An Incomplete Guide to Literary References in Twin Peaks | Literary Hub

Hey, did you know that there’s a new season of Twin Peaks? Oh—you did? Why, have people been talking about it? And scene, with my sincere apologies. Like many of you, I’ve been thinking…

Source: An Incomplete Guide to Literary References in Twin Peaks | Literary Hub

Suggestions Needed!

My husband and I are getting ready to leave on a one-month vacation. I’ve already decided what clothes and accessories to pack, but I’m stressing out about what reading to bring along. I’m talking about those big, frothy stories that you can dive into on a long plane trip or while sunning on a ship’s deck.

I don’t want anything too refined that will require taking copious notes so I won’t have to struggle with notebook, pens, sticky notes, and my book while confined to a coach airplane seat. Some people call the kind of books I’m talking about here airplane books or beach reads. In remarks about one of these books on Goodreads, one reader wrote, “I would put this book in the category of a soap opera.” Yep, that’s about it.

To give you some idea of the kind of recommendations I’m looking for, here are five frothy pleasure reads I’ve indulged in.


The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

This book is my prototypical definition of this reading category. McCullough’s three-generational family saga has it all: illicit love, sex (both illicit and licit), marriage, motherhood, religion, secrets, family ties, money, fame, sweeping landscape vistas, and merino sheep.

The Thorn Birds tells the stories of three generations of the Cleary family, who at the beginning of the book leave a life as poor farmhands in New Zealand to travel to Australia, where they are destined to inherit Drogheda, the huge family estate. Most of the book centers on Meggie, one of the Cleary children; Ralph, the Catholic priest who falls in love with her; and Dane and Justine, Meggie’s children. Tragedies ensue, but what drives the story is McCullough’s deft and deep characterization that keeps readers involved in the lives of these people.


The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

Goodreads describes this as “a huge, brash thunderstorm of a novel, stinging with honesty and resounding with drama.”

The story opens in New York City, where Tom Wingo has arrived after his twin sister Savannah’s latest suicide attempt. To help Savannah’s psychiatrist better understand her troubled patient, Tom narrates the story of their childhood in a dysfunctional family raised in the low country of South Carolina. Steeped in Southern tradition, the narrative includes family conflict, strict religious belief, infidelity, sibling relationships, and the effects of physical and emotional abuse. Pat Conroy’s outstanding writing turns the Wingo family story into a tale of tragic, mythic proportion that brings both suffering and catharsis to readers.

The movie starring Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand is a good rendering, but read the book first.


The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

According to Ken Follett himself, this is his favorite of his novels and readers often tell him it’s their favorite as well. This big novel, set in England at the beginning of the twelfth century, uses the building of a magnificent cathedral as the focal point for a look at history: at the corruption of the nobility, at the lack of political stability, at the corrupt church, and at the peasants, who are at the mercy of all three. The story focuses on a few representatives of each category, and Follett’s depth of character development kept me reading for more than 900 pages to find out the fate of each.

There is a sort-of sequel, World Without End, that tells the story of the building of a new bridge in the same fictional town. There are references to the characters of Pillars, but this second novel can be read on its own. It’s basically the same story set 200 years later, with a bridge substituted for the original cathedral.


The Immigrants by Howard Fast

This is the story of how Dan Lavette, son of an Italian fisherman, builds a shipping company into a financial empire. Featuring the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the novel explores the status of immigrants on the West Coast and the growth of industry in California over the first decades of the twentieth century. And of course there are love stories involved: a loveless marriage and some passionate love affairs. In the end, though, the story probes the relationship between wealth and happiness.

This is the first novel in the Lavette Family series, with five more that continue the family saga:

  • Second Generation
  • The Establishment
  • The Legacy
  • The Immigrant’s Daughter
  • An Independent Woman

I discovered this series not long after the first novel was published in 1977 in a neighborhood book-swap. I’d read them all again.


The Books of Rachel by Joel Gross

This novel encapsulates 500 years of Jewish history, from the Spanish Inquisition to the founding of Israel. The story focuses on the Cuheno family. From the fifteenth century on, the first daughter of each generation has been given the name Rachel and the family heritage of courage and faith, represented by the family diamond.

The story opens in the present time, just before the marriage of Rachel Kane as her father presents her with the diamond and its story. The book then flashes back to fifteenth century Spain with the story of the first Rachel, then presents the stories of four more generational Rachels. Some of these stories are painful to read, since they deal with antisemitism through time and the horrors it has produced. Overall, though, this narrative is uplifting with its continued emphasis of faith, perseverance, and hope.

