The Creeper by Tania Carver

I had acquired this book through good old Bookbub and had just finished a couple of good books so I felt like I needed something decent to follow up with. I was not disappointed at all! This is a thriller set in England and there are a lot of twists and turns.

A woman is trying to sleep in her flat. Feeling paralyzed she thinks she senses someone in her room touching her. At first you are wondering, is she crazy? Is this a dream? What is going on?
No, she is not crazy. Yes, there was someone creeping around her room and doing creepy things. And no, this is not horror (although it is horrible). What unfolds is an unusually complex story considering it is also a police procedural.

Several women have disappeared or been killed. They are all connected by friendships and/or jobs. They all have some people in common. But there are enough dissimilarities that make you wonder, is this all connected or not? In addition to these factors, you have a police force with complex personalities and screwed up personal relationships that have an effect on the case.

To top off the above, there is not one killer, not two killers but three. All are operating together with individual motives for their participation that do not relate to each other. This makes this book one twisting and turning novel.

I thought I was getting into your standard police procedural and ended up knee deep in a book I could not put down. This was a wonderful surprise. I am not sharing any more than what I have already. I don’t want to give one more hint than what I have already.

This is a thriller and mystery for those who enjoy the unpredictable.

Columbine by Dave Cullen

I was not in the United States when Columbine occurred. Although it made world wide news it wasn’t obsessively covered overseas like it was here. After I came back, frequent reference was made to Columbine whenever there was a shooting. Eventually, I saw Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore.

It was the events at Sandy Hook that had a really profound effect on me. I recently watched a Frontline special on the survivors of Sandy Hook and a brief reference was once again made to Columbine. I decided I needed to read about this seminal event in more detail.

One thing I can say is that this book does an excellent job of debunking many of the myths that seem to have sprung up about Columbine. I felt that I understood in a much more clear and concise manner the role the media played in hyping this tragedy and reporting incorrect or speculative information that has since become enshrined as “fact”.

I also felt that I got a much better picture of the victims and each of the individual perpetrators. Although the two who caused the tragedy are lumped together, after reading this I realized they were two distinct personalities, with different issues and that their coming together, created the conditions for this tragedy.

The victims and their families were better delineated and what each went through as they struggled to come to terms with the events and outcomes at Columbine High School. The survivor’s stories were very powerful and speak to the ability of the human species to triumph while never forgetting what happened.

The worst part of this story was the role the media played. Incorrect reporting, constant live footage, perpetuating it year after year in ways that did not allow survivors to heal and move on, and the hype around the perpetrators that mythologized their actions creating blueprints for future tragedies.

This is a heavy book and I am glad I read it with some time behind these events. I fear with the 20th anniversary coming up, these events will be dredged up by the media yet again. I don’t believe that is a good thing. It gives weight to what the perpetrators did and dishonors those who died and those who survived.

I urge those who have questions to abandon internet searches and read the book. It delves more deeply into the mental health issues and truths surrounding these events and debunks some of the myths and misunderstandings about this tragedy. A great read, but very heavy material.

Elaine’s: The Rise of One of New York’s Most Legendary Restaurants from Those Who Were There by Amy Phillips Penn

Going further into my 1970’s retro reading campaign, I picked up this slim volume of essays that describe the scene of Elaine’s Restaurant in New York and how it was indelibly tied to Elaine herself – a woman with a big personality and a bigger heart.

If you have ever watched Woody Allen’s “Manhattan”, you will remember the scene where they are dining at a restaurant. That was Elaine’s and Woody Allen, among mnay others was one of their regulars.

The great thing about Elaine’s, was that it operated like a modern New York salon where Elaine’s main job was to ensure that whatever you did in life, especially if you were a writer, you met the right people in the right industries who would further your career.

Each essay is a remembrance from an individual whose life was either touched or changed by Elaine. The best part? Elaine called the shots. If she thought you were best served by sitting at a table full of celebrities, that’s where you sat. If she thought someone had potential or talent, she would not hesitate to kick a “star” to the worst tables at the back.

Most people who grew up in the 1970’s will recognize references to Elaine’s in books, music and movies. Elaine’s was everywhere. People magazines of the time had as many snaps at Elaine’s as Studio 54.

Sadly, Elaine’s the Restaurant could not survive the demise of its namesake. It closed its doors and this book is a wonderful summary of a life and an institution. Short but sweet read.

The Choirboys by Joseph Wambaugh

I read this book years ago when it first came out. It is definitely a snapshot in time and given everything that has come out about the LAPD since it was written, it really speaks to the culture that existed in the past.

This is the 1970’s and sexism, free love and political incorrectness runs rife. A group of police officers convene an unofficial support group/drunken bacchanal in the park at Echo Lake where they vent about their job as police officers.

Each chapter focuses on a pair of officers and the things that occur on their shifts. Sometimes the stories are funny, sometimes they are sad and at others they are terribly tragic.

Don’t look for anything other than a dated portrait of policing in Los Angeles circa the 1970’s and an entertaining novel. It is just a fun romp. If you haven’t read any Wambaugh, this is an easy introduction to him and an opportunity to get to read his style.

