Well — I’d been procrastinating on talking about one of my favorite part of my vacation Down The Shore which was getting in a lot of reading. I’d been procrastinating because I’d hoped that Vox would have a ready fix for that book-loading breakdown that happened last month. Anyway, before they got too stale in my head, here they are:
“Lost on Planet China” by J Maarten Troost. It’s been no secret here that I loved his first book “The Sex Lives of Cannibals” – really one of the funniest books that I’ve read in a long time. In his follow-up (“Getting Stoned With Savages”), Troost’s befuddlement of South Pacific culture seemed a little stale. So, in this adventure, Troost – leaving the safe confines of suburban Sacramento (where is wife is currently employed) ventures for a months-long trip to China. He's a savvy Western traveler encountering the daunting size, pollution, crowds and cultural collisions of this emerging 21st century nation. For fans of “Sex Lives” Troost returns to top form – from the crowded cities, to the interior, to Tibet, Troost provides a vivid description of the highs and lows (more lows than highs to be truthful) of his travel with a wry and occasionally scathing honesty. 9 out of 10.
“The Likeness” by Tana French. I had read French’s first novel (“In The Woods”) and enjoyed it. The mystery was good, creepy and kept you guessing. The characters were well-drawn and compelling, though not always likeable. In addition, everything doesn’t tie up cleanly – a real-world touch that I appreciated. In “The Likeness” French uses that to her advantage, picking up a few months after the aftermath of that story. She again uses the first-person POV to drive the story, but switches main characters, moving from Det. Rob Ryan to Det. Cassie Maddox. If anything, French has done a better job of creating a world and characters that the reader can really dive into. The mystery – the death of a grad student with some secrets to hide – kept me guessing with a number of clues and feints. The only quibble that I had with the story is that like in “In The Woods”, French relies on an unlikely coincidence (established early) to add dramatic tension and mystery. In the first book, it worked very well – in this one, it required a bit more suspension of disbelief than I'd like – and that’s about the only thing that niggled at me while I read it. 8 out of 10.
“Duma Key” by Stephen King. I mean, what’s a trip to the beach without a good pulpy horror story? Especially one set at the beach!! When I first picked it up, I thought – oh, regular-size King story. Well, they must have used some thin pages, because this puppy clocked in at >900 pp. This was King’s first creepy-things-happen-in-a-locale story that didn’t take place in Maine. I believe it was written during his recuperation from the man-versus-vehicle accident that almost took his life several years ago. Perhaps not surprisingly, the main character is a successful man that has life-threatening accident and is sent to Florida to recuperate, where he finds that he (and the things around him) are a little different. When I started, I was annoyed by the standard King inclusions of People With Funny Names Who Know Too Much, and the habit of Unnecessary Capitalization and unusual vernacular to make things unique. And then a funny thing happened, I was totally engrossed in the story and the characters. King even produced a few scenes that got me choked up, believe it or not. The resolution is fairly standard King-fare and I kept thinking, “How will this look in the movie?” Still for a beach-read, it was good stuff and kept me wondering a little bit about just what WAS out there in the water… 7.5 out of 10.
“The Suspect” by LR Wright. This small book was an Edgar Award winner back in the 80s. I always find it funny to read stories where the protagonists don’t have computers or cell phones. It does make for easier dramatic tension in some ways when answers aren’t always immediately at your fingertips. This story, set in a sleepy little island on the west coast of Canada, isn’t so much a whodunit (the murder starts the book and you know exactly who kills whom and with what), but whydunit, because the violence of the act seems so counter to the persons involved. And after the mammoth “Duma Key”, a concise (200 pp), thoughtful character study was welcome. The weirdest thing though was that the font of the book was Tahoma (or something like it) and I found it really strange to read. Maybe I need my serifs. 8 out of 10.