Monthly Archives: March 2015

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

  Summary (Amazon): From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: Almost

I probably started out this book with a bit of a pessimistic attitude because I just do not like WW2 books (specifically the European ones. I thoroughly enjoyed Unbroken because westerners rarely hear stories about WW2 Asia.) Anyway, the story is about an orphaned German boy and a blind French girl. So I was like…OK maybe this will be different. And in some parts it was, but in many ways, it wasn’t. Also, this was actually 5 stories confusingly woven into one. 1) Past tense Marie-Laure, 2)past tense Werner, 3) “current” (1944) time Marie-Laure and 4) “current” (1944) time Werner. 5) Sergeant Major von Rumpel’s obsession with finding the “Sea of Flames”. I’m going to tell Marie’s story, Werner’s story, how von Rumpel fits in, and then what happens when they finally meet.

Marie-Laure, the blind French girl, lives with her father, who is a museum locksmith, in Paris. (Her mother died in childbirth.) Her father is amazing and takes her to work with him where she learns about everything the museum has to offer. One of the things that the museum has is the “Sea of Flames”, a large blue diamond with red at the inside. It is kept in a series of locked doors as the diamond is known to be cursed. It gives the owner immortality but not without great despair. Marie-Laure’s father also makes her wooden puzzles as well as scale models of her neighborhood so that she can learn the paths before actually going outside and taking them.

When the Nazis invade Paris, Marie-Laure and her father flee Paris to head to the town of Saint-Malo (via way of Evreux which was already attacked and looted) to live with her great uncle Etienne who is a recluse and his housekeeper, Madame Manec. Marie-Laure doesn’t know but her father and 3 others are entrusted to take the “Sea of Flames” and hide it away from the Nazis. (3 of the diamonds are fake, but one is the real deal). Shortly after her father finishes his scale model of the region of Saint-Malo, he is called back to Paris to the museum and is taken in by the Nazis en route and taken to prison. He manages to eventually write Marie-Laure and Etienne some letters, one of which says that there is a a gift inside Etienne’s house just like she would get on her birthdays–a puzzle and inside a gift. Despite it being very obvious that the house is the model house, she has no idea what her dad is talking about and just ignores it.

Meanwhile, she is getting to know Etienne much better. He loves learning, music, and radios. His brother, Marie’s grandfather, used to record science programs that Etienne would transmit with his radio. When the Nazis take all the radios, they give up all but that one which they hide in a hidden closet and cover with a wardrobe. Manec has begun to help the resistance with some other town ladies in little ways. She involves Marie who meets some interesting people through this including Madame Ruelle who bakes secret messages into bread, and Harold Bazin, who has a secret hideout full of snails, which Marie loves. One day, Manec grows sick and dies. Yes, that suddenly. It convinces Etienne that he needs to try being brave so he begins sending out the secret codes that are baked into the bread through his radio, and when Marie-Laure one day is stopped by a Nazi soldier on the way home from the bakery, he finally convinces himself to leave the house to find her, and he then takes over the route for her until he disappears.

***

Werner Pfennig and his sister Jutta live in an orphanage in Zollverein, Germany. Werner’s father was a miner who died in a mining accident, and he’s always been interested in science. He and his sister scavenge old pieces of equipment and eventually cobble together a radio (the orphanage doesn’t have one) and listen to a science broadcast every night. Werner begins repairing radios for the townspeople until eventually he repairs one for a rich German man who helps Werner get accepted into a Nazi youth military school.  Jutta does not want him to go (she has been listening to the radio and thinks the Nazis are wrong), but he doesn’t really care, and he breaks her radio and goes to the school. He makes friends with a quiet boy named Frederick who joined because his father wanted him to (his vision was poor enough that he could have gotten out of it but he didn’t want to be a disappointment). The Nazi fervor grows and grows at the school, and Werner seems to evade some of it as he is the special pupil to the technical sciences’ professor. However, Frederick does not evade it, and after a few run ins with one of the training officers, he is attacked by some other students and taken from the school in a vegetable state. Werner, for the most part, is unfazed and continues with his job.

