The Mind-bending Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The 7.5 Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleTucked amidst the charming shops lining Northville’s downtown Main Street, sits My Little Paris Cafe & Bookstore. I’ve been out of the literary loop for a bit, so I decided to drop in and check out the space that formerly housed The Next Chapter. A toasty tour of the shop led me to a display of the store’s January Community Book Club pick, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. There’s been quite a bit of conversation surrounding Turton’s unique novel, so I thought it a solid club selection. Quotes of dazzling, triumphant, mind-blowing twisty– and this look up – pure-silk Möbius strip of a story, cover the back jacket and urge the reader to jump in and enjoy the ride. Since I never leave an indie without buying a book, Evelyn Hardcastle made the cut for my latest review.

What I want to tell you is that I loved the book. Unfortunately, I only just liked it. Turton’s work has been called bewildering and complex, and in that I can agree. While reading different reviews regarding this book, I noticed that the descriptors in one mimicked those of another, as if no one really knows what to say about The Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. It’s that kind of book. Is it genius? Chaos? One thing that most do seem to agree on (including me), is that it’s totally original and worth the reading experience.

Main character Aidan Bishop has eight days and eight witnesses in which to work with to solve a murder, name a killer, and escape the sinister Estate of Blackheath. Each day repeats (think Groundhog Day), with Bishop inhabiting the bodies of each witness and compiling clues garnered from his time spent in each person. At times the character switch is utterly confusing, but Turton is exceptional at character portrayal and giving the reader a full-feel of what it is like to take on the physical, mental and emotional characteristics of another human being. Here’s a brief glimpse of Aidan’s time in the obese form of Lord Ravencourt:

     We walk slowly, but my mind is fixed on the ponderousness of this body I’m dragging forward. It’s as though some fiend has remade the house overnight, stretching the rooms and thickening the air. Wading into the sudden brightness of the entrance hall, I’m surprised to discover how steep the staircase now appears… It would take a pulley, two strong men, and a day’s pay to hoist me into Bell’s room.

Each character is seen from the inside-out through Aidan’s eyes as he slowly absorbs the perspective of the character in which he resides. Trippy? Yes. Confusing? Quite, but for those who persevere it does work itself out in the end.

The setting is a wealth of intrigue. Based on the “old chap” language and the decaying country mansion, perception dictates the timeframe to be around the 1920’s. Sprawling grounds, murky lake, looming graveyard, hidden webby rooms, and flickering gas lamps shadowed throughout the surrounding forest, all combine to provide an undertone of serious creep throughout the story. Recurring characters such as the skin-prickling Plague doctor and the ominous footman are integral to the story, and up the clever factor as clues click and slide into place.

Overall, this thriller is stacked a bit too high for me. Turton is apparently a fan of time travel, Agatha Christie mysteries, and video games, all of which take me beyond the bounds of my reading comfort zone. No plot spoilers here, but I need to add that the ending didn’t work for me – it was just too far out of my grasp. This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t recommend The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.

Turton’s writing is crisp and engaging, reminding me a bit of Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility. In the back of the book Turton reveals just how important the connectedness and precision of the events and characters in the book had to be for his concept to hold. The intricacy of the plot is a head-spinner. Therefore, if you are strong in the logic department and enjoy a good puzzle, then give it a go. If you tend to drift a bit while you read and prefer linear fiction, this isn’t the one for you.

My Little Paris Cafe & Bookstore

I haven’t covered our local independent bookstores in a while, but it is refreshing to know that they are alive and well in the Detroit metro area. My Little Paris Café & Bookstore’s Community Book Club meets the fourth Tuesday of the month. The next title is Curtis Sittenfeld’s, You Think It, I’ll Say It and will meet on February 26, 2019 from 6:00-7:00. Don’t forget to buy your book from an indie!

