Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mystery/Thriller Summer Book Discussions

At least half mystery novels violate the law
that the solution, once revealed, must seem to be inevitable.
Raymond Chandler

The thriller is the most popular literary genre
of the 20th century.
Ken Follett

This summer we did some book discussions. I have been asked over the years to do summer book discussions, and this year I finally said okay, let's give it a go. We met every other Tuesday at 4pm, a group ranging from two to fifteen folks got together to discuss two of my favorite genres....mysteries and/or thrillers.  I thought it would be fun to read an author's first book, or the first book in a series of books. (And of course, some books that I had already read.)

We kicked it off the end of June with Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon. This is the first book of a fabulous series set in Venice. Inspector Guido Brunetti, the vice-commissario of police, has to solve the case of who killed the Maestro? Seems there are several suspects. In the end, it will come down to what is the right thing to do? We loved the setting of Venice,  the interaction between Brunetti with his family and his fellow police people. Leon gives you feeling you are there with the characters, and there in Venice. Leon's description of Venice made us all want to go. (We also loved the food described in the book.)  We could sense that Brunetti was going to be an even more interesting character as the series progresses. The best part of this discussion for me? That the folks there said they enjoyed this series so much they were going to continue on with it.

Next up was The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva. (I know, your surprised I have a Silva book included) This was Mr. Silva's first book and the one that got me hooked on his books. Set in England during WWII, the book is fiction, but it is based on real events. How does British Intelligence (MI5) confuse Nazi Germany about their D-Day plans when it seems they know about them? They also thought they had captured all the German Abwehr agents in England, but there seems to be some sleeper agents ready to be activated in England. One of those agents is determined to get the information to Germany no matter the body count.
We talked about Churchill and how he used people to achieve the safety of England: his friendship with history professor Alfred Vicary to convince him to work for MI5,  match his wits with the Nazis and hopefully keep MI5 one step ahead of them: U.S. Navel Officer Peter Jordan, because of his poor judge of character, ends up being blackmailed and used to spy. We enjoyed the twists and turns in the book. It was a page turner...many said they finished it in two days because they had to know how it ended. Big question for the group? Just WHO was the Unlikely Spy? We all had different answers and every time a different character was mentioned by someone, we would all think about it and realize.....
One of our members, who rarely reads this genre, liked it and had her other book club read this book too~~she told me they raved about it.
For those who were new to Mr. Silva, he now has several new fans.

Dennis LeHane has one of my favorite duos in a mystery series, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. Set in Dorchester, Mass, we get to meet these two private detectives in A Drink Before the War~~the kickoff to this terrific series. Great discussion on how an investigation into a missing cleaning woman led to involvement with prostitution, blackmail, gang-warfare, corruption and murder. We chatted about Kenzie and Gennaro, their cast of friends, how some of the things the two uncovered affected some of us and LeHane's writing style. For me, Le Hane reminds me of the noir style of writing:  hard-boiled, cynical, snarky characters surrounded by smokey shades of grey. (Think Raymond Chandler) One great comment by one of our group was "This doesn't happen in real life!"  This led to another great discussion on what is real life and what isn't.
If you watched the move, Gone, Baby, Gone, you have met Kenzie and Gennaro. This movie was based on book four of the series.

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. As you can guess, this one was the hit of the summer book discussions. Over fifteen people showed up. The discussion was about how popular the trilogy has become. Set in Sweden, we meet Mikael Blomkvist. He has just finished being the defendent in a high profile trail...where he was found guilty. When he is offered the job of finding Harriert Vanger, who disappeared forty years ago, well, he has nothing else to do...We agreed that while the names took some getting used to, the style of Larsson writing was intelligent and some said it was the best book they had read in the last five years. The character who was the groups favorite was without a doubt was Lisbeth Salander, who Blomkvist hires to help him on the case. Salander is brilliant, a computer genius,  antisocial and has a lot of emotional baggage. We loved her. Mikael Blomkvist was a good secondary--not that that was Larsson's intent. Blomkvist, never realizing what Salander felt for him, made some of us want to shake him and say "wake up!" The book has many twists and underlining plots, family secrets and discovering what did happen to Harriet Vanger~~all made for a great discussion. I had warned some readers that they needed to get past the first 100 pages before the book took off. I assured them that the payoff would make it all worth while.  I promised we would do book two in the late fall and book three in the late winter...if I can get the copies.

Scott Turow is probably one of my favorite legal thriller writers. Years ago, I read Presumed Innocent and enjoyed it...full of political corruption, betrayal, courtroom drama and of course, murder, what was there not to like? I thought since Turow had come out with a sequel to it, Innocent, (twenty years later) if would be fun to reread it and then catch up with the characters in the sequel. The group were surprised with how they got hooked right away. We talked about the insight he gave into the justice system and how using the present tenth made us feel we were right there watching what was going on. One group member said they felt like yelling "look out!" during one section of the book. The best part? We all agreed that we were shocked and surprised by the ending. (Well, not me because I had read it before.)  Seemed nobody expected the ending to be what it was at all while reading the book, and when they found out  who the murderer was, they were shocked. 
I will say that the movie based on the book, starring Harrison Ford, is terrific too.

We finished up the summer book discussion with Nemesis by Jo Nesbo. This was another great series many in the group became hooked on. Who robbed a bank, shot the cashierand just disappeared into thin air? Outside of trying to remember the characters and keeping the names straight, it was a great read. Norwegian Detective Harry Hole takes us on a whirlwind of a  ride from Norway to Brazil, as he tries to find the killer....and prove himself innocent in the mysterious death of someone he knew. There were multi-layered plots that did end up connecting toward the end. The big part of the discussion was the comparison between this book and the Larsson book. Several felt this book was better then Larssons and look forward to continuing to solve murders with Harry Hole.
Unfortunately this was book three in the series. The first two books were being translated into English and there weren't sufficient copies for me to get for the group. Nobody thought they had missed anything from not having read the first two.
**When Nesbo isn't busy writing books, he plays in the Norweigian rock band, Di Derre.

One question about the two European authors, Larsson and Nesbo, was the concern that anything was lost in translating the books from Swedish and Norwegian to English? From everything I read about both of them, the answer seems to be no. The translators seem to have done a superb job of translating both books.

We had some great discussions with these books. In fact, we had such a great time, many in the group requested we continue the mystery/thriller book discussions...and we will.
If you are looking for a new series, check some of these out. Want to read a popular author's first book, here you go with some good ones. Any one of them I would highly recommend. 

Up next will be The Poet by Michael Connelly on October 19th at 4pm.This was Connelly's first book and it was one that you couldn't put down....

No comments: