BOOKS du JOUR DECEMBER 2016 By Frederic Colier | General@bookcasetv.com
Given that we are fast wrapping up this strange year, and that the sprint for the holiday season is about to kick off, I feel it is my duty to coax your reading efforts and shopping reflexes with some inviting suggestions. Crime novels are perfect for family gatherings . . . just in the likelihood that you need some time alone. They make for easy and immediate escapes.
“Moral Defense” by Marcia Clark (Thomas & Mercer, pp 460, $24.95)
“The Travelers,” by Chris Pavone (Crown Publishers pp 437, $ 27.00)
“The One Man” by Andrew Gross (Minotaur Books, pp 418, $26.99)
“Quick Sand” by Malin Persson Giolito (trans. Rachel Willson-Broyles, Other Press, pp 432, $26.95)
“Skewed: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Media Bias,” by Larry Atkins. (Prometheus Books, pp 280, $24.00)
Let me start with this month’s most unlikely candidate. Someone who has been in the news twenty or so years ago during the infamous O. J. trial. I am referring to Marcia Clark. Her new book, “Moral Defense,” is a novel. Yes, you have read loud and clear. A crime novel to be precise, which is by the way not her first one. “Moral Defense,” is a sequel to “Blood Defense” (soon to be a TV series). Of course, probably like most people, you did not know that Clark also wrote crime fiction. After all, she gained fame for being the prosecutor of one of the most controversial murders in our history, something which cannot be easy to shake off, especially if you intend to reinvent yourself.
If you have read Chris Pavone’s previous novels “The Expats” and “The Accident.” you know that you will travel abroad, extensively. “The Travelers” will not disappoint you. I suspect one day, Pavone will write high-end espionage novels, à la James Bond, since he seems so comfortable in the genre, and his writing only gains in intensity.
“The One Man” marks a radical departure for Andrew Gross. His past novels (nine and counting) were all in the pure thriller genre, a craft he learned straight from the Lord himself, James Patterson, with whom he co-authored several novels. “The One Man” however is a war novel, set in WWII, with a thriller plot. A daring move for an author of this caliber with a large following. But audacity combined with skills and originality can only translate in superior work, which is what “The One Man” bears witness. The characters have gained depth. Descriptions are layered, breathing life, while the plot is more organic and humanly warmer, an anachronism despite being set in a death camp.
Kudos to Other Press for publishing this Nordic wonder. “” has been bestsellers in more than 20 countries, mainly the old continent, and it was shocking to see that no US publisher would rush to snatch up the US rights. “Quick Sand” is Persson Giolito’s fourth crime novel and takes its cue from a mass killing, such as the one in Norway in 2011 . . . Its main protagonist, the 18-year old, Maja Norberg, is a popular student who survives a school rampage. Set as a flashback, prior to the gory event, the plot trails Maja’s past to find out whether she participated in the murdering. She has been accused, being the only one to survive, and waits in jail for her trial.
I am not sure how many people have read this book so far . . . But given what we now know about the Presidential elections fiasco, meant here as the shocking Trump’s victory, “Skewed,” should have been a must-read for all political parties and media outlets involved. That no polls had predicted the baffling result only makes Atkins’ point more trenchant. The fact that we had never seen such political polarization and dismissal of facts, makes “Skewed,” an even more essential read.
In this finely chiseled engaging novel, a Polish-descent polyglot intelligence officer, Nathan Blum, is offered the mission of a lifetime: enter Auschwitz and escape with one of the prisoner, a professor named Alfred Mendl, who is believed to hold crucial secret that could put an end to the folly of the Third Reich. The ending will not be disclosed here . . . but the novel questions the nature of meaning and devotion to a cause, especially when the involvement calls for huge personal sacrifices for the good of all.
This alone would not have been enough to get this book included in this month column. But Persson Giolito’s craft takes us on a psychological ride, where perhaps the narrator of the story is not as reliable as first thought. She met a questionable character, Sebastian Fagerman, prior to the massacre. Little by little, we can hear the cogs of her internal life flicker with strange sounds. As she is swept off her feet, alienating everyone in her immediate circle, we ponder if her outcries are not simply screams for help . . . that everyone missed.
But in defense of Clark, she reads like a seasoned pro. “Moral Defense” follows the criminal defense attorney, Samantha Brinkman, who represents a teenager, whose family has been brutally murdered. The more Samantha puts her case together, the more she discovers that her narrative thread does not align. If everyone has been murdered, how come her client has survived? . . . Beyond the plot, ultimately, what makes a thriller stand above the fray is not the clever complexity of twists and turns, but the moral questions the main character confronts. And there Clark’s experience and honesty triumph.
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“The Travelers” is a high-end fast-paced thriller transporting you in all the most unlikely locations in the world. Its main protagonist, Will Rhodes, is a “travel” writer for a magazine and lives out of a suitcase. It may sound like a dream, but if you are stuck in a rut in your own life make no mistake that this sort of conditions are often the result of internal “traveling” affairs. In Will’s case, crumbling marriage, crumbling house, and crumbling dreams. One day, during an assignment in Argentina, he cannot resist the temptation of a mysterious Australian woman . . . and thus starts an exhilarating domino effect of suspicion and disappearances that will put Will and his circle within danger.
“Skewed,” is a history of media, an analysis of the current situation of the landscape, and a courageous attempt of explain why advocacy journalism has only grown in its domination of opinions in newspapers, talk radio, news network, and the internet. The keyword here is biases, which only leave listeners and readers stranded in competing and conflicting worldviews, where truth is often only a matter of opinions. Agenda driven, selective used of data, have resulted in a bipolar landscape, which, as we have witnessed, fails to hear those without voices. An insightful book to lift up the one-sided blindness of our time.