Book review: Thursday Night Widows, by Claudia Pineiro

Widows Thursday Night Widows


Claudia Pineiro, translated by Miranda France


 Thursday Night Widows is a remarkable novel.  Without taking any editorial or judgemental line on the characters it describes, it relates the story of some wealthy Argentinian families who live in an exclusive gated community, or Country Club, outside Buenos Aries. The estate is a desirable destination for well-off people when they feel restricted by their apartments in the city, when they want to start a family, and enjoy the fruits of their considerable wealth.


The story is told from the perspectives of many of the female residents, most often Virginia, a wife whose husband Ronie has lost his job and shows no inclination to find another one. Hence Virginia has turned her hobby of tipping off acquaintances when a property is about to come onto the market into a profession. As an estate agent, she is first to know whose marriage is in trouble or who is on the brink of financial disaster, and also acts as a gatekeeper to keep out unsuitable potential residents (the racism is very ugly).


The wives in this novel do not work in the sense of having a regular job. They all have maids who take their children to the nearby exclusive school which teaches its lessons in English. They have servants, gardeners, drivers and nannies, whom they treat with casual nastiness. One of the wives is an alcoholic; another becomes a kind of “landscape architect”, a role that mainly consists of telling the neighbours what sort of (expensive) plants they should buy; and another is a depressive who joins a local artists’ group. All of them are united by the tennis and golf club, by the social mores of their neighbours, and by “the Association” that makes everyone keep to the (increasingly ludicrous) rules of the Country Club by the threat of either social ostracism or a hefty fine.


Inevitably there are some shoots of resistance in this utopia, mainly from the younger generation.  Juani, Virginia and Ronie’s adolescent son, persistently gets into trouble with his school for his honesty and lack of hypocrisy. Romana, his friend, is an unwanted adoptee, and she also tries to live according to her own principles. Her story and character are perhaps the most attractive, and sad, in the book. There is also a lovely section in which one of the wives, now a divorcee, is reunited with a former maid sacked by her husband.


Thursday Night Wives is written with deceptive lightness, creating a closed world in which I was fascinated, as it is so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. Because the author refuses to judge any of her characters, however unsympathetic, the reader is almost unaware of the grossly distorted morality of these ludicrously pampered  women, with their wasted, empty lives bought at the expense of other people. The men are somewhat more detached as characters, but for them, too, appearance is all – the master of the tennis court or golf club is the highest of the social stratum, and it is taken for granted that they all earn vast quantities of money that their wives can spend at will.


It is the cracking of this front that forms the “crime” in this novel. Although there is no way out of the chains that many of these compromised people have made for themselves, at the end of the book a few of the characters have the choice of returning to reality – a choice that I hope they will take.


This novel is a hilarious yet telling social satire, extremely readable and well translated by Miranda France.  Although only just published in English, it was written in 2005, when the Argentine currency inflation  was out of control and the characters are terrified by the potential effects of the 9/11 atrocity. Not only is the book a fascinating harbinger of the financial crisis that hit so many other parts of the world a few years later, but also, according to the publisher’s blurb, it “eerily foreshadowed a criminal case that generated a scandal in the Argentine media.” Do yourself a favour, and read it.


Reviews of Thursday Night Widows at:


Spider Euro Crime – Karen Meek (thanks, Karen, for the book!)


Crime Scraps – Norman Price


International Noir Fiction – Glenn Harper


Publisher’s website (Bitter Lemon Press)


Fresh Fiction


New Internationalist

About the film adaptation, including trailer.

Online social networks: 1, getting it wrong

Flowers In the light of the new service Google Buzz and the announcement a couple of days ago that Google has acquired Aardvark, I thought I'd attempt to write a couple of posts about getting it wrong and getting it right about online social networks. I'm starting today with "getting it wrong". I'm not going to link to Google Buzz and Aardvark, but you can easily find them via a web search.

