Monday, September 22, 2014

The Language Of Silence-Peggy Webb

The Language Of Silence
Peggy Webb
Gallery Books, Sep 9 2014, $16.00
ISBN: 9781451684810

In 1976 in Tupelo, Mississippi, Ellen Blair fears her husband Wayne.  To the rest of the world Wayne is a charming businessman; but inside their home he is violent having sent his wife to the hospital with accidents caused by her clumsiness.  Knowing if she does not flee soon, her spouse will one day kill the child she carries. 

Her Great Aunt Ruth Gibson encourages her to leave town just like Ellen’s grandmother Lola did five decades earlier.  Lola joined the Great Giovanni Bros/ Hogan & Sandusky Circus as a star tiger tamer to escape family violence.  When Ellen gets to the Haven House shelter, Wayne greets her with a beating he disguises as a car accident.  Her mom offers no hope as Josie insists Wayne is a good husband if Ellen could learn the Language of Silence.  When Ruth is hospitalized in Arkansas, Ellen insists on going to the Ozarks while Wayne demands they stay home to greet his visiting Japanese client.  Leaving Tupelo, Ellen joins the same traveling circus as her grandmother did but as a teacher with her favorite student being mute Nicky.  Ruth welcomes her niece, but soon sees visions of irate Wayne coming for his runaway spouse.  With Lola’s help, the female relatives flee for their lives from a psychopathic husband.

The Language of Silence is a profound tale that looks deeply at spousal abuse during the “Stand By Your Man” at any cost even your life era.  Ironically, Wayne believes in the sanctuary of his vows enhanced by his fists.  Although the ending seems over the top of the trapeze wire, The Language Of Silence is a wonderful second chance at life if you take the risk.


Harriet Klausner

The Goddess Of Small Victories-Yannick Grannec

The Goddess Of Small Victories
Yannick Grannec, Willard Wood (translator)
Other Press, Sep 9 2014, $26.95
ISBN 9781590516362

In 1980, the Institute for Advanced Study sends archivist Anna Roth to the Pine Run Retirement Home in Pennsylvania to persuade obstinate widow Adele Gödel to release the papers of her late husband, brilliant troubled mathematician Kurt.  Anna says she would like to catalogue the Nachlass so that those qualified can study it.  She also explains she reads the rarely used Gabelsberger shorthand; the style Kurt employed.

Adele tells the visitor how they met in Vienna and though several years older than Kurt with his mother’s reluctant approval they married.  When the Nazis annexed Austria, Kurt and Adele fled eventually arriving in America, but treated as enemy agents due to their accents.  While she did everything to make her disturbed mate’s life easier over the five decades together, for the first time Kurt, still distressed, found acceptance at Princeton because of his brilliant work.

This is an intriguing biographical fiction that focuses on the mentally tough widow and through her filter we see the great but mentally ill genius.  Although distracting from the fascinating main storyline, a well-written secondary subplot re the relationship between Adele and Anna further shows the strength of the older woman; as she encourages her visitor to be all she can be with what she wants out of life.  With real persona like Einstein; documented incidents (with footnotes) and events like the A-bombs and the Cold War to anchor time and place, readers will appreciate The Goddess Of Small Victories.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Front Seat Passenger-Pascal Garnier

The Front Seat Passenger
Pascal Garnier, Jane Aitken (translator)
Gallic, Sep 9 2014, $13.95
ISBN 9781908313638

After visiting his père in Normandy, Fabien Delorme returns to Paris to an empty house.  He actually is pleased though surprised his wife Sylvie is not home as their relationship has drifted apart.  Fabien soon learns that Sylvie and her lover Martial Arnoult died in a car accident in Dijon.

Instead of grief, Fabien obsesses over his spouse having a secret lover she concealed from him.  In Dijon to identify Sylvie’s corpse, Fabien notices a woman do likewise with Arnoult’s body.  Obviously he concludes she is Arnoult’s widow, Martine.  Ironically in spite of her cuckolding him, Fabien misses Sylvie who kept him anchored.  Thus he decides since Arnoult stole his wife, he will do likewise with the other man’s widow.  Stalking Martine, Fabien becomes part of her life and that of her companion.

The latest Gallic translation of a Pascal Garnier suspenseful French middle class tragedy (see Moon in a Dead Eye, The Panda Theory and How’s the Pain?) is another superb dark surrealistic novella.  Character driven by an unlikable but realistic three degrees of separation quintet, readers will appreciate the impact on their respective mates by the deaths of The Front Seat Passenger and the driver.


