Sunday, July 06, 2014

Brief Mentions: Alan Furst, Åsa Larsson, Joelle Charbonneau

Summer schedules can be downright challenging, but the graduations, birthday, and family weddings are over for now, and I have a great stack of mysteries that kept me calm on the inside while dancing through June's gentle chaos. Reviews will roll ...

But here are three titles I won't be reviewing at length this time:

1. Alan Furst, MIDNIGHT IN EUROPE. Furst's pre-World-War-II noir brings Europe in its potent darkness alive, and although technically his books are mysteries (thrillers), they separate from the crowd in two ways: First, we know the upcoming world events that will  follow the action of each book (war will break out, yeah), so the suspense resides in the smaller, personal details of lives and goodness at risk. This time the protagonist is Christián Ferrar, whose efforts in the Spanish Civil War threaten to give him the ultimate reward, as in, "No good deed goes unpunished." (I was eager to get more details of the Spanish Civil War myself ... I'd always been a bit fuzzy about it.) Second, Furst writes with the lush deliberation of a deep literary novel. The drawback for MIDNIGHT IN EUROPE is that this leads to an ending that's hesitant, sweet, but also distant from the press of the plot. Consider it a tease, perhaps, for the sequels we know are en route. Note: Furst's "sequels" are not a series in the traditional sense -- some characters occur in multiple books, but there is no need to read his others before opening up MIDNIGHT IN EUROPE. And yet ... I want each of them on my shelf.

2. Reading Scandinavian noir? You may still not know the name Åsa Larsson; she isn't at the top of the PR lists. But oh my, her books have gripped me this summer. I'm catching up -- I read Sun Storm and The Blood Spilt, and devoured The Black Path, then cruised into the most recent, Until Thy Wrath Be Past. I'm fully committed to the protagonist, lawyer and crime victim and now dogged sleuth Rebecka Martinsson. The fifth book comes to the United States in August, and I've pre-ordered my copy of The Second Deadly Sin. Most intriguing aspect (besides the character of Martinsson): discovering Swedish prejudices and ethnic groups. Mmm.

3. Joelle Charbonneau's widely awaited final book in her YA dystopian series "The Testing" is here -- GRADUATION DAY. It's a fitting finale to Malecia "Cia" Vale's investigation of the powers running her post-apocalyptic world, and distinguishes the series emphatically from its "older sister" in "The Hunger Games." I wasn't entirely happy with the percent of the book that takes place through Cia's thoughts, present tense, but I think that's more a personal taste -- and I suspect the frame is on target for many "young adult" readers who live in the intense present themselves. No major issues of sex or religion in this series -- it's all about power, personal and governmental. Cia is a reluctant leader, but once she accepts the role, the action is nonstop. More about the books at the author website:

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