The Devotion of Suspect X
Minotaur Books; hardcover; 304 pages
When that abusive bastard of a stalker-moocher ex-husband won’t leave you alone, are you justified in murdering him? That’s precisely the question that is never even once raised in this novel by the bestselling Japanese mystery writer Keigo Higashino.
Yasuko Hanaoka divorced the bastard (Togashi), then changed jobs and moved to another apartment in order to shake him off. But he tracks her down anyway and, one night at her apartment, he crosses the line, threatening her and her daughter, Misato. The result? A corpse on the apartment floor.
Yasuko’s next door neighbor, the high school teacher and mathematician Ishigami, hears the scuffle and steps in to help. He choreographs the perfect crime. Why? Because he’s in love with Yasuko, because he’s “devoted,” as the title suggests.
All this we learn in the first couple of chapters. What ensues is an entertaining and escalating mystery featuring prize-winning Higashino’s recurring character, the physicist Dr. Manabu Yukawa, known affectionately as Professor Galileo. Continue reading
Burning Shadows: A novel of Saint-Germain
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Love bites, as readers of the long-running Count Saint-Germain series know.
Burning Shadows, the twenty-first in the series about the vampire Count Saint-Germain, takes us to the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Huns. In this novel which combines horror and history, as award-winning novelist Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has done from the beginning of the series nearly 30 years ago, Saint-Germain is the protector of village of the edge of the crumbling Empire.
As Attila and his hordes move through the area, burning and looting, Saint-Germain, the villagers and monks annoyed by the interruption to their contemplative lives, all take refuge in a monastery. With Saint-Germain is a mysterious woman, Nicoris, who learns of his true nature. For Saint-Germain, or Dom Feranescus Rakoczy Sanctu-Germainios, as he is known in this time and place, is a vampire.
The novel proceeds at a leisurely pace with an exploration of the romance between Nicoris and Saint-Germain. Equally slow paced is Yarbros examination of fifth century Hunish culture. Yarbro is acclaimed for the realistic depth of her portrayals of the various historical periods in which the long-lived Saint-Germain has starred over the course of the series, and Burning Shadows is no different.
Yarbro has found a great formula: combine elements of the romance novel with the uncanny in the form of a vampire story, and then keep retelling it in different historical periods. She writes great stuff and Burning Shadows finds her in fine form. New comers should be aware, however, that even though the Saint-Germain novels are marketed as thrillers, the thrills are actually pretty far and few between. More accurately, these are romance novels with an uncanny kink to them.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon; Penguin; paperback; 487 pp; Jan. 2005
The Shadow of the Wind is a dream date for those who love books.
It starts, in 1945, with the introduction of the young narrator, Daniel, to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Daniel’s father, a dealer of used and rare books in Barcelona, tells the young boy, “When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here.” In the Cemetery, “books that are lost in time, live forever…. Every book you see here has been somebody’s best friend.” Mourning the loss of his mother, Daniel befriends a book he finds there, The Shadow of the Wind, written by a certain Julián Carax.
Entranced by the novel, young Daniel sets out to discover who this Carax was, and what else he wrote. Daniel’s father, the book dealer, has never heard of Carax. Together they consult other dealers. One offers Daniel a considerable sum of money for his copy of The Shadow of the Wind—but won’t say why he prizes it so highly. Daniel, though, refuses to sell the book. Continue reading
Paul Levinson; Tor Books; hardcover; 272 pages; Feb. 2006
Socrates said he knew nothing but, even so, he was the smartest guy in Athens. Apparently a lot of Athenians found that amusing—at least for a while. Eventually, though, he got on enough people’s nerves, and in ancient Athens that was enough to get a death sentence. (In the contemporary U.S., it just gets you a life sentence, unless you’re being held in Guantanamo, in which case nobody bothers with a trial.) Paul Levin’s novel The Plot to Save Socrates, which resonates with the current political climate, is premised on the thought that some future time traveler might time-warp back to 399 B.C. (or whatever they called it back then) to try to persuade Socrates from drinking the hemlock.
Trouble is, Socrates doesn’t want to be saved. He is, however, intrigued by the idea of time travel. And, well, who isn’t? That’s the charm of Levinson’s novel: he bootstraps the time travel paradox into an airy castle of baroque proportions. (The time travel paradox, in case you need a quick refresher, is quickly summarized in the classic question: What would happen to you if you traveled back in time and killed your grandfather? But I’m sure you don’t need a refresher because you remember the episode of The Simpsons where Homer [hey, wasn’t he a Greek?] squashes a butterfly back in dinosaur days and turns his house into a cupcake decorated with Bart and Lisa candles.) Alas, that is also the trouble with the novel: Levinson is having so much fun watching his characters going boing-boing across the centuries that he forgets about the key word in his title: plot. Continue reading