Tag Archives: novel

Murder of John Paul I — from the inside?

April 25, 2014

0 Comments

UnknownThe pages are yellowing in the this English-translation of “The Last Pope” that I couldn’t resist in an antique store, and the copy looked as though it had never been touched.

That should have been one tip that “The Last Pope” was no “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” but the glossy cover of the hardback claimed it was an international bestseller, so I sprang for the $7.

“The Last Pope” was probably worth the $7, but not a cent more. Its premise is that rather than dying in his sleep, as is the official word on the passing of the former Cardinal Albino Luciani, the man who was pope for only 33 days in 1978 was killed because he had made plans to remove high-ranking Vatican officials. Several cardinals from that era are implicated in ordering the pope’s death.

In the story, copies of John Paul I’s supposed plans have made their way out of the Vatican archives, and the bad guys are killing folks to get them back. A beautiful female reporter and a mysterious “Rafael” get involved, and, well, no spoilers here.

What the novel by Luis Miguel Rocha is, of course, is a vehicle to paint the Vatican Curia as corrupt and the church itself as behind-the-times on all kinds of contemporary issues. John Paul I was going to change all that, so the story goes, and the usual Catholic punching bags — birth control, homosexual relations, priestly celibacy, female priests — take their lumps.

That’s too bad, because “The Last Pope” isn’t a bad novel. But it does explain why the eight-year-old copy was sitting untouched in an antique store.

Continue reading...

Best book you’ll read this summer has a quirky title

July 20, 2010

3 Comments

Guernsey-cover

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,”

by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

A delightful read for any time of year, this New York Times #1 bestseller is a perfect summer treat now that it’s out in paperback.

The use of a string of letters to tell the story doesn’t even seem like a gimmick once Shaffer and Barrows pull you into this gem.

In the novel, Juliet Ashton is a journalist and author who finds herself intrigued by a request she receives in the mail from a resident of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands between France and England.

The setting is just a year after the end of World War II. Guernsey’s inhabitants had endured four years of occupation by the forces of the Third Reich, and woven through the novel is their telling what life was like as British citizens under German military rule.

Telling the story – all through “the post,” at Brits call the mail – are the members of the book club with the odd name, as cleverly drawn a group of characters as have ever won over your heart.

Not to give away the story, but there’s a bit of romance involved, a bit of drama, some must-turn-the-page excitement, but in a genteel, well-mannered, earlier-generations sort of way.

In the Dial Press small paperback version I picked up, this wonderful story is told in just 274 pages.

A yardstick I’ve come to use as my standard for good reading is if I don’t want a book to end. Suffice it to say that 274 pages were hardly enough. What a great work of literature. — bz

Continue reading...

Fun Christmas reading: Garrison Keillor clones Lake Wobegon in North Dakota

December 2, 2009

0 Comments

christmasblizzardcover“A Christmas Blizzard,”
by Garrison Keillor

Nobody’s literary comedy stands a snowball’s chance in Honolulu against Garrison Keillor and his takes on communities in the northern clime.

“A Christmas Blizzard” is just 180 pages long, but it’s as fun and funny a 180 pages as anything you’ll ever read, with a moral worth remembering and celebrating throughout the year.

This time the creator and host of public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion” has found Lake Wobegon-like characters in Looseleaf, North Dakota, and he brings a prodigal native son back to his home town just in time for Christmas and a typical northern plains white-out.

Main character James Sparrow fell into a lucrative business that made him the wealthy CEO of a Chicago beverage company. He’s rich enough to not want to spend time doing anything at Christmas that he doesn’t want to. What he wants to do is take his private jet to his palatial Hawaii second home and look at the calming waves of the Pacific.

A tug of the heart strings — or is is a guilty conscience? — has that private jet flying into good ol’ Looseleaf instead, and stranding Sparrow in a town with wacky but lovable relatives, fruitcake townfolk from his past, and even quizzical story walk-ons, like the busload of psychoanalists who are afraid to fly!

No scripted storyline here

If you think this is going to fall into that simplistic story genre of the guy who doesn’t like Christmas celebrating like no one else on the big day — well, maybe.

