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a little night musing's picture

We read books: let's review them here! Leave your reviews in the comments.

Note: you need not write a long review. Just a few words telling us why you are mentioning the book can be useful. And feel free to stretch the definition of "book" if you like.

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a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

by Henning Mankell

This is one of Mankell's non-Wallander novels, and not the most recent, but I picked it up in a recent used-book-buying spree.

The protagonist is Louise Cantor, an archaeologist, who takes a trip - meant to be brief - from her dig in Greece, back home to Sweden, to give a talk at a conference and to meet up with her adult son.

But when she finally arrives at her son's flat, she finds him dead, lying in bed.

We follow Louise Canotr as she attempts to make sense of her son's death - the metaphor is of putting the shards of a pot together. First she has a feeling that something is not as it should be. She recalls that her son never wore pyjamas to bed: he preferred to sleep without clothes. She becomes convinced that he was murdered and that his killer put the pyjamas on him. Searching his flat, she finds folders of notes and clippings about the disappearance of John F. Kennedy's brain after the autopsy. Why was her son researching this? She discovers that her son had a number of secret lives, hidden from each other and from her. She menages to track down his father in Australia and they join forces to find out about what happened to their son, but the father vanishes in Barcelona when he goes out for a walk.

Mankell is in no hurry to tell his story, so despite being a kind of thriller, it unfolds gradually and meanderingly. Louise finds hersulf thinking of other things, burning bridge and then regretting burning them, missing the ex she had not missed in many years, all the while having the puzzle of the "pot shards" of her son's life in her mind.

Eventually it appears that her son's interest in Kennedy's brain was as a metophor itself: he wanted to learn how it would be possible to cover up extreme evil. And Louise seems to be following in his tracks, finding hints and rumors that something very nasty is taking place under the cover of goodness.

All of the loose ends are not tied up, and the ending is abrupt, perhaps hinting at Louise's fate. The novel is infuriating; we want to know more, we want the evildoers brought to justice, but they are just too good at covering up - it is not at all clear that we even know exactly what it is that is going on, by the end. This seems to have been Mankell.s intention: to infuriate us.

The theme of how extreme evil can be covered up by people appearing to do good has appeared in Mankell's books before this, notably in The Man Who Smiled, a Kurt Wallander novel. I have not read that one, but I have seen the Swedish and the British television versions, which are rather different in significant ways. If I had to guess, I would say that the British version was "prettified" - the tone of the Swedish version is much darker and the evil more pervasive, which seems more like the books I have read in the series. In that one, an industrialist do-gooder turns out to be doing rather nasty things under the cover of his charity medical care enterprise, but Wallander is unable to bring in evidence of the things that are going on, partially due to the industrialist's wealth and powerful friends, and partially due to Wallander's own self-destructive tendencies. In the Swedish movie, Wallander ends up handing off the file to a journalist who has been dogging him, looking for some good muck to rake.

Kennedy's Brain contains similar ideas: extreme wealth and political connections can make possible a very tight cover-up, that there is much going on beneath the surface of everyday events that would horrify us if it were known, that people are not always what they seem.

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

I learned about Kate Ross and four books she wrote through a book review thread here at Corrente. They are her Julian Kestrel series (which she sadly never got to complete...)

Anyway - I have the four books if anyone wants them. I will pack 'em up and ship 'em out to the first person who e-mails me at First come. First served.

Oh, and also check out the Denver Meetup post - up top....thanks to Lambert!

Submitted by lambert on

And my hidden agenda is that you'll encourage other meetups -- you've done a great job getting yours off the ground! Or on to the ground, I suppose one might say.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

More interesting for the anecdotes than the tips on writing. My favorite writers are most gifted with wry observation and/or plot, whereas King is, it seems, more focused on setting up a compelling situation and milking it for all it's worth (he'd consider the latter "story," rather than plot). Actually, it's the first King book I've read, but that's the impression I get from his musings and an abortive attempt or two at reading him sometime back.

King fans, will any of his fiction delight the fan of Salinger, Vonnegut,Tom Robbins, or John Irving? I'm a slow reader, so his epic tomes wouldn't be a good place for me to start.

