Reading History                                                     P - Q - R
listed by Elizabeth Brunner
Other Book List Pages:  ABC - DEF - GHI - JKL - MNO - PQRSTU - VWXYZ
Paretsky, Sara. Hard Times, 1999. A recent mystery featuring female detective V.I. Warsharski. I've read all the other books in the series so a treat to re-visit these old friends. The plot takes V.I. inside a Chicago jail and exposes prison abuses. Total Recall, 2001, departs from the style that I normally love so much as the author continues to focus more on social issues than on detective work. The case involves insurance fraud, recovery of assets lost during the Holocaust, and the recovred memories of a man who lost his family to the Nazi concentration camps. Blacklist, 2003, involves family secrets that date back to McCarthyism in an exclusive community and the tension for law enforcement in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorism. 
Parker, Barbara. Suspicion of Betrayal, 1999. Surprised that I actually finished this, but the only book brought on an overnight trip. Predictable plot and bland language. Female attorney faces threat to her life and her child's safety, while torn between an irresponsible ex-husband and a jealous fiance. 
Parker, Robert B. Sudden Michief, 1998. First time that I've tried the famous Spenser series. When hard-boiled detective Spenser is asked to help his girlfriend's ex-husband, the mystery involves debt, a glitzy fundraiser, an attorney that represents the mob, and a series of wives and former wives. Great dialogue. Decided to read in sequence from the first Spenser mystery published: The Godwulf Manuscript, 1973. When an illuminated manuscript is stolen from a university, Spenser investigates a counter-culture student group and tries to save a young woman accused of murdering her boyfriend. Best parts are the elaborate descriptions of horrible Seventies fashion. Feminist readers need to remain indulgent of the detective's constant appraisal of every female character's legs and cleavage. In God Save the Child, 1974, Spenser copes with an oversexed mother and browbeaten father while hunting for their fourteen year old son in the face of bizarre ransom messages. Mortal Stakes, 1975, begins with the suspected fixing of professional baseball teams and leads Spenser to New York, following the trail of a prostitution ring. he best part of Promised Land, 1976, is the introduction of regular character Hawk and Spenser's proclamation of "I love you" to steady gal Susan Silverman. Meanwhile, the detective tracks down a missing wife who became involved with a violent duo of radical feminists and plans a police sting to catch extortionists. Early Autumn, 1981, shows Spenser's soft side as he actively intervenes with a teenage boy who is trapped between feuding parents. In Ceremony, 1982, Spenser's steady sweetheart Susan Silverman, a high school guidance couselor, involves the detective in finding a runaway teenager, which requires cracking an underage prostitution ring. The Widening Gyre, 1983, finds Spenser protecting a born-again senatorial candidate whose wife is caught on an indecent videotape. Pale Kings and Princes, 1987, involves the murder of a journalist in a town dominated by Columbian drug trafficers and corrupt police. In Crimson Joy, 1988, Spenser hunts for a serial murderer with growing suspicious that the killer is a psychotherapy patient of Susan's. The criminal is treated with both pity and revulsion as the factors that led to his depravity are examined. Playmates, 1989, involves accustations of point shaving against a college basketball star. In Stardust, 1990, Spenser protects a difficult Hollywood star who insists that her life is in danger from unknown enemy. Walking Shadow, 1994, begins when the director of a small theater company believes he is being followed, then encompasses a Chinatown gang, a kidnapped actress, a murdered actor, and a suspicious police chief. Thin Air, 1995: Spenser hunt for the beloved wife of a police officer leads him to a barrio plagued by gang warfare and the fortress of a disturbed kidnapper. Night Passage, 1997, introduces a new protagonist: Jesse Stone, who accepts a police chief position in a small Massachusetts town after the Los Angeles Police Department fires him for alcoholism. This first case involves a reactionary militia force and a money laundering scheme. Because the author allows characters to slowly, very slowly, emerge through their actions, not enough emotional appeal yet for this new series. Hush Money, 1999, embroils Spenser in academia and multi-cultural politics, when a black professor is denied tenure after the death of a gay activist. Perish Twice, 2000, introduces female detective Sunny, who could be a twin sister of Spencer. The murder of a feminist activist, followed by the supposed suicide of the killer, leads to a prostitution ring. The inner world of the female character needs to be more convincing. Ironically, the author paints a more authentic role for Rosie,  a miniature bull terrier. Shrink Rap, 2002, does a better job with female detective Sunny, who provides security for a romance novelist threatened by her ex-husband, a corrupt psychologist. Potshot, 2001, is great fun as Spenser brings his favorite band of good-natured thugs to a small town in Arizona to do battle against the local gang that is terrorizing businessmen and has been accused of murder. Widow's Walk, 2002, places Spencer on the side of a dumb blonde accused of murder and incorporates a banking swindle. As always, the familiar relationships are more gratifying than the perfectly respectable plot. Back Story, 2003, with the comforting familiarity, dry humor, and a plot dating back to the Sixties. 
