It’s been unseasonably warm this past week, and today is no exception. The sun is shining and it’s promising to be a warm, humid day, but for now it’s not too warm for me to enjoy a steaming cup of chai tea and a yummy Date Bar as I consider the books I want to write about today.
I’ve got two books to tell you about, both of which I’m not quite finished, but I’m sufficiently far enough along that I can talk about them confidently. The first is a mystery by Keigo Higashino, The Salvation of a Saint. I recently received an e-newsletter with a list of Japanese thrillers, so I thought it would be fun to read something a little different. I managed to find most of the titles at my local library, and early last week I started and stopped reading a few of these titles until I found one that could hold my interest, the one mentioned above. I guess Higashino is one of the most popular mystery/thriller writers in Japan today, and my library has many books by this author, including others in the series featuring Tokyo police detective Kusanagi and his sometimes-sidekick, physics professor Manabu Yukawa. This novel opens with a prominent businessman, Yoshitaka Mashiba, informing his wife of one year, Ayane, that since they cannot have children, there is no reason for them to remain married. She does not seem startled by this declaration, and they proceed to host a small dinner party. Ayane leaves the next day to head to her parents’ place for a few days, and by the end of the weekend, Mashiba is dead, found poisoned in his home by Hiromi, who is Ayane’s assistant and also Mashiba’s lover. Ayane arrives home to discover police detectives combing through their home and personal lives in order to uncover clues that might lead to the discovery of the murderer. Ayane is the obvious suspect, yet she has a rock-solid alibi, as she was miles away for that entire weekend. But who else had motive and opportunity? Kusanagi’s junior detective, Kaoru Utsumi, refuses to ignore her intuition, her gut feeling that Ayane is the murderer, and she enlists the help of the physics professor in her quest to figure out how she committed the murder from a distance, and also how to handle Kusanagi’s determination to rule Ayane out as a suspect, this because he seems to be falling a little bit in love with the widow. I’ve got about 50 pages to go in this mystery and I can safely say it would be a hit with other readers who enjoy fast-paced, detail-oriented mysteries of the sort Peter Robinson, Henning Mankell or even Agatha Christie have written. It was not significantly different from these other books; in fact, it could be set anywhere. I guess I was hoping to hit upon an author whose works demonstrate an "authentic Japanese style” of writing, whatever that is, but this one is very mainstream. Still, it’s a good book, and I’m looking forward to getting to the end and finding out who did it, how and why. And I’m definitely interested in reading the first book in this series, as I’m curious as to how the relationship between the detective and the physics professor began.
And I’m listening to an audiobook that I’m nearly finished and that I’m really enjoying. The American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld has 19 parts, or more than 23 hours of listening time (most of the audiobooks I listen to have between 9 and 12 parts). I knew nothing about this book when I downloaded it, but remarkably, it’s held my interest so far, and with just 2 parts to go, I’m both anxious to finish and sad that I’m nearing the end. This book tells the story of Alice Lindgren, a woman who, when she was in her senior year at high school, drove into another car on her way to a party, killing the boy she was hoping to marry someday. This accident, and the guilt and loss, overshadows her life for the next 12 years as she becomes a teacher and then an elementary school librarian, and at 30, she figures she’s destined to be single forever. And then she meets Charlie Blackwell. Larger-than-life, confident and determined, Charlie sets his sights on Alice and wins her over. It both helps and hurts his case that he is part of a wealthy family, as Alice believes herself to be an independent woman. When her life is thrown into turmoil, she determines to change things… and then things really do change, and she becomes first the governor’s wife, and then the First Lady when her husband wins the US presidential election in 2000. This novel is based on the life of Laura Bush, and it is so interesting, so well-written, and so compelling that I have been looking for additional opportunities to listen. I read a review of this book and felt that it did such a great job of talking about this book and its place among great American literature that anything I could write would pale in comparison, so here’s a link to the review from the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/31/books/review/Oates-t.html?mcubz=0. I agree with everything the reviewer writes about the book, and I’m really interested in reading other books by this author, about whom I know nothing. I also know nothing, really, of the life of Laura Bush, but according to the review, this novel was heavily influenced and informed by her 2004 biography, written by Ann Gerhart. I wonder if the soothing, even tone of narrator Kimberly Farr's voice, her excellent portrayal of the character of Alice, has made this lengthy novel so engaging for me. I feel like I’m really learning about her life and getting an inside view into what it was like to be George W Bush’s life partner in the years leading up to and during his presidency (as awful as that may sound). Am I interested in reading Gerhart’s biography? Not in the least. I am only interested in the fictionalized account of her life, not the facts. Is this wrong of me? I hope not. The reviewer seemed to enjoy the book and find considerable value in it, and so do I. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading novels that explore “the human condition”, novels that follow a character's development over years and decades and considers why he or she made the choices they did, or fictionalized accounts of the lives of real people.
That’s all for today. Enjoy the sunshine and keep reading!
Bye for now…