Monday, 22 May 2017

Deep South (Non-Fiction) by Paul Theroux

Paperback:  That seemed to be the theme in the Deep South:  kindness, generosity, a welcome.  I had found it often in my travelling life in the wider world, but I found so much more of it here that I kept going, because the good will was like an embrace.  Yes, there is a haunted substratum of darkness in Southern life, and though it pulses through many interactions, it takes a long while to perceive it, and even longer to understand.

One of the most acclaimed travel writers of our time turns his unflinching eye on an American South too often overlooked.

Paul Theroux has spent fifty years crossing the globe, adventuring in the exotic, seeking the rich history and folklore of the far away.

Now, for the first time, in his tenth travel book, Theroux explores a piece of America - the Deep South.  He finds there a paradoxical place, full of incomparable music, unparalleled cuisine, and yet also some of the nation’s worst schools, housing, and unemployment rates. It is these parts of the South, so often ignored, that have caught Theroux’s keen traveller’s eye.

Tell about the South.  What's it like there.  What do they do there.  Why do they live there.  Why do they live at all.

On road trips spanning four seasons, wending along rural highways, Theroux visits gun shows and small-town churches, labourers in Arkansas, and parts of Mississippi where they still call the farm up the road “the plantation.”  He talks to mayors and social workers, writers and reverends, the working poor and farming families - the unsung heroes of the south, the people who, despite it all, never left, and also those who returned home to rebuild a place they could never live without.

Deep South (2015) reminds us "that despite poverty, maybe because of it, everyone has a story to tell and it is the writer's job to bear such testimony" (Financial Times) and "casts an ever-sharp eye over life, history, community and hospitality below the Mason-Dixon line." (Wanderlust)

About the author:  Paul Edward Theroux was born in Medford, Massachusetts in 1941.  He is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin.

Although perhaps best known as a travel writer with works such as The Last Train to Zona Verde, Dark Star Safari, The Elephanta Suite, A Dead Hand, The Tao of Travel and The Lower River, Theroux has also published numerous works of fiction such as Dr Slaughter, one of which were made into feature films.  He was awarded the 1981 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel The Mosquito Coast.

Paul Theroux divides his time between Cape Cod and the Hawaiian islands.

Friday, 19 May 2017

The Kirtland Massacre: The True and Terrible Story of the Mormon Cult Murders (True Crime) by Cynthia Stalter Sassé and Peggy Murphy Widder

Hardback:  Neighbours in rural Kirtland, Ohio, welcomed Jeffrey Lundgren when he, his wife Alice and their four children rented a rundown farmhouse.  After a group of devout, often attractive, and college-educated young men and women, formerly from the Reorganized Church of the Latter-Day Saints, moved in, residents assumed they were starting some sort of commune.

But under Lundgren's warped leadership, these people nurtured an apocalyptic vision at odds with true Mormon beliefs that would ultimately lead to the kidnapping and murder of an entire family, including three small children.

Lundgren ruled his group with dictatorial powers.  He led the men through paramilitary exercises in preparation for the violent takeover of the Kirtland Temple, and the women through bizarre sexual rituals.

Nightly harangues focused on a "blood sacrifice" that had to occur before the cult members could gain the Promised Land.

Co-authored by a prosecutor of the case, The Kirtland Massacre (1991) is the shocking inside story of the forces that drove the Lundgrens and their followers to cold-blooded, ritualistic execution, as well as the minute-by-minute enactment of the crime itself, the pursuit, arrest, prosecution, and conviction.

About the authors:  Cynthia Stalter Sassé is the assistant prosecutor in Lake County, Ohio, who helped successfully prosecute the Lundgren group.  She makes her home in Painesville, Ohio.

Peggy Murphy Widder is an attorney and novelist who makes her home in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Long Way Home (DI Zigic and DS Ferreira Series) by Eva Dolan

Paperback:  Long Way Home (2014) is a major new detective series set in England from the publishers of Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo and Fred Vargas.

A migrant worker is burnt alive in a suburban garden shed and it soon becomes clear that the owners of the shed have something to hide.  DI Zigic and DS Ferreira are called in from the underfunded Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit to investigate the murder.

But while DS Ferreira thinks they have found their killers, her boss, DI Zigic, is not so sure.  It seems that some other people might have had good reason to see the victim dead:  Andrus Tombak, slum landlord - witnesses say the two had fought;  Clinton Renfrew, convicted arsonist, and EDL member; Fintan Maloney, landlord of Irish pub, Maloneys, where there is more on offer than just the beer;  and any number of local thugs who, as ’employers’, abuse cheap foreign labour.

Zigic and Ferreira know all too well the problems that come with dealing with a community that has more reason than most not to trust the police, but when another migrant worker is attacked, tensions rapidly begin to rise as they search for their killer.

About the author:  Eva Dolan is the alter ego of an Essex based copywriter and intermittently successful poker player.  She blogs, she writes, she talks about herself in the third person and feels vaguely uncomfortable about it.  Shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association Dagger for unpublished authors when she was just a teenager, Long Way Home is her debut novel and the start of a major new crime series.

Rating:  5/5

The Healer by Antti Tuomainen

Paperback:  One man's search for his missing wife in a dystopian futuristic Helsinki that is struggling with ruthless climate change

It is two days before Christmas and Helsinki is battling a ruthless climate catastrophe:  subway tunnels are flooded;  abandoned vehicles are left burning in the streets;  the authorities have issued warnings about malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola, and the plague.

People are fleeing to the far north of Finland and Norway where conditions are still tolerable.  Social order is crumbling and private security firms have undermined the police force.  Tapani Lehtinen, a struggling poet, is among the few still able and willing to live in the city.

When Tapani's beloved wife, Johanna, a newspaper journalist, goes missing, he embarks on a frantic hunt for her.  Johanna's disappearance seems to be connected to a story she was researching about a politically motivated serial killer known as "The Healer."  Desperate to find Johanna, Tapani's search leads him to uncover secrets from her past.  Secrets that connect her to the very murders she was investigating.

The Healer (2013) is set in desperate times, forcing Tapani to take desperate measures in order to find his true love.  Written in an engrossingly dense but minimal language, The Healer is a story of survival, loyalty, and determination.

Even when the world is coming to an end, love and hope endure.

The Healer is translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers.

About the author:  Finnish Antti Tuomainen (b 1971) was an award-winning copywriter in the advertising industry before he made his literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author.  The critically acclaimed Veljeni vartija (My Brother's Keeper) was published two years later.

In 2011 Tuomainen's third novel, Parantaja (The Healer), was awarded the Clue Award for 'Best Finnish Crime Novel 2011'.  Thus emerged a bright new star in the field of crime and noir.  The Finnish press labeled Parantaja the story of a writer who is desperately searching for his missing wife in a post-apocalyptic Helsinki as "unputdownable".  With a piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen is one of the first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula.

Antti Tuomainen lives in Helsinki, Finland where he lives with his wife.  In addition to novels, he also writes short stories and magazine articles.  You can find him easily on Facebook and he will be happy to hear from you.

Rating:  5/5