Each of the novels below is, in the right reader’s hands, a pageturner. Each of the authors will also appear at this year’s IFOA. Whether you attend, or read, or both: enjoy!
Linda Holeman’s The Devil on Her Tongue (2014)
The heart of Linda Holeman’s novel is Diamantina and readers who respond to her will thoroughly enjoy this character-driven tale of a woman’s life in 18th-century Portugal. She is a resilient character, who persists in the belief that there is something better ahead and strives for it relentlessl
“While other girls were playing with bits of yarn and little wooden figures made by their grandfathers, I was learning my mother’s secrets. I felt her recipes and spells sewing themselves under my skin with tiny, careful stitches.”
In a world governed and controlled by men, Diamantina’s position is vulnerable, despite her intelligence and skills; as in Cynthia Lamb’s Brigid’s Charge and Ami McKay’s The Birth House, the heritage of women’s knowledge is valued and feared, depending upon the observer’s perspective.
Diamantina faces many obstacles and occasionally she creates some for herself. But her tie with her mother is fundamentally powerful and a continuing source of strength for her.
“My way was the only option open to a woman without father or husband or any family to provide for her. At least one who wished to eat, and keep herself and her strange, silent mother alive. And maybe, one day, leave.”
Linda Holeman’s novel is structured to correspond with major changes in Diamantina’s life. This sometimes results in abrupt scenic changes, but that is true, too, of life. “There are moments when one thing ends and another begins. My life here was finished.” The novel covers the bulk of a lifetime and Diamantina’s experiences are dramatic throughout.
Linda Holeman’s The Devil on Her Tongue is bound to appeal to fans of Philippa Gregory’s novels, which also focus on the ways in which women seized or capitalized upon power in societies structured to limit their access to it. Readers who require more than a connection to character, accustomed to the artistry of writers like Mary Novik, Pauline Holdstock and Nancy Richler who also work in a historical context, might long for a little more. But Diamantina is embroiled in a great deal of excitement as the years pass, and readers who grow fond of her character will find the novel a quiet pageturner.
Peter May’s The Blackhouse (2009) and The Lewis Man (2012)
Often it is a stretch when one notes that the setting of a novel is a character in its own right, but this is true of Peter May’s trilogy, set off the coast of Scotland, on the Isle of Lewis. And not just geographically, but historically speaking as well.
“Lews Castle was just there, as if it had always been there. You accepted it, the same way you accepted the cliffs that ringed the Butt, or the fabulous beaches at Scarista and Luskentyre.”
The setting of The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man is remarkable, imbuing the stories with a remarkable atmosphere and weight which complement them beautifully.
“Fin knew the road well, in all seasons, and had never ceased to marvel at how the interminable acres of featureless peatbog could change by the month, the day, or even the minute. The dead straw colour of winter, the carpets of tiny white spring flowers, the dazzling purples of summer. To their right the sky had blackened, and rain was falling somewhere in the hinterland. To their left the sky was almost clear, summer sunlight falling across the land, and they could see in the distance the pale outline of the mountains of Harris. Fin had forgotten how big the sky was here.”
Fin has returned to the island in the wake of a tragedy; he has resisted for years and his reasons confront him almost immediately upon his arrival.
“‘This is home. It’s where you come when you’ve nowhere else to go. Whether or not I stay…well, that remains to be seen.’”
Readers who are not drawn in by the landscape could find Fin enough of a draw. As in the launch of Mankell’s and Nesbo’s crime novels in cool territories, Peter May’s hero is a loner when readers meet him, absorbed by grief and suspended from all familiar ties. He is searching for truths, which is a complicated process to begin with but one made more so by a chain of events which leads him into confrontations he had hoped to avoid.
“I was sick of spending my life in the shadows…. When all you know is the darkest side of human nature, you start to find the darkness in yourself. And that’s a scary thing.”
Both novels are preoccupied with the past in a memorable and striking manner and, as with the best crime fiction, explanations are rooted in complicated personal relationships, often troubled always credible.
Jeffery Deaver’s The Bone Collector (1997) and The Skin Collector (2014)
Lincoln Rhyme is a criminalist, a renaissance man.
“He’s got to know botany, geology, ballistics, medicine, chemistry, literature, engineering. If he knows facts—that ash with a high strontium content probably came from a highway flare, that faca is Portuguese for “knife,” that Ethiopian diners use no utensils and eat with their right hands exclusively, that a slug with five land-and-groove rifling marks, right twist, could not have been fired by a Colt pistol—if he knows these things he may just make the connection that places an unsub at the crime scene.”
He’s also got a lot of time on his hands these days.
“When you lie on your back frozen in place month after month after month, time slows to near-death.”
Brought back into action for a particularly grievous case in The Bone Collector, Rhyme pairs with a young officer who acts as his legs and eyes in the field (reluctantly, at first, but committedly in the end), Amie Sachs.
The Skin Collector is the eleventh book in the Lincoln Rhyme series but the connection with The Bone Collector (to specify would be spoiler-ish) might convince other readers to skip ahead; there are references to the resolutions of the interim cases and relationships have evolved over that time, but the number of spoilers is limited considering the number of years which have passed.
These are longer- and wordier-than-usual mysteries. There is a lot of detail, often emphasizing character relationships and setting as well as the expected procedural elements, so the chase sprawls across many chapters and tension runs at a steady pace rather than suddenly heightening or easing. But even when the details are specific, they often address universals, so a love of New York City expands into broader urban experiences that a variety of readers will recognize.
“Finally it was safe, [the antagonist] figured, to get to the surface. Chest aching, coughing shallowly, he climbed through another access door into the basement of a Midtown office building. It was one of those scuffed limestone functionaries of architecture, three-quarters of a century old, possibly more. Ten, twelve stories high, with dimly lit, jerky elevators that prompted you to bless yourself before you stepped inside.”
Perhaps because Lincoln Rhyme is not able to physically attend crime scenes in person, Jeffery Deaver’s attention to scenic detail is remarkable in these novels, though the volume of material may deter readers who prefer mysteries drawn in broader strokes, told in more succinct prose. The murders are described in exacting detail and specific elements are likely to remain with sensitive readers for some time, but anyone who volunteers to read books with titles like these will not only forgive their storyteller but also share his fascination with the macabre sides of animal (human included) nature.
This post is part of BIP’s annual celebration of this literary event.
Next Wednesday, thoughts on another IFOA2014 author.