Book Briefs – small, great things – Joesphine Tey – The Trespasser – Precious and Grace

book-briefs-small-great-things-11-10-16
Three out of five stars.

Ruth Jefferson, an African-American nurse with more than 20 years experience in labor and delivery, is instructed by a white supremacist couple not to touch their newborn son, Davis.

But things go south for the infant and Jefferson finds herself alone in the room as the baby goes into distress. The choices Jefferson makes impact her life and the lives of those around her.

Jefferson, a widow, is raising her son, Edison, an honor student with his eyes on college scholarships. They live in an upscale white neighborhood where they keep a low profile.

Jefferson’s mother is a domestic in uptown Manhattan.

She and her sister, the militant Adisa, aren’t close.

After being charged with a serious crime, Jefferson’s case is assigned to a white public defender named Kennedy McQuarrie.

Turk Bauer, the baby’s father, joined a white supremacist group for personal reasons, marrying the leader’s daughter, Brit.

In typical Picoult fashion, the author tells each character’s story from their point of view and lets readers decide how they feel about the outcome.

Piccoult reaches a bit toward the end of the story, but for the most part, she deserves respect for tackling the particularly thorny status of race relations in America.

It’s going to take more than this book to resolve our issues, but maybe this story will at least provide a launching pad for conversations on how to live with one another.

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book-briefs-josephine-tey-11-3-16
Five out of five stars.

Josephine Tey was the pen name for Elizabeth MacKintosh (1896-1952).

Her novel “Daughter of Time” was once voted the best mystery of all time.

She wrote plays under the name Gordon Daviot. Her “Richard of Bordeaux” opened on the West End of London, ran a year and launched the career of John Gielgud.

At one point during her professional life, she had plays running in London and on Broadway.

Her books are still in print, making her one of Scotland’s most popular writers.

She never married.

Tey avoided the press and shunned photographers, going into seclusion at her sister’s home after falling critically ill.

All of this adds a sense of mystery to her life – a life that Jennifer Morag Henderson has meticulously researched for her biography, “A life: Josephine Tey.”

I don’t read a lot of biographies, but found this one fascinating. Henderson’s left no stone unturned in her quest to find out what made Tey tick, what drove her to create such memorable characters and how she created what are now considered the beginnings of great English mysteries.

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book-briefs-the-trespasser-11-10-16
Three out of five stars.

Tana French must have read Josephine Tey’s books when she was growing up and then branched out to discover Stephen King, Dean Koontz and others who weave psychological angles into their who-done-its.

In her latest, “The Trespasser,” French sends Detective Antoinette Conway in to solve what seems to be a straightforward domestic homicide.

Soon, however, the investigation and the victim’s life start to “intersect with Antoinette’s in ways that cannot be ignored,” according to publicity materials released with the book.

“On the surface, Antoinette and the victim have almost nothing in common,” French says in the prepared press release. “As the story develops, though, she’s forced to see that, deep down, there are similarities. That’s basically what the book is about: the ways we come up with narratives, and what happens when those narratives get out of control.”

While “The Trespasser” didn’t contain the normal level of psychological tension as her other books, Tana French writes solid mysteries, peopled with characters you’re thinking about for a while after the mystery is solved.

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book-briefs-precious-and-grace-use-this-one
Four out of five stars.

You would be hard pressed to find a series as sweet and gentle as the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, written by Alexander McCall Smith. Jan Karon’s “Mitford” books have similar charm.

Both center on people living their best possible lives in places they hold dear.

In the detective series, Mma Precious Ramotswe and her assistant Grace Makutsi, run the aforementioned agency, taking a wide range of cases.

In this volume Precious and Grace assist a Canadian woman who spent some of her childhood in Botswana, and is now looking for pieces of that life. The two disagree on their findings, which is the book’s main focus, but certainly not the only plot driving the action.

A stray dog comes into Mma Ramotswe’s life after Fanwell, one of her husband’s apprentices hits the animal.

Mr. Polopetsi, another one of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s former apprentices who now teaches school and works part time at the agency, convinces Grace to invest in a pyramid scheme.

Violet Sephoto, the town floozy and Grace’s nemesis at secretarial college, is up to her old tricks, too, to Grace’s never-ending chagrin.

Mma Ramotswe visits her friend Silvia Potokwani, director of the local orphanage and fruit cake maker extraordinaire. Being “traditionally built,” Precious is quite fond of her visits with Mma Potokwani because they always include tea and more than one serving of cake.

Through the past 16 books, all set in Botswana, these characters have become familiar friends. Time spent with them is never time wasted.

Mysteries and the intrigues that follow them seem secondary to the real reason we read McCall Smith’s books.

In the world of Precious and Grace, people respect one another, honor their ancestors and are kind to animals. Sounds like heaven to me.

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