Friday, 8 May 2020

Post on a chilly morning...

It’s brisk and chilly and a bit overcast this morning as I sit with a steaming cup of chai tea and a delicious Date Bar.  Looking at the forecast, we may even be getting a bit of rain or snow today, not the kind of weather that is making people very happy.  But I’m OK with it, as that is perfect cup-of-tea-and-a-good-book weather!
Last week I had been determined to read and/or listen to something that did not have a thoroughly loathsome main character, and I managed that on both counts.  I just finished In the Woods by Tana French and all I can say is “WOW!”  Well, obviously that’s not really all I can say, as I’m going to write for the next 45 minutes about this book, but that is the first impression I want to share with you, “WOW!”  This first book in the “Dublin Murder Squad” series, and French’s debut, is set in Dublin and Knockaree, a small village just outside of Dublin, and weaves together two crimes involving missing and murdered children.  Rob Ryan is a detective on the Murder Squad, a job he’s dreamed of and aspired to ever since completing his police training.  Until age twelve, he lived in the small village of Knockaree and went by the name of Adam, but one glorious summer day in 1984, he and his two best friends, Peter and Jamie, went into the woods behind their estate. Hours later, only Adam returned to the village after being found in the woods with blood in his shoes and scrapes on his back.  After the investigation, during which Adam could remember nothing of what happened in the woods, his parents sent him off to boarding school in England and moved away to make a fresh start.  Adam started going by his middle name to distance himself from the sensational mystery surrounding his life, and after adopting a British accent, essentially became a different person.  He has no clear memories of his life prior to that day in the woods, but has found a way to cope with that.  Twenty years later, he is partnered with Cassie Maddox, a witty, intelligent detective, and together they are a dynamic duo, playing off one another and getting results.  Rob spends as many nights on Cassie’s sofa as he does in his own bed in the apartment he shares with his annoying roommate, and they know each other so well that they can finish each other’s sentences and jokes.  When, during a moment of downtime, they happen to be in the office as a new case involving a murdered child comes in, they offer to take it, only later realizing that the body was found at an archaeological dig in the woods bordering Knockaree, the very woods where Rob used to play as a child and where his friends disappeared.  Cassie is one of the only people Rob has confided in about his past, and while he knows he should let someone else take this case, he’s compelled to take it on, assuring Cassie that he’ll be alright.  Katy Devlin was a twelve-year-old girl who was destined for the Royal Ballet School in September, but was cut down in the prime of her childhood and left dead on the altar stone at the dig site.  Rob and Cassie have no real suspects, although they investigate the members of the archaeological team and of course Katy’s family members.  They sense that there is something wrong with the family dynamic in the Devlin household, a shiftiness or secrecy, but they can’t pinpoint what it’s all about.  Jonathan Devlin has spent his whole live in Knockaree, and has some shady history as a teen, but has become an upstanding member of the community and is head of the Move the Motorway movement, aimed at preserving the archeological site and having the new motorway moved over a few miles.  His wife Margaret comes across as spacy and appears to be completely out-of-touch with reality.  Katy’s twin, Jessica, seems to have no will of her own, and may or may not have some sort of learning disability.  Their older sister, Rosalind, is beautiful in an ethereal way, reminding Rob of delicate female characters in nineteenth-century novels.  But all is not what it seems, as is so often the case in murder mysteries, and as the detectives dig deeper to find the truth, Rob’s psyche begins to unravel and his carefully-constructed persona begins to crumble.  What follows is the unearthing of the truth about the current case, the revelation of some unpleasant aspects of the past, and the fate of the detectives working on the case.  This was one of the most absorbing books I’ve read in a long time.  It had everything I could ever want in a murder mystery.  The plot was complex, weaving together an unsolved case from the past with a current case that may or may not be related.  The main characters were realistic, likeable but flawed, their dynamic both engaging and entertaining.  And the descriptions, particularly of the woods, were brilliant, especially the way French described the summer of Adam’s childhood.  The novel opens with “Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950s… this summer explodes on our tongue tasting of chewed blades of long grass...this summer will never end… this is Everysummer decked out in all its best glory.”  But French seems to know how to use this kind of description only when it is necessary to create a scenario into which the reader needs to be immersed to understand the plot or characters.  At nearly 600 pages, I was worried that there would be pages and pages of filler, but this was so not the case.  Instead, the pages were filled with relationships forming and dissolving, partnerships thriving and struggling, plots being poked and prodded and finally uncovered, and characters building up and falling apart.  It even had a satisfactory ending, which, given the complexity of the dynamics on the case and in the squad room, wasn’t an easy thing to pull off.  In case it’s not already clear, I loved this book!  I can’t wait to read the next one in the series, which I think I may just happen to have on my shelf.  

And I listened to a light, easy audiobook, Ann Brashares’ "The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants", that classic YA coming-of-age novel published in 2001.  The novel follows four fifteen-year-old girls as they experience their first summer apart.  Lena, Tibby, Carmen and Bridget have been friends since before they were born.  Their mothers met in a prenatal class, where they were known as the Septembers (their due dates), and formed a friendship that, unlike their daughters, did not last.  Although they go to different schools, the girls have managed to remain friends and they look forward to spending every summer together.  But this summer will be different.  Carmen will be going to South Carolina to spend the whole summer with her father; Bridget will be going to Baja, California to attend soccer camp; Lena is going to Greece to spend her summer with her grandparents, and Tibby is going nowhere, instead working at Wallman’s department store.  When they discover that a pair of jeans Carmen bought on a whim at a thrift store magically fits each of them, despite their different body types, they decide to share the pants throughout the summer and use them as a way to stay connected and share their experiences.  What follows are four stories about experience, love, loss and the meaning of family and friendship.  This lighthearted novel, the first in a series of five “Travelling Pants” books, touches on some serious topics, such as death and sex, but there are many humourous, comical and entertaining moments, too, and as an adult, I found it to be just the thing I needed after A Ladder to the Sky.  I will probably not follow up with the rest of this series, but this was a little dip into this classic series. I have the film adaptation of this book recorded, and may treat myself to a bowl of popcorn and an evening of "girl films", pairing this with another classic, "Mama Mia".
That’s all for today.  Get outside, but bundle up - it’s cold out there!  
Bye for now…
Julie


PS Tana French has a birthday coming up on May 10, so I'd like to send out best wishes to "the First Lady of Irish Crime"!

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