05 October 2015
Henning Mankell, the Swedish novelist and playwright best known for police procedurals that were translated into a score of languages and sold by the millions throughout the world, died on Monday in Goteborg, Sweden. He was 67.
The cause was cancer, said his literary agent Anneli Hoier. Last year, Mr. Mankell disclosed that doctors had found tumors in his neck and left lung.
Mr. Mankell was considered the dean of the so-called Scandinavian noir writers who gained global prominence for novels that blended edge-of-your-seat suspense with flawed, compelling protagonists and strong social themes. The genre includes Arnaldur Indridason of Iceland, Jo Nesbo of Norway and Stieg Larsson of Sweden, among others.
But it was Mr. Mankell who led the way with 10 mystery novels featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander, a gruff but humane detective troubled by self-doubt, overeating, alcoholism and eventually dementia...
04 October 2015
A friend's mother asked me once why I only read mysteries. My defensive response was that I read other things too. But I quickly realized that nearly every bit of fiction I read was a mystery of one kind or another. I did develop some answers to the question that revolved around the limited environment of most mysteries, not too many characters to keep track of, and endings that were pretty final.
But there's another thing.
Another friend's 14-year old daughter has been a reluctant reader. This fall she was assigned to read To Kill a Mockingbird. The book looked pretty daunting and my friend volunteered to be the audience to whom her daughter could read the book. The ploy worked to get the reading started. One evening, after reading the second chapter to her mother, the young student asked, "Mom, can we read another chapter? I want to find out what happens next." What could make a mother's heart fly more at that moment? So, yes, they read another chapter.
That's another thing about mystery novels. Things happen. There are stories. Some stories unfold slowly, some quickly. Stories often take unexpected turns, but there are stories and things happen.
When my inferiority complex kicks in I think to myself, "I should read something besides mysteries. I should read some real literature." Last spring as I hung out at a Barnes and Nobel coffee shop a couple times a week, I looked at reviews and bought a couple books with good reviews that had been labeled (by reviewers) as real literature. One of them is even a finalist for a Man Booker Prize (winner to be announced on October 13).
In neither of these books did much happen. Well important things happened that seemed to be in parentheses. Lots of internal analysis was laid out in long passages. (I'm not big on long internal analysis.)
Nguyen Cao Ky.) The main character's spy job was to keep track of the general and his efforts to raise money and an army in Cambodia to fight the Communists in Vietnam.
When the spy accompanies the general back to Vietnam, he is captured by his Communist "colleagues," imprisoned, and tortured for questionable acts of disloyalty. The spy, a faithful and dedicated Communist, accepts his persecution because the Party imposed it.
That's about where I stopped reading the book. I don't understand the total abandonment of self. I wasn't enjoying what story there was. It wasn't a book for me.
Chinua Achebe, one of my all-time favorite authors. (Obioma and Achebe both come from the same ethnic group and the same part of Nigeria.)
The fishermen in Obioma's novel are brothers in a Nigerian village. Their father is a successful businessman who works in a nearby city during the week. The boys get into trouble and one of them gets a fortune from a local "village idiot" predicting his death. He dies shortly after.
The two older surviving brothers set out to get revenge. When they do, one of them is prosecuted and spends years in jail. The other runs off and hides. When the convicted brother comes home from prison, his brother comes out of hiding and comes home as well. Three hundred pages of very little happening. I'm not sure why I finished this one.
cozy mystery" by Louise Penny. Well, almost a cozy. As in her other books, Penny's main character in Bury Your Dead is Chief Inspector Gamache and part of the setting is the little rural village of Three Pines, Quebec, while much of it is in Old Quebec City.
Penny tells four stories in this novel. One of the stories is sort of 400 years old, another is 60 years old, another is just over a year old, and one is only months old. The most recent story is told in PTSD flashbacks that Gamache is trying to recover from. The year-old story is told in conversations with friends and rethinking evidence that put a man in jail. That story has its tangled roots in World War II. The ancient story is somehow connected to a murder and to surreptitious excavations around the foundations of Old Quebec City buildings.
For a guy who is supposed to be recovering from PTSD and grievous wounds, Gamache is pretty driven. And he drives his dear friend and assistant Jean Guy Beauvoir, who is also recovering from psychological and physical wounds, to dangerous action.
For all the stories and all the characters in Penny's novel, I never lost track of the people or story lines. I can't say that much for other mysteries I've read. The stories kept unfolding. And I learned things about myself near the end of the book. Can't be much better literature than that for me.
Have you read any of these? What's your take on it (them)? What's your take on literature? Write. Tell this little bit of the world what you think.
- Philip Caputo's review of The Sympathizer in The New York Times
- Ron Charles' review of The Sympathizer in The Washington Post
- Fiammetta Rocco's review of The Fishermen in The New York Times
- Michael Schaub's review of The Fishermen at NPR
- Louise Penny's web site
- Anonymous review of Bury Your Dead at the Literary Corner Cafe
- Susan Flynn's review of Bury Your Dead at You Can Never Have Too Many Books
- B. Morrison's review of Bury Your Dead on his blog