Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Summer Reading

Sandra Parshall

Why do booksellers and reviewers talk about “summer reading” and “summer books” as if everyone spends June, July, and August lazing by a pool or on the beach, book in hand? Do you know anyone that lucky? For most of us, life and work go on pretty much as usual during the hot months. My summer reading is a lot like my winter reading -- relegated to little snatches of spare time. I’m more likely to listen to an audio book for an hour or two while I do other things than I am to settle in a chair with a book for an entire evening.

Here are some of the books that have been getting my seriously divided attention this summer.

Hide by Lisa Gardner: I will read anything Lisa Gardner writes, and this new book has become one of my favorites. Bobby Dodge, the Massachusetts state cop from Alone, returns, and he’s investigating the murders of six girls whose skeletons are found in a pit at an abandoned mental hospital. Evidence points to a killer Bobby had believed to be long dead. To complicate matters, after one skeleton is publicly identified as that of Annabelle Granger, the real Annabelle, now an adult, appears to correct the mistake and explain how the victim came to be wearing her necklace. The investigation widens to include Annabelle’s background. She grew up in hiding, her parents whisking her from place to place to escape a danger she never understood. In the course of Bobby’s investigation, Annabelle learns the truth about her family’s dark past and realizes that she is still in danger. Gardner has a delightfully twisted mind, and the complications and surprises she produces are many and convoluted. An unusually good suspense novel.

Trashed by Alison Gaylin is pure fun from beginning to end. The author’s first hardcover, after two paperback originals and an Edgar nomination, Trashed introduces accidental Hollywood tabloid reporter Simone Glass. She moves to Los Angeles to work for a respectable publication, but when that prospect evaporates, she’s desperate enough to take a job on a sleazy tabloid. She quickly learns that her editor doesn’t share her perception of what is newsworthy. Her first assignment, searching a star’s trash, turns up evidence that connects the actress to a murder, but Simone’s editor dismisses this development as uninteresting. What readers really want, he says, is proof of the star’s drug abuse. Simone stubbornly pursues the murder clues that keep popping up and ultimately puts her own life in danger. Trashed will be available from NAL Obsidian the first week of September, and in August I’ll have an interview with author Alison Gaylin in this space.

The Last Nightingale by Anthony Flacco
is an impressive debut mystery. Set in San Francisco, the story begins minutes before the massive earthquake and the resulting fire that destroyed much of the city in 1906. Sgt. Randall Blackburn is walking back to police headquarters after his night shift when the earth cracks open beneath his feet and chaos erupts. At the same time, in a relatively unscathed part of the city, a serial killer slaughters the Nightingale family while twelve-year-old Shane, an adopted son, hides in a cupboard. In the days following the earthquake and the Nightingale murders, Blackburn and the psychologically damaged Shane team up to find the killer. Flacco’s descriptions of the earthquake and its aftermath are superb and the plotting is clever. I look forward to the second book in this series. The Last Nightingale is published by Ballantine in trade paperback, so you can take a chance on this new mystery writer at relatively low cost.

A while back, I vowed to overcome my bias against mysteries set in foreign countries where English is not the dominant language. I promptly relapsed and didn’t make good on my pledge until advance copies of two books, one Swedish and one French, fell into my hands. Although they’re very different stories, each excellent in its way, they have a common element: like Gardner’s Hide, they bring back killers the detectives have faced in the past.

Never End by Ake Edwardson is latest in a bestselling series of Swedish police procedurals set in the coastal city of Gothenberg. As the city suffers through a brutal heat wave, Chief Inspector Erik Winter recognizes in several new cases the work of a rapist-murderer he failed to catch years before. In a spare style, with few literary flourishes, the author creates a forboding atmosphere and builds suspense in both the professional and personal ordeals of the sympathetic, realistic characters. Trade paperback from Penguin.

Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand by Fred Vargas is the latest winner of the Crime Writers’ Association’s International Dagger and the third in this bestselling French series to be published in the U.S. Commissaire Adamsberg, chief of police in Paris’s 7th Arrondissement, believes that serial killer Judge Fulgence is long dead -- but a new murder bears his unmistakable mark. Adamsberg’s insistence on chasing a ghost eventually makes him a suspect in the murder. Vargas (who is female, in case that matters to anyone) writes quirky characters who view the world from an ironic and often darkly funny perspective. Even if it didn’t have a compelling story, this book would be worth reading for the prose and the characters. Trade paperback from Penguin.

Books on my must-read list for the rest of the summer are Giles Blunt’s By the Time You Read This and Ruth Rendell’s The Water’s Lovely.

What are you reading this summer? Have you discovered any great new-to-you writers? Do you have more time to read in the summer than in other seasons?


Julia Buckley said...

I read Julia Spencer Fleming and Laura Lippmann for the first time. I also just finished reading Harry Potter aloud to my sons. :) I'm very proud of this 750 page accomplishment.

Sandra Parshall said...

Julia, I hate to think what condition your voice is in after that feat.

I feel like the only person on the planet who has never read a Harry Potter book. When I hear about thousands of people mobbing stores at midnight to get their copies of the newest one, I feel lucky that I've never become addicted. OTOH, I wouldn't mind being the author of such a phenomenon!

Kathy Durkin said...

I, too, have not fallen victim to Harry Potter, but I asked my 18-year-old nephew (who told me July 21 was the defining moment of his life when HP came out) about it and he told me it was great.
I need to read books about humans, their frailties, dilemmas, joys, and, of course, mysteries, if not zany and impossible.

Peter said...

Greetings from yet another person who has never read Harry Potter. And I have to say that I also have never got the summer reading thing. I mean, the pleasures of sitting back in a comfortable chair or lying back in a hot bath are available any time of year, though I would not recommend the latter with hardcovers or even trade paperbacks.

Sit on a beach, you can't get comfortable, and you get greasy sunscreen all over the pages. Go to the Caribbean, and you just can't relax completely for fear that a coconut will fall on your head.

Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand has been a highlight of my summer for much the same reasons as you mentioned. Trashed is also on my list, and I might have read it already if its publicist hadn't pestered me so much about when I was going to read it, already.
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