Monday, January 16, 2012

100 Book Challenge - Weeks 14 &15

I was told off for giving away too many spoilers in my reviews, so here is a new format to try to avoid that.

Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Murder Mystery

Blurb: After the sad suicide of Rosemary Barton, life went on. Her sister, Iris, got used to her absence. Her husband mourned her, but began to pick up his life again. Suicide is difficult to recover from, but it appeared that recovery was in sight for the family. That is, it was until some mysterious notes make a terrible accusation: Rosemary Barton, they claimed, was murdered. Murder, not suicide.
With that suspicion, everything changes.

Review: I’ve always been a great admirer of Agatha Christie, and this book is one more intelligent offering. However, I was rather surprised to discover that she did not only write the “Miss Marple” and “Hercule Poirot” mysteries. Neither of them featured in this novel at all.

In the beginning I found the book a little disjointed, but maybe that was just me. It settled very quickly into a terrific flow and a clipping pace. With five possible murderers, I was kept guessing right up to the very end, and the actual HOWdunnit was really very clever.

While dated to the time of her writing, making the speech and activities a little quaint, this could have happened in this town today. The plot is plausible, the characters believable, and the motives as timeless as history. Christie shows a deep understanding of human foibles, particularly those darker traits.

I’m interested to know if the “detectives” in this case show up in any other novels, particularly Colonel Race. However, whether he does or not, I remain a firm Christie fan.

Book Review #29: Dead Man Walking
Author: Sister Helen Prejean
Genre: Non-fiction

Blurb: In 1982, Sister Helen Prejean became the spiritual advisor to Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers who was sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana's Angola State Prison. In the months before Sonnier's death, the Roman Catholic nun came to know a man who was as terrified as he had once been terrifying. At the same time, she came to know the families of the victims and the men whose job it was to execute him--men who often harbored doubts about the rightness of what they were doing.
Out of that dreadful intimacy comes a profoundly moving spiritual journey through our system of capital punishment. Confronting both the plight of the condemned and the rage of the bereaved, the needs of a crime-ridden society and the Christian imperative of love, Dead Man Walking is an unprecedented look at the human consequences of the death penalty, a book that is both enlightening and devastating.

Review: I have always supported the death penalty for serious crimes. I’ve always believed it was better for society to remove some folks from that society, for the good of the whole. Remove the rotten apple before it corrupts the whole barrel, type of thought. I thought that capital punishment was the best option, cheaper than life incarceration. In actuality, it costs five times more to execute a man than to lock him up for the rest of his days. That money could be redirected into reducing crime by hiring more policemen or countering poverty.

This book made me think deeply and question my standpoint on capital punishment.

I liked that Prejean gives all sides of the story: the victim, the victim’s family, the accused and his family, the government officials who make the decision divorced from the proceedings, and the government employees who personally enact that decision, looking into the eyes of the condemned man.

It has deep questions. Is the State justified in deciding who lives and who dies? Is murder the right consequence for murder? As Prejean says: killing a man who cannot defend himself is murder, no matter how you justify it.

The levels of corruption and ineptitude in death cases was also a surprise, and yet not really surprising. My heart aches for those who have been unjustly condemned to die.

So did I change my stance? Not exactly. I will have to work through this book for a few days, digest the information and formulate a decision, perhaps investigate a little more. In one way, I agree with one of the executed convicts in the book; those who are truly evil, such as a child molester and murderer for example, should not live. Perhaps the death penalty should be more difficult to impose, have greater restrictions, but still be an option for truly heinous crimes?

The question then, however, is how is a crime judged “heinous”. Does the mother of a girl who has been raped and stabbed and left to bleed to death consider her daughter’s death more heinous than the mother of a child shot in a drug war? At first glance, yes. But what if I told you the child had witnessed another murder and had been living in fear of being “offed” as a result? Would the mental torture that child endured make it more heinous? What if the child didn’t die instantly, but bled to death, crying and afraid in his mother’s arms?

It seems to be roiling pot of controversy that cannot be easily answered. The question, ultimately, as far as I can tell from this book, is: does one act of violence justify another?

And what will you do about it when you work out an answer?

Book Review #30: The Quick Red Fox
Author: John D MacDonald
Genre: PI/Detective

Blurb: Travis McGee is looking for blackmailers for a superstar actress. With her personal secretary at his side, McGee is combing the country for suspects who attended a sex party with the sex symbol that produced pictures of all the participants. Trouble is, all of the other suspects show up in hospitals or dead.

Review: You know how some people use the endearments “dear” or “sweetie” to everyone, even complete strangers? Well, it drives me nuts. And MacDonald uses it all the time! Not just for one character, but all the time; with different characters and even as part of the narrative.

He also went off on tangents and totally lost me a couple of times. I was .. er.. what? Did I miss something? Have you SEEN the size of those ants? Ok, if you’re confused now, you get what I experienced.

The storyline wasn’t bad, but I found it more work than I like to read. I read for relaxation. If I wanted to work, I’d get an economics textbook. Unfortunately I won’t be looking out for any other Travis McGee stories. :(

And yes, I noticed he's very popular on Amazon. So? I'm not allowed to have an opinion now?

Book Review #31: Rage
Author: Richard Bachman aka Stephen King
Genre: Psycho-Thriller

Blurb: His twisted mind turned a quiet classroom into a dangerous world of terror.

Review: I’d never heard of Richard Bachman before. I’ve read a lot of Stephen King, but that was a long time ago. So I was lucky enough to read this book without any expectations, and I’m glad of it.

The book is a psychological thriller, and there is quite a bit of social examination throughout it. A lot of Bachman/King’s viewpoints are luridly true, the sorts of truths we all know but nobody talks about. Brave or foolish? Probably both, but it’s not likely to change the world much, so we don’t need to worry about it. J

Oddly enough, the book was not depressing, although you’d think it could be. It is dark, though, and the ending reminded me a little of Lord of the Flies.

I enjoyed this intelligent psycho-thriller. I’ve managed to find another Bachman book, and I look forward to reading it.

P.S. Do yourself a favor and borrow this book from the library. Stephen King has taken it off the market, apparently, and it is now a collector's item. Unless you WANT a collector's item, in which case, hope you've got a lot of moola!

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