A new reading year comes with a bit of a change. I still have my Carmel library card, which should be good for several more years.[1] Just before Christmas L and I finally went over to the Indianapolis public library branch that is about a mile away to get cards there.

Our local library is very small. But you can request books from any IPL location and they will show up at our branch in a few days. I imagine I will still be going up to Carmel for most of my library needs, but it is nice to have an option that is basically right around the corner.

My first book is from the Carmel library. The second from the IPL.

Sting-Ray Afternoons – Steve Rushin
This is officially listed as a memoir. But it is an odd kind of memoir. It’s hard to say whether it is more a document of Rushin’s childhood in Minneapolis, or an accounting of what every kid who grew up in the 1970s went through. Every story about some event in his life contains diversions where Rushin highlights a few things that were popular at the time, whether it is music, Evel Knievel, Hamburger Helper, or some other fad of the 70s.

This is a delightful and touching book. Rushin is about five years older than me, so his memories don’t line up exactly with mine. Especially in the sections about the late 70s, there were a lot of “Oh yeah!” moments for me. I also felt a strong sense of jealousy reading his book. I wondered if I could write my version, tweaked more toward the 1980s, and based in Kansas and Missouri. Sadly I don’t think my family was nearly as interesting as Rushin’s – that’s the breaks of being an only child vs growing up in a large family – so I doubt I could make my version as universal as his.

Broken Harbor – Tana French
After I read French’s In The Woods I did some research on how to best tackle her other books. Although many of them have very loose connections, they are not a proper series. Most folks seemed to think Broken Harbor was her finest work, so that was where I jumped into the rest of her oeuvre.

The books have several common elements. A murder investigation in which an established Dublin detective is working with a new partner. The detective has a personal connection to the case that he keeps secret from everyone around him. And the detective has a side of his personality he keeps hidden from his co-workers.

Broken Harbor revolves around a mass murder in a subdivision 45 minutes from Dublin. A husband and wife are found in a pool of blood on their kitchen floor, the wife with a faint pulse. Their two young children are found upstairs in their beds, dead of apparent suffocation. Their home is also filled with all kinds of strangeness: holes in the walls, chicken wire stretched across an open access point to the attic, and baby monitors in strange locations.

Detective Mike Kennedy and his rookie partner Richie Curran are assigned and within a day have a primary suspect who, after rather light questioning, confesses to the attacks and murders. That all seems too simple, especially since there are over 250 pages left in the book.

A large swath of the book deals with how Kennedy and Curran deal with that next part of the investigation. How they try to press neighbors to tell what they saw. How they dive into the suspect’s life and find his shared past with his victims. And how they slowly discover what was really going on with the victims in the months before the attacks. At times, I was bored as the pace was quite slow for long stretches. There were several chapters where I would pause, flip ahead, and count how many more pages until I reached the end of that chapter so I could put the book down.

But I kept going because of all the praise for the book. The case gets more and more murky the deeper the investigation goes. Murky in a good way. French throws a number of wicked curves at her readers. I reached the next-to-last chapter at about 11:00 last night. There was no way I was stopping, knowing the identity of the real killer was about to be revealed. Over the next hour I raced through the nearly 50 pages of French’s “confession” chapter. I set the book aside and went to bed utterly spent.

French is really, really good at this stuff. She plumbs all kinds of delicious psychological depths of each of her characters. The crime elements of her stories are rich, believable, and well-told. And, man, can she ratchet up the tension.

  1. I don’t understand why, but the BMV let me keep my old license, which doesn’t expire for five more years. I’m saving it just so I can renew my Carmel library card the next time it is due.  ↩