Google Buzz is automatically part of gmail (googlemail), so if you use that you will see a GoogleBuzz icon in the list of "inbox", "compose message", etc. This means you are "opted in" to a network of anyone else in your contacts list who has a gmail account. Via a pop-up window in  
the middle of your screen you can see what these people are doing on the internet and they can see what you are doing. I've immediately deactivated it because most of these people in my contact list are unknown to me, my dealings with them being limited to things like ordering goods from them or having them comment on my blog. At least I am not like the person who wrote a long rant because unknown to her, Google Buzz had put her ex-husband and her (secret) new boyfriend in direct contact, but you get the picture of what can go wrong with this "automatically opted in" method. Google, this is called "doing it wrong".

Aardvark is a good idea in principle – a semi-automatic question and answer service. I joined it because I received a recommendation from a colleague (now an ex-colleague!) who had told Aardvark three key areas of expertise that I have (in his opinion). I accepted Aardvark's invitation to join. The idea is that people who want to know the answer to a question ask Aardvark. If the question relates to your area of expertise (all users provide three), Aardvark passes the question on to you via a little pop-up window. You answer it. I have to admit that one reason I joined is that I was looking for an Italian tutor and could not find one, so I asked Aardvark but never got a coherent answer. But, I myself began to be bombarded by all kinds of questions on topics I know nothing, or very little, about. On the odd occasion when I received a question on one of my specialities, I found myself embroiled in silly responses about, eg, the relationship between science and religion, from questioners who simply would not go away and whom Aardvark could not or would not block. Pretty soon, I unsubscribed -not easy to do, and I still get auto-email messages from the organisation even though I attempted to remove myself completely from their database.

I assume that by its acquisition of Aardvark, Google will be integrating it into its Buzz feature, leading to a life of hell as one is constantly interrupted by lunatic questions and arguments from people who don't like one's answers. I hope I shan't have to find out anything about it, as I have no interest in signing up to it in its new incarnation, but I hope that the filtering functions are improved so that users receive relevant questions, and I hope that there is some system for blocking/reporting inappropriate and abusive questioners.

The key issue is that if a company wants to introduce a social network onto an existing service, the users should be invited to join it, not automatically signed up to it, and the users should be able to control how they use it. The Internet is full of rubbish and distractions, and the art of making it useful is to filter it. Anything that introduces a lot of unwanted information into one's screen is just not only annoying, but positively harmful to the delicate balance between being enlightened and being swamped.

The next time I write on this topic, I'll write about social networks that "get it right".

[The image is not relevant for the post but it is nice and calm.]

Progress on reading novels eligible for the International Dagger

Cwalogo I am inevitably doomed to failure in my task to read the books eligible for this year's International Dagger award in time for the announcement of the short list at this year's Crime Fest. However, here is an update on how I am doing.

In my previous summary post on this topic, written on 1 December last year, I reported that I had read nine of the 61 eligible titles (eligible according to the Euro Crime database). My reviews of eight of those novels have been published (links are in the previous post) and a ninth is in press.

Of the remainder, I thought at the time of that post that this set of books looked like ones I might enjoy reading next:

Tonino Benacquista – Badfellas (France)
Leif Davidsen – The Woman from Bratislava (Denmark)
Anne Holt – Death in Oslo (Norway)
Tove Jansson – The True Deceiver (Norway)
Camilla Lackberg – The Stone Cutter (Sweden)
Henning Mankell The Man from Beijing (Sweden)
Deon Meyer – Thirteen Hours (South Africa)
Jo Nesbo – The Snowman (Norway)

I can report that I've now read three of these: Death in Oslo (review linked above); The Snowman (review submitted to Euro Crime) and The Woman from Bratislava (I have just finished that one today, it's a long book. I'll be drafting my review later and will also submit that to Euro Crime.)

I have acquired, thanks to the kindness of Karen and the publishers, The Stone Cutter and Thirteen Hours, so I think I shall be reading them next. I also have copies of some other eligible titles that are not on my second-wave list: Claudia Pineiro – Thursday Night Widows, Frank Schatzing – Death and the Devil, and Eugenio Fuentes – At Close Quarters, so they will be assigned higher priority than hitherto. The Man from Beijing and Badfellas are now published, so I can get hold of those. I wonder if I can get even that far before Crime Fest and the shortlist announcement?

