Book Notes - Readers recommend mysteries and war stories

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Last month I wrote about the fiction and nonfiction recommendations that local readers had sent in during the year. This month I'm covering the mysteries and war stories that readers suggested.

Mysteries

The most recommended "can't put down" thriller/mystery this year was "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. It is a great read about a serial killer, a journalist and an old corporate dynasty. The second book of the trilogy, "The Girl who Played with Fire," is now out in hardback.

Barbara Colburn enjoyed "Finding Nouf," a mystery about a young girl who goes missing in the Saudi Arabian desert. When the girl's body is discovered by anonymous desert travelers, her family seems suspiciously uninterested in getting at the truth.

Mary Baird Carlsen reports that she continues to re-read Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael mysteries. Brother Cadfael, a former crusader turned herbalist monk, lives in the 12th century world of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. One of her favorites is "Brother Cadfael's Penance."

Pat Yenney recommends three books by author Louis Bayard, who writes historical murder mysteries using famous literary characters in his plots. The main character in "Mr. Timothy" is Tiny Tim from Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Bayard takes the reader back to London in the 1860s and turns Tiny Tim, now 23 years old, into the hero of a gothic murder mystery. "The Pale Blue Eye" is set during Edgar Allan Poe's brief time as a West Point cadet. In 1830, retired New York City detective Gus Landor is summoned to West Point to investigate the murder of a cadet. Poe aids Landor by serving as an inside source into the closed world of the academy. Set in France in 1818, "The Black Tower" features main character Vidocq, a master detective who is rumored to work on both sides of the law. Vidocq, the first director of France's Sret Nationale, served as the inspiration for Victor Hugo's Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert in "Les Misrables."

Yenney also liked Kathryn Kramer's "Sweet Water," a literary detective story in which the expatriate writer Henry James' clandestine visits to a spa in Vermont are discovered one summer by the hotel's current owners, a biographer and horse trainer. Their debate on whether to reveal their discovery to others begins to unravel the secrets of their own marriage.

War stories

Our book club enjoyed reading the novel "City of Thieves" by David Benioff. The author recounts his grandfather's adventures during the Nazis' siege of Leningrad. When his grandfather is arrested, he is given a chance to save his life by securing a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter's wedding cake.

Jerry Owen recommends a book of poetry by Seattle author Mike Spence. Spence has painted a personal portrait of Navy life in his third book of poetry, "Crush Depth." His collection of lyric poems offers a unique look at the shared, but very different experiences of life in the Navy for father and son. Spence memorializes his submariner father, a fellow seaman and a veteran of World War II. The poems form a three-part narrative: life aboard a naval ship, the father and son's month-long trip to Australia and the son's journey of understanding how he has been shaped by his father's experiences.

Dr. Bob Schaeffer recommends "The Pied Piper" by Nevil Shute. During John Howard's holiday in France, the Nazis invade, and he is forced to try to escape back to England with the two small children of some friends. The roads become impassable, and Howard also comes across five more children who need his help. He ends up leading this group of youngsters through the French countryside, constantly beset by danger yet heroically protecting his charges.

Husband Bill found "Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage" by Sherry Sontag to be a fascinating read, because it told of clandestine covert missions that were carried on during the Cold War that we, as average citizens, were never told about.

Bill also enjoyed Patrick Culhane's novel "Red Sky in Morning" about a group of four white officers in San Diego during World War II who are building morale as musicians. They decide to volunteer for sea duty and are assigned to an ammo ship with an old school Merchant Marine Navy skipper, a crew of black enlisted men and southern white Chief Petty officers - a volatile floating powder keg in more ways than one.

Thanks to everyone for sending me their favorite reads. I've already started a file titled "2010 recommendations," so if you don't see your book mentioned in this column, look for it in next year's edition.

If you read a good book during the year, please send your suggestion to bmoats@q.com.

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