Those Who Love Night, by Wessel Ebersohn (originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers, 2/10/12)


Those Who Love Night

by Wessel Ebersohn

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Wessel Ebersohn has written four thrillers set in his native South Africa; The October Killings, the previous book in this series, introduced readers to Abigail Bukula and her friend and associate, Yudel Gordon. Like too many of her South African countrymen, Advocate Bukula of the Justice Department is no stranger to the shared memories of the harrowing and often deadly struggles to overthrow the apartheid regime. When she is told that a cousin she thought slain by death squads, along with the rest of a village some 20 years before, is alive, but in a corrupt Zimbabwean prison with six other political activists, she has no option but to travel to Zimbabwe with Yudel Gordon, a criminal psychologist, and his wife, Rosa, to try to free them.

Her inquiries thrust her into a dangerous realm dominated by Jonas Chunga, the director of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization and the nation’s real ruling authority. Abigail finds herself as irresistibly drawn to this powerful man as he is to her, but the deeper she delves into the mysteries of the incarcerated political prisoners, the more she realizes that only by getting to the heart of the village massacre can she free her cousin and his colleagues. How is Jonas Chunga connected to that massacre? How did her cousin survive it?

Those Who Love Night is a taut mystery that also gives readers an understanding of how the erosion of the systems and infrastructure the colonial governments left behind in Africa, flawed as they were, has led to horrors for some contemporary Africans. –Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: A riveting thriller set in Zimbabwe, exploring the wicked roots of the colonial past.

Minotaur, $24.99 hardcover, 9780312655969

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Breakdown, by Sara Paretsky [first appeared Jan. 20 2012]

Breakdown: A V.I. Warshawski Novel

by Sara Paretsky

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Breakdown marks 30 years of Sara Paretsky’s novels about private investigator V.I Warshawski in a way that more than lives up to the expectations of her many fans. All Warshawski was planning on was fulfilling a promise she made to find the missing members of a book club for tween girls run by her cousin Petra. The girls were acting out rituals from the book in a derelict cemetery on a rainy night to summon the undead: all still within the realm of Warshawski’s  everyday routine. Then the discovery of a body near the scene of the ritual, with a length of rebar through its heart, brought this simple job into the realm of murder.

Paretsky, known for her support of liberal causes, delivers an incisive indictment of the vicious state of contemporary American politics inBreakdown, with a tightly plotted story that features a left-supporting, foreign-born, billionaire Holocaust survivor and a conservative pundit with a 24/7 televised bully pulpit from which to spew his twisted half-truths. (It’s no great mystery who Paretsky has in mind in either case.) Paretsky’s masterful treatment of immigrant issues, Chicago society, even teenage readers’ devotion to a certain vampire series propel Breakdown from a merely excellent detective mystery into the realm of social commentary. As Warshawski treads carefully through unforeseen plot twists, encountering a number of herrings (not all of them red), this enthralling page-turner is guaranteed to keep fans reading late into the night. –Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: V.I. Warshawski once again saves the day, exposing the ugly truths of Chicago society and U.S. politics.

Putnam, $26.95 hardcover, 9780399157837

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Forever Rumpole: Stories, by John Mortimer [first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers, 12/20/2011]

Starred Review

Forever Rumpole: Stories

by John Mortimer

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Rumpole of the Bailey is one of the most beloved characters in British legal fiction. The Rumpole stories, however, cannot be classed among legal procedurals; that would imply some reference, however tenuous, to principles of jurisprudence, and Rumpole feels no compunction to burden himself or his clients with such. As Phyllida Trant, the recurring “Portia of [his] chambers,” remarks, Rumpole is not very good with law, and in fact is concerned only with securing a “not guilty” for his client in whatever ways possible–usually by outwitting the judge and convincing the jury through hyperbole, distraction and, failing all else, subterfuge.