Harriet Klausner

Monday, September 8, 2014

Death in the Dolomites: A Rick Montoya Italian Mystery-David P. Wagner

Death in the Dolomites: A Rick Montoya Italian Mystery
David P. Wagner
Poisoned Pen, Sep 1 2014, $24.95
ISBN 9781464202728

Translator Rick Montoya leaves Rome for a skiing vacation in Campiglio.  However, when American banker Cameron Taylor vanishes while also at the ski resort, Inspector Luca Albani, aware of Rick’s assistance to the Tuscany police (see Cold Tuscan Stone), asks for his help.  Rick agrees to join the inquiry as long as it does not interfere with his R&R.

Several witnesses insist they saw Cameron head to the slopes, but none including his sister recall seeing him return to the lodge.  Meanwhile, someone wanting Rick to stay out of the investigation, attacks him while he skis and a lookalike is stabbed.  This plus the discovery of a corpse leads to Rick taking the case more seriously as he wonders who gains from murder.

The second Rick Montoya Italian investigation is an engaging whodunit though the Alpine cuisine supersedes the case and even the skiing.  Even though the mystery is shortchanged for much of the storyline by Rick’s vacation, Death in the Dolomites remains a well-written tale.


Harriet Klausner

Friday, September 5, 2014

Madame Picasso-Anne Girard

Madame Picasso
Anne Girard
Mira, Aug 26 2014, $14.99
ISBN 9780778316350

In 1911, Eva Gouel rejects her family’s demand she marry Monsieur Fix.  Instead she flees for Paris where her only friend is Polish speaking Louis Vollard who changed her name to Marcelle Humbert.  To her elation, one of her goals is met when Madam Leutard hires her as a seamstress at the Moulin Rouge.  There she sees a powerful man sitting at the front of the dance hall but surprisingly no woman with him. 

Last night, after a fight with his beloved intoxicated mistress and primary model, Fernande Olivier the artist, Pablo Picasso went to the Moulin Rouge alone.  The next day, Louis and Marcelle visit the Petit Palais to see an exhibition.  Also there is the solitary man from the evening before, an up and coming Spaniard artist Pablo Picasso.  Eva becomes his insecure muse; but his Montmartre crowd prefers feisty artsy Fernande who they consider as one of them to the upstart outsider.  That same year Eva came to Paris, someone stole the Mona Lisa with Picasso considered a suspect.  A few short years later, as war explodes across Europe, Eva suffers from tuberculosis.

This is an excellent biographical fiction that brings to life mostly Paris when the City of Lights was the world’s cultural center during the years leading up to and the beginning of WWI.  Character driven by the triangular relationship between Picasso, Gouel and Olivier, subgenre fans will relish this vivid art historical.


Harriet Klausner

Thief Of Glory-Sigmund Brouwer

Thief Of Glory
Sigmund Brouwer
WaterBrook, Aug 19 2014, $14.99
ISBN 9780307446497

In 1942, the Japanese successfully invade the Dutch East Indies islands.  On Java, the soldiers deploy the affluent adult males as slaves toiling on the Burma rail; while placing the left behind women and preadolescent children in prison camps.  Overnight, the son of a well-to-do Dutch headmaster, tweener Jeremiah Prins is burdened with keeping his mom and young siblings safe when his dad and older brothers are taken away.  He does his best, but the horrid conditions of the camps limit his options.  Still he tries while many others succumb to the nightmare.

Decades later, Jeremiah still searches for peace from those troubled times.  His journals help as do his loved ones, but those were times that tested him and still haunt him as he looks back and wonders what he could have done differently.

Thief Of Glory is a powerful historical that intensely describes “crimes against humanity” atrocities during WWII.  Character driven by Jeremiah and other victims; this thought-provoking tale reflects on Thomas Paine’s insight into another war as "These are the times that try men's souls."

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Winter Guest-Pam Jenoff

The Winter Guest
Pam Jenoff
Mira, Aug 26 2014, $14.99
ISBN 9780778315964

In 1940 in Biekowice, Poland the Nowak patriarch died in a cart accident while the matriarch was hospitalized with severe injuries.  Though acrimonious rivals with diverse opinions about the German invasion; the oldest children, twins Helena and Ruth take charge of their younger siblings (Michal, Dorie and Karolina) even as the Nazis blitzkrieg Poland.  

Though she knows she should ignore the wounded foreigner, Helena rescues Jewish American soldier Sam Rosen.  Initially telling no one about him she hides the paratrooper as he heals.  When Helena and Sam fall in love, jealous Ruth reacts with bitterness; while opportunistic neighbors plot against the family. 

The latest Pam Jenoff WWII Poland thriller (see The Kommandant's Girl and The Diplomat’s Daughter) is another excellent historical as readers obtain a vivid sense of life during the Nazi occupation.  The strong cast makes for a powerful drama enabling us to see the deadly era through the eyes of the five Nowak siblings (especially the diverse bias of the twins) and Sam.  As the truth fails to set them free, The Winter Guest is a fantastic 1940s war novel.

Harriet Klausner