Tuesday, 18 November 2014

MORE GREAT READS FOR NOVEMBER, 2014

One Kick, by Chelsea Cain

For the myriad fans who have read every book in the Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell series, Chelsie Cain needs no introduction:  she is an acknowledged master of the suspense genre, expertly following each rule of the formula:  a courageous, damaged protagonist;  a possible romantic interest surrounded in mystery – but with exceptional qualities;  some really sick but diabolically clever villains;  and a strong cast of credible supporting players.  After six successful books in the ‘Heartsick’ series, Gretchen and Archie should really disappear into the sunset:   for this reader their love/hate affair has lost its oomph, and it is time for a change.  Ms Cain does not disappoint.
In ‘One Kick’, Ms Cain’s protagonist is Kit Lannigan – who prefers to be called Kick, needing a point of difference however small, from her given name, famous as it is, for Kick was abducted by a child pornographer when she was six years old.  She was missing for five years until the FBI raided her ‘father’s’ farmhouse hide-out, unaware that a child would be secreted with him:  her miraculous survival and subsequent return shocks and thrills the nation.
It also brings its own set of problems:  the break-up of her parents’ marriage and the transformation of her mother into ‘the Kidnap Mom’, a cosmetically enhanced, frequent guest on daytime TV and author of a best-seller on the whole dreadful experience;  years of counselling and treatment for Kick from various therapists, many trying to give her the strength to appear on the witness stand to testify against her abductor;  and acknowledgement of the sad, brutal fact that she has no-one to rely on in this world but herself.
To that end, Kick tries to arm herself in every way she knows how:  over ten years she has become a crack shot;  she can pick locks with ease;  she is a diligent and successful martial arts student and a knife thrower supreme.  She has transformed herself into a killing machine – with an obsession:  to find other children who have been kidnapped, the children that still disappear with distressing regularity from playgrounds and their own back yards;  to restore them to their agonised parents, and to provide some ease to her aching heart by doing so.  Her life has little pleasure in it, except for the love she has for her old dog, and another wounded and damaged soul whom she rightly regards as her brother – after all, he has suffered the same abuse as she.
Then the proverbial Mysterious Stranger appears in her apartment (he’s a good lock-picker, too).  In an effort to find the latest missing children, he wants to pressure her to remember everything she most wants to forget:  the horrendous methods paedophiles use to abduct and imprison the most vulnerable;  the typical remote locations in which they are hidden, and the ways of making the children docile through terror.
Mysterious Stranger Bishop is one big question mark:  he has great wealth at his disposal;  he has solid contacts in the Police and FBI (not that they like him particularly) and he certainly has a personal agenda.  As his and Kick’s investigation progresses it is clear that he really enjoys being alone in a room with a trussed-up paedophile – and who would blame him?  Certainly not Kick, and one of the pleasures of this otherwise deeply disturbing story is the reluctant rapport that grows between them.  Ms Cain can effortlessly create very realistic chemistry between her characters, and despite the great tragedy of their backgrounds they are immensely likeable.  Because Ms Cain is such a fine storyteller the reader finishes the book with great regret, even though its theme was so distressing – as is reading of any cruelty towards children, but we are consoled by the news that Book Two will appear in August, 2015.  Fine by me!  Highly recommended.

This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper

Mort Foxman has died a lingering, painful death from stomach cancer, diagnosed two years before after he finally visited the doctor because the Tums didn’t work.  His wife of forty years, a child psychologist and author of a bestseller on How to Successfully Rear Your Child, informs her four dysfunctional children that their father – an atheist – expected them to return to the family home to sit Shiva, a Jewish custom that entails staying in the house for seven days and mourning the loved one with family and friends.
            The siblings are horrified:  they haven’t spent time in each other’s company for years, and are quite comfortable with the fact that they are never ‘there for each other’, for each of them have fostered and petted various resentments and jealousies over the years, and whatever crap life dishes out to one is greeted by a certain amount of schadenfreude by the others – not that they are actively spiteful – except when they are in a group, forced to sit Shiva together for SEVEN WHOLE DAYS.
            This wonderful little story is narrated by Judd, third child and second brother:  his world has recently collapsed after witnessing his beloved wife in bed and clearly having a great time (what kind of position is that?  We never tried that!) with Judd’s boss, a very controversial Radio Jock.  Judd is in the deepest, darkest depths of despair when he is summoned home.
            Wendy is the oldest child.  She has brought her financier husband and three uncontrollable children to mourn, taking over two bedrooms, one of which was Judd’s.  He is relegated to the basement, there to suffer the gurgling of plumbing, the hordes of stampeding elephants charging back and forth overhead, and unwelcome visits from Alice, wife of his oldest brother Paul:  Paul runs the family sports goods business and according to Alice is not focussing diligently enough on trying to start a family, something Alice longs for.
            Enter Phillip, (late, as usual) youngest and most irresponsible child, bailed out so many times for youthful ‘indiscretions’ (weed-farming was never really a goer) that it’s hard for his siblings not to make the sign of the evil eye when he appears.  He also brings with him a svelte, athletic, stable, grounded (all of those things and more!) clinical therapist and life coach Tracy whose only fault is that she is nearly twenty years older than he:  what could be more normal?
            Add Mum to the uneasily bubbling mix:  she has acquired breast implants and stiletto heels, hardly the basis for widow’s weeds:  the coming week in the Foxman household will be interesting indeed.
            And it is.  Mr Tropper has written a gem, a smart, funny and wise mini-saga  of family dynamics, and a laugh-out-loud account of what is also a heartbreaking week in the life of a family who, despite all their petty hatreds, will always love each other.  His great writing is proof (if we ever needed it) that laughter is indeed the best medicine – after we have swallowed the bitter pill.  ‘This is Where I Leave You’ has now been made into a movie with a stellar cast – Jane Fonda is mum! – I look forward to seeing it.  Highly recommended.           


            

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