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Books by Nancy - August 2007

By Nancy Sapir
Posted Monday, August 20, 2007

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Yesterday’s Fatal by Jan Brogan, St. Martin’s Minotaur, Mystery, 321 pp., $24.95

Yesterday’s Fatal by Jan Brogan, St. Martin’s Minotaur, Mystery, 321 pp., $24.95

This is a polished, exciting, skillful piece of work by a Boston Globe correspondent about an investigative reporter with courage, brains, and a passion for the adrenaline rush. What a wonderful thing-a book about the new great anachronism, a dedicated investigative reporter.

Rhode Island reporter Hallie Ahern got over her addiction to prescription painkillers, but now she’s working on her gambling addiction. When she comes upon a car crash on a lonely road and finds the body of a young Latina mother dead inside the wreck, she bets the farm on finding out what killed the beautiful Lizette Diaz-Salazar, an immigrant. It looks like your basic car crash, and the small town PD investigating the accident isn’t interested in details like why the woman died in the passenger seat or why the driver’s door wasn’t shut.

It’s a tough time at The Chronicle to be taking on a new story because the paper’s been sold and the staff will be cut. Hallie’s editors aren’t enthused about the Salazar story, but they need something to persuade the new owners to keep the investigative team on. Hallie pushes hard and breaks some rules, but she discovers that the woman may have been part of an insurance fraud scheme operated by the city’s immigrants. The scam is pervasive and implicates doctors, clinics, lawyers, and body shops, and Hallie’s relentless probing has brought her to the attention of the head honcho whose reputation for brutality precedes him.

Brogan does what author, Dr. Michael Palmer does, and that is take a social ill and weave some credible fiction around it with terrific results.

This is a dynamite, pulse-pounding read. I loved it.

Terrorist by John Updike, Ballantine Books, fiction, 310 p., $14.95 (paperback)

Terrorist by John Updike, Ballantine Books, fiction, 310 p., $14.95 (paperback)
Updike doesn’t so much describe his characters as flay them, laying open their sorrow, disappointment, self-loathing, rage, and disgust, but in the end he allows love to redeem them. Love, imperfect, impermanent, and flawed, finds it mark and resurrects itself when triggered even by something as goofy as a child’s smile.

Jack Levy is a near-retirement age guidance counselor at a high school in New Prospect, New Jersey, where there is virtually no call for his counsel. The students are tough city kids with ambitions that go no higher than drug dealer. Jack’s wife is an obese librarian, and he loathes her. Enter Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy, a child born of an Egyptian father and an Irish mother, a nurse’s aide who’s raised Ahmad alone since he was three. Ahmad became a Muslim when he was eleven, and he is an idealistic follower of the Prophet. He has no use for Americans and their hedonism. He studies Arabic, gets a trucker’s license, and a job delivering furniture for an Arab owned business. He is attracted to young Joryleen, but he fights to remain pure. Jack takes an interest in Ahmad who is one of the few outstanding students he’s encountered in his bleak world.

Jack meets Ahmad’s attractive mother, Terry, and he becomes acutely aware that his life is slipping away and there is nothing in it that gives him any joy at all. Even as he has an affair with Terry, Jack notes the flaws in her body, a body that is more than 20 years younger than his own flaccid flesh.

Ahmad is called upon to prove his love for God. He is happy to oblige his eager handlers.

Jack’s wife contemplates her unattractiveness with the help of her successful and judgmental sister.

Ahmad’s diatribe against Western society might have been written by a radical imam or any socially conservative American who knows things are heading in the wrong direction, but who feels powerless to affect substantial change.

Terrorist is mesmerizing, thoughtful, and brilliantly done, and it is Updike after all.

City of Fire by Robert Ellis, St. Martin’s Minotaur, fiction, 357 p., $24.95

City of Fire by Robert Ellis, St. Martin’s Minotaur, fiction, 357 p., $24.95

Lena Gamble is a very young Los Angeles homicide detective at age twenty-nine, and she has a sad past. Her beloved brother David, a rock star, was shot and killed five years ago, his body slumped across the front seat of his car where Lena found him. Lena lives in her brother’s house, and David’s recording studio, which sits beside it, is a constant reminder of his absence.

A killer is brutally murdering women and Lena is the lead cop on the case which involves a copycat killer, a sleazy pornographer, a cop gone bad, and some very old grudges. The clues are few, but eventually they lead to astounding conclusions, and wounds that had started to heal are made raw once again.

Ellis is a solid writer. The action never flags, and the cops’ urgency is palpable. A neglected angle involving a forest fire which is threatening L.A. is introduced, but not fully developed. No worries, however, because this is a page-turner, and the shocking ending will leave you breathless.

