Book Review: MURDER ON THE CHAMP DE MARS by Cara Black

Book Review written by Kate Farrell

Murder-BookCoverCara Black’s mystery novel, MURDER ON THE CHAMP DE MARS, to be released March 3, 2015, is the 15th in the Aimée LeDuc Investigation series set in Paris—and it is irresistible! The indomitable, ever chic Aimée LeDuc faces new challenges as a single mother estranged from her six-month-old infant’s father. More than a thriller or a tour guide to Paris, Murder on the Champ de Mars brings us fascinating Gypsy (manouche) characters who intensify the tension of Aimee’s unresolved family secrets: who murdered her father and why.

  Cara Black’s mystery novel, MURDER ON THE CHAMP DE MARS,  Book ReviewOn the day her baby, Chloé, is christened, Aimée is confronted with a poor Gypsy boy whose mother is dying and who insists on speaking to Aimée to reveal the truth of her father’s death. Compelled to keep her father’s promises to the sick mother and to seek justice for her father, Aimée agrees to visit the dying woman only to find the woman missing from her hospital bed. Aimée begins a search that will take surprising twists and turns, as suspense builds and unknown dangers surround her.

Aimée enters the maze of Parisian society, the hard edges of its stratified class culture where status is everything, where those on the inside cling with desperation. From the despised outsiders, the Roma, newly arrived Eastern European Gypsies, to the ancien régime types in the elegant, old money seventh arrondissement and inside the marbled halls of ministries, Aimée explores the shadowy borderlands of secrets, scandal, and cover-ups.

Cara Black’s mystery novel, MURDER ON THE CHAMP DE MARS And she does all this while worrying about nursing her bébé and wearing the right designer outfit to gain entrée to upscale events. Cara Black ratchets up the anxiety by adding the needs and vulnerabilities of an infant under Aimée’s care. Black skillfully builds suspense in a tightly structured plot, giving away frightening glimpses of the murderers.

Throughout it all, the city of Paris is a transcendent character in this brilliant mystery, a shining place of beauty and history. Black allows us to experience the many facets of Paris with cinematic descriptions and sensory images. For example, when Aimée is to meet the Gypsy boy, Black describes their meeting place:

 “Now La Pagode was an art-house cinema with ivy trailing the walls. Drooping willows canopied the tea tables nestled in the Japonese garden. It lay quiet and deserted, apart from Michel, the projectionist, who waved to her while sweeping the lobby. Maïs, the house cat, slinked past the pair of ceramic dragons guarding the stained-glass door to the cinema.”

A book of many dimensions, MURDER ON THE CHAMP DE MARS is a tantalizing Parisian mystery with a captivating heroine.

Better yet! If you win the KILLER TRIP TO PARIS, you’ll travel with the author, Cara Black, this fall. Contest entry forms are inside a limited hard cover edition, in stores or online March 3rd.

For more information about the book and contest, visit: http://carablack.com/

Book Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Written by Vicki DeArmon

WeNeedNewNamesWhen you hear a new voice like the one that soars out of We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, you want to throw your head back and laugh with delight much like the Zimbabwe children in this novel do when they cannot repress their wonder. Bulawayo captures the ten-year-old protagonist, Darling, and her band of friends as they roam their town like small thugs, seemingly unattached to their adults and their circumstances. It is the adults who suffer for the bulldozing of their shacks in the wake of political upheaval, the ravaging effects of AIDS, the loss of their men to jobs in South Africa.

But when the schools shut down, the children play, making games from their dire circumstances. A woman kills herself and the children happen upon her hanging from a tree. The children–named Bastard, Godknows, Sbho, Chipo, Stina, and Darling–reveal the full slate of human reactions. Like a Greek Chorus, they weigh each circumstance and judge it. Seeing the woman, they are afraid and want to run; they evoke the punishment of God as one of them, Bastard, throws a rock at the hanging woman. They leave, only to return to steal her shoes because they can sell them to buy a loaf of bread to relieve their hunger. And then they all move on, in dizzy laughter.

NoVioletBulawayo -photoby Mark Pringle

They play the “country game” which reflects the status of their country as negligible in the scope of the bigger world; that is why no one wants to “be” it, they all want to “be” America. They steal guavas from the rich people who live in the nearby town of Budapest, trolling the streets looking for guavas and then squatting in pain to release them when they eat too much.

The genius of this book is how the trials of Zimbabwe and its people are revealed through the blithe and unconscious cast of children. But its vibrancy is in the language.

