Friday, October 25, 2013

The Burning (Book Review)

Title: The Burning (Maeve Kerrigan, #1)
Author: Jane Casey
Publication Information: St. Martin’s/Minotaur Books Hardcover, 2011
Genre: Suspense/Crime Fiction  Setting: 21st century London
Plot: Maeve Kerrigan is a London detective with the usual challenges of solving crimes while dealing with annoying and condescending male counterparts.  They especially like to taunt her about being Irish and belittle her contributions to the murder investigation. I disliked them all, including, initially, the handsome Detective Constable Rob Langton who is working with her to catch a serial killer.   Another very intriguing character is Superintendent Godley, whose name denotes his seemingly inscrutable demeanor.  Godley sees Maeve’s potential but never seems to interfere in the squabbles of his staff.  I would say these detectives need workplace harassment awareness training from an employment lawyer such as myself but I am sure that would only make things worse for Maeve.  Her cohorts won’t change their ways until they are sued and/or forced to resign.

What I liked: I love heroine Maeve; she is tenacious and stubborn and sarcastic, doesn’t always know who her friends are, can’t manage her love life or her mother, and sometimes fails to recognize the killer until after I have.  She is one of those appealing law enforcement professionals who is dedicated to protecting victims, even if -- or particularly if -- they are dead and have no one else to seek justice for them.  Her boyfriend doesn’t understand her and isn’t supportive of her career; she deserves better but it is kind of funny to be forced to make that decision in the middle of a murder investigation.  Could you be any more annoying, Ian?

Crime Fiction: This is a genre I usually enjoy and fans of Tana French are likely to enjoy the Maeve Kerrigan books.  I finally read French’s four books last winter, and was enthralled by her dark depiction of Dublin.  Casey’s plots are at least as violent but the writing isn’t as dark or as bleak, and her books are enjoyable in a different way.  The reader knows nothing irrevocable is going to happen to Maeve: she often takes a licking but keeps on ticking (I suspect French would kill off a character without batting an eyelash).  Minette Walters is also very dark but in recent years her plots and characters have not sufficiently interested me.  The last Val McDermid I read subjected her heroine to such a violent rape I wasn’t sure I could even continue reading the series, although I like Carol Jordan and Tony Hill.  I hope that Casey can keep her readers fascinated without sacrificing her unusual heroine.

Source: My sister Clare recommended this series to me, and I got this book from the library, and read the second and third soon after.  SMP is about a year behind the UK pub schedule, so I had to order the fourth book and a recent YA title from England.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Debutante Hill (Book Review)

Title: Debutante Hill
Author: Lois Duncan
Publication Information: Lizzie Skurnick Books, 2013, trade paperback (originally published 1958)
Genre: Young Adult

Plot: Pretty blonde Lynn Chambers anticipates a fun senior year although her boyfriend Paul and her older brother Ernie have left for college.  Then a pushy neighbor organizes a debutante season of parties for the 12th graders from the more affluent part of town, the Hill.  Lynn’s egalitarian father persuades her not to participate, leaving Lynn depressed and excluded from the social whirl.  She tries to befriend hitherto ignored classmates with mixed results, and awkwardness ensues when a local bad boy, Dirk Masters, asks her out.  Loyalty to new friends causes a rift with old friends, including Paul.  Lynn’s compassion and integrity ultimately help her win through, as our mothers always promised (in a few cases, I am still waiting).

What I liked: I have been a Lois Duncan fan since I first came across Peggy, her book about Benedict Arnold’s wife, at my elementary school library in Newton, MA.  Next, I read A Gift of Magic, completely different but equally compelling.   She concentrated on suspense after that, which I read devotedly - although several, especially Daughters of Eve, were so scary I am still unnerved.  Reading Debutante Hill was delightful:  the development of characters and particularly Lynn’s self awareness were pure Lois, yet in other ways it was like going back in time to the Amelia Elizabeth Waldens and Betty Cavannas I always loved.   The introduction to this new edition is wonderful as it describes Lois’ early writing career and how she came to write this book.  Whether you are a long time reader or have never picked up a book by Lois Duncan, you will enjoy this book!

I liked heroine Lynn and her quirky, hard to predict sister Dodie, who is the only person Lynn can confide in.  I also appreciated that Lois avoided all the usual clich├ęs – Lynn’s friend Nancy and the other debutantes don’t turn into mean girls when Lynn decides to forego their social activities.  The girls from the other side of the tracks are wary of Lynn’s overtures but don’t shun her.  The book isn’t preachy as Lynn’s growing maturity and ability to ignore peer pressure are offset by normal irritation with a younger sibling and all too human jealousy of an annoying classmate.  Best of all, Lois doesn’t fall into the trap of having Lynn end up with the wrong boy (although Lizzie Skurnick disagrees with me here). 

What I disliked: Dr. Chambers has the right idea about debutantes dividing the town into haves and have-nots so why does he allow Lynn’s brother Ernie to escort her friend Nancy to the deb events when he is home on break?  What a double standard!  And Lynn’s mother seems fairly oblivious to all the angst her daughter experiences.

Source: This book was the launch title in Lizzie Skurnick’s exciting new imprint.  I bought my copy from Barnes & Noble.com and it will reside with my other Lois Duncan titles.  I love the fact that the cover (very American Graffiti) actually has teenage Lois on it; a photo was taken by her gifted father.