This is Your Life – Southern-style

Last Talk First off, this is not a thriller. The subtitle to The Last Talk with Lola Faye is “a novel” and that is the correct description in my opinion. Thomas H. Cook delivers a few twists and turns in the book but while motivations may be shrouded there is no big psychological mystery nor are there chase scenes and other assorted perils. Instead Cook tells the story of a mediocre professor who one night unexpectedly meets the woman he holds responsible for his father’s murder. The conversation that follows, the talk of the title, takes the narrator back to his life in an Alabama town of reduced expectations.

Cook chooses to tell the bulk of the story in a series of flashbacks – a risky choice but it is mostly successful here. It helps that the writing is engaging and never fussy, and that the book is short (around 250 pages) so that it can be read in one gulp on a deckchair near the body of water of your choice. In fact this book is probably best read in one or two sessions. Broken up over days the story of Luke and Lola Faye might start to creak a bit. Can Luke really be so totally lacking in self-awareness? Taken at the right speed the story is revealing and entertaining, reminiscent of Barbara Vine.  My only quarrel with the book, aside from the publisher’s choice of calling it a “thriller,” is the last chapter. It feels like a cop out, a tacked on happy ending that was already implied without hitting the reader over the head. Maybe that’s the publisher’s fault, too.

Recommended for fans of literary mysteries of the Barbara Vine variety.

Recent Acquisitions from the Vine

Complaining about the poor selection of free items strikes me as a tad ungrateful yet I have to admit that Amazon’s Vine offerings haven’t been tempting the last few months. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean I have to choose a book that does not interest me – especially when I have to write a review in exchange. But enough whining, in this month’s second batch were too review-worthy books.

Last Talk


The Last Talk with Lola Faye by Thomas H. Cook

This is billed as “a novel” despite a plot that involves a man finally meeting the woman he holds responsible for his father’s murder. Less than 300 pages, Lola looks like something best read in one gulp. Perfect for my long awaited vacation this week.

If I like this I’m in luck, it appears that Mr. Cook has written twenty other books.



Finding Chandra by Scott Higham and Sari HorwitzFinding Chandra

The summer of 2001 was the summer of the Chandra Levy case. Then 9/11 happened and pundits were falling all over themselves to say that THIS was real news and didn’t we all feel silly about obsessing over the Levy case. The case was sensationalized by cable news mongrels and it was a typical Missing White Female media frenzy. Fortunately Washington Post reports Higham and Horwitz treated the case as more than the scandal de jour and didn’t settle for sensationalism. Their series of articles, which form the basis of this book, helped to identify the killer.

Jamesian Inquiry Part 2: Unnatural Causes

Unnatural After spending two books giving the reader glimpses of the soul of her detective, in Unnatural Causes P.D. James pulled him out of his natural environment by sending him on holiday. This means that both James and Dalgliesh can ponder murder and murder investigations from the outside for a change, but ponder it still. James also tackles head on Dalgliesh’s willful solitariness and his peculiar emotional inertia – is he willing to change his life enough to share it permanently with Deborah Riscoe – placing him in a community of self-absorbed writers.

James dissects what it means to be a semi-successful writer from several angles. There’s the romance writer who peddles convention to make a living  and the mystery writer who is past his prime. Both must grapple with the knowledge that their work will not outlast them, that it is not respected and that they are not even successful by their own standards. Publically they guard their own claim to be "artists” while snipping away at one another.

This community of writers is most interested in Dalgliesh because he is a police detective. They don’t seem at all impressed or intrigued that he is also a published poet. It’s such an obvious flip of responses, usually someone has to point out the incongruity of a detective writing poetry, that I had to wonder if James was making a joke. 

Dalgliesh is downright cranky on occasion in Unnatural Causes. James showed up glimpses of his pride and self-regard before but this time she lets him be, well, human. At least on the inside. He’s put out that there’s a murder to contend with during his vacation. He’s annoyed that everyone seems to think he has a part to play in solving the crime. Not that he voices much of this. The hardest thing to like about Adam Dalgliesh is his self-control.

The source of that self-control appears as disinterest to others. The most revered of the writers in Monks Head asserts that Dalgliesh chose his line of work because it gives him permission to be “uninvolved”. This is James striking at the heart of her own character: Dalgliesh wants to investigate murder, he wants to understand the crime and the criminal but he does not want to be involved in it in any meaningful way. He wants to observe, to intellectualize, but not to feel. Placed in proximity to murder but not an  official capacity to investigate it he has to feel his reactions to the suspects and the victim, to resent the official intrusion into his life. What makes James a great writer is that she does this without resorting to making Dalgliesh a suspect. When faced with his aunt’s own calm acceptance that so twisted an evil in the form of the murderer had been part of her daily life Dalgliesh is staggered by what he considers her “uninvolvement.”

James is having fun in Unnatural Causes starting with the obvious homage to Dorothy L Sayers. From the title’s nod to Unnatural Death to comments about “in the teeth of the evidence” to the body on the beach the book is filled with touches that place the book and the series in the Golden Age of Mystery tradition.