pub. And you can feel the darkness surround you as you enter the woods with them.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Oslo police officer Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman. Her young son wakes up to find his mother gone and a mysterious snowman constructed outside their home facing the house, as if looking inside, and wearing the scarf he gave her as a present. Harry discovers a pattern of similar disappearances and murders and the hunt for a serial killer begins. Harry Hole is like the Dirty Harry of Norway. He breaks the rules and stops at nothing to find the killer. The murders are grisly and shocking, so this not for the faint of heart. But what makes this a great thriller are the intriguing plot twists and Harry’s tortured, alcoholic personality.

By Gaslight by Steven Price

William Pinkerton, son of the famous Allan Pinkerton, who created the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, and famous in his own right, travels to Victorian London in search of the con man, Edward Shade, who eluded and haunted his father for decades. At the same time we follow the story of Adam Foole, who Pinkerton suspects knows the whereabouts of Edward Shade. If you know someone who loves Victorian London, the fog, the mysterious atmosphere and the whole steampunk thing, they will enjoy this book.

This Body of Death by Elizabeth George
This is book 16 in the Inspector Thomas Lynley series, but it was the first Elizabeth George book I read and I loved it. You can easily pick up any book in the series and don’t have to start at the beginning (although I am going back now and reading her books from the beginning after reading a few out of order). A woman who has recently relocated from Hampshire to London is found murdered in a London cemetery. The story is interwoven with the description of a shocking child murder that happened several years in the past. Don’t let the description of Thomas Lynley as an aristocratic Scotland Yard detective fool you. This is not one of your cozy British crime mysteries where they solve murders in between playing croquette and sipping tea. They are very gritty and meticulously plotted. And the characters are complex and realistic.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

Harriet “Hal” Westaway receives a letter from a lawyer saying her grandmother has died and the family is gathering for her funeral and the reading of her will at her estate. There’s just one problem, Hal’s grandmother died years ago and this is just a case of mistaken identity. But Hal, whose mother died a year ago, is in trouble with a loan shark and is desperate for money. She decides to take a chance on trying to impersonate Mrs. Westaway’s granddaughter in hopes of maybe getting a little bit of cash to get her out of her situation. What happens after that is pure gothic mystery complete with ill-tempered, mysterious housekeeper. This book is one of those guilty pleasures. If you analyze the plot too much, you’ll say “this couldn’t happen, it’s not realistic,” but you just have to go with the flow on this one and enjoy it.

Still Life by Louise Penny

Is it a cozy or isn’t it? It has the small cozy village of Three Pines, the bistro where the characters are always eating freshly baked croissants, the bookstore where everyone knows everyone, and snow is always falling in beautiful sparkly drifts. But the plots and characters are so much deeper and more interesting than most cozies I’ve read. I’m not putting down cozies, I love a good cozy as much as anyone else, but face it, some of them are the equivalent of Hallmark Christmas movies. Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books are both warm and cozy, but also deep, mysterious and haunting. In this one the body of an elderly woman is found in the woods, the apparent victim of a hunting accident, but Gamache suspects foul play. You could probably pick any book in the series, but I like starting with the first one in this case.

Christine Falls by Benjamin Black

This is the first book in the Quirke series. Set in Dublin (yes, I have a thing for novels set in Dublin) in the 1950s, it deals with Quirke, an alcoholic pathologist, who begins to suspect his brother-in-law when he finds him tampering with the death records of the corpse of a young woman brought into the morgue. He begins to investigate the woman’s death and it leads to uncovering a conspiracy that takes him to Boston and back to Dublin again. Benjamin Black is the pseudonym for Man Booker prize winner, John Banville. Banville’s writing is wonderful. His descriptions, insights and voice are almost like reading poetry. I started by reading the Silver Swan, which is the second book in the series, and do think it’s best with this series to read from the beginning as many things that happen in this book influence what happens in the next.

Oh, and two other books I’d recommend are White Heat and Broken Windows by Paul D. Marks. These crime thrillers follow PI Duke Rogers and his un-PC sidekick Jack Riggs through 1990’s Los Angeles and deal with real-life issues that continue to be in the news today: racism and immigration. I know you won’t believe me if I say I’m totally unbiased, so I just won’t say that. But give them a read and see what you think.

So maybe you’ll hate the blind date I picked out for you and you’ll take me off your gift list next year. Or, maybe it will be a match and you’ll be reading happily ever after with your new favorite writer. Happy Holidays and happy reading!


Thank you, Amy!

And just for good measure, I’m (Paul) tossing three non-fiction books into the mix:

The Annotated Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson, Anthony Dean Rizzuto, Foreward by Jonathan Lethem

I think on this the list of authors is longer than my comment. One of the classics of American crime literature and really all literature. And this book gives the context of the times and the place to The Big Sleep. It helps lead to a greater understanding and thus enjoyment of a great novel.

Pulp According to David Goodis by Jay A. Gertzman, Forward by Richard Godwin

As I’ve mentioned many times and in many places, David Goodis is one of my favorite crime writers. Geoffrey O'Brien called him the “poet of the losers”. And though he had some success as both a novelist/short story writer and a screenwriter, he definitely had some personality quirks. But until recently it’s been hard to come by much good biographical writing on him. There was Goodis: A Life in Black and White Paperback by Philippe Garnier, with an introduction by Eddie Muller. For years that book only appeared in French so it was wonderful when the English translation finally came out. And there was Difficult Lives: Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Chester Himes by James Sallis. And good as it is it’s relatively short and covers three writers. So now, with all three of these books, David Goodis fans can finally dive deep into Goodis, his life and his writing.

High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic Hardcover by Glenn Frankel

A look at the Hollywood Blacklist via the making of High Noon, which starred Gary Cooper, definitely not a left-winger. But the movie was made by many people on the left. A fascinating look at the blacklist and the Red Scare era through the prism of the making of one classic movie.

Thanks for stopping by. And Happy Holidays! See you next year.


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Tony Gleeson said...

There are some excellent recommendations here-- some that I've read, and a couple I'll need to check out. A quirky favorite I would recommend is Stuart Neville's "Ghosts of Belfast," a marvelous mixture of psychological murk, Northern Irish sociopolitics, noir crime, and a bit of the supernatural. I also have to give a shout-out to Kate Atkinson's "Case Histories," the first of her Jackson Brodie mysteries and the book that introduced me to her wonderfully engaging and staggeringly erudite writing.

Amy Marks said...

Hi Tony, Thanks for your comment. "Ghosts of Belfast" sounds wonderful! And I'll have to check out Kate Atkinson too. It's always great to discover new writers (well, new to me anyway😊).

Petplanet said...
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GBPool said...

Some interesting reads, Amy. Thanks for your tantalizing blurbs of each one.

Dan Persinger said...

Sorry. I'm not interested in The Annotated Big Sleep unless the author factually, actually, and satisfactually settles who killed the chauffeur.

Amy Marks said...

Thanks Gayle! Hope you'll check them out and enjoy them.

Paul D. Marks said...

Well, Dan, since even Raymond Chandler couldn’t figure that out I think it’s a mystery for the ages.

Maria said...

I've recently discovered Jane Harper, and love her books. They're set in Australia, and I've been listening to the audiobook versions - the narrator has a wonderful Australian accent! Unfortunately, she's only written 3 so far.

Amy Marks said...

Thanks for the recommendation Maria. I love the Australian accent! Will have to check it out.