This is neat. The conceit behind it is a notebook by a girl who wants to be a detective. She and her father focus on history mysteries. She presents the facts and then the theories, finally asks the reader (or in my case the listener), what she thinks. Well done. Enjoyable for an adult but written for children.
Mountain of the Dead scares me silly. Each page adds to the horror as suspicion turns to certainty: author Keith McCloskey did all his research for the book online. Oh, I have no reason to doubt the claim that he actually traveled to Russia, but to what end is a mystery. He was given no special access, for example, to any material not readily available otherwise. He might just as well have stayed home at his computer. Which is exactly what I would encourage his potential readers to do.
I might assign some value to his "research" if he merely saved me the time of tracking down a number of websites with interesting information. What he clearly discovered, however, is that most of the sites in question regurgitated the same facts as all the others. Those facts being in short supply, he had to find another way to fill out his book, and he picked the laziest possible solution: to turn the book into a survey of all the deranged theories surrounding the case.
The case is this. Nine skiers/hikers went into the Russian wilderness, camped on the side of Kholat Syakhl ("Mountain of the Dead" in one translation, the not quite so forbidding "Dead Mountain" in another), and died. The manner and circumstances of their deaths are what give this tale its otherworldly sheen. For reasons unknown, they appear to have exited their tent by knifing through it from the inside, calmly walked about a mile down the mountain -- wearing no shoes and grossly inadequate clothing -- split into two groups, and froze to death. The bodies belonging to one group were otherwise more or less uninjured while the others included significant internal damage and strange injuries such as missing eyes and a missing tongue.
The eyes and tongue tell you where McCloskey is going. One's first thought regarding them must be predation, but that's much too prosaic for this guy: he doesn't even bother to address the issue. He lumps them together with broken ribs and fractured skulls to suggest the fantastic, quickly dismissing the fact that the condition of the bones just might have something to do with where the bodies were found; to wit, at the bottom of a ravine. He dismisses this due to a lack of external injuries to account for them. Which begs the question, how unusual is this really? I, for one, would like to know. McCloskey, however, doesn't want to tell me.
So after the initial description of the events leading up to the tragedy and then its immediate aftermath, the bulk of which can be found on Wikipedia and other easily accessed websites, about all McCloskey has left are those crackpot theories. We get them all: UFOs, paranormal activity, and secret government slash military tests gone awry. He does provide a brief rational explanation: an avalanche followed by "paradoxical undressing," a known condition that causes a freezing victim to actually remove their clothing. But he admits he isn't buying that; he falls into the military testing camp.
Interestingly, in spite of his own preference, he gives the most space to a ludicrous story of a man who once encountered (he says) floating lights that reacted to the human glance. I suppose even McCloskey found this bit of fantasy too much to take so he lets the man tell it in his own words. It reads like a very bad movie treatment as this clown unabashedly embellishes his supposed and rather benign experience with pressure beams and precise details of how the hikers met their various ends. He ends the tale with warnings and advice to us all in case we should ever encounter this deadly phenomenon. To call this or any of the viewpoints expressed in this book "theories" is disingenuous to say the least.
That said, the case itself is certainly bizarre, the more so, of course, because there are so few facts. With what is known to date, I can't even begin to figure it out. I can understand the hikers cutting their way out of their tent if it was covered by a small avalanche, but I cannot fathom them then abandoning it along with all their supplies. I suppose if they were fearful of more snow coming down the mountain, they may have instinctively turned tail, but then why the seemingly orderly march down the slope? It truly makes no sense.
So, yeah, the case is a real campfire story. The book, on the other hand, is merely fuel for the blaze.
The start of summer officially begins June 21st, and with it come the flip flops, beach bags, and of course, summer reads.
So to ensure you don’t get caught grabbing the first thing you see at the airport gift shop, below is a list of highly anticipated, and highly reviewed, beach books to get you through the summer. Whether you’re a fan of YA, fantasy, or biographies, this list has something for everyone.
1. To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han (YA): If you like your YA straight-up, no retellings, no vampires, check out To All the Boys I've Loved Before. I know every woman out there has written an un-mailed letter to her ex-boyfriend; it’s probably still sitting in a drawer somewhere. Now, imagine that letter, or say dozen of ex-boyfriend letters, were mailed to the intended recipients without your consent. Yeah, that would suck.
2. Great by Sara Benincasa (YA, classic retelling): The idea of actual adults reading young adult novels has received a lot of buzz in the media recently. As a YA author and a diverse reader in general, I say read and let read. If you want to fly through a YA novel on the plane, do it. And this retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a “great” book to try. (See what I did there?) Written by a well-known comedian, this teen romance takes place in the present day Hamptons with the female party-throwing “Jacinta” taking the place of Jay Gatsby.
3. Half a King (Shattered Sea Series) by Joe Abercrombie (Fantasy): Now, I’m not a fantasy reader myself, but I respect that there are millions of readers who are, and this new release from Abercrombie (no relation to the shirtless catalog brand, I checked) has a blurb from Game of Thrones Author George R. R. Martin. “A fast-paced tale of betrayal and revenge that grabbed me from page 1 and refused to let go.” As far as blurbs goes, in the fantasy genre, I’d say this would have been the holy grail of the moment. Worth a read, just for that.
