Friday, January 17, 2014

Nevermore: Mankell, Pilgrim's Wilderness, A Boy in Winter, Florence Harding & Jack Reacher

As befits January, many of the books discussed seemed to have a cold or winter theme. The first book up for discussion was set on a remote farm in Sweden where tracks in the snow make it appear that someone was dancing. That would seem innocent enough, except that there’s also the murdered body of a retired policeman.  At first the investigation is stalled for lack of suspects and motive; then Officer Stefan Lindman begins to uncover links to a Neo-Nazi organization.  The book is Return of the Dancing Master by Henning Mankell, and it comes recommended from a long time Nevermore member who is a fan of Mankell’s work.  She enjoys the mystery, but what she likes most is that he makes her think. Mankell is best known for his Kurt Wallander novels.

In keeping with the cold theme, the next book was Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia. When Robert “Papa Pilgrim” Hale and his family first moved to town, the residents were charmed by the apparent piety of the family—father, mother, and 14 children strong.  Even when Hale bulldozed a road through a national park, people saw him as simply standing up for landowners against the government. An interested newspaper reporter began investigating Hale and what he discovered was anything but simple and benign, ranging from a questionable death to ties to Lee Harvey Oswald.  However, that paled in comparison to the stories that his daughters told after they escaped the family homestead. The story is both horrifying and riveting, according to our reviewer. 

The narrative of the novel A Boy in Winter by Maxine Chernoff begins after 11 year old Danny has accidentally killed his best friend Eddie with a bow. His stunned and bewildered single mother, Nancy, is at a loss as to how this could have happened.  The reader gradually learns what transpired before the incident, especially the relationship between Danny and his mother and with Eddie’s father.  Our reviewer described it as being a story of how the human soul survives intact.

Carl Sferrazza Anthony, best known for his two books on the lives of the First Ladies, decided to expand on one of his subjects in Florence Harding: The First Lady, the Jazz Age, and the Death of America’s Most Scandalous President. While largely forgotten today, Florence was a strong, opinionated, extremely influential woman who promoted women’s rights and veterans’ welfare.  She was the first First Lady to invite “Hollywood types” to the White House.  She was also married to a man who was a womanizer and involved in other scandals. This is a fascinating introduction to a woman who deserves to be remembered as the pioneer she was.

Also recommended was Never Go Back by Lee Child, which is the 18th book in the Jack Reacher series.  Reacher has gone back to the HQ of his old Army unit, only to be accused of an old homicide. Athough this book is the last part of a four novel story arc (following 61 Hours, Worth Dying For, and A Wanted Man), you don’t have to have read the others before reading this one

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