And of the titles I've read, which is my front-runner? So hard to say, as the standard is extremely high. So far, in my mind, it's between The Snowman by Jo Nesbo and The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin, but I expect that will change. (Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason is my favourite from the titles I've read so far for personal reasons, but these Nesbo and Theorin titles are, objectively, better crime novels as they have a broader canvas.)

Previous winners of the International Dagger, at the CWA website.

New books for May: in heaven, hell or inbetween

I cannot reproduce it here because of copyright, but I think that today's Dilbert strip sums up our present age in a perfect nutshell. "I think I died, am I in heaven or hell?" asks a man in a white gown to another man sitting at a desk. The reply: "You're in helven; heaven and hell have been outsourcing souls to us since the demons and angels unionised". (Rather than "unionised" I'd have written "merged after a company takeover".)
There is a punchline window also, but don't think it necessary. (Punchline: "So is this place good or bad?" "Well, you get a harp but you won't like how we give it to you.")

Moving on, to last week's (5 Feb) Bookseller, in which new books being published in the UK in May are highlighted in the preview section. Just picking a few of the very many of these, I'm looking forward to: Innocent, by Scott Turow, the prequel to his brilliantly nailbiting 1987 debut bestseller Presumed Innocent; Shadowplay, by Karen Campbell, third Glasgow-set Anna Cameron novel; The Liar's Lullaby, by Meg Gardiner, sequel to The Dirty Secrets Club and featuring Jo Beckett again; Hailey's War by Jodi Compton, if this is the same Jodi Compton who wrote two good novels a few years ago and with whom I have lost touch since; and Afterlight, by Alex Scarrow, sequel to Last Light (yet to be read but I am looking forward to it after a recommendation from Material Witness).

Other new May novels that look interesting are some debuts: Death in the Latin Quarter by Raphael Cardetti, set in Paris, about the restoration of a medieval palimpsest; The Whisperer by Donato Carristi, a bit of a grim-sounding plot about severed arms being found in a forest, but apparently a very popular book in its native Italy; and Down Among the Dead Men by Robert Gregory Browne, about a disgraced newspaper reporter trying to find the truth behind the killing of some nuns in the Mexican desert.

There are also some best-selling authors who have new novels coming out in May: Lynda La Plante has written a third in her Anna Travis series called Blind Fury; P J Tracy's latest is Play to Kill, in which Grace MacBride is recruited by the FBI to find a serial killer on the internet; Silent Scream by Karen Rose, an author who is becoming increasingly popular in the UK; Private by "James Patterson", start of a new series (!) featuring Jack Morgan, former war hero, now head of a global private detective agency; and A Better Quality of Murder by Ann Grainger, a third Victorian crime novel starring Inspector Ben Ross of Scotland Yard and his wife Lizzie.

(Apologies for the lack of links in this post, due to a sore hand which means I can type only for a limited time.)

Speaking up for Oxfam and for those who seek to do good

I don't like to post negative opinions here, but I have got pretty cross at Susan Hill's latest broadside, against Oxfam bookshops, in her Spectator blog. Some of the comments to her post are, in my view, quite ugly. (There are some more enlightened points of view at the Bookseller's website, including some comments by me.)

Susan Hill does not like Oxfam bookshops because she says they are putting good independent and antiquarian booksellers out of business. She likens them to Ottakar's, a bookshop chain which, according to her, checked out small towns for the presence of a thriving independent bookshop, and then opened up nearby, putting said bookshop out of business. She does not bother to reconcile this accusation with the fact that Ottakar's itself went out of business.

Further, she does not like Oxfam bookshops because she says that they are unfairly competing with local charity shops, such as hospice shops. This is certainly not the case where I live, where the local hospice charity shop does a roaring trade despite an Oxfam bookshop, an Oxfam "normal" charity shop, a Fara (Romanian orphans) shop and a cancer charity shop all in walking distance. 

Ms Hill is very rude about Oxfam, damning the whole organisation on the basis of a couple of anecdotes on the level of one of its staff having a four-wheel drive in a poor country. She is also incensed at the organisation's stance in global warming, a fact in which Ms Hill does not believe on the basis of flawed arguments by the likes of Nigel Lawson. I refer both of them, and anyone else, to the facts and evidence about climate.

