Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Mountain by Luca D'Andrea

Hardback:  In Luca D'Andrea's atmospheric and brilliant thriller, set in a small mountain community in the majestic Italian Dolomites, an outsider must uncover the truth about a triple murder that has gone unsolved for thirty years.

New York City native Jeremiah Salinger is one half of a hot-shot documentary-making team.  He and his partner, Mike, made a reality show about roadies that skyrocketed them to fame.  But now Salinger's left that all behind, to move with his wife, Annelise, and young daughter, Clara, to the remote part of Italy where Annelise grew up - the Alto Adige.

Nestled in the Dolomites, this breathtaking, rural region that was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire remains more Austro than Italian.  Locals speak a strange, ancient dialect - Ladino - and root for Germany (against Italy) in the world cup.  Annelise's small town - Siebenhoch - is close-knit to say the least and does not take kindly to out-of-towners.

When Salinger decides to make a documentary about the mountain rescue group, the mission goes horribly awry, leaving him the only survivor.  He blames himself, and so - it seems - does everyone else in Siebenhoch.  Spiraling into a deep depression, he begins having terrible, recurrent nightmares. Only his little girl Clara can put a smile on his face.

But when he takes Clara to the Bletterbach Gorge - a canyon rich in fossil remains - he accidentally overhears a conversation that gives his life renewed focus. 

In 1985, three students were murdered there, their bodies savaged, limbs severed and strewn by a killer who was never found.  Although Salinger knows this is a tightlipped community, one where he is definitely persona non grata, he becomes obsessed with solving this mystery and is convinced it is all that can keep him sane.  And as Salinger unearths the long kept secrets of this small town, one by one, the terrifying truth is eventually revealed about the horrifying crime that marked an entire village.

Completely engrossing and deeply atmospheric, The Mountain (2017) is a thriller par excellence.

About the author:  Luca D'Andrea was born in 1979 in Bolzano, Italy, where he worked as a teacher for ten years.  The Mountain, his first novel, is being translated into thirty languages. 

About the translator:  Howard Curtis is an award-winning translator of Italian and French literature.

Rating:  5/5

Friday, 13 April 2018

City of Light by Dave Warner

Paperback:  Jesus Christ. I found one.'

These words are blurted over the phone to Constable Snowy Lane, who is preoccupied with no more than a ham sandwich and getting a game with the East Fremantle league side on Saturday.  They signal the beginning of a series of events that are to shake Perth to its foundations.

It is 1979, and Perth is jumping with pub bands and overnight millionaires.  'Mr Gruesome' has just taken another victim.  Snowy's life and career are to be forever changed by the grim deeds of a serial killer, and the dark bloom spreading across the City of Light.

City of Light (1995) is the Joint Winner of the 1996 WA Premier’s Book Award for Fiction and Winner of the Western Australian Premier's Book Award.

Author's Note:  What more perfect a backdrop, then, than crime?  For the tone of the book, I decided to use a similar aspect to that which I had used in my most successful and idiosyncratic songs like Half Time At The Football and Mugs Game, a dark slant of suburban Australia seen through the eyes of an “average” suburban bloke – my hero in the novel, Snowy Lane.

I wrote the manuscript as I toured Australia playing music and setting up karaoke shows in Sydney. The first draft was completed in late 1992.  I sent it to Fremantle Arts Centre Press and heard not a word from them for 6 months.

On the very week I had decided to call and ask for the manuscript back, they sent me a note saying they liked the manuscript but wanted a second draft.  The novel finally saw the light of day in the November of 1995.  Chillingly, the fiction of the novel has since been played out in Perth, albeit 20 years later.  A serial killer struck in the same area and under similar circumstances to what I wrote in City Of Light.

In an even more amazing twist, at one time the head of the police task force into the real killings (unsolved as of May 1998) was Richard Lane, the same name as my detective hero, Richard “Snowy” Lane.

About the author:  Dave Warner is an author, musician and screenwriter.  His first novel City of Light won the Western Australian Premier's Book Award for Fiction and Before It Breaks (2015) the Ned Kelly Award for best Australian crime fiction.  Once nominated by Bob Dylan as his favourite Australian music artist, Dave Warner originally came to national prominence with his gold album Mug's Game.  

In 2017, he released his tenth album When.  He has been named a Western Australian State Living Treasure and has been inducted into the WAMi Rock'n'Roll of Renown.

Rating:  5/5

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Skylight by José Saramago

Paperback:  Lisbon, late 1940s. 

The inhabitants of a faded apartment building are struggling to make ends meet:  Silvio the cobbler and his wife take in a disaffected young lodger;  Dona Lídia, a retired prostitute, is kept by a businessman with a roving eye.  Humble salesman Emilio's Spanish wife is in a permanent rage; beautiful Claudinha's boss lusts for her;  Justina and her womanizer husband live at war with each other.

Poisonous relationships, happy marriages, jealousy, gossip and love - Skylight (2014) brings together all the joy and grief of ordinary people. 

Pilar del Rio, president of José Saramago Foundation writes in the novel's introduction that in 1953, 31-year old José Saramago sent a bundle of typewritten papers to a publishing house for their consideration.  The manuscript was ignored, not returned and lost to time for 36 years. 

When the lost novel was discovered in 1989, the publishing house respectfully asked if they could publish it and Saramago said no, not in his lifetime.  This is because the initial rejection had been so painful that Saramago, while writing poems, journals and essays, would not write another novel for 30 years. 

