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Books in April

Not a great month for reading, but in my defense, I was traveling at the beginning of the month and was very sick with the flu at the end of the month. Glad this April is over!

Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his sergeant, Gemma James, are assigned to investigate when the body of a beautiful young woman, meticulously laid out, is found in a park on the Isle of Dogs. It takes little time to identify her, but then begins the arduous task of sorting through all her complicated family relationships, her multiple love affairs and the many reasons various people might have to kill her. All of which is very inconvenient for Duncan, who had promised to take his just-discovered son Kit to Wimbledon for the tennis and had to bow out of that promise, and for Gemma, who is rather strongly attracted to a suspect in the case….This is the sixth Kincaid/James novel and, like the others, I find it a kind of comfort-food read - not terribly demanding of the reader, but entertaining enough and with a number of plot twists to keep the reader engaged. I do like this series, although Ms. Crombie seems to have a penchant for having her main characters fall, quite inappropriately, for people with whom they should not become entwined. The main characters are all growing and evolving, and their relationships to each other are also evolving, which is nice to see. A mild recommendation from me, then, although I definitely will continue reading this series.

By now, I would imagine everybody who reads has an opinion about Stephen King - love him, hate him, think he’s a great writer, thinks he runs off at the keyboard way too much, etc., etc. I’ve been in the “his stuff is still lots of fun to read, even when it’s gross” camp for a long time, which means that while I used to pick up each new novel or short story collection as soon as it came out, I now buy them if I happen to see them in used book stores or I read a bunch of different reviews about a given book that make me want to check it out for myself. Just After Sunset is a collection of short stories/novellas from 2008, one I happened to find in a used book store in Santa Rosa, California, while visiting relatives there. All but one (the novella “N”) story in the book was previously published in such diverse settings as Playboy, F&SF, The Paris Review, The New Yorker and McSweeney’s. Each story features King’s trademarks: good character development, humour, often-disgusting horror, and internal monologues by the viewpoint characters. I particularly liked “The Gingerbread Girl,” “The Things They Left Behind,” “The New York Times as Special Bargain Rates” and “A Very Tight Place,” but of course other readers will have other favourites. I’m pleased to note the King provides the reader with a little background on each of the stories (at the end of the book, so you’re not tempted to read those vignettes before reading the stories themselves), a courtesy not many writers provide and one that this reader appreciates. Recommended.

Two former soldiers captured for a time during World War II believe they have found their former Nazi tormenter and, while investigating, accidentally cause the man’s death. Now they are unsure of that person’s identity, and must continue their investigations in order to justify their actions, but it’s all more complicated than that…. I generally like Reginald Hill’s work, but for whatever reason I just could not get into this stand-alone novel. Did not finish.

Happy Beltaine and bring on May!

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