Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tinkers by Paul Harding

This is a beautifully crafted book. Each sentence, every word selected is a meditation on language. The story revolves around George Washington Crosby who is dying. As he lies in bed he remembers the past. His reverie involves three generations of the family.

George repaired clocks for a living. And clocks provide a metaphor for the passage of time.

He recalls his father Howard who sold pots and pans and other items from a horse drawn wagon. His father
suffered from epilepsy at a time when there were many erroneous notions about epileptics. Hardings description of Howard's seizures while graphic is also poetic--yet still retains the terrifying specifics of the portrayed scenes.

The story moves seamlessly between George, Howard and Howard's father.There's a rhythm to the memories and to the specifics of those memories. The story, as constructed , reminds me if an intricately woven rug where the patterns emerge with each new thread.

Whether Harding is describing the workings of a clock, the cold, a man who is losing his hold on reality, he is magnifying life. George is dying, but the book is a not so much about death as it is about illuminating life.

Paul Harding writes prose with the ear of a poet. I think that each phrase and every word carries it's weight. As I read I often stopped, took a deep breath and reread the passage.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason

Mysteries dependent upon unusual means of murder offer a conundrum for the reader. I recall the manner of murder in Dorothy Sayers Nine Tailors as offering the reader   a clever and unexpected means of homocide. This book also relies on an imaginative scheme.

In Hypothermia a woman hangs herself. Because she was depressed about the death of her mother and no evidence exists to indicate  homicide the  death is deemed a suicide.

Inspector Erlendur is not quite satisfied with the case being deemed a suicide unless he can understand why she felt compelled to hang herself.

Two other story strands are interwoven --one involved Erlendur. When he was a young boy he and his brother were caught in a blizzard. He survives while his brother is lost in the blizzard. His body is never found and that loss propels Erendur to continue searching for him.

The other strand concerns a young man who disappeared twenty years ago. Despite the lack of any new leads Erlendur visits the boy's father each year. Now the father has only weeks to live and he wants to bring him some closure about his son's disappearance .

An intriguing aspect of the novel is the relationship Erlendur has with his daughter and son. While this is peripheral it enables the reader to see the inspector as a multiple-dimensional character.

Erlendur pursues a number of leads which look like dead ends and he often goes beyond the usual procedures.

He's obsessed with finding answers and his incessant questions produce answers. 

Despite the unusual manner of murder which added a dollop of suspense to the story, I thought Erlendur stretched his readers credulity when he also solved the two decades old case. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

The specter of fascism serves as the main character in Nesbo's story of Norwegians who fought with the Nazis . They were volunteers in the Waffen SS. "About 15 000 Norwegians volunteered for the Wehrmacht or SS during the years 1940-1945, and an estimate of 7000 reached the front lines in some way." Some historians say that the number of men who joined as volunteer soldiers was much higher.

About 45,000 Norwegian collaborators had joined the pro-Nazi party Nasjonal Samling.

At the end of the war a number of Norwegians were tried as traitors and served time in prison.

"In total, 28,750 individuals were arrested as part of the purge; they were subject to various kinds of penalties, including fines, prison sentences, and in a small number of cases, death."


This is also a story of the emergence of Neo-Nazi cells in Norway. Nesbo describes a skinhead who is tried for a vicious attack on a Vietnamese restaurant owner and let's off ugly tirades in the courtroom. He is ultimately freed because of a technicality.

In particular it's a tale of several soldiers who were together during the war, some of whom became embittered old men. Their lives once again intersect during the novel. One of the men is intent on killing—but we're not certain we know the intended target of his rage. As the story unfolds Nesbo reveals the convoluted lives and lies of members of the group.

The story alternates between the present and the past. Detective Harry Holes discovers that someone has smuggled an expensive and deadly rifle into Norway. The story is ultimately about unraveling the relationships between the men and finding the assassin. Throughout the story Nesbo introduces a cast of interesting minor characters and sub-plots.

This is a political thriller and a too human story of racial hatred played out on a large scale and than an intimate scale. I found parts of the story fascinating and some parts quite confusing. Part of the confusion was due to the similarity of names. But that was a small blemish.