Monday, August 29, 2011

The Confession by John Grisham

I’ve just finished listening to The Confession by John Grisham on audiobook. If you’ve ever listened to a book, you are probably aware that at the end of the reading there is a recitation of credits that nearly always starts with “We hope you have enjoyed this recording of…”I usually turn book off before I reach this point, but today I was painting the porch while listening and was standing on a ladder with a paint cup in one hand and a brush in the other, so I wasn’t really in a position to turn this one off right away.

That sentence, “We hope you have enjoyed this recording of The Confession by John Grisham…”got me to thinking. Had I, in fact, enjoyed the story? While it engendered many reactions from me, enjoyment would probably not make the list. This book saddened me, horrified me, frightened me, angered me and disgusted me. It also made me hope that I could be as honest, gallant, brave and principled as some of the characters. It kept me up late several nights as I listened impatiently to hear whether righteousness and justice had prevailed.

A high school cheerleader in Texas disappears without a trace. Through teenage pique and shoddy police work, an innocent young black man is sent to death row. Now, years later, on the eve of the execution, in another part of the country, a parolee comes to visit a minister and confesses to the murder of the cheerleader.

The minister is now faced with the moral imperative to attempt to stop the execution. But how? The real murderer refuses to assist in any way, including admitting where the body is buried. The innocent convict’s lawyer thinks the minister is just one of the whack jobs that come out of the wood work on the cusp of an execution, and is not taking him seriously. Which way should he turn now?

The minister ultimately does the right, albeit illegal, thing, convincing the real killer to break parole in Kansas and accompany him to Texas to confess and stop the execution. He convinces the defense lawyer that he cannot only produce the real killer, but lead authorities to the body of the cheerleader which had heretofore not been found. But due to circumstances beyond his control and the callous disregard for life and justice of members of the state judicial system, the execution proceeds. He is too late.

Eventually, all is put right – with two exceptions. The innocent man executed for a crime he did not commit, while exonerated, is still dead. And for all the committees and commissions and special legislative sessions, nothing about the death penalty process that went so horrible astray changed.

I did not “enjoy” The Confession by John Grisham. But I think it is worth reading. It made me think. And the author did a very good job at pointing out that right does not equal legal and legal does not equal right.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly

A woman, in the midst of foreclosure, is accused of murdering an executive of the bank that has called in her mortgage. Set in California in the midst of the recent real estate crash, a former criminal defense attorney turned civil attorney specializing in foreclosures, moves back into his comfort zone defending his client who proclaims her innocence in no uncertain terms.

The trial takes up the majority of the book with both the prosecution and defense pulling fast ones and taxing the patience of the judge. The defense manages to poke enough holes in the prosecution’s case to raise reasonable doubt. And, the defendant is acquitted by the jury in a matter of minutes.

And then the fun begins. It is rare for me to be totally taken by surprise by the final twist in a tale. It is even more unusual for me to be completely delighted by the outcome of that twist. Michael Connelly managed to do both. I felt a physical jolt of surprise that left my fingertips tingling as I read, and laughed out loud as the plot wound its way to the end.

I highly recommend this one – it’s a 10. Pick it up and enjoy!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts

I’m reading Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts. As I may have mentioned before, Nora is my favorite author. Thus far I have enjoyed all her books, including this one.

This one involves a group of folks who fight forest fires. And, they don’t just hike up blazing mountainsides; they actually parachute into the middle of the conflagrations out of perfectly good airplanes. I had a little trouble getting into the story at first due to this. I can’t really imagine wanting to be a firefighter of any sort, and there’s no chance at all I’d go skydiving unless the only other choice was certain death. But the story moved beyond those concepts and the characters came to life and I was sucked in as always.

I finished the book a little while ago and ran it back to the library because I know there are a lot of folks waiting to read it after me.

I got to watch, not only the main characters fall in love, but the heroine’s father as well. That was kind of cool. It was great when Daddy explained what being in love was like using fire metaphors. I enjoyed the comparisons.

There was also the accompanying murder mystery to be solved. I was a bit disappointed since I guessed (correctly) who the culprit was going to be almost as soon as he appeared in the story line. I guess I really shouldn’t complain. I’ve never believed that Nora Roberts didn’t write to a formula. It is one of the things I like. I know going in what to expect, and she always delivers. But normally, it is tougher to figure out who the bad guy is. Perhaps because it took a little longer for me to become emotionally invested in people who jump out of fully functional planes into raging infernos, I saw through the veil more easily.

While this is not my all-time favorite of Nora Robert’s novels, it is still a great read and I recommend it to anyone.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

I just finished reading The Black Echo by Michael Connelly. I assume it is going to be made into a movie soon since it was published in 1992, and recently appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list.

It is a well done version of the classic who-done-it genre, and the first of a series of novels featuring Detective Harry Bosch. The clues and police process move forward logically, with the twists mounting as the story moves along. And the final twist, while not a total surprise, is very good.

The best part of the whole book, however, is the first page. The opening scene is described without any visual cues. Connelly uses only sound and touch and smell. But I could “see” the scene in crisp, bold detail. It was fascinating and wonderful. Only rarely do I find a book whose opening line sucks me in and delights me. This one did it.

Superb work, Michael Connelly.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Devil Colony by James Rollins

I’m listening to the audiobook version of this novel, and am about two thirds of the way through. It’s an historical treasure hunt novel of the same genre as National Treasure. The Devil Colony, like National Treasure, is primarily American in scene and character. It contains references to Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Lewis and Clark, and John Smith, writer of the Book of Mormon. Most of the main characters are of American Indian origin and most of the action to this point has taken place on American soil. Although there have been a couple of trips to Asia and Scandinavia just to spice things up.

Some of the violence has been excessive in my opinion, but there is no doubt who the good guys and the bad guys are. You gotta love moral clarity.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the story thus far. The characters are vivid enough that the huge cast is easy to keep straight. The steps in the hunt follow each other logically. I can’t wait to find out how it ends!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I’ll Walk Alone by Mary Higgins Clark

I wasn’t a big fan of MHG, although I know she is very successful and has a huge following. It has been quite some time since I last read one of her novels. On my personal scale, I’d give I’ll Walk Alone a 6.

It was a quick, entertaining “beach read”. The characters just did not resonate with me, feeling rather two dimensional. However, the plot was pretty good. And, MHG made the very excellent point that even the smallest bit of seemingly insignificant info, when combined with others like it, can reveal a bigger picture. In crime solving, nothing is insignificant. She also made the point that in order to keep your case at the forefront of police attention, you must personally remain involved.

I liked that, as the action quickened and rushed toward its climax, the chapters became shorter. This device really helped me feel the increase in tension and focus. It gave the impression that the story was heading for a violent implosion. The truth was finally revealed, the true culprits discovered and the child rescued just in the nick of time.

I’m not sure why this was titled I’ll Walk Alone, though. No one in this story did walk alone. They all had networks of some type. Perhaps I’m missing something obvious, but the title is the thing that has caused me to pause and think most often while reading the book.