Walker's Bookshelf

Quick Review: ‘Within Plain Sight’

When a dismembered body of a young woman is found in an abandoned lumberyard at Portland, ME, Detective Sergeant John Byron is called to investigate. He notices certain similarities with murders committed by a serial killer known as the Horseman around the Boston area.

As with any good crime fiction story, there is more to the case than what it seems. This recent installment of the Detective Sergeant John Byron series has all the elements that make for a great police procedural. Within Plain Sight may be one of Coffin’s best yet.

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The Satapur Moonstone

Sujata Massey followed her Edgar Award finalist book, The Widows of Malabar Hill (2018), with another captivating mystery featuring the female Bombay lawyer, Perveen Mistry.

Set in 1922, in a remote state of Satapur, a tragedy has befallen the royal family when the maharaja suddenly dies. Jiva Rao, the maharaja’s ten-year old son, finds himself the new maharaja. This presents a problem though since he will not be able to rule the princely state of Satapur until he reaches the age of eighteen. The widowed maharani Mirabai and the dowager maharani Putlabai disagree about the young maharaja’s education. Mirabai wants his son to go to England, while Putlabai insists that her grandson remain in the royal palace. Perveen soon finds herself involved and quickly discovers that there’s more to the situation than a simple family dispute.

The Satapur Moonstone delves into the cultural, political, and social dynamics of 1920s India. Massey’s novel is filled with descriptions of the breathtaking Indian countryside, scrumptious food, and fashion of the era. The characters are well-drawn. Readers will root for Perveen Mistry as she breaks boundaries and proves that women are capable of greatness. What is most fascinating is how Massey explores the social divisions found in India’s caste system. Altogether, Massey’s The Satapur Moonstone gives us a fascinating glimpse into both the Parsi and Hindu culture as well as the history of India under British rule. The Satapur Moonstone makes for a very engaging historical mystery and comes highly recommended.

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A Window into the Past

There are a lot of ways that we, as readers, connect to literature. By providing a window into the past, historical fiction not only helps us understand a particular historical time period but also encourages us to empathize with others from a different time and a different place.

Here is a list of historical fiction novels you can borrow in the library now.

by Courtney Maum

What it is: 15-year-old Lara’s recounting of her heiress mother’s scheme to smuggle a group of Surrealist artists out of Nazi Germany and install them at Mexico’s posh Costalegre resort.

Inspired by: the complicated mother-daughter relationship of American socialite Peggy and painter Pegeen Guggenheim.

Why you might like it: Structured as a series of diary entries, this novel juxtaposes keen observations of Costalegre’s bohemian guests with a lonely girl’s quest to become an artist in her own right.

The Women of the Copper Country: A Novel
by Mary Doria Russell

Starring: Labor activist Annie Clements, who in 1913 led a strike against a Montana copper-mining company.

Is it for you? Closer in tone to Doc than The Sparrow, this well-researched historical novel unfolds from multiple perspectives, all rendered in lyrical prose.

Want a taste? “Running lengthwise down the peninsula’s center, like the blood gutter of a bayonet, are the richest copper desposits on earth.” 

The Ventriloquists: A Novel
by E.R. Ramzipoor

Belgium, 1943: Ordered to produce pro-Nazi propaganda, a group of journalists and resistance fighters instead publish a parody newspaper mocking the Fuhrer, knowing full well it will be the last thing they ever do.

Why you might like it: Inspired by true events, this well-researched novel boasts a briskly paced storyline, a balanced blend of humor and suspense, and an LBGTQIA-diverse cast that takes turns narrating.

For fans of: Paul Goldberg’s The Yid, which similarly unspools a madcap scheme to thwart fascists by a group of marginalized intellectuals.

Out of Darkness, Shining Light
by Petina Gappah

What it’s about: The harrowing 1,500-mile, nine-month journey undertaken by the African servants of Scottish missionary Dr. David Livingstone as they transport his body to the coast of Tanzania.

Narrated by: cynical Halima, the band’s cook, and loyal Jacob Wainwright, educated by missionaries following his manumission.

What sets it apart: Livingstone is a minor character in Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah’s novel, which “captures the diverse cultural milieu of colonial Africa with compelling detail” (Kirkus Reviews).

The Secrets We Kept
by Lara Prescott

What it’s about: The CIA’s plan to smuggle copies of Boris Pasternak’s banned novel Dr. Zhivago into Moscow as anti-Soviet propaganda.

Starring: Russian-born secretary-turned-spy Irina; her handler Sally, with whom she begins an affair; and Pasternak’s mistress, Olga, who refuses to incriminate her lover and lands in the gulag. 

