Saturday, May 05, 2007

Books now read in ’07: 39
Title: The Naming of the Dead
Author: Ian Rankin
Genre: Mystery
Date Completed: 5-3
Pages: 452

On the eve of a G8 conference in Edinburgh a delegate falls to his death. Was it an accident? Did he commit suicide? Or was he pushed? This is one of only many mysteries confronting Inspector John Rebus and Siobhan Clarke in Ian Rankin’s newest thriller The Naming of the Dead.

There also appears to be a serial killer loose who is targeting sexual predators. And then there’s the bombastic city councilman. Is he truly trying to muscle in on Rebus’ nemesis, Big Ger Cafferty.

It all comes together in satisfying brew. Rebus and Clarke’s efforts to unravel the various mysteries are foiled at every turn – by their own supervisors, by national security forces and by their own shortcomings. Siobhan, in particular, must cope with the consequences of her actions when her desire for revenge, after her mother is severely injured during a protest march, leads her into a dangerous liaison with Cafferty.

The Naming of the Dead is a thoroughly engrossing, thoroughly entertaining novel. But then it's hard to dislike a novel featuring a comic cameo by U.S. President George W. Bush.

Books now read in ’07: 40
Title: A Writer’s Life
Author: Gay Talese
Genre: Non-Fiction
Date Completed: 5-4
Pages: 430

Nothing pains me more than to note that this 2006 endeavor by Gay Talese is a major disappointment. Talese mentions on more than one occasion that he owes his publisher a book. After reading A Writer’s Life I think he still does. It’s evident that Talese, an exceptionally slow writer, pulled together the threads of various material from his files and assembled it into a less than coherent whole.

He begins and ends with his interest in a Chinese soccer player. In between, there’s his obsession with John and Lorena Bobbit, a building in New York that housed dozens of unsuccessful restaurants and an interracial wedding in Selma, Alabama. Much of the material seems to have been rejected in its first iteration. The New Yorker, for example, declined to publish Talese’s lengthy piece on the Bobbits.

One can’t help but conclude most of this material should have remained in Talese’s files where it would have remained unpublished. Adding to the sting of disappointment is the book’s misleading title, A Writer’s Life, suggesting the book is about Talese and his muse. It’s not, except tangentially, but then it’s not about much of anything.

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