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text 2019-08-25 10:27
The Last, My First, in a Lengthy Series
Two Kinds of Truth - Michael Connelly

Hieronymus Bosch (fifteenth century Dutch artist) is also a great name for a detective with the San Fernando police department and yet I come late to the Bosch phenomenon. Twenty one novels (so far) in the series by Michael Connelly and apparently one of the most watched original TV series on Amazon Prime (in its third season), somehow it had not penetrated the ‘Burfo-bubble’. So, I am indebted to an enlightened friend who loaned me his copy of “Two Kinds of Truth” (Intriguingly the latest in the series, published in 2017), as a useful start point. It proved a good call. Part murder mystery, part thriller, part courtroom drama, the novel galloped along like a Grisham/Baldacci mash-up. Still, Michael Connelly is clearly a skilled storyteller, with an eye for character that makes the eponymous ‘Harry’ Bosch an interesting, if somewhat enigmatic hero.


On this occasion Bosch straddles two investigations. A double homicide at a pharmacy will flare outwards from being local murders, to a symptom of wider organized crime and a challenge to the integrity of a historic case, which saw the detective allegedly consign an innocent man to fifteen years on death row. Thus, jeopardy to life and reputation rains down on Bosch, who must protect both victims and himself from the drenching impact of powerful malign forces.


A former police reporter for the Los Angeles Times, the author utilizes a knowledge of criminal justice process and a journalistic nose for the sensational, to repeatedly hook the reader. But, while the dual plot is exciting and moves along at a breathless pace, it also provides some useful space to ponder Bosch the man and his selfless dedication to a very personal cause. I thoroughly enjoyed this very American novel. However, in what is a fairly crowded genre, for me, it is the central character that makes it stand apart. That I am minded to go back to the beginning of the book series is perhaps testament to some fine writing and my friend’s impeccable taste.

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review 2018-12-08 09:01
A great courtroom drama/psychological thriller that will keep you thinking
Anatomy of a Scandal: The brilliant, must-read novel of 2018 - Sarah Vaughan

Thanks to NetGalley and to Simon & Schuster UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I got a copy of this book a while back, but I must confess it got buried under tonnes of other books at a time when there were many things on my mind. I kept seeing the book here and there but wasn’t even sure I had a copy any longer. Eventually, as it always happens at the end of the year, I saw a list with recommended reads for the year that ends, with this novel featured prominently, and it was the push I needed to start reading it. I apologise for the delay because it was well worth a read.

The book opens up the 2nd of December 2016, is set in the UK, and is mostly narrated chronologically by a collection of characters. Kate, a QC (the prosecution lawyer in other countries) working in London tells of her experience in court, prosecuting sexual crimes, in the first person. The rest of the characters’ perspectives we get are narrated on the third person, and include those of Ali, a friend Kate met while she was a college student; Sophie, the wife of a junior conservative minister, James, and now stay at home Mum; James himself, the only male account, an upper-class man who always knew his future was golden, and Holly, whose narration starts in 1992, in Oxford. She is a fish out of the water, a young girl from the North, from a modest family, who has managed to get into an Oxford College to study English with a grant, and she suffers a cultural shock at first, although later things seem to look up until… (No spoilers here). It takes a while for all the strands of the story to fit together, although we soon realise there are some coincidences, and some of the people whose narrations appeared disconnected at first, had crossed paths years back.

The author, who as a political journalist has more insight than most people into what goes on in political office and in the government, provides a detailed and totally immersing account of the life of privilege of those who seem destined for “better things” from the very start, and creates very credible and nuanced characters. Vaughan is skilled at describing the atmosphere of the government corridors and of the Old Bailey, and as skilled at shining a light on the characters and their motivations. We have those who feel entitled to everything; characters who keep lying to themselves because they feel they got what they wanted and should now be happy with it, even if it has turned out to be far less ideal than they had always thought; the survivors who reinvented themselves and paid the price of never being completely at ease in their skins, and we have big areas of grey. (I think this book would be ideal for a book club, as there is much to discuss and plenty of controversial topics to keep the conversation going). What is a relationship and what is not? What is love and what is only lust? And central to the whole book, a big question, what is consent? Is it a matter of opinion? Although the definition of the crime seems very clear, when it comes to what people think or “know” in their heads at the time, is anything but.

