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The Ghost Hunters
The Ghost Hunters
by Neil Spring
Edition: Paperback
47 used & new from $0.66

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "...those who hunt ghosts are haunted, in turn, by them", April 2, 2014
This review is from: The Ghost Hunters (Paperback)
Normally a 500+ page book will take a few days to read; once I seriously got into this one, I had it done in two. I gave up a lot of sleep to read this novel, and it was totally worth it. The Ghost Hunters is really several stories meshed into one -- first, there is the story of Sarah Grey, a young woman living with her mother who, in this book, became confidential secretary to Harry Price, the subject of the second story, a "psychical researcher" and debunker of fake mediums during a time when spiritualism was at its heyday. The third story focuses on the "most haunted house in England," Borley Rectory. When I first bought this book I thought I was getting a horror story, and even though it didn't completely turn out that way, it turned out to be quite good. Aside from a few parts that verge on melodrama, the novel is highly atmospheric and will definitely send shivers up your spine here and there.

Let me just note that this isn't a horror story per se, but there are some spine-tingling moments in this book that ghost-story aficionados would love. Mr. Spring details each and every event so well that I got totally immersed in the Borley scenes and didn't want them to end. The author incorporates actual sources into Sarah's account; in fact, to be really honest, since this was the first time I'd ever heard of Borley Rectory, I thought they were all fake until my post-read curiosity got the better of me and I discovered that there really is a place called Borley Rectory, and that there really was a person named Harry Price. There is such a fine blending of reality and fiction in this book that it's hard to determine at times where one stops and the other starts. The book also provides an atmospheric quality that gets under your skin as you read; whether or not you are in the Rectory, you can't help but wait for that next little jolt of fear to hit. But beyond all that, I really liked how the author set up the theme dealing with the costs of deception throughout the story.

When all is said and done, Harry Price turns out to be a character loaded with irony, and the author sets things up so that it isn't up to the last that we discover exactly what that irony entails. The "secret" Sarah carries around with her isn't so earth shattering when revealed (and I figured it out early on), but even with this little bit of drama (a tad bit overdone, imho), she is also an interesting person both with and without Harry Price. There are many side characters who also come to life here -- most notably, the tenants of Borley Rectory, past and present.

Overall, considering I went into this book with the wrong expectations, I really enjoyed it ... just the perfect thing for a windy/stormy night's read.


Police: A Harry Hole Novel
Police: A Harry Hole Novel
by Jo NesbÝ
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.50
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5.0 out of 5 stars Truly one of Nesbo's best., October 30, 2013
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Police is #10 in NesbÝ's wonderful Harry Hole series, and by golly, it's a winner. I have read all but Cockroaches from this series, but I don't know whether or not my guts have ever been so delightfully twisted while reading any NesbÝ novel prior to this one. The suspense tempted me so many times to turn to the end, but to my credit, I didn't cheat.

From the very outset, the author delights in playing with your head. In a guarded hospital room, a man is laying in a coma. While he's hovering between life and death, someone is luring members of the Oslo police force to their deaths. The victims seem to be connected to old, unsolved cases, and they die in extremely terrible ways on or near the anniversaries of the crimes. Harry's old friends on the Oslo police force are stymied ... there is very little in the way of clues or forensics left behind, and the police are under a great deal of pressure to do something about these murders before any more policemen get killed. They're also under pressure from Harry's nemesis Mikael Bellman, the current police chief, to get the cases solved because he has ambitions, and taking credit for solving these murders will help him move up the political ladder. The team goes behind Bellman's back to try to stop the killer from striking again, but things get really ugly when when a particularly brutal murder hits very close to home.

Around this central plot, which ultimately focuses on the search for justice, there's much more going on. A particularly nasty suspect gives the police a run for its money; police burner Truls Berntsen and his crony Mikael Bellman are up to their old dirty tricks once more and through it all, things get really twisty as the book comes to a startling conclusion. I swear -- for once it was me, rather than the characters, who became angst ridden over how this was all going to play out -- my insides were churning waiting to see a) who the killer was and why he/she did what he/she did and b) how much nastier Bellman and Berntsen could possibly get while continuing to manipulate things behind the scenes. And through it all, I was kept wondering and guessing.