Sir John Mortimer, who died early in 2009, was an author and barrister; he attained the highest rank of Queen’s Counsel or QC, an abbreviation which Rumpole invariably referred to as “Queer Customer,” revealing the attitude of both author and character towards the British legal institution of the 1970s and ’80s. Forever Rumpole assembles a collection of 15 stories–seven of them selected, some two decades ago, by Mortimer himself as his favorites. They are balanced by seven more recently written stories, along with a previously unpublished novel fragment Mortimer was writing at the time of his death, “Rumpole and the Brave New World.”

Reading the stories in Forever Rumpole is like a delightfully cozy visit with an old friend, one who knows his limits and is rather pleased with himself just as he is. All the familiar icons are present: Rumpole’s cigar-ash-covered waistcoat; his Wordsworth quotations; his oft-referenced Penge Bungalo Murder Case, which he, a junior barrister, won “alone and without a leader”; and, certainly, his ever-challenging relationship with his wife, Hilda, “She Who Must Be Obeyed.” This lovely collection deserves a space on the shelf of any fan of Horace Rumpole, the indefatigable defender of the Golden Thread that sustains British justice: the onus on the prosecution to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. —Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: Fourteen entertaining tales, the best of the beloved Rumpole, plus a previously unpublished novel fragment, will delight fans.

Viking, $30 hardcover, 9780670023066

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Egypt: The Book of Chaos, by Nick Drake [first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers, 12/13/11]

Egypt: The Book of Chaos

by Nick Drake

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Egypt has fallen on dark, frightening times. The pharaoh Ay is near death and Ankhsenamun, daughter of Nefertiti, has not provided him with an heir. Rottenness at all governmental levels, coupled with the threat of the ruthless and ambitious General Horemheb, and the growing turbulence among kingdoms to the East has prompted one poet to write, “Violence walks the ways,/ Evil runs rampant.”

Egypt: The Book of Chaos is the concluding novel of Nick Drake’s ancient Egyptian trilogy, after Nefertiti (shortlisted for the Ellis Peters Historical Crime award) and Tutankhamun. Rahotep, Seeker of Mysteries, has fallen from his position of power in the Thebes Medjay (police), consigned by his viciously petty boss to only the most superficial aspects of investigations–including the appallingly cruel murder of five young low-level opium runners. Finding a papyrus scrap inscribed with a strange symbol in one victim’s mouth, Rahotep pockets this, sharing it only with his partner, Khety; Khety’s sadistic murder, some days later, propels Rahotep into a personal investigation of the crime.

Rahotep’s search for answers dives deep into the dark, gritty heart of a corrupt and dangerous society, as he accompanies his oldest friend Nakht, of the inner circle of royal advisers, on a political mission whose urgency is matched only by its secrecy. Ignoring repeated warnings to leave the murders alone, Rahotep continues his investigation as he journeys north along the opium supply route (which still exists today). Along the way, he faces kidnapping, torture, addiction and death–either from the sinister Obsidian, head of the new opium trade, from Egypt’s Hittite enemies, or from the hands of Horemheb himself. This tightly crafted, brooding plunge into the frightening fin de siècle of the XVIII dynasty will leave readers satisfied as well as regretful that The Book of Chaos is the last in Drake’s series. —Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: Rahotep, Seeker of Mysteries, guides us through the treacherous end days of Egypt’s XVIII dynasty.

Harper, $25.99 hardcover, 9780060765941

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Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writing of Hunter S. Thompson [appeared originally in Shelf Awareness for Readers, 11/11/11]

Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writing of Hunter S. Thompson

by Hunter S. Thompson; edited and with an intro. by Jann S. Wenner

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Hunter S. Thompson wrote for Rolling Stone from 1970 until his last official “dispatch” shortly before his death in 2004. In those three and a half decades, he produced what Paul Scanlon, the magazine’s managing editor in the 1970s, estimates to be a total of almost half a million words, about 250,000 of which appear in this collection. From the 1972 presidential campaign (the original “Fear and Loathing”) and Watergate to Nixon’s funeral, along with whatever events struck his macabre, capricious, drug-fueled fancy, Thompson invented a new style of journalism by reporting the facts as filtered through a surreal, finely tuned sense of the Kafkaesque.