There may be more current books but Wambaugh was one of the earliest writers to pull the curtain back on 20th century police work.

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo

As you can see, I wasted no time returning to Harry Hole, the messed up Norwegian detective with demons aplenty. After his professionally successful but personally disastrous case in Sydney, Australia, Harry is shipped off to Bangkok in Thailand to solve yet another expat murder case.

This case involves all the seediest aspects of Thailand – sex trafficking, prostitution, blackmail, embassy officials using their diplomatic statuses to get involved in all manner of evil deeds.
This time, Harry is in not much better shape than those he is hunting. He wanders through the go go bars, the massage parlors and the beach communities of Thailand following leads from several different angles.

There is more than just an ex-pat murder in this case though. There are political and business implications that climb into the highest levels of the Norwegian government and Harry is being used as a convenient pawn. But Harry never plays the game according to others rules so there are always a lot of twists in what happens.

This book is also going to take Harry to a very dark place that appears to continue to the next book as he gets wound up in spending time in the opium dens of Bangkok. This is what I love about Harry – he is a disaster.

I know one of the later books is being made into a movie but I think to really appreciate Harry Hole, you need to start at the beginning and participate in his evolution or devolution as the case may be.
I have not been disappointed by this series yet. Oh and the cockroaches? Well, for every one you see, there are hundreds or thousands behind the walls that you don’t…..

The Bat by Jo Nesbo

Another series? Ermagod! But, I went ahead and dove in and I was not disappointed. I trusted the recommendation on the author because it came from a friend and fellow reader who has never steered me wrong yet. This time, I decided to start at Book #1 and read them in order.

The main character is Harry Hole (pronounced Hoo-leh), a Norwegian detective who has had been through some professional and personal hard times as all the best fictional detectives seem to have in common.

He has been sent to Sydney, Australia to assist in solving the murder of a Norwegian girl who was on a tourist visa. The first thing I loved about the book was that I lived in Sydney for several years. Ironically, the murdered girl’s flat was located in Hereford Street, Glebe which was actually one street away from where I lived. So I had the vicarious thrill of knowing the neighborhood intimately.

The next vicarious thrill was that the murdered girl, who was straight, worked as a bartender at the largest gay men’s piano bar in Sydney, The Albury. Now, my friends and I started many an evening of clubbing at the Albury. I had many friends who were bartenders, drag performers, singers in the piano bar. I went to many an after-memorial night there to celebrate fallen friends. I had many gay Mardis Gras nights there and Oxford Street was somewhere I spent many wonderful times.

Alas, The Albury is gone. As the community changes, morphs and assimilates, we have lost wonderful places. But I love that it lives on in this book. Harry is housed in Kings Cross which is the red light district of Sydney. I have millions of stories about Kings Cross too – all good. The Bourbon and Beef is somewhere many late nights and early mornings have ended.

A secondary location is the rain forests in northern New South Wales. Most particularly, Nimbin, which is a hippie town trapped in time. I spent time on a commune in that area so again, wonderful memories and to have so many rolled into one book sold me on the series right there.

In a wonderful stroke of serendipity, the story itself is very, very good. The mystery is complex; the characters are very rich and some of the clues dropped on Harry are done wrapped in aboriginal Dreamtime Stories shared by several aboriginal characters that populate the novel.

I am a convert. Harry is a wonderful character and there are plenty of books out there to get into before you have to wait for the next novel in the series. I love to find an author I can get stuck into and this is one for fans of a good mystery and a traveling Norwegian detective with issues.

The Spy: A Novel by Paulo Coelho

I have enjoyed every Coelho book I have read so I was excited when my friend let me have her copy of “The Spy”. In short, it is a fictionalized historical novel about the life of Mata Hari told from her point of view in letters to her attorney.

The research into her life is sound so it’s a brief but fascinating glimpse into a woman who was misunderstood. Mata Hari started life in Holland as a simple country girl looking for a way out.
She married a naval officer and headed off to Java in Indonesia in what was then called the Dutch East Indies. Although she was an officer’s wife and mother, she was also bored and unhappy. She learned a variety of dances and trotted off to Europe to reinvent herself.

Renaming herself Mata Hari, she became a Parisian cabaret dance sensation and sex symbol. She used her feminine wiles to book gigs and amass finery in the form of clothing and jewels. She paraded around on the arms of wealthy and important men.

With the advent of war and the expulsion of foreigners, she ended up back in Amsterdam with her star on the wane; she approached the French and the German embassy officials attempting to secure a visa in order to get back to Paris, either directly or via the Berlin cabaret scene.

According to her own version of events, she was misunderstood and scapegoated by both sides. Portrayed as a spy, a double agent or a traitor depending on which official was telling the story, she was jailed, tried, found guilty and executed.

While by no means the definitive story of Mata Hari, it is an easy, well written introduction to a fascinating woman. I love the style of Coelho’s writing – it reminds me at times of a modern day Hemingway. It is extremely difficult to write short, crisp sentences that convey a great deal of information without a lot of adjective or adverb filler. Coelho does this well and it is all the more impressive because the original language he writes in is Portuguese.

A nice little fictional novel about Mata Hari from a very good writer. No more, no less.