Eventually he gets put on a task force with this older student, Volkheimer, and some others to travel around finding people from the resistance transmitting anti-German things on the radio and destroy them. They travel around finding all sorts of “resistance” who they then kill. Werner remains fully unfazed about all of this until they accidentally kill a child who reminds him of Jutta. When they head to Saint-Malo to find a radio that has been sending out codes, Werner pretends he can’t find them.

**

Throughout all of this, Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel has been appraising all the treasure that the Nazis have been looting. He’s an esteemed gemologist, and he also has cancer. He has heard about the “Sea of Flames” and its capability of eternal life. He interrogates the museum about it and eventually tracks down the person who made the mould for the fakes who tells him that 3 were made. Methodically, he finds the keepers of 3/4, and of course, the last one to find is Marie-Laure’s, and he tracks her down to Saint-Malo.

**

Marie-Laure is home alone when she hears someone enter the house. It’s not Etienne though she doesn’t know where he is, so she knows it is someone looking for the “Sea of Flames” which she finally figured out was in the model house. She hides in the radio room with the box hoping that von Rumpel will leave, but as hers is the last one and he is running out of time, he has no reason to leave without the stone. She begins to do radio broadcasts of her reading Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea which Werner overhears on his scans. He targets her because he is fascinated, but then he and his team end up under the rubble after an attack from the Allied forces. When he hears her broadcast,  “He is here. He will kill me.”, he makes a final desperate attempt to escape. It works, and he goes to her house where he finds and kills von Rumpel and rescues her.

He asks her about the transmitter and tells her about the radio show that he used to listen to with his sister from that same transmission. She tells him that it was her grandfather, and they discuss Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea while eating the last can of peaches. He wears Etienne’s clothes to take her to safety, but she stops at the snail cave to deposit the house with the stone, and then goes to the muster point, giving Werner the key to the cave before she goes.

Werner is captured and believed to be a spy. He is taken to prison and is killed stepping onto a buried mine. Yes, just that fast.

Then the author decides to go to 2 separate “modern times” to try to continue the story, but it adds nothing. In the 1970s, Volkheimer receives Werner’s things from the army and tracks down Jutta to give them to her. He tells Jutta about their last days together in Saint-Malo. One of the items in his pack is part of a model house. Jutta decides to track down the owner of the house, first traveling to Saint-Malo where of course someone knows exactly where to find Marie-Laure 30 years later. She works in the museum. Jutta tracks her down and gives her back the house. Marie-Laure gives her the last of the records her grandfather recorded for Jutta’s son. When Marie opens the house, the key to the cave is inside, so she believes that Werner went back to retrieve the house but leave the diamond. Why?

Then again the author decides we care about old lady Marie-Laure hanging out with her grandson in the early 2000s just to show she made it.

Verdict: 3 stars

The book was just not come together in a way that was enjoyable for me. It was a good idea, but it just never was fully realized. In fact, without the two 2.5 hour flights I took, I am not sure I would have finished it. I didn’t enjoy the style of jumping back and forth between the stories. I didn’t like the extreme amount of closure that the author thought that the readers needed. Leave a little to the imagination. But the worst part was that I didn’t like the characters. They were so blah. Werner was a little sheep that somehow we were supposed to care about. And Marie-Laure never seemed to evolve to have her own ideas. I just wanted more.

 

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Filed under 3 stars, Book Club, Book Review

Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz

IMG_1195Summary (Amazon): The game is once again afoot in this thrilling mystery from the bestselling author of The House of Silk, sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate, which explores what really happened when Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty tumbled to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls.

Internationally bestselling author Anthony Horowitz’s nail-biting new novel plunges us back into the dark and complex world of detective Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty—dubbed the Napoleon of crime” by Holmes—in the aftermath of their fateful struggle at the Reichenbach Falls.

