Books We Loved, Dec. 2019
Updated: Mar 14
Christopher Brown, Rule of Capture (Harper Voyager, 2019)
Donny Kimoe, a wisecracking lawyer who used to work for the prosecution and has kept his security clearance, believes in the legal system. His work as a defense attorney will change all that. His clients are a new class of criminals—those who dare protest changes in the US government, including imposition of martial law in certain areas and the detainment of citizens without legal reasons.
To protect his new client—Xelina Rocafuerte, a young journalist—from the fate of his previous one, who just received the death penalty, Donny tries the patience of his former associates and leans heavily on his prior friendships. Soon he realizes that private interests, allied with influential politicians, have a good reason to want Xelina locked up out of sight. Xelina’s video evidence, if made public, will interfere with their secret plan to use condemned land for some lucrative business plans.
A crash course in the law as well as a darkly humorous thriller, Christopher Brown’s Rule of Capture should make you think hard about the importance of law and its implications for citizens.—GM
Eva Gates, By Book or by Crook (Berkley, 2015)
By a strange quirk of fate, both my picks this month are Austen-related. This one features a contemporary murder mystery set on Bodie Island, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The island’s lighthouse has been converted into a library, and Lucy, a former Harvard librarian eager to escape her controlling parents and unsatisfactory boyfriend in Boston, welcomes the opportunity to work there—especially when she learns that the lighthouse library will host an exhibit of Jane Austen first editions and that the job comes with an apartment on the lighthouse’s upper floors.
Then one of those priceless first editions disappears, the chair of the library board turns up dead, and the lighthouse no longer seems like the safest living space for its newest librarian. It’s up to Lucy—and Charles, the resident Himalayan cat—to find the missing Austen novels and solve the murder before it’s too late.
Cats, books, Austen, a rich cast of characters, and an interesting puzzle: if you like cozy mysteries, this series (six books and counting) is definitely one to watch.—CPL
Molly Greeley, The Clergyman’s Wife (William Morrow, 2019)
For all the times I’ve read and watched Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, until I encountered Molly Greeley’s beautifully written and thoroughly charming debut novel, The Clergyman’s Wife, I never spent a moment wondering what happened to Charlotte Lucas and the Reverend William Collins after their marriage.
Charlotte—the plain friend of Pride and Prejudice’s heroine, Elizabeth Bennet—is at least likable in the original novel, in contrast to her future husband—a name-dropping, obsequious, unfortunate man who wriggles appreciatively every time his patroness orders him to sit or stay. After Elizabeth rejects William Collins, the little-respected heir to her father’s estate, Charlotte ends her unwanted condition of spinsterhood by making a (successful) play for Collins. The two of them go off to his parish, leaving the rest of the cast to heave a huge collective sigh of relief.
What more need be said of this couple, probably doomed to an unhappiness that readers may believe each of them, for different reasons, thoroughly deserves? As it turns out, in Molly Greeley’s version—set several years after the marriage, by which time Charlotte has lost a son, given birth to a daughter, and begun to wonder what’s missing in her life—quite a lot. By the time I finished The Clergyman’s Wife, not only was I delighted to have renewed my acquaintance with Charlotte but I had mustered real sympathy for the otherwise risible Mr. Collins.—CPL
Ann Patchett, The Dutch House (Harper, 2019)
This is the story of Danny and Maeve Conroy, siblings who grow up mostly motherless in a predominately glass mansion outside Philadelphia. Danny, the narrator, is the younger sibling by seven years; he doesn’t really remember their mother, but he can never forgive her for abandoning Maeve, whose serious health issues were compounded by her sudden departure. What the siblings are left with is their father, who works around the clock and is aloof anyway, the housekeepers, who watch out for the siblings but are unable answer the questions that so haunt them, and each other. Life is tolerable, until their father remarries, perhaps believing that his new wife, Andrea, will help to mitigate some of the consequences of his first wife’s abandonment. But Andrea has a very different agenda.
The Dutch House is exquisite from start to finish. Every word is the right word, and every action by every character is relevant. The dialogue is authentic and definitive. The relationships between the characters are rich and complex, especially regarding Danny and Maeve, who cannot let go of the past, even when it appears to jeopardize the present.—JS