Although the book is told from different perspectives, it is not confusing to read. Each chapter is headed by the name of the character and the date, and we soon get to know who is who, because their narration and their personalities are very different. That does not mean there aren’t plenty of surprises in the book, and although some we might suspect or expect, the story is well paced, the revelations are drip-fed and make the tension increase, and with the exception of one of the characters (hopefully!), it is not difficult to empathise and share in the thoughts and the moral and ethical doubts of most of the characters. We might think we know better and we would do the right thing but determining what the right thing is can be tough in some cases. And we all compromise sometimes, although there are limits.

I have read some reviews complaining about the amount of detail in the book and they also say that it is slow and nothing much happens. The book is beautifully observed, and the way it explains the ins-and-outs of the trial feels realistic. Perhaps the problem is that we are used to books and movies where everything takes place at lightning speed, and there isn’t a moment to contemplate or observe what is truly happening, beyond the action. This is a thinking book, and there are not big action pieces; that much is true. I have mentioned there are surprises. Secrets are revealed as well, but they surface through digging into people’s memories, or getting them to recognise the truth, not with a gun or a punch. The way we connect with the characters and the layers upon layers of stories and emotions make for a gripping reading experience but not a light one. I have sometimes read books or watched movies that have such a frenzied pace that I always come out at the other end with the feeling that I’ve missed something, some gap or hole in the plot that I would be able to discover if only I were given some time to breathe and think, but that is not the case here. Even the turns of events you might not have expected are fully grounded and make perfect sense, both action-wise and according to the personality of the protagonists. No big flights of fancy here.

This is a book for those who love psychological thrillers, and courtroom dramas that go beyond the standard formula. Although it is a book with strong roots in England, the British Criminal Justice System and the country’s politics, it is so well-written that it will make readers from everywhere think and will inevitably bring to mind cases and well-known characters at a national and international level. Now that I live in Spain, I could not help but keep thinking about the infamous case of “La manada”, where definitions of sexual crimes have become a hot political potato, for very good reason. The debate that the #MeToo has generated should be kept alive, and anything that contributes to that is useful, and if it is a great book, all the better.

I know it is silly, but I was happy to discover that I had finished reading the book on exactly the same date when the book comes to an end, 7th of December 2018. I take that as a sign and look forward to reading many more books by the author.

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review 2018-01-23 22:32
Compelling and timely read; came away with a lot more than I anticipated
Anatomy of a Scandal: A Novel - Sarah Vaughan

I have come away from reading this novel with so much more than I anticipated. This is more than a portrait of a marriage rocked by an affair. More than a story about a scandal that rocks the Houses of Parliament and ends up in the the Daily Mail. And it's more than a droll courthouse drama with a Junior Minister at the center of the story.

Told from several perspectives, and from both the past and present, 'Anatomy of A Scandal' is primarily told in the first person by Kate Woodcroft, who is the prosecuting lawyer in the case against James Whitehouse, accused of raping Olivia Lytton, his researcher and with whom he had an affair with. His wife Sophie wants to believe he didn't actually rape her but continues on as if she is willing to forgive his transgressions. All these characters are well-fleshed out and developed; Sophie and Kate's emotions are raked through with a fine-toothed comb and it's difficult to read much of it without feeling incredibly involved with their contrasting worlds. It's also so rich with descriptive prose, as it's written so meticulously and with such care and thought.

