July reads (2020)

I have posted thrice on this site since my last reading list. Two of them centred around suburban Sydney malls while the last one focused on Melbourne’s covid-19 crisis. The final turn of winter is before us; allow me to share three more reads from my July catalogue. I started off with another Nesbo, The Redeemer. The book is the sixth in his famed Harry Hole series and is the best of the four I’ve read so far. I followed this up with another Slaughter. The Kept Woman is the eight of her Will Trent series. I’ve perused five of them this annum alone. Finally, I topped off the inventory with a helping of Philip Roth’s memoir.

  1. The Redeemer (Nesbo). There are a few reasons to love this one. Firstly, Nesbo uses short chapters and has many breaks scattered around. This enables the reader to pause and take stock of the action. Secondly, the plot is murder mystery par excellence; Nesbo keeps you guessing till the end. Thirdly, the novel is well-written. Though you’re bound to consult the dictionary, things materialise out of a clear sky. The plot is off to a flying start with a Christmastime murder at a concert in downtown Oslo, Norway. Since it is the silly season, the police force’s resources are spread thin and it is up to Detective Harry Hole to put two and two together. He has to do this minus his backer, as Chief Bjorn Moller prematurely retires. Gunnar Hagen, who was with the special forces, is the new head honcho.

Moller will not be the only ally that he loses as the plot unfolds. Throughout the book, Hole grapples with his alcoholism. Meanwhile, he becomes infatuated to Martine Eckhoff, who works at the Salvation Army. The Salvos play a big role here, as key players are employees of the organisation. The slain officer, Robert Karlsen, was attending a charity event, before he was gunned down. Redeemer tackles such themes as infidelity, greed, sexuality, and human folly. Largely set in Norway, the detective takes a detour to Zagreb, Croatia in search of answers. Through the course of five hundred pages, there are murders, chases, trysts, and questions. There is also a smattering of humour. For instance, there is this fugitive who features in the action. For most of the book, he is seen as the matador. Given that he is out of options, he resorts to sneaking into Harry Hole’s flat, drinking his coffee, using his shower, and sleeping on his bed. On another note, Magnus Skarre was a bit player in previous instalments. He seems destined for a bigger role hereon in. I enjoyed reading this, as I had the prior three in the series. They called him the Norwegian Larsson, but it should actually be the Norwegian Connelly.

Rating: 4.8/5

  • The Kept Woman (Slaughter). I’ve steadily been dicing and slicing the Will Trent series. This year alone, I’ve gobbled up five (or half) of the sequence. In typical Trent fashion, a woman fighting for her life opens the story. In the aftermath, the authorities converge on a murder scene. Agent Trent is convinced that his wife, Angie Polaski, is killed and she is taunting him from the grave. On closer inspection though, a mix-up seems probable and Angie may not be as dead as they think. Slaughter ensures that a few bombshells are scattered along the plot. For starters, Trent is on the hunt for Marcus Rippy, the basketball star dubbed ‘a younger Michael Jordan’. The player has been linked with a rape case. As it turns out, Rippy, his lawyers, and his sports agency are only part of the problem.

The Kept Woman does not refer to Angie, but rather to someone close to her. The latter has gone through great lengths in antagonising Will and his new partner. More importantly, this is the first time since Triptych (book 1) that we get an extended look through Angie’s psyche. For the middle third of the book, Polaski’s viewpoint dominates. Another bombshell in the book is the fact that many characters are actually related. Furthermore, Dr Sara Linton, Will’s love interest, is now the GBI’s new medical examiner. Finally, one of the villains is part of the force. Since Fallen was published, Will likewise moonlights as a sniper. How he could whack heads from two hundred feet even as he has trouble reading, is an irony made for fiction.

The finale of this one is as explosive as they get. More than the other instalments, this one is not for the squeamish. The Kept Woman (2016) constituted the first Will Trent instalment in three years. After Redeemer, this represents the next-easiest read of this list. Slaughter’s name came up in an exchange recently. The other party told me that her books are ‘pretty much the same.’ While I could see his inference, I should add that they’re similar and need shortening. It doesn’t make much sense to produce clones when they’re all over four hundred pages.Furthermore, I wasn’t too enthused about her long chapters. Regardless, the attention to detail kept me focused. Regardless, we should tip our hat to Slaughter for her prolific efforts. To paraphrase a fictional professor, the quantity of Slaughter’s words ‘is something we should all aspire to reach.’

Rating: 4.6/5

  • Patrimony (Philip Roth). This is a heart-warming memoir from perhaps the most acclaimed American writer of his generation. The book, which paints a vivid portrait of his afflicted father, won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Patrimony offers insight into his difficult old man, who had retired in his sixties. One day, Herman Roth would learn of a large tumour in his brain. Apparently, the mass had been there for years but was only now starting to unleash its sorrow. While getting two opinions, the family is faced with potential solutions that are too risky for an eighty-six-year-old. Philip takes it upon himself to look after his ailing dad.

Despite his malady, the disease does not silence Herman’s zest for life. He recounts stories of his family from decades past. While being driven through New Jersey, he recounts the buildings and shops that preceded them. He recalls his earliest memories as an immigrant in Jersey up until his marriage with Bess. Upon retiring, he became more devout and visited the synagogue even more. He refused to settle down in a retirement community, opting to stay in his apartment instead. Philip grapples both with telling his dad about the tumour and the ‘living will’. The document stipulates against pulling the plug on his father’s death bed. Like his award-winning novels, Patrimony pays homage to Roth’s hometown of Newark. New Jersey (NJ). There are also scenes in Elizabeth, NJ, in Florida, and in Connecticut. His father spent some winters in Florida, while visiting them in his house in the latter state.

The book reminds me a bit of Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom). In particular, I note the passing of wisdom and the bond between men of two generations. Patrimony could also double as a Woody Allen picture, with the grumpy old man and his protégé. For the most part, Roth uses flowery language to get his point across. This is the main reason why I eschew from reading his texts, though I mostly write in the same genre (literary fiction). Thus, I have to take some points away due to the verbosity. The book only has six long chapters and is just over two hundred pages. I managed to reach the finish line in four days. In the book, he’s battled a heart condition for ages. Two years ago, Philip Roth, the great wordsmith, passed away. However, his legacy lives on.  

Rating: 4.05/5

About four weeks have gone by since my last reading list. In that span, I’ve tackled the usual tally of two novels and a non-fiction read. For a change, one of them (Patrimony) was an award winner. Both of the fiction texts were over five hundred pages, while Roth’s memoir was, as mentioned, a bit more succinct. While I’ve read other Harry Hole and Will Trent books, this was my first foray into Roth’s universe. When She was Good (Robotham) is my next read. This represents the second Cyrus Haven instalment, and the first one exceeded expectation. Hasta luego.  

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