In need of an escape? Pick up a good book

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Escape! The pressure was building. I was under a ton of work. Reports were due. A speech needed to be written. My office was in chaos, and Isabella, the eternally-barking Chihuahua, needed a walk.

Escape! I kept hearing that word. After our walk, Isabella and I sat on the couch. She took a long nap and I picked up a read. Yes, I know, I should be thoroughly ashamed of myself. Work was insisting and instead of behaving in an adult fashion, I escaped into my new book.

“The Chalk Pit”

Escapist reading has a very long and pleasurable history, and I bet I am not the only one to practice this form of work avoidance. The first book I used to dodge work was Elly Griffiths’s The Chalk Pit. This is the newest Dr. Ruth Galloway mystery, and it lets us catch up with the recent events in her personal life along with some interesting forensic archeology linked to murders.

Griffiths’s series numbers nine so far, and basically in all of them we are treated to the very dramatic and interesting events in Dr. Galloway’s life. Set in England, Dr. Galloway is a professor of forensic archeology specializing in bones. She is a single mother, and resident of a tiny cottage near a desolate salt marsh. Her friends, who pop up in each mystery, include: Cathbad, a practicing Druid; DCI Harry Nelson, with whom she shares more than one secret; Phil, her attention-grabbing university dean; and Shona, her best friend and Phil’s lover.

These mysteries, while not cozy, are not filled with the blood, guts, foul language and violence frequently associated with modern mysteries. Rather, they are quite atmospheric, placing the reader in the story without scaring him or her half to death. You certainly do want to know what happens, but not at the expense of a sleepless night.

In this current novel, Griffiths takes on underground communities. Two homeless men are stabbed, DCI Nelson’s faithful sergeant’s fiancée has been kidnapped, and two other women appear to have suffered the same fate. Clues are hard to come by, but in the end the bones of an additional victim point the way. Another satisfying Dr. Galloway account.

In case you are wondering, although not much has been written about actual underground communities, there are books available on “the mole people” of New York City, “the underground people” in Las Vegas, and the 100 Jewish children who fled to the sewer system of Bucharest, Romania during World War II. The current underground residents of Bucharest, by the way, are mostly HIV positive children released from the orphanages who have no place left to go. Yes, these places are real. The Chalk Pit certainly raises the awareness of these underground communities, while giving us a good mystery at the same time.

“The Library of the Light Shadow”

Okay, I got back to work when I finished the book. However, when I got done with all the pressing drudgery, I needed a reward. M.J. Rose, one of my favorite authors, just penned The Library of Light and Shadow. Third in her Daughters of La Lune books, the series focuses on paranormal historical fiction, and I think it is the best one yet. Thank you, M.J. This very dramatic narrative is set in New York City and Paris in the 1920s. World War I is over, people are desperate to get back to living, returned soldiers are determined to forget the hell of the trenches and our main character, Delphine, has moved from Paris to New York to plan her trade as an artist and to forget the man she loved but could not be with due to the mystical secret in her life.

Initially, we are told that Delphine is a scryer, who, while in a trance, also has the additional ability to draw a person’s most hidden secret. Her brilliance as an artist, her strength as a witch/scryer, and her gentle beauty and vulnerability sets the stage for tragedies – both hers and those around her. Rose is well known for her otherworldly writings, and this novel is no exception.

After a New York tragedy, Delphine renounces her artistic and psychic gifts and returns to southern France where we are treated to cameo appearances by Picasso, Matisse and the Fitzgeralds. She also encounters the world famous opera singer Emma Calvé, who is obsessed with the writings of the fourteenth-century alchemist Nicolas Flamel. It is Delphine’s quest for Flamel’s Elixir of Life that brings things to a dramatic and exciting conclusion, in a mysterious castle that once housed both exiled Christians and the Knights Templar. Very cool reading.

“The Lying Game”

Once I was done with Rose’s exquisite atmospheric and eerie psychological thriller, I wanted another one. Reports were pressing again, but I quickly avoided everything when I found The Lying Game by Ruth Ware. This book is also edgy, unsettling and atmospheric – but without the supernatural component this time.

Seventeen years ago, four girls became close friends at a British boarding school. To pass the time and make themselves exclusive, they invented the lying game. The five rules were: tell a lie, stick to your story, don’t get caught, never lie to each other and know when to stop lying. Something happened at that school that they were involved in and they lied their way out. But they were always waiting for the eventual exposing of that lie. Then, 17 years later, a dog running on the beach near the school recovered a human bone and took it to his person. It is really hard to get rid of a body – those bones just keep popping up in these mysteries. The next day three of the now adult women got a text from the fourth woman: “I need you.” The three drop everything and rush to her aid. Now the tension begins to build.

Isa, our narrator, is one of the four, and her disclosing of events is close to Gothic in undertone. That keeps the suspense nice and high. Naturally, the greater part of the tension is created by the foreshadowing of doom, making the interplay of the characters very intense. Twists and revelations keep us hanging nicely, until the very end. Will they be caught? Will the truth come out? Will the lying game finally come to an end? I’m not telling. You will have to blow off work just as I did and find out for yourself.