Category Archives: Travel

Another Chilling Read from the Arctic

 book cover: The Bone Seeker


Destination: Canada, The Arctic Circle

Book:  The Bone Seeker, An Edie Kiglatuk Mystery, by M. J. McGrath (NEW 2014)

“The boundaries of murder were unlimited.  Like some far distant universe, every individual act of killing was dark and vast and unknowable.” From The Bone Seeker by M. J. McGrath

The Arctic
Land and ice and water near Kuujuaq. Photo by Murray Dewing at Flickr.

I love finding books that are not only fun to read, but also shed light on a place and a culture that I know next to nothing about.  So how many books have you read that take place in the Arctic and have an Inuit heroine?

One difference between southerners (anyone south of the Arctic Circle) and the Inuits (Eskimos) is that we southerners think of ice as frozen water.  However, in the Arctic, they think of water as melted ice. Edie Kiglatuk, an Inuit, shares this bit of cultural difference along with many others along the way to solving the mystery of a missing teen girl.

If you need to cool off from  hot summer weather, let M. J. McGrath transport you to an island. No soft breezes and palm trees here, though.  Just too much daylight all summer long. Edie Kiglatuk, the main character is uncomfortably warm when the temperature raises above freezing. That makes McGrath mysteries the perfect books for ‘chilling.’

Artic wolf tracks
Photo by Johannes Zielcke, from Flickr

Edie has taken a summer school teaching position in the town of Kuujuaq, a small town in Nunaviq in far north Quebec Province. In summer, the sun never sets on this Arctic region, and the constant light plays havoc with people’s sleep cycles.

Edie, while not officially a detective, brings a wealth of experience and appropriate skills to the job when her friend Sergeant Derk Paliser, the only law in these parts, recruits her to help. They are searching for the killer of a teenage girl, Martha, whose body is found in a lake that is suspected by the Inuits of harboring evil spirits. Edie is an expert tracker, and sees things that elude people more used to walking on pavement than on ice.

As in the previous Edie Kiglatuk mystery that  I reviewed, The Boy in the Snow, set in Alaska,  The Bone Seeker reveals a much wider evil conspiracy than a simple murder.  In Boy in the Snow, Edie uncovered corrupt politicians and a human trafficking ring.  Here, the suspense builds and you will not fully realize the meaning of the book’s title until you arrive near the end.

You know you’re in for a wild ride when the Canadian Defense Department shuts down the investigation and takes away the body and all evidence.  Derek resents the non cooperation of the Army and his anger makes him less than a diplomat. Edie keeps some of her actions secret even from Derek. The native people on the island don’t trust any outsiders (qalunaat), even Derek, who is only half Inuit. Meanwhile, a female attorney who has been representing the tribe in a suit against the government aimed at cleaning up contaminants for the “evil” lake, endangers herself by refusing to back down when old paperwork hints at deep secrets.

As you can see, there is plenty of conflict to go around, and plenty of strong characters who refuse to “behave” when the government wants them to back away.

 NOTES: I am an Amazon affiliate, which means if you click on the book cover and shop at Amazon, A Traveler’s Library will earn a few cents to help pay the Internet rent. Thanks.

Click on photos to learn more about the photographers.

 

Thomas Kennedy: Seeking Bars, Jazz, and Love in Copenhagen

Destination: Copenhagen, Denmark

Book: Beneath the Neon Egg by Thomas E. Kennedy (NEW in U.S. August 5, 2014)

In the fourth of the series of novels he calls the Copenhagen Quartet, Thomas Kennedy looks at the dark side of Copenhagen.  It is winter in this noir novel, and many of the scenes take place in the dark. After all, in winter, you don’t get a lot of hours of sunshine in Copenhagen.

 

Copenhagen Quartet
Copenhagen winter. Photo from Flickr. Click to learn more.