There is a prequel, The Lives of Rachel, that goes back further into history, beginning in Judea in 168 B.C.E.


Now that you know what I mean by frothy pleasure reads, what books would you suggest that I take with me on vacation?

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Whitehead, Thompson Among 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners

Colson Whitehead and Heather Ann Thompson took home the prizes for ‘The Underground Railroad’ and ‘Blood In the Water’ respectively during the 101st installment of the awards.

Source: Whitehead, Thompson Among 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners

5 Irresistible Introductions in Fiction

Tips for Writers and Readers

Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Read that sentence, one of the most famous first sentences in literature, aloud. Notice its cadence. The rhythm lulls you toward sleepiness—appropriate for a dream. And the rest of the book hinges on that final word, again. “Why again?” we wonder. “What happened during the other time or times at Manderley?” “Is Manderley only a dream now, and, if so, why?”

A good introduction piques readers’ interest and compels them to keep reading.

Charles Dickens was a master of grand openings:

A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …

David Copperfield:

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night.

A Christmas Carol:

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

Most readers say that they evaluate whether to read a book by looking at the first sentence. Writers have maybe five seconds to capture potential readers’ attention. If the opening sentence doesn’t somehow do that, readers will put that book back on the shelf and pick up another one.

Good introductions grab readers immediately by involving them in the story. Effective introductions make readers ask questions and keep turning the pages to find out the answers. There is no formula for an irresistible introduction, but readers know one when they encounter it.

Here are five more examples of introductions that grabbed me and refused to let me go.

Emma by Jane Austen

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

Like the opening of Rebecca, the soothing poetic meter of the first part of this introduction draws readers in and underscores the harmony of Emma Woodhouse’s life. However, the second part suggests that changes are coming. I need to keep reading to see what will happen to distress or vex Emma.

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

Everybody lies.

Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie.

A trial is a contest of lies. And everybody in the courtroom knows this.

In my heart I know that even the most honest person will lie under certain circumstances. But this opening turns upside down my expectation that justice involves a trial in which witnesses vow to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” I must see how how everyone in this case is going to lie and how a trial in which everybody lies will turn out.

Mind Prey by John Sandford

The storm blew up late in the afternoon, tight, gray clouds hustling over the lake like dirty, balled-up sweat socks spilling from a basket.

Here weather imagery sets the mood: threatening weather suggests ominous happenings coming up. And when the conditions smell like “dirty, balled-up sweat socks,” I know that nothing good can possibly happen.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

I EXIST! I am conceived to the chimes of midnight on the clock on the mantelpiece in the room across the hall.

A first-person narrator who observes her own conception can only take me to dizzying places. I want to continue reading to see what else she has in store for me.

The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton

What it begins with, I know finally, is the kernel of meanness in people’s hearts. I don’t know exactly how or why it gets inside us; that’s one of the mysteries I haven’t solved yet.

Not only do I want to learn about “the kernel of meanness in people’s hearts,” but I want to hear the story of how the narrator discovers this truth that he or she finally knows. Maybe what I learn here will teach me about human nature, or “exactly how or why [the kernel of meanness] gets inside us.”

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Dystopian dreams: how feminist science fiction predicted the future
Innovative narrative game Dialogue: A Writer’s Story out now

Studio co-founder and designer of Dialogue, Dustin Connor, added: “Conversation can be different depending on the context and participants, and we wanted to craft different visuals and mechanics for different conversations to reflect that. Some are timed and ‘in the moment’, while others are exploratory. Our game is a starting point – we want to see other developers experiment with their own conversation mechanics, and we want to lend our experience as consultants to make that process easier.”

True Detective season three: what HBO needs to fix to do the show justice

If you’ve watched the first two seasons of HBO’s True Detective, you’ll be interested in what Paul Owen has to say here:

on Monday news came that we needed to brace ourselves for a potential third season of True Detective, with Pizzolatto teaming up with David Milch, the co-creator of NYPD Blue and Deadwood. The new season has yet to be greenlit. But if it is coming back, here are three major problems it has to fix to be worth giving another chance

‘The Death of Expertise’ Explores How Ignorance Became a Virtue

The inimitable Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times reviews Tom Nichols’s book on a “wave of anti-rationalism that has been accelerating for years — manifested in the growing ascendance of emotion over reason in public debates, the blurring of lines among fact and opinion and lies, and denialism in the face of scientific findings about climate change and vaccination.”

