Four Book Reviews in One
For a review of the following books with a history/preservation slant click here.
In the Woods
By: Tana French
Dublin, Ireland. In her first two novels, Tana French writes a story that is hauntingly engrossing and equal parts frustrating. The first tells the story of a murder. A young girl is found at an archaeological dig and her case seems connected to a cold case, one where three children go into the woods, and only one comes out–his shoes filled with blood.
That child, now grown, is Detective Rob Ryan who along with his partner Cassie Maddox are in charge of investigating the death of Katy Devlin. This first book, narrated by Ryan, is about more than solving the murder/disappearances. Its about making decisions, breaking the rules and crossing ethical boundaries that end up changing the course of your life. I found myself pulled into Rob’s past and watching his every move with interest—not knowing that there is more to the story than what French gives us. While Operation Vestal (Katy Devlin’s murder) is trying in its own right, it is Rob’s story that hooked me. I’m hoping that we will see more of him in French’s future work, since my only disappointment with the book is a lack of resolution to what actually happened In the Woods. Then again, maybe that was the point. Not knowing defines the story, and the speculation and results of the two disappearances provide the contours to understanding Rob, his relationship with Cassie and how Operation Vestal finally plays out.
The Likeness takes place six months after In the Woods, and this time Cassie is our narrator. While some say you can read them in any order, I think understanding the events surrounding Operation Vestal gives you insight into Cassie Maddox’s state of mind. This book is also about the death of a young girl: Alexandra Madison. Not only does she have Cassie’s face, but the name is a fake identity created by Cassie and her former handler when she worked in undercover.
So Cassie who had once been Alexandra Madison a drug dealing student, becomes Lexie Madison—a dead, English doctoral student murdered and left alone in a ruined cottage. Just like with In the Woods Cassie makes choices that blur the lines of ethics, choices that force her to confront her own demons.
So two books and hopefully a series that I highly recommend.
Book of Air & Shadows
by Michael Gruber
This book is my choice for book club (the Royal Pinkerton Society for Novellic Exploration). I had high hopes. The plot in a nutshell? Someone discovers evidence indicating that somewhere out there is a missing Shakespeare manuscript, written in his own hand—and there are many out there that would kill to get it. The narrator of the story is Jake Mishkin who is writing the events out as he sits alone in a cabin waiting for people to kill him.
While I’m still not a hundred percent sure what happened at the end of the book I can say the best parts involved reading the letters that speak of the missing manuscript. I appreciated seeing the actual text rather than having the characters repeat the text for us. That being said, unnecessary tangents and detail pulled me out of the actual drama surrounding the search for the book, making getting through it a bit distracting. Also, I’m not entirely sure that Gruber was successful in weaving the plots within plots, not to mention the fact that I guessed who the puppet master was long before the I hit the final confrontation. So—what’s the verdict? Could have been better, Could have been worse.
The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown
The final book I wanted to mention in this review is by Dan Brown. I will go into this review with one caveat. I have read Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, both were entertaining, but Brown’s writing style kept pulling me out of the story. I tried to go into this one with an open mind, but since it was set in DC I knew that the inevitable inaccuracies would drive me crazy.
I’m only going to mention two here, just to give you an example. At 10pm at night, it is not possible to get from Federal Triangle to King Street in 15 minutes via metro. As I often make the trip it takes more like 45 minutes. My second point, as you’re driving over Memorial Bridge with the Lincoln Memorial in front of you, its not possible to see the Tidal Basin.
I know, that’s being incredibly nit-picky. Here are some more specifics—if it were possible for me to hate Robert Langdon I would. What’s even worse is that Dan Brown chooses to use Langdon’s inner monologues to tell us every single piece of research he’s done for this book. Instead of weaving it into the story he decides to tell us everything rather than showing it to us. Also, for only taking place over the course of 4-5 hours the story moves really, really slow. Too many twists, and the identity of the big-bad guy is fairly obvious from the first 20 pages.
And then the ending. While I suppose Brown’s intention was to be awe-inspiring finding out what the title meant only made me groan (though I will admit the imagery of watching the sun rise over the Washington Monument from the top of the Capitol was nice, since that view of the mall is one of my favorites.) Maybe the final conflict intense, but the Return of the King like ending (you know, how the movie had 12 different “final scenes”) made the conclusion fairly tedious.
Last thing that bugged me? There is one point where there are five lines that make up a single chapter. That’s it. A one paragraph chapter. Also the events in question during that paragraph, though explained later, read more like Brown is trying to break out of his genre, and I feel could have been dealt with in another way.
Read it if you feel like it, but I was not impressed. Maybe you should just wait for the movie.