The Temptation of Forgiveness – Donna Leon

The Temptation of Forgiveness - Donna LeonThis is the 27th Leon novel set in Venice with Commissario Brunetti solving crimes, and each one is a joy to read. The key is context. Venice is a delightful setting, and the crimes, although serious, are not desperate (no blood spatter analysis, for example). The pace of the investigation is relatively relaxed (Brunetti only seems toward on one case at a time), and Brunetti has a normal happy home life (unlike so many conflicted and tortured detectives like  Harry Hole and Wallender). Finally, the women in this story, specifically Ms. Elletra and colleague Griffoni, are becoming increasingly important to the story and plot. Importantly, this story centres on moral ambiguities when characters do something wrong (illegal) but for the right reason. As an example of fine writing, this is a description of a Brunetti encounter with his hapless superior (page 253): “Brunetti applied psychic botox to his smile and nodded while turning his attention to Saint Antonio, patron saint of lost things and lost causes”.

Principles To Live By – David Adams Richards

Principles To Live By - David Adams Richards.jpgRichards has written a number of acclaimed, albeit angst-filled, novels set in the Miramichi region of New Brunswick. This brilliant story is more global, based in New Brunswick but including New York and the genocide in Rwanda. The core of the book is a dogged search for a missing boy by a near-retirement policeman. The quest for truth is confounded by lies, treachery and deceit with some conspiracy aspects as well. A politically complex (and often corrupt) world is outlined in convincing detail. The incredible intuition of the policeman is sometimes hard to believe, but the storytelling is vivid and compelling.

Egg On Mao – Denise Chong

Egg On Mao - Denise ChongMs. Chong wrote the wonderful The Concubine’s Children some time ago. This new novel is historical, focussing on a young man, Lu Decheng, in South China who travels to Beijing in May 1989 to anticipate in the student pro-democracy movement. The story unfolds impeccably with two parallel stories: Decheng’s life leading to his fateful decision to go to Tiananmen Square, and his subsequent betrayal by the student leaders and his imprisonment for defacing a portrait of Mao. The complexity and chaos of the student revolution is described graphically, both the highs and the lows. Overall, this is a stunning story that provides a brilliant counterpoint to Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing.

The Female Persuasion – Meg Wolitzer

Meg WolitzerMs. Wolitzer is a very fine writer (e.g. The Wife) but this is her best book so far. This is a sensational relationship book: relationships between men and women, but most importantly, between women. The themes of feminism and an apparently supportive sisterhood are linked to some astonishing acts of betrayal. The characters are vivid and realistic and the progression of the story is superb. Highly recommended; one of the best in 2018 so far.

Macbeth – Jo Nesbo

Macbeth - Jo NesboThe Hogarth Press has undertaken The Shakespeare Project in which contemporary authors rewrite Shakespeare classics (see an earlier review of Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed, a retelling of The Tempest). Nesbo is a fantastic Nordic Noir writer, so he gleefully tackles the topic of police corruption and power struggles. The story is set in Scotland at a time that is near-contemporary. Interestingly, Nesbo uses all the Shakespearean characters: Macbeth, Duncan, Malcolm, Banquo, Duff. In the hands of a master writer, the allure of power is a powerful drug.

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste NgThis is a relationship book, a favourite topic for me. The story describes the relationship between two families in a Cleveland suburb. The key relationships are between the two mothers and their children. There are secrets and divided loyalties, free-living versus a life bound by rules, with a sub-plot of a custody battle that divides the community. Ms. Ng writes like Anne Tyler: deceptively simple writing that is incredibly perceptive – highly recommended, one of my best reads in 2018.

The Golden Age – Joan London

The Golden Age - Joan LondonThe Golden Age is a Convalescent Hospital for children with polio in Western Australia (1949-1959). This is a remarkable and compelling story of children forced to endure a wicked disease, an experience that makes some of the children wiser than adults. This is also a story of how children with a dread disease are treated by children, by their parents and by society at large. There are radiant and touching moments in this splendid book – highly recommended.