Mystery

The Best Book I Read This Month: Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin

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The best book I read this month is the 20th installment in Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series: Even Dogs in the Wild. It’s my favorite in the series (so far).

I’d never read any Rebus books before last summer. The series was recommended to me when I mentioned that I was traveling to Edinburgh and that when I traveled, I liked to read books set in the place I was visiting. The Rebus recommendation was spot on.

Rebus is a Detective Inspector who lives and works in Edinburgh. He first appeared in Knots and Crosses way back in 1987. In the early books in the series, Rebus was not all that likable and felt pretty flat as a character. What I enjoyed most about reading those books was being in the city where the stories were set and seeing many of the story locations in person. For example, one of the Rebus books I read while in Edinburgh began with a murder in Mary King’s Close. I read those pages a couple days before my own scheduled guided tour of the close. Similarly, Rebus regularly walked up the Canongate and the Cowgate and through the Grassmarket—all places I walked while I was there. Reading about places I was seeing in person made my visit more meaningful and the stories more alive.

By Book 20, published in 2015, Rebus is retired. That, of course, doesn’t stop him from being involved in the latest case du jour. What set Even Dogs in the Wild apart, though, was the character growth. For the first time, Rebus seems to have grown. He felt like a real person, not a stock character. The same for his frenemy, Big Ger Cafferty, an aging mob boss. Both men show signs of change and vulnerability that they hadn’t shown before. It made for a refreshing and engaging read—enough so that I’m very much looking forward to reading the last two books (so far) in the series.

(All that said, you can read and understand Even Dogs in the Wild without having read the previous 19 books in the series.)

The Best Book I Read This Month: Sleeping in the Ground by Peter Robinson

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The best book I read this month is one I'm still reading (shhh...don't tell!). It's the latest in Peter Robinson's Inspector Alan Banks series, which is set in the fictional town of Eastvale in Yorkshire, England.

In this latest installment, called Sleeping in the Ground, Banks and his team must solve the mystery of a mass shooting at a local wedding. As I read, I'm learning a lot about U.K. gun laws. And, yes, there was the mandatory reference to the epidemic of shootings in the United States.

The book is the 24th in the series. (I started the series at book 10.) What keeps the series fresh is Robinson's treatment of his characters. In Sleeping in the Ground, recent changes in Banks's life have him off-balance. He was recently promoted, and he's not entirely comfortable with his new rank or his new office. He is also mourning the loss of a childhood friend while at the same time, dealing with an old flame who reappears in his life. Through these twists and turns, Robinson is forcing his leading man to grow and change.

Banks's supporting cast is equally engaging. In fact, I like two of them--Annie Cabbot and Winsome Jackman--more than I like Banks. Both feature prominently in this story (Jackman is one of the victims of the shooting), and I enjoy how they, too, have grown as the series has progressed.

The story (so far, at least) stands on its own, so it's not necessary to read the whole series to understand and enjoy this one book. But I am enjoying it more because I know the history of the characters and can see layers in their interactions as a result.

 

The Best Book I Read This Month: Henna House by Nomi Eve

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The best book I read this month was an unexpected pleasure. I'd never heard of it before it was chosen by my book club to be our July read. What a gem I would have missed if they hadn't!

Henna House by Nomi Eve was a little slow to start but ultimately proved to be a rich, engaging read. It took me a while to get through the first 70 pages. I raced through the last 70.

Henna House tells the story of a Jewish girl growing up in Yemen in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, starting with her youth in a rural Yemeni village and ending with her immigration to the new state of Israel.

While the Holocaust does figure in the story's epilogue, it is not a central component of the story. That in itself was remarkable. So many works of literature about Jewish characters are stories of the Holocaust, and while it is important to remember the Holocaust,  the Jewish experience is so much more than that one event. It was refreshing to read a book that not only reflects part of that broader experience but also speaks to the diversity of the global Jewish population.

Bonus Recommendation: Savage Liberty by Eliot Pattison

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This month, I was equally transported by another book, too: Savage Liberty by Eliot Pattison. Liberty is the fifth book in Patterson's Early America mystery series, and by far the best. Set a few years before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Savage Liberty incorporates many historical figures who made their names during the Revolution--including John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Ethan Allen. But at the center of the story, as in the rest of the series, is Highlander Duncan McCallum and his Haudenosaunee friend, Conawago. (The first book in the series, Bone Rattler, explains how their paths crossed and their friendship formed.) Together, they seek answers about the sabotage of a merchant ship and the murders of rangers who served during the French and Indian War.

What I especially love about this series is that Pattison shows the diversity of the colonial population. His stories are populated by more than just white men.  And while I would like to see more women in these stories, I am grateful for the inclusion of a variety of Native American cultures and colonial settlers, including, in this story, a Jewish character.