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Posts Tagged ‘missing teenager’

BLEAK HOUSE by Bryan Gruley: Book Review

What’s in a name, anyway?  As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Still, names convey a lot, and some are less pleasing than others.  So what would you expect of a family whose last name is Bleak?

Bleak Harbor, Michigan was founded generations ago by Jacob Bleak.  Bleak had established a lumber mill, a newspaper, a shipping port, and steelworks across the river in Indiana, but all of that is gone now except for the newspaper and the millions of dollars those businesses earned.  This money is controlled now by the family’s matriarch, Serenity Bleak; she is willing to give the town her entire estate, having disinherited her only descendants years earlier, with one condition:  she wants every part of the township renamed for her.

Not surprisingly, Serenity is estranged from her daughter and son, and ordinarily her daughter Carey Bleak Peters is fine with that.  Now, however, Carey is facing the worst moment of her life.  Her autistic son, Danny, is missing.  A ransom note demanding five million dollars for his safe return has been emailed to her, and she may be forced to ask her mother for the money to save him.

Carey’s life was spinning out of control even before this.  She had taken a job in Chicago, a major commute home three times a week but something that was necessary to support her family.  Her husband Pete’s legal marijuana shop is close to bankruptcy, and that problem is in addition to his increasingly high consumption of alcohol.  Carey has made a major blunder in her own life, sleeping with her boss, Randall Pressman, one night.  After she continues to refuse his demands for another night with him, Pressman demotes her and threatens to move her to another of his offices even farther from Bleak Harbor.

However, Carey has a plan of her own, both for revenge against Randall and to get out of her current life, leaving everything and everyone behind except Danny.  She has obtained documents that prove that Pressman Logistics is transporting illegal cargo across state lines, and she’s demanding her own ransom–ten million dollars from Pressman to destroy the incriminating papers or she hands them over to the feds.

And then she comes home to celebrate Danny’s 16th birthday to find that he’s missing.  Pete, who was supposed to pick up his stepson that afternoon at the dock so they could go fishing, instead had stopped at his usual afternoon hangout, Boz’s Bayfront Bar and Grill, for a quick drink or two.  By the time Pete got to the dock, Danny was nowhere to be seen.

Bleak Harbor is a taut thriller about a family where everyone, no exceptions, has secrets they don’t want to disclose.  You can feel Carey’s pain at her past and current mistakes and her overwhelming love for her son, although she acknowledges to herself that there are parts to him that she will never understand.  Bryan Gruley’s characters are sympathetic even when you realize that their every step is a misstep and that their secrets are making a terrifying situation worse.

You can read about Bryan Gruley at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

A MISSING FILE by D. A. Mishani: Book Review

Early on in D. A. Mishani’s debut novel, A Missing File, police detective Avraham Avraham (no typographical error) is talking to the mother of fourteen-year-old Ofer who, she says, didn’t come home from school that day.

“Do you know why there are no detective novels in Hebrew?” Avraham asks Hannah Sharabi.  He mentions Agatha Christie’s books and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  “Because we don’t have crimes like that,” he answers his own question.   “He’ll be home in an hour…maybe tomorrow morning at the latest.  I can assure you.”  But Avraham is a bit too sure, too smug; Ofer doesn’t come home later that day or the next.

Avraham Avraham is a thirty-eight-year-old detective in a quiet suburb of Tel Aviv, Israel.  Children or teenagers never disappear from Holon.  Though Ofer hasn’t come home by the following morning or contacted his mother, Avraham is still not overly concerned.   However, he does institute a police search of the apartment house where the boy lives with his mother and two younger siblings.  His father, an engineer on a ship, lives with the family when he’s in port, although he travels frequently.

However, by the afternoon of the following day, Avraham admits to having second thoughts.  He’s beginning to worry that he hasn’t been professional, that he was too eager to dismiss Ofer’s mother’s visit to police headquarters.  And now, although the police search finally has begun in earnest, there still aren’t any significant clues to the young man’s whereabouts.

Ze’ev Avni is a neighbor of Ofer’s family.  He appears to have an unusual interest in the police proceedings, rather than in the boy’s actual disappearance.  A high school teacher, Ze’ev tells the police that he had been approached several months earlier by the family to tutor Ofer in English.  According to Ze’ev, the tutoring had gone well and he and his pupil had begun to develop a sort of friendship when suddenly the boy’s mother told Ze’ev that Ofer wanted to stop his English lessons and get tutored in math and science instead.  But Ze’ev is convinced that that isn’t true, that for some reason the boy’s parents were actually the ones who wanted the lessons stopped.

Throughout the novel, Avraham is tormented by feelings that he didn’t pay sufficient attention to the missing boy’s mother.  When the time comes for him to go to Brussels for a long-planned vacation he doesn’t want to leave the investigation, but he is forced to go by his friend and mentor in the department.  However, by the end of the novel, Avraham and the reader realize that this trip has been a life-changing event for him.

Mishani’s detective is a lonely soul.  He celebrates his thirty-eighth birthday during the investigation into the teenager’s disappearance, and it’s a sad occasion.  He seems to have no life outside his work.  When Marianka, the woman he meets through a friend while visiting Brussels, asks him what he does when he’s not a policeman, he answers, “I’m a policeman then too.”

Steven Cohen has provided a wonderful translation of this novel from the Hebrew.

D. A. Mishani is a literary scholar and teaches courses on the history of detective literature.  His first novel is a character study as well as a mystery, and both parts mesh perfectly.  You can read more about him at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.

FINDING NOUF by Zoe Ferraris: Book Review

I don’t know of any other mystery series that takes place in Saudi Arabia. Author Zoe Ferraris has definitely found a niche of her own, and judging by her debut novel she’s doing an excellent job.