These 4 first novels will leave you hungry for what the authors do next

Read about these author-debut novels:

  1. Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett
  2. The Young Widower’s Handbook by Tom McAllister
  3. Himself by Jess Kidd
  4. Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

What I’ve Been Reading

What Makes a Person: The Seven Layers of Identity in Literature and Life
Why ‘The Outsiders’ Lives On: A Teenage Novel Turns 50
A FEW WORDS ABOUT THAT TEN-MILLION-DOLLAR SERIAL COMMA
Critical thinking instruction in humanities reduces belief in pseudoscience
New Crop of Young Adult Novels Explores Race and Police Brutality

 

My Recent Browsing History

Here are some of the recent articles that have caught my eye.

Is the human brain hardwired to appreciate poetry?
George Saunders: what writers really do when they write
Storyhealing

Literature can enthuse medicine, and medicine can inspire literature. They are complementary treatments for being human.

The Stubborn Optimist

Following the persevering example of the writer and activist Grace Paley

THE ILLNESS AND INSIGHT OF ROBERT LOWELL

A new book is the first to bring clinical expertise to the poet’s case. What does it reveal about his work?

Did Jane Austen die of arsenic poisoning? Maybe. Maybe not.

The idea of time travel has fascinated artists, scientists, and historians for centuries. Authors have used the possibility of traveling through time to explore some of the big questions of human existence.

Here are five examples.

Time and Again by Jack Finney

When a secret government organization recruits advertising artist Si Morley for its time travel experiment, Morley jumps at the chance. His friend has the remnant of a partially burned letter dated January 1882, and Morley intends to see what he can find out about the letter writer and intended recipient. One temptation of time travel is that travelers will like some other time period better than their own. When Morley falls in love with a woman from the world of 1882, he must decide exactly who he is and where he belongs.

This 1970 novel is one of the most popular time-travel books, and its reputation is well deserved. Finney creates a compelling picture of life in New York City at the end of the nineteenth century and even makes time travel seem like a logical possibility. If you’re new to time travel literature, this novel is a good place to start.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

This novel uses time travel to present an unlikely love story. Clare and Henry are soul mates, but Henry suffers from a rare genetic condition that throws him into temporal free fall whenever he experiences a high-stress situation. Although Henry cannot control when he vanishes and to what time period he travels, he always lands at some point in his own life time—either his past, present, or future. And he almost always lands somewhere and somewhen near Clare.

Much of the novel focuses on how both Clare and Henry learn to live with his unusual condition. But its emotional center is their love story, which transcends all the complications of their lives.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

One of the most intriguing aspects of time travel literature is consideration of this question: What if someone could travel back in time and prevent some tragic disaster? This is the situation Jake Epping, a 35-year-old English teacher from Maine, encounters. Jake’s friend Al has discovered a portal back to 1958 in the rear of his diner. Al has been traveling back and forth, gathering information necessary to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

When Al’s failing health prevents him from finishing his mission, he recruits Jake to take up the cause. Using Al’s research, Jake settles into a life in 1958 Texas while planning to thwart Lee Harvey Oswald’s attack in Dallas. But like Si Morley in Time and Again, Jake discovers that life in another time period has potential complications. And even if Jake can stop the assassination, should he? What are the consequences of changing the past so drastically?

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

In 1976 in California, Dana, an African American woman, is suddenly pulled through time and plunked down in pre-Civil War Maryland. She saves a drowning white boy, only to find herself staring down the barrel of a shotgun. Just as her life is about to end, she is pulled through time once again and deposited back into her present life. Dana experiences several more of these time-wrenching experiences, always landing in the life of the same young man.

Octavia E. Butler was the first black woman to write science fiction, and this is her best known and most often studied novel. Butler won both Hugo and Nebula awards and in 1995 became the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award. This novel uses time travel as a trope for exploring questions of cultural history and social justice.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

Focusing on the World War II fire-bombing of Dresden, Kurt Vonnegut examines the meaning of history and of human existence in what has become one of the most famous anti-war literary works of all time. This novel considers war not only as a broad, abstract concept of history but also as a human experience that affects all the people it touches.

No description can possibly do this novel justice. You must read it. It’s short, but you’ll continue to think about it for the rest of your life.

