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

Sunday, October 6, 2013

May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes; The Dead Run by Adam Mansbach; Outlaw by Mark Sullivan

Here's today's bonus pack.

I moderated a panel at Portland's Wordstock (www.wordstockfestival.com) festival on Saturday. Chelsea Cain, A. M. Homes, Adam Mansbach (pronounced man's-back), and Mark Sullivan discussed "The Dark Side." I was called in at the last minute to replace the scheduled moderator, so I spent an intense week trying to read everyone's latest novel. It was a pleasant revelation to have such disparate takes on "the dark side."

Let Me Go by Chelsea Cain
Minotaur, 368 pages, $25.99

I'll review Chelsea Cain's book Let Me Go later. For now, what you should know is that I am a big fan of her work. I enjoy hearing her speak. I think she is the cat's pajamas, and (almost) everyone should read her Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell series, beginning, of course, with the first book, Heartsick. Her books are hysterically funny and hysterically gory and sexy. Chelsea is a lovely person who is known for her signing antics. At Wordstock, she threw (plastic) hands and noses into the audience, and gave said parts to her fellow panelists to use as talismans while they spoke.

May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes
Penguin, 496 pages, $16

A. M. Homes won the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction for this book, now out in paperback. She told me she was surprised to win it, because at that point Hilary Mantel was winning all the awards for Bring Up the Bodies. Besides Mantel, the other authors whose works were shortlisted were Zadie Smith, Kate Atkinson, and Barbara Kingsolver. A. M. Homes is obviously no slouch.

May We Be Forgiven starts off describing regular, but colorless, people. Harry Silver is a professor of "Nixonology." He knows all things common and arcane about the 37th president. He is married to a smart, rigid Chinese woman who travels a lot. They share an apartment in NYC. They are stuck in their ruts and don't know enough to be actively discouraged.

When Harry's sister-in-law Jane makes a pass at him at a family Thanksgiving dinner, it throws Harry off his well-worn life's path. Harry's brother (and Jane's husband) is George. Although George is younger, he insists on telling people that he is Harry's older brother. George is a bully and has anger management problems. That becomes evident when he crashes into an SUV, kills the adults in the car, and orphans the surviving child. Then George murders his wife after he finds her in bed with Harry.

It's downhill for George and Harry for quite a while after that. Homes visits Job-like torments onto Harry's head: Harry's wife leaves him, he has to take care of George and Jane's two children, and strangers with dementia settle into his house, with the notion that Harry will take care of them. In his growing lunacy, Harry tries online sex hook-ups, editing some newly discovered Nixon short stories, fostering the orphaned boy from George's accident, and finding his lost Jewish religion.

Strangely, as the catastrophes and challenges mount, Harry becomes less colorless and more interesting. Harry struggles to find his heart and passion again and to do the right thing for everyone. (Even if that means learning to fake a special recipe for chocolate chip cookies to catch an Israeli arms dealer.)

Side note: Instead of simply mentioning the Nixon short stories, Homes actually manufactured one. Surprisingly, it has a Raymond Carver sensibility. Homes said that she enjoyed doing the research on Nixon and especially enjoyed crafting the story.

The Dead Run by Adam Mansbach
Harper Voyager, 304 pages, $25.99

Adam Mansbach plays with conventions.

In The Dead Run, U. S. citizen Jess Galvan must cross the desert at the border of Mexico and the United States like an illegal immigrant. He struggles with heat and thirst and aching muscles. He also struggles with the still-beating heart recently torn out of the body of a young virgin, given to him by an Aztec god incarnate to take to his demi-god son in Texas, thus igniting the end of the world as we know it.

Meanwhile …

Sheriff Bob Nichols is ill-equipped to help a sixteen-year-old girl that the demi-god in Texas needs as part of his cult.

The scene gets wilder and wilder. Galvan has a moral dilemma and a physical threat hanging over his head. The emphasis in the title is on the word "run."

Mansbach must have had a good time combining these over-the-top elements!

Side note: Mansbach jokingly said that he heard Bruce Willis doing a voice-over to the action in the desert.

Outlaw by Mark Sullivan
Minotaur, 336 pages, $25.99

Outlaw was a page-turner. Mark Sullivan does a good job of speeding his international intrigue thriller along.

Robin Monarch is a thief, an ex-black ops, ex-CIA operative, and currently a man for hire. The U.S. President wants him to find the U.S. Secretary of State and the foreign ministers of China and India, all of whom have been kidnapped. In addition to kidnapping, a heretofore unknown, well-organized, well-funded terrorist organization is creating havoc around the globe. Monarch and his well-chosen team have mere days to locate the dignitaries before they are killed.

Long Chan-Juan is the head of the most powerful Chinese triad. He is somehow involved in creating the chaos. His wife is a fortuneteller. She casts his fortune, but Long does not know if the fortune bodes well for him or not. Is he the good guy or the bad guy in the cryptic I-Ching messages?

The first book in this series is Rogue.

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