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Notable Books

Notable Books | Four crime novels reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "Remembering 9/11," Sept. 10, 2011

A Bitter Truth

 The mother/son team that writes under the name Charles Todd has not yet exhausted the plot possibilities offered by World War I. In this mystery, battlefield nurse Bess Crawford finds a woman on her London doorstep, bearing on her face the evidence of her husband's anger. Bess accompanies the woman back to her village in a desolate area of Sussex just in time for a series of murders. Todd takes the reader back and forth between the isolated British village, inhabited by women and men broken by war, and the battlefield hospitals in France. Somehow the murders in England are connected to the war, but it takes Bess and her father's friend Simon time to make those connections and solve the crime.

The Devotion of Suspect X

 This mystery pits the brilliance of a lonely math teacher, who helped his beautiful neighbor cover up a murder, against the brilliance of a physics professor who assists the suspicious police inspector with his investigation. It turns out the two men knew and liked each other at university, but their recent reconnection turns quickly away from a common interest in math to murder. The math teacher creates an elaborate set of red herrings and false leads to fool the police. He did not count on having to fool the physics professor as well. The math professor's obsessive devotion to his neighbor adds complexity to the puzzle and tragedy to the plot. The Japanese setting, labyrinthine plot, and clean language make this a reading pleasure.

The Confession

Grisham's fast-paced morality tale may not be the most elegantly written novel, but it is powerful. It could be to the death penalty what Uncle Tom's Cabin was to slavery. At the center of the novel is a Lutheran minister in Topeka, Kan., whose life changes when a convicted rapist comes to him with something on his mind: In Texas an unjustly convicted black man faces execution in four days for a murder the rapist committed. Grisham ratchets up the emotional tension as the clock ticks. The minister and the defense team face ever-increasing obstacles, both systemic and personal, as they seek to save the man's life. Grisham uses some mild crudities.

Defensive Wounds

Black is a former forensic scientist, so she writes with gritty detail about blood spatter patterns and fibers, while vividly portraying her Cleveland setting. In this book, Theresa MacLean is a forensic scientist in Cleveland, and her cousin Frank is a homicide cop. When a murderer kills a defense attorney at the Ritz Carlton during a convention of defense attorneys, MacLean rushes to the crime scene. Black brings in complications: The law enforcement people didn't like the victim because she was ruthless in the courtroom, and Theresa's teenage daughter, who works at the hotel, has a crush on a boy with a violent juvenile record. Meanwhile, the murders continue. Note: Some crudities.

Spotlight

St. Paul's Chapel at Trinity Episcopal Church is the oldest building in Manhattan. In 2001 the church remained standing amidst the nearby devastation (see "Houses of God"). Four days after the attack, the chapel began offering cold drinks and hot meals to rescue workers. It provided cots and pews for the weary to sleep. Children made banners and hung them. Mourners decorated the church with mementos. From the beginning photographer Krystyna Sanderson took pictures of memorabilia, volunteers, and weary rescue workers. She paired the images with Scripture and prayers, and the result, Light at Ground Zero (Square Halo Books, 2004), is a tangible reminder of the ways in which God's grace operated in the midst of 9/11's horror.

Divided We Stand: A Biography of the World Trade Center by Eric Darton (Basic Books, 1999, 2011) is fascinating because it was written two years before the towers fell-before they became associated only with international terrorism. Darton traces the development of Manhattan and the big personalities.

Listen to Susan Olasky discuss these notable books on The World and Everything in It.

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