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

Why a Title Changes – The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Dolan’s Back with ‘The Man in the Crooked Hat’

The Man in the Crooked Hat

Bestselling Ann Arbor author Harry Dolan is at it again with his latest mystery, The Man in the Crooked Hat (Putnam, $27). Dolan’s fourth book follows Bad Things Happen, Very Bad Men, and The Last Dead Girl, all of which quickly found themselves on must-read lists. Mr. Dolan has been called “a new master mystery writer” (Forbes), and has made quite a name for himself in lit circles and on national media outlets. Though Mr. Dolan originally hails from New York, we’re screaming Pure Michigan!  for yet another great writer who represents.

I have yet to dig into The Man in the Crooked Hat, but I have re-posted my review of Dolan’s Bad Things Happen (2011) for your enjoyment below. If you are looking to buy, please consider the independent Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor.

Bad Things HappenIt’s true that bad things happen, but are we supposed to enjoy them so much when they do? In Harry Dolan’s Bad Things Happen, half the fun is waiting out the next “bad thing” (of which there are plenty) while the other is enjoying the ride.

Bad Things Happen is…well…sexy. From the alluring, yet solitary main character David Loogan right down to the seductive college vibe of Ann Arbor itself, Mr. Dolan hooks you up with a delicious murder that fills you with a sweet, edgy unease. As his sultry characters glide in and out of focus, you are left wondering beyond wonder, who in the world can you trust?

After David Loogan becomes inadvertently involved with the mystery magazine Gray Streets, his quiet low-key life somehow slips into a sea of complicated suspicion. However, Mr. Loogan’s appeal lies in his subtle, easy dialogue and blithe manner towards all things homicidal. As Loogan makes his way through the maze of Gray Street personalities in hopes of solving his friend’s murder, he encounters one Elizabeth Waishkey. Elizabeth is a cop who is also intent on solving the murder, but is saddled with the snag of distancing herself from the ambiguous Loogan, who is a promising prime suspect with each turn of the page.

As Waishkey works on Loogan, and Loogan works on his own, this shadowy tale is spun on pure Ann Arbor background, bringing about a well-deserved nod for this progressive midwestern pocket. Matched in sophisticated tones, Ann Arbor provides the perfect setting for Dolan’s sleek, hard-boiled fiction.

“Ann Arbor has the street life of a much larger city. When the weather is fair, and sometimes when it’s not, the sidewalks along State Street and Liberty and Main bustle with people:  hip, arty, confident people who walk to theaters and shops, bookstores and coffeehouses, who gather at sidewalk tables that spill out of restaurants.

David Loogan found them fascinating. He thought it must be the university that produced them. The university made the city more prosperous and young and good-looking. It gathered all these people to itself and then it sent them out into the city where they ate fine meals, and attended plays, and greeted one another on the street with hugs and cheery shouts and back-slapping.”

Bad Things Happen brings in the sharp, classic styles of other noir lit authors such as Raymond Chandler, whom is mentioned more than once in the book. Even if you are not a seasoned mystery reader, Harry Dolan’s seductive style easily translates. Mr. Dolan’s work is fun, and mentally unspools itself in close-up, pan-back fashion. Like a smooth, smoky Hollywood flick, Bad Things Happen definitely has movie rights potential, but for now I highly suggest kicking back and enjoying it just the way it is.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Author Alan Bradley Gives the Gift of Flavia this Christmas

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce Series #4) She’s baaacccckkkk!

If you have yet to meet cheeky wunderkind Flavia de Luce, author Alan Bradley is giving you another fabulous chance. I’m Half-Sick of Shadows is the fourth installment in Bradley’s shrewd series involving the saucy eleven-year-old super sleuth, Flavia de Luce.

No job’s too big for Flavia as long as it involves a dead body and a chance for the flourishing chemist to get her Bunson burners blazing. With her lab tucked into the far corner of the east wing of Buckshaw’s crumbling estate, the solitary Flavia puts her mind and passion for poisons to work in order to solve whatever mysteries might come her way.

