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Three excellent books perfect for international reading

October 9, 2016
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@dcn.davis.ca.us

I recently read three great mysteries – or at least two were great and the third would have been perfect if the author hadn’t made the ending so complicated.

The three are: “In the Woods” (2007) by Tana French, “The Girl on the Train” (2015) by Paula Hawkins, and “The Long Fall” (2009) by Walter Mosley.

I stumbled upon French’s book by accident but when I started reading it and realized it was set in Ireland I was hooked. French was born in the United States, lived around the world (her father was an international economist) and went to Trinity College in Dublin. Since 1990 she has lived in Dublin.

You can read a plot summary of her book easily enough on the Internet – I don’t want to do that here – but I will say, as Publisher’s Weekly noted – that she did a wonderful job in her first novel of combining a police procedural and a psychological thriller. She created a relationship between two police detectives – Cassie Maddox and Rob Ryan -- that was unusual and became a compelling subplot.

I didn’t realize that her award-winning first novel was just the beginning and has led to the Dublin Murder Squad series. I am very glad to have found her and am looking forward to reading her second novel, “The Likeness” and the many others she has written since.

Similar to “In the Woods” is “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins. I found this book in a little bookstore in Leadville, Colo., at the conclusion of a weeklong road trip that began at our new home in Allenspark, Colo.

I bought the book because I wanted to support the bookstore and was delighted to find out that this book was set in England.

Like the author and the protagonist, I too have taken the train from the south of England into London many times and have always gazed at the terraced houses with long gardens backing onto the railroad tracks and wondered about the lives of the people who lived there.

“Girl on the Train” is now a movie and is being released this month, October of 2016, but I’m glad I read it first.

The author, Hawkins, lives in London. She studied at Keble College, Oxford. The two authors are about the same age and Hawkins, too, lived in Africa for many years as her father was also an international economist.

Hawkins had written previous novels under a pen name but none of them were successful. Finally, she had to borrow money from her father in order to put six months aside to write “Girl on the Train.”

“It was my last throw of the dice,” she said. “(But) I can pay him back now.”

“Girl on the Train” is a complex thriller involving three women, one of whom is an alcoholic subject to black-outs, drunk dialing, and very low self-esteem. Rachel, the alcoholic, is the hero of the story. You won’t see the end coming much as you won’t see the “In the Woods” ending. Both women are good writers and clever manipulators of plots.

The third book, “The Long Fall,” is the first in a series featuring an African-American private detective, Leonid McGill of New York City. The author, Walter Mosley, has been writing books about as long as Hawkins and French have been alive. I love his characters and their quirky relationships but I got completely lost in terms of his convoluted plot.

McGill wants to do the right thing in his life and in his complicated quasi-legal business. That includes staying in a loveless marriage, keeping a close eye on his favorite son (who is not his by blood), tolerating his least favorite son (who is his by blood) and trying not to kill anyone, whether or not he or she deserves it.

He is short and stocky and beats up a punching bag to stay in shape. His 40 extra pounds is muscle not fat. He is bald and his suits don’t fit too well. I love him.

Let me know if you agree with me on these titles. I can be reached at ensherwin@gmail.com.

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at ensherwin@gmail.com

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  • Mosley, Walter

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