17 November 2016

Hurry up!

As I walked into the Northfield library I discovered a new Jacqueline Winspear novel on a table by the staircase. A little note was taped to the cover, "Lucky You!"

It turns out that this was a recent addition to the collection that no one had reserved. I could check it out, but it wasn't renewable. Well, it was due yesterday and this evening I just finished it. I'm glad I spent the time and will gladly pay the fine when I return it tomorrow.

The book is A Dangerous Place. The dangerous place is Gibraltar in 1937.

Maisie Dobbs retreated to the mountains of India after the death of her husband and the loss of the child they had been expecting. She was overwhelmed with grief and could not face returning to England, her father, her in-laws, and all the familiar places she called home.

Finally on the way home, her ship docks in Gibraltar, and Maisie realizes she's not yet ready to face family and familiar. However, on one of her first evenings in Gibraltar, she stumbles on the body of a recently murdered man.

This Dobbs character that Winspear has created cannot resist asking questions about the death and the survivors. Once an investigator, always an investigator, I guess. However, Winspear does a fairly good, but not (to me)  totally convincing job of portraying this as a further attempt by Dobbs to evade confronting the horror of her sorrow.

Gibraltar is a dangerous place because the civil war is going on in Spain and because the isolated city is full of spies and police of all kinds. Some of the police are serving the interests of Dobbs' father-in-law and others are serving ambiguous masters.

Then there are the photographs taken by the man Dobbs found murdered. One of a German submarine and another of a German double agent. Oh, there's also weapons smuggling by some of the fishing fleet. Of course, Maisie Dobbs is close enough to be aware of all of it, though she's at a loss to put all the pieces together -- until the very end, of course.

Then Maisie meets two English nurses who are headed for a front-line nursing station (much like the one Maisie worked at in France in 1916-17). Guess who goes along. After a hectic day at the station and meeting a nun who practically runs the place herself, Maisie tells here police tail she's headed back to England. But instead she heads for the nun's nursing station in Spain. A couple months there working with the wounded, Maisie feels, will get her out of herself enough that she'll be able to return to England.

I don't know. Want to take bets?

Have you read A Dangerous Place? What did you think of it? Write and tell this little bit of the world about your reaction.

Now, I have to take this book back to the library. I was lucky.

12 November 2016

Paying attention

If you've been paying attention to the sporadic things I write here, you know I've had a pile of books on my desk to write about. I managed to cut the pile in half and write about my current reading until I uncovered Åsa Larsson's The Second Deadly Sin. Well, you didn't know about that last bit since I haven't written about Larsson's book until now.

I picked up the book and looked at a fierce bear on the cover and tried to remember something about the book and my experience of reading it. Nothing. Had I really read the book? I must have, I told myself, or it wouldn't have gotten to the pile of books already read.

Okay, so I'll skim through the beginning and I'll remember. Nope. Okay, I'll read the first few chapters and it will come back to me. Nope, again. Had I read this book? So, I started over and read the book. It wasn't until I got to about page 350 (out of 375) that I remembered reading some of the book. If I'd paged my way through the book looking at the words, I hadn't read it. But there's a devastatingly awful scene near the end of the book involving a murderous assailant, a five-year-old child, a beloved dog, and a severely injured cop that I'll never forget, even if I forget where I read it. I won't forget again. I was paying attention this time.

Larsson tells at least three stories in this book. One of them is two or three generations back. Others are contemporary, one involving murder and another involving overreach by an overly ambitious detective. When I paid attention to the stories this time, I was able to keep track of the stories and understand most of the complex connections Larsson weaves among them.

The first half of the book seemed a bit slow. Maybe that was getting started and introducing all the characters and scenes (all in Sweden, by the way). The story telling in the second half of the book moved right along. I wondered how I could not have paid attention. Where was I? What was I preoccupied with? I have no clue. I wasn't paying attention.

I liked the book this time. I was paying attention this time. I remember admonishing my students to do more than "look at the words" when reading. I need to remind myself of the same thing.

Have you read The Second Deadly Sin by Åsa Larsson? Were you paying attention enough to tell us what you thought of it? Write. Tell this little bit of the world what you thought.