One wouldn’t think the pastoral countryside of Bishop’s Lacey would offer much action for anyone, let alone a gifted little girl with ants in her pants. However, Alan Bradley has imagined the perfect setting for Flavia to toy with village authorities and tinker with the clues of Bishop Lacey’s latest homicide.

Flavia is a character to behold. Fresh and enthusiastic, she has made her way into the multi-aged hearts of her readers and settled in as one of literature’s finest female crime-solvers.

Wrapping up her first mystery in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (followed by The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag and A Red Herring Without Mustard), Flavia has blossomed right alongside Bishop Lacey’s body count. Now, Bradley gives  the gift of Flavia this Christmas as she returns for some Yuletide mystery in I’m Half-Sick of Shadows (trailer).

While Flavia enchants, Alan Bradley himself fascinates. He taught Script Writing and Television Production and was one of the founding members of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. Bradley, who is an electronic engineer, worked at numerous radio and television stations and was the Director of Television Engineering in the media center at the University of Saskatchewan before retiring to write.

Remarkably, Bradley became a first-time novelist at the age of 70 and continues to rake in honors and accolades for his Flavia de Luce series.

Whispers of movie rights are in the air, but let’s hope that Alan Bradley doesn’t relinquish control of his little lady any time soon. Characters this enjoyable are much better played in the mind than on the big screen.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Author Megan Abbott Brings ‘The End of Everything’ Back to the Burbs

Cover ImageMystery writer Megan Abbott is no stranger to Michigan. The award-winning author grew up in the Detroit area, attended Grosse Pointe North High School and graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English Literature. Though Abbott currently makes her home in Queens, New York, she’ll be bringing her latest novel, The End of Everything, back home this week.

Abbott is the Edgar-winning author of the novels Die a Little, The Song Is You and Queenpin. Abbott was already a favorite among fellow writers when her 2009 novel Bury Me Deep swiftly moved her into the mainstream.

The End of Everything is Abbott’s first work to take place in her hometown of Grosse Pointe, and takes place during the 1980’s of Abbott’s adolescence. The End  is a departure from Abbott’s other books, which draw more from history, film and true-crime.

“It’s definitely the world of my hometown,” Abbott shares. “It seemed like the whole summer world was conducted in backyards, sprinklers, Ernie Harwell on the radio, mosquitoes and peering through window and door screens.”

Abbott originally started writing The End of Everything back in the late 1990’s, and admits that returning to her roots for material feels a little risky.

“We are the least reliable narrators of the places we grew up,” Abbott tells Mulholland Books, “and it’s taken me nearly 20 years to write about my hometown. But now, all these years later, I can finally access Grosse Pointe in a different way. My new novel, The End of Everything, the story of a 13-year-old girl whose best friend disappears, is set in a Grosse Pointe facsimile. Writing it, I came to feel that the stillness I’d once thought of as stasis was precisely the quality that made the big moments of life, when they come, seem larger, bigger, more shocking and more moving. The more I wrote, the more I was able to telescope back, prior to my teen years of bored frustration with the suburbs, back when it was a wooded place of inscrutability and wonder.”

Abbott will be returning to the suburbs for a reading and signing of The End of Everything at Borders in Birmingham on Wednesday, July 20 at 7:00 pm. If you can’t make Abbott’s Birmingham appearance, you can link here for a full schedule of the author’s events.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Rosamund Lupton’s Eerie ‘Sister’ Makes Her Way to the States

Cover ImageIf pacing is the literary equivalent of peeking through fingers at the movies, get ready to make serious tracks with Rosamund Lupton’s hypnotic thriller, Sister. Even if you don’t consider yourself a reader of the mystery genre, Lupton’s edgy novel is an absolute stunner with hooks on all fronts for any literary appetite.

It’s not surprising that author Lupton, who studied English Literature at Cambridge University, was a script-writer for film and television as well. Sister confidently holds elements of Lupton’s former experience, and steadily unspools in eerie sequences of shadow-flecked shots and fractured plays of light. While Lupton’s slick yet elegant prose kicks up the backbeat of anticipation, it also deftly feeds the very humanistic plot that thrums at the heart of Sister.