Nouf, the sixteen-year-old daughter of a fabulously wealthy Saudi Bedouin family, has been missing for several days when her brother Othman contacts his friend, desert guide Nayir ali-Sharqi, to find her. Nayir is in the desert with a search party when he’s informed that the girl’s body has been found by another family member.

Wanting to make certain that the body found is indeed Nouf’s, Nayir goes to the medical examiner’s office.  Nayir is upset to learn that the examiner, apparently following the family’s instructions, finds that Nouf’s death was a tragic accident; the examiner’s assistant, Katya Hizari, isn’t so sure.

Nayir is completely taken aback by Katya. In a country where a woman is forbidden to drive, where she needs her father’s or husband’s permission to hold a job, where there are religious police patrolling the streets to make certain that a woman’s face, hands, and ankles can’t be seen beneath her burkqa, the assistant examiner seems far too free for Nayir’s comfort.  What kind of a woman would work in a medical examiner’s office anyway, assisting at autopsies?

What was Nouf doing in the desert in the first place, Nayir wonders? How could she have left her controlling family, evaded her escort (a combination of chauffeur and guardian), stolen a truck and a camel from the family compound, and made her way to the desert, only to drown in a wadi?  And what about that bruise on her head and those marks on her wrists?

Nayir is a man who is ill-at-ease with women in general.  That’s not surprising in a society in which parents make matches for their children, men and women cannot eat together in most restaurants, and public beheading is the punishment for unmarried sex.  Nayir has no parents to make a match for him and no opportunities to meet women of his class, so it’s quite natural that his feelings about Katya are not very positive.  The only thing in her favor, in Nayir’s mind, is that she is engaged to marry his close friend Othman.

One of the mot intriguing aspects of Finding Nouf is the character development in both Nayir and Katya, but especially in the former.  As the novel begins Nayir is a rigid Palestinian/Saudi citizen, surprised and shocked by the most trivial transgression of Islamic law or culture.  But at the book progresses, and he is able to have what might loosely be called a friendship with Katya, he begins to realize that the walls between men and women in his country are harmful to both sexes and rarely lead to the warm family relationship that he himself desires but has no way of achieving.

Finding Nouf is one of the books I’ve read for the mystery course I’m currently taking, A Sense of Place:  Murder Mysteries ‘Round the World, in Brandeis University’s BOLLI program. The sense of Jeddah and the surrounding desert, Saudi Arabia’s unrelenting heat (hot enough to melt the heels of one’s shoes into the pavement), the different inter-personal relationships in Nouf’s Bedouin family, the incredible wealth of this oil-rich nation, and the low status of women are beautifully delineated.  I felt as if I had spent weeks in this country, going from the private island that Nouf’s family owns to the crowded souks to buy food and clothing, to the inhospitable desert where a sudden thunderstorm can bring death to the unwary traveler.

You can read more about Zoe Ferraris at her excellent web site.

CAUGHT by Harlan Coben: Book Review

It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been blogging for more than a year without reviewing a book by one of my favorite authors.  I’m remedying that right now.

Caught, by Harlan Coben, is another of his outstanding stand-alone mysteries.  Most mystery writers who write both stand-alone and books in a series, I have found, seem to write better books in the latter.  But the opposite is true of Harlan Coben.  Although I enjoy his Myron Bolitar series, I find his non-series books to be more exciting and to have more believable plots.

Caught is two stories that eventually connect.  First is the one about Dan Mercer, a Princeton graduate who is now a coach and social worker. He’s very involved in working with teenagers, but he’s recently been accused by television reporter Wendy Tynes of seducing the young teenage girls he’s supposed to be helping.  She sets up a sting and Mercer is arrested.  He protests his innocence, but a search of his house finds child pornography on his computer.  Mercer’s career is over.  He’s threatened, beaten up, and is forced to move from his house to one seedy motel after the other to avoid those townspeople who believe he’s guilty.

When the trial judge tosses all the evidence that Wendy Tynes had found in Mercer’s house and reprimands her for the bias in her story about Mercer, Wendy loses her television job. A few days later she receives a call from Mercer; if she wants to find out the real story, she needs to meet him in the trailer park where he’s currently living.  She goes, but almost immediately after she walks inside, a masked gunman bursts in and shoots Mercer.  The floor is covered with blood, and Wendy escapes and calls the police.  When they arrive, there’s no body in the trailer.

The second plot revolves around the disappearance of sixteen-year-old Haley McWaid, the “perfect” daughter of a couple in the same town. She was popular, had good grades, came from a loving family, but one morning when her mother went into Haley’s room to wake her for school, the bed was empty.  As the story opens, three months have passed and there’s been no sign of the teenager.

Coban’s characters are superbly written. At the end of the novel you realize that there are few black-and-white characters, they are mostly shades of gray.  There’s the police detective who’s been looking for Haley McWaid for the entire time she’s been missing; Mercer’s ex-wife, whose defense of him has cost her friends in the town; Pop, the father of Wendy’s deceased husband; Haley’s parents, who went from having an angelic daughter whom they never worried about to living in a perpetual nightmare.

And there’s Wendy Tynes, a reporter who won’t let go of the story.  At first absolutely convinced of Dan Mercer’s guilt, she becomes less sure of it, especially after she discovers that in the group of men he shared a suite with in his college days, the other four have also been dogged by a year of personal misfortunes.

One is a financial advisor fired from his job because he was accused of embezzlement, the second had to withdraw from a congressional race due to a sex scandal, the third is a medical doctor accused of using and selling drugs, and the fourth is a schizophrenic patient in a mental hospital.  The financial advisor, the politician, and the doctor all proclaim their innocence, as did Mercer.  Can this all be coincidence, Wendy wonders, or is someone behind the scenes manipulating these people for an unknown reason?

You can read more about Harlan Coben at his web site.