Those familiar with Thompson only by reputation may be surprised to learn how gaspingly, nonstop, laugh-out-loud funny he is. “Fear and Loathing in Elko,” to take one example, is a delirious freefall through the layers of Thompson’s explosive mix of fact and paranoia, allegedly recounting a road trip with Clarence Thomas involving guns, drugs, “The Judge” taking Thompson’s wallet and $20,000, a suicide, near-fatal escapes, Chinese sex dolls and spray cans of black paint applied to his “wanted” vehicle. Even a genteel luncheon with Bill Clinton on the 1992 campaign trail could inspire febrile headlines for Thompson’s canted imagination: “Clinton Injured in Wild Brawl with Dope Fiends: Candidate Denies Drunkenness, Cancels Bus Trip, Flees.”

Appealing to readers with an appreciation for the freakish, Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone will also introduce Thompson to a new generation of readers who will discover they, too, are demented, die-hard fans. —Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: The deranged, grotesque, irrational world of Hunter S. Thompson, lurking just beneath the surface of consensus reality.

Simon & Schuster, $32.50 hardcover, 9781439165959

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Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War [first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers, 11/01/11]

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War

by Tony Horwitz

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John Brown’s raid on the armory at Harper’s Ferry on October 17, 1859, is often cited as a catalyst for the Civil War that began two years later. Brown himself is usually portrayed as an abolitionist zealot who, alone among anti-slavery proponents, buttressed his rhetoric with lethal force. In Midnight Rising, Tony Horowitz (Confederates in the Attic) confirms these broad strokes of history’s brush while raising questions about the raid.

Brown’s commitment to abolition was absolute and longstanding; he masterminded many of the attacks on “Border Ruffians” who had massed in Kansas to sway the legislature to create the next slave state. Afterward, Brown kept in close contact with wealthy Northern abolitionists, raising money to buy arms and meticulously preparing for every contingency that might arise during the raid. In spite of this, it failed spectacularly. Why didn’t Brown detain the train running through Harper Valley that night, or use the knife-tipped spears he’d commissioned to arm newly freed slaves who would join him? Why did he delay the critical steps he’d planned and so lose all the advantages of surprise? Horowitz’s engaging analysis infuses John Brown with a surprising naïveté, perhaps even a confused loss of focus, that spurs a fall from master tactician to clumsy blunderer evocative of Greek tragedy.Midnight Rising adds an unexpected layer of complexity to this smoldering period in American history. –Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoa

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The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True, by Richard Dawkins [first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers, 10/28/11)

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True

by Richard Dawkins, illus. by Dave McKean

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With The Magic of Reality, Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, The Selfish Gene) has written a popular science text that straddles young adult and adult readerships. This delightful work introduces readers to some basic scientific questions–“What is a rainbow?” or “Why do we have night and day, winter and summer?”–but also tackles the cosmological issues of when and how everything began, as well as addressing specifically humanist issues: “What is a miracle?” and “Why do bad things happen?” Most chapters begin with a survey of traditional myths that attempted to answer these questions; in the chapter on earthquakes, for example, Dawson retells the biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah; the Japanese tale of the great catfish Namazu, who carries the land upon his back and rattles the earth when he flips his tail; and the West African myth that has humankind living in the hair of a giant who occasionally sneezes. His voice in these passages might remind the reader of the gently wry, self-deprecating explanations in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or perhaps the quintessentially British modesty of Stephen Fry.

This thoroughly enjoyable book is enhanced by the dazzling illustrations of Dave McKean, who has worked with such authors as Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. As attractive and accessible as The Magic of Reality is, however, this work is not for every reader; those who disagree with humanist atheism are advised to stay away–for Dawkins, all religions with their deities are mere stories we tell ourselves. But for those who want a clear and enjoyable introduction to science, The Magic of Reality is a fine choice. —Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: A superstition-free excursion into all the science you forgot from school days past (or never knew).

Free Press, $29.99 hardcover, 9781439192818

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