Want a taste? “Some of us spoke Mandarin. Some could fly planes. Some of us could handle a Colt 1873 better than John Wayne. But all we were asked when interviewed was, ‘Can you type?'”

The Shadow King: A Novel
by Maaza Mengiste

Ethiopia, 1935: Orphaned Hirut joins the fight against Italy’s invading army by serving as bodyguard to the “Shadow King,” a stand-in for exiled Emperor Haile Selassie.

What sets it apart: Not only does this lyrical novel by the author of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze depict a lesser-known conflict, Hirut’s journey from servant to soldier offers a change from war stories that portray women exclusively as casualties or refugees

The Sweetest Fruits
by Monique Truong

What it’s about: The peripatetic life of writer Lafcadio Hearn, the son of a Greek mother and an Irish father, who works as a journalist in the United States and Martinique before settling in Japan.

Why you might like it: Four women — Hearn’s mother, his wives, and his biographer — reveal different aspects of a protean man as he reinvents himself.

For fans of: iconoclastic biographical novels with multiple narrators who describe their relationships with charismatic men, such as T.C. Boyle’s The Women or Louisa Hall’s Trinity.

The Hunger
by Alma Katsu

What it is: a chilling, often visceral retelling of the Donner Party’s ill-fated overland journey, in which supernatural forces stalk the wagon train.

Is it for you? While this well-researched novel adheres closely to the known facts, the introduction of elements such as lycanthropy and ghosts may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

For fans of: menacing historical horror à la Dan Simmons’ The Terror or F.R. Tallis’ The Passenger.

Walker's Bookshelf

In-Depth Book Review: Manhunt

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer tells the story of the murder of Abraham Lincoln and the subsequent search for those involved in his death.

The characters and plot in Manhunt are quickly revealed. The central characters around which the entire story revolves—Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth—are introduced within the first four pages. They are quickly established as having diametrically opposed outlooks on America’s future—Lincoln embraces one of hope and reconciliation while Booth seeks a chance to avenge the South’s defeat. By the end of the book’s Prologue, Booth has vowed that Lincoln will never live to deliver another speech.

Manhunt moves along at a brisk pace because, at its core, it is a “race against time” story. There are two competing stories present in Manhunt, one is Booth’s race to escape his Union pursuers; the other is the U.S. governments race to capture those who conspired to assassinate President Lincoln. The book’s pace is not slowed by the fact that there is more description than dialogue. Swanson’s use of language creates a “you are there” feeling and inserts the reader directly into the story. While Manhunt is written in a very detailed manner, it is not densely written. Swanson makes effective use of original sources—letters, manuscripts, affidavits, trial transcripts, newspapers, government reports, pamphlets, books, and memoirs.

The story is very conventional and has a straight-line plot—the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators. Save for the book’s final chapter, prologue, and epilogue, all of the action in the story occurs between April 14th and April 26th 1865. The primary characters in the story—Booth, his fellow conspirators, and the Union Army pursuers, are constantly reacting to events around them. This helps the story move forward at a quick pace. Despite knowing the ultimate outcome of the story—the capture of all of Lincoln’s assassination conspirators, Swanson creates a compelling storyline in which the reader is kept on the edge of their seat wondering if Booth is ultimately going to be able to escape.

Each of the characters in Manhunt is vividly written and fully drawn, albeit in a dispassionate manner. Their thoughts and actions are presented in rich, lifelike detail. Both Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth are depicted as immensely talented, yet tragic figures whose lives intersected one fateful night at Ford’s Theatre. Both inspired tremendous feelings of love and hate as well as fierce loyalty and dedication. Each was surrounded by people that idolized them and who would go to great lengths to support and defend them. The secondary characters in Manhunt are made up of these very loyalists—individuals dedicated to either finding Lincoln’s killer or dedicated to helping Booth escape the Union dragnet. Each character is presented with all their complexities and contradictions fully intact. Because of this, it is easy for the reader to identify with the characters feelings and emotions. It allows the reader to stand in their shoes.

Manhunt reads like a well-crafted suspense novel. The suspense gradually builds over the course of the book. The reader is constantly kept on edge about whether or not Booth and his fellow conspirators will ever be caught. Manhunt is also filled with the type of lush historical detail that makes the reader feel like they are back in 1865. While Manhunt tells the story of Lincoln’s assassination and the subsequent search for his killer, the tone is never bleak or overly dark. Rather, Manhunt is written in the type of compelling manner that leads readers to want to continue turning page after page in order to see what is going to happen next. Manhunt is both colorful and complex in tone, which makes it a very enjoyable read.