Winter – real winter – has finally arrived in Michigan with a vengeance. Lake Michigan is protecting us from the truly arctic temps sweeping down from Canada but it’s still dang cold. To that end, I am eager to see everyone’s reads this month and pad out my TBR list cuz I’m NOT going outside for awhile!
I’ll review my two “Nordic Noir” reads first – both recommended by the excellent Crime by the Book. The Butterfly House by Katrine Engberg is the second book in the Korner and Werner series. Bodies drained of blood are showing up around Copenhagen, and as Korner investigates, it appears that they all have links to caregiving institutions. Werner is on maternity leave after an unexpected pregnancy, chafing at being home with a newborn and struggling to cope with her new normal. When she decides to do some independent sleuthing on the case, it exposes both of them to a murderer bent on vengeance. The strength of this series, to me, is the human element of Korner and Werner’s personal lives as they intermingle with their investigations, and the relationship between these contrary characters. A solid follow-up to The Tenant.
My starred review this month, however, goes to The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler. It knocks every other Scandinavian thriller into the ditch and is not for the faint of heart, but I absolutely could not put it down. The book opens with the grisly murder of a family in Sweden, a sole surviving teenager, and a hypnotist called in to try to see the murderer through the boy’s eyes. The book ties unexpected yet expertly woven threads of the hypnotist’s past and his family as well as the shocking secrets of the murdered family and the surviving boy. Overseen by charismatic lead detective Joona Linna, the action hurtles to its crazy climax with a tight, fast plot, excellent characters, and many twists and turns. Warning – it contains distressing elements of child abuse and murder, as well as incest, so probably not for everyone.
I read one other mystery this month, The Searcher by Tana French. I’ll start by saying that I love Tana French and normally I can’t put her books down. This one, however, was disappointing. The writing was solid and engaging, and I liked the main character, Cal Hooper, a retired American detective who has pulled up stakes in Chicago and moved to a small village in rural Ireland. His life is absorbed in renovating his dilapidated house and brooding about his broken family until a local boy shows up for help in finding his missing brother. Unfortunately, I just could not get engaged with the kid or the plot. I enjoyed French’s Dublin Murder Squad mysteries as well as Witch Elm but sadly this one just didn’t click for me.
My last read is a divergence but very enjoyable if you are a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, edited by Pamela Smith Hill, is the first manuscript that Wilder set down about her childhood and family. If you thought you knew anything about the Ingalls family from reading the Little House books, you will find that the true story is very different. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, a writer herself, collaborated heavily on the juvenile series, changing the history of the family and blending and creating characters that would appeal to children. This book is the real, adult telling of their journeys – it’s an absolute treasure trove of photographs, journal entries from both Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane, and includes amazing details about their creative partnership to bring the series to life. It also discusses with clarity the more troubling aspects of the juvenile series, and thoughtfully discusses the racism in the original books (heavily rooted in concepts of Manifest Destiny, their view of Native Americans as less than human, and yet also very evident in other scenes – remember Pa’s participation in the ‘minstrel show’?) An all-around excellent and absorbing read.
That’s it! With my library reopened, I hope to do lots of good reading in February and I look forward to sharing at our next link-up. Until then, as Mr Williams, the school superintendent, said to Laura’s pupils at the Brewster School during his unexpected visit, in Chapter 9 of These Happy Golden Years, “Whatever else you do, keep your feet warm.”