Shortly after I began my job as a sales rep in the midwest, I came to understand that there were bookstore buyers whose knowledge about the books they handsold, and the customers they sold them to, exceeded by far the same bodies of knowledge at all the publishers that I was representing.
When I walked into Prairie Lights in Iowa City, I soon learned that Paul Ingram was one such buyer. As I started asking booksellers to send me their choice picks for my3books, Paul was at the top of the list.
Little doubt, Soho Press has been publishing the best written, most consistently interesting, and generally thrilling crime novels decorating the Mystery section of Prairie Lights over the last few years. In 2009 they've released a handful of terrific English thrillers set in Oxford by one Mick Herron.
The best I've read so far is one called Reconstruction (I don't know what the title means), which begins with an armed man entering a nursery school containing three adults and two children. As he waves his gun about, the reader knows he/she will not be able to put the book down till this man puts his gun down. Full of surprises (like who's the good guy) which I won't tell you about since I'd rather you read the book.
Some of the others feature Chloe Bloem, private detective. Herron is a 21st Century feminist male whose female characters put up with a great deal of shit from men, and sparkle with intelligence and wit. Herron likes to demonize the James Bonds working for Tony Blair. Great fun.
by Elizabeth Strout
Random House | 9780812971835 | $14 | Sept 2008
I'm deeply impressed with Elizabeth Strout's 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge. I'd read her first novel Amy and Isabelle, and liked it quite a bit. It was one of those oak-and-acorn/mother-daughter stories that I found deeply satisfying. I never thought she'd win a Pulitzer, but she's gotten better.
It's a book of linked stories set in small-town Maine. Olive Kitteridge, retired schoolteacher, has large or small parts in each of the stories and as the title character draws the reader's mind. She can be likable, nasty, pathetic, and brave, depending on her situation. The passage of time has her flummoxed, the way different time periods ask different questions of her, make different demands on her.
I found the book sad, in the way that many excellent novels are sad without being depressing. Strout has a wisdom about her and a clear compassion for each of her many characters. Her writing style has a transparence that many writers work their careers to achieve. Men and women seem to like the book about equally.
by Jim Krusoe
Tin House Books (PGW) | 9780980243673 | $14.95 | May 2009
Erased is, physically, a lovely trade paperback from Tin House Books. It tells a wonderful goofy story about a man, Ted Bellifiore, who sells high end gardening accoutrements, who receives a call from his estranged mother one night. She has had a mysterious encounter with a stranger outside her window who suggests that she might indeed be dead.
Two such odd conversations result in Ted searching for his mother. A search he never thought he'd be making. The mother, incidentally, left the family when Ted was two to pursue her career as a sports fisherman/woman. Ted is finally drawn to Cleveland (Krusoe's home town) in search of a mother gone missing.
Cleveland has seldom had the send-up Krusoe gives. It has a rat-killing day when Clevelanders prowl alleys with croquet mallets, unless they forget. Krusoe is very, very funny, but thoughtful as well in Erased. An unusual book but not a difficult read.