Stephen Morrison, Editor in Chief at Penguin, sent the Erie Book Store an e-mail about Midnight in Peking.
"I’m so pleased to hear that you enjoyed Peking. I think it is a gripping read, too, and the publication is coming together incredibly well – we’ve just received stunning rave early blurbs too from John Berendt, Deborah Blum, Margaret George and Paul Collins, so all is looking good. There will also be an amazing 8 page color insert that will be in the finished book – replete with images of many of the main figures in the book….and each one looks even more mysterious, decadent etc. than the last!
All best wishes,
Midnight in Peking by Paul French
This outstanding true crime/world history piece features the murder of a young Englishwoman in a Peking on the verge of falling to the Japanese in World War II. French not only provides dense atmospheric detail of Colonial Peking's final hours, but also actually solves the decades-old crime.
Pamela Werner, the daughter of an "Old China Hand," former diplomat Edward Werner, is a child of privilege, a little spoiled, a little plain, a little wild--it just depends on who you ask. Her mutilated body is found at the foot of the Fox Tower, a watch tower built into the Tarter Wall in east Peking.
Colonel Han Shih-ching, a detective with the Peking Bureau of Public Safety, catches the case. But as the victim is a white woman, and the scene so near the Legation Quarter (where the embassies of colonial Europe are corralled in Peking), he expects interference from the foreigners. To thwart this, Han requests the assistance of Scotland Yard-trained Detective Chief Inspector Richard Dennis, chief of police of the British Concession in nearby Tiensin.
Yet it will take more than solid police work to solve the murder. The British Foreign Service dare not lose face, and so restrict Dennis to investigating within the Legation Quarter.
But as the Year of the Ox draws to a close, even the most savage murder of a foreigner in recent memory becomes a distant fear. Imperial Japan closes its net around Peking and all of China. The nation is in a fight for its life. In the desperate atmosphere at the end of an era, solving a girl's murder becomes trivial.
Even when the authorities are forced to give in, Pamela's father will not. Spending quite a bit of his fortune, he pursues her case doggedly despite the fact that martial law has been declared and neither the Chinese nor the British will hear his pleas.
Edward Werner embarks on a journey through the Badlands, an underworld fueled by Japanese dope and Korean- and White Russian-run brothels. And though he pieces the final moments of Pamela's life together, and uncovers her killer, his letters go unnoticed by the British Foreign Service.
Unnoticed, in fact, until Paul French's Midnight in Peking.
The book is due out in May, and you will find it at the Erie Book Store.
The Child Who by Simon Lelic
Leo Curtice, small-town English lawyer, gets the case that will make his career. A 12-year-old boy has been arrested for the brutal rape-murder of an 11-year-old girl. What follows is not a legal thriller, a police procedural, or anything identifiable in the crime genres.
Curtice simply bumbles his way ineffectually through the case, trying to draw out the unassuming but admittedly murderous Daniel Blake. Stammering his way through probable outcomes or possible defenses, he never quite makes a point or finishes a thought let alone comes up with a strategy.
He does this with a blatant naivety regarding small town England's reaction--both to the crime and to his taking up the defense, or rather, representation. Like Lelic, Curtice makes the distinction that he is not on the boy's side, not defending him or his actions. At the same time, neither the character nor the author condemn Daniel or his crime. Yet small town Exeter has definite opinions; Curtis, Daniel and his parents are attacked by protesters with eggs and signs as the boy is moved to a juvenile facility. The mindless mob has unambiguous views on Daniel Blake and his crime, even if his irresolute solicitor sympathizes with the boy because of his age.
Also of strong opinion are Curtice's wife and daughter. They think Leo should drop the case, even before the obnoxiously whiny daughter gets harassed at school. The moody teen gets beat up, has red ink tossed on her--but based on the way she's depicted in the novel, it's a wonder this isn't an every day occurrence. The wife isn't fleshed out enough to be more than a plot device.
As Leo plods through the book, peeling back layer after layer of his incompetence as both a professional and family man, he receives letters threatening his daughter if he won't quit the case. This is the twist, apparently--how would Leo feel if his whiny daughter was the victim? And lo and behold, she soon goes missing. Gasp.
So we're left with moral ambiguity leeching most of the conflict from this so-called thriller, a no-big-surprise ending, an unsatisfactory comeuppance for Daniel the killer boy, and an otherwise depressing tale of a lame solicitor. Supposedly, this was loosely based on an actual crime across the pond. But The Child Who thought this was an entertaining, worth-while novel should be fired. It's coming out at the end of February, but unless special ordered, the only copy of this one will be sitting on the free ARC shelf near the cash register.
I'm beginning to lose my faith in the mighty British crime writer.
Diary of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee
Ace Jones, an art teacher in Bugtussle, Mississippi, wears a size 16 and wags a size 32 mouth in this chick lit, humor, romance novel. Apparently a phenomenon as an e-book, our friends at Penguin Group USA have re-tooled and released it as a trade paperback due out in early February. While the e-book was thoroughly lambasted for an abundance of typos and a total dearth of literary merit, the issue is that you must have a sense of humor to enjoy this book. It's funny.
It's also raunchy, zany, slapstick, irreverent and stretches your sense of disbelief perhaps beyond the breaking point. McAfee takes several serious topics--spousal abuse, inappropriate sexual contact between a teacher and a student, marital infidelity (to name a few)--and weaves them into a crazy pseudo-detective-revenge-adventure novel.
Ace (Graciela, actually) and friend and fellow teacher Lilly discover another friend, Chloe, has been hospitalized following a domestic assault by Chloe's husband. Ace and Lilly vow to produce evidence that said husband is cheating on Chloe so that she'll leave him (apparently, in the South, emotional abuse turned domestic violence is not enough to separate man and wife). Along with Ace's chiweenie (Chihuahua/dachshund), they begin tailing Chloe's mister to snap photos of his philandering ways. This, of course, leads to all manner of screwball situations.
To complicate the plot, the man Ace has loved since she was eleven, Mason, has re-entered her life and re-proposed marriage to her, and at the same time she begins falling for a biker-construction worker who steps in to save her bacon in a strip club parking lot (yes, it's that kind of book), and the principal of her school has been gunning for her for two years and now finally has Ace on the ropes.
Unfortunately, a huge and unnecessary deus ex machina gets dropped into the middle of the book. With all the fairly impossible situations, an elderly and wealthy woman with a high-tech spy network splits the spandex of disbelief. Also, the book is front-loaded with humor, mid-loaded with zany adventure and back-loaded with romance. As this is McAfee's first novel, let's hope she evens it out in the next book (she has a three-book deal, by the way).
Can Ace overcome her own insecurities to find happiness? Can she convince Chloe that her husband's no good? Will she manage to keep her art teaching job? Read it and find out. Once again, if you dislike violence, lots of swearing and sexual situations, you'd best sit this one out. Diary of a Mad Fat Girl will be in stock at the beginning of February.
Publishers, in an attempt to catch the retailer's eye, frequently send out gallies, or ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) so that we can get a look at a title before deciding whether or not to purchase it for sale. Here are some of the ARCs we've had a chance to read at the Erie Book Store.
Dead Man's Grip by Peter James
A thoroughly British police procedural, Dead Man's Grip is the seventh novel in the Roy Grace series. It involves the investigation of a traffic accident--an American student riding on the wrong side of the road is killed in a complex series of events. Unfortunately for Detective Superintendent Grace and the police department of Brighton and Hove, the dead student is linked to an American organized crime family. Unsatisfied with the investigation into their son's death, the family hires an adept hit man to bump off all of the drivers involved in the accident, whether their involvement resulted in the fatality or not.
While this sounds like a smashing plot, the reality is that the first murder in this thriller takes place about halfway through the book. James takes a lot of time linking the drivers together in the moments before the accident, then dwells on the details at the scene. Let's go as far as to say Peter James is a tad obsessed with automobile crack-ups. In the meanwhile, he takes time to catch up on the events in the series characters' lives as well, leading to a book that drags glacially, with the first body discovered nearly two hundred pages into a four hundred page book.
If you prefer your mystery/thrillers heavily layered rather than action driven, then this is the one for you (and, as always, we're happy to order it for you). However, other than the ARC shelf, this one won't be in stock.
Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters
The guy who mixed Jane Austen with sea monsters returns with an itchy psychological horror novel that pierces you like the title bug and won't let go. Susan, husband Alex and daughter Emma find a fabulous and cheap Brownstone apartment in Brooklyn Heights that even has a bonus room for aspiring artist Susan. And, as in the course of all horror novels, weird things begin to happen. Strangest of all are the bedbugs that no one else is effected by, save Susan.
Batty landlady Andrea, her slow, elderly handyman Larry, bubbly toddler Emma, steady but moody Alex and angst-ridden, neurotic Susan are well drawn characters and, while we might not want to hang out with them, draw the reader into caring what happens to them all.
Many reviewers compare Bedbugs to Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin, but other than Brooklyn Heights becoming a character in Bedbugs (as did the Dakota apartments in Rosemary's Baby), similarities are superficial. Let's face it--a psychological horror tale always questions the viewpoint character's sanity. It's simply part of the fabric.
Much of the great fun in Bedbugs is Susan's systematic decline from anxiety to full-blown psychosis. Like the title parasite, Susan feeds off the fears of her friends and acquaintances (bedbugs? ugh, no, you can't come stay with me; I won't let my kids go in your apartment; move!), and information and disinformation from the (ahem) Internet.
The story comes to a head--a doctor provides a diagnosis and a cure for Susan's delusions only moments before she finds a strange book in the library which reveals the true identity and nature of the bedbugs. We're left guessing if Susan is nuts until the slam-bang ending (literally).
This is good stuff, reminiscent of the 60s-era let's-make-her-believe-she's-crazy movies. Formulaic? Certainly, but that's all part of the ride.
Bedbugs will be in stock at the end of the week.
Next up, funny chick lit with Diary of a Mad Fat Girl.