Friday, June 29, 2012


Lauren Groff

William Heinemann, 2012

Bit Stone, the protagonist of this book, is the only son of Abe and Hannah, one of the founders of a commune under the name of Arcadia. A small society, Arcadia was organized in the fields of western New York State. Members of the commune created a system of efficient production, so that they provide themselves with everything necessary for life, not going beyond the community. Free People, they make decisions on the Council of the Nine, eat plant foods, do not keep animals, and have several wives and husbands. The nominal leader of Arcadia is Handy, hippie, rock musician of the 1970s, in the winter leaving to tour with a support group on their own bus, and all money raised at the concerts Handy brings to the commune. Arcadia is constantly replenished by the hippies, Darwinists, followers of the Buddha and other marginals seeking true freedom of spirit and body, but, however, often do not stay in Arcadia for long.

Bit at the beginning of the book is five years old, he was the first child born in the commune. Bit was the subject of unconditional love not only by their parents but the whole Arcadia. Bit never had been in the outside world, he knew about it only from what newcomers told him. Bit sometimes helps adults build something, and often plays with other children, Ike, Helle, Leif and Eric. Women work in Arcadia as well as men. People want to quickly finish the Arcadia, a large house, to move into it. But the commune is constantly having problems: with food, materials, lack of heating. Little Bit only later began to realize that his entire life in Arcadia he went half-starved, froze, and adults around had the bulging ribs and their skin was burned with the sun and almost always dirty because there was no place to wash, too.

Free People support their existence also with grass which grows in the fishing line nearby. The police often search the place, looking for the drugs, fugitives, who is really there, because nobody asks about someone else's past.

This novel consists of short chapters, each of which is a sort of short film, culminating in darkening, and after the blackout comes next chapter, usually not extending the previous directly. These short lyrical episodes in themselves are almost works of art; they are so fragile, precise and touching. And the novel itself is the same: it is not so much the view of utopia as a story of man, broken, but not discouraged and who doesn’t give up.

Near future in the book describes in a very conventional way: some virus is spreading, but the children are learning at schools, read books on e-readers, live in families, all remain the same. Bit for all the time he had lived in the outside world, it seems, and hadn’t felt happy, except the time when he just got married and his daughter was born. Even the circle of his contacts had not been expanded; he still maintains some kind of friendship with his peers from Arcadia.

Bit as a child has noticed a lot and drew some conclusions and, becoming a teenager, already understood how the world works. But Bit was raised in a world striving for complete freedom, and it prevents him from acting. He is seeing everything, but doing nothing. The action may damage the universe. Outside of Arcadia, naturally, he also finds no rest. His marriage to Helle initially could not lead to a successful union, but Bit had chosen it, because Helle was also from his past.

Returning in the in Arcadia, Bit can no longer remains in the new Arcadia, too much he saw, too much he lost. Model of a brave new world is no longer available to recover.

«Arcadia» is a book about how people who once lived in paradise, invented by themselves, are no longer able to leave this paradise. I wish there were more books like this one.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Istanbul Passage

Joseph Kanon
Istanbul Passage

Atria Books, 2012

World War II is over. In Turkey, which was neutral during the war, several spy organizations worked undercover, but their time has passed, and the staffs are gradually withdrawing their people home. Leon Bauer is a middle-aged American who was not a spy, but was engaged in business in Istanbul, doing some errands for the local residents of American intelligence, helping, without attracting attention, to ship the right people in the right places. Leon's wife Anna during the war was traumatized and has lost her mind, shutting in, and now she is kept in the clinic. Leon constantly visits his wife talking to her (the doctor advised, considering that it can help), and on Thursdays he visits Turkish prostitute Marina.

Tommy King, head of the local residency, working as a businessman, asks Leon to meet him to to discuss Leon’s last job. Tommy himself is recalled to Washington, where he will take good place in the headquarters of intelligence. Tommy promises that things will be simple: Leon’d need only meet one man at night on the dock, take himto a safe place for a day or two until the aircraft is prepared and then delivers a man to the airport. Leon has repeatedly done something like that, and he accepts the job.

