Archive for January, 2009

The Paris Enigma

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

By Pablo De Santis

The Short Take:

This international mystery has the aura of a classic graphic novel. You can clearly hear the echo of The Distinguished Gentlemen in the name of the central cast of characters: The Twelve Detectives. Set in Argentina and Paris at the time of the Paris World’s Fair, this novel has more twists and turns than the streets of Paris’ Latin Quarter. If you like mysteries that veer towards the odd and intelligent tongue-in-cheek humor, this one is for you.

Why?

The plot follows the adventures of the son of an Argentine cobbler as he trains under one of the world-renowned “Twelve Detectives” and then becomes intricately involved in a series of murders in Paris while joining that illustrious group.

A lot of the writing is quite amusing, as the different detectives espouse their theories about finding criminals and bringing them to justice — each one more unbelievable than the last. Common sense does not rule here.

Parallels to other fictional detectives lie scattered about, including a British detective whose visual description is exactly the same as Mr. Holmes. Another fun parallel to the works of Doyle is the fact that each of the famous 12 has an assistant who is not only responsible for chronicling the amazing cases of their detective, but is also expected to project a persona that forms just the right counterpoint to their detective’s crime solving methods.

But there is a mystery amid all this frivolity, and it’s as devious as you can wish. Plus, with so many detectives (and their assistants) involved, it’s a race to see not only who solves the crimes but who manages to survive.

A Little Plot.

To Sigmundo Salvatrio the Twelve Detectives are super heroes and he follows their exploits faithfully. When Argentina’s own member of the group, Renato Craig, announces that he will begin a training program, Salvatrio is thrilled and surprised to be among the students selected.

But something goes drastically wrong when the young students vie against each other in their own murder investigation. Craig loses his detecting spirit and charges Salvatrio to take a message to one of the other of his brotherhood during their upcoming meeting.

Salvatrio journeys to Paris. And, almost immediately, a string of bizarre murders begins.

Answers from Thriller Writer Steve Berry

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009


What’s up?

After reading Steve Berry’s latest thriller, The Charlemange Pursuit, I just had to send a few questions. Being the exceptionally nice guy that he is, Steve answered then all. And promptly. Below are my questions and his answers.
Keep in mind these questions were all in lighthearted fun.
Q&A
Me: Do YOU know why Cotton Malone (hero of four of Berry’s books) is called “Cotton?” Will you ever tell us?
 
Steve: What fun would that be?  But you never know.  Keep reading.
 
Me: You seem to have a fondness for gun battles in religious buildings. Any particular reason?
 
Steve:  Now that you mention it,  I do damage a lot of churches.  Hmmmmmmm? 
 
Me: Do people send you ideas for new “mysteries” to write thrillers around? Your fantastic thrillers always have some real background, either historic truths of strongly argued theories — how do you find these ideas?
 
Steve: Occasionally, folks send ideas, but my assistant screens those out before I read the e-mails.  I never see them, that way no one can accuse me of stealing their idea.  Though you have to wonder: why did they send me the idea in the first place if they didn’t want me to use it?
 
Me: You have a lot of “secret government activities” in your books. Have any government agencies investigated you yet for possibly treading in their areas (even unawares)?
 
Steve: I wish.  That would be cool.
 
Me: Have you decided to give up your day job yet?
 
Steve: I just did.  The law office officially closed December 19th.  No more lawyering. 
Good for Steve Berry!
Now that his pesky lawyering gig is out of the way, we can expect even more exploits for the ever adventurous Cotton Malone. To find out more about Steve Berry and his thrillers, check out his website by clicking here.
If you want to see what I have to say about his earlier thrillers, check out my archived review of 10/7/08. And, if you ever get a chance to attend one of his book signings, do so. He is a delight.

The White Tiger

Friday, January 2nd, 2009


By Aravind Adiga

The Short Take:

Smart, sassy, and savage — this novel is about as far removed from those semi-magical books I’ve come to expect from Indian-born authors as you can get.  No wonder it won the Man Booker Prize. This is a picture of modern India unlike any other.

Why?

This black comedy traces the evolution of one Indian man, Balram Halwai, from lowly, put-upon servant to daring entrepreneur. Along the way it paints an often chilling portrait of a country where old traditions and the modern world sometimes meld and oft times clash. 

Corruption, the self-centered rich, grasping families, and spirit-crushing subjugation are the pillars that support  Adiga’s book. But upon these seeming negatives he has built a crazy house of black humor where you find yourself cheering on a self-admitted murderer.  I would call Adiga a modern-day Jane Austin, only instead of poking fun at drawing room niceties and snobberies, Adiga takes on the all of India today. With wicked humor, he exposes absurdities, pain, and social insanity. 

The tiger in the title is meant to refer to the main character. I prefer to think of it as Adiga himself, as he slashes open the skin of India’s growing prosperity  to reveal all the roiling relationships beneath.

And, no, it’s not depressing. It’s invigorating as well as insightful. Grrr.

A Little Plot:

The life of Balram Halwai is revealed through a letter he is writing to Wen Jiabao, the Premier of China. The premier is coming to Bangalore in order to learn more about Indian entrepreneurship. Halwai seeks to tell him the truth, as opposed to the official story.

A bright child born to a poor family with no prospects and no expectations of any, Halwai is expected to work as a virtual slave,live in squalor, and pass all earnings to the family matriarch. His family lives in “the Darkness” of rural India. Halwai wants more from life, and manages to become the driver for a rich family, eventually winding up in Dehli.

As he drives, cleans, and performs other duties; Halwai makes note of the differences between the thinking of masters and servants. When he is expected to willingly go to prison to cover up for a master’s crime, he realizes that he is caught in a “rooster coop” or his own creation and sets out to free himself.

That’s where the murder comes in, and Halwai’s entrepreneurial spirit takes over.

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