Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Spies of Sobeck

Want an interesting lesson in Egyptian history? With all of the richness of the land, time and people? Read Paul C. Doherty's Egyptian mystery series; trust me, you will be enthralled. You will also gasp and grimace in pain and disgust. You will, eventually, realize, understand and appreciate everything Doherty has just told you.
Granted, The Spies of Sobeck, though the 7th book with Chief Judge Amerotke, is the first book I've read of his, but it has me wanting to read all of the others now! You don't need to read them in order, by the way.

Set in the time of the Pharoah Queen Hatusu - 14th century B.C. - this is a thriller and a mystery, rich with the simple and divine details that made up the lands of Egypt.
It begins with the death of a Medjay scout, followed by an attack on the Pharoah, and then the death of two others, all sinisterly gruesome enough to set the tone of the novel. Enter Lord Valu and Amerotke, the Eyes and Ears of the Pharoah and the Chief Judge of the Hall of Two Truths. They are charged with the task of finding and stopping these attacks, narrowed down to be the beginnings of a Nubian revolution carried out by the Arites - thought to have been suppressed by the Pharoah's father. It is more of a thriller from then on. A number of questions arise, a number of attacks take place, each as frighteningly random as the previous... or maybe not.

I loved it. The pace, the writing, the history, the descriptions, the people. It has got to be one of the best historically based mysteries I've read! Egypt is painted in such grandeur by Doherty's words, it's like you're actually there! It is with this same intensity that the attacks are also described. It's bloody, all of the massacres, but Amerotke's quick mind and humanity keep you hooked onto his character's story as he walks us through his thoughts.

I'm amazed at how much you can learn from a novel with a historical note from the author at the beginning and end of the book, and the story itself. It's a novel, but it has some real people and describes events as though they actually happened. A good whodunit, maybe not for those who cannot stand too much bloodshed, but you will not be disappointed with the end result - Amerotke knows when to go in for the kill and so does Doherty.

The Death of the Adversary

I doubt there is much to say about this book other than READ IT!
Written by Hans Keilson and set in Germany in the time of World War II - it's onset and during, to be precise - this book is strange, anonymous and engaging. It's a slow read, mind you, as you have to sift through the pages with care lest you may get lost in the timeline. The first person narrative shifts between memories - events and people, that are promised to play larger roles later in the story - and current events.
What had me getting through this novel was the almost ironic manner in which no one is named, a few maybe but not significantly enough given the time period it is set it. But the enemy, the nameless ominous adversary that the narrator battles throughout the novel, rises to such a powerful level to induce literary fear mainly because he's called -.

Keilson describes, very beautifully, mundane activities that no one would really see any beauty in; the main one being how the protagonist sees his job at a department store. His interaction with people, coming to terms with their outlook of the situation and happenings, his relationships, friends and family, all are presented in detail, as he realizes and tries to understand his own feelings of hatred and others' as well.

It's short and sweet and a little tedious, but with so much essence in it, you must take the time to read and understand because it deals, quite fascinatingly, with trying to one man trying to find logic when there is none to be found!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Brunetti Mysteries

I stumbled upon Donna Leon by sheer accident at the British Library back home. The first book I ever read was 'Death at La Fenice', and it was love at first touch. I remember my mum and I scouring the shelves at libraries in search of all of Leon's books, and read whichever we could find! This was a good eight years ago. I stumbled upon her latest book, again, by sheer accident! I was at the Harold Washington Public Library and noticed a familiar face on a flyer posted in the elevator: Donna Leon discusses and signs her new book. And that did it! I went on a Guido Brunetti splurge!

To say that I remembered every book featuring the wonderful Commissario Brunetti would be true. Every book that I have read, that is. I was shocked to realize that I had missed a lot of Brunetti's mysteries! So, I did what every normal book lover would do. I picked up every book that I had not read, and began crossing them off my 'To Read' list. In less than a week I have seen Brunetti through three  different cases: About Face, Suffer the Little Children, A Sea of Troubles, and have two others waiting to be read: The Girl of His Dreams, and Drawing Conclusions (this is the latest release).
If I were to review or write about each book, it would just be repetitive; mainly because this is crime fiction that features the principle characters dealing with different cases. Guido Brunetti is the Italian sleuth who leads these cases. His character, as is established from the very first of Leon's books, is intelligent, sensible, capable and just. He loves his family, wine, food and his home, the city of Venice, and would do all he humanly can to keep them safe and sound.

Most of her books begin with a death and the story goes from there to the end, where one can only hope that justice is served. The author's way of connecting details, and paving a path from beginning to end is, simply put, beautiful. Venice, and Italy, are presented with clear, heart-felt appreciation, despite the changes and downfall in culture and civilization that modernization brings with it. Through her characters we see the beauty that Italy once was, and the hidden beauty that is still there!
I love the way she writes. Simple, and decidedly European in nature (structure), there is humor, cynicism and information. The stories have gotten bleaker as Brunetti sees Venice through change, I suppose it is obvious over a course of 20 books that there be some difference. Brunetti's view of humanity is, I feel, a reflection of the author's. What keeps you hooked is not just the case itself, or the writing, but Brunetti's admission that he is helpless against the corruption within the government and society to fight for justice, and his resilience at trying, repeatedly, succeeding and failing at times. He questions morality and the law itself. He voices opinions and questions that most of us have thought of at some point in our lives in the face of such situations.
Listening to Donna Leon speak at the library last night, I was rather pleased to hear the words she writes coming out of her mouth. It felt like the characters were right there upon the stage. Brunetti's ideologies are well rooted in Leon's sense of justice and the law. I love the picture she has painted of the Brunetti family (Paola, Raffi, Chiara and the Conte and Contessa Falier) - the rich upbringing in culture and knowledge, for the entire family reads (something that is evident in every chapter of Leon's books); and the wide variety of Brunetti's colleagues - the trusted Ispetorre Vianello and Officer Pucetti, the all knowing secretary Signorina Elettra, and the appearance driven Vice-Questore Patta and his lapdog Lieutenant Scarpa, amongst others.

I've read several authors, crime fiction in particular, because I like the cloak and dagger genre of novel writing, and while, like she admitted, Leon is no Jane Austen who created characters that move you without even raising their voices, she has given her characters depth and perception that makes you pause and question your own thoughts and beliefs.

(While on the topic of one of my favorite fictional policemen/detectives, it would be wise to also check out - if you are a fan of the Brunetti series and have come to appreciate another country and culture through his life in these books - Brunetti's Venice and Brunetti's Cookbook).

The book covers in this post are of the books that I have read in the past week.