The following night Leon and his Romanian friend Mihai waits in the car for the arrival of the boat. Mihai often helps in such cases to Leon, but Leon never told Tommy that he used help. When a person is brought in, Leon sends a man to the car, taking the bag from the fisherman, and promising that the fisherman will soon be paid. Suddenly, someone starts to shoot at Leon and Mihai. Friends fire back, and later by the scream and the sound of a falling body Leon figures that he killed the assailant. Slightly wounded Mihai drives to his place, and Leon with a stranger at first get rid of possible surveillance. Leon leaves Alexei at the apartment, promising that he would find ways to safely take Alexei out of the country.

«Istanbul Passage» combines the two sub-genres, spy novel and "the average person in extreme circumstances." The mixture turned out a really explosive, Kanon chose the correct proportions.

The author aptly chose the time and place. On the one hand, the war is over, but it ended just like yesterday, and the atmosphere is more tense between all countries (the book only lacks some nasty Nazies). On the other hand, the place is also non-standard choice, you do not often see a book about spies from that region.

All attributes of a decent spy novel are on the spot. There are residents, and agents, and fake passports, betrayals, loneliness of a spy - all very colorful. But at the same time, Leon is far from an ordinary spy, or rather he is not a spy at all. He is a businessman, an ordinary man who helped people during the war, and his wife organized the removal of the Jews, helping the embassy. He knows how to hide a person and get away from tale, but that's it. He does not run and shoot like Bond and Bourne, and has no experience and position as Smiley. He does not rely on anyone, he knows a small number of friends and has no relationship with Washington. And when Leon is embroiled in a dangerous intrigue, he behaves like a little man. He panics, he seeks a way out. He does not care about the honor of the country or protects the interests of the state. He is concerned about people, not the country.

Leon also here not only acts like an ordinary man caught in a big trouble, but also as a tragic figure. He still loves his sick (I think, forever sick) wife, he becomes the victim of betrayal of a close friend, a man whom Leon trusted. He is a man of honor at a time when the war seems to have consumed the whole honor from the people.

The novel is very intense, entertaining, written with love to a man and contempt for the public edifice. As with any good spy novel, about a third or even half of the spy intrigue remains unclear, but it should be so. For a person who is far from the intelligence it’s hard to understand the essence of all things hidden.

Probably in a few years «Istanbul Passage» will make a list of classic espionage books. It deserves it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Brass Rainbow

Michael Collins
The Brass Rainbow

Open Road Media/Mysterious Press, 2012 (digital)
(Originally published in 1969, by Dodd Mead)

Sammy Weiss, a small-time gambler and a loser, asks private detective Dan Fortune for help: the detective has to make a false alibi for Weiss, who in turn promises to pay. Fortune turns down the offer, but decides to check the story told by a fat gambler. The case takes a serious turn when a man whom Weiss’ve had a skirmish with because of the card debt is found murdered. A wealthy businessman is murdered, a suitcase with 25 thousand dollars in cash is lost from the apartment, and Weiss has gone in running. Fortune, though he does not like Weiss, suspects that the gambler is innocent and was framed. Detective's suspicions grow when he learns that the affair is mixed in a rich family, mobsters, the owner of a casino, professional "girlfriends of the rich men." Fortune will try to get to the truth, and the police will suspect that the private detective is harboring a fugitive.

Dan Fortune is a one-armed private investigator, and this is the second book in the series about his adventures. Fortune lost his arm not at war, but when he was a petty thief. The details are unknown. With only one hand, the detective is limited in his possibilities, so do not expect that he would beat someone to a pulp and shoot with both hands. But this does not mean that to Fortune will solve the case without leaving your office. Private eye will have to run, and fast, he will be shooting and chase suspects, but there will be logical interpretation of the information, too.

Fortune is not a joker, like Marlowe, he is not such a loner, either (here he will get help fro the police captain and morgue’s night watcher). He has a keen sense of social inequality, but he understands that it is impossible to deal with the rich. Fortune hekps Weiss with no money, just because they are on the same level of society - the poor, barely able to scrape a living (which does not interfere with Fortune’s words noted that prison cries for such men as Weiss, even for less crime than murder).