Days after the encounter at the Swiss waterfall, Pinkerton detective agent Frederick Chase arrives in Europe from New York. Moriarty’s death has left an immediate, poisonous vacuum in the criminal underworld, and there is no shortage of candidates to take his place—including one particularly fiendish criminal mastermind.

Chase and Scotland Yard Inspector Athelney Jones, a devoted student of Holmes’s methods of investigation and deduction originally introduced by Conan Doyle in “The Sign of Four”, must forge a path through the darkest corners of England’s capital—from the elegant squares of Mayfair to the shadowy wharfs and alleyways of the London Docks—in pursuit of this sinister figure, a man much feared but seldom seen, who is determined to stake his claim as Moriarty’s successor.

A riveting, deeply atmospheric tale of murder and menace from one of the only writers to earn the seal of approval from Conan Doyle’s estate, Moriarty breathes life into Holmes’s dark and fascinating world.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: uninspired

Maybe it’s just me, but when you know a novel is sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate, and the summary states that the book is about what happened to “Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty”, you expect Sherlock Holmes to at least appear in the book. Spoiler, he doesn’t.

The book begins at Reichenbach Falls after “The Final Problem” (a short story by Doyle) where both Moriarty and Holmes argue and fall to their deaths.

Mr. Chase, the narrator, arrives in Switzerland to examine the body that was pulled out of the falls which has been identified as James Moriarty. Frederick Chase is American from Pinkerton’s Detective Agency, and he wants to examine the body to find a correspondence between an American criminal and Moriarty. In the morgue, he meets Scotland Yard detective, Athelney Jones. Jones is a cheap replica of Sherlock Holmes, using catch phrases such as “elementary” and costumes and powers of observation. (I was worried that it was going to come out later in the book that Jones was actually Holmes, and I would have thrown the book away at that point to spare others from reading it. However, that didn’t happen.) The two find a note that no one else found in Moriarty’s jacket lining which is presumably the note Chase is looking for, and also is in code.

Jones decodes the note and then meets with Chase to initiate a partnership. Chase tells Jones about Clarence Devereux, the American criminal mastermind who sent the letter to Moriarty. Chase is unsure that Devereux is his real name, as he has never seen the man. He is familiar with some of Devereux’s associates–brothers Edgar and Leland Mortlake and Scotchy Lavelle. Due to the work of one of his investigators (who was killed in duty), Jonathan Pilgrim, Chase believes all of these men to be in London to spread their crime ring across the pond initially to team up with Moriarty, and now to take his place.

The decoded note says “Professor Moriarty, meet me at the Cafe Royal, London. One o’clock, May the twelfth. Wear a red tulip.” They concoct a plan. Jones will make a statement saying that he believes Moriarty to still be alive, and Chase will go to the Cafe wearing a red tulip to see what happens. When he does, a boy arrives, but when Chase cannot answer his question of how many ravens flew out of the Tower of London, the boy threatens Chase and leaves with Jones on his tail.

Jones has followed the boy to Bladeston House that is currently being rented by Scotchy Lavelle, so Jones and Chase interrogate Lavelle at the house who assures them he has never seen the boy in question, nor does he know Clarence Devereux. The two leave only to return the following morning to the scene of a gruesome murder–everyone in the house had been drugged and killed in their sleep. They investigate Lavelle’s study and find a sheet in his diary which says “HORNER 13”. They are unsure what it means but it seems important. As Jones and Chase are leaving the house, Edgar Mortlake appears, and they question him too. He claims not to know what has happened there, and he also claims to not know who Devereux is.

Chase goes with Jones to meet with the other Scotland Yard detectives about the attack, and they decide to raid the Bostonian to attempt to locate Devereux. They find the Mortlake brothers there, unsurprisingly, but they don’t provide any information. The only thing of value that they obtain is an advertising card for Horner’s hair tonic, and they set on their way to speak to Albert Horner.

