My reading pace slacked off significantly over the past month. I only finished three books in May, and none of them should have taken more than a couple of days. Because of that, the first two books in this entry don’t get very good recaps as it has been too long since I finished them to write anything terribly coherent about them.
I also had my first abandoned book of the year.
The good news is I’ve already finished two books in June.
Sarah Jane – James Sallis
Sallis is supposed to be a master of modern noir. And this book certainly fit into that realm. Here he writes of a small-town sheriff, a female veteran of our Middle Eastern wars, with a complex and complicated background. She settles into the job well, but can never completely escape those demons and doubts leftover from her past. I enjoyed this, primarily because we so often think that the gritty, tough, multi-layered protagonists in noir novels must be men. Sallis does an excellent job flipping all of that seamlessly, showing how all that can apply to a woman just fine.
Girl Gone Missing – Marcie R. Rendon
I wish I could remember where I discovered this book. I know it was in a blurb for another book I enjoyed, in which the person writing the blurb compared the two books.
I was expecting a lot based on that blurb. This book let me down.
It begins with a ton of promise. Cash Blackbear is a young college student in Minnesota in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Raised by foster parents after she survived a car accident, she was often abused and neglected because of her Native American heritage. But she learned to persevere and survive on her own, with some help from a kindly sheriff.
When two small town girls disappear after trips to the Minneapolis area, the sheriff asks Cash for assistance in looking through the case. She thinks about the case a lot, does some research in the library, but never really gets directly involved in the case.
Until she is suddenly very personally involved in the case. Which leads to a pretty wild 10–15 pages near the end.
So much of the book was just repetitive details of Cash’s life. Her boredom in class. Her alienation on a campus full of white people. Her time in pool halls. The many cigarettes she smokes each day. And then – WHAM – suddenly she’s in the midst of this case.
I loved the guts of the novel, and all the potential in those guts. But this felt more like a fleshing out of those ideas, an early draft that should have been turned into something much more compelling.
The Killer Inside Me – Jim Thompson
I’m not sure that I had ever heard of this, first published in 1952, until I read this essay by Dan O’Sullivan comparing Republican lawmakers in Texas to Lou Ford, the psychopath at the center of this completely insane novel. Stephen King wrote an effusive forward for the edition I read, so I’m guessing he was heavily influenced by Thompson’s violent work.
Ford is a deputy sheriff in West Texas, and the book serves as a first-person confession of his sadistic behavior. Appearing to all around him as just a normal, everyday, trust-worthy guy, Ford is in fact a complete psychopath. He was sexually abused by his housekeeper as a child, and in turn molested a girl when he was a teenager. Rather than face punishment for his behavior, Ford’s foster brother took the blame and jail time for it. Ford’s involved in a dark relationship with a local prostitute. His sex life with his long-time girlfriend skewers toward the deviant. And, soon, Ford starts murdering people. By the end of the book at least five people are dead at his hands, and a sixth dead because of the shock of Ford’s actions. Ford left little direct evidence of his crimes, so he is placed in a mental hospital until he finally trips up enough to force an end game with the police.
This book is dark and twisted and strange today. It must have blown people’s minds back in 1952.
Midnight Sun – Jo Nesbø
Crap. I hate it when I read a book not knowing that it is a sequel or part of a series that had other books before it. I’m not sure I missed much not having read Nesbø’s Blood on the Snow, which was part of a mini-series with this book.
This is a very quick tale of a fixer for an Oslo drug dealer who skips out on a hit he was ordered to perform with a stash of drugs and money his target offered to save his life. “Ulf,” the name the fixer takes as he flees Oslo, lands in the farthest reaches of Norway and drops into a drama that has hit a small community. He runs afoul of local customs, falls in love with an unattainable woman, and has to dodge the hitmen who have come to take back what he left Oslo with. And it all works out in the end.
The core of the story was fine, and I enjoy Nesbø’s writing. But this story seemed a little half-assed, and ripped through complex moments without much effort. It’s almost as if he became bored with the story and tried to get it over as quickly as he could.
That said, I’m going to dig into some of his other works this summer, as I really enjoyed his The Snowman which I read years ago.
Abandoned Book: Black Wave – Kim Ghattas
I read raves about this book, which is an accounting of the roughly 40-year battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for supremacy in the Muslim world. The idea fascinated me, as that’s a conflict that doesn’t get much attention in the US despite the many very direct effects it has had on our life.
I just couldn’t get through the book’s early section, which was so dense in history of a part of the world I know little about that I felt overwhelmed. Perhaps I’ll give it another shot some other time when my mind is more open to wading through its detail.