“With ‘Sister,’ Lupton… enters the highly charged ring where the best psychological detective writers spar, her hands raised in a victory clench,” Liesl Schillinger raves in her NYT review (spoilers). “She encircles her story with electrified ropes: new developments continually jolt her readers, which doesn’t stop them from eagerly – and a little sadistically – awaiting the impact of the next blow… . Lupton builds suspense not only around the causes and details of her story’s brutal denouement, but also around the personalities and motivations of those who lunge and duck.”

Piatkus published Lupton’s Sister (as a paperback) to high acclaim in the UK last September and Crown Publishing Group subsequently snagged the rights to the first US edition. Crown rightfully expects Lupton’s novel Sister to be a hot seller and will release it in hardcover this Tuesday, June 7th.

Publicity is ramping up on other fronts as well. Rosamund Lupton was recently interviewed on NPR’s  The Diane Rehm Show, where she discussed her novel and it’s recent release in the United States. In addition, Sister was chosen as an Indie Next pick for June and selected by The Oprah Magazine as a July ‘Reading Room’ selection.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related

– Rosamund Lupton’s second book Afterwards will be released in the UK by Piatkus on  June 9th, 2011.

‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’ is Oh So Delicious!

Cover ImageAlan Bradley is back at it and his readers couldn’t be more pleased. Flavia de Luce is saucier than ever in A Red Herring Without Mustard, Bradley’s third and latest installment of the Flavia de Luce mystery series.

Bradley’s de Luce books are a bit like a literary Christmas; they come once a year, are full of mystery, and guarantee a wink and a smile when they’re over. If you haven’t yet caught Flavia or Bradley’s clever style in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie or The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (the first and second books in the series), I strongly suggest backing up to the beginning for maximum enjoyment.

Flavia is a wonder to behold. Not only does she fearlessly make her way through the creepiest of spine-tingling situations, but she also knows how to fire it up in her chemical laboratory. It’s in Flavia’s beloved lab that sass turns to spark as she calmly sifts through the bizarre clues she’s collected along the way to solving the latest mystery in England’s Bishop’s Lacey.

A Red Herring Without Mustard is no exception to Bradley’s shrewd yet perky series, and easily falls in with Flavia’s past footsteps of messy murder and mischief. Once again, the cheeky eleven-year-old super sleuth has found herself a fresh body (dead, of course) on the old Buckshaw estate and aims to get to the bottom of things.

“I have no fear of the dead,” quips Flavia. “Indeed, in my own limited experience I have found them to produce in me a feeling that is quite the opposite of fear. A dead body is much more fascinating than a live one, and I have learned that most corpses tell better stories.”

And a good story it is. Though from a comparative standpoint Herring fizzled a touch for me at the end, its ramped-up eerie factor brought about a fine balance making A Red Herring Without Mustard a delicious read.

For those of you who are already hooked on the series, Bradley’s next Flavia de Luce novel is titled I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, and will be released in the United States on November 1, 2011. Yes, just in time for Christmas.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

NLR’s review of The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

– Review of Red Herring from National Post

Gruley Turns it Up in Starvation Sequel ‘The Hanging Tree’

Cover ImageBryan Gruley is back and, dare I say, better than ever with his Starvation Lake sequel, The Hanging Tree. Admittedly I had prepared myself for the potential let down that tends to trail a bang-up debut, but was instead gifted with an agile follow-up that will likely establish Gruley as a steady player in the genre.

Hockeyman Gus Carpenter is back on the rink and back on the job as the editor of the struggling Pine County Pilot. When he finds his second cousin hanging from the town’s famed tree in an apparent suicide, his reporter’s instincts tell him things are not quite as they appear. As Gus pieces together his cousin’s past he becomes, once again, the man Starvation Lake just loves to hate.