Parkhurst, Carolyn. The Dogs of Babel, 2003. Grieving husband tries communicating with his dog, the only witness to his wife's death. Poignant, whimsical, surprising, original. 
Patchett, Ann. Bel Canto, 2001. Brilliant novel, although the plot might sound like a cliche. A Japanese business tycoon, opera star, translator, and other diginitaries are kidnapped by a youthful group of guerillas. With beautiful language and emotional realism, the story explores the emotional relationships that grow within a confined space and the healing power of music. The Magician's Assistant, 1997, explores complex relationships. A female magic assistant marries the gay magician who she has always loved, partly through a mutual decision that she should inherit his estate based on her years of loyal service during performances. After his death, she bonds and heals with his estranged family. 
Patterson, James. When the Wind Blows, 1998.  Easy read in the medical thriller genre. The author is clearly playing the role of screenwriter, with visions of the next Jurassic Park blockbuster, so language takes a back seat to special effects.  About genetic experimentation that creates bird-like human hybrids: children with wings. The type of book that I keep in my purse for bus reading -- quick little scenes with enough of a page-turning plot.
Payne, David. Early from the Dance, 1989. Beautiful phrases throughout. Betrayal in a love triangle that dates back to a summer at the beach in North Carolina. At 492 pages, needs editing and more control over pacing. 
Payne, Peggy. Sister India, 2001. A writer from my current residence of Apex, North Carolina. Profiles an expatriate innkeeper in the holy city of Varanasi, India, where guests come for healing from the sacred Ganges River. Vividly describes the clashes between Hindus and Muslims and the search for personal meaning. 
Peacock, Nancy. Life Without Water, 1996. First novel about growing up in North Carolina in the Sixties, while a brother fights in Vietnam.Weak, needs another revision.
Peak, John A. M and M: A Vicky Shea Thriller, 2002. Overeducated heroine is a pediatrician with a law degree and too little time for relationships. Her brave response to a group of international orphans have been smuggled into the United States combines emotional appeal with the detective genre, plus a handsome good-guy cop for the romantic angle. Not brilliant, but still satisfying. 
Percy, Walker. The Moviegoer. Winner of the 1961 National Book Award. A bored New Orleans stock broker seeks authenticity and escape from a life dominated by affairs and movies. Known as a philosophical novelist. 
Phillips, Arthur. Prague, 2002. Follows five American expats in Budapest during the 1990s. Dense, some humor, many unappealing characters, but rings true. 
Pickard, Nancy. Twilight, 1995. The mystery series features the director of a charitable foundation. Interesting nonprofit theme, but in this book the plot is minimal and the resolution lacks satisfaction. In But I Wouldn't Want to Die There, 1993, the sleuth and philanthropist Jenny Cain travels to New York City after her friend is murdered and attempts to resolve tensions between a foundation, its donors, and its grant recipients. Too many eccentric characters distract from realism.
Picoult, Jodi. Keeping Faith, 1999. Whoopie! No better gift than finding a new author to cherish. The novel combines all that is best: language, plot, character, moral significance, and serious content. A mother ends up in a custody dispute after her 7-year old daughter sees visions of God and apparently develops healing powers. The novel explores issues of belief, love, self-confidence, the media, medical knowledge, and legal ethics. Plain Truth, 2000, follows the court case of an unmarried Amish teenager accused of murdering her newborn after hiding the pregnancy. Mercy, 1996, begins with a devoted husband smothering his wife to end her painful battle with cancer and meditates on the nature of love when the investigating police officer commits infidelity. A few false notes that the author avoids in later novels, but the same admirable depth of emotional content. The Pact, 1998, treads similar territory - family love, passionate love, comfortable love, unbalanced love - in a court case involving a teenage suicide pact between two young lovers. Perfect Match, 2002, involves a district attorney whose own young child is the victim of child abuse and the morally-problematic steps that the mother takes on behalf of justice. Songs of the Humpback Whale: A Novel in Five Voices, 1992 experiments with chronology and multiple narrators. Although I much prefer a linear structure, the portrait of a troubled marriage and the oceanographer who tracks his runaway wife is interesting. 
