Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Little Catch-Up

I recently finished The Appeal by John Grisham and Deep South by Nevada Barr, so I need to get those reviews on here. Presently I'm enjoying three authors who are new to me: Scott Turow, T.Jefferson Parker and Lisa Unger.

I've also been working on this little scrapbook project. I've decided to record the author events I attend for posterity!

So, on to The Appeal by John Grisham. In this novel, the Payton's (a husband and wife law firm) are representing Jeanette Baker in her lawsuit against a large chemical company that allegedly dumped cancer-causing chemicals at their company's site, instead of having them properly disposed of. Over time, the chemicals soaked their way into the water supply of the town and the people of this town started developing cancer. Jeanette Baker's husband and son both died from this cancer.

The book starts out with the jury awarding Jeanette Baker 41 million dollars. After the first chapter, I thought to myself, "hasn't this storyline been done...A LOT?" I couldn't believe that Grisham was going to revisit something that's been beat to death. BUT, he merely used the cancer-causing lawsuit as a conduit to his real theme...political corruption.

For me, the first three quarters of this book went very slow. I questioned whether I should keep going, but it really takes a lot for me to decide to give up on a book. I persevered. And I'm very glad I did. The last quarter was OUTSTANDING! Grisham pushes the actual lawsuit to the background and brings to the foreground the chemical company's efforts to buy their way out of the jury's outcome. He also highlights how politicians use people's fears to manipulate them as voters. This is both relevant in the present day and terrifying. The fact that so many people vote ignorantly based on unfounded fears shows we have a terrible weakness in our democracy.

Grisham illustrated how easily our sources for information can be twisted. These are sources many people believe to be "reliable" when they are gathering their "facts" to make their voting decision. And we as a people are so wrapped up in ourselves, that we're more likely to listen to a false 15-second sound bite on tv or radio - and believe it as fact - than take the time to hear a candidate speak, him/herself or to even do our own research. We simply take what is dropped in our laps. Grisham makes you question if you should believe anything that is simply dropped in your lap!

I waited the entire book for what I was expecting to happen...and it never happened. I applaud Grisham for that choice. It was the right one. I won't reveal what that was, though, so as to avoid spoilers.

It would have been nice for the beginning to be a little more engrossing, but the end of this novel was worth reading every page in the beginning.

I also recently finished Deep South by Nevada Barr. I do remember reading an Anna Pidgeon book several years back, but it's been so long now that I don't recall which book it was. In this part of the series, Anna is taking a supervisory position on the Natchez Trace in Mississippi. She and her cat and dog are headed out to the new assignment as the book opens. And Barr begins the foreshadowing here when a tree falls to block Anna's U-Haul trailer.

Before Anna is even officially on the job, a dead teenager is found in The Trace. She has been left with a white sheet over her head and a noose around her neck. Given the fact that it's Mississippi, this murder needs to be solved swiftly and quietly so as not to result in additional craziness.

I absolutely love the character of Anna. She has a lot of spunk and she isn't bullet-proof. She battles the resistance of her subordinates who have never had a female supervisor. She battles the resistance of the town, who also resent her as the "outsider", the female supervisor who is snooping around about this murder. She doesn't have a "sixth sense" that allows her to just know everything. She learns through trial and error, common sense, and good old fashion investigating. I especially appreciate that she isn't some stunning beauty queen. She's a REAL person. Overall, I think Barr does an outstanding job with character development.

The complexity of the plot was especially fun in this book. The law enforcement agents were following the logical clues only to find out things aren't always what they seem. I appreciate that almost nothing in the plot is "unnecessary." Everything contributes to the conclusion. There were a couple parts where I started to zone out when she was getting a little prolific with the description, but otherwise, the plot was tight.

Being the animal lover that I am, I will admit that I had some trouble with the scene where the alligator attacks Anna's dog. Had it been a movie, I would have closed my eyes through it or fast-forwarded through it. But it was a moving representation of the devotion of the dog.

Overall, this was a great book. I look forward to reading more in the series.

And on one last quick note, I'll tell you about a website I discovered this morning. It's called "I Love a Mystery Newsletter". Here they review mystery books. I added a couple books to my To Read list based on their reviews, and I'll see how my feelings on the books align with theirs. I signed up to receive their future newsletters. I think it will be a good way to find out about books and authors that aren't necessarily forefront in the news.


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