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Books I Read in February

Rooney, Kathleen. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
St. Martin’s Press, 2017
ISBN 978–1–250–11332–0

I am old and all I have left is time. I don’t mean time to live; I mean free time. Time to fill. Time to kill until time kills me. I walk and walk and think and think. It gets me out, and it keeps me healthy, and no one on the street seems to mess with me, as they say on the street. All my friends in New York—back when I still had friends, before everyone moved away or died—had mugging stories, but I’ve never had trouble. (p. 61)

In this novel Kathleen Rooney rejuvenates the well-worn metaphor that life is a journey. As Lillian Boxfish walks around Manhattan, she reminisces about her life, from her career as the country’s highest-paid woman in advertising in the 1930s up to the present. In the process she not only recaps her life but also creates a love letter to New York City in all its historic grandeur.

On New Year’s Eve, 1984, 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish sets out for her annual dinner at a favorite neighborhood restaurant. But before she leaves she eats nearly an entire package of Oreo cookies (not failing to acknowledge the irony that this former star advertiser has been influenced by contemporary advertising) and isn’t hungry when she arrives. Nevertheless, she stays long enough to chat with the restaurant owner, her long-time friend. When she leaves, she decides that if she walks to Delmonico’s, the exercise will have aroused her hunger by the time she arrives there.

As she walks from midtown to lower Manhattan, Lillian thinks back on the life that brought her here, to the brink of 1985. She begins lightheartedly describing her early life as an aspiring writer who left her family in Washington, D.C., to strike out on her own in New York City. With self-deprecating humor she describes her ascendency in the advertising department at R. H. Macy’s department store and her success as a published poet. But the further she walks, the deeper she digs into her past, finally getting to its most significant events.

When Lillian gets to Delmonico’s she finds out that she can’t get in without a reservation on this, one of the busiest evenings of the year. A young family, overhearing her plead her case to the hostess, invites her to take the extra place at their table caused by a last-minute cancelation. She enjoys talking with the family while awaiting her delectable steak:

We chat about the things New Yorkers chat about … but I am surprised to find, and I think they are too, that our stories emphasize the serendipitous, even the magical. Our tone is that of conspirators, as though we are afraid to be overheard speaking fondly of a city that conventional wisdom declares beyond hope. My long walks, I discover, have provided a rich reserve of encounters with odd, enthusiastic, decent people; I hadn’t realized that I have these stories until someone asked to hear them. (p. 153)

Lillian may be surprised at her magical stories, but readers aren’t. We see some of those stories in the making as Lillian interacts with people she encounters along her walk: a pregnant woman waiting while her partner parks the car before entering St. Vincent’s Hospital, a young man working the late shift at his family’s bodega, the limo driver who tries hard to give her a ride, three teenagers intent on stealing her mink coat. These encounters demonstrate that Lillian’s true gift is to encourage people to tell their stories, to notice details and look beneath surface appearances, to find joy in understanding people in their individuality. Lillian goes out this New Year’s Eve in search of dinner, but she also allows New York City to feed her creative soul.

Lillian Boxfish is a delightful character. I’m glad I met her, and I’ll take to heart her lessons of how to find goodness and joy in the world.


Pinborough, Sarah. Behind Her Eyes
Flatiron Books, 2017
ISBN 978–1–250–11117–3

Do you remember all the hype that surrounded the movie The Sixth Sense? Don’t give the surprise ending away, all the ads and reviews exhorted, and for the most part people didn’t. The same thing happened again with the release of Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl and, again, most people complied.

And now it’s happening again with Sarah Pinborough’s novel Behind Her Eyes. The wording is a bit different, but the message is the same. From the front flap of the dust jacket:

And if you think you know where this story is going, thing again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.

And from the back flap:

Sarah Pinborough has written a novel that takes the modern-day love triangle and not only turns it on its head but completely reinvents it in a way that will leave readers reeling.

I’m willing to go along with the common agreement that book reviews should not contain revelations that will spoil the reading experience for others, even though that dictum restricts what a reviewer can say. I read a lot of mystery and suspense novels, and it’s usually easy to write a review without giving away too much.

But in the case of Behind Her Eyes, that restriction leaves little else to say about the book other than that it deals with a love triangle. I can tell you that I read the book slowly and carefully, and I did figure out the ending a little bit before it happened. But the important question is not so much “What happens?” as “What do I, as a reader, want to do with what happens?” I will tell you that if I had known about the ending beforehand, I wouldn’t have read the novel—not because of the spoiled surprise, but because of what that surprise means to me in a literary sense.