Pillars, Elizabeth. The Swaying Pillars, 1968. Republished by the Chivers Press Black Dagger Classic Crime Series in 2001. A British woman escorts a child to see her relatives in Africa, but revolutionary turmoil is broiling and the child is apparently kidnapped. Fascinating setting.
Pomerantz, Gary M. Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn: The Saga of Two Families and the Making of Atlanta, 1996. Fascinating historical portrait of the black Dobbs/Jackson family that produced Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson Jr. and the wealthy white Allen family that produced Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. From slavery through the Civil Rights Movement to the 1996 Summer Olympics, the book covers social change, political battles, and family issues.
Preston, Caroline. Jackie by Josie, 1997. Interesting novel that follows the life of a graduate student couple, as the wife researches Jackie Kennedy for a sensational biographer and strives to heal family relationships. Book junkies will enjoy the references to library research, as well as the Kennedy tidbits and commentary on academic life. 
Preston, Douglas & Lincoln Child. Mount Dragon, 1996. Good example of the medical science thriller, involving a genetic engineering company working on eradicating influenza in a desert research complex. Strays a bit too far from realism for my tastes, but the science is interesting. The Cabinet of Curiosities, 2002, combined the history of New York, a mysterious FBI agent, a female anthropologist, and scandal associated with the Museum of Natural History. Fascinating and gothic, with characters sketched with wit that alludes to Charles Dickens. Enjoyable despite the horror elements. 
Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, 2000. Harvard professor documents social change in terms of political, civic, religious, community, and interpersonal interactions -- documenting how Americans have become increasingly insular and solitary in our leisure activities. 
Pyper, Andrew. Lost Girls. 2000. Dark legal novel about a cocaine-addicted lawyer who must confront his role in the drowning of a kissing-cousin, while handling his first legal case. Although I am obviously a big fan of mysteries, I need more uplift or redemption by the conclusion. Elegant language despite the sordid tone. 
Rabb, Jonathan. The Book of Q, 2001. Fascinating religious conspiracy novel that begins with a sixth century Christian sect, jumps forward to the war in Bosnia, and involves the Vatican's hunt for an ancient scroll that may have been written by a contemporary of Jesus. Overseer, 1998, is less polished with plot elements that feel too familiar. A cabal using a 16th century treatise on power and mind control through private schools plans acts of terrorism to de-stabilize the government. The characters of a traumatized female government agent and a male political theorist are interesting. 
Rabinowitz, Harold & Ron Kaplan. A Passion for Books, 1999. Wonderful collection of essays about books by collectors, authorsscholars, and publishers. 
Raphael, Lev. The Edith Wharton Murders: A Nick Hoffman Mystery, 1997. Best academic satire that I've ever read, although less strong in terms of a mystery plot. Lead character Nick is a gay bibliographer, forced by campus politics to organize a literary conference where two professors are murdered. The eccentric cast of scholars ring true and the description of life at a mediocre state university made me snicker throughout. 
Reich, Christopher. Numbered Account, 1998. Great summer reading -- thick page-turner, inside look at the Swiss banking industry, and international espionage. Stronger writing than we sometimes expect from the genre. 
Reichs, Kathy. Death du Jour. Excellent mystery by a forensic anthropologist. Only distractions are a few withheld clues that the narrator knows but the reader does not. Fatal Voyage, 2001, involves the discovery of a cult-like conspiracy near an airplane crash site. Deja Dead, 1997, is the debut novel in the series, which involves suspicions of a serial murderer as connections between multiple victims are found. 
