Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Grisham thriller adds sense of whimsy
IN his latest legal thriller, The Litigators (Dell, 488 pages, $12), American novelist John Grisham tries something a little new -- light comedy. The book tells the story of a couple of relatively sleazy law partners, their burnt-out new hire, and a class-action lawsuit that seems too good to be true.
The story is familiar: underdog lawyers take on a giant corporation accused of selling a dangerous, perhaps fatal, product. Lots of intrigue, as usual, but also a sense of whimsy.
You can see Grisham experimenting with a new prose style -- he's done humour before, but not in this context -- and having a lot of fun doing it, too. His characters are ever-so-slightly larger than life ("Dickensian" is too big a word, but they're definitely in the same ballpark). Grisham's fans might be surprised at some of the plot developments here; he doesn't take you where you're expecting to go.
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The Map of Time (Atria, 611 pages, $19), by Spanish novelist Felix J. Palma, is almost impossible to summarize in a few words, but try this: set in Victorian England, it's a story about time travel, love, fraud on a massive scale, a notorious serial killer, H.G. Wells, and a desperate attempt to preserve some great works of literature.
This is a big, ambitious, mesmerizing novel. It's a mixture of mystery, science fiction, fantasy and steampunk that keeps you flipping the pages so fast you're in serious danger of paper-cuts.
The English translation, by Nick Caistor, is nimble and entertaining, combining a lightly Victorian prose style with modern idioms and pacing. A brilliant, brilliant book.
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Survivors (Permuted Press, 310 pages, $17) concludes the Morningstar Strain trilogy, an exciting zombie saga by the late Z.A. Recht. The battle between rival factions of survivors of the plague that nearly wiped out humanity reaches its climax in Omaha, Neb., as the desperate search for a cure threatens to lead to the extinction of the remainder of the living.
Recht, who died in 2009 (the novel is credited to him and Thom Brannan), had a raw, unpolished prose style that perfectly matched his raw, visceral material. His zombie stories were like good, old-fashioned westerns: good guys, bad guys, and lots of violence.
The novel is brutal and occasionally stomach-turning, but it is also impossible to put down. You want to find out what happens next, and whether there really is any hope for humanity's future.
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In Fear Index (Arrow, 385 pages, $12), the new novel by Britain's Robert Harris, Alex Hoffman, designer of a cutting-edge artificial-intelligence program that's reaping big rewards for speculators in the financial markets, begins to wonder if he's the victim of a plot to discredit him, not to mention drive him insane.
But Hoffman has no way of knowing just how complex the plot against him is, or who's behind it. This is a chilling techno-thriller with enough creeping paranoia to give you shivers for a week.
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Speaking of paranoia, Arrow has also reissued Harris's 1992 novel Fatherland (505 pages, $20). Set in Berlin in 1964, the story involves a homicide detective's investigation of a suspicious death; he thinks it's murder, but there are people in high places who want the case to disappear, no matter what it takes.
It's an alternate-history mystery. Germany was victorious in the Second World War, and the events of the book take place as Berlin is gearing up for Hitler's 75th birthday celebration. Plausible and suspenseful, set against a bleak and oppressive landscape, it was Harris's first novel, and it's still his best.
Halifax freelancer David Pitt's column runs on the first weekend of the month.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 7, 2012 J9
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