Collins writes firmly and without sentiment. The author gave his character a unique voice: Fortune is not Superman, not melancholy wise guy, just a lonely man in a big city.

It is impossible to guess the killers (and a few corpses there will be here), and the number of surprises and twists here is such that 90 percent of today mystery novels will seem primitive one-dimensional books.

«The Brass Rainbow» is not a rainbow novel, but like a rainbow after a long rain – such a joy.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Killing

David Hewson
The Killing

Macmillan, 2012

We already know who killed Nanna Birk Larsen. First, the murderer was found in the Danish (original) version of the TV series "The Killing," and then in the American remake (girl's name was changed to Rosie Larsen). British Hewson penned the novelization of the series, designed to attract a larger audience for the series and expand the original universe, but I can not say that he succeeded.

To accommodate 20 hour episodes in a book? This alone seems impossible, and Hewson had to compress all that can be compressed - book has turned out 700-page. And the quality of the novel suffers from such compression, of course. Where in the series we could leisurely look at and think about some of the scenes, to assess the atmosphere, look closely, how a cameraman worked, to see Denmark at night, in the book we can not see all this. The author has to drop even the tiniest "stopping places". He accelerates the pace, because if he starts to add something else, the book will make a volume of three. Thus a large part of the atmosphere is lost, exactly what, Hewson went to Denmark for. So, it turns out the bare plot, and nothing more.

The book on one hand is a page-turner, on the other - if a book is reduced to a rapid page turning, whether you need to read it at all? Those who watched the show will definitely catch and rethink those moments that may not be understandable from the TV screen. Hewson faithfully follows the TV screenplay; the book has all that was on the show. Reading the book once again you can follow the thread of the investigation, with fresh eyes to look at the Lund and Meyer’s mistakes, pretend that we do not know the killer, and once again try to guess who he is.

Those who have not watched TV series, but will first read the book probably will want to watch the entire season in one sitting. They will be curious to see how the characters look like, what actors have been picked up for filming, perhaps they will be deprived of suspense as the killer would have known, but in any event, new fans of the show will appear.

Those who are going to read "The Killing" as a stand-alone book is unlikely to receive the dose of pleasure, which they had hoped for. The political line on the screen is weak, but in the book is even weakier, closer to the final we even ask ourselves: what all these politics do here? And the volume of the novel is unlikely advantage. Hewson added the humor in the book. Meyer and Lund even more or less jokes, I do not remember that they were joking on the show. Another flaw, which makes the book not a good one, is its structure. In the series, there are three story lines, and they are often switched. For a TV show it is a suitable structure, for the book you need something else. In the book there is confusion, as if looking at it fast forward. You need to stay with characters a little longer to feel them, but – no time for that. The volume is running out, you need to hurry, because a lot of second- and third-rate characters are not represented. In general, fans of the book mysteries will find a better book. By itself, the book does not work. I would prefer to Hewson wrote a detective story in the universe of "The Killing", but not straight novelization.

Hewson slightly modified the ending. Does this alternative ending change something? No. This is nothing more than unnecessary improvisation.

The book is definitely for fans of the TV series, and for those who are about to see the series.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Jonathan Lee

William Heinemann, 2012

Joy Stephens is a young successful lawyer. She is going to become a partner in a law firm and on that day before her welcoming speech falling from a height of several tens of meters on the marble floor. Throughout the novel, we will live this day, the usual Friday, along with Joy, trying to find out why the woman fell from a height. In parallel, in the even chapters, the author presents the monologues of several people who knew Joy, in which they will slightly open the secrets of their relationship with Joy and the secrets of the firm, where Joy worked. Only if the chapters, tracing the movement of Joy on that fateful day, are written in third person and in real time, the chapters from point of view of the other heroes are written in first person and are already taking place after the fall of the woman.

The night before Friday Joy returnes late from work and finds that the door to their house is not closed. She lives with her husband Dennis, a teacher and a writer. Above she hears the strange sounds, and Joey is afraid that the house is likely to have been penetrated by the robbers. When she cautiously takes the stairs, she finds her husband having sex with a call girl. Joy, however, is not angry. As explained in later chapters, every Thursday Joy and Dennis call a prostitute to have threesome. This way a couple saves their relationship out of boredom and routine. That evening, Joy was delayed and did not warn about the cancellation of the meeting, so Dennis decided that since a prostitute had already arrived, it was necessary to use her service.

