Before the clock runs down for 2011 I wanted to squeeze in a couple more quickie book mentions. I've finished several others that I'd still like to write about in a little more detail so I'll save those for next year, and then there are a few others that will unfortunately go unmentioned as too much time has passed and I don't think I can do them justice at this point--so sad to think how quickly books I've read start to lose shape in my mind and simply become impressions (which is why I like to write something briefly about the books I'm reading).
I really didn't expect to be shocked when I read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood this past summer. Unfortunately murder and violence has become so commonplace that I was sure I was inured to hearing about such a crime--the murder of a midwestern farm family back in the 1950s, but Capote proved me wrong. Maybe this is in part why I've put off writing about the book, but I'm also not sure if I can convey how masterfully Capote writes about the Clutter family and about their murderers as well as the community of Holcomb, Kansas. Although In Cold Blood was written more than forty years ago, it's as fresh and moving as if it had happened yesterday. And my shock comes from the utter lack of remorse and brutality the killers displayed and their heartless premeditation to leave no witnesses. This isn't what you expect to happen in Midwestern America in the prosperous 1950s.
The Clutter family was indeed prosperous. They were well liked and respected in Holcomb, the kind of family you wouldn't expect anything bad to happen to, so it was a totally shocking crime. I'm of two minds about the killers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. They were cold-hearted and calculating and showed no pity towards their victims or remorse through the course of the crime and subsequent capture and trial. I don't know how Capote manages then, to make me feel the slightest bit of sympathy towards Smith, but he had such a horrible upbringing I had momentary twinges of sadness for such a wasted life. Hickock was just as slimy as he seemed, despite having a good upbringing he chose a poor path in life. Given two people of such varying circumstances choosing to carry out such wicked deeds, it makes you believe evil truly does exist (rather than wondering about the nature/nurture question).
In Cold Blood is such an interesting book. It's really a page turner and utterly gripping in the way the crime is presented--at once both factual yet written as though it were a novel. Everything is very matter of factly presented and Capote doesn't try and mess about with the reader's emotions, but it's hard not to get caught up in the lives of these people--if even as a spectator looking in from the outside. I only wonder that I waited so long to read this book, which will likely end up as one of my best reads of the year. If you've not yet read Litlove's take on the book, do check out her post.
I picked up one of Ann Bridge's Julia Probyn novels earlier in the fall not realizing that she had written a series of suspenseful stories featuring Julia, all with exotic settings à la Mary Stewart. Happily the books are being reissued as ebooks from Bloomsbury Reader, so if you read one and find yourself sucked into the story (like I've been) you'll be able to read the whole lot (or if you prefer book format you might also still be able to find the books in a well stocked library).
The Light Hearted Quest is Julia's first adventure and likely what has whet her appetite for getting involved in so many (to come) mysterious and challenging undertakings. This first venture really does begin as a light-hearted quest. At the behest of her aunt, Julia agrees to go to travel to Morocco to find her cousin Colin. After the death of a relative he's needed back home in Scotland to pick up the reigns of running the family's estate, there being no one else who can shoulder the responsibility. The family hasn't heard from Colin for weeks. He was last known to be sailing off the coast of Africa, so Julia agrees to travel there and bring him back.
It all begins as something of a lark. As Julia is a freelance journalist she's able to move about on whim and looks on her journey as something of an adventure. Once she arrives and begins her "investigation" however, she realizes that the locals are very tight-lipped and not at all forthcoming as to the exact whereabouts of her cousin. She begins to wonder just what Colin is up to as there are whispers he may be tangled up in smuggling goods into and out of Morocco. Despite appearances to the contrary (Julia is an attractive, stylish and ver poised young woman), she's able to hold her own intellectually and has a particular talent for getting information from the most unlikely sources and piece together just what Colin has gotten himself tangled up in. She also has a certain fearlessness that might just be dangerous to her own health, but somehow manages to always come away from difficulties unscathed (or nearly so).
There's a colorful cast of characters and a liberal sprinkling of exotic atmosphere. Bridge doesn't stint on writing about local, contemporary politics either. The book was written in 1969, but the setting is post-WWII when Morocco was still divided into French and Spanish protectorates. There are some interesting (though perhaps not surprising) Colonial attitudes bandied about in the story. And it's always interesting to read about post-WWII England and the restrictions and shortages that had to be dealt with. For a more complete overview of the story check out Lyn at I Prefer Reading's post (she's already several novels ahead of me!).
Although my library has most of the Julia Probyn novels, it's missing the second book in the series, The Portuguese Escape, which sounds equally as exotic and thrilling as was The Light Hearted Quest. I've already got it loaded onto my Nook and at the ready. If you enjoy books by Mary Stewart or Helen MacInnes, you might give Ann Bridge a try, too.