When Darling’s father returns from South Africa with AIDS to die at home, she is slow to understand, feeling shame and not wanting to let her friends know. But they discover the truth and push their way into her house to view him in his sick bed, and in their spontaneous song, they shift her understanding from shame to grief and finally, a kind of joy.

“Then Stina reaches and takes Father’s hand and starts moving it to the song, and Bastard moves the other hand…. We all look at one another and smile-sing because we are touching him, just touching him all over like he is a beautiful plaything we have just rescued from the trash. He feels like dry wood in my hands, but there is a strange light in his sunken eyes, like he has swallowed the sun.”

That vibrancy fades with Darling’s move to America to live with her aunt. Life moves from the cadence and wonder of childhood to the confusion and alienation of being an immigrant teen in the Promised Land. Darling’s relatives experience the fear of being stopped by the police, the necessity of marrying to obtain a green card, working at multiple jobs to send money back to relatives, and answering well intentioned questions from Americans whose understanding of Africa–a continent of fifty-four countries—is viewed as a single experience shared by all Africans.

vickiDeArmon

The reader may sense that the last portion of the novel is a list of trials the author feels must be included, that generalize the immigrant experience, and draw us away from the specific story that is Darling’s, but it is forgiven due to the power of the narrative. We Need New Names is painful in its wrenching truth and beautifully told.  

We Need New Names was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize.

Book review written by Vicki DeArmon,
Marketing & Events Director, Copperfield’s Books,

Seven stores in San Francisco’s North Bay

www.copperfieldsbooks.com

https://www.facebook.com/copperfieldsbooks

vdearmon-at-copperbook.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Written by Vicki DeArmon

Station Eleven by Emily St. John MandelStarting a book is like starting a love affair, so it most definitely matters what book it is. I picked up Station Eleven before it became listed on the National Book Awards long list and immediately, and irrevocably, fell in love. The other twenty novels stacked on my bed stand faded away as I tumbled into Station Eleven and could not extricate myself.

Dystopian novels are now a vast genre and the outlandish made grittily real is often how we judge them—the more horror in a sense, the better.

Station Eleven sidesteps this mandate, delivering a story that is uplifting as it travels through multiple characters’ lives before and after the collapse of civilization as we know it. We recognize our world when a flu virus wipes out the majority of the population which in turn collapses the systems we rely on: access to transportation, electricity, the internet, and electronics of all sorts. This collapse bleeds out into a likely dystopian future where the surviving one percent of the population, after roving for years, finally settles. In Mandel’s words, “civilization in Year Twenty was an archipelago of small towns.”  

Yet all this is not the heart of the story, but the backdrop, the reasons why our characters make the choices they must make. There’s none of the preemptive racing for the next horror in this book, but rather an almost idyllic and magical suspension of time. The novel traverses the twenty years since the collapse to flashbacks in the previous world.

The story focuses on the essence of art and its importance in a well-lived life through a band of Shakespearean actors and symphony musicians who travel from hamlet to hamlet along Lakes Huron and Michigan to conduct performances for the scattered outposts of humanity. Why Shakespeare? A character concedes, “People want what is best about the world.” And like a salve for the human soul, Shakespeare’s plays persist, as they once returned to the stage following the devastating plague of 16th century England, and in Station Eleven’s pandemic. One of the tents of the Traveling Symphony bears the inscription, “Because Survival Is Insufficient,” challenging the notions of most dystopian novels yet again. 

The novel starts with Arthur Leander, a Hollywood actor, who suffers a heart attack while playing King Lear just before the collapse. Leander is a metaphor of the collapse, serving as a testimony to all that raged in the pre-collapsed world including excess, fame, money, divorce, superficiality, and the quest for meaning. The other characters’ stories radiate out from Arthur, all who link to him in some way: his ex-wife, his fellow actor, a paparazzo, his friend, and his son. These links provide a web of connection throughout the novel that is mysterious and surprising.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Author Emily St. John Mandel

But it’s not about the impact of a person such as Arthur Leander in the post collapse world, but rather the surviving bits of him as artifacts or memory, that wind through the novel, now infused with meaning by the survivors. For instance, there is Kirsten, the child actress who played along side Leander in King Lear, now in Year Twenty performing Titania from Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Traveling Symphony. She has from Arthur a gift of two treasured comic books that sustain her spirit. The book’s title comes from these comic books which were created in the pre-collapsed world by Leander’s ex-wife who drew a space station resembling a small planet called “Station Eleven” and gave her character, Dr. Eleven, the words, “I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.” This novel resonates with such echoes. 

