Monday, May 26, 2008

Turow, Parker and Unger

This week brought three new authors into my library: Scott Turow, T. Jefferson Parker and Lisa Unger. O.k., Scott Turow and T. Jefferson Parker have been writing for some time, but this is the first time I've read their work.

In Scott Turow's Ordinary Heroes, following the death of his father David Dubin, Stewart Dubinsky learns that David was court martialed during WWII and was once engaged to a woman other than his mother. Stewart sets off to find out the details of these mysterious events in his father's life; events he knew nothing about.

I found this book to be enjoyable overall, but nothing about it really wow'd me. The characters, for the most part seemed to be on the flat side. I did like the character of Gideon Bidwell and thought he was an intriguing character. Gideon turns out to be an African-American who passed for a Caucasian when he enlisted. This fact influences a great deal of Gideon's behavior throughout the novel.

The plot was predictable, and I found myself asking Stewart what took him so long to figure it all out.

One thing the plot did very well was highlight the utter lunacy of war. Turow did a great job using the setting to make me ask again and again - why do we need this insanity to solve problems? We're supposed to be more intelligent than the beasts, but in reality, we aren't much different.

T. Jefferson Parker's Pacific Beat has former Sheriff's officer, Jim Weir, returning to Newport Beach from an imprisonment in Mexico. He learns his sister is pregnant, but then she is immediately murdered in a most gruesome manner. Jim and his best friend/brother-in-law, Raymond, set out to find who committed this atrocity.

For me, this was one of those books that was hard to put down at night. The characters and plot just pulled you in and made you part of the story.

Jim is a very complex character; he has strong ties to his family, but at the same time has a need for space and freedom. He would make decisions throughout the book that at first would surprise me, but the more I thought about them, they would ultimately make sense for his character. They wouldn't necessarily be the decisions you, as the reader, WANTED him to make, but they were the ones that were the most appropriate for Jim.

Virginia was an equally dynamic character and a lot of her complexity is explained at the conclusion of the novel.

The plot definitely kept me guessing...and hoping...right up to the end. The novel had so many people looking suspicious for one thing or another that you weren't sure which way to look.

I got a kick out of the Goinses calling Jim, "Mr. Weird."

The only thing I really questioned in this book was the police department's willingness - encouragement even - for Jim to be so involved in the investigation of the case. Yes, he has previous law enforcement experience, but you can't get much more personally involved in a case than being the brother of the victim. I don't know if I'm just conditioned by a media touting the idea that people "close" to a crime can't be involved in the investigation or if this is really an unrealistic element of the plot.

Overall, I loved the book. It was my first time reading T. Jefferson Parker, and it definitely will not be the last.

In Lisa Unger's Beautiful Lies, Ridley Jones unexpectedly finds her nice, normal life turned upsidedown when she heroically saves a little boy from being hit by a car on the streets of New York City. Everything she thought she knew about herself is suddenly called into question and she finds herself in a great deal of danger.

The writing in this book is simply outstanding! I found myself saying very often, "yes, I've thought that same thing and never put it into words" or "yes, I KNOW how she feels." Lisa Unger is one of those writers who works magic with the English language.

The story is told in the first person from Ridley's persective, as though you are sitting across from her in her living room listening to this harrowing experience. And by the end of the novel, you feel as though you are friends with this woman. Unger doesn't try to make Ridley a superwoman by any means, but she also doesn't make her a spineless wimp who opts for the easy way out. I really liked that Ridley had contradictions about her...she acknowledged those contradictions and didn't necessarily offer an explanation for them, they just were. And at the same time they were believable contradictions. How many times have I felt the exact same thing about myself? I knew I would definitely like Ridley when she said:

I'll tell you something about myself. I can get my head turned by a good-looking guy as much as the next girl. But sexy doesn't impress me. Smart impresses me; strength of character impresses me. But most of all, I'm impressed by kindness. Kindness, I think, comes from learning hard lessons well, from falling and picking yourself up. It comes from surving failure and loss. It implies an understanding of the human
condition, forgives its many flaws and quirks. When I see that in someone,
it fills me with admiration.

Now THAT is a character with substance!

The plot was unique, but I will forewarn anyone who is interested in reading this book...don't read anything about Unger's second book, Sliver of Truth, until you've finished this one. I made that mistake and it took some of the suspense away. The summaries I read of Sliver of Truth gave away the ending to Beautiful Lies. Not all of it, but enough that I was waiting for a particular detail to come out; knowing that it would.

Harlan Coben's influence on Unger came out when Ridley turned on her cell phone and dialed the police as she was entering a dangerous situation. Maybe Ridley has met Myron in her day-to-day dealings in NYC!

The only criticism I would have about Beautiful Lies is that the ending seemed longer than it needed to be. There were several times when I thought the book was at its conclusion and it still continued. Unger definitely wrapped every loose end up. But, that aspect wouldn't be enough for me not to recommend this book highly. Anyone who enjoys suspense/mystery...and especially anyone looking for a great female protagonist...this book is a great choice.


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