Archive for the ‘kidnapping’ Tag

Disappearing People   Leave a comment

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Julia Phillips’ descriptions of the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia as lonely and cold are vivid in her novel Disappearing Earth. The title is fitting given the geographic isolation and the way the people move in, then away from the plot.

Beginning with the abduction of two young girls, the narrative features a range of characters with strong, tenuous or nonexistent ties to the victims. What they share is the locale and an awareness of the missing girls.

The first chapter is called August. Subsequent chapters/months represent the passage of time and introduce another situation involving others. The result is a disconnect more suggestive of a short story collection than a novel since there’s often no resolution for the problems or experiences described. Issues range from a young woman in college with a manipulative boyfriend, to a lost dog, from ethnic traditions to dissolution of friendships or family estrangements. Nonetheless, most chapters are captivating. These are interesting people, and the rich writing of each situation only begs for more. The list of main characters included to keep track of who’s who helps.

The investigation of the missing girls is initially a priority for the police, but eventually loses momentum. By contrast, a young indigenous woman who previously went disappeared was barely acknowledged by authorities.

The novel’s greatest strength lies in the setting; it’s a character unto itself. The weather, the light and the landscape, which includes rocky beaches, densely-wooded forests and looming active volcanos, are austere – like its people.

Disappearing Earth
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2019
256 pages

Under a Swedish Mystery Spell   Leave a comment

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Swedish author Lars Kepler is actually the husband and wife team of Alexandra and Alexander Ahndoril. It’s complicated. Nonetheless, Kepler’s The Hypnotist is a 500-page avalanche of a mystery. It quickly builds momentum from one dark crime to another only slowing its pace in the final pages.

The novel spans two weeks just before Christmas. Readers come to know and appreciate detective Joona Linna’s attention to detail and unwavering confidence in his ability to solve criminal cases. Dr. Eric Maria Bark, his wife, Simone, their son, Benjamin, are the good guys with Joona and a few others.

The short chapters, each identified by day and time, enhance the tempo. The story flows effortlessly from the first crime involving the murder of three family members; the seeming lone survivor is the son found at the scene covered in blood with life-threatening injuries Despite a promise made years earlier in which he vowed to never again use hypnosis on a patient, Eric is convinced it is the only way to help the injured boy.

Meanwhile, Benjamin is kidnapped and Eric must look to his past to find a connection.

Eric and Simone are flawed characters, which only enhances the novel’s appeal. Who wants to read about the perfect couple or family? Benjamin’s serious medical condition heightens the tension the longer he is held captive.

The prospect of reading a 500-page book may be daunting, but once started it’s difficult to put down. The lure of multiple mysteries and their resolutions is thrilling.

The Hypnotist
Four Bookmarks
Picador, 2009
503 pages

Yours and Theirs   Leave a comment

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Before We Were Yours is a heart-wrenching story with its foundation in truth told as a work of fiction.

Lisa Wingate’s tale follows two women during two different time periods; it doesn’t take long to suspect the narratives will eventually intersect. The question is when and how, which is all it takes to make this a difficult book to put down.

Fact: Georgia Tann ran the Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Tann kidnapped and sold children in the name of adoption.

Fiction: The five Foss siblings are removed by force from their family’s Mississippi River boat and taken to the Children’s Home. Their names are changed, and, except for Rill and Fern Foss, the siblings are separated. Rill Foss, who become May Crandall, recounts the past. Avery Stafford a young, professional woman, provides the present day voice after a chance encounter leads her to learn more about her grandmother, Judy Stafford’s, past.

Alternating voices provide vivid images of the abuse endured by the wards of the Tann’s employees with Avery’s quest to answer questions she had never before considered. Set in Tennessee and South Carolina, Wingate’s ear for colloquialisms is true without being demeaning or exaggerated. Her descriptions of the once-happy Foss family and the elite Staffords are engaging.

The only false note,  perhaps because it is too predictable, lies in the relationship Avery establishes with Trent, a handsome young widower. His grandfather knew May and Judy; Avery and Trent want to know why. So does the reader!

Before We Were Yours
Four Bookmarks
Ballantine Books, 2017
342 pages

Befores and Afters   Leave a comment

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In her debut novel, An Untamed State, Roxane Gay serves up a brutal story about cruelty, survival and love. In the process she’s created haunting characters who don’t easily disappear from the mind’s eye — even days after putting down the book.

While vacationing in Haiti to visit her parents, Haitian American Mireille Duval Jamison is kidnapped just outside the gates of their well-heeled estate. Her husband, Michael, and young son are threatened, but it’s Miri the kidnappers want for the ransom she’s likely to bring. What they have no reason to expect is her father’s steadfast and misguided refusal to ante up. Nor can they have any clue regarding Miri’s tenacity to survive.

Gay tells the story in two sections. The first includes the kidnapping and Miri’s past: how her parents came to leave their island home only to return years later having led successful lives in the U.S., as well as how Miri and Michael fell in love. A particularly moving section recounts Miri’s care of her mother-in-law and the evolution of that relationship from tolerance to respect and even friendship. This plays a significant role in the novel’s second section which comes after Miri is released from her 13-day ordeal. There’s no need for a spoiler alert, since the beginning of the story reveals as much.

Gay doesn’t temper her descriptions of Haiti’s poverty or of the brutality inflicted by the captors. Miri’s pain, fatigue and even filth are tangible. So is her despair.

An Untamed State
Four Bookmarks
Black Cat, 2014
367 pages