Forensics and Fiction by D.P. Lyle, M.D., Thomas Dunne Books, non-fiction, 296 pp., $23.95

Forensics and Fiction by D.P. Lyle, M.D., Thomas Dunne Books, non-fiction, 296 pp., $23.95

If you’re an aspiring crime novelist, you’ll love this book which is a collection of questions by mystery writers regarding forensic science, like can a cadaver dog find a body buried beneath concrete. Lyle is a practicing cardiologist, and he advises writers about death, its causes and effects.

You’ll recognize the names of some of the questioners like Cynthia Riggs (The Victoria Trumbull series set on the Vineyard) and Hallie Ephron, book critic for the Boston Globe, as well as Jerrilyn Farmer, author of the Madeline Bean series.

If you want to know how to poison a hockey player by placing toxins in his pre-game cream, then this is the book for you. Lyle’s responses are accessible, well written, and to the point.

More books…

If you love dogs, and who doesn’t, try For the Love of a Dog by Patricia B. Mc Connell, Ph.D., Ballantine Books, paperback, non-fiction, 15.95. This is a nicely written book about dogs’ emotions and how to recognize and respond to them. There are wonderful photos, good information, and anecdotal material. Fans of the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews will be happy to know that her newest, The Penguin Who Knew Too Much is out in hardcover from Thomas Dunne Books. Meg has her hands full trying to elope, fixing up her new and very large Victorian home while coping with refugees from the local zoo. She’s up to her bridal bouquet in hyenas, llamas, lemurs, and penguins, among others, in this funny installment.

Latest articles in Books by Nancy

Books by Nancy - August 2007
[Aug. 20, 2007] Updike doesn’t so much describe his characters as flay them, laying open their sorrow, disappointment, self-loathing, rage, and disgust, but in the end he allows love to redeem them. Love, imperfect, impermanent, and flawed, finds it mark and resurrects itself when triggered even by something as goofy as a child’s smile.

Books by Nancy - July '07
[Jul. 23, 2007] Girls Gone Mild, Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It’s Not Bad To Be Good, by Wendy Shalit, Random House, non-fiction, 312 pp., $25.95

If you have daughters, toddlers to college age, please read this book. With great depth of understanding and a considerable amount of humor, Shait tackles the really thorny issue of female sexuality today and how young girls are being primed for promiscuity and an unhealthy attitude about their roles in relationships. There’s good news, however, as Shalit reports that the rates of virginity have risen for the tenth consecutive year.

Books by Nancy: June 2007
[Jun. 13, 2007] ...As is the case with all great novels, woven through the entire plot are eternal questions with possible answers. What is community? What forces bring it into being and what forces help it to survive? Is the unthinkable ever forgivable? Can a jury really answer that question? Can a man be both a devil and a saint? Are the sins of the father always visited upon the son?

Books by Nancy: May '07
[May 21, 2007] This series features Charlie Parker, a PI living in Maine, a former New York cop whose wife and child were brutally murdered. Charlie relocated to the woods of Maine, married again, and had another daughter, but the spectres of his deceased family continue to visit Charlie, a fact which has caused his marital separation...

Books by Nancy: April 2007
[Apr. 23, 2007] The New American Story by Bill Bradley, Random House, Non-Fiction, 364 pp., $25.95

Despite its uninspired title, this book by the former U.S. Senator, NBA basketball star, and one time presidential candidate Bill Bradley, is worth a read, even though his new American story is easily shot full of holes in some specifics. Bradley’s sincerity and passion are apparent, but he comes to the table nonetheless as a member of the American corporate elite and a man born to some privilege.

Selections From the Bookshelf - March '07
[Mar. 16, 2007] Shimon Peres: This book is more than just a riveting and impressive biography of one of the great figures in Israel’s history; it is as much the story of how complicated international diplomacy is, and how little we actually know of what our respective governments are doing. For example, Peres, a protégé and great favorite of David Ben-Gurion, arguably the most famous Zionist who was active in the cause until his death in 1973, arranged a secret arms deal with Germany that stood for years.

Books by Nancy: February 2007
[Feb. 15, 2007] This month we have everything from faith to pro poker, and we also have a new reviewer. Many of you will remember Alice Hawrilenko, former reporter for Memorial Press Group. We’re fortunate to have Alice with us, and I know you’ll appreciate her fresh point of view.

Books by Nancy: January '07
[Jan. 20, 2007] Go Long! When I picked up this book I didn’t know who Jerry Rice is, nor did I have any idea that he is arguably considered the finest football player ever. I don’t even like football. The only thing about the game that interests me is that Drew Pearson and Joe Theisman both played on my high school’s team, and I just about burst with pride when I hear their names. Both are briefly mentioned here, but what drew me to open the cover is a stunning photograph of Rice and his family on the back which made me want to know more about these smiling, beautiful people. And what a nice surprise this book turned out to be.

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