Keillor puts so much that’s laughable in his fictional characters — pieces of the human condition that you’ll identify in your own family, friends and acquaintance, and may yourself, plus identifiable references to real people and real events — that the storyline almost becomes secondary to the eccentric population of Looseleaf and how rich Mr. Sparrow comes to terms with them — how they impact him and how he touches their lives.

Finally, throw out anything you ever learned about the Greek dramas and “deus ex machina” endings.
In this Viking novel, Keillor out-deus-ex-machinas any contrived ending you could ever imagine. What a fun read! — bz

Continue reading...

Catholic values pop out of major novelist’s mystery

July 19, 2009

0 Comments

“Where Are You Now?”,
by Mary Higgins Clark

With more than 30 titles under her belt, Mary Higgins Clark knows how to write a mystery.

In “Where Are You Now?” she pulls out the expected array of clues and characters.

The story-line starts 10 years after a college senior disappears. Once again on this Mother’s Day he calls home. His attorney sister decides to try to locate him, but the police detectives she turns to quickly make a connection: the brother may be their best suspect in a murder and the disappearance of three young women in the same New York neighborhood.

All the good mystery pieces are there: the passionate protagonist, the love interest that may or may not be true, the greedy landlord, the nervous apartment caretakers, the demented perpetrator, the likable victims, the suspicious chauffeur, the pain of post-abortion trauma.

What?

A major American novelist works the pain of post-abortion trauma into a book that a major publisher — Simon & Schuster — prints and promotes?

Catholic writer includes her values

Okay, I’ll be clear: “Where Are You Now?” is not a mystery about abortion.

It’s just that the way abortion usually is found in mainstream publishing is that it is extremely one-sided, treating the taking of the life of the in utero baby either casually and matter-of-factly or sympathetically toward the pregnant woman with no regard whatsoever for the other living being in the picture.

It’s usually “Abortion? Nothing to it. Get it done and get on with your life.”

Author Mary Higgins Clark has found a way to live her Catholic faith in the marketplace in which she is one of the high-ranking celebrities.

And it’s a good read!

Like all good, page-turner mysteries, Clark works interesting characters through clues and dead ends, throwing suspicion on a number of them, challenging readers to ponder motives and to try to guess “who-dun-it.”

Oh, did a mention the kindly and wise old Irish monsignor? — bz
Continue reading...

Fine mystery, fine writing woven into politics surrounding fall of Communism

July 16, 2009

1 Comment

“Victory Square,”

by Olen Steinhauer

Characters you find yourself cheering for get involved in the chaos of an Eastern European country as its Communist government falls.

That’s the storyline behind this well-written novel with flashes of — even a foundation in — real-life history.

There’s global politics, too, and international intrigue as people on a list start dying. Emil Brod, the chief of detectives just days away from retirement, and detective/spy Garva Noukas search for answers.

Olen Steinhauer makes you care about what happens to these two, and that’s key to any good novel. The plus is that “Victory Square” is as much literature as it is mystery.

What’s unique in a mystery, too, is that it offers an other-than-American point of view of the global politics of that time when the Soviet empire was crumbling, and seeing historical events through others’ eyes can bring clearer vision to readers.

Pick up this 355-page St. Martin’s Minotaur paperback for a great read. — bz
Continue reading...

If you like ‘Cold Case,’ you’ll like ‘Shadows’

February 12, 2008

0 Comments

Shadows,
By Edna Buchanan

“Shadows” is a good, “Cold Case”-type detective story with interesting twists that go back to the Cilvil Rights Movement days of the 1960s.

Author Edna Buchanan has at least a half-dozen good novels to her name, and you’ve gotta love her writing.

When you get a chance, pick up a her non-fiction work, “The Corpse Had a Familiar Face.” It’s filled with stories Buchanan picked up as a crime reporter for The Miami Herald. At a journalism workshop I went to not long ago, one of the presenters said he makes it must reading for all new hires and interns, because it models the colorful, interesting writing he wants in his newspaper.

“Shadows” offers much the same as a work of fiction, and its plot is complicated enough to keep you turning the pages. – bz

Continue reading...