This installment: creepy true crime in Japan, witty British short stories, and a Southwest mystery in the Hillerman tradition. (And you may wonder how I choose the three books that appear each week. Well, it’s somewhat random. As I read them, I write the reviews. They go on a list. I take them 3 at a time, in order. So chance and serendipity are at work here, as they are in life.)
People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry
I like a good dose of horror-fascination, often found in the 394s (true crime). My best friend turned me on to this and then it showed up on Oprah's summer reading list so what could I do but plunge into the strange seamy world of Tokyo's nightlife. Here a beautiful, somewhat naive young Englishwoman comes for adventure. Her job as a bar girl is mostly talking to boring businessmen and getting them to take her out to dinner. But along comes one very bad apple, although we don't discover who he is until deep into the story. She disappears. Her divorced parents and sister launch very frustrating search attempts. The local police seem bumbling and ineffective. On and on it goes, with media attention waxing and waning and Tim, the father, becoming a suspect character as well. (He started a foundation to help similar girls, spent some of the proceeds on a yacht, and even took money from the criminal.) The combination of cultural confusions and personal acrimony between the parents tangle the tale even further. Creepy and fascinating indeed.
In-Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson
Short stories that carry on the tradition of wicked English skewering. (Others that come to mind are Fay Weldon and Muriel Spark.) Many reflect an underlying theme: our despoilment of the earth, especially with the massive carbon footprint air travel imprints. Often one character is grossly dense and entitled, as in the title story which depicts a flight from hell, despite the business class upgrade. The writing style is astringent, sometimes almost telegraphic, and very accessible. Witty stuff, best read in small portions.
As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson
I loved Hillerman initially because of the Southwest/Native American material but got a little tired of the formulaic quality of his books down the line. Then I heard about Johnson who takes up the banner, as it were, and lopes along with it. Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire has connections and friends on the rez. Complications abound: a woman plunges over a cliff, baby in arms (which survives). His daughter is about to get married but the venue, on the rez, may not work. A new Native policewoman, an Iraq war veteran, is defensive and difficult, initially. Indian names, like Herbert His Good Horse, are entertaining. And there are sprinkles of native language throughout. So plenty atmospheric and a diverting read if you yearn for the lone prairie.
Back next Monday…