Rain Dogs by Baron R. Birtcher [Permanent Press, 2013]. ISBN 978-1-157962-318-0. 288 pg.
A violent and riveting thriller about the drug wars in the 1970s from the marijuana fields of Humboldt County to seedy Tijuana. In Northern California, two Vietnam veterans struggle to protect their marijuana plots as people start encroaching on supplies and arming themselves with military-grade weaponry. Meanwhile in Mexico, the vicious Miguel Zamora begins to build ties with Colombia cartels to expand his drug business into the more lucrative and dangerous cocaine. Straddling the two territories are a couple of crooked cops smuggling drugs and skimming profits. Combining vivid scenes [“The sweet smell of conifers and wild cascara mingled with the scent of coming rain. The pine canopy was alive with the clatter of redwings and scrub jay as I closed my eyes and turned my face to the dimming blush of the sun.”], unsympathetic characters [“Fatigue wracked his body and his eyeballs danced with anxiety behind closed lids; he was unable to find any semblance of solace or justification for his complicity in a scheme that had suddenly run wildly out of control.”] and graphic descriptions, Birtcher catapults readers to the center of the action.
The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell [Amy Einhorn Books/ Putnam, 2013] ISBN 978-0-399-16146-9. 356 pg.
“Odalie understood it was sometimes your will to want to be tricked; she did not need you to affirm her world. She would create it with or without you. Instead, she invited you in ever so casually, and somehow—even when her lies were shabbily wrought—you would find yourself wanting to go in, if only out of an insatiable curiosity.”
Notes on a Scandal meets Single White Female. Rose grew up in a convent and lives an orderly life. She’s a typist with perfect accuracy and impressive speed at a New York Police Department precinct during prohibition in the 1920s. By her own description she’s a plain woman with a simple, quiet life. In walks the mysterious Odalie who completely charms Rose with her modernity and confidence. She possesses the beauty, style and lifestyle that Rose dreams about. Odalie introduces Rose to a speakeasy and soon the two women share Odalie’s apartment and wardrobe. But who is Odalie really? Her backstory constantly changes. A dangerous secret threatens their friendship and comfortable existence as Rose falls further under Odalie’s spell. Is Odalie using Rose for her survival and to escape her sordid past? To give anything away would ruin the fantastic storytelling in this debut novel. It’s a masterful work of historical fiction. The setting and characters draw you in from page one.
“Part of unpacking the heart is getting rid of things you no longer need.”
Maybe not exactly a light summer read but I did read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath on the deck one summer during college. Life After Life takes place at a retirement community in North Carolina. It focuses on several different characters including a hospice volunteer, a teenager, a retired schoolteacher, a retired lawyer feigning Alzheimer’s so his son will leave him alone and a woman who relocated from Massachusetts to be in the town where someone she once loved lived and died. They reflect on the hows and whys of their lives. The stories intermingle. At times there seemed to be too many points of view and too many characters. I easily could have stopped reading 200 pages in but I pushed through as the concept interested me and McCorkle’s a strong writer. It’s not for everyone.