P - Q - R
listed by Elizabeth Brunner
Other Book List Pages: ABC
|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.
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
|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
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.
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,
|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,
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
|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
|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
|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
|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.