A racketeer is “one who obtains money illegally, as by fraud, extortion, etc.” The Racketeer is the story of a wrongfully imprisoned lawyer who seeks revenge on the legal system that failed him (while trying to make a sizable profit as well). In John Grisham’s latest legal thriller, he continues to prove his mastery of this genre.
Malcolm Bannister is our protagonist racketeer, who uses the murder of a judge to hatch a scheme to get out of prison. His plan works, but we soon learn that there was a lot more to it. The story begins to drag in the middle as Bannister gets involved with a new character, but Grisham knows what he’s doing and quickly sucks you back into the story as you race to get to the satisfying end.
The character of Bannister continues Grisham’s latest trend of not-quite-likable protagonists. Their belief systems and moral code stray far enough from my own that I find it hard to sympathize with them as a character. Yet the logic of their moves and plotting manages to get me to emotionally invest in the character.
While Grisham’s latest thrillers have been fairly run-of-the-mill thriller fodder, his storytelling abilities continue to be remarkable. No matter how uninteresting the premise of his novels sound, he is sure to suck you into the story. And sometimes that’s all you really want in a book.
Posted by xoxojk on December 8, 2012
In the fourth installment (second to be published in America) of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, Harry finds himself framed for murder. His ex-girlfriend Anna is found dead in her apartment and Harry was the last one known to be there, but he can’t remember that night because he’s lapsed into his alcoholic tendencies and blacked out. Now Harry must avoid suspicion from his colleagues while tracking down what really happened to Anna and dealing with the mysterious person who keeps emailing him about that night. On top of it all, Harry is investigating a murderous bank robber. Despite not being connected, both cases are thematically linked, as Harry later learns in his attempts to unravel the culprits.
I’ve already praised Nesbo’s crime writing skills (see: Headhunters), and Nemesis just continues to prove it. In this tightly-written thriller, Nesbo delves into psychological behaviors, showing how motives for crimes are not as cut and dry as they may appear. Harry must constantly think outside the box if he hopes to uncover the various conspiracies afoot. One of the biggest conspiracies, concerning the series baddy Tom Waaler, continues to develop from the previous novel Redbreast (I can’t wait to see where this storyline goes in the next book).
If there’s one thing that is immensely frustrating about Nesbo’s writing, it is that he’ll show characters coming to important revelations only to cut away from the scene before we as a reader can either see or comprehend what they’ve discovered. Of course, this tactic merely serves to build suspense and also to make the reader think. So many American crime thrillers spell things out too easily, while some of the more pretentious ones are too oblique. Hence why Nordic and Swedish crime fiction proves to be so entertaining and fascinating to American readers. Plus, Nesbo easily incorporates American pop culture references into his writing like mentioning The Godfather, David Hasselhoff, and Prince (and using those allusions to advance the story).
Next time you’re looking for an excellent crime fiction series to read, dig into the Harry Hole series (start with Redbreast if you’re a completist, or else go straight for his newest novel Phantom). When it comes to Jo Nesbo, you won’t be disappointed.
Posted by xoxojk on October 24, 2012
The line, “I’m a big fan of the lie of omission,” (said by possible wife killer Nick) perfectly sums up author Gillian Flynn’s writing in Gone Girl. Her prose style is compulsively readable and enjoyable, but the reader is quick to learn that not everything is as it seems. Flynn has packed enough unpredictable twists and turns into this genius novel to keep any reader full engaged to the very last page.
The story opens with Nick discovering that his wife has gone missing. Quickly the police are involved and all the clues seem to point to Nick as the culprit. As we follow Nick’s attempts to find his wife (did he really kill her?), we also follow her diary entries from the previous years that tell the story of her and Nick’s relationship. Amy comes off as a great wife who has recently been stuck in a souring relationship (but did Nick really kill her?).
It’s not long before we realize that we can’t trust Nick (he tells us in almost every chapter that he’s lying about things), but there is also something that doesn’t quite sit right with Amy’s narrative either (and when you start part two, you’ll know why). Flynn has created two deeply flawed characters that you concurrently sympathize with and despise.
Though this novel is classified as a mystery/thriller, it’s truly a character-driven story about a married couple at the darkest time of their lives. Flynn’s pacing and plotting of the story are perfect, always giving enough to advance the story but without revealing everything. She also has a gift for description that’s concise and incisive.
This book is definitely one of the greatest books of 2012. I highly urge all of you to read it.
Posted by xoxojk on June 26, 2012
Protagonist Dell Parsons states in the very opening lines, “First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.” Author Richard Ford lets the reader know in advance that this book isn’t about the actual events so much as the psychology surrounding these crimes. It’s a bit of a risky move, because Dell’s slow and introspective narration makes many of the book’s passages excessively tedious.
Dell’s parents are the ones who, in an act of desperation, rob a bank (and not very successfully). Dell spends the first half of the book describing his family and how they reached this point. Once his parents are in jail, Dell is whisked across the border into Canada by a friend of his mother’s. She delivers Dell to her brother and unintentionally puts him in the care of yet another criminal.
But Canada—a boring and unremarkable title—is not about the action of the plot but the motivation behinds those actions. Some of Ford’s writing is reminiscent of John Irving (especially his 2009 novel Last Night in Twisted River) with many instances of foreshadowing and repetition of phrases. Ford also presents some very intriguing thematic elements (that I’m sure book clubs will get a kick out of discussing). But the naïveté of Dell—as he addresses and examines those elements—grows tiresome, especially when it’s combined with future Dell’s narration and justification.
