Although other novels deal with nightmarish scenarios, none come close to exploring the level of horror one experiences in reading Suffer the Children. Here, Craig DiLouie posits a nasty malady which strikes down the world’s children. Three days later, even as many of the children are being buried in the mass graves dictated by circumstances, the dead begin to stir. Despair turns to joy as families are reunited, but that joy quickly dissipates when it is discovered that the newly risen require human blood to thrive. It’s truly a no-win, nightmare scenario, as parents have to decide just how far they will go to nurture their children, who grow more alien with each passing day. DiLouie’s latest evokes numerous and varied emotions, making it a true “novel of sensation,” as the earliest thrillers were apt to be described.
Though I missed this item when it first came out, it’s not too late to recommend it to my fellow legal mystery buffs. Following forewords by actors Sam Waterston and James Woods, far more substantial than most such signed by celebrities, UCLA law professor emeritus Michael Asimow and his contributors cover English-language legal-themed TV series exhaustively. The earliest show mentioned is On Trial, introduced as a discussion show in 1948 and revived as a dramatic anthology series in 1956 per Elayne Rapping’s excellent introduction. Even semi-reality daytime shows like Judge Judy are covered. Survey chapters discuss legal programs in France, Spain, Germany, and Brazil, all touching on the misunderstanding viewers get about their own legal systems from extensive exposure to American and British imports.
After a group of topical articles—the roles of writers and legal consultants, effects of TV trials on real-life jurors and public opinion, legal ethics—series old and new are discussed individually, giving air dates, main continuing cast credits, awards received, and sometimes a black-and-white still, proceeding from the pioneer models, Perry Mason and The Defenders, through L.A. Law, Law and Order, The Practice, Shark, Rumpole of the Bailey, Kavanaugh, QC, Judge John Deed, Ally McBeal, and Judging Amy, to the most recent shows as of 2009. Non-viewers will get a very good idea of the method, background, political slant, and general feel of each show, with examples of cases treated and legal issues raised. A final section examines lawyers as depicted on non-law series like Green Acres, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and The West Wing.
The writing is readable and lively, suitable to both a lay and professional audience. The contributors are mostly law professors, with some TV professionals and other academics included. Best known to mystery buffs is Francis M. Nevins, who writes knowledgeably on Perry Mason, a character sometimes treated slightingly elsewhere in the book. According to one contributor, the legal system in the Mason series is “sterile and flawless,” the latter an odd descriptor to apply where the DA routinely brings innocent suspects to trial or preliminary hearing. Two contributors take pains to excuse what sound like serious legal or procedural boners in the short-lived girls club [sic lowercase] and Boston Legal, respectively.
Factual errors I could spot were rare, though it is not true that non-lawyer detective Columbo, mentioned in passing in the piece on Matlock, usually stumbled on the solution by accident, and the Rumpole article inaccurately implies the TV series was based on the books rather than the other way around. (Reviewed from the ebook edition.)
In 1995, Anne Perry’s agent Meg Davis learned of an allegation that Perry, then known as Juliet Hulme, had been one of two teenage girls found guilty in 1954 of a notorious New Zealand murder. Calling her client to discuss possible legal action, Davis was told none was appropriate because the story was true. The author of this authorized biography of the Victorian mystery specialist makes an odd if understandable organizational choice. The narrative proper starts with Perry’s return to Great Britain and her establishment of a literary career, only getting around to her early life as Juliet Hulme nearly 150 pages in, then alternating, sometimes jarringly, between the two time periods. Thus Joanne Drayton could establish Perry as a sympathetic figure before getting around to the unpleasant details of the murder by teenagers Pauline Yvonne Parker and Hulme of Parker’s mother, and also prevent all the business information and somewhat excessive plot summaries of the early chapters from becoming anticlimactic as they would if addressed chronologically. The crime and the trial are eventually fully covered, and in the end, quibbles aside, the full story seems to have been told—or at least the closest to it anyone has come up to now. But the true-crime account and the professional biography of a bestselling writer often seem like two different books uncomfortably cohabitating.
The book was originally published in New Zealand in 2012. The bibliography of Perry’s works runs through that year.
Karen Dionne is also a compelling writer, even when she’s playing in someone else’s sandbox, as she does gracefully in Uncommon Denominator, a prequel to the AMC series The Killing, which follows the murder investigations of Seattle homicide detectives Sarah Linden and Stephen Holder. Because this story is set before the events of Season One, the duo are not yet acquainted; while Linden is indeed working homicide, Holder is working undercover in narcotics. Eventually, their paths do cross, as the death of a meth cooker in an explosion and the execution-style killing of a man whose body is left in a shipping container are found to be connected. The book works as both a police procedural and a thriller, as Linden, Holder, and company methodically pursue justice.
This may be, as Amazon informs us, a “publishing phenomenon...with sales of more than two million copies in Europe and rights sold in more than forty countries.” Well, it’s also one verrrrrry long novel and if it weren’t for my fondness for fiction about writers, I might have bailed after the sixth hour of the audio. That’s approximately when the third or fourth fact we’d been given about the murder of Nola Kellergan, an apparently sweet and lovely small-town 15-year-old, was proven false. By hour 17-plus, there’d been so many gimmicky turnabouts that I no longer cared who had done what to whom or why. No fault of reader Pierce Cravens. His youthful, slightly snotty voice is a fine match for the book’s narrator, Marcus Goldman, a preening, wildly successful first-novelist who introduces himself with the words “My book was the talk of the town.” In spite of his lofty bestseller status, the man his mom called Marcus the Magnificent has a problem: writer’s block. Seeking help, he hunts down his former professor and mentor, Harry Quebert, and is invited to the retiree’s digs in a New Hampshire village teeming with odd but not terribly interesting people. While there, the young writer stumbles onto the fact that, way back in 1975, his host, then in his mid-30s, had an unconsummated (he claims) affair with the aforementioned teenager. He’d loved Nola, Harry had, but he stopped seeing her because of their age difference. Nora’s response was to disappear. While Marcus is hanging out, waiting for book-two lightning to strike, the girl’s corpse is discovered and Quebert is arrested for the crime. Marcus, assisted by an affable local lawman, begins his own investigation of Nora’s demise. Discovering the real killer would be a win-win for him. He’d free his literary guru and have a subject for his second book. At this point, the novel has begun to resemble a legitimate, albeit familiar, mystery. Then, Geneva-born author Joel Dicker begins to goof on genre, playing with the chronology and interrupting it with sections of the book Marcus is writing and sections from Quebert’s decades-old bestseller The Origin of Evil. There are enough characters to populate two small towns (and several novels) and each seems to offer Marcus a piece of information that contradicts the other pieces, with a new jaw-dropping game-changer arriving every audio hour or so. I gather the novel debuted in France, which is where, I suspect, a lot of those two-million copies were sold and where it was awarded three literary prizes. Maybe it lost something in translation. Or maybe it’s that Jerry Lewis thing the French have.