I don't care what anyone else says, I LOVED this book! This one just might be my favorite of the entire series. It is twisty and turny, frightening and unrelenting in the tension it managed to produce in my insides, and it is truly NesbÝ at his writing best. If you're new to the most excellent work of Jo NesbÝ you may wish to start at the very beginning and make your way forward through the series, as each book builds on what comes before; if you don't want to take that much time, at least read the novel prior to this one, Phantom. Highly, highly recommended!


The Shining Girls: A Novel
The Shining Girls: A Novel
by Lauren Beukes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.00
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good summery read, July 24, 2013
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3.5 stars rounded up

The Shining Girls is a mix of time-travel scifi and serial-killer crime fiction, but don't believe the blurb written by Matt Haig on the back cover that says it's a cross between The Time Traveler's Wife and The Silence of the Lambs. Even if, in your wildest imagination, you could mix the two, you still don't come anywhere close to The Shining Girls. Yes, there is time travel and yes there is a nasty serial killer out there, but this killer already knows who he's going to kill and visits his victims beforehand -- and even leaves them a little something to hold on to until he comes back. Bought exclusively for its summer-read/beach potential, the book didn't let me down.

In this story, time runs along different chronologies. The serial killer in this novel, Harper Curtis, has his own time line -- he jumps in and out of time from the 1930s until 1993 -- and then there's the timeline of one his victims, Kirby, whom Harper mistakenly leaves alive after a brutal attack. Third, there's the real, historical chronology, time and changing attitudes moving forward in history. It may seem confusing at first, but it makes sense here. As the novel opens, Harper Curtis is running from an angry mob in a Depression-era Hooverville. He runs into a shack, takes a coat and leaves; in one of the pockets is a key. He is drawn to a mysterious house in the city of Chicago, a jumping-off point into time; a place where his destiny, and those of a group of young women he doesn't even know, is literally written on the walls. The women are the shining girls of the title, and he is compelled to track them through time and ultimately to snuff out their glowing potential in the world. Harper visits each one long before he kills them, leaving some token; years later when it's a woman's time to die, he leaves something else with each of them, something from one of the other victims. One of them, Kirby Mazrachi, escapes from a savage attack and her destiny with death, but she is left with both physical and emotional scars. She becomes fixated on finding the person who did this to her, determined enough to the point where she becomes an intern on a newspaper that covered the case because of the access to the paper's archives. She has caught on to the pattern of artifacts left behind, but trying to find someone who will listen to her is pretty much impossible, as is trying to pin down one specific person whom she knows is responsible for a number of other brutal attacks.

On a surface level I suppose you could read this book as another serial-killer novel with a time-traveling gimmick as a hook, but to me it goes well beyond that sort of simplified explanation. Harper is figuratively plucking the wings off of women, killing them just as they are starting to make a difference in their present; he's also cutting off their potential for making a difference in the futures of others. Thinking about that, it seems to me that the author is not only talking about men who feel compelled to keep women down, but also about victims of violence -- where every life taken represents a loss of future possibilities. The crazy time loops in this novel help to point out that although time moves on, violence against women has always been, is, and always will be part of our existence, with effects that ripple ever outward over time.

Overall, it's a good enough novel, one that kept me intrigued, but there were parts that dragged and I had to read it twice to figure out the House. I'm also not big on graphic violence, which there is plenty of in this book; I get the point -- these were living people with personalities, lives, parents, loved ones -- but sometimes too much is just too much. The ending, well, since I can't talk about that here, suffice it to say I think the action-packed empowerment statement was a little too obvious, but I know lots of people who'll disagree. This book is getting some excellent reviews, but not everyone is loving it -- I'm somewhere in the middle of all of that. I'll recommend it as a good summer read -- but read it slowly so you don't have to go through it a second time like I did.


Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales
Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales
by Yōko Ogawa
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.59
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jarring and discordant -- wonderful!, February 4, 2013
The quiet tone of these eleven stories is only one thing that belies the disturbing nature of these tales of suffering, loss and people who become "damaged, ruined beyond repair." Normally when I pick up a book of short stories I am expecting the typical anthology where sometimes when I'm lucky, there is a clear thematic structure that binds the narratives together, and I was expecting something along these lines as I started the first page. I wasn't disappointed; frankly, I was quietly surprised when I started to discover connections between the stories. It started slowly at first, but as they started popping up more frequently, I started over, reading much more carefully and I was sucked right into this strange world of this seaside town.

What is also striking about these stories is that each one seems to open rather benignly, inviting you in. Little by little you start to get used to the environment and maybe for a little while feel comfy where you are. The first story, "Afternoon at the Bakery," for example, begins with a look at a nearly picture perfect scene of families strolling through a square during "an afternoon bathed in light and comfort," kids watching a balloon man ply his trade and a woman knitting on a bench. From there the action shifts to a bakery, where "everything looked delicious," with the "sweet scent of vanilla" hanging in the air. Once you've grown accustomed to your surroundings, however, you realize that something is just a bit off-kilter; things grow even stranger as you find out that the narrator is there to buy her son strawberry shortcake for his birthday even though he's been dead for twelve years. The story continues to darken and to take strange turns with the mother's memories of the day her son died and how she suffered in the aftermath; and by now you have been jolted out of the comfort of the warm, cozy, vanilla-scented bakery and thrust into a strange and growing darkness.

I'm not going to go into the other ten stories but the point is that each starts out so normally that you truly can't even begin to imagine what is waiting in store for you as you turn each page. As you read, as each story unfolds, the connections that are found in each and every story only heighten the strangeness -- until the last story brings about quite possibly the strangest tie of all, reminding you that there is no end to it all. Suffering and pain, death and loss are all connected here in this fictional world, just as they are in the real one, but here the author makes the links painfully clear where that's not always possible in reality. She does it in such a way that seemingly normal situations head down a path where these connections all resonate within a bizarre, claustrophobic and eerie atmosphere.

I have to say that I have never in my entire life read anything quite like Revenge, and I probably never will again. It is truly a masterpiece of darkness and the best advice I can offer is this: run, do not walk to your nearest bookseller to pick up a copy, or get on your computer and order it online. You definitely do not want to miss this very strange but at the same time magnificent little book.


Death on a Longship (Shetland Mysteries)
Death on a Longship (Shetland Mysteries)
by Marsali Taylor
Edition: Paperback
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good start by a new mystery writer, January 31, 2013
My thanks to the publisher for my copy. Death on a Longship is a murder mystery set in the Shetlands. The main character, Cassie Lynch, loves being out on the sea, but for most of this novel she and her boat are moored at the boating club in the village of Brae where she is skippering a Viking longship that will be used in an upcoming movie. Not long after she arrives in Brae, a young woman is found dead on the longship, and as the police begin their investigation, Cassie realizes that there seems to be a few people who may have had motives and the opportunity for her death. But a strange twist of events sets the entire investigation on a new track and Cassie finds herself smack in the middle of the case.

The core mystery and its eventual solution are written well, and there are a number of red herrings along with a well-established local flavor that keep the plot moving. At the same time, there is so much here that is extraneous to the crime and its solution that the mystery itself tends to get buried: the environmental pros and cons surrounding a proposed wind farm, the problem of overfishing, Cassie's backstory, her parents' histories, and, among other things, some lengthy descriptions of ocean sailing. I'm all for crime fiction as an idiom for social and environmental issues, but it comes across as a bit preachy here. Much of the book could have been much more controlled and more tightly edited as well. However, these are problems that I seem to notice with many new crime-fiction authors, so if Ms. Taylor is planning on an entire series based on this book, the chances are that these sorts of issues will sort themselves out as time goes on.