As is probably evident, I disagree almost totally with Susan Hill's diatribe. Oxfam is doing basically good work, raising money to help those less well off than me, Ms Hill, and most other people lucky enough to be born in affluent countries. If Oxfam can raise money for a good cause by selling second-hand books, good luck to it.

There are problems in the bookselling trade and challenges to the book publishing industry. But don't blame Oxfam for them. And I see no reason to believe that Oxfam is putting other charity shops out of business, either. They are all trying to do good, and I admire them all for it. We should be applauding them, not lambasting them.

Game, sets and matching titles

Books
 
Feeling in a bit of a silly mood, I thought I would share some of the titles of the many books that are sitting on my shelves waiting to be read. They seem to fall into sets. Here's one:

The Last Ten Seconds (Simon Kernick)
Six Seconds (Rick Mofina)
Thirteen Hours (Deon Meyer)
Thursday Night Widows (Claudia Pineiro)

Another set:

The Black Monastery (Stav Sherez)
The Dark Vineyard (Martin Walker)
Last Light (Alex Scarrow)
Black Out (John Lawton)
This Night's Foul Work (Fred Vargas)
Blacklands (Belinda Bauer)
Dark of the Moon (John Sandford)
Dying Light (Stuart McBride)
[Light Reading (Aliya Whiteley) – does not really fit here]

Another:

The Eye of Jade (Diane Wei Liang)
Tomato Red (Daniel Woodrell)
White Corridor (Christopher Fowler)
Steel Witches (Patrick Lennon)
Sunstroke (Jesse Kellerman)
A Trace of Smoke (Rebecca Cantrell)

Another:

Where the Dead Lay (David Levien)
Die a Little (Megan Abbott)
Death in Breslau (M Krajewski)
Death and the Devil (Frank Shatzing)
Dead at Daybreak (Deon Meyer)
Dying in Style  (Elaine Veits)
Deadly Deception (Peter Conway)
Dead Calm (Charles Williams)
Handling the Undead (John Ajvide Lindqvist)
Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (M C Beaton)

Another:

The Crossing Places (Elly Griffiths)
Roadside Crosses (Jeffrey Deaver)
Cross (Ken Bruen)

Another:
The Sins of the Children  (James Brownley)
The Children of Men (P D James)
Child 44 (Tom Rob Smith)
Brother & Sister (Joanna Trollope)
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive (Alexander McCall Smith)
The Water Widow (Ella Griffiths)

And:
Judas Heart (Ingrid Black)
Pieces of my Heart (Peter Robinson)
Heart of the Hunter (Deon Meyer)
Skin and Bone (Kathryn Fox)
The Wings of the Sphinx (Andrea Camilleri)

Stop press: Thanks to Dorte, I can now create another category:
Snow Angels (James Thompson) (thanks Dorte!)
Winterland (Alan Glynn)
[Unusual to have so few snowy wintery books at the moment, as they seem to make up much of my reading! I have just finished reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbo, so that missed the cut. With a different twist, I could add A Quiet Belief in Angels by James Ellory to Dorte's generous gift, instead of pursuing a weather/seasonal theme.]

I also have many books that I feel ought to be part of categories, but I only have one title at the moment, for example: numbers (The Tenth Case by Joseph Teller); disappearances (The Missing by Jane Casey); and waking up (Awakening by S J Bolton and The Rising by Brian McGilloway (joke – I don't know anything about The Rising, yet, but I doubt it is related to sleeping) ). I also have the odd ghost, journey, object (stone, jewel), dream/nightmare, animal, and wood/forest.

It's enough to make you pleased when you have books on your shelf with titles like "I was Dora Suarez" or "The Curse of the Pogo Stick" (awaiting my perusal, together with many others not mentioned here).

How well can you do at creating categories out of your "to be read" books? No cheating, the titles have to be books physically on your shelf or in your e-reader/audio device that you haven't yet read, and not books that you haven't yet obtained or books that you have already read. I look forward to seeing if anyone can get a greater set-tally than me!