My fear is that I won't find him witty and wise enough an observer and not sturdy enough in building the plot to a meaningful conclusion (I pretty
much always demand the former, and the latter is a cool bonus or a fair substitute). I don't read a whole lot of fiction, so I hope that each time out will really satisfy.

a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

but I've always been pleasantly surprised when I do (which may just mean I am getting good recommendations). There is a lot of attention to characterization in what I have read, including in the short stories.

You might start with Dolores Claiborne, which has relatively little of the supernatural stuff. I think the short story collection I read was Night Shift, but I. not sure - it was a long time ago.

The way I think of his writing is that it's a good way to pass the time, and generally turns out better than I expect it to. Supernatural nonsense usually turns me off unless it's fanatsy (like Harry Potter), but somehow I can put up with it in the King stuff I've read.

Submitted by lambert on

(And he's also done wonderful things for the State of Maine in general and the University system in particular, for which our University administration kicked him in the teeth.)

IMNSHO there are two Kings: Pre-accident and post-accident. I can't read the pre-accident King because the effects are too strong for me -- had to put Cujo down because it was giving me the creeps, for reasons I couldn't even figure out. (Lovercraft, by contrast, I read greedily -- even The Shadow Over Innsmouth, for example, which I found genuinely frightening.) But the post-accident King seems different. Can't really say, but I think, for you, I'd look to the later King, and not the earlier one.

mojave_wolf's picture
Submitted by mojave_wolf on

since *all* of his stuff is very different from the writers you mentioned (Salinger being probably the closest, and he's not that close).

King doesn't really *try* for extensive wittiness, though there is some. My personal favorites are Carrie and The Gunslinger, which are not two of his favorites, as far as I can tell (and I disliked his introduction to the rewrite of the latter so much that I never read the revision). Both have the advantage of being short, at least for King.

You also might like Firestarter for the politics and psychology (keep in mind, I read this in the 80's, so I could be remembering wrongly), but I think that was fairly long.

Hmm, I'm giving too much of my favorites. Maybe, given your tastes, Misery and the novella "The Body" would be the best bets? I would just be surprised if you hadn't already tried the latter.

Or the short story, "Last Rung on the Ladder"?

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

I have read everything King has written, with a few exceptions

One of the things I like about King, is that his characters are regular people. A lot of the fantasy I read, its all about monarchies and lienages. King for the most part is set in our world,(The Dark Tower is a glaring exception) with people you could meet on the street.

I also agree with lambert's point about there being more than one King, but IMO, there are actually four Kings, pre-Cocaine King, Cocaine King, post-Cocaine/pre-accident King, and post-Accident. Pre-Cocaine King is just chilling(Carrie), Cocaine King is odd(Cujo, Pet Semetary, IT), PC-PA King is incredible(Needful Things, several Dark Tower books), and post-Accident King is riskier, IMO.

Instead of telling you which books to read, though I will give some recommendations, I will warn you which ones to avoid like the plague.

Dreamcatchers-King was experimenting with some narrative devices that he uses in later stories, but I think the story is horrible.

Gerald's Game-It's interesting for it's tertiary connection to Dolores Claiborne(characters from disparate books is a continuing trick with him, for damn good reason) but there isn't a lot of character action, so it can be boring to read.

Thinner-instantly forgettable, not worth the time to read it

The Tommyknockers-Meh

Four Past Midnight- A novella collection, one story out of it is worth reading(Secret Window, Secret Garden, and don't worry about being spoiled by the Johnny Depp movie, a lot is the same, but a lot is different too), the rest are bunk.

Now, if you want some politics with your King, I definitely recommend Hearts in Atlantis. Absolutely awesome and heart rending. Firestarter is good too, deals a lot with government power, and how loses control of the monsters it creates.

Dolores Claiborne is good, but triggering for me, so I'm not fond of it.

I can't recommend The Stand enough, though the religiousity of it may bother you. It has an incredible ensemble of characters though, and while the Biggest Bad is pretty one-dimensional, his henchman are very entertaining and dynamic.

Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption are incredible, but if you've already seen the movies you might be bored.

