Summer reads: the thrillers

September 17, 2016

2015-07-10-13-30-53As part of summer reading, I line up a bunch of thrillers. Here are thoughts on this summer’s stack.

Noah Hawley Before the Fall: The big new thriller of the summer. Plane goes down, and then readers are sent jumping back in time to see what brought it down, and what brought the passengers to be there. Thornton Wilder did this job of tracing characters back from dead to big moral cause terrifically in The Bridge of San Luis Rey, a slender book. This plane crash, nonsensically, allows for two survivors which changes the game a little. It manages some effective insights into the human condition and a range of real characters but the artifice is laboured and I was glad to speed it to a close. Ultimately it also felt exploitative of a big recent air crash in Europe, but to say why would be a spoiler.

Robert B Parker Night Passage A good way through this one, I realized I’ve read it before. To write about it now I had to pick it up again – what the hell was it about, I wondered? A good central police guy reinventing his life in a corrupt town in Massachussetts, it’s a good read. The premise of a bank official setting up a militia to take on big government reads like a US dystopian version of Dad’s Army, but is weirdly the constituency Trump speaks to when he talks of defending the the second amendment and insinuating folk might assassinate Hillary Clinton.

John Grisham The Testament  The best of the bunch. A billionaire dies, wilfully and dramatically, and the wastrels of his family cluster to pick over the spoils. Avaricious lawyers spur them on – the Grisham touch. Meanwhile out in the Patanal, a vast eco swamp in Brazil, a Catholic missionary works quietly with a lost tribe. (For a related and splendid book, try Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.) Grisham’s worlds contain a grand clash of opposites – vast wealth of capitalism meets someone set wholly aside from money in a different realm and value system. Terrific. I enjoyed the setting, and its eco elements. Add the steaminess to the outlook on religion and a scheming world, it made me see how John Grisham in his prime can carry the mantle of Graham Greene.

Harlan Coben The Innocent   I can’t remember a damn thing about it as I sit here. Back to the book for a reminder. Oh yes, the clean-living college kid gets imprisoned for murder, hooks up on release with a clean-living college girl, but all is not what it seemed. Well done, in writing terms an effective use of an occasional second person voice (‘you’), and ludicrous.

James Lee Burke  Sunset Unlimited  This one’s sat on the shelf for years. Hints of purple prose in long opening sentences used to put me off, but in fact it’s very well done. The writing draws you into the steamy landscape of Louisiana as Dave Robicheaux works his small police department against a cascade of crime and death. It’s a curious moral world of karmic return rather than police justice, as the bad players get what’s coming to them. The guy’s a master at capturing characters in paragraphs of descriptive detail.

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