I couldn’t just do one review this week. I’ve been plowing through books like nobody’s business and they’ve been going pretty well. I do have a couple new releases here, but many of them are books I just got at the library for whatever reason.
The Darlings by Cristina Alger is a page-turner with an unusual premise. It’s Thanksgiving. A hedge fund manager has just killed himself. By Monday his ponzi scheme will be front page news. In those few days, the book follows the Darling family, Manhattan socialites led by patriarch Carter Darling who runs an investment firm that worked closely with the tainted hedge fund. Heads will roll… and as the days pass the Darling family takes stock and tries to save their skins.
The most vulnerable of them is Paul, married to Carter’s daughter Merrill, who only recently started working for the family business. As he starts to put together what’s happening he doesn’t know whether he can trust his father-in-law or his ex-girlfriend at the SEC. Paul has to decide whether to save himself or be loyal to a family that he’s never felt he quite fits in with.
It’s a quick read, and particularly enjoyable if you like novels with a peek into high society, complete with charity balls and life in the Hamptons. There are lots and lots of characters (it can get a little confusing) and the novel switches between points of view quite often. But it ends up tying everyone together in a satisfying way. The ticking clock works well, with everyone waiting for the news cycle to start back up after the holiday weekend. As someone who tends to stick more to classic mysteries and not so much to thrillers involving high finance or other such things, I felt perfectly comfortable in this book. Alger does a good job taking you for the ride.
Perhaps one of my favorite books so far this year is The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. I heard lots of good buzz about this one at the end of 2011 and put it on my library hold list. To me this book feels like the equivalent of a good movie from the 30’s or 40’s. Snappy dialogue, fantastic characters, nights out on the town. But it’s much more than that. It’s 1938 and Katey Kontent has worked her way up from her Russian immigrant family on Brighton Beach to a secretary at a legal firm in Manhattan. She works her way up even higher when she and Evey, a girl from her boarding house, meet Tinker Gray one New Year’s Eve. He’s every inch the upper class playboy and the three of them become fast friends.
What follows over the course of the next few years is something I will not spoil for you, but Katey’s social journey among the young and wealthy Manhattanites isn’t a romp, nor is it a melodrama, but it’s a story that constantly keeps you on your toes. Katey is immensely likable and she has all the verve and wit of His Girl Friday. This is a book that feels like fluff because it’s so often fun and buoyant, but the writing is top notch which makes it much more than fun.
There are always more Norwegian crime writers to discover, and I just read my first Anne Holt: 1222. It is a very large-scale locked-room mystery. After a train crash during a huge snowstorm, former detective Hanne Wilhelmsen and the other passengers are stuck in a hotel in the mountains to wait out the storm. The idea of a storm so heavy and horrific that it scares these hearty Norwegians was pretty scary to me on its own. (Thank heavens for our mild winter this year!)
Wilhelmsen is one of your misfit investigators. She’s in a wheelchair from a gunshot to the spine. She’s not particularly nice to anyone. She keeps to herself, though she has a watchful and suspicious eye on all her fellow passengers. This is, apparently, one of many Wilhelmsen novels and I have to say that I quite like her. (Though I like any investigator who doesn’t fit the classic profile of being either young and attractive or old and grizzled.)
As far as the mystery it works surprisingly well given that there are over 100 people in the hotel. There’s an appropriate number of suspects, each of whom stands out from the crowd. Still, the large number of people is a challenge and Wilhelmsen’s detachment from all but a few characters can make it hard to see what exactly is going on at any time.
I sought out Sister by Rosamund Lupton because I heard good things and she has another novel due out soon so I wanted to see if I’d be interested. Bee comes home to London after the disappearance of her sister Tess. Bee is the responsible one and Tess is the artistic one, but the two have always been close. Upon arriving Bee starts to find out that there are many things her sister hasn’t told her. The police have a theory of the case, but Bee has another and as she fights to find out the truth she begins to alienate everyone who could help her.
Lupton is an excellent writer and I liked her prose and style very much. What kept it from being a completely successful book was the style used to tell the story. Going between letters and flashbacks, the device isn’t always successful. And, I’ll warn you, there are those who’ll find the ending a big cheat. So while there are some drawbacks, I found Lupton’s prose and characters really appealing and I’m anxious to see what she writes next.
Last, but certainly not least, is Castle by J. Robert Lennon. Like the last couple of books I’ve mentioned, I heard about this one on Twitter. Following publishers, editors and librarians has given me a great new source for recommendations. This has been out for a few years but I hadn’t heard of it before. And I was really excited as I read it. Why? Because it actually deserves perfectly to be in the genre of “psychological thriller.”
So few thrillers are in any way psychological. Sure, you can bring in your FBI profilers, but that usually takes a back seat to the plot. In this book the plot is completely about the inner workings of one character’s mind. Eric Loesch moves back to his hometown and buys a large piece of land. We don’t know why he’s there. We don’t know much about him, but we know that he was once a military man and that there is some kind of scandal in his past. He doesn’t seem to enjoy people much. Most of what he does upon arriving is fixing the old house on his property and exploring the surrounding woods.
The first half of the book is not much more than following Eric’s thoughts as he goes through these tasks. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t oddly gripping. There are small hints here and there about what Eric is hiding from us and I couldn’t stop reading even when nothing seemed to be happening. With that said, the second half of the book is full of shocking revelations about Eric’s past and what he’s doing in the present. And let’s just say, there’s a lot of psychological scarring there that begins to become more and more apparent as we get to know Eric better.
It was interesting to have a narrator who kept his audience so at a distance, hiding so much about himself. And Lennon is great at walking this fine line where he reveals just enough little by little to keep you going. This is, very much, a man’s man of a novel. It’s tough and kind of gritty and I enjoyed every minute.
I sped through all these novels (many while I was reading Great Expectations) and it was a pretty successful run. For now I have a big pile of advance copies to get through and another stack of books waiting for me at the library. Should be a good month ahead!
Thanks to Penguin and Netgalley for the advanced e-galley of The Darlings. It will be released on February 16, 2012. The rest of the books I’ve reviewed are already available at bookstores everywhere.