That’s a cryptic statement, I know. Feel free to get in touch with me for a real explanation if you like, but only AFTER you’ve finished the book.


Fuller, Claire. Swimming Lessons
Tin House Books, 2017
ISBN 978–1941040515

I never meant for this to be my life. (p. 328)

Gil Coleman’s wife, Ingrid, has been missing for exactly 11 years and 10 months when he sees her out of the bookshop window. At least he thinks he sees her. The old man sets off in pursuit but suffers a nasty fall that requires a lengthy convalescence.

Ingrid, who disappeared one day after a swim in the ocean, has been presumed dead, even though her body was never found. Since Ingrid’s disappearance Gil, well known author of the racy novel A Man of Pleasure, has been searching through his vast literary collection in search of the letters his wife wrote and hid in his books during the month before she vanished.

In her letters Ingrid recounts the story of her life with Gil: her initial encounters with the charming college writing instructor in 1976, the summer romance and ensuing pregnancy and marriage that forced her to leave university shortly before graduating, her fears and disillusionment about motherhood, her thwarted dreams, and the deterioration of their marriage.

The novel’s present time is 2004, when Gil and Ingrid’s two daughters arrive to care for him during his convalescence. Nan, 15 when her mother disappeared, took over mothering Flora, who was not quite 10. Now Nan assumes the main responsibility of caring for Gil while Flora, an art student who never accepted her mother’s death, immerses herself in memories, trying to imagine why her mother left and where she has gone.

The novel unfolds in chapters that alternate between the present and Ingrid’s letters, written in 1992. She starts writing to put down

all the things I haven’t been able to say in person—the truth about our marriage from the beginning. I’m sure I’ll write things you’ll claim I imagined, dreamed, made up; but this is how I see it. This, here, is my truth. (p. 17)

A minor but important character in the novel is Gil’s friend, Jonathan. His function is to attest to the reader about the veracity of Ingrid’s narrative. Without Jonathan to confirm it, Ingrid’s story would seem less credible.

Ingrid’s truth comprises all the big issues of a woman’s life: love, trust, marriage, motherhood, friendship, betrayal, independence, hopes, ambitions, responsibilities. I finished this book wondering how all these issues will play out in the lives of Ingrid’s two daughters. In the letters to Gil Ingrid stresses that when he finishes reading them, he must destroy them so that the girls will never see them. Her intention is to prevent them from learning the painful truth about their father, but they might have benefitted more from the opportunity to learn the truth about their mother.

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

I love reading mysteries because a well written mystery delves deeply into the depths of the human heart and psyche. I’m in partial agreement with Beth O’Brien, who says:

For me, the mystery books to read are personal. I want to know what happens to those directly affected. The family, the friends, the victims themselves. The general fiction section is where you’ll find the kind of mysteries I like.

GENRE KRYPTONITE: QUIET, PERSONAL MYSTERIES

She had me right up until that last sentence. While it’s true that some very good mysteries appear on the general fiction shelves, more often the best mysteries are found right where you’d expect them to be, on the mystery shelves. The main reason for this is that, once a writer has written a mystery and been categorized as a mystery writer, most book stores and libraries will continue to put all that author’s subsequent books in the same spot.

Like O’Brien, I don’t care for cozy mysteries (the kind in which, if the mystery were a play, the crime would occur off stage). And I’m not a big fan of the drawing room mystery, in which the sleuth, whether professional or amateur, gathers all the possible suspects in the drawing room and explains why each, one by one, isn’t the killer; the last person left is therefore the guilty party, and the sleuth proceeds to explain how the killer did the deed and how the clever detective figured the whole complicated mess out.

And I don’t like horror. I recently read two novels that were described as psychological thrillers that made me realize exactly what my definition of horror is: literature that uses a supernatural or inhuman phenomenon to deliver the promised twist at the end. (I’m not going to name those two novels so as not to spoil their endings for anyone who hasn’t read them yet.) It’s human motivation and interaction that I’m interested in, not goblins, demons, or other malevolent but external forces.

Finally, O’Brien says that she doesn’t like procedurals or courtroom dramas, and I disagree with her there as well. Procedurals, which pit a detective (who may or may not be a police investigator) against a bad guy or gal, frequently provide a look into the minds of both sides of that human equation. Courtroom dramas do the same, and often at the same time examine how the legal system works and how it affects human behavior.

