Wednesday, April 30, 2014

THREE EXCELLENT BOOKS

I've been out of pocket for a while. Here are three books I read over that time.

Because I read them a while back, my descriptions will be more sparse than when I write (as I usually do) the day after I have read a book.

Here they are--

Jeffrey Siger's Mykonos After Midnight has one main character—the Greek island of Mykonos.

The breathtakingly beautiful island is changing. Dirty politicians, greedy developers, and Albanian mobsters corrupt everything. And now the Russian mob, the most brutal of all, tries to take over.

Someone beats a rich nightclub owner to death. The man had seemed invincible. He had influential politicians in his pocket.

Andreas Kaldis, chief inspector of Greece's special crimes division, finds the source of the old man's power—lewd incriminating pictures of Mykonos' most powerful politicians.

Kaldis doesn't dare reveal the pictures to his superiors. His own police department would destroy the evidence or turn it over to the politicians.

That makes it possible for Sergey, the man who instigated the old man's murder and who now fronts for the Russian mob, to set Kaldis up on charges of corruption, of withholding the pictures to use for blackmail.

Sergey wants the pictures. He and his associates kidnap and brutally torture one of Kaldis' most trusted colleagues. 

The good people of Mykonos work quietly to help Kaldis.

And the story goes from there.

This is a powerful and honest story. It portrays Greece, which Siger clearly loves, with all its nastiness and imperfection. Somehow the place is still beautiful and timeless. It still has some honest policemen and policewomen. And those people risk everything for Mykonos.

This is the second Jeffrey Siger Andreas Kaldis novel I have read. I loved them both.

QUOTATIONS FROM MYKONOS AFTER MIDNIGHT--

Being police chief on Mykonos was much like a minister trying to keep order in a brothel when the fleet was in.
–---
“'Nothing in excess' was once Greece's guiding principle. Now it's, 'Nothing is ever enough.'”

*****

Martin Walker's Bruno, Chief of Police is another wonderful novel where setting plays a huge part.

Benoit Courreges (Bruno) is the chief of police in his small village in southern France.

Most often his role is to arrange for and manage patriotic parades, to work to foil the European Union health inspectors so the townspeople can sell uninspected locally grown food from their small stalls, and to coach the youth soccer team so he can head off juvenile delinquency before it happens.

Then someone murders an Algerian immigrant. He has a horrible German swastika carved into his chest.

Authorities from on high come to St. Denis to investigate the hate crime.

Among the investigators is a young woman who becomes a love interest for the small-town Bruno.

Bruno arranges a parade to remember the Algerian man who was a war hero. The parade breaks down into a riot. Some in the town (and many outside agitators) see the murdered man as a traitor.

All of a sudden, the seemingly peaceful veneer of St. Denis, becomes ripe with the hatreds of the WW II. Some were loyal to France. Some were conservatives and some more liberal. Some were turncoats. Some even took part in the murdering of French people.

Bruno follows the clue that cracks the case.

And, oddly enough, St. Denis people, loyal patriots from different factions, people who haven't spoken to one another since the war, work together to help solve the murder and make things right.

If you can't tell, I loved this book. I loved Bruno. I loved the town and the area. I loved the way the good people of St. Denis worked to keep others from changing the nature of their town.

I had heard this was an excellent story. It is. I recommend it highly.


QUOTATIONS FROM BRUNO, CHIEF OF POLICE--

[Computers] tended to get in the way of the kind of police work he understood, which was getting to know people. And his time in the military had left him with a healthy skepticism of the kind of official records that computer systems usually offerred.
–---
“I'm happy here, Isabelle,” he said. “I'm busy, I think I'm useful and I'm certainly not wasted. It's a way of life that pleases me and I've seen enough violence and drama in my time.”
–---
The past doesn't die. It even keeps the power to kill.
–---
...there were some problems beyond human solution, but none beyond human kindness.



Maija Rhee Devine's The Voices of Heaven is not a mystery story. It is a touching novel.

The story takes place in South Korea before, during, and after the Korean war.

Eum-chun (the name means Voice of Heaven) has been married to her husband Gui-yong for fifteen years. They are childless.

In this society at the time, a man whose wife has not produced a son can marry another woman to live alongside the first. And that's what happens here.

The relationships are complicated because Gui-yong adores his wife. He takes a second wife only because the social setting demands it. There must be sons to keep the two of them in their old age.

The second woman can expect her child to be taken away, given to the first wife. The woman herself may be kept in the house (or in some cases in the apartment her husband furnishes her), but many times, once the necessary boys have been born, the husband abandons his second wife.

Or it can go the other way. The husband can abandon the first wife, leaving her to her mother, and live with the mother of his sons.

Eum-chun and Gui-young have an adopted daughter they love dearly.

It is not unusual for families to throw away daughters. Daughters have little value compared to sons. And if you can only afford to raise so many children, it is the girl children who have to go.

But Gui-young and Eum-chun love their daughter, a throw-away from some other family.

In the end, the story is the daughter's story.

The Voices of Heaven follows the family with its many feelings through the Korean war and beyond. The society and the culture change.

You can imagine the masses of feelings on all sides.

As the danger from the war becomes greater and as the family becomes impoverished by the war, the feelings, relationships, and tensions grow.

For me, the blessing of this novel was in the way it laid open a culture I had never understood. Also, these are human beings, people I cared about.

This is a novel about women's rights, women's strengths, many women's ability to endure.

I learned of this book from a review in The Kansas City Star. When you read the author's biography, you will see that she has ties to Kansas City.

I found this book to be both educational and moving.

QUOTATIONS FROM THE VOICES OF HEAVEN--
“You feel ashamed of being the second woman? Angry at your fate? Just say to yourself, 'I'm already liked a steamed pig. Boiling water can no longer burn me.' Because that's true. You became a boiled pig, and I did, too, the day your groom cast you out.”
--Her mother's advice to the second woman. She had been chosen to marry a man and then he turned her out. She was left with no choice except to become a second woman.
–---
She especially hated Mrs. Band across the street. Every time she saw her, Mrs. Bang clicked her tongue and said, “You should've been a boy.” Lately, Mrs. Band had been saying, “If you were a boy, Little Mommy [the second woman] wouldn't be coming.”
--The adopted daughter was not told of her adoption. She was treated as a birth child. Her neighbor blamed her for not being a boy. And later, of course, she still had to learn she was adopted.
–---

Daughters were as good as wet straw shoes. Once married, they became outsiders.

2 comments:

Richard said...

Joe, I've read the first three Jeffrey Siger books, just finished the third about a week ago. They are all very good, with strong character and well painted setting, especially the first one. I'll be getting the next one from the library.

Joe Barone said...

Richard, I too intend to read more of of the Siger books.