[Many of the books mentioned here are from publishers, either via Karen of Euro Crime, or directly sent to me. More than several, however, I have purchased myself, some of them a very long time ago!]

Alphabet in crime fiction: Quigley

Q The crime fiction alphabet has rolled round to "Q", and as I am working through authors' surnames, I have to confess I am stuck. The only author whose name begins with Q and whom I can recall reading is Sheila Quigley. I have read one of her books, Run for Home, in the days when I was in a book club and this debut was the recommendation one month. I can't remember all that much about it, except that it is a bit like a Martina Cole/Lynda La Plante cross, set in the north of England, written in dialect, and involving abducted children, not my favourite topic. Here's the blurb from the author's website:

In 1985: a man runs for his life – exhausted, wounded, hunted remorselessly by a woman assassin known only as The Head Hunter. At the end, he has just enough energy to spit in her face.
In 2001:sixteen-year-old Kerry Lumsdon runs across the same terrain. She runs to win and she runs to forget.
Run When a headless body is found in the wastelands of the Seahills Estate, Detective Inspector Lorraine Hunt is called in to investigate. Kerry and Lorraine, different ages and from different worlds, come together when Claire Lumsdon, Kerry's sister, is violently kidnapped – the fourth in a series of abductions of young girls.
Headstrong, wilful and convinced the police can't help, Kerry sets out on a frantic search of her own. But her hunt takes her to a world she never knew existed: a violent underworld; a sixteen year old murder; and, finally, to secrets about her own past which her mother hoped she'd never have to face.
And all the time, the clock is ticking for Claire.

Sheila Quigley has written four novels since then, Bad Moon Rising (review by Sharon Wheeler at Reviewing the Evidence); Living on a Prayer (review at Euro Crime by Pat Austen); Every Breath You Take (review at Euro Crime by Michelle Peckham); and most recently, The Road To Hell (book description at the author's website, including a link to a trailer on YouTube). All five novels are set in the Seahills Estate, a fictitious estate in Houghton-le-Spring, north-east England and feature DI Lorraine Hunt. There's a map of the estate at the author's website.

Sheila Quigley was a grandmother of eight, living in a council house in the north east of England, when she signed a £300,000 two-book deal with Random House. Now published by Tonto Books, I will leave the last word with author Tess Gerritsen: "Sheila Quigley is queen of the rough and tumble thriller. With her strong heroines and gritty plots, she draws us into a shadowy world where only the strong survive..".

Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Mysteries in Paradise, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate.

 

Some news about books in May – via the Bookseller

Books As usual I am somewhat behind in reading the Bookseller, but the 29 January issue has lots in it. Here's some of it, filtered.

Among many titles to look forward to that are coming out in paperback in the UK in May are An Empty Death, Laura Wilson's follow-up to the excellent WW2-set Stratton's War; Ice Cold by Andrea Maria Schenkel, translated by the recently honoured Anthea Bell and, indeed, a book that very much lives up to its title; Daniel (brother of Johnny) Depp's Loser's Town, first in a series about a "former stuntman and laid back PI"; Trail of Blood by S J Rozan, the UK launch of the first in this series (called The Shanghai Moon in the USA) billed as a "Sue Grafton/Harlan Coben cross"; The Black Monastery by Stav Sherez, in which two crime writers arrive on the Greek island of Palassos as a 33-year-old crime resurfaces; The Scarecrow by the master, Michael Connelly; Christobel Kent's A Time of Mourning, introducing an ex-policeman now private detective Sandro Cellini of Florence, apparently "in the Donna Leon mould";  The Merry Misogynist, the sixth Laos-based coroner's tale by the wonderful, witty wordsmith Colin Cotterill; A Deadly Trade, the second novel by "Michael Stanley", following the exciting debut A Carrion Death; and Lennox by Craig Russell, the first of a "gritty, Glasgow-based 1950s series featuring a shady private eye. It's gangland stuff mixed with arms trading."
[Links in the paragraph above go to reviews at Euro Crime, It's a Crime!, Petrona, The Guardian, The Independent and Mostly Fiction.]