Meanwhile Saramago would go on to world recognition and would become a 1998 Nobel Prize recipient in literature.  Upon his death in 2010, the wheels were set in motion to publish Skylight, "the book lost and found in time".

José Saramago would become a master of character portrayal and Skylight gives the reader an introduction into the development of stories and characters to come.

Skylight is translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa.

About the author:  José de Sousa Saramago was a Nobel-laureate Portuguese novelist, playwright and journalist.  He was a member of the Portuguese Communist Party.  His works, some of which can be seen as allegories, commonly present subversive perspectives on historic events, emphasizing the human factor rather than the officially sanctioned story.  Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998.  He founded the National Front for the Defense of Culture (Lisbon, 1992) with among others Freitas-Magalhaes.  He lived on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain, where he died in June 2010.

A foundation with his name was established in 2007;  its main aims are cultural promotion, particularly of Portuguese literature and authors.  The José Saramago Foundation is currently based in Casa dos Bicos, a Portuguese landmark building in Lisbon.  Saramago's house in Lanzarote is also open to the public.

José Saramago, together with his wife Pilar, were the subject of the award-winning documentary José e Pilar, providing us with a glimpse into their love story and life, as he was writing his A Viagem do Elefante (The Elephant's Journey (2010)), heralded as "a triumph of language, imagination, and humour". 

Rating:  5/5

Coming Home To Island House by Erica James

Hardback:  From Erica James, bestselling author of Summer at the Lake (2013), comes an enchanting tale of one family coming together and finding their way.

It is the summer of 1939, and after touring an unsettled Europe to promote her latest book, Romily Temple returns home to Island House and the love of her life, the charismatic Jack Devereux.

But when Jack falls ill, his estranged family are called home and given seven days to find a way to bury their resentments and come together.

With war now declared, each member of the family is reluctantly forced to accept their new stepmother and confront their own shortcomings.

But can the habits of a lifetime be changed in one week?

And can Romily, a woman who thrives on adventure, cope with the life that has been so unexpectedly thrust upon her?

All these and more can be found in Erica James' latest book, Coming Home To Island House (2018).

About the author:  With an insatiable appetite for other people's business, Erica James will readily strike up conversation with strangers in the hope of unearthing a useful gem for her writing.  She finds it the best way to write authentic characters for her novels, although her two grown-up sons claim they will never recover from a childhood spent in a perpetual state of embarrassment at their mother's compulsion.

The author of nineteen bestselling novels, and the winner of the 2006 Romantic Novel of the Year Award, Erica divides her time between Suffolk and Lake Como in Italy.

Rating:  3/5

Blood of the Lamb (John Jordan Mystery Series) by Michael Lister

Hardback:  Florida prison chaplain John Jordan's search for the peace that has so long eluded him is interrupted by an unimaginable murder.  Attempting to be a good man in a very bad place while also
maintaining his shaky sobriety, John investigates the murder of the seven-year-old adopted daughter of ex-con turned televangelist, Bobby Earl Caldwell, a murder committed in John's own locked office when Bobby Earl conducts a service in the Potter Correctional Institution.

This unspeakable act, and the investigations that follows, will force John to confront his own fears and beliefs, causing this man of mercy to thirst for justice.  Torn between the duality of the roles he is asked to assume - cop and cleric - John must try to figure out his identity as well as that of the killer's, but his past continues to haunt him in the form of troubling thoughts of failure and the resurfacing of his ex-wife, Susan.

Putting aside his distrust of the slick televangelist and his seductive wife, John must ignore intimidation and resist manipulation to find a killer among some very unusual suspects including two murderers, a child molester, a teacher with something to hide, and Bobby Earl Caldwell himself
whose very act of exposing his daughter to such risk causes John to suspect him from the very beginning.

Amid private crises and the torturous experiences of a thoughtful, sensitive man working in such a pitiless place, nothing short of death will end John's search for the person who killed little Nicole Caldwell.  Uncovering the guilt, restoring the balance, John seeks pardon from the self-inflicted life sentence he is serving and exoneration from the burden of regret he bears.

Blood of the Lamb (2004) is the second instalment in the long-running ex-cop, now prison chaplain John Jordan mystery series set in the Florida Panhandle.

About the author:  Michael Lister is an American novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and filmmaker of Florida-based mysteries, suspense, thrillers, and noirs.  Before becoming a full-time writer, he was the youngest chaplain with the Florida Department of Corrections from 1993 to 2000 - a unique experience that led to his first novel, 1997’s critically acclaimed debut, Power In The Blood, a New York Times and USA Today bestsellers.

Michael grew up in North Florida near the Gulf of Mexico and the Apalachicola River in a small town world famous for tupelo honey.  Captivated by story since childhood, Michael has a love for language and narrative inspired by the Southern storytelling tradition that captured his imagination and became such a source of meaning and inspiration.  He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology with an emphasis on myth and narrative. 

Michael lives with his wife Dawn in Wewahitchka, Florida.  They have four children, one horse, one dog, one cat, four ducks, and thousands of books.

During his tenure at Gulf Correctional, Lister earned these words of praise from his warden, "Chaplain Lister's unprejudiced concern for the welfare of staff as well as inmates has brought a spiritual soothing to both populations at this institution.  He is an exceptionally gifted teacher, truly an angel, a shepherd to all."

Rating:  4/5

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