My updated reads

Another three books knocked back; it’s time for an update. This list includes books 35-37 of the year. With my 36th read (Picoult), I’ve bettered last year’s total. This batch is another pair of fiction must-reads and, of course, a nonfiction title. Jodi Picoult’s output is a long-awaited page turner. The author reinforces her knack of exploring tricky family issues even as she incorporates the uncertainty of death in her narrative. Meanwhile, Gary Jubelin shares the life behind the uniform and the sacrifices that a homicide detective has to make. Finally, Matthew Reilly’s latest represents my last addition to this list. Reilly fans will love his fast-paced action, use of mythology, and endearing characters. As usual, the catalogue is in chronological order. Thus, I Catch Killers is the first read and so on.

  1. I Catch Killers (Gary Jubelin). This book is more like a catalogue than a memoir per se. Maverick detective Jubelin shares his experiences behind the suit as he chases and catches the evildoers. He relates on his childhood, where his disciplinarian father taught him how to be strong. He used to be a happy-go-lucky surfie until he found his calling. He joined the police academy and paid his dues before climbing the ladder. Right after his graduation in 1984, he enlisted on the force. From a lowly trainee in Hornsby, he would also work in Chatswood and set base in Port Macquarie. For most of his time, he was with the elite Homicide Department.

Justice

He would make it his mission to attain justice for his victims. In his time in law enforcement, there would be open-and-shut cases and there would be others dragging on for years. Moreover, the Bowraville murders would never be solved in his watch – although he tried his best. Technology would made giant strides since his genesis, specifically forensic analysis and computer use. Throughout his tenure, he always travelled a long way to work. His commitment to his job was to a fault, consistently burning the midnight oil. As a result, his marriages and relationships collapsed. However, he found his peace in qigong, meditation, and boxing.

He worked on the biggest investigation in state history: the aforementioned Bowraville debacle, the Lindt Café siege, and the disappearance of William Tyrell. Often, he was juggling multiple cases at a time. He talks about the sustained bureaucracy, lack of resources and empathy in solving these crimes. He became even more renowned after a TV series in 2009 that featured his work. The programme was a telling insight into his work ethic and his ruthless determination to serve justice. The show likewise revealed his strained connections with family and workmates. Killers is divided into three parts: Round One, Round Two, and Round Three. Each bit is further partitioned into smaller sections with titles.

The missing

Jubelin retired amid an inquiry on his handling of the Tyrell case. Thirty-four years after coming onboard, the detective has left a potent impression. His tireless campaigning ensures that two vital laws on murder cases have been ratified, benefiting scores of victims. Furthermore, his efforts secured the institution of the million-dollar reward in the state. I believe this is my first true crime read this year, a well-written and informative account from a justice crusader. The lack of an index is one problem though of this book. Given its length and the scope of names involved, an index would have been helpful.

Rating: 4.35/5

  • The Book of Two Ways (Picoult). I’ve been looking forward to this one for months. When I heard that Jodi had a new book, I was intrigued. This latest effort wasn’t as captivating as her prior reads but is still incredibly well-researched. You couldn’t fault Picoult for the factuality and preciseness of her work. The story alternates between two dream locations: Land/Egypt and Water/Boston. The novel opens with Dawn Edelstein having a near death experience as her plane crashes. A death doula by trade, Dawn edges to the precipice herself and makes a stunning decision: she would head to Egypt and her former life. Fifteen years ago, Dawn was a grad student who was part of contingent to dig mummies. There, she fell in love with Wyatt, a Pom charmer who calls her ‘Olive.’

A tale of two halves

However, having survived the first hundred fifty pages, the book rallies. Whereas before quantum physics permeated, the rest of the text was tofu. They were the best at deciphering hieroglyphs and the lost symbols made the first third of the book quite cumbersome. The Boston bits were well-coordinated. We see a couple trying to work through a marriage. Furthermore, we witness her daughter, Meret, grapple with teenager issues, from fat-shaming to the fear of losing a loved one. Dawn’s calling as a doula presents a third layer. She sees death and is there to make it as easy as possible: for them and their carers. During her time with her clients, she addresses their dying needs and lends an ear. Her mother’s battle with cancer convinced her to change her life path. Fifteen years later, she tries to reconcile missed opportunities and find some answers from her former life. There is a reason though for Dawn’s sudden trip, even as this appears entirely spontaneous. 

The rest

Picoult’s writing is witty and sentimental. The rest of the story is really page-turning. However, some readers have commented that she tries to juggle too many subjects: Egyptology, death, family, fat-shaming, and quantum physics. However, the sections are well-spaced. I like the twist though near the end. The surreal nostalgia reminded me a bit of Mitch Albom’s For One More Day. The plot device involves the protagonist returning to their old life and finding that nothing has changed. True, the technology may have levelled-up and the characters may differ, but their loved ones will always welcome them back. In spite of the juggling act, this solid effort earned Picoult another Times bestseller.

Rating: 3.9/5

  • The Two Lost Mountains (Reilly). This work comprises the sixth and penultimate instalment in the author’s Jack West series. I’ve read all of them save for The Seven Ancient Wonders. His collection is among the breeziest you’ll find. This book continues from the events of its predecessor, with the fate of the good guys up in the air. For all of this volume, Jack and his ragtag team have their backs against the wall. The baddies are always a few steps ahead of them. Their mission this outing is to find one of the five Iron Mountains, two of which have never been found. Once there, Jack has to do the Fall, which will be his ticket to the Supreme Labyrinth. The latter must be overcome to ensure the world’s survival.

Plot

The plot hopscotches around the world. For instance, the Vatican and Moscow were some of the earlier sites. Furthermore, the island of Mont Saint-Michel was a key location. The text uses bona fide landmarks such as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and Siwa Oasis in Egypt. This enables Reilly to stretch the limits of the bookworm’s imagination. While some settings may be real, the legends and abracadabra are not. I thought that Zapadny Cosmodrome in Libya was real, as the author had supplied a brief history. However, upon checking, the facility does not actually exist. Prior instalments featured historical figures such as Genghis Khan and Moses to drive Reilly’s point home. This one has references to Napoleon, Imhotep, and Saint Francis Xavier.

Reilly has taken a page out of Michael Crichton. See also: Great Zoo of China. In today’s fiction, Reilly is the cliff-hanger maestro. He loves to mobilise precarious situations before leaving the reader with a dash – only to marshal his heroes out of doom. Some people have even purported that he’s overdoing these thrill rides. While he is a suspense wizard, Reilly is also a techie. He makes sure that his characters board the latest and biggest planes, use cutting-edge earphones, and could access a limited-edition serum unavailable to the public. Moreover, the author lives in putting finality. To take out the massive dome of St Peter’s Basilica and the side of the Temple Mount is pure Indiana Jones. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this is the writer who pulverised the New York public library in his debut. While the ending of Two Lost Mountains may not be conclusive, it does set the stage for the final book.  

Rating: 5/5

This is my thirteenth list of the year. While I perused eight nonfiction titles last year, I’ve gone through fourteen in 2020. On this list, Reilly and Picoult had a common Egyptian theme. John Grisham’s latest will be next. This is the third in the Jake Brigance series. The first book, A Time to Kill, had a film adaptation starring Matthew McConaughey. I saw that movie and hope this one will live up to the hype.

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