Ultimately, though, O’Brien and I agree on the most basic appeal of a mystery. For her, it’s “about the people, the character development,” and I second that. The best mysteries are not pure plot, with one extreme event following another, careening off in seemingly endless directions. My purpose in reading a mystery isn’t to see what wild, unforeseen surprise the writer can throw at me. I read mysteries to learn about why people do what they do, how they interact with others, and what drives them. The best mysteries display as much character development as plot.

Here, then, are five mysteries that both interested and enlightened me. And you might want to click on the link to O’Brien’s article, where she offers five more.

A Place of Execution by Val McDermid

In the winter of 1963 in England, serial killers Myra Hindley and Ian Brady began killing children. Val McDermid uses this historical event as the starting point for her novel, in which a 13-year-old girl, Alison Carter, disappears in a small, rural English community distrustful of outsiders. The investigation falls to George Bennett, a young, newly promoted inspector. Although Alison’s body was never found, someone was convicted and executed for her murder. Despite this seemingly successful conclusion, the case continued to haunt Bennett for the rest of his career.

Decades later, Bennett tells the story of this case to journalist Catherine Heathcote. But just as Heathcote’s book on the case is about to be published, Bennett calls to tell her to stop. When he tells her he has new information but refuses to explain, Heathcote undertakes her own investigation of the case.

I’ve chosen this one of McDermid’s novels because it has stuck with me for years, but almost any of her books is worth reading, particularly her stand-alone novels. This book demonstrates how effective a procedural mystery can be.

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

Annie O’Sullivan, a 32-year-old real estate agent, is about to close up an open house at the end of the day when a van pulls up. It’s been a slow day, and she hopes this last visitor might just be the buyer she needs. Instead, the van holds a psychopath who kidnaps Annie and holds her captive in a remote cabin for a year before she manages to escape. (This all becomes clear right at the beginning of the book, so I’m not giving anything away here.)

Annie narrates most of the book as recordings of her therapy sessions after her escape. The last part describes her efforts to re-integrate back into society after her terrible experience. As harrowing as this sounds, Still Missing is a story of survival and resilience that I still think about now, several years after reading it.

”M” Is for Malice by Sue Grafton

This novel, from the middle of Grafton’s alphabet mysteries featuring PI Kinsey Millhone, is one of the best. When a family patriarch dies and leaves his estate to be divided equally among his four sons, three of them hire Kinsey to locate their long-lost brother, the black sheep of the family, who has been gone for 20 years.

Kinsey is a good investigator, so find him she does. However, after witnessing the dysfunctional relationship between the other three brothers, she advises the prodigal son to consider carefully whether he wants to return to the fold with three men who would obviously rather split the inheritance three ways than four.

”M” Is for Malice aptly demonstrates how deftly Sue Grafton creates credible, complex characters and how the mind of an investigator can be just as compelling as the mind of a villain.

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were childhood friends in a blue-collar neighborhood in Boston. But one day a strange car pulled up while they were out on the street and tried to pick them up. Sean and Jimmy didn’t get in, but Dave did. Dave later returned, but something had happened to him that drove him away from his friends and changed his life forever.

Years later, Dave Boyle is accused of killing Jimmy Marcus’s daughter, and Sean Devine is the police officer in charge of the murder investigation. This character-driven crime novel examines childhood, friendship, community, and the power of secrets. All the characters are sharply and complexly drawn in a story that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

There’s a good movie, but read the book first.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

Mia Dennett, in her early 20s, is a well-liked art teacher at an alternative school in Chicago. She’s the daughter of a prominent but cold and demanding judge and a socialite mother. Mia’s family can’t understand why she chooses to live in the city instead of in their large home in a much safer suburban neighborhood.

When Mia’s not-too-steady boyfriend fails to meet her at a bar in the city one night, Mia leaves the bar with a stranger who calls himself Colin. A notorious criminal has hired Colin to kidnap Mia for him, but Colin soon decides to hide Mia in a remote cabin in Minnesota instead of turning her over to his employer. Mia’s disappearance isn’t discovered until Monday morning, when she doesn’t show up for work. Most of the narration shifts between several point-of-view characters—Mia’s mother, Eve; Gabe Hoffman, who’s in charge of the police investigation; and Colin—as the search continues with very few leads.

Such use of multiple points of view characterizes many works of contemporary fiction and reflects the fact that there are as many sides to any story as there are participants in the events. Novels that present several points of view show readers how different characters perceive the significance of events and how they interact with other characters. This approach to storytelling allows writers and readers to explore fully the deliciously messy and complex workings of human nature.

 

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown