Mary Higgins Clark…

Here’s the recipe: a youngish, pretty-ish, orphaned wife in or near Manhattan; a deceptive, felonious, or sleepwalking husband; a repressed or forgotten family scene, and wealth. Large, plush estates in tony suburbs, classic co-ops on exclusive avenues, perfectly cut clothes and lawns, professionally designed apartments, luxurious offices, always seen as if by a dazzled outsider, a maid, a secretary, a clerk, a tradesman to a privileged class.

Somewhere, somehow, somebody is murdered, kidnapped, arrested, accused.

A crime develops by pulling at and pulling out the pins of identity: what happens if a person forgets what she has done? What happens when a person has no memories of a mother, a father? What happens when a person believes that she is married to a man who is not who he pretends to be? What happens when a person does not tell her husband about her past? What happens when a friend, a neighbor, a son, a sister, a priest, a doctor, a lawyer is untrustworthy? What happens when a child is removed from a mother, and a mother is removed from her child? What happens to a classy woman when she is removed from her class?

Jane Green, The Beach House read by Cassandra Campbell

Nan localizes Nantucket. Charmed, beautiful, slightly eccentric, she is at that age  where she can get away with mostly anything:   trespassing or swimming naked or wearing scarlet lipstick everywhere.

Nan lives in a huge old house where she has decided to run a bed and breakfast for summer guests. It is this  house which  brings together a handful of curious, complicated personalities: Michael, Nan’s son, Bea and Daniel (a soon to be divorced couple), Daphne (a divorced real estate agent) and her hormonal and horrible daughter.

Nan eases and re-invents the lives which assemble around her; she couples, amuses, and converts her guests, into friends, into family.

The Beach House by Jane Green read by Cassandra Campbell

“Don’t you know I’m going to live happily ever after anyway?”

After painting, waxing, polishing, wallpapering, and flowering up her old Nantucket house, Nan tells Sara about a man she met and loved. Sarah replies: but wouldn’t it be nice if you met him again and fell in love and lived happily ever after…?

It is then that Nan replies: “Don’t you know I’m going to live happily ever after anyway?” Thus an overgrammatical, nervously detailed book about women becomes a different kind of woman’s book. For it is a woman’s book. Men do not want to read about hypercritical wives with unemotional husbands. No, men do not want to read about the thousand layers of feelings baked into 3 women with marital problems. But then neither do women.

This is not just another old-woman-who-turns-an-old-house-into-a-bed-and-breakfast-and-finds-X (money, god, sex, success) book. This is a book about Nan, a lovely, lipsticked, free and sentimental gardener who smokes and bikes and lives in a big old house alone. Nan gathers around herself an assemblage of half couples, gay, divorced, confused and lonely. Somehow they mix and change each other — if only for the duration of a summer.

T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton read by Judy Kaye

Kinsey is a tough dame. Brutally honest about herself and therefore about others. She’s twice divorced, and is determined to stay that way. As Kinsey says: “I’m difficult”. She says it to account for her reluctance to marry for the third time. Also because she likes to spend time alone. T is for Trespass is the clearest, most most republican, expression of the Kinseyian ethos: pay back what you borrow; don’t cheat your boss or your government; be neighborly; trust noone (or almost noone); exercise if necessary, eat what you love.

The Race by Richard North Patterson Narrated by Michael Boatman

Slow, cloddish, cumbersome and overcooked dialogue stretches across this morality play about an ugly presidential election. Add the ‘aching sadness’ and ‘fatal failures’ and ‘eyes shining with tears’ of flat white characters, but read on. Hear the slimy campaign advise of slimy campaign managers:

“Girlfriend is bad. Black girlfriend is worse. Black actress girlfriend is the fucking trifecta.”

Yep, the divorced war hero candidate couples with a beautiful black actress in the middle of the campaign. Guess what happens?

Kingdom of Lies by N. Lee Wood read by Ralph Cosham

Kingdom of Lies (Unabridged)
Length: 16 hours and 13 min.
Release Date: 05-03-2006

First: ignore the Audible summary. There is an office bureaucrat sitting in Bangalore who listens to audiobooks in between doing customer service calls for Verizon and emergency care calls for Viagra wives. Which explains summaries that sound as if they were based on hearing every third verb, badly. So, forget the summary.

This is a well arranged, nicely plotted detective novel, featuring a depressive Yorkshire cop of the John Harvey variety, divorced, dedicated, and dieting. He is comfortable in his own melancholy, his own territory, with his own defeat. His ex-wife’s robust ambition has moved her and their twins to a monied life in London. His neighbor’s wife irons his uniform shirts. His cat welcomes him home.

One day, a woman academic disappears while at a local conference; she turns up drowned and drunk and is identified by a pretty American colleague on vacation.

The Yorkshire seargent and the pretty American professor begin to investigate the dead woman’s death, and then her life, and then her taste for sad encounters.

