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Monday, March 18, 2019
4:00 pm edt
Don’t Wake Up
There are psychological thrillers
and then there are psychological thrillers. Now, all fiction of this genre is meant to creep you out by placing the protagonists
– typically a female – in particularly unusual circumstances caused by either external and/or internal, er, shall
we say, forces. A well-crafted thriller probes into the depths of the character’s mind, psyche, and personality as she
tries to extricate and save herself as well as her sanity. But, there are differences. Some are written for the sake of sensationalism;
others to edify as well as “entertain” the reader; still others to provide a commentary on social morés
and inequities as well as to point out human flaws and failings. A rare few combine all three.
Don't Wake Up by Liz
Lawler, released in paperback in early February by Harper Collins, I think, has combined and met this triptych criteria. The
author’s debut into the literary fiction scene is sensationally creepy and eerily entertaining while examining the prejudices
faced when a woman with a credible reputation suddenly becomes a distrusted victim. A pariah in her own life.
In the opening paragraphs Alex Taylor,
29, a brilliant, highly respected doctor in a Bath hospital, awakes to find herself compromised on an operating table: naked
under the green sheets, her legs up, her feet in stirrups. She at first, thinks she is being treated for serious injuries
sustained in an accident. But the face of a man hidden by a surgical mask looms over her, threatening to do unspeakable things…
She succumbs to anesthesia while resisting the inevitable…
This all occurred in the first few paragraphs. And it was, as first, enough for me, with my classic case of whitecoat
syndrome, to put the book aside and look for something tamer to read and review. But there was something about Lawler’s
writing – and background – that compelled me to read on. And on. And on, well into the wee hours of the next morning…
Alex, when she subsequently wakes up on an emergency room gurney, claims
rape. But there is no evidence. No one, not the attending physicians, nurses, nor Patrick, her boyfriend, believes her. Not
even the police officers who also doubt her bizarre story. Laura Best, a female detective hell-bent-for-leather for a promotion,
sets out to prove Alex is a pathological liar. Alex begins to doubt herself. She is almost convinced she is losing her mind
until there is another victim and a series of murders... Murders which Laura is convinced Alex committed… No one comes
to the supposedly victim’s aid except for Maggie Feldman, to whom Alex turns for solace…
This is probably one of the most graphically detailed novels that I’ve read in a
while. The author, a seasoned former nurse, leaves nothing to the imagination as she carefully and methodically wends through
a complex and convoluted series of plot-lines to prove/disprove her protagonist’s innocence/guilt. Lawler’s writing
is not for the faint of heart nor the more sensitive of soul. However, the resolution of Alex’s dilemma comes in a totally
unexpected surprise (and surprisingly well written) denouement. The clues were there throughout the narrative (I had to scan
the novel again to find them), but the author cleverly concealed them, offering the subtlest of allusions in a most deviously
duplicitous ending to a novel that truly exemplifies the genre of psychological thrillers.
Saturday, March 9, 2019
2:45 pm est
Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna
at it again. Still as sassy and sexy as ever, the sixty-something Auntie Poldi (Isolde) is hot on the trail of yet another
murderer in sunny Sicily. Told in the first and third person by her Italian nephew (she is a German transplant from Munich,
having married an Italian), Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna (An Auntie Poldi Adventure), Mario Giordano’s second novel about Poldi’s sleuthing antics, is just as raucously delightful as the first.
Well, just as delightful as a murder mystery can be.
You see, a dear friend’s
dog, Lady, is found poisoned in her garden. And then, for no apparent reason, the water supply to her neighborhood of La Baronessa
is cut off. Poldi, of course, is livid, surmising that both actions are that of a “certain local organized group”.
But why? And for what? Invoking her own brand of hubris, she assumes that the answers will not be found without her persistent
assistance. Or, as Chief Inspector Vito Montana says, her interference. Poldi and Montana, by the way, are (still) romantically
entangled. Which, of course, complicated matters to no end.
plot thickens. Montana is trying to solve the murder of a criminal prosecutor; a vile crime that Poldi insists is tied to
that of Madame Sahara, a local fortuneteller, whose body she just “happens” to stumble upon in a vineyard. Why
Poldi is slinking around in the vineyard in the first place is another story altogether… But I refuse to say anything
more lest I spoil the rest of the plotline for you. However: Searching the fortuneteller’s house with the assistance
of her three sisters-in-law and Padre Padro, the local priest, she finds Madame Sahara’s diary and a curious slip of
paper; both of which hold the key to couple, unlock, and solve the murders.
As I wrote last March when reviewing
Giordano’s first novel, Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, Auntie Poldi was
a dressmaker before retiring to the Isle of Sicily where she sought to quietly live out the rest of her days soaking in the
local wine, sunshine, and the view of the sea. But, ah, alas, blissful peace and tranquility are not hers to be had.
The true-to-life character, by the way, is an homage to the author’s aunt who, like
the eponymic title character, really did retire and moved from Germany to Sicily. She is, Giordano claims, is just as “outrageous”
as his mystery-solving protagonist. But, alas, in real life, has not – yet – solved any murders. Which, of course,
is exactly what the fictitious Auntie Poldi does.
In this second
of the series, released
this past Tuesday by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, nothing of Giordano’s witty,
fast-paced writing style is lost in translation from Italian to English by John Brownjohn, who also translated the first Poldi
mystery. With the exception of a few misused and one or two misspelled words and phrases, Giordano accomplished almost tongue-in-cheek
style once again pokes through. Once again casting Auntie Poldi headlong into a sequence of dangerous events as she, on her
own, attempts to solve not one, not, two, but three murders. And nearly getting herself whacked in the process…
I liked this second Auntie Poldi mystery just as much as I did the
first. It is an entertaining light-to-medium-hearted romp through the vineyards that crowd on and around Mount Etna. (Apparently
the ash-laden soil nourishes the best grapes.) But, like the first, I had one major compliant. Which I will, once again, repeat:
The italicized recaps at the beginning of each chapter were annoyingly glaring spoiler
alerts. “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them” was once
a hallmark of 17th and 18th Century books and still might be fine today in other aspects of the real
world. But, please, please do not use this egregious antediluvian technique in novels. Especially mystery novels in which
the reader wants the plot line to unfold without advance hints, clues, and pre-action tells. That is the whole point of reading
a mystery. Headings describing what you’re about to read is like eating dessert before dinner; devouring the olive before
sipping the gin martini; those annoying people in movie theatres who blurt out what will happen next. Yuck. So, rather than
ruin an otherwise decent read, as I did with the first novel, I skipped the headings in the second.
That being said, I once again reveled in the fictional Auntie Poldi’s life and times.
Especially following the complex plot-lines as she weaves her inebriated way through a maze of clues to solve the crimes.
The intrigue, refreshingly set in modern-day Sicily, is sprinkled with touristy comments and descriptions, and a whole host
of shady and not-so-shady characters who added spice to the mix. Actually, the whole of the conceit of Auntie Poldi, once
again, had me joyously second-guessing Poldi’s next moves as she, once again, “gets her man”.
Enjoy the read!
J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is
an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations,
volumes of poetry, stories
for children (of all ages) and
a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Miss El mira's Secret Treasure:
A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
Colonial Theatre: A Novel of Phoenixville
during the Roarin' 20s
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during
World War I
Columbia Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members
of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A
Collection of More Spiritual Poems
We Three Kings
Beauty and the Beast
Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding
Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She
is currently working on her sixth novel.