The Dark Tower series is one of the most incredible achievements in literature, IMO, and you are selling yourself short if you don't read a good chunk of his other books before diving in though, because this opus, based on the Robert Browining poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came", ties in many characters spread across the many universes he has created. You can also see where the ideas and themes that populate his books come from, as it's really the King Unifying Theory of the Battle of Good vs Evil, a recurring theme in many of his books, like The Talisman/Black House, IT, The Stand, Insomnia.

Everything's Eventual is a collection of 14 short stories, that are really haunting and moving. It's his best collection.

Desperation is really a better story(heavy on the religion though) than The Regulators, but they are an interesting combo. Desperation is written by King, and The Regulators is written by his alter-ego Richard Bachman. They contain the same cast of characters, the same villian, but some of the characters are slightly different(One was a kid in Desperation, in The Regulators he's a father) but the locations and challenges of the story are totally different.

Bag of Bones is a haunting and moving story of grief, and dealing with the lies our loved ones tell us.

If you like the wit King displays in On Writing, in the sections where he is speaking to you, Constant Reader, then I think you will like his stories. I laughed my ass off at the part where he is describing his accident, something I'd never though I would do, especially at the part where he says the van driver was like a character out of one of his stories(so much so, King even put him in a story in an incredibly bold move)

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

I have read everything King has written, with a few exceptions

I think the Dark Tower series is absolutely stunning and makes my "Top Ten List" (see here for more), but from VL's list, I'm not sure he'd go for it. Big and mythic don't seem to be his style.

VL, I thought "On Writing" was wonderful. I liked the imagery of the little guys working in the basement who sometimes send up messages to the guy in the attic. However, if I were to recommend a King book to you, I'd say "The Dark Half" or "Stand By Me" (which is a novella IIRC). Also, "The Shining" is just amazing.

I'd also say William Goldman's novels would be a safe bet for you, if you haven't read them already. "Marathon Man" and "The Princess Bride," especially.

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

The novella is called "The Body".

Of his more recent ones, "Cell" is pretty good, set in Beantown too, so there ya go, VL. It has an ambiguous ending, so if your cool with that.

The Dark Half is pretty good, and if you're gonna read Needful Things, definitely read Dark Half first, it introduces a key character in Needful Things and helps you understand where this character is coming from. All the Castle Rock books are gold, IMO, except Cujo.

The Dead Zone gets a little political, too, and explores morality a lot, and is also set partially in Castle Rock. Plus the movie had Christopher Walken in it, and I love Walken.

votermom's picture
Submitted by votermom on

how is Under The Dome?
I've been considering borrowing it from the lib...

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

And you had recommended that to VL already! My bad. :-)

Votermom, I haven't read it yet, but I'll most likely buy "Under the Dome" for my trip to Aruba. I use it as an excuse to go and buy books instead of taking them out of the library. As a ridiculously fast and avid reader, I am always grateful and amazed at the fact that books are actually given out for free in America. One of the best inventions evah - the public library. :-)

Others I'll buy: The latest Preston/Child Pendergast book
The second and third Stieg Larssen books
The latest Kathy Reichs book
If it's out, the latest Thomas Covenant book

Not that I'm looking forward to reading them or anything. (bounces up and down in chair)

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

I've been meaning to check her out, I love the show(which I know isn't very similiar to the books), and I used to be a big Patricia Cornwell fan, until she brought Benton Wesley back from the dead, then I fell out of reading them(shark jumping).

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

I haven't ever gotten into Patricia Cornwell, but I love Kathy Reichs' writing and her heroine is very sympathetic.

a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

She treats a lot of interesting themes, and her descriptions of the science are just right.

I like Cornwall for about her first two books or so, then she started to go off the rails as far as I was concerned - too much drowning in personal angst and goopy soap opera, and the voices of the characters were off: for instance, the "hacker" niece comes off as someone who has taken Computer Literacy 101, not a hacker at all. I read the books in the Scarpetta series for awhile even after this, because she sometimes had interesting plot twists, and then it got so it just wasn't worth my effort to try and slog through.

Submitted by jawbone on

from the library (I think I'm the first to read it, as it's stamped as coming into the collection on May 26, 2010), and I've been staying up too late reading it -- hard to put down. Ties together lots from the first two books and centers on governmental security apparatus going rogue and abusing rights of individuals in the name of the state, but really to further their own goals.

The Girl Who Kicked the Horner's Nest. More on the first two books here.