Saturday, June 30, 2007

Thumbs down on Updike's Terrorist, appreciation for Peter Robinson's Close to Home

Books now read in ’07: 61
Title: Terrorist
Author: John Updike
Genre: Fiction
Date Completed: 6-27
Pages: 310

Books now read in ’07: 62
Title: Close to Home
Author: Peter Robinson
Genre: Mystery
Date Completed: 6-30
Pages: 389

Sixty-two books completed at the mid-point of 2007.

John Updike’s Terrorist was a disappointment. It is the story of Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy, the son of an Irish-American woman and an Egyptian man. The 18-year-old Ahmad is a devout Muslim. He’s recruited to participate in a suicide mission – setting off a truck loaded with explosives in the Lincoln Tunnel. Naïve, but intelligent, Ahmad is easily manipulated by his imam and his employer who are part of the scheme.

Two issues with this novel: several unlikely coincidences involving Ahmad’s school counselor and the moral ambiguity at its center. Ahmad is not a villain, but a tool; that much seems clear. But Updike seems intent on assigning some responsibility to the American people, as if their actions have justified the terror visited upon them. That’s an judgment I don’t accept.

Close to Home is a 2003 mystery featuring Peter Robinson’s Chief Inspector Alan Banks. Banks and Detective Inspector Annie Cabot find themselves investigating two murders – three decades apart – of two young men in their early teens. One of the youth was a childhood friend of Banks who mysteriously disappeared; now his bones have been uncovered and the investigation into his death re-opened. The other death, which seems the result of an ill-planned kidnapping, involves a young man who is the son of a famous model and a deceased rock star.

Close to home, of course, is where you first look in any murder. Robinson’s Alan Banks series compares favorably with Ian Rankin’s series featuring Inspector Rebus. Banks and Cabot are exceptionally well-drawn and the plots intriguing. If you are not familiar with this fine British series, it’s time you were.

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