Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Wreckage, by Michael Robotham ($24.99)

Vincent Ruiz used to be a detective with the London police force. He is a private investigator but doesn't appear to be enthusiastic about it. As a matter of fact, very little seems to move him to enthusiasm, certainly not the upcoming wedding of his daughter, Miranda. Although "[t]he father of the bride just has to turn up, walk down the aisle, and hand his daughter over like she's part of a prisoner swap," Vincent manages to bungle his initial involvement in the wedding preparations. He meant to do things right, but hey, stuff happens.

Like playing good Samaritan to a young girl who proceeds to rob him of his late wife's jewelry, things Vincent had meant to give to Miranda before her wedding. Like the girl's boyfriend being brutally murdered. Like being stalked, bribed, and finding an international crisis on his doorstep. Stuff like that.

There are actually two more stories being told at the same time. One takes place in Baghdad and involves a freelance journalist, Luca*, and a UN auditor, Daniela. They meet, they fall in like, people try to kill them. Is it just what happens to people in Iraq, or have them stumbled on something more? The third story involves a mother-to-be whose husband is missing. Elizabeth North's husband works for her family's banking business in London. He's a bean counter and a steady, somewhat boring man. If he's so ordinary, then what has happened to him? Where is the notebook some suspicious types claim he has?

Above all, what do these stories have to do with each other? As readers, we assume that they are indeed related, but it isn't until two-thirds of the way into the book that the characters in the three stories begin to stumble over each other and the stories seek their mutual conclusion. After they collide, the spotlight remains on Vincent, about whom Robotham writes: "He's an intelligent man but not a complicated one." His intelligence, too, is sometimes undercut by his uppercut. He's aided about halfway through the book by psychologist Joe O'Loughlin, the main or equal character in other Robotham books.

In an afterword, Robotham explains that the idea for his book is based upon real events. My reaction: scary. I will forbear discussing what brings the stories together. Robotham does too good a job drawing everything out for me to tip his hand prematurely.

Robotham delivers the kind of complexity I like. Kate Atkinson does the same thing. They develop separate story lines that ultimately converge. The stories are usually so divergent, it's a healthy challenge to the authors to bring them together at the end, and both handle the challenge exceptionally well.

I could give you many more examples of Robotham's energetic writing or his humor, but that would involve quoting pretty much the whole book. Big fan here, can you guess?

* This is the amusing first line of the story: "The most important lesson Luca Terracini ever learned about being a foreign correspondent was to tell a story through the eyes of someone else. The second most important lesson was how to make spaghetti marinara with a can of tuna and a packet of Ramen noodles."

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