Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
I had to wait a long time at our library for my turn to read ‘Gone Girl’, which is sure testament to its popularity.  And now that I have galloped to the end of the tale, I can understand why.  Ms Flynn has written a gripping, highly unpleasant psychological thriller starring two of the nastiest protagonists one could have the displeasure to meet.
Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott meet at a party in New York and become lovers.  They are both successful in a small way;  Nick is a writer for a popular magazine and Amy writes psychological quizzes for various publications.  She is also independently wealthy thanks to a series of children’s books written by her parents loosely based on her life.  Everything in their garden is beautifully rosy including their eventual marriage, until the economic chaos of 2008 brings their blissful lifestyle to a close;  they both lose their jobs and Nick, a native of Missouri, learns that his mother has terminal cancer.  His father has already succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease and frequently escapes from his nursing home, and Nick knows the burden of his parents’ care is too much to place on the shoulders of his loyal twin Margo.  It is time to go home to Carthage and take responsibility.
There is just one problem:  Amy doesn’t want to go.  She doesn’t want to leave the Centre of the Universe for Podunk City, home to failed businesses and unemployed hopeless cases, losers and drug addicts, just because Nick wants to look after his mother:  Maureen is not her mother – she hardly knows the woman, and as for Nick’s sister, well they don’t like each other and probably never will.  Amy makes the move with very bad grace.
And Nick’s nightmare begins.  On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary he returns home to find the house in disarray and his wife missing, and when he enlists the help of the police he is shocked to find that circumstantial clues point to himself as a suspect in her possible murder.  He becomes an object of hatred, the subject of national speculation – did he do it, or didn’t he?  Did he kill that beautiful, talented woman whose eventually recovered diary reveals her great love for him and the fact that she had started to become frightened of him – or is he a victim of a frame-up, as he comes to believe:  Amy may not be gone at all – she may be orchestrating her disappearance purely for spite.
Ms Flynn is a very clever writer.  She keeps the reader guessing all the way along, revealing with each new twist in the plot another damning fact about the two main players  - for Nick is not the blameless, put-upon spouse forced to live with an obsessive-compulsive harridan who refuses to knuckle down to domesticity and give him children.  He has shameful secrets of his own that when revealed implicate him even further in foul play.
I salute Ms Flynn’s ability to enmesh the reader so successfully in her account of the failure of a loving relationship between Amy and Nick, and their reactions when they find out that neither of them were the paragons they believed -  but what a nasty pair of players they are in a game that has no winners.  They deserve each other.  Compulsively readable.

Crime of Privilege, by Walter Walker
This is an interesting story – not the most riveting in pace and suspense, but well-crafted and intriguing because its characters are instantly recognisable, thinly disguised by other names but we all know who the Gregory family is in real life.  The nearest thing that America ever had to royalty, it is a paradox of great triumphs and terrible tragedies.
Mr Walker, a trial lawyer and eminently qualified to write a legal thriller, opens his story with a wonderful party that Senator Gregory gives in 1996 at his summer residence at Palm Beach in Florida.  George Becket is a law student and a starstruck guest, a friend of an invited friend who can’t believe his good fortune at being in the presence of such luminaries – until he witnesses the young bloods of the family sexually assault a drunken young woman in a secluded part of the mansion.  George intervenes and saves the girl from further debasement;  he helps her to clean herself up and leave the house, then tries to put the incident from his mind, leaving the party soon after:  the occasion has lost its allure.
Life continues uneventfully for the next couple of weeks – until he is visited by a man purporting to work as ‘security’ for an immensely rich developer, Josh David Powell, the father of the girl George prevented from further hurt at Senator Gregory’s party.  The young woman hasn’t come out of the experience well, will be ‘in therapy for years’ and wants to charge the Gregory boys with rape:  the security man wants George to fly to Florida, see the District Attorney and make a statement – ‘just tell the truth, son, tell the truth’ – of what occurred, but he asks him in such a way that it is clear George will suffer if he doesn’t make the trip.
And he is duly tied up in knots by the Attorney who is clearly in the pay of the Gregory family.  Power and money:  who can withstand its seduction?  Certainly not George Becket, who finds that his capitulation to the cover-up earns him good grades at law school and a cushy job as an assistant district attorney at Hyannis, another holiday playground of the Senator and his siblings.
Life should be wonderful, but he subsequently learns that Josh David Powell’s daughter has committed suicide, and there is an unsolved murder of a young woman whose body was found on a golf course close to the Gregory compound.
The girl’s father thinks George is a man of honour.  He asks him personally to re-investigate his daughter’s murder – he is confused and insulted by the patent lack of action by the local authorities and feels that the only person gathering evidence is himself – which is exactly right.  The cover-up is in full swing.
Predictably, George shuns Mr Telford, nicknamed ‘Anything New?’, the question he has been asking of the authorities since his daughter died, but he eventually finds himself between a rock and a hard place:  Josh David Powell the rock, hugely rich and powerful and thirsting for revenge for the degradation and suicide of his daughter, intent on making George’s life very uncomfortable unless he comes up with evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of Gregory crimes;  and hard place ‘Anything New’ Telford, who believes wholeheartedly in George’s honour and non-existent integrity to nail the killers of his beloved child.
‘Crime of Privilege’ is a clever reconstruction of many factual events.  It doesn’t rush the reader breathlessly from one chapter to the next but Mr Walker writes with clarity, wit and style and George is well portrayed as the man who takes the easy way out - until his conscience and long-dormant integrity finally demand otherwise.  Recommended.

WarHorse, by Michael Morpurgo           Junior fiction
Children’s author Michael Morpurgo is one of the most prolific and gifted storytellers in print.  He writes on a multitude of different subjects, and for children of all ages.  (Including me!)
Recently I reviewed his book ‘Little Manfred’ with great pleasure and now wish to do the same for ‘WarHorse’, his classic tale of the First World War, published in 1982 and subsequently dramatized on the stage, then in a fine movie directed by Steven Spielberg. 
The story of Joey, a rich red bay with four white socks and a white ‘cross’ on his forehead is told by Joey himself, three parts thoroughbred and one part farmhorse, from the time he is bought by Farmer Endicott in a drunken bid to spite someone he hated, to the time he is sold as a cavalry horse to an army captain in 1914, because the farmer needed the money - ‘ a man’s got to live’- despite the fact that his son Albert loved Joey, regarded him as his own and had trained him to pull a plough and earn his keep. Endicott’s betrayal is so underhand and shocking that Albert vows to join the army as soon as he is old enough so that he can find Joey and bring him back to England and the safety of his former life.  It is a promise he keeps, joining the Veterinary force at age 17, still in time to witness first-hand the bloodbath on the battlefields of Northern France, where terrified boys become exhausted, embittered men overnight – and horses share strange allegiances and frightening adventures, as Joey relates with vigour and poignancy.
This is a wonderful story – beautiful and terrible, an object lesson for all in the brutality and futility of war and how it deprived millions on both sides of everything they held most dear, in the end accomplishing very little.  How fortunate, though, that we have writers of the calibre of Mr Morpurgo who are unafraid to write of such things for children, for children are our future, and should know of the terrible mistakes made by their forbears.  Highly recommended.             


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