There are definitely some gems in Canada, and the overall themes in the book give it a place in literature. It just requires too much trudging through the duller parts of the book to make this a truly spectacular novel.
Posted by xoxojk on June 14, 2012
Six years after the events of Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth Darcy is throwing the annual Lady Anne Ball and everything is going smoothly. But, as close friends and family are celebrating the night before, her sister Lydia unexpectedly bursts into Pemberley screaming that her husband Wickham is dead. So begins the latest work of crime fiction by master writer P.D. James.
Turns out, Wickham isn’t dead; but he is found holding the bloody corpse of his friend Captain Denny in the middle of the woods. Darcy himself is quickly involved and stays involved throughout the investigation and trial of Wickham. The novel gives a very interesting look into the British legal system of the time. And James gives some very Dickensian twists to our favorite Austenite characters.
Many secrets abound in this tale, but James juggles them easily while also seamlessly introducing us to some of the other new characters that didn’t exist in Pride & Prejudice. (Austen fans will also enjoy the few moments when characters from other Austen books are fleetingly referred to.)
Although some parts of the book seem to drag, know that everything will be resolved in Elizabethan fashion—in other words, 3-page-long monologues delivered in the final chapters will reveal all. And if, in your course of guessing whodunit, you begin to suspect lycanthropic involvement (Full moons! Mysteriously ill people!), then you have merely read too many supernatural books. Don’t worry; this isn’t Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (although that book is also really good, just in a different way).
Death Comes to Peberley is great way to revisit old friends and see what they’ve done with their lives. James creates believable futures for Austen’s characters while also reexamining their choices made in P&P. Just be warned, Austen fans, that after reading this book you will want to revisit Austen’s classics.
Posted by xoxojk on May 31, 2012
Jo Nesbo’s stand alone thriller makes for an interesting tale of deception and distrust. Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter (and part-time art thief) who is unknowingly thrown into a game of manipulation, which results in the death of many. In his attempts to create a perfect life for his wife Diana (he’ll do anything for her except give her a child), he finds himself spending above his means and so he steals art and sells it on the black market to make extra money.
When a legendary painting is discovered in the house of his new client, Clas Greve, Roger can’t help but attempt to steal it. From that setup alone, you can tell that not all will go well (and it does not). But there is more going on around Roger and the people in his life than he could even have imagined. What’s great about this thriller is that you know something is going to go wrong, but it’s never quite what you expect. That’s something that makes Nesbo stand out not just among Nordic crime writers but also among all crime writers.
Nesbo utitlizes a sparse (for lack of a better word) language to spin his yarns. He’s a concise writer who only includes details and descriptions if they’re necessary (even if they don’t seem necessary to you at first). I was easily able to enter into the mind of Roger and follow his logic as he attempts to fix his world that is spirally out of control. And the ending that Nesbo delivers is perfectly orchestrated. I love when a book comes together at the end so perfectly.
If you’re a fan of Stieg Larson’s Millennium Trilogy – the “dragon tattoo” books – then you’ll find much more to enjoy in Nesbo’s writing. From what I’ve read of his Harry Hole series, I find it far more enjoyable (see also: Henning Mankell). And with the film adaptation of Headhunters coming to American cinemas very soon, I’m eager to see how they tackled this thrilling Nordic crime novel.
Posted by xoxojk on May 2, 2012
Sarah Waters takes inspiration from Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins as she weaves the complex fabric of Fingersmith. What begins as a seemingly simple long con grows suddenly into a much larger conspiracy. And, like all good conspiracies, you never know whom to trust.
The story starts with young Sue Trinder, an orphan being raised in a house of thieves. When a handsome man (Richard “Gentleman” Rivers) arrives with a proposition, Sue quickly finds herself posing as a lady’s maid in an isolated mansion. Her task to is gain the trust of heiress Maud Lilly and convince her to marry Rivers because upon doing so he will have access to her fortune. Rivers tells Sue that he will dispose of Maud at a mental asylum after he’s gained her money (and she will inevitably get her cut of the profit).
A simple enough premise for the first third of the book. Although, as Sue spends time with Maud she begins to feel compassion for her (even though she knows she’s sending her to her doom). The inner turmoil that Sue faces during this time (and that we see Maud faces later in the book) ads much to a story that would otherwise be a simple crime fiction story.
At the end of Part 1, everything is turned on its head. The twist is so delicious that I have no intention of ruining it, but it definitely piqued my interest. However, what comes in Part 2 becomes instantly tedious, and it takes another hundred pages or so to get to the juicy twists (trust no one). And again in Part 3, tedium reigns. The overall story and the path to the end are well thought out and I have no argument with them. It just felt to me as a reader as if everything were moving very slowly.
There seems to be no small scene with Waters. She invests a lot of description into every detail, but what does it really do but slow the momentum of the story? A story that is, by itself, inventive and engaging. Even the finale confrontation scene (which lasts nearly 20 pages) felt tedious (is there a better word to describe it?). The characters all want to do something, yet they each refrain. They all want to say something, yet they refrain. It was highly frustrating.
Waters creates a very vivid Victorian London, and a very imaginative and twisty plot to inhabit that London. But there is something lacking in her execution that prevents the novel from reaching true greatness.
Posted by xoxojk on April 19, 2012