Overall, not a bad first effort with a good mystery at its core. I'll look forward to her next book.


They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Serpent's Tail Classics)
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Serpent's Tail Classics)
by Horace McCoy
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.11
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4.0 out of 5 stars An amazing, no-miss novel, January 5, 2013
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Most definitely a no-miss book, despite the fact that it was written in the 1930s, They Shoot Horses, Don't They is short (only 127 pages) but still incredibly powerful, examining not only how much pain or humiliation a person can withstand in his or her own fight for survival or that of others, but it also looks at the utter hopelessness for some in life's unending dance toward the American dream.

Robert and Gloria, two young people who have wandered to Los Angeles in as yet unfulfilled hopes about breaking into the movie biz, meet by chance and strike up a conversation. It isn't long until Gloria tells Robert about an upcoming dance marathon that promises free food, a place to sleep and a $1,000 prize -- but the big draw for Gloria is that the marathons are often attended by directors and producers who just might have a part for you in an upcoming movie. Robert is reluctant but gives in, and the two become one of 144 couples hoping to win; half of the dancers have "made a business of going in marathon dances from all over the country;" the rest were just ordinary people hoping for that one shot at success in what will ultimately become a monumental test of endurance and a desperate fight for survival.

Dancing or staying on one's feet for 1 hour and 50 minutes, with 10-minute breaks before the next round begins is tough enough, but McCoy reminds us that what is a life-and-death struggle for some is merely entertainment or business for others. When the audience isn't large or famous enough, the dancers are put through an especially grueling "novelty" each night called the derby, a 15 minute race where the couples go around a painted oval on the floor, with the woman holding on to a belt specially designed to keep the couple together, a feat designed to bring in more watchers, which means more money to the promoters. The last couple to finish is disqualified, so the derby becomes a painful race to stay ahead. (Oh, the symbolism abounds in this novel and it's simply amazing!) People begin to stumble or fall, and the others have no choice but to step over the broken bodies and broken dreams to not be last. The promoters are especially hopeful that the show will bring in "that Hollywood bunch," and as the contest becomes more painful and competitive, the promoters up the ante with cheap stunts like an arranged marriage that will yield the couple $100 -- entirely sponsored, of course and "in line with the management's policy to give you nothing but high class entertainment." But at the heart of this story is Gloria, with her defeatist outlook which manifests itself in ongoing death wishes for herself throughout the novel. She's a misfit, and having tried and failed so many times, she just doesn't care any longer, she's hopeless in the true meaning of the word, tired of the idea that "the big break is always coming tomorrow," and "sick of doing the same thing over and over again." She's ready to "get off this merry-go-round...through with the whole stinking thing." And after the dance is over, what is there for her to look forward to? The marathon truly is Gloria's life encapsulated in a matter of days and hours.

I could seriously go on and on about this book because the 127 pages is just filled with amazing though stark-in-style writing and wonderful symbolism that doesn't bog a casual reader like myself down into frustration. They Shoot Horses, Don't They is a magnificent novel that snapshots a period of time in a meaningful although bleak manner, creating a microcosm of America with hope and hopelessness right at the center of life in a most miserable era, but also carrying a great deal of modern relevance. Definitely recommended.