Each book in the quartet features a different season and a different style of writing.  For instance, Kerrigan in Copenhagen, which I reviewed here, takes place in spring and is presented as a guidebook as an aging travel writer tours the bars and clubs. It would be an oversimplification to think of it merely as a guidebook, since it is also an homage to James Joyce with its stream of consciousness autobiography of the narrator. (Happy to discover that my review is quoted on the web page for Copenhagen Quartet, linked in the first paragraph above.)

Jumping into the debate about whether it is important to know anything about the author of a book in order to fully appreciate the book, I will just say that Thomas E. Kennedy is hidden in plain sight in all of these books.

Only a dedicated jazz aficionado would go to such lengths to provide a musical score for each novel.  He obviously knows his stuff, with details of jazz musicians and their work discussed in every book.

Kennedy has Irish roots. His characters always include some ties to Ireland.

Kennedy is an American living in Copenhagen and a man fascinated with language.  So we get main characters who are working in Copenhagen as writers or translators. Characters bring a fresh eye of an outsider to the details of Danish culture. A comparison of American ways and Danish ways provides extra fascination for American readers and travelers.

In Beneath the Neon Egg: A Novel (which was called Bluett’s Blue Hours when published in Europe ten years ago) we learn that many American jazz players spent a lot of time in Copenhagen, which offers numerous jazz clubs.

CD Cover
CD Cover: A Love Supreme

The headliner for this novel is John Coltrane, whose A Love Supreme provides the  structure and symbol for a story that is basically about various kinds of love. I admit that I have not delved so deeply into literary deconstruction as to outline for you how these four movements, Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance and Psalm align with the story of Beneath the Neon Egg–but I have a vague idea. (So shoot me for laziness.)

It is the appropriateness of the title “Love Supreme” that struck me.  Beneath the Neon Egg deals with every kind of love from casual sex to parental love. The motivation for finding love of whatever type seems always to be avoiding loneliness (being alone.)

Each kind of love is challenging, but the most challenging and the one that turns the book into a mystery novel of sorts has to do with Bluett’s neighbor across the hall, a man so unlucky in love that he completely falls for a Russian prostitute and believes her attentions signify real love. It is a fatal mistake.

When Thomas Kennedy told me in an e-mail that he had adopted noir as the style for this novel, I was expecting a Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, big city detective solving a crime with gorgeous broads and  deceptive business dealings in a setting of shadows.  You get some of that in Beneath the Neon Egg. But this introspective angsty story is a far cry from the typical noir detective novel.

Bluett, the translator at the heart of the story, is not a man of action. His main motivation in life is to finish five pages of translation per day. But still, Kennedy’s writing style is unbeatable for putting the reader into the mood of the story.

What then?

Another day, another five pages, another evening, another vodka, Coltrane.  Chair at the window watching the blue hour descend like mist.  McCoy Tyner’s quiet piano chords lead into Coltrane’s moody tenor, addressing the equinox.  Ought to get some skates, glide like a shadow on the blue ice, hearing music recorded neraly forty years earlier; himself a tiny lad, his parents young and good-looking.  He has “Equinox” on repeat, vodka on his tongue, the tenor enters his ears like a sweet promise, orders his mind with sound that is a credible reality.

I think I prefer the European title, Bluett’s Blue Hours for the mere sound of the words, as well as the moodiness. But on the other hand, Beneath the Neon Egg, is puzzling and intriguing–teasing the potential reader rather than laying it all out–and so is the book. And the mere mention of “neon” surfaces a mental picture of a garish light blinking against a black sky.

Spoiler Alert:  The neon egg is part of an appropriately surreal neon depiction of a chicken laying an egg that Bluett can see from his window.

And by the way, Kennedy is still up to his little tricks. He checks to see if the reader is paying attention by putting characters from the other three novels into this one. They wander through in cameo appearances at a bar or on the street. It is this kind of playfulness that makes me think of Nabokov as I read Kennedy.

