Thursday, May 31, 2012

Kidnapped! Literary Adventures

And now for a break from audiobooks! (It... won't be long.) Here are a couple of old-fashioned paper books set in the U.K. of 100 or so years ago, and central to each is a kidnapping.

Jane Harris's second novel, Gillespie and I, is an artfully crafted birdcage. Everything about the structure is beguiling, and there's a charming creature fluttering within, but watch out for the mess on the ground. It's the story of Harriet Baxter, a lonely woman who befriends the artist Ned Gillespie and his family in Glasgow in 1888. Decades later, as a reclusive spinster in London, she begins writing a biography of sorts about Ned, and her recollections of a tragedy that shortened his career. Harriet is often described as charming, but her largess and concern are facades over her intrusive, clingy nature. As Harriet worms her way further and further into the Gillespie household, you can either think it's wonderful how she helps to facilitate everyone's dreams, or wonder at how effectively those pursuits separate Ned from his friends and family, leaving only Harriet in his corner. It's a fascinating unreliable narrator perspective, which combined with Harris's gorgeous sentences and fully developed place-sense, make this a pretty darn compelling read. I can't ever fully like Harriet, but I've seen reviews from readers who adore her. If you've read this, which camp are you in?

A less recent book is the first of Laurie King's Mary Russell detective books, The Beekeeper's Apprentice. Mary is a young half-American girl who stumbles across the retired Sherlock Holmes one day while walking near her home in Sussex Downs. Because Mary's mind is as remarkable as Sherlock's, he quickly takes her under his wing, and he and Mrs. Hudson become her family of choice. (Mary's parents were killed in a car accident, and the aunt who has reluctantly taken her in isn't exactly nurturing or appreciative of Mary's quirks and independence.) Once Mary heads off to Oxford to study theology, WWI is underway and games begin to be afoot for the pair. A kidnapping case takes them to Wales and solidifies their working partnership, but deeper mysteries to come will thoroughly test their minds and their hearts. King has made both detectives, and Holmes's familiar cohorts, engaging and accessible, and I'm so pleased to have discovered this series. (Also, I said no audio, but although I started this book on paper, I did finish it with Jenny Sterlin's excellent narration, and I have to mention how perfectly her Holmes voice shifted whenever he took on a different disguise.)

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