I am a 65-year-old psychologist, married for 25 years, with two sons who are 25 and 22. I love reviewing the books and the feedback I get.
I should try to restrain my praise for Polar Star, but I can't, so I won't. Martin Cruz Smith has written a book so fine, with characters so vivid, a reality so fully lived and a plot so clever that you truly are caught up in this world, the Bering Sea, and a "fish factory ship" in which Arkady Renko slaves on the "slime line." If you haven't read a Martin Cruz Smith book, you are in for a treat, and this one is narrated by the greatest reader who ever lived. I first heard Polar Star about ten years ago, and I listen to it every two or three years. Frank Muller had skills that other narrators can only dream of. He was a classically trained actor. His range of voices was stupendous. Renko is one of the most human of any fictional characters ever created. He is a disgraced Moscow homicide detective. He holds on to his humanity in spite of the efforts of the Communist rulers of Russia to degrade him. The first book in this series, Gorky Park, was made into a movie starring William Hurt as Renko and Lee Marvin, one of the best Hollywood bad guys, as the villain. Polar Star could also be made into a movie. There are so many cinematic scenes that you want to cast them yourself. The climax of the book (I will not spoil it) is a whiteout chase on the ice which I believe you will never forget. The closing image still stuns me. Get ready for Polar Star: once you start listening, you truly will not want to stop. Trust me.
Chevy Stevens has been widely praised for this, her first book. The praise is justified. The narrator also does a fine job. However, what they both do is to portray a singularly horrible event which is very hard to hear. The protagonist, Anne, is kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured by an over-the-top control freak, a truly loony and scary psychopath who controls Anne's every breath. The atmosphere is so claustrophobic and so frightening that the book is not for the squeamish, and I find myself to be one of those, a little surprisingly to me. I love a good murder mystery, but this is not that. The details are authoritative and the story so well told that it turns your stomach. If you can stand the heat, fine, but for the rest of us, better that we stay out of this particular kitchen.
You might not expect a story set in Southeastern Mississippi to be so poignant and so
completely involving. (I apologize to all Mississippians). The title refers to the method in which
children are taught the spelling of their state's name. However, the story and the characters here are so thoroughly, so brilliantly conceived that the book holds your interest in a spellbinding way. Virtually any other book will find that this one is a hard act to follow. The primary characters, Larry Ott and Silas (who is known as 32) have a story to tell that draws you in and grabs you by the brain and heart. I searched for Tom Franklin's other work, and was disappointed to find how little there is. Very hard to make a living as a writer these days, no matter how breathtaking your talent is. I can rave about other books, but I can't rave hard enough to do this one justice. The two men have intertwining life stories that encircle each other in a way that constantly surprises you. Justice, that wonderful construct (in the abstract) follows them for twenty or thirty years of their lives. I won't spoil the plot or the nature of these two men for you: the delight is in your own discovery. The secondary characters are also extremely well drawn, although the women are less so than the men, as we have come to expect, even from the best of our male writers these days. One of the women turns out to have an absolutely critical role. I will say little more, except to tell Tom Franklin, if he happens to be reading, to bear up and be brave: his talent is almost matchless. We are out here reading, and we are waiting for him to write again.