The novel is hard to completely discuss without giving too much away (massive twists) but I will say that Sarah Vaughan has written such a timely and compelling novel: it's so much more than an ordinary thriller or courtroom drama, and it needs to be on everyone's list of books to read, especially if they intend to read any book this year that will make them ask difficult questions about morality, power, privilege, and the most difficult topic on everyone's lips right now - sexual assault. The book gets so uncomfortable at times, it's hard not to see conversation coming out of it. While there may be parts of the book that might be hard to read, Vaughan has crafted both an excellent drama with a fantastic twist, but also a timely novel that can't help but be a conversation piece.

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review 2017-08-11 01:02
Small Great Things
Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult,Audra McDonald

 

 

Ruth Jefferson has been a neonatal nurse for over 20 years, at a small hospital in New Haven, CT.  She is a great nurse who loves her job.  During a routine newborn check, she is startled when the baby boy's father, Turk Bauer, insists on speaking with Ruth's supervisor, who subsequently informs her she is not to care for or even touch this young patient again.  The Bauers are white supremacists, and Turk has requested that no one who "looks like" Ruth touch the baby.  Ruth is African-American..

 

After having worked a double shift, Ruth is asked to watch over the baby, Davis Bauer, who has just undergone a routine circumcision and needs to be observed.  Because an emergency c-section has pulled all other available personnel away, Ruth is the only left to do so.  When he goes into cardiac distress, she faces the impossible choice of complying orders by doing nothing or defying them to administer to him.

 

When there is a adverse event, Ruth becomes a target and faces serious criminal charges.  The public defender assigned to her case is Kennedy McQuarrie.  The book has as its three first-person, present-tense narrators Ruth, Kennedy, and Turk.  The audiobook has three separate narrators for these roles, which I found really effective.  The book takes on race issues in a way that honors and explores the complexities associated with it, as the characters all recount their perspectives, and they all go through their own complicated journeys.  This is my second Jodi Picoult novel, after Leaving Time, and she's definitely become a favorite author.  She has a way of writing books I want to climb into so I can shut out the outer world until I'm done.

 

I had some uncanny timing with this book.  I'd placed a hold on the downloadable audiobook from my library's site ages ago. Just when I needed to make my "reader's choice" selection for my library's summer-reading program, this book finally became available.  

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review 2017-04-20 17:21
A TIME TO KILL Review
A Time to Kill - John Grisham

My first John Grisham novel was his latest release, The Whistler: a capable, if not entirely thrilling, read. Because I give every author two chances to 'wow' me, I decided to take a stab at Grisham's debut, A Time to Kill.

 

Wow. Wow wow wow. Was I impressed!

 

Set in northeastern Mississippi (an area I've ridden through many times, and have a certain affection for), a young black girl is kidnapped and brutally raped by two white rednecks, both career criminals despite only being in their twenties. The two are caught and arrested, but that does not make the girl's pain go away, of course — so her father takes matters into his own hands, and murders the two rapists in cold blood. Jake Brigance, a young lawyer who is desperate for the big time, takes the case despite its daunting nature. What unravels is something that thoroughly impacts the entire fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi, and the reader as well. There is no black or white here, only a world of gray; while most readers can sympathize with the girl's father, was it right of him to murder the men? What is morally justifiable? What role does the court system play in our lives, and even when juries make the 'right' decision, is it still wrong? These are questions Grisham leads the reader to, never fully answering them but instead inspiring thought and meditation. I know I certainly look at the American justice system in a new light after reading this fabulous novel.

 

This was a journey that had me glued to the pages, and I would have read it much faster had life not intervened. I was shocked by how fleshed out the town of Clanton and its inhabitants really are, in the pages of this weighty story; Grisham is one who can tell a tale, and had that talent from the very beginning . . . as is evident here, in his debut novel. I was not sure what I wanted the final decision to be — guilty, not guilty, mistrial — because of all the twists and turns and new revelations that come to light during this volume's 480-ish pages. That's a good thing. The person who begins reading this novel and the person who finishes this novel aren't the same, not completely; this is one with true potential to impact, all these years later. It really stands up.

 

John Grisham is one of America's most popular authors, and I can now see why. I cannot wait to work my way through the rest of his releases, but I don't know if any of them can top this one.

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