The Hanging Tree is ramped up in every way and the dialogue is at full tilt. Gruley seems more comfortable with his voice this time around and the result brings a hard core credibility to his characters both on and off the ice. Serving up social commentary with grit and righteous humor, Gruley gets his punches in while keeping up his mystery’s momentum.

No worries for those of you who didn’t catch Starvation Lake; The Hanging Tree stands firmly on its own. If you have read Gruley’s first in the series, the familiarity is an added bonus. A fast-paced read, The Hanging Tree moves from the still waters of Starvation Lake to the tougher tides of Detroit, leaving pure pleasure in it’s wake. Keep your eyes open for Gruley’s next book in the series, tentatively titled The Skeleton Box, which is expected to release next fall.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Info

NLR’s review of Starvation Lake

‘Bad Things Happen’ with author Dolan at Borders in Ann Arbor

Cover ImageSorry for the last minute info but it’s not too late to catch Harry Dolan, author of the Ann Arbor hit Bad Things Happen this evening. Mr. Dolan will be appearing at Borders in Ann Arbor (Liberty Street location) for a reading and signing tonight, August 5th, 2010 at 7:00 PM.  As always, check all event details before heading out the door. For those of you who might have missed my review a few months back I have attached it below for your enjoyment.

It’s true that bad things happen, but are we supposed to enjoy them so much when they do? In Harry Dolan’s Bad Things Happen, half the fun is waiting out the next “bad thing” (of which there are plenty) while the other is enjoying the ride.

Bad Things Happen is…well…sexy. From the alluring, yet solitary main character David Loogan right down to the seductive college vibe of Ann Arbor itself, Mr. Dolan hooks you up with a delicious murder that fills you with a sweet, edgy unease. As his sultry characters glide in and out of focus, you are left wondering beyond wonder, who in the world can you trust?

After David Loogan becomes inadvertently involved with the mystery magazine Gray Streets, his quiet low-key life somehow slips into a sea of complicated suspicion. However, Mr. Loogan’s appeal lies in his subtle, easy dialogue and blithe manner towards all things homicidal.

As Loogan makes his way through the maze of Gray Street personalities in hopes of solving his friend’s murder, he encounters one Elizabeth Waishkey. Elizabeth is a cop who is also intent on solving the murder, but is saddled with the snag of distancing herself from the ambiguous Loogan, who is a promising prime suspect with each turn of the page.

As Waishkey works on Loogan, and Loogan works on his own, this shadowy tale is spun on pure Ann Arbor background, bringing about a well-deserved nod for this progressive midwestern pocket. Matched in sophisticated tones, Ann Arbor provides the perfect setting for Dolan’s sleek, hard-boiled fiction.

“Ann Arbor has the street life of a much larger city. When the weather is fair, and sometimes when it’s not, the sidewalks along State Street and Liberty and Main bustle with people:  hip, arty, confident people who walk to theaters and shops, bookstores and coffeehouses, who gather at sidewalk tables that spill out of restaurants.

David Loogan found them fascinating. He thought it must be the university that produced them. The university made the city more prosperous and young and good-looking. It gathered all these people to itself and then it sent them out into the city where they ate fine meals, and attended plays, and greeted one another on the street with hugs and cheery shouts and back-slapping.”

Bad Things Happen brings in the sharp, classic styles of other noir lit authors such as Raymond Chandler, whom is mentioned more than once in the book. But even if you are not a seasoned mystery reader (like myself) Harry Dolan’s seductive style easily translates. Mr. Dolan’s work is fun, and mentally unspools itself in close-up, pan-back fashion. Like a smooth, smoky Hollywood flick, Bad Things Happen definitely has movie rights potential, but for now I highly suggest kicking back and enjoying it just the way it is.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Bryan Gruley’s ‘Starvation Lake’ is a Trip Worth Taking

Cover ImageWhile my friends were Kicking the Hornet’s Nest with Stieg Larsson last weekend, I spent the holiday on Starvation Lake with author Bryan Gruley. Forget the fact that I was basking in the sun and under deadline to review an entirely different book, Gruley had me tensed and trudging through the freezing, knee-deep snows of northern Michigan.