«Joy» is a novel about how hard it to get pleasure in our lives. There are no happy people in the novel. All they are looking for joy out of life, but searching for something rare ends with success. Joy, the heroine of the novel, despite all the hardships, too, was looking for some joy, some clue that would give her a reason to linger in this world. Was looking for until something clicked inside her: the search is over, and happiness is not found, it only will be worse.

The baroque structure of the book really gives the result here and leads to success. Gradually, from different angles, from different times, different people’s point of view develops a complete picture of how a person comes to a point. Despair, fatigue, uselessness, disappointment in oneself and others do not pile up at once, and the portions add daily in thin layers, until eventually the total layer does not press down so that there is no escape, it's time.

Especially gratifying to see how Jonathan Lee uses an unreliable narrator. Buried in the depths of despair, tormented character of this tragicomedy gradually cease to distinguish between her own thoughts and desires with reality. Was the nephew lost due to the fact that Joy was distracted by Peter, or did Joy really check her email? Did she throw the phone in a taxi driver, which is why he lost control, or to blame the driver himself, exceeding the speed? Had Joy fall from weakness, losing consciousness, or in her head was born in the last minute a plan, plan C, of suicide in the face of hundreds of colleagues?

"Damaged goods", Joy asks a reader to trust her and understand her. See, I have suffered so much, do I not deserve to go? Look who's around me, am I going to live among them all? Lee is so enchanting with his story that we really want to believe her. Even when in the monologues-chapters, we learned the facts, calling into question some parts of Joy’s narrative; we still want to trust her. After all, the company employs liars and traitors, says Barbara, Joy’s co-worker.

This book is full of bitter and rather comic moments. The office world is always an object of satire, and the British see and understand that. Barbara gets angry when she before retirement receives the oil bath as a present. Peter’s, dressed as a superhero, having sex in the locker room. Samir’s hunting for runaway lizard. Joy, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, asks the taxi driver to tell her anything about Seneca. You will not be laughing out loud reading those scenes, but they complete the picture. Even when someone on your eyes is falling from the top floor, life does not stop for those who have not fallen. All are shocked and are undergoing rehabilitation, but office life flows.

Sometimes Lee makes his characters talk too long, but in general he keeps the proportions. His characters speak in various ways: reading the monologues-chapters, you unmistakably recognize the voice of Barbara, or Dennis, or Peter.

You should feel this book. And anyone who can do that will get great pleasure.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


BK Loren

Counterpoint, 2012

The story of Willa Robbins begins with her childhood. In 1980, Willa lived with his elder brother Zeb, the father working three jobs, and the mother who had Parkinson's disease. In order to somehow maintain a sick woman in her condition, her husband works nights and days, and children are constantly making forays into homes across the county, stealing everything that can be sold to buy drugs.

The initiator of repeated thefts is always Zeb, Willa doesn’t like stealing, but she realizes that these thefts have a good cause. So in the fist novel scene, when the brother and sister climbs into another house, whose owners had gone for a while, Willa thinks that there is someone in the house and now they're caught. But the little thieves (although they are not quite so small children) walk free, and Zeb and Willa come up with a ridiculous story for the police.

Now Willa is working like a tracker, tracking the wild animals and help them move to other areas. She had long left her native Colorado, moved to New Mexico, where she’s helping the population of Mexican wolves, endangered species. She had not seen her brother since she left home, almost 25 years ago. Suddenly, Willa receives a call from Colorado police, with news of Zeb. He sent the police a written confession to the murder, but did not surrender voluntarily and set off running. Zeb knows the area well enough that the police simply can not track him. Prior to that, for many years, Zeb made numerous thefts, but he’d never been caught and did not leave evidence. Now it is much more serious crime. In search of the killer police will gather all the resources. The police know that Willa is a master tracker, and asks Willa to help keep track of Zeb. With Willa there is a chance that Zeb would be taken alive, without Willa a police will have permit to shoot to kill. Will has no choice, and she agrees to come soon to Colorado.

