This installment: ghosts in coastal Maine (f); one brilliantly wacky short story (f); dysfunction in Iceland (f); a tasty memoir—Belarus to Brooklyn (nf); a thriller with a child abduction revealed many years later (f);and an English police procedural with depth.
The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen
A classic setup: the turret with the resident ghost in coastal Maine. Ava, a food writer with a very guilty conscience and a propensity for drowning her sorrows, rents this house and hopes writer’s block will lift. A sea captain of yore pays her spectral, sexy visits and seems to know her dark needs well. There have been other women in this house who have met bad ends. It takes a while for her to realize the true danger she’s in. Familiar material but plenty entertaining.
The Children’s War by Craig Boyko
I’m making an exception here because if I don’t completely embrace a whole book, I usually don’t recommend it. Boyko, a Canadian writer, is quite brilliant but I ran into difficulties with some of his longish short stories. A number take place in a military setting and are quite brutal. A few took me along but then dumped me at the end with a premise that didn’t sound right. But the last story is so fabulous that I want to share it here. “The Takeover of Founder’s Hall” describes what might happen if a university demonstration got radically out of hand. It starts modestly—a protest about replacing a park with a parking lot—but then other issues pop up and soon there’s a wild and crazy mob afoot. Very funny and such an amazing array of proper names. How does he come up with the likes of Elea Bukarica or Jallica Ingeldew?
A Fist or a Heart by Kristin Eiriksdottir
I don’t come across many books from Iceland and this one is strange and haunting. (Note: these adjectives often appear here because they describe the kind of books I’m drawn to.) Elin creates props, working on a production by very young playwright, Ellen, who’s quite troubled. She gets involved trying help the girl but it’s a tangled skein of overlapping needs and personal history. I found descriptions of prop-making and theater life especially interesting. Surrealistic, poetic, mysterious.
Savage Feast, A Memoir with Recipes by Boris Fishman
Subtitled Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table. At 9, Boris and family emigrated from Belarus to Brooklyn. It didn’t sound so bad under Soviet rule but in 1988 it was strategic for Jews to leave and so they did. Turned out it wasn’t the Land of Milk and Honey they’d hoped for. With his English language skills, Boris often ended up as go-between. An important addition was Grandpa’s home health care worker, Oksana, who could cook up a storm. I especially liked the heartbreak section where Boris, flattened by failed relationships, explores the world of food to haul himself out of despair, from working on a farm to volunteering in a neighborhood restaurant.
The Nowhere Child by Christian White
Here’s a thriller that grabbed me despite a raft of quibbles. In Australia Kim discovers she’s not who she thought she was. Turns out she was abducted from Kentucky when she was 2 years old. When she accompanies her new-found brother back “home” to find out more, she discovers a nest of snakes. Literally—her mother was part of an evangelical church. Lots of dark doings in this small mountain town and some Astonishing Coincidences. Back to those quibbles: the writing sometimes gets a little clumsy and Australian lingo creeps in, like describing acreage in hectares. Yet I couldn’t stop reading.
Salt Lane by William Shaw
Bodies start showing up in the marshes, seemingly unrelated but two young policewomen, Alex and Jill, start to recognize possible connections. Identifying the victims presents one problem: it’s hard to locate and interview elusive and terrified immigrant farm workers. Another case of mistaken identity needs unraveling, tracing a woman back to the days of the Greenham Commons demonstrations. Alex, relocated from London, is also struggling with her disaffected teenage daughter and a mother who was absent for much of her childhood. A police procedural with depth.
Back next week.