Another author better known in other spheres is making the move to crime: Toby Litt has produced what the Bookseller calls "a stunning commercial mystery called King Death" (Penguin) which will apparently be backed by a lot of marketing when it comes out in May as an original large (A) format paperback. "A fantastic medical thriller set among London medical students" is all the bookseller says about the contents (at the moment!).

If you are interested in which (crime) authors made the most money in the UK in 2009, the answer, according to Neilsen/the Bookseller, are Dan Brown (2),  "James Patterson" (3) – though I think it unfair to count him as one author – Stieg Larsson (6), Martina Cole (11), John Grisham (12), and Patricia Cornwell (20). The amounts are on a scale ranging from £15 million plus (Brown) to a shade over £4 million (Cornwell). I suppose nobody is guessing who is at no 1, but just in case – yes, it is Stephanie Meyer (almost £30 million). However, in Europe overall, Stieg Larsson outsold Stephanie Meyer  in 2009- they are numbers 1 and 2, respectively. (Dan Brown is 3, Carlos Ruiz Zafon 5, Camilla Lackberg 6, Henning Mankell 9, Simon Beckett 11 and James Patterson is down at 12, one above Roslund-Hellstrom. Other favourites of mine include Andrea Camilleri at 18, Asa Larsson at 23, Saskia Noort at 29, Harlan Coben at 30 and Mari Jungstedt at 42.) This list is based on chart positions rather than numbers of sales.

There are quite a few controversies in the book business being discussed everywhere just now, not least the Bookseller: electronic book tokens have finally been introduced in the UK, but the independent booksellers are upset about them because they take much longer to process when issued, and the purchaser can go and cash them in at other (non-independent) bookshops, including online if the seller is a member of the Booksellers' Association (which Amazon isn't, and I presume supermarkets aren't). There is also a lot of kerfuffle about e-readers and digital formats, given the recent launch of the iPad and the argument over pricing that Macmillans (and no doubt soon other publishers) are having with Amazon. Google book search is still providing much fuel for the fire, and John Blake laments the England/Wales libel laws: "significant and important books that would have been published five years ago, are now simply not worth the risk." (Did someone tell Katie Price, one of John Blake's authors?)

A long profile of publisher Anthony Cheetham (late of Abacus, Sphere, Futura, Century Hutchinson, Orion, Random House and Quercus, several of which he founded), who has now taken up a role at Corvus, recent publisher of US author C. J. Box's Three Weeks to Say Goodbye. Apparently he will be revealing details of his new non-fiction imprint Castillo at the London Book Fair this year, and is also involved in a separate digital publishing project. He explains his view about how the publishing business is changing from a collaboration between publisher, author and bookseller to now, where publishing is becoming a "copyright business, not a book business. It is a whole new dimension of understanding various media, in the larger context of being the author's business partner."

Euro Crime reviews for January, and a few more

January January is by far the longest month – you get paid for December before Christmas instead of on the last day of the month, so from that point of view, January starts on about 23 Dec. Then you buy things for Christmas in a last-minute splurge, then there are the sales, then back to school and work, then a long, long time in the snow, sleet, dark and cold before the 31st arrives. One upside of this is that there are more opportunities for reading than usual, so I have a nice crop of Euro Crime and Petrona reviews to show for January. The links to these are archived on my reviews page at Petrona, and the reviews themselves are archived at my Vox blog (which is not bang up to date but not far off). I also log on that blog what I'm currently reading and (an occasional feast) watching.

So, without further ado, my Euro Crime reviews for January 2010 were:

Tooth and Claw, by Nigel McCrery, the second in the series about DCI Mark Lapslie, begun in the rather good "Agatha Christie noir" novel CORE OF EVIL (aka STILL WATERS). As might be expected from the author's credentials as an ex-policeman and highly successful TV scriptwriter, both books are smoothly written, with the action occurring at a fast pace.

Blue Lightning, by Ann Cleeves, final installment of the Shetland quartet. I cannot recommend the novels too highly. Together they represent a superb achievement, both as excellent crime fiction and as sensitive evocations of the meshing of age-old lifestyles with the priorities and technologies of the modern world. [Actually, this review was posted on 1 February, but never mind.]

