Another few weeks have passed; it’s time to collate. I’ll be serving another dose of the usual: three books comprised of two novels and one nonfiction read. Once again, I’ve included two crime novels. The Silent Wife (Slaughter) marks my seventh read from her Will Trent series this year. This is also her latest release. Meanwhile, The Leopard is the sixth Harry Hole novel of the year. He keeps his instalments riveting by introducing new characters and themes. Finally, Mary Trump’s revelatory account rounds out the trio. Too Much and Never Enough is an enlightening portrait into the Trump family, a timely vivisection into the man currently occupying the White House.
- The Silent Wife (Slaughter). As mentioned in a prior post, this represents my seventh Will Trent read of the year. This instalment has the familiar Slaughter brushstrokes: a serial killer on the loose; women murdered; a dramatic opening; the GBI scrambling to contain the killings. There is also an unusual touch: the plot alternates between a turbulent past and bleak present. The narrative divides between Dr Linton’s two great loves: Jeffrey Tolliver (past) and Will Trent (current). Of course, other regulars such as Amanda Wagner and Faith Mitchell. Lena Adams and her lost notebooks remain the secondary antagonist.
A woman is murdered in the woods. Two more killings occur six months later. A man is incarcerated for the slayings. Eight years later, he offers the cops a deal. He points out that the murders have not abated since his imprisonment. Spread over eight years, there have been seventeen killings. The GBI is invited in to unmask the matador. The original case was a Grant County investigation, the area where Sara Linton grew up and where her ex, Jeffrey, was the chief. Having just divorced, they were not on good terms at the time. However, the former couple have to work together to bring the perp to justice. I recall Broken (Trent number four) as also being set in Grant County. This one varies from Grant County and Atlanta, with a Macon quick aside.
Slaughter uses a few interesting literary devices. Firstly, she has a curious way with words. She takes terms from popular culture and wedges them into the plot and dialogue. Secondly, she creates a weird habit in the early victim’s roommate: the use of question marks in every other sentence. Third, she does a Connelly in recycling olden technology to sell the feel of a bygone era. Of course, these are all in addition to the clever use of twists and side stories. She establishes the killer as someone versed in human anatomy, with access to a workman’s tools, unafraid of the spotlight, and who drives a van. The pacing was classic Slaughter and the matador’s identity remains a mystery until the end. The lack of progress in Will and Sara’s relationship is off-putting. For the last three or four books, it’s like they’ve been frozen. I guess the author needs this to buy more time for future instalments. The conclusion was disappointing.
- Too Much and Never Enough (Mary L. Trump). This is an eye-opening account from a Trump insider. Mary Trump, a licensed psychologist and the President’s only niece, sheds light on a turbulent family history. That Donald tried to block the publication of the book only added to its mystique. Although only 211 pages long, the title packs a lot. At times, it resembles a psychology reading – especially the prologue, last chapter, and epilogue. However, for the most part, the book is an easy, if sad, read. Mary argues that her family enabled ‘the world’s most dangerous man.’ To illustrate her point, she goes way back and provides a rare family history. She examines her grandparents and their children, debunking the myth that Donald was a self-made man.
She traces the Trump story from Germany and Scotland, the Spanish flu, and the Great War. She talks about the House, where the real Trump story unfolds. Mary even reminisces on her earliest memories in the House. The author scrutinises three main entities: Fred (her grandfather), Freddy (her since-deceased dad), and Donald (her uncle). Fred was the patriarch, the man who built an empire and put the Trump name on the map. In spite of his business sense, Fred was difficult – especially to his children. Though he was a very wealthy man with connections, Fred lived frugally. Unbeknownst to many, Freddy (being the oldest son) was being groomed to take over Trump Management, the lucrative family business. However, Fred’s narcissistic and overbearing tendencies precluded Freddy from ever spreading his wings. Though he became a commercial pilot, his father’s abuse led to Freddy’s alcoholism. Freddy died without ever having his family’s support.
Donald quickly learned from his brother’s failings and became his father’s favourite son. He benefitted from his dad’s largesse but had none of Fred’s business acumen. Mary’s revelations shocked me. Her family treated them like pariahs. They were cut out from Fred’s will, repeatedly told that they deserved nothing because their dad died with nothing. They had to settle for peanuts due to a gross undervaluing of their late grandfather’s estate. Even as Fred adored Donald, dementia marred his final years. Since he was now a liability, Fred was treated with contempt. In the final chapter, Mary makes her case as to why Donald is unfit to serve as the leader of the free world. He has been getting away with it for too long, she says. His responses to natural calamity, racism, and COVID-19 have cemented this claim in her eyes. It took Mary a while to finally act and call out her uncle. However, the end result is a polished work that provides much insight into the Trumps.
- The Leopard. (Jo Nesbo). Detective Harry Hole returns in the eight book of this bestselling crime series. After the events of The Snowman investigation, Harry decides to quit the force and intends on seeing volcanoes in the Philippines. However, during a stopover in Hong Kong, he decides that the place isn’t bad and spends his time betting big on the horses and eating glass noodles at a hole in the wall. His boss, Gunnar, sends a newbie cop, Kaja Solness, to fetch Harry as another serial killer stalks the streets of Oslo. This is an epic novel and at 740 pages (mass market paperback), is the thickest read of the year so far. Interestingly enough, the next-longest one for me was 695 pages, also a Nesbo work.
While most of the text is set around Oslo, a significant portion transpires in the Congo. The author unpacks noteworthy concepts such as trust, colonialism, and the third world. Like Nesbo’s other work, there is more than enough twists and turns to keep readers rapt. The mobilisation of new characters adds some spice to the thrills. In particular, the addition of overzealous Mikael Bellman is the perfect foil to Hole’s methodical ways. A mole is handing over information from Harry’s small team to Bellman’s outfit. Though this is revealed soon enough, the matador’s face remains a mystery. Like The Snowman, this one is set in midwinter, full of skis, snowstorms, and snowmobiles. There is even an actual avalanche in the middle.
The title refers to the Leopold’s apple, a torture device that the slayer employs. Said device was bought off a Belgian in the Congo. The apparatus was responsible for the deaths of two women. The book sees Harry’s personal life in tatters. Rakel, his former flame, has fled the country in the aftermath of The Snowman crisis. His father, Olav, is on his death bed. His position in the force is again being scrutinised and the future looks bleak for Crime Squad, his employer. Early on, the killer’s clean crime scenes left them befuddled. Once again, Harry manages to keep his demons at bay and does not succumb to the bottle for most of the case. He also gets ample help from Katrine Bratt, who is battling her own demons. Like all good crime novelists, Nesbo makes sure to leave sufficient clues and suspects while keeping the reader guessing till the end. Unlike Michael Connelly, all of the chapters are titled.
Voila! Three books in three weeks. I currently have a true crime book from a retired Aussie detective. I also hold an older Grisham read from the Master of Legal thrillers. Anyhow, Jodi Picoult’s latest is my current read. The book is a challenging read with hieroglyphics and quantum physics, but any text by Picoult is worth perusing. Skal!