July 2

The Neighbour by Lisa Gardner

This month has held some real variety in my reading choices. But a good old-fashioned crime novel is always a refreshing change. And ‘The Neighbour’ was exactly what was needed.

A young couple are devoted to raising their young daughter. The mother is a teacher and the father a journalist who works evenings so that one or the other can be home with the girl at all times. But one night mother disappears, leaving the little girl alone in the house. Hours later the father rings the police and reports his wife missing.

So why the delay? There were signs of violence, so why did it take nearly 8 hours to report the disappearance? Almost always the husband is the first suspect, but then there is the registered sex offender who lives on the next street. It seems the police have a variety of suspects and no clues.

Once again Gardner has put together a wonderful crime novel, not too heavy on the police procedurals, but still giving the reader an unusual snapshot of the life of an ex-con trying to make a new life after prison. There are so many possible suspects, the reader is just as confused as the police as they try to find a motive for the kidnapping and murder. In spite of all this confusion, the resolution is simply right.

This was a most entertaining read. Perfect for the holidays.

July 2

The Tiger Warrior by David Gibbins

It seems that it has been quite a while since I have been asked to review one of the many ‘Indiana Jones’ novels that are around. But once again as I read this book I was back into the realm of lost artifacts, speculative history, as well as action adventure.

This time Gibbins is speculating about the fate of Crassus lost legions after the battle of Carrhae. History has recorded that 10,000 Roman Legionaries were captured by the Persians and sent east as slaves. There is some evidence that some of these men escaped, but from that point everything is speculation.

In ‘The Tiger Warrior’ Gibbins suggests that some of these men, the very toughest headed further east and ended up in the court of the first Emperor of China. Two thousand years later Jack Howard discovers evidence of Roman trade with India and the Silk Road, eventually discovering a valuable treasure stolen by the Romans from the tomb of the First Emperor and hidden in India.

I found this book far more entertaining than the previous book I had read from this author. As always, Gibbins’ research is exemplary and his knowledge and understanding of archaeological processes and techniques is outstanding. However last time I felt that the action of the story was frequently halted while lengthy explanations were given. This time the action is non-stop with an absolute minimum of historical exposition. I kept waiting for the historical background, but virtually everything was saved for the extensive historical notes found at the back of the book.

For fans of this genre, this is going to be a welcome addition to the collection. If you haven’t yet tried anything beyond ‘The DaVinci Code’, this book would be a good choice.

July 2

Vlad: the Last Confession by C.C. Humphreys

Everyone has heard of Dracula. But I suspect very few of my readers will have heard of Vlad Dracula, aka Vlad the Impaler. According to historians, the life and activities of Vlad Dracula, a medieval ruler in the Balkans were the historical origins for the vampire mythology. However, there is very little record of Dracula’s life, except the stories handed down by those who overthrew his reign. And we all know that history is written by the victors with little regard for the truth.

Humphreys has done extensive research to find the facts of Dracula’s life. Around these facts he has developed a wonderful historical novel that offers an alternative to the legends.

The setting of the book is an inquisition. After his beheading three men have gathered three witnesses to hear the story of Vlad Dracula’s life. One was Vlad’s best friend who betrayed his king. The second was Vlad’s lifelong mistress, who truly loved the man she knew. The third witness was Vlad’s confessor. Together they draw a picture of a powerful man who was trained as a torturer under the motto ‘We torture others so they cannot torture us.’

Humphreys has presented the world with an image of Dracula as a man caught up in the violence of his times; dedicated crusader fighting for Christianity against the Islamic Turks attempting to control the Balkans; man who is continually defeated because distrust and greed of his supposed allies. Above all, this is a story that clearly demonstrates how bad publicity can destroy a reputation.

This is a fascinating book that needs to be read slowly and carefully. Do not expect to find an light entertaining read between these covers. Instead expect to have your prejudices challenged.

 

July 2

Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile by Gyles Brandreth

I have read and greatly enjoyed the previous two books in this remarkable series, and was therefore very happy to place book three right at the top of the reading mountain. And it did not disappoint.

The form of this book is radically different from the previous ones. There is a very distinct prologue and epilogue with the real mystery taking place nearly 10 years earlier in Paris. Of course his friend and assistant Robert is there to act as Watson to Wilde’s Holmes.

While in Paris Wilde works with the famous actor Edmond La Grange to produce the definitive version of Hamlet. This gives him the opportunity to observe the various members of the company. But then one by one several of those associated with La Grange meet with accidents or even appear to commit suicide. First a dog, then a servant and eventually even La Grange’s son. But are the murders connected? Only Wilde can explain.

This is truly an engaging read. The story is related simply, but the characters are truly complex. And the liberal sprinkling of historical figures only adds to the colour. The mystery doesn’t seem to be the core of the tale, but somehow the suspense builds and the reader is inevitably caught trying to work out who-dun-it. 

July 2

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

Cover says Chick Lit! (historical romance). Male author, and first time novelist. Hmmm…the signs are not good. But this novel was a delightful surprise.

The year is 1907, and Ralph Truitt a wealthy widower is tired of living alone. As the leading businessman in his Wisconsin town, there are no eligible women around so he decides to place an ad for a reliable wife. Catherine Land, innocent daughter of overseas missionaries replies, and is selected on the basis of her plain photo and genteel history.

However the Catherine Land who steps off the train is nothing like the photo. This woman is stunning, but still maintains that the rest of her story is true. They marry, and then begins this dark tale of deception and murder. Catherine actually intends to murder her new husband, take his money and set up a new life with her young lover.

But like reality, the story is never that simple. Catherine and Ralph both have deep sadness and regret from their past. Goolrick reveals the characters gradually, engaging the reader in their lives masterfully. This is a book that must be read in very few sittings because it will be very difficult to stop once you get halfway.

This is a brilliant first novel. The plot is well structured and the characters are complex. And the choice of a Wisconsin winter as a setting perfectly reflects the isolation and depression experienced by the protagonists.

First impressions can be very wrong. I am certainly looking forward to the next book from this author.