The barber, who has taken over the business recently for Horner, does not appear to know any of the people Chase and Jones are interested in. They meet up again at Scotland Yard later that day, and Chase sees Jones awaiting him, but he also sees the boy from earlier. The boy got into a brougham with an older man and heads off. Chase follows until almost struck by a bus, and as they are walking back to the station, they hear an explosion. A package brought by a messenger boy was left outside Jones’s office by the telegraph room. A few people died, and certainly had Jones been at his desk, he would have also. Chase agrees to not discuss the matter when he goes to Jones’s house for dinner that evening.

At dinner, Jones’s wife forces a situation where she is alone with Chase so that she can get real information. He tells her that the explosion was indeed very near Jones’s office, and she tells Chase that her husband became obsessed with Sherlock Holmes after Watson portrayed him in an unflattering light after their two cases together. Elspeth wants Chase to look after and protect her husband during this investigation, and he agrees.

Jones and Chase reconvene the following day, and Jones has tracked down the driver of the brougham (apparently these were fairly rare). The driver picked up the tall 40 or 50 year old passenger at the Strand and then took him to Whitehall to wait for the boy and then they headed to 123 Victoria Street–the location of the legation of the USA. Jones is not permitted to go inside as they don’t have enough evidence. However, they remember that there was an invitation to a party there in Lavelle’s things, so they decide to go as the party is the next evening.

They attend the party and meet Robert Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s son. This serves no other purpose, but I thought it was an interest inclusion. They try to avoid notice, however, they must be introduced to all the hosts during which time, they inquire about Devereux to no avail before their cover is blown by the Mortlake brothers who insist that they get arrested. The official comes to take them into a private room, and they discover that the shy, unremarkable man is actually…Clarence Devereux! However, they cannot arrest him, but they do leave of their own volition. However, Devereux still makes an official complaint to Scotland Yard about Jones, so he has a limited time before he will be on probation.

Working quickly to devise a plan to draw out Devereux, the two come up with a fairly convoluted scheme. They return to the barber’s. It turns out that the barber is being used by Devereux to tunnel under the street into the bank to steal from the safe deposit boxes. They use this plan to set a trap for the Mortlake brothers and Devereux. After the robbery was announced in the papers, Edgar Mortlake comes to collect for Devereux. Chase and Jones are waiting, but he gets away. They go to the Bostonian to question his brother Mortlake, and as Chase is escorting him out, he is killed by a poison dart.

In retribution, Jones’s daughter is kidnapped from a playground. Eventually Jones (and Chase) are summoned to meet the kidnappers at Dead Man’s Walk (an old cemetery which sounds quite macabre). They arrive and find Edgar Mortlake alive despite his daring jump previously. Jones’s daughter is returned but Jones and Chase are captured and taken to a meat freezer for torture and questioning. Devereux is also there. Jones manages to shoot Mortlake with the single bullet hidden in his cane, and during the chaos, Jones and Chase manage to get away with some help of some extraordinary circumstances including the power going out and an appearance by the strange recurring boy.

They return to the American legation to arrest Devereux, finding the book where the ransom note page was removed, having just cause. Devereux and his severe agoraphobia are loaded into a closed wagon, and Jones and Chase follow in a different vehicle. Suddenly the boy again appears and kills a police officer in the procession. Jones takes out a hidden gun to pick off the boy, when Chase takes out his own gun and shoots Jones in the head.

Chase is Moriarty. He was annoyed that Devereux moved into his territory so he faked his own death so that he could go through and pick off all of Devereux’s crew. The book proceeds to rehash the entire story showing how Moriarty fooled everyone.

Verdict: 3 Stars

Bah. I wanted to like this SO much more. But there were parts in the middle that dragged, and the ending was in no way a surprise. There were way too many clues. Everyone died after they had been visited by Chase & Jones. The random appearance of the boy during the escape from the meat cellar. The fact that Jones’s wife didn’t trust Chase. I wasn’t fooled, and I wasn’t emotional about it. I liked Jones (and apparently so did Chase), but he was still no Sherlock Holmes. When does the next season of Sherlock start? It’s one of the rare occasions that a TV show far exceeds a book.

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Filed under 3 stars, Book Review