Rendell, Ruth. The Veiled One, 1988.  After I number of false starts where I gave up a Rendell mystery after the first chapter, I'm thrilled to finally see why the author receives so much enthusiastic praise from critics.  Complex plot that probes motivations as two policemen investigate the murder of a middle-aged woman in a shopping center parking lot. A Sight for Sore Eyes, 1999, is a fascinating experiment with the overlapping voices of three characters - a loner, a girl who witnessed her mother's murder, and an aging beauty - as their lives converge. Although the pace is hypnotically slow, the suspense is visceral as we see the doom ahead. High literature and complex psychology that goes far beyond the genre. In Harm Done, 1999, Inspector Wexford solves the mystery of disappearing teenagers, a lost toddler, and brutal domestic violence. Speaking of Mandarin, 1983, begins with a sightseeing tour in China and then unravels the murder of a lawyer's wife after the tourists return to England. Road Rage, 1997, begins with the kidnapping of Inspector Wexford's wife by an eco-terrorist group that is protesting the environmental destruction caused by construction of a highway bypass. Heartstones, 1987, is an 80-page novella narrated by a disturbed teenage girl after the death of her mother. The girl's obsession with her father and hatred for his new girlfriend are brilliantly described in the first-person, although the ambivalent ending is a disappointment. In Shake Hands Forever, 1975, Inspector Wexford is determined to prove that a husband murdered his wife, even though a scarred fingerprint and a book of Celtic languages are the only clues. Death Notes, 1981, takes Inspector Wexford to discover whether a famous flute player was murdered and whether the long-lost daughter who will inherit the musician's estate is an imposter. A Sleeping Life,1978, is easy to solve from the elevated gender consciousness of readers more than two decades after publication, but I kept reading anyway, driven by pleasure in the familiar character of Inspector Wexford rather than by the plot. Some Lie and Some Die, 1973, follows Inspector Wexford as he investigates the death of a cocktail waitress after her body is found at the site of an outdoor rock music festival. Going Wrong, 1990, probes the obsession of a former street hoodlum, now wealthy, who cannot forget his first love. A Judgement in Stone, 1977, opens with a clear description of the tragic crime that will occur in one year then carefully constructs the pattern of miscommunication that will lead an illiterate and paranoid housekeeper to murder the well-intentioned family who employs her. Brilliantly constructed novel. Make Death Love Me, 1979, tracks a bumbling pair of bank robbers, the female employee who they take capture, and the bank manager who grabs his own share of the cash. Simisola, 1995, is my favorite of the Inspector Wexford series. When one Nigerian woman disappears and another Nigerian woman is found murdered, the crime trail includes racist assumptions, an employment office, a wealthy politician, and the desperation of the affluent to secure housekeeping help.
Reynolds, Sheri. The Rapture of Canaan. Fascinating exploration of a revialist religious sect from the eyes of an adolescent girl. One of Oprah's selections.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. 1966. Explores the backstory of the famous madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Dark story set in the Caribbean with ugly colonial racism and gender oppression. 
Rinehart, Mary Roberts. The Swimming Pool, 1952. When the spoiled daughter of a formerly wealthy family returns to the home estate in a state of terror, her sister investigates and discovers connections to a past murder. Excellent character development and an interesting subplot romance. 
Ross, Ann B. Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind, 1999. Southern humor about a widow who takes care of her late husband's mistress and bastard son, prompting other acts of small-town social defiance. Charming. Miss Julia Takes Over, 2001, is just silly and exaggerated with a NASCAR plot. Miss Julia Throws a Wedding, 2002, is predictable sitcom humor. I won't read any more books in series, despite the promising first volume. 
Ross, John & Barbara McKinney. Dog Talk: Training Your Dog Through a Canine Point of View, 1992. Step-by-step techniques for dog training with an emphasis on communication from the pet's perspective.
Roszak, Theodore. The Devil and Daniel Silverman, 2003. Fun parody about gay Jewish liberal who gets trapped at ultra-fundamentalist Bible College during blizzard. 
Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things, 1997. Beautiful language but plot and cohesion is sometimes sacrificied for the poetry. About twins growing up in 1969 India, during a period of Marxist demonstrations and the rigid caste system. 
Rozan, S. J. Winter and Night, 2002. Acclaimed mystery series about a private detective in New York City. Plot involves a high school football team with history of violence and conspiracy. Reflecting the Sky, 2001, involves the same detective partners traveling to Hong Kong but this type the female Chinese-American narrates. Less effective because difficult to distinguish the many poorly-developed characters. 
Rubio, Gwyn Hyman. Icy Sparks, 1998. Selection of Oprah's book club. Girl growing up in rural Kentucky in the 1950s has undiagnosed Tourette Syndrome. Supported by loving grandparents and a few eccentric friends, she learns to cope with the neurological disorder of tics and outbursts that stigmatize her. 

Other Book List Pages:  ABC - DEF - GHI - JKL - MNO - PQRSTU - VWXYZ
Updated January 17, 2007
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