Starvation Lake is a mystery with hockey at its heart, and Gruley has scored the perfect hat trick with his ice-time thriller; fast, intense, and tough. Like the unsuspecting octopus, Gruley tosses the reader headlong onto the rink and straight into the action alongside main character Gus Carpenter:

“You can never look into their eyes. Not once. Not for a second. Not if you’re a goaltender, like me. Because the guy shooting the puck wants you to look there. Then he’ll glance one way and shoot the other, or he’ll draw your eyes up just as he snaps the puck between your legs. Or he’ll lock on you just long enough to remind you that he knows exactly what he’s about to do and you don’t, that you’re just wishing and hoping that you’ll guess right. That you’re not at all in control. Then you’re dead.”

Hockey is the perfect metaphor for Gruley’s ever-curving plot, and keeping your eye on the puck is a challenge well worth taking. When the missing snowmobile of Starvation Lake’s famed former coach mysteriously resurfaces along its icy shores, it elicits an eerie restlessness from the locals, and as the ensuing investigation’s forensic evidence bubbles to the surface, so too do the bizarre and inconsistent events leading up to the coach’s demise.

Starvation Lake is stacked and immediately flicks on the mental projector, leaving no doubt that this mystery could easily make its way to the big screen. Gruley’s characters are beautifully fleshed-out; gritty in their resilience and painfully true to their struggling small town. His characters are familiar enough to enchant yet remain deeply private, casting just enough doubt as to who the playmakers of Starvation Lake really are. In essence, Gruley has set up the perfect whodunit.

For those of you who know nothing of hockey or its superstitions do not be deterred, this mystery reads well regardless. Though Gruley’s dialogue and setting have serious midwestern appeal, Starvation Lake has range and doesn’t fall short crossing over. A tight story of friendship, hardship, and redemption, Mr. Gruley has crafted a fine mystery revolving around both the rink and the larger arena of life.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Notes of Interest

-I first stumbled upon author Bryan Gruley while I was checking out The Edgar Nominees for 2010. One thing led to another, and I quickly realized that Mr. Gruley is one of Michigan’s own. According to the book’s reading group guide Bryan Gruley grew up in Redford, “a blue-collar suburb abutting Detroit on the west side.” As for the setting of his novel? It is based on the areas surrounding the author’s childhood cottage on Big Twin Lake in northern Michigan.

-Bryan Gruley’s site for Starvation Lake is really unique. My personal jury is still out due to the fact that I pulled it up after reading the book and the forced voice and visuals toyed with my conceived sounds and images of the story. It is definitely worth checking out as authors get more aggressive and creative with their marketing. You can check out the Starvation Lake site here.

Nesbo’s ‘Devil’s Star’ Lights Up Oslo’s Dark Side

Cover ImageNorwegian writer Jo Nesbo is a pretty cool character in his own right. Formerly known as a stockbroker and rock musician, the ever-morphing Nesbo now finds himself tagged as Europe’s new star of crime fiction. With his internationally acclaimed Harry Hole series Nesbo is fast becoming Oslo’s literary darling, and after flying through his newly released The Devil’s Star I can see why.

I first heard about writer Jo Nesbo on NPR’s All Things Considered. The title segment Nordic Noir: Catching Olso’s Killer in ‘Devil’s Star’ highlights the author, his beloved Scandinavian people, and his contemporary thriller, The Devil’s Star. Though Star is the fifth of Nesbo’s eight thrillers that feature the haggard, hard-drinking Detective Harry Hole, this fifth translation was only recently released in the U.S. a couple of months ago.

The Devil’s Star is an entertainment boon; not only does it read like an edge-of-your-seat flick, but Nesbo backs it up with smooth, nuanced detail of Oslo’s dark side. Keep an eye out for NLR’s upcoming quickie review of Nesbo’s latest, or link here to sample an excerpt.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer