I picked up this book at the library because of how much I enjoyed Cold Mountain, also by Frazier. The title character was the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Both books portray the end of the civil war. This story is told by an African American who visits Varina long after the war, in Saratoga Springs. He was rescued by Varina when he was a child being beaten by a shopkeeper for vagrancy. Varina took him in and kept him with her own children until her party was captured by the Yankees. They were trying to make their way to Florida and from there, on to Cuba. I found the story somewhat hard to follow since it doesn’t flow from beginning to end but goes backwards and forwards to cover most of Varina’s life, at least from her teenage years to old age. I had never even heard of her although I of course assumed that Jefferson Davis had a wife and children, since most men of his time, especially elected officials, did. She was quite remarkable in her own right, if this story is to be believed. While not written as non-fiction, it draws on facts, how much is real and how much invented we do not know from this tale alone. I was struck again, as in the prior book Cold Mountain, at the breakdown of society in the aftermath of the war, how it was impossible to tell where anyone’s loyalties lay. How desperate most people were and yet how willing to risk their own lives for a principle many still believed in. Despite the confusion of the time-line I enjoyed the book very much and look forward to the next title by this author.
I could not resist. Although I have not read a lot of the original Agatha Christie novels, the David Suchet ‘Poirot’ films are at the top of my list of mystery favorites. Hannah has the permission of the Christie estate to revive the character and has written others in the series as well. This story begins with four different people receiving a letter supposedly from Hercule Poirot himself, each being accused of murdering a man who everyone thought had simply drowned while taking a bath. He was elderly and frail and the inquiry returned a verdict of accidental death earlier in the year. So why would someone send these letters to the recipients, all but one of whom did not know the deceased? Poirot considers the question at a cafe where he has ordered a specialty of the house, a slice of cake with layers colored like a checkerboard. He cuts each colored layer in two and then in two again, the four quarters, representing each of the accused murderers. Are they working in pairs or are they all on their own? Is one of the squares the real murderer or are all of them innocent? In which case, why send the letters in the first place? The novel is very well done and I hope to find time to read others in the series.
The new book by the former President and Patterson is of course a thriller. I’m not usually a fan of this type of work, it goes too fast for my taste. I like novels that are more complex but for what it is, it was a good tale. It kept me guessing until the end. A bit far fetched, or at least I hope it is. The President has to go under cover to save the country from cyber crimes so devastating that the United States would be reduced to decades of poverty, its infrastructure destroyed, and possibly all out class warfare. He knows there is a traitor in his cabinet but he doesn’t have any idea of who it might be. The attackers are part of a jihadist group but they can’t do it alone, which means that some state government is involved. I hope that since the former President is writing about this type of scenario, steps have already been taken to prevent the disaster he describes in the book. Worth the read, you’ll be finished in no time.
I have to admit that I love horses although I don’t ride and am not what you would consider a ‘horse person’. I think they are beautiful animals and sometimes watch westerns more for the horses than for the cowboys. This little book was so touching, about the trainer, Hirsch Jacobs, and his ability to see in many horses, and in Stymie in particular, the problems that were preventing them from being successful on the track. Jacobs, while still a young boy trained racing pigeons from his rooftop but once he was introduced to horses, he never looked back. His theory that ‘a horse wants to run’ was proven over and over again as he became one of the most successful horse trainers of the twentieth century. Until I picked up this book I had not heard of him or Stymie but to those who followed racing at the time, he was a household name. ‘Out of the Clouds’ refers to Stymie’s preferred racing method, which was to come from behind, out of the clouds of dust kicked up by the horses ahead of him. I really enjoyed this book, a heartwarming story.
It took me several weeks to read this book; it is not one to pick up lightly. At times I wondered if I would finish it, but the story is so engaging, even if about a topic that you might not consider worthy of the time invested. The author’s take on this historical man is compelling even if it places him front and center as a leading cause of the reformation. I’ll let you be the judge of how much influence he has had. A couple of things that stand out in the story are the importance of the role which the newly invented printing press played in the battle between the Catholic church and the newly formed ‘Protestants’, and the way in which the combatants took years, literally, years, to debate back and forth these ideas that Luther posted on the church door. A comprehensive look at a man who has made a tremendous impact on the modern world, well worth the read.
Dr. Trajan Jones, psychological profiler
Dr. Michael Li, trace evidence expert
Clarissa Jones, Trajan’s great aunt
Marcianna, Trajan’s ‘wild African dog’, which is another name for a cheetah
Lucas, Derek and Amber, locals whose parents have left them for a better life
I’m not really sure if there’s such a place as Surrender, New York, or if there is, it is anything like the town described in this novel. There, Dr. Trajan Jones, a psychological profiler and Dr. Mike Li, a trace evidence expert, are called in to assist in what looks like a murder investigation. A ‘throwaway’ child’s body is discovered in an abandoned house, but the doctors are not convinced that it was murder. A couple of local law enforcement officers call in the doctors because they have doubts about the official cause of death too. Is it a suicide? Or is it murder. Dr. Jones and Dr. Li had illustrious careers in New York City before running afoul of some big time politicians who effectively ended their careers in forensics in the big city. They have retreated to Aunt Clarissa’s dairy farm in upstate New York and there they teach online courses in criminal profiling. They set up shop in an old war plane housed in a hangar that belonged to Trajan Jones’ grandfather. A nearby enclosure houses Dr. Jones’ rescued cheetah, Marcianna who endured torture and abuse at a now-defunct petting zoo. They keep themselves to themselves but soon become involved with a couple of live throwaway children, Lucas and Derek. When Lucas’ parents up and left he went to live with his blind older sister, Ambyr. Later on she took in his friend Derek and became the boys guardian. The doctors begin to realize that there’s something of an epidemic of throwaway children. They are left behind when their parents, many of whom become addicted to drugs after failing to find sustainable work in the area, leave for warmer climes. When the team is called in they soon realize that this is not the first death, but one in a string of deaths of these unfortunate young kids. The doctors recruit Lucas and Derek to try to find out about other abandoned kids at their school in hopes that some questions that came about as a result of their highly professional forensic skills have uncovered. Trajan and Mike come to believe that the string of deaths are suicides, that the children have been lured to New York City by someone, or a group of someones, and that only after they make the trip do they return to upstate New York and end their lives.
The tale is fairly long and complex but well worth the read. No easy solutions are found in Surrender, New York.