The Wrong Blood
The Wrong Blood
by Manuel de Lope
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.24
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book to be appreciated for the writing, November 17, 2010
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This review is from: The Wrong Blood (Paperback)
The Wrong Blood is the story of two women of different classes in Spain's Basque country: Maria Antonia Etxarri, the young daughter of a local innkeeper and Isabel Cruces Hernandez, who comes from a family of wealth and influence. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), their individual tragedies unexpectedly bring and then bind them together for the rest of their lives. Isabel falls in love with and marries an army captain, who is killed shortly afterwards, leaving behind not only Isabel but her unborn child. Maria Antonia, only a teenager, is raped when a group of soldiers take shelter at her father's inn. The local doctor, Felix Castro, is the central figure connecting them both. In the present, Miguel Goitia, law student and Isabel's grandson, is spending time at his grandmother's estate (which now belongs to Maria Antonia), a sanctuary of peace and quiet while he is preparing for his bar exam. His very presence there brings out memories of old wartime secrets that Miguel is not privy to -- and Castro is torn between telling him the truth about things or letting old memories lie dormant. It is also a story about loss, grief, the nature of class distinction, and as Dave Boling, author of Guernica and one of the blurbers wrote, about "... human survival at desperate times."

In terms of the writing, the direction of the plotline is a bit obvious once you begin reading, but that hardly matters in the long run. I only rarely find an author whose prose is so eloquent that I want to read the book again just to appreciate its beauty. And considering this is a translated version, well, I can only imagine how absolutely wonderful it must be in the original Spanish. The story is paced very well; it starts a bit slow, setting the overall tone immediately, while allowing the reader to absorb and appreciate small details that might otherwise be overlooked. The sense of time and place is evoked largely through the use of flashbacks, which take the reader seamlessly and skillfully through the hardships of war into the present and back again, without causing any interruption to the overall flow of the story. It is a book that will you find difficult to put down until the very end.

I recommend this novel to people who enjoy Spanish novels in translation, and who truly appreciate the beauty of the written word. It's definitely not a book for those who want something quick and easy, nor is it an action-packed novel that once you've read you'll forget. It's a book to be enjoyed slowly -- and kept on your shelf to visit again some day.


The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science
The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science
by Douglas Starr
Edition: Hardcover
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Science and crime solving in the 19th century, September 10, 2010
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Set in 1890s France, The Killer of Little Shepherds contains two simultaneously-told stories. First, there's the account of Joseph Vacher, who roamed the countryside of France and left only gruesome death in his wake. The second story is that of Alexandre Lacassagne, head of the department of legal medicine at the University of Lyon, who pioneered many forensic techniques in the areas of crime-scene and post-mortem analysis, and was what we would now call a criminal profiler.

Starr begins his story with army Sergeant Joseph Vacher's full-on obsession with a young woman named Louise Barant, a housemaid. After only one dinner, Vacher proposed marriage, and then later told her that if she ever betrayed him, he would kill her. She tried to avoid him and put up every reasonable excuse for not seeing him, but it didn't help. On a four-month leave from the army, Vacher came after her, she refused him, and he shot both Louise and himself. Both survived, and Vacher was put into two different asylums for a total of ten months, then released. With really nowhere to go, Vacher became a vagabond. As he wandered the countryside, he committed the most heinous crimes, with young shepherd boys and young women favorite targets. Because he would wander from department to department, by the time the crimes were discovered, he would have been long gone, thus avoiding detection.

Starr then interweaves his account of Vacher with the story of Alexandre Lacassagne, who was a pioneer in the study of forensic methodologies, including criminal profiling. He also discusses others in the field of criminology including Alphonse Bertillon and Cesare Lombroso, and explains developments in science and psychology that aided in the advancements of legal medicine and crime detection. He also examines the phenomenon of "vagabondage," noting the correlation between unemployment, the increase of people on the move, and the correlating upswing in crime.

Both strands of this book come together when Vacher is caught, imprisoned, and sent to trial, leading to some pretty major questions. For example, was Vacher insane at the time he killed, or was he perfectly rational? And what exactly legally constituted insanity? Is there any way to know if insanity is based on physical causes? What type of punishment is suitable if a murderer is found to be insane? Many of these questions sparked international debates, but they also led to further developments in the field of psychology, which was growing rapidly, as was the gap between medical science and legal codes. And when a person is known to be a "monster," even if he is insane, how can the legal system justify putting him in an asylum where, if he's crafty enough, he'd fake being well and be let out to kill all over again?

