September 18, 2014

Mysterious Reads

My summer reading included a few books with mysteries at their core. This type of book is always tricky to describe, but I've been careful not to give anything away in these reviews:

→ Several of my friends have raved about THE LAST POLICEMAN by Ben H. Winters. I can now add my voice to the praise for this pre-apocalyptic detective story. This is a fantastic book. It's part of a trilogy that has all been released by now, and I can't decide whether to gobble up the other two books immediately or ration them out slowly.

Detective Henry Palace suspects he's identified a murder in what superficially looks like the latest in a string of suicides. The reason for the sharp uptick in suicides is that an asteroid is headed toward the planet and will strike in six months. The unavoidable collision will destroy life as we know it, so the world is already in chaos. Some people are killing themselves, some are leaving their jobs and homes to accomplish everything on their bucket lists, and others are seeking solace in conspiracy or religion. Nobody cares much about investigating a possible murder except for Detective Palace. Solving crimes is all he's ever wanted to do, and he's not going to let a looming apocalypse stop him from finding the killer.

Everything about this story is great. The writing is smart, the narrator is engaging, and humor is used effectively to lighten the dark, terrifying premise. The details of how society is reacting to the asteroid are well-considered and plausible. There's a host of memorable supporting characters, including a complicated sibling relationship, which is something I always enjoy. The book is even set in New Hampshire, where I've spent a lot of time. Have I mentioned how much I liked this book? Are you reading it yet?

DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn: When Libby was seven years old, her older brother brutally murdered all the other members of their family. As the tragic survivor of this massacre, Libby received a flood of donations that supported her through her sad childhood and into her thirties. But now the money has run out, and Libby has done nothing with her life except milk the role of the victim. Needing money, she connects with a group obsessed with high profile murder cases who will pay her to appear at their meeting. Libby learns that the group members believe her brother is innocent and was imprisoned because of her own flawed testimony. She's always avoided examining this opinion, but this time she starts investigating and discovers the past is far more complicated than she realized.

Like Flynn's breakout novel GONE GIRL, this earlier book features some very clever plotting and a constant twisting of reader expectations. I didn't like it to the extent I loved GONE GIRL, but that's a very high bar -- this is still an impressive mystery. Flynn excels not only at plot but at crafting fascinating, deeply flawed characters, and I always appreciate her perfectly worded observations and sharp insights into human nature. Recommended as long as you haven't just finished GONE GIRL and as long as you're up for a very disturbing tale.

A movie version of DARK PLACES is in production, though it has been delayed from its originally announced release date. (In the meantime, you can go see the adaptation of GONE GIRL, in theaters next month!)

→ In WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart, the Sinclair family spends their summers on a private island. The narrator, teenage Cadence Sinclair, says of her family, "Perhaps that is all you need to know." Summers on the private island are wonderful months for Cadence and her cousins. Then she has an accident, and afterwards, she doesn't quite remember what happened. The novel takes the form of a mystery in which Cadence tries to reconstruct her lost memories.

This is a book that's very hard to stop reading. Fairly early on, I figured out one of the story's secrets, so I didn't have the same mind-blown experience of many readers, but I still eagerly continued turning the pages. I didn't love the book, but I would recommend it as a fast, exciting read.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Writing for The Awl, Ben Dolnick documents A Week of Watching People Read in the Subway and speculates on his findings: "Assumptions: Astra still needs to finish her summer reading (her English teacher at Friends Seminary has given everyone an extra week) but she’s been straight-up skimming for the past hundred pages."


Henri Picciotto said...

It seems like a movie of GONE GIRL would be hard to do well, given the way the novel is structured.

Lisa Eckstein said...

I'm extremely interested to see what the movie is going to be like, because I also feel that surely something will be lost in the adaptation, even if it's still a good film. Also, Flynn herself has rewritten the ending of the screenplay, so I'll still have a surprise in store!

Henri Picciotto said...

What? I hope it's not a happy ending, given how inconsistent that would be with the rest of the book!

Lisa Eckstein said...

If it were another screenwriter, I might be worried about the tone of the ending, but I don't think Flynn would do that. And possibly the twist of the new ending is that there isn't a new ending at all:

In any case, I am very curious and will be seeing the movie the weekend it opens!

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