Category Archives: Mystery

5) Liar

By: Justine Larbalestier

Date Finished: 01.26.17

by Justine Larbalestier

Full disclosure: I listened to the audio book of this one and it may have altered my perception of the story. The performer did a great job but it was a difficult story to track. For one thing, it’s first person and I had a hard time distinguishing dialogue from inner monologue. For another, it frequently jumps in time. Each chapter is marked by “Before,” “After,” or “History of _______.” There were generally enough context clues to point to where it fell in the timeline but I did get lost on occasion.

The biggest struggle was keeping up with the unreliable narrator. It’s not a complaint exactly — the book is called Liar for goodness sake so there’s no use pretending that the main character is trustworthy. Still, it’s hard to keep up when you can’t flip back through the pages to see exactly what she said the first time. That’s where listening the audio book did me a disservice.

That being said, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed this book even in print. I found it excessively repetitive. I suspect that I would have skimmed or skipped over large chunks if I had the option. Also, I never quite liked the main character enough to worry about her or cheer for her. I nearly abandoned ship a couple of times but that is where the audio book was actually helpful; I didn’t have to expend any extra time or effort to see it through to the end.

At the end of the day: Not for me

(Oh, I never summarized the story. Here goes: Micah is a liar partially because she’s hiding a big family secret and partially because she likes seeing how long she can get away with it. When her boyfriend turns up dead, lots of people think she killed him. Her lies start to get her into real trouble so she swears to start telling only the truth…and doesn’t succeed.)

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29) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

By: Mark Haddon

Re-read Finished: 12.18.14

by Mark Haddon

Someone has killed the neighbor’s dog, and Christopher Boone has decided to solve the mystery. He writes down what he learns as a book, but the search for Wellington’s killer leads Christopher to uncover dark secrets within his own family.

The word is never used in the book, but it is clear that Christopher is autistic. As the narrator of the story, Christopher’s worldview is not the least bit extraordinary to him. He understands that others see the world differently than him, but he is his own normal. And that is why the book works so well: it is told with the utmost sincerity.

I first read this for an English class my senior year in college. Many of the other students were thrown off by the unconventional storytelling such as the chapters being numbered with prime numbers and numerous vignettes that seemed like digressions instead of linear plot. I was delighted by these idiosyncrasies (and still am). Ultimately, all the pieces fit together and not a single sentence was out of place. Christopher explains why the chapters follow the sequence of prime numbers rather than numerals, and it’s brilliant. It makes every detail of the book, even the commonplace elements, an extension of Christopher’s character. Once you embrace the quirks of the story, it will take no effort at all to slip into Christopher’s mind, and only after you step back to consider the book as a whole will you see Haddon’s hand.

27) Dark Places

By: Gillian Flynn

Date Finished: 11.17.14

by Gillian Flynn

Libby Day and her brother, Ben, are the sole survivors of the massacre that killed their family.  Almost instantly, Ben was charged with the murders, convicted, and sent to prison for life.  Libby has been hiding from that night ever since, incapable of making any real connections or commitments, and living off the pity of strangers.  As her money runs out, Libby agrees to track down other suspects for a group that is trying to prove Ben’s innocence — so long as they’re willing to pay.  Along the way, she discovers that there was much more to that night’s horrors than she allowed herself to believe.

Well, the title does not lie.  This book goes to some very dark places indeed.  It is written from three perspectives: Libby, Ben, and their mother, Patty.  Libby’s story is the primary story, taking place in the present and occupying the odd numbered chapters.  Ben and Patty both speak from the day of the murders, their stories alternating on the even numbered chapters.  It is grotesquely fascinating to watch misunderstanding after misunderstanding pile up, ultimately leading to the brutal massacre.  All the while, the reader watches in horror as compounding bad decisions are made, knowing that it’s only going to get worse.

Parts of it are downright gruesome, but I have to admire Flynn’s craft.  Every part of the story falls into place like a Rube Goldberg machine.  A day in the life of Ben and Patty mirrored the trajectory that Libby took to uncover the truth twenty odd years later.  Both arcs were natural and complete, and their interactions complex and seamless.

I wish I could say this is the book form of a Cold Case episode (one of my favorite shows; the concept and structure are similar in many ways) but it’s a little too grotesque.  This was a book club read, so I can’t tell you if I would have finished it or not on my own.  I suspect I might have skipped to the end to see who committed the murders, or maybe read just Libby’s chapters (because she is delightful even in her bitterness).   The craft is excellent, but some things you can’t unread.

At the end of the day: Not for me

19) A Study in Scarlet

By: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Date Finished: 12.27.12

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Many years ago, I read a few Sherlock Holmes stories and enjoyed them, but I had no notion of the larger narrative or the intricacies of the Holmes/Watson relationship.  Off and on, I’ve considered reading further, but nothing ever came of it.  However, given my more recent and passionate love of the Sherlock Holmes movies and the BBC show Sherlock combined with my disdain for CBS’s Elementary, I felt I could no longer put off reading the source material.  Naturally, I had to start at the beginning with A Study in Scarlet.

Oh. My. Goodness.  I can hardly think of a more enjoyable reading experience – it is truly riveting.  Part One is basic enough, explaining how Watson came to share a flat with a perfect stranger and his attempts to reconcile Holmes’ idiosyncrasies resulting in his somewhat accidental tagging along with Holmes on a case.  I spent much of the first part congratulating Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (the creators of BBC’s Sherlock) on a brilliantly rendered adaptation.  Some of the early dialogue was used verbatim in the show and sounded completely normal for present day.  I marveled and appreciated the modernity of Doyle’s prose – both for his time and for ours.  This part was pleasant and interesting, and then ended so abruptly.

At first I was irritated because Part Two introduced a completely different setting, pace, and tone.  I had to set it aside for a while before trusting that Doyle wouldn’t lead me astray.  Boy, was that late-coming faith warranted.  This part gives an incredibly detailed account of how the case began, long before the players were even introduced to one another.  It’s a fascinating tale and extra heart wrenching because I’d had a glimpse of the outcome.  It could have been such a beautiful triumph, but I knew it was going to take a turn for the worse, I just didn’t know how.  I read with my stomach clenched and my heart pounding, yet I couldn’t tear my eyes away.  The whole feeling was marvelous.  I thought I’d been invested in characters before, but never like this.

Part Three returns the reader to London where Holmes and Watson wrap up the case to a satisfying conclusion.  Throughout the book, the suspense builds to just the right moment and there are wonderfully funny moments sprinkled in.  The prose is easy to read, but not watered down in the least.  This story alone is an exquisite masterpiece and worthy of all the attention it has received over the years… even the less successful adaptations.

At the end of the day: Really, really, really for me