Man Booker Prize longlist announced

It certainly is a surprising Man Booker Prize longlist for 2012. Four of the books are debut novels, and only Hilary Mantel is a previous Booker winner. Here is the list:

The Yips — by Nicola Barker

The Teleportation Accident –by Ned Beauman

Philida — by Andre Brink

The Garden of Evening Mists— by Tan Twan Eng

Skios— by Michael Frayn

The Unlikely Pilgramage of Harold Fry — by Rachel Joyce

Swimming Home —by Deborah Levy

Bringing up the Bodies — Hilary Mantel

The Lighthouse — by Alison Moore

Umbrella — by Will Self

Narcopolis — by Jeet Thayil

Communion Town — by Sam Thompson

Currently only four of these twelve novels are available in the U.S. As soon as I can obtain copies of these books and read them, I will begin posting my reviews. Stay tuned! Continue reading

San Francisco Cutesy Sleuthing

San Francisco has always been a great venue for detective and police stories. Hilly streets, foghorns and cable cars somehow manage to create a fairy tale aura within a costal urban setting. We have seen Sam Spade and Harry Callahan emerge as iconic fictive heroes in the City by the Bay. Now we see that Isabel Spellman, the mid-thirtyish private investigator in Lisa Lutz’s Trail of the Spellmans, is already becoming a San Francisco legend of her own with apparently a growing cult following fueled by a major publisher in Simon &Schuster.

Trail of the Spellmans marks the fifth book by Ms. Lutz featuring Isabel and her zany family. This book can best be described as comic detective in genre, with the risible idiosyncratic characters much more interesting than the various story lines.

Isabel comes across as resourceful woman who can manage very well by herself.  Henry, ex-boyfriend #13, has just left her because Isabel has opted for not wanting to have children. Perhaps she has made this decision by witnessing how a child has transformed her Stanford law-degreed brother into a didactic nursemaid.

Isabel’s cases are rather prosaic. There are the parents wanting to keep an eye on their college-age daughter. Another client is a neurotic man who keeps on asking her to check out his apartment to see if the faucets and stove burners are turned off. There is one case that looks like potential extortion, but Isabel skillfully intervenes before any crime takes place. No murder and mayhem in this book.

Her characters, however, are far from prosaic, and that is why this book is an interesting, if not a memorable read. I particularly liked Demetrius Merriweather, a man who was wrongly convicted of murder and served fifteen years in prison. After his release, Demetrius becomes a valuable member of the Spellman investigative team.

I assume a sixth book about Isabel and her family is in the works. Will she eventually marry and have children? Will David leave the nursery go back to his law firm? Cutesy stuff, but somehow I prefer Sam Spade and the search for the Maltese Falcon.





Start Shooting



Charlie Newton’s second novel, Start Shooting, is a story of childhood sweethearts, who after twenty-nine years apart, reunite in a labyrinth of intrigues in modern-day Chicago. Bobby Vargas, the good cop in the novel and his actress girlfriend, Arleen Brennan, fend off bad cops, most prominently Bobby’s brother Ruben, Mexican gangbangers, a rogue CIA agent, Japanese viral terrorists and a psycho Vietnamese orphan who are out to get them.

Bobby, a son of Mexican immigrants, and Arleen, the daughter of Irish immigrants, grew up in the tough neighborhood of Four Corners, around Eighteenth and Laflin.  Arleen had a twin sister, Colleen, who was brutally raped and murdered when she was thirteen. A young black gangbanger was convicted of the crime and executed. Twenty-nine years later a newspaper reporter decides to reinvestigate the case and Bobby Vargas’ name surfaces as a prime suspect. A spate of current sexual abuse charges are suddenly filed against Bobby, who for seventeen years on the force had nothing but exemplary behavior.

Arleen, returning to Chicago from Los Angeles where she tried an acting career, suddenly gets a chance to audition as Blanche DuBois in a major Chicago production of A Streetcar Named Desire. This looms as her big chance of stardom. The audition is arranged through Bobby’s brother Ruben who asks her to do a few favors that put both her and Bobby in harm’s way.

The plot of the novel is complex and slow revealing. Chicago is rebidding to win the 2016 Olympics bid, after Rio opted out. Tokyo remains Chicago’s sole competitor, yet ironically a Japanese corporation has emerged as the major financial supporter of the Windy City’s bid.

In the end, the disparate elements of the novel gel together and leave the reader with a satisfying conclusion. A 9/11 type of disaster is averted in Chicago through the efforts of Bobby and Arleen, who ultimately are fated to remain together, both finding their own personal redemptions.

Newton writes like a guy who knows the streets of Chicago. He understands the city’s greatness as well as its insidious underbelly, that fascinating dichotomy that makes Chicago such a great source for storytelling.