Starr expertly catches the era surrounding the crimes of Vacher and the work of Lacassagne and others. He acknowledges work being done in other countries around the same time period, such as Italy, the United States and Great Britain so as to broaden the scope of developments in the science of criminology. He also examines other crimes as well as the limitations of the local rural police departments in the capture of criminals.

I got very caught up in Vacher's story, and I liked the book. The early efforts focused on forensics and criminal profiling are really interesting, and if you're into this kind of thing, you'll be rewarded. It's quite obvious that Starr contributed immense amounts of original research to the production of this work. The stories of Vacher's victims are also lurid enough so that if you're not interested in the field of forensic study, you'll still find something in the book that will interest you. I do think he could have done without the "postscript" chapter and gone right to the epilogue, but that's nit picky on my part. Overall, it's a good book that will keep you reading.


Skippy Dies [3-Volume Boxed Set]: A Novel
Skippy Dies [3-Volume Boxed Set]: A Novel
by Paul Murray
Edition: Paperback
Price: $25.94
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best I've read this year., September 8, 2010
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If you're looking for a really good book to read, this is the one. Don't just add it to your TBR pile...go get a copy and read it. It's nearly 700 pages, but you won't even notice, especially if you buy it in the 3-box set. It is undoubtedly one of the funniest books I've ever read, but at the same time, quite poignant; it is a book that will at times tug at your heartstrings.

The story begins in the first book, called "Hopeland," and continues through the next two books, "Heartland" and "Ghostland." In the very first scene at Ed's Doughnut House on a Friday evening in November, 14-year old Skippy, whose real name is Daniel Juster, is having a doughnut-eating race with his friend Ruprecht Van Doren, who boasts that he has not been beaten in "fifteen consecutive races." But something goes wrong and (this is not a spoiler) Skippy dies after leaving the words "Tell Lori" written in jam filling on the floor. And then the author takes his readers back to fall term at Seabrook College, the oldest Catholic boys' school in Ireland -- to find out exactly what brought things to this point.

Skippy is a student who boards at Seabrook. Until just shortly before midterm, Skippy had been an excellent student, is on the school's swim team, and generally liked, but his grades have been falling recently. Skippy enjoys playing a video game called "Hopeland," a kind of mystic quest, which will increase in importance as the story goes on. He shares a room with Ruprecht, whose goal is to study at Stanford, and has a lab in the basement where he conducts experiments which he hopes will lead him to the secret origins of the universe. Skippy's other friends include Dennis, who is an "arch-cynic, whose very dreams are sadistic, hates the world and everything in it..." He also has Geoff, Niall and Mario as friends, although these characters (and many of the other boys around Skippy) are really less developed as characters than Ruprecht and Dennis. After thinking he sees a UFO one day, Skippy looks through Ruprecht's telescope and sees a girl throwing a Frisbee. This is Lori, a girl from St. Brigid's, a "smoking-hot" girl who immediately captures Skippy's attention. The problem is that another Seabrook boy, Barry, has become infatuated with Lori, and Barry is bad news.

But this book is not just about the boys of Seabrook -- the school's faculty and staff are just as much a part of the story. One of the main characters is Howard Fallon, the school's history teacher, who himself graduated from Seabrook some ten years back, and is haunted by an episode from his past. There's Father Green, the French teacher, whose name the boys have translated into French as "Pere-vert". His calling, as he sees it, is to snuff out sin, but at the same time, he feels he must keep Skippy in a state of innocence. He has his own inner demons to deal with as well. Then there's Greg Costigan, the acting principal of Seabrook in the absence of Father Furlong, who has suffered a recent heart attack. Costigan is snarkily referred to as "the Automator," and believes that the Paraclete Order is on its last legs, and that the only solution is to modernize the school, with himself at the helm. He believes that Seabrook's history as the oldest Catholic boys' school is brandable -- and that the school's role is to prepare the students to "get up there on the world stage and duke it out with the best of them." He wants to roll with the times and represents progress in a very anti-traditionalist sort of way; he doesn't care that the boys actually learn anything, just that they pass their exams to continue Seabrook's reputation, come what may. The reputation of the school is everything and must remain so, no matter what. Fallon, on the other hand, begins to understand that history is something of value -- and that teaching others to care about the past may be just as important as throwing them into the competitive capitalist arena.

Although Skippy Dies is often so funny you can't help but laugh out loud (for example, there's a scene where the boys' English teacher has just gone over the meaning of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" and one of the kids takes his interpretation to a whole new level), the story is at times tragic and heartbreaking. It's a good look at how these teenagers understand and interpret themselves in the face of today's world (including sex and drug use) how they see adults, and how despair can cause loss of hope and yet for some, become a building experience. It's about the hold of memory on the human psyche and the importance of remembering. There are other themes at work as well -- including the socio-economic situation of modern Ireland and the role of the Catholic church in the face of all of the scandals that dog it -- making this very long book just fly by.

I loved this book. Absolutely. It's extremely well written, although it does get bogged down a bit for a short time in the middle. But on the whole, it is most excellent. I have absolutely zero qualms about recommending it. It is so good you will not be able to stop reading it. I really hope it becomes a runaway bestseller.


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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A most unusual crime fiction debut, August 10, 2010
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The story begins in 1950 in a Dresden psychiatric hospital, where the director is being pressed by a Stasi official who wants to question the patient named Herbert Anwaldt. Herbert Anwaldt's identity and the reason he is a patient are questions the author answers as the book moves back and forward in time, beginning in 1933 in Breslau (now Wroc'aw). The main character of this novel (and the four that follow) is Counsellor Eberhard Mock, who in 1933 was the Deputy Head of the Criminal Department of the Police Praesidium. That year, Hermann Göring had taken over the posts of Minister of Internal Affairs and Chief of the Prussian police. The Nazis had become very active in the Police Praesidium, and an entire wing of the building had been taken over by the Gestapo.

Mock is summoned to a side track of the main railway station, where he finds the bodies of Marietta von der Malten and her governess in a saloon car, savagely raped and murdered. Clues left behind include some dead scorpions, some live ones, and some cryptic writing in blood on the wall of the train car. Mock knows the dead girl and her father, the Baron, a fellow Mason and someone to whom he owes a great deal. His investigation leads him to Friedländer, a Jewish importer specializing in strange "vermin," which makes the Nazi anti-Jewish propagandists very happy. It also solves some of Mock's political problems, and the arrest leads to Mock's promotion as Criminal Director. But it's not the end of the story -- after Friedländer "commits suicide", the Baron receives a package containing some clothing that had belonged to his daughter and realizes that the real killer is still out there somewhere. Herbert Anwaldt, an alcoholic policeman from Berlin, is summoned to work with Mock to secretly discover the identity of the real murderer.

This book is as dark as dark gets. Spies are everywhere, Mock has enemies that would like to bring him down, the Gestapo is a force to be reckoned with. The sinister atmosphere does not let up for a moment. The characters are well developed, especially Mock, who although married, spends his Friday evenings at a brothel playing chess with two lovely women (one under the table, one at the table) who know that "every successful move was assigned a specific erotic configuration." He is quite adept at playing the game with the Nazis, and becomes a master of the art of self protection, both physically and politically. There are many other characters who indulge in hedonistic delights, and there are the Nazis, and nearly everyone seems to have secrets that they'll do anything to keep hidden. And if ever a book captured a place and a time, it's this one.

Death in Breslau is stunning, a novel you won't forget any time soon after reading. While it's great fun, it's also claustrophobic sometimes as you sink deeper and deeper into the world of the dark and sybaritic side of Breslau and its inhabitants. It's also an excellent look at the politics and changing Europe of the 1930s. I absolutely loved this book and very highly recommend it to readers who want something truly edgy and way off the beaten path in their crime fiction.


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