Captured, by Neil Cross, one of those books for which you will have to set aside an hour or two to read from first page to last without a break.

The Disappeared, by M. R. Hall, second in the series about coroner Jenny Cooper, a fascinating character who stands out as a true individual in a crowded crime-fiction landscape.

About Face, by Donna Leon, a perfect miniature of a book with a social sting in its tail.

If I am allowed to count the 1 Feb as "January", my Euro Crime review award for the month goes, without a doubt, to Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves. If not, Captured by Neil Cross takes the medal.

Of all the books I reviewed in January, my award has to go to an exceptional book, Truth, by Peter Temple. Any other month, and Reunion by Simone van der Vlugt or The Vault by Roslund-Helstrom would have romped home, but all aces are trumped by Truth.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Palmer

P My contribution to the letter “P” is a review of Michael Palmer’s latest medical thriller, The Last Surgeon. This book is published in the USA on 16 February; via Margot Kinberg’s blog, I discovered that the author is making available advance copies to book bloggers. Even though I live in a different continent, Michael Palmer has very generously sent me a signed advance copy of the novel. If you follow Michael at Twitter or Facebook, he will be releasing some exclusive material. You can also visit his website for Q&As, podcast and a ringtone (which I assume is different from Wallender’s). Here's my review:

The Last Surgeon is a very exciting thriller which I read in a day (Sunday, as it happens). Dr Nick Gerrity, nicknamed Nick Fury after a comic-book character, is serving in Afghanistan when a terrible act of terrorism devastates his life. After recovering physically from his dreadful injuries he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) so is unable to return to his army post. He finds satisfaction in working for (and driving) the Helping Hands Mobile Medical Unit, in which, in partnership with Julie, a middle-aged nurse, he helps the people of the streets of Washington DC and Baltimore, also (based on his own experience) helping veterans to navigate the bureaucratic maze of the Veteran’s Administration in order to successfully claim their benefits. Nick is also searching for his best friend, an army colleague whom he last saw some years ago, living as a down-and-out, possibly alcoholic.
TheLastSurgeon175w At the beginning of the novel, a hired assassin kills a beautiful young nurse, Belle Coates, making the death look like a suicide – the reader has no idea why. Belle’s much older sister Jillian is alone in refusing to believe that sister took her own life, spending her time since that event desperately trying to get the media or anyone interested in helping her find out what really happened. She believes that she must be right when her home is incinerated in a firebomb, destroying all the boxes of Belle’s possessions. One box contained a bizarre collection of comics, about a character called Dr Nick Fury – together with a note in Belle’s handwriting with some odd phrases including Nick’s name. Jillian mentioned this oddity on a late-night radio programme in which she appealed for information about her sister’s death, and to her excitement, a caller says that he knows “Dr Nick Fury” as Dr Nick Garrity, from his days in the army. Jillian determines to find Nick and see how he might be connected to her sister.
The novel continues at breakneck speed as Nick and Jillian, helped by various friends and people who owe Nick favours, try to find out what happened to Belle. Unknown to them, they are racing against time as the killer is continuing his evil work – and, via a clever disguise that keeps the tension pitched high, is keeping track of Jillian’s movements. One of the aspects of the novel I enjoyed the most was the description of Nick and his partner Julie’s medical work, and the details of how they help the victims and poor people on the streets in an uncaring society.  The author has a true talent for making the work of Nick and his friends come alive, and makes us really care about Nick’s search for his lost colleague and Jillian’s attempts to find out what really happened to her sister, which via some neat detective work at a nearby private hospital and a bit of computer hacking lead to an exciting but violent climax. As a thriller this book is excellent and I highly recommend it, though I found the eventual solution not as interesting or compelling as the rest of the novel.

Michael Palmer's website: read a "sneak preview", get the ringtone, widgets and view the trailer of The Last Surgeon, and read about the author's other books – most of them excellent medical-oriented thrillers.

The Last Surgeon reviews page, where the author has collected excerpts from and links to bloggers' reviews.

Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Mysteries in Paradise, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate.