A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch. In Victorian London, a maid is poisoned while working in the house of the man currently in charge of the country's Mint. He was also hosting five guests, all of whom have their own potential motives. Lenox, a well-off bachelor, is asked to investigate by his neighbor and childhood friend, Lady Jane Grey, who formerly employed the maid. Was her death suicide... or murder?
Lenox is pretty obviously a Sherlock Holmes-analogue: he is close friends with a doctor who helps him investigate, he successfully reaches conclusions about people based on details as small as their scent or their shoes, he's investigative rivals with a Scotland Yard Inspector, his brother is an important politician (but only known to insiders), he dashes about through the fogs of Victorian London in hired cabs. And yet Lenox is friendly, open-natured, the sort of man who makes a point of kissing babies – and he's more concerned with his leaking boots and getting his toast on time than with dedicating himself to whole-hearted pursuit of the case. Seriously: the boots are a major plot thread, complete with a climatic scene to round out the story. It's a nice change from all the mystery leads with dead wives and alcoholism and death wishes! Not that I'm not a fan of a good death wish, but sometimes it's a comfort to spend time with a perfectly content and well-adjusted character.
Selection Day by Aravind Adiga. A poor man, abandoned by his wife, living in a slum on the edge of Mumbai, decides that his only available route to power and fortune is to raise his two young sons to become cricket superstars. This he does with laser focus, forcing the children to practice for hours daily, trying out weird medical trends on them, deliberately destroying their school projects so they will think about nothing but cricket, and, of course, pledging them to god:
Each summer, the family went back to their village. Taking the train from Mumbai to Mangalore, they then got on a bus that carried them over the hills and toward the shrine of the God of Cricket, their family deity, Kukke Subramanya; past trees with red leaves, and little streams that skipped a heartbeat when a schoolboy leaped into them, past waterfalls shrouded in waterfalls, until they reached a temple hidden deep inside the Western Ghats, where, leaving the bus and standing in line for hours, moving past burning camphor and sharp temple bells, past a nine-headed painted snake, the protector Vasuki, they finally came to the silver door frames, beyond which, lit by oil lamps, waited the thousand-year-old God of Cricket, Subramanya.
“Remind Him, my sons. We can’t offer Him much money. So remind Him, monkeys.”
“One of us should become the best batsman in the world, and the other the second best.”
It works out – at least at first. As preteens, both boys score a sponsorship that will pay for equipment, personal coaches, a nice house, enrollment in a private school (because it has the best cricket team, of course) and so on, in return for their pledging to pay back a third of their eventual superstar paychecks. Unfortunately as they grow older, one boy gets the talent but the other gets the desire. This ruins the relationship between them and with their father; the cynicism of their sponsor destroys their faith in the future; and relentless pressure from everyone around them leads them to hate cricket. As though this wasn't enough drama, one of the boys fall in love with a cricket rival and struggles with his identity in a country in which homophobia is common and gay relationships are still technically illegal.
You don't need to understand the actual sport of cricket to enjoy the book – I know just enough to understand what a 'century' is or what the 'batsman' does, and I had no problem with it. Besides, Adiga includes a helpful glossary at the back!
Boring: What outsiders, especially Americans, find cricket. Groucho Marx, after watching an hour of a test match in London, is said to have asked: “But when does it begin?”
India: A country said to have two real religions—cinema and cricket.
The plot is absolutely a page-turner, and the characters are sympathetic and compelling, but I did have a lot of trouble with the writing style. Adiga frequently jumps from one character's POV to another's, as well as backward and forwards in time. He sometimes deliberately hides information from the reader in order to reveal it at a more dramatic moment. All of this made it sometimes hard for me to follow what was happening or who was currently narrating. That's what keeps me from giving this book a 100% recommendation, but nonetheless I really enjoyed reading it, and have found myself thinking back on it frequently.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.
What are you currently reading?
The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens.
The subtitle says it all!
Listening to a Continent Sing: Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific by Donald E. Kroodsma. Still reading this! Well, theoretically.
This entry was originally posted at http://brigdh.dreamwidth.org/31419.html. Please comment there using OpenID.