Archive for : May, 2015

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The Silkworm by “Robert Galbraith” – A Review

The Silkworm, a mystery novel by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K.Rowling), is not the surprisingly good first novel of an unknown author as originally thought. Publishing under a pen name, Rowling, the famous author of the Harry Potter Series, tried but failed to have the detective story stand on its own merits without the support of her fame.

The secret didn’t stay secret for long, and this is still a good read from beginning to end.

British private detective Cormoran Strike, the hero of The Silkworm, is hired by the wife of a well-known novelist to investigate her husband’s disappearance. The cast of suspects is huge, mostly because her husband, Owen Quine, has written a novel that reveals the tawdry secrets of just about everyone he knows. And he knows a lot of people.

The plot thickens when Quine the novelist is brutally murdered in a scene redundant of his own novel, and Strike sets out to solve the crime.

We have seen the character of Strike and his sidekick Robin one time before, in Rowling’s first mystery novel, The Cuckoo’s Nest, published last year. In the Silkworm, their relationship develops, as they set about their investigation in the world of book publishing.

The novel is replete with references to the dirty secrets of the publishing world, as Strike investigates the cast of suspects. They include Quine’s editor, his agent, his publisher, and some of his competitors, and one wonders why anyone would spill the beans this way.

A side story is the relationship between Robin and her fiancé Matthew. (We can’t believe she is still with him – we met this duo in the Cuckoo’s Nest and didn’t like him then.) At issue is the way that Robin changes when with Matthew and what she puts up with from him. There is always also that pervasive sense that it is Strike and Robin who should share the romance.

Strike is the damaged illegitimate son of a rock star who is constantly on the financial brink. He lost his leg to an Afghanistan land mine, is huge and hobbling, and often in a lot of pain. Nevertheless, he is a man whom women find attractive.

Throughout the search for Quine’s murderer, we see the inner world of publishing, which comes off as a brutal world to live in, let alone break into. The characters, except for Strike and Robin, are all stereotypical examples of the agents, writers, and publishers who live in the real publishing world.

The relationship between Strike and Robin has grown since The Cuckoo’s Nest, albeit painfully slowly. The two first met at Strike’s detective agency when Robin, completely unschooled in the world of sleuthing, showed up to offer temporary office assistance. From the very first, she demonstrated an aptitude for the work. She is smart, perceptive, and yearns for more responsibility at the agency.

J.K. Rowling has proven her ability to write a great mystery novel. Both the story and the back-story leave you wanting more and, given the relationship between Strike and Robin, we anticipate book number three.

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The Son by Phillip Meyer – A Review

A story of a child being kidnapped by Indians in 1849, The Son is a vividly wonderful tale of history. Phillip Meyer is an expert at descriptive writing and throughout this book you feel transported back to the 1800s. Without a second thought, you believe all the details of the surroundings and feel like you are in fact part of this epic story.

When Eli, the thirteen year old son of pioneers is captured by the natives Comanche, he is enslaved and left to work and barely survive. Eli does work and he watches and learns about the people who are holding him captive. Eli learns to ride and hunt and most of all the art of warfare. So when Eli returns to his family he is not nearly the young boy he use to be, he is now a ruthless leader for his family, known as the Colonel to everyone around.

Meyer uses Eli, who is now elderly, as the narrator of the story because he is able to fully engulf what the family has struggled with over the 150 year time span of The Son. The book is extremely detailed with its historic information which some readers will find makes the book more enjoyable, while others might find that it is more difficult to stay focused on the actual story.

This book certainly isn’t for the very young as it is filled with a great deal of violence and Meyer does a brilliantly descriptive job of making that violence very vivid to the reader. It is necessary violence to fully tell the story, but graphic still the same.

Meyer is an excellent historian and triumphs in his ability to describe the characters and surroundings throughout this book. He takes us along on a moving journey through many different characters with an ending that feels natural and not overly done.

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The Orenda by Joseph Boyden – A Review

Joseph Boyden’s third novel, The Orenda, is a work of art that chronicles a savage and violent period of change in North America. It is set in Wendaki, which is now Central Ontario, in the mid-17th century, when the French, the Jesuits, and the fur trade decimated the indigenous populations.

Until then, the Iroquois and Huron had lived for hundreds of years with a predictable, albeit extremely violent, pattern of mortal combat. Because of this history, The Orenda is a sometimes over-the-top violent book, with scenes of torture and ferocity more graphic than most of us have ever encountered.

Told in a three-layered narrative, the three primary characters represent the three groups that were part of the French colonization. Bird is a Huron (Wendat) warrior and leader. We meet Snow Falls as a young Iroquois girl after her she is essentially kidnapped and brought to live in the Huron village.(Bird took her after he killed Snow Falls’ family in retribution for a similar act of violence on his family.) The final narrator is Christophe “the Crow,” a Jesuit missionary embedded with the Huron during times of war.

Christophe, though bumbling and backward, tells most of the story, and is arguably its central character. His relationship with the Huron, particularly with Bird and Snow Falls, evolves over the years. Though Snow Falls has plenty of reason to hate Bird, she has more in common with him that she does with Christophe, and the two unite in their hatred of the Jesuit priest.

Eventually, she comes to love Bird as a father, and respect Christophe. Near the end of the book, Christophe, who initially looked at the Wendat as savage animals in human form, writes a letter to his superiors praising the native way of life, calling it an earthly paradise.

Everyone is living in fear of the Iroquois, and the terrible toll they take on the villages they dominate. People like Bird, Christophe and others spend their time worrying about and preparing for the inevitable attack. We don’t know much about the Iroquois, except that they are scary, and a menace.

Generations of Wendat and Iroquois had lived with an uneasy balance, in the knowledge that they were mortal but predictable enemies. For instance, they mutually agreed upon raiding each other only in the summer. There was sameness to the outcome of battles that, though brutal, could be depended on. The women and children of the conquered villages were either killed or absorbed into the winning clan, and the warriors on the defeated side who weren’t killed in battle were killed or tortured in ritualistic ways treated as a tribute to the loser’s courage.

Disease, crop failure, famine, and violence permeate the last part of this book, as the protagonists, Bird, Snow Falls, and Christophe, experience extreme hardships, violence and, in some cases death. The intensity of the ending is consistent with the rest of this historical novel. It has received much well deserved critical acclaim, but is not for the squeamish.