Copenhagen Quartet
Copenhagen street, winter night. Photo by Cian O’Donovan from Flickr.

The traveler looking for a guide to Copenhagen, will once again have the benefit of Kennedy’s meticulous directions for navigating the city as Bluett mostly beats a path from watering hole to watering hole.

Kennedy said in an interview: “The more you know about a place, the more your life is enriched.” Obviously I agree with that, or I wouldn’t be telling you about books that will enhance your travel! However, the tourism people in Denmark might not be thrilled by the menacing air of this novel. At least you’ll learn about a part of the city that you definitely do NOT want to visit while you’re pub crawling.

I have now read all four of the novels in the Copenhagen Quartet. You can read them in any order, but the author says on his website that reading Kerrigan in Copenhagen first gives you information that helps orient you for the other three.

Note: Links here to Amazon provide you with a convenient way of shopping. And although it costs you no more, you’ll be supporting A Traveler’s Library, since I am an Amazon Affiliate. Thanks.

Back to Maine with Paul Doiron

A mystery set in Maine
CD: The Bone Orchard

Destination: Maine

Book: The Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron. Reviewed from McMillan audiobook read by Henry Leyva.

Maine mystery stream
Extreme low water at Barrows falls on the Piscataquis River in Monson. From Flickr. Click for more.

Good grief.  This is torture.  Summer temps are in triple digits here in southern Arizona, and I read the bio of author of Maine mystery books, Paul Doiron, “He lives on a trout stream in coastal Maine with his wife.”

Since I’ll be meandering through Maine on my way to Nova Scotia later this year, I don’t let my envy stop me from listening to The Bone Orchard.  And I am rewarded with a delightful tour through Maine as well as a ripping good story.

I am a lot more enthusiastic about the fifth book in the Mike Bowditch Maine mystery series than I was about the fourth one, Massacre Pond, that I reviewed last year.  I suggest you take a look at that review, too, because what I had to say about the reader on the audio tape (same one for both books) and about the Maine Game Warden service still applies.

What is different about The Bone Orchard is that I care a lot more about the victims. Also, because Bowditch is no longer employed by the Warden service he is able to wander around the state instead of being confined to basically one patch of woods. It was good to get a look at Portland, Augusta, the far north of Maine in Presque Islae and the settlement of Sweden, and other glimpses of the variety of the state in addition to the woods.

Setting in Maine mystery
View from cabin in Sweden Maine. Photo from Flickr. Click for more info.

On Doiron’s website you can find a map of “Mike Bowditch’s Maine”, but unfortunately it only covers the first three Maine Mystery books.  A map showing all the wanderings in The Bone Orchard would take a lot of work, but would certainly be interesting.

I complained in that last review that I did not feel the personal aspects of Mike Bowditch’s life were well integrated into the book.  The Bone Orchard structure seemed to me to make much more sense. Still the classic troubled modern man/detective in this book, he has voluntarily left the service to become a hunting and fishing guide. While he is still a bit haunted by his mother’s death from cancer and fumbling to reconcile himself with two past love interests, these personal concerns make more sense within the context of a vicious attack on the woman who has been his mentor in the Game Warden service.

Mike Bowditch’s independent nature makes it plausible that he would delve into solving a crime even though he is no longer a officer of the law.  The story is gripping and I found myself neglecting a long queue of recorded programs on my television and turn on the CD player so I could hear what happened next in this enticing Maine mystery.

As for this book’s value to travelers…..One of the downsides of reviewing audio books is that it is a lot more difficult for me to quote passages from the author. You’ll have to take my word for it, that even if you’re living in a more temperate climate than I am, you’ll be very tempted to take a road trip through Maine after you read Paul Doiron’s descriptions.

Note: MacMillan audio provided the audiobook for review, but that does not affect what I tell you about the book.  Links here to Amazon make your shopping easier and earn a few cents for A Traveler’s Library. Thanks for shopping Amazon through my links. (It costs you no more.)