The Wilder Aisles 

Janice Wilder has been a legend of Sydney bookselling for over 40 years.

May 2018

 - Tuesday, May 15, 2018
What is there to say about the wonderful Donna Leon that hasn’t been said. When reading her books, I feel like a member of an extended family—I know Guido, Paola, Chiara and Raffi at least as well as my own family. I love it when Commissario Guido Brunetti looks to the classics for help, and in his latest investigation, The Temptation of Forgiveness, it is to Sophocles’ Antigone that Brunetti turns. When a university colleague of Paola’s, Professoressa Crosera, calls to see Brunetti he is surprised. At first, the uncomfortable Crosera is reluctant to speak, but after a prolonged silence, with no prompting from the policeman, she finally says that she is very worried because she thinks her son is using drugs. The reasons she gives for thinking this seem like normal teenage behaviour to Brunetti—but he assures her he will do what he can. Things get more complicated when Tullio Gasparini, the professor’s husband, is found unconscious on a ferry wharf in the early hours of the morning. He has severe head wounds, and Brunetti doesn’t know whether he was attacked or fell. Is there a connection between the attack on Tullio and his wife’s suspicions about her son. There follows mysterious informants, underground deals, secret scams. His colleague, Commissario Claudia Griffoni and the wonderful Signorina Elettra, Brunetti’s own informant in the Questura, assist him in his investigations. Donna Leon never lets me down, and Guido Brunetti along with Salvatore Montalbano are the two fictional detectives I would love to meet— over a plate of linguine con vongole and a glass of vino. Heaven!

Ragnar Jónasson is a Nordic Noir author new to me. Whiteout, which I have just read, is not his first book—in fact it is the last in the Dark Iceland series. I suppose you can’t help but miss a few authors in the landslide of Nordic crime books—but now I’ve discovered this Icelander, Jónasson, I am keen to read his others. I like his character—local policeman, Ari Thor Aronson, and as always with the Scandi Noirs—the landscape, with its wild weather-whipped wind and snow, feels almost is a large character in the narrative. The story starts with Asta Karadottir visiting a house in the northern town of Kalfshamarvik— somewhere she had spent time when younger. She’s not sure she’s done the right thing in coming, but it is too late to turn back—and she is more or less welcomed by the residents—Thora and her brother Oskar, who look after the house, and the owner Reynir, a business man who is rarely there as he lives down south. Asta is given her old room, and falls fully clothed onto the bed to sleep. Two days before Christmas a girl’s body is found at the bottom of a cliff and Ari Thor is called in by his old boss Tomas, who has also relocated down south, to use his local knowledge in the investigation. This is the same spot where another  woman and a child were found dead twenty-five years before. With winter closing in, snow falling all about, Ari Thor and Tomas  must work hard to find out what happened. Tomas is anxious to get home for Christmas Eve so he arrests a local and takes off, deeming the job done. However, Ari Thor is not so sure, and he continues his investigation—with surprising results. This is a very atmospheric novel that I really connected with. The other books in the series are Snowblind, Nightblind, Blackout and Rupture. I’m headed for Snowblind next. And if you haven’t caught up with two other Icelandic authors I like (mentioned on the back of Jónasson’s book)—Arnaldur Inðridason & Yrsa Sigurðardóttir—I highly recommend you do.

‘Every mother is a woman with a past’ reads a quote from the back cover of Elisa Lodato’s debut novel An Unremarkable Body—and her character Katherine Lowan is no exception. On a February day in 2012, Katherine’s daughter, Laura, goes to visit her mother—who like her, lives alone. She finds her mother’s body at the foot of the stairs. This causes her to relive her past, and what she knows of her mother’s. There is a post-mortem and each chapter is named after the body part examined. As the past is unveiled, Laura learns about her parents—about their difficult marriage, about the terrible circumstances of her brother’s birth, about Jenny, who came to help after the birth—and about Helen—Katherine’s best friend since school days. Gradually Laura discovers that her mother did not live the life she wanted. 
She was dominated by her mother—never allowed to be the person she felt she should have been. Her marriage was a disaster from the beginning, even though it produced Laura and Christopher. And Katherine is also dominated by her friend Helen. The two are inseparable, until they go to different high schools—Katherine’s mother doesn’t like Helen’s influence, and refuses to let Katharine to go to the same grammar school as Helen. However, they remain close—the true nature of their relationship a secret to Laura. Laura herself is trying to deal with the chaos of her past. She had become involved with David at college, even though he was with someone else—and later, when she meets Tom, she can’t stop from being unfaithful, thus almost ending the one good relationship she has. I enjoyed this story about people and their complicated lives—trying to find the strength and courage to live the life they were meant to live. Janice Wilder