Accuracy and vividness of writing make this book a pleasant surprise. Novels about animals and trackers, it would seem, are something awfully boring, just for the fans, but Loren splash with new colors a set of methods covered with mold. There are no tear passages like "Let's save our smaller brothers", and no tedious descriptions of nature, animals and animals in nature. «Theft» is a book about people, about how they are integrated into the wild world, how people haven’t gone far away from wildlife. What is spectacular: none of the main characters of the novel have a family, children. Family is something artificial, unreal, and the distance from civilization does not contribute to finding a life partner. The heroes of the book helps to accustom the animals in their natural habitat, but they themselves are not adapted to the world. However, they are unlikely to suffer from it. The author gives no reason to believe that Willa and Zeb, and Brenda feel themselves as flawed.

Loren achieves an amazing evenness of style when jumps from one time period to another. The chapters written in 1980 are more poignant, but those that occur in the present are more informed. Time of the murder is also described quite reasonably.

The same can’t be said about the alternation of narrators. Chapters from the Zeb’s point of view turned out far more constrained than the Willa’s chapters.

«Theft» in general is nothing extraordinary, strong prose, cut above the standard filling the shelves books, but it is neither a must read.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Lay of the Land

Richard Ford
The Lay of the Land

Vintage, 2007

Richard Ford's novel is plotless, and the same is so full of events. The action of the book fits in three days of the life of the protagonist Frank Baskombe, but in those three days Frank manages to tell almost the whole story of his life. «The Lay of the Land» is 500-page monologue, 500 pages of mind of Frank. How one day in the life of man can be ordinary, so ordinary Ford makes it, but adding a few unusual episodes. Everyday life could ruin any book, but just not this one. It would seem that in any book there are moments that you simply browse through, there are lines that you miss, but in «The Lay of the Land» it is impossible to miss a word. This novel is like a song, really, words can’t be erased from here.

The novel takes place in autumn of 2000, Thanksgiving is nearing. Clinton left the White House, the whole world is in anticipation of the Millennium. The life of 55-year-old Frank Baskombe, the owner of real estate agency, is stuck, as he calls it, he is in "the Permanent Period". Ann, Frank's first wife, left him after the death of their son, Ralph, and then Frank married Sally Caldwell and moved to the town Sea-Clift that on the Jersey Shore. But after eight years of marriage, Sally is also moving away from our protagonist. Sally's first husband, Wally, once wandered away from home a few days after the wedding and went missing. He was not found nor alive nor dead, and Sally has long ceased to look for him, but one day Wally’d returned, after, it turned out, life in Scotland, and Sally once again reunited with Wally, leaving Frank.

Frank has two children, 27-year-old Paul, once a problem child who grew up in an eternal rebel and debater, and works in Kansas City as a "writer" of business cards, and 25-year-old Clarissa, bisexual, who is adoring father. Frank is waiting them both on Thanksgiving Day, as well as his first wife, Ann, though later he has regretted that he had called her.

Frank is also in limbo because of his health. He has prostate cancer, and he is being treated with radioactive substances.

From the first pages of the novel we see how Baskombe rides along the coast, carrying out his daily routine affairs. During the three days of life of Frank you’d know about it as much as if you had known him all his life. It seems like you ride with him in the passenger seat, listening to his monologue for three days. Baskombe, despite his position in society, despite his not too successful life, is hardly a type, he does not look like an ordinary Joe, he is a full-fledged character. He is witty, intelligent, kind, closed, decent, tolerant, but by the end of the third day you are not sure that Frank is such a good man, he is beginning to annoy you. He is perhaps too confident in his right, sometimes too cold.

Despite “the americanost” of the novel, the book is absolutely painless passed on to the rails of another country. This is not a universal story, but the universal language, the universality of the Ford’s gife, his hyper-detailed vision of the world. Ford makes a world of his novels not three-dimensional, but even four-dimensional.

The writer, who writes so smoothly and so multifaceted, must create such outstanding books as «The Lay of the Land».