4. Hard Choices, A Memoir by Hillary Rodham Clinton (Biography): Feeling political? Can’t seem to escape all the Hillary clips on Diane Sawyer, CNN, and Access Hollywood? Well, why not give in and read the latest book that Clinton’s touring. If you’ve got a bucket list item to read a biography by every American President, then this might put you ahead of the game if she decides to run in 2016.
5. Saints of New York by R.J. Ellory (Mystery): Yes, it’s another crime novel set in New York City, but the tone of this novel, which follows homicide detective Frank Parrish, is almost reminiscent of the movie Seven. It’s bleak, realistic, and perfect for a reader who wants to escape from the sunshine of vacation with the darkness of NYC murder investigations.
6. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker (True Crime): If fictional crime isn’t enough for you, try the true crime stories of five Craiglist prostitutes murdered in Long Island in 2010. While not a light and fluffy read, this chillingly accurate account by an award-winning investigative journalist will have you so busy turning pages you won’t even notice the seagulls trying to steal your bagel.
7. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica (Thriller): Not to be confused with the rather excellent film of the same name starring Jennifer Aniston, this generically titled book is actually incredibly thrilling. If you like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, you’ll like The Good Girl. A young, wealthy, beautiful woman decides to teach art in inner-city Chicago, then follows the wrong man home from a bar one night. Only instead of delivering her to his superiors, her kidnapper has other plans.
8. Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok (Multicultural Fiction): From the bestselling author ofGirl in Translation, this book features a 22-year-old ABC (America-born Chinese) who stumbles upon the world of ballroom dance and becomes increasingly distant from her family’s strict Eastern ways. That is until an illness in the family forces her to really analyze the teachings of both her cultures.
9. The Hidden Child by Camilla Lackberg (International Crime): Written by a celebrated Swedish author, and already released as a film in Sweden in 2013, this international thriller is just now hitting the U.S. When a Nazi medal is uncovered among her late mother’s belongings, Erika sets out to learn who her mother really was and inadvertently puts her entire family in danger. Hey, if you like foreign films, you could even rent the movie.
10. All Fall Down: A Novel by Jennifer Weiner (Women’s Fiction): A Philly native, so I had to include the queen of summer fiction, Weiner’s latest novel features a mom who’s slipping into the grips of prescription pill addiction. While a somewhat dark and maybe too realistic theme for some, Weiner’s trademark writing style is so full of wit, it’s sure to be an excellent pick for your next trip down the shore.
Diana Rodriguez Wallach is the author of three young adult novels, Amor and Summer Secrets, Amigas and School Scandals, and Adios to All The Drama (Kensington Books). In Fall 2013, she will publish Mirror, Mirror, a short-story trilogy based on the Narcissus myth (Buzz Books). She hold a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University, and currently lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Follow Diana online: www.dianarodriguezwallach.com, @dianarwallach, or http://dianarwallach.tumblr.com.
One night in an affluent Long Island beach community, a young woman hammers on doors screaming for help. The residents, for the most part, ignore her. One or two, try to help, call 911. Hysterical, incoherent, she too calls the police, claiming someone is trying to kill her. The police take 45 minutes to arrive. When they do, Shannan Gilbert has disappeared.
Her remains are discovered a year later, in 2010, in marsh land behind the houses. By then, four other bodies of young women have already been found. All of the girls were Craigslist escorts. All of them had been reported missing. Up to that point, the police had taken little or no interest in any of the disappearances.
What became clear at that point were two things: that a serial killer had been murdering young women and dumping the bodies in this remote part of Long Island. And also that because the victims were escorts (which in the official mind translated into the word 'prostitute') from an official point of view, they were lost long before their dead bodies were found.
Robert Kolker's mission in this book, isn't to tell a true crime story - these deaths appear to be nowhere near being solved - but to investigate a social phenomenon which is simultaneously very old and, thanks to the internet, very, very modern. Kolker himself admits in an interview, that when he discussed the deaths with his editor (he writes for the NYT) his reaction on hearing the dead girls worked as escorts was that no one much would care about their deaths - that they had been 'lost' to their families years before. But the case sparked his interest. He began to do a little digging. And what eventually fuelled him to write The Lost Girls was the massive divide between that initial impression and the truth.
The result is a book which makes people of those lost girls. All of them had stories. All of them left behind families who grieve for them every day. Kolker details how each young woman gravitated towards escorting as a way to make a living. He shows how the anonymity of the internet has liberated the sex industry from most traditional forms of control. He sets out a scenario where a serial killer can kill almost with impunity, partly because buying sexual services has never been easier, or safer for the clients and partly because of our age-old contempt and indifference for women who choose this way to make some money.
This is a sad book. But it's also a necessary book. I read it at a sitting, transfixed not by the details of the investigation, because that isn't the focus, but on the lives of the women themselves and also of the impact of the tragedy on their families. It isn't the best written book in the world, but that isn't the point. Kolker's aim was to find the stories behind those lost girls and in that he succeeded.