The coupling is obvious, the end is not.

Stealing with Style by Emyl Jenkins read by Linda Stephens

Constructed as a series of letters to a slightly fay, newly divorced, 45 year old antiques expert, this whodunit offers criminality inset in decorating news and auction house frippery. Mrs. Sterling Glass is keeping her ex-husband’s last name because “who would give up the name Kennedy in favor of O’Riley?”. There is an analogy here somewhere.Mrs. Glass answers letters to Dear Antiques Expert written by readers of the local newspaper, such as

Dear Antiques Expert:

We were recently broken into and we lost silver and jewelry and some antique prints… The burglars were caught but when the cases came to trial they got off with really light sentences… How can that be?

Mrs. Sterling Glass responds:

…you have to expose law enforcements officers to the arts so they will have an understanding of the seriousness of personal property theft involving art and antiques. Unfortunately even today not enough police officers know enough about art and antiques and their historical and monetary value to make a strong case against the thiefs.

The civilizing process must involve the education of the senses, which is the basis of aesthetic judgements. The United States are, in this regard, uncivilized. But Mrs. Glass is here to remedy this situation.

PMS Outlaws::Sharyn McCrumb read by Barbara Rosenblat

A very clever book, horribly named.
Holly the perky divorced real estate agent shows Bill a very very big house after Bill’s partner tells him to buy Tara for their new law office. “Think what this house says about the people who live here….!” she says.

It says that they have spent a lot of money on a really big house and now they will spend even more money to keep it from falling slowly to bits. It says that they probably want to brag about owning the house to a lot of people they don’t like very much, so that those people will envy them and feel bad that their own houses are not so grand. This house could generate a lot of bad feelings…

Meanwhile, Bill’s newly widowed and melancholic sister, Elizabeth, has checked herself into a mental asylum, where she meets Emma O., who explains that she’s inside for the same reason that most women are: “I’m in here for not being beautiful.”

When you get right down to it there is only one universal currency, says Emma.
And that is?
Beauty. Beauty is the one status symbol that cannot be taken away. If you’re beautiful you can be set down anywhere in the world without your ID or your credit cards and people will treat you well… Anyhow, pretty people matter. The rest of us don’t.

Elizabeth thinks that Emma O would probably be a lot more useful to therapists outside the institution, drumming up business by making homely women even more depressed….

Robin Cook Marker read by George Guidall

Robin Cook Marker read by George Guidall

Most bestselling writers, like Hollywood waiters, are really something else. Shrinks, lawyers, opthamologists. Divorced ex-cops. Sometimes a reporter. A confused priest or two. We excuse such slippery behavior when it gives us access to technical knowledge: why kill? how do cops catch criminals? what can laws do? Which health insurance?

If one listens from cover to cover, one can learn incredible things:
Never get into a car with an armed felon. When a body dies, it is flooded with potassium; so if you want to kill someone, use a potassium derivative to cover your trail. In every bureaucratic health care administration sits a bored actuary who does nothing but dream up new ways to reduce insurance risks, to wit: eliminate individuals who are genetically marked to live long and die sick.

Cook does his “forensic pathologists have more fun” routine. It’s a good routine. But, god help us, its not technical enough. We want more long, unpronounceable medical terms. More ugly medically-specific showmanship and one-upsmanship. More perverse occupational fetishes. The rumors, the gossip, the news: what do forensic pathologists talk about, think, eat? What color lipstick do they wear? Where do they buy their CO2? their shoes? their condoms? How about those space suits? The reason Patricia Cornwall is so good is that she skulls the profession, shows us its brain, and makes it bleed. Robin Cook surveys the hospital as an institution, its political posture and position and positioning, its players, its life-cycle, its economics. At a distance. After all, he’s doing something else.

“What’s reasonable and what isn’t has little to do with decisions about health care in this country…. By a strange twist of fate, managed care companies and malpractice plaintiff attorneys suddenly found themselves in the same bed in their desire to keep any malpractice reform legislation from happening… Managed care companies didn’t want things changed so that they could be sued and the malpractice attorneys didn’t want changes that would cap pain and suffering awards or eliminate contingency fees… “

A Certain Justice by P.D. James read by Simon Prebble

It is rare to hear the barely conscious memories of a powerful woman reconnoitring the dimensions of a frustrated girlhood. The wooden, joyless father, the servile, fearful, nervous mother, the rules, the order, the manners, the placements, the positions, the positionings of the dinner table, extended to the smallest sensations of everyday life. The monstrous, unending oppression.

Is it an English oppression? Perhaps. There is the painful, unhappy education of a displaced intelligence, a displaced sex, a displaced class; the oblivion of a female among the ritual insensibilities of English law, the infinite isolation of a woman, divorced, middle-aged, groomed.

And there are the small contradictions of a rational woman, uncertain in the face of her irrationality, her daughter.