The novel ties brilliantly together in an uplifting end that claims art as the beacon when all else fails. This is not utopia. There are people who are violent and damning as the main characters confront them in this new world. Yet each protagonist persists in his or her view that art and fellowship are the preferred way. The preciousness of life is found on a small scale, beautifully written, with characters who are deeply compelling. This novel is a tribute to the goodness of people rather than a descent into all that is wrong with them when the worst happens. I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

Mandel’s previous work includes Last Night in Montreal, The Singer’s Gun, and The Lola Quartet. Station Eleven is being hailed as the breakout novel that introduces her for the first time to a wider community of readers. Read more: http://www.emilymandel.com/

Book review written by Vicki DeArmon, Marketing & Events Director, Copperfield’s Books, Seven stores in San Francisco’s North Bay

www.copperfieldsbooks.com

https://www.facebook.com/copperfieldsbooks

vdearmon-at-copperbook.com

Vicki DeArmonBook Review by  Vicki DeArmon

CIRCLE OF WIVES by Alice LaPlante | Book Review

Written by Sherry Joyce

CIRCLE OF WIVES by Alice LaPlanteI will be thinking about this book for a long time and talking about Alice LaPlante’s clever psychological thriller to friends and book clubs that enjoy this genre. Perhaps because a suspicious death of a prominent plastic surgeon takes place in Palo Alto, the mid-San Francisco Peninsula where I spent thirty-six years, I found myself delighted to be mentally musing and walking in the familiar area. I imagined myself in Samantha’s shoes, the smart, young detective unwilling to accept the plausible answers for why Dr. John Taylor was most likely murdered and who killed him. 

Certainly when not one, not two, but three simultaneous wives are implicated in the crime, you would shake your head at the implausibility—a dedicated plastic surgeon managing to maintain sanity while juggling three wives and a lucrative practice. Yet, when reading the story, you begin to feel empathy for the dead corpse. That’s masterful writing at its best.

As each wife is introduced, you are simultaneously fascinated and shocked as you feel compassion for Deborah, his first and legal wife, then MJ, the second wife, a free-spirited accountant with a difficult past, then Helen, wife number three, an oncologist whose work frequently requires her to deliver devastating news to parents that their child is dying. You are pulled into this complex web, almost certain one of these women killed her husband. However, there are plenty of clues with possible motives implicating Taylor’s partners in his surgery practice. So, maybe it was not one of the wives who was guilty of murder.

It’s not a book so much about “whodunit” as it is about motive. “Whydunit” is what propels you rapidly forward, turning pages of interview transcripts with Samantha and each wife, speaking in the first person, so that you are completely in their heads as you read. You are likely to ask yourself, “What would I have done if I were one of these wives?”

You think you will figure it all out with your detective-sleuthing reading skills. You won’t. You’ll guess, and guess wrong and then guess again.  Alice LaPlante’s writing is that good. Not only will you be unable to put this book down, you want, as the reader, to be a smarter detective than Samantha. You applaud yourself for thinking you could never be complicit in allowing your husband to have two other wives, but then you begin to understand Deborah, MJ, and Helen—perhaps even accept their choices and sacrifices. But then there is Claire who really thickens the plot, and the unusual relationship between MJ and her brother Thomas.

LaPlante creates a young detective, Sam, with insecurities and unwavering determination. Despite her own shaky, ten-year relationship with her boyfriend, Peter, she puts work first. Samantha is likeable, tenacious and unwilling to accept what appears to be the obvious.

Not many authors can keep you reading long into the night, thinking about how the victim died and who would have benefited most from his death. LaPlante plants (pun here) clues that make logical sense, and then they don’t, part of her writing skill. During Samantha’s multiple interviews with the three wives throughout the novel, you think you will see the flaw in the perfect crime.  However, you won’t see the plot twists coming, and they keep surprising. You’ll shake your head and say, “I didn’t see that coming.” That’s what makes CIRCLE OF WIVES a thrill ride of marital deception, betrayal, and discovery.

                                    —Sherry Joyce, Author of The Dordogne Deception

Meet Alice LaPlante and discuss her book at the National Reading Group Month Event
 Co-sponsored by WNBA-SF and Litquake 2014.

Mysteries at Opera Plaza! The Thrill of Shared Reading
October 11, 2014, Saturday, 2:00 -4:00 pm
Books, Inc., Opera Plaza 601 Van Ness Ave., SF 94107