7% Book Club to Discuss: MR. MERCEDES by Stephen King

The 7% Solution Book Club meets to discuss Mr. Mercedesby Stephen King, on Monday, November 7, at 7 PM, on BookPeople’s third floor. 

9781476754451 – Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

I should preface this review by admitting that Mr. Mercedes is the first Stephen King novel  I have ever read, although I have seen Maximum Overdrive several times, as well as many of the other numerous film adaptations of King’s works. Aside from the author’s enormous popularity, I didn’t know much to begin with, but I quickly found myself immersed in the narrative, drawn in by King’s clean sentences and menacing atmosphere.

Vehicles play a prominent role in many of King’s stories, from the killer car in Christine, to the family’s refuge in Cujo, back to the self-aware, homicidal 18-wheelers of Maximum Overdrive.  Perhaps in Stephen King’s world, guns don’t kill people – cars do. Aside from that flippant remark, cars hold a special place in the American mythical landscape, including the German-engineered machine in Mr. MercedesCars represent the freedom of the open road, the rage of the traffic jam, the power of two tons of steel, and the vulnerability of what those two tons of steel can do to human flesh. Every symbol of American power – from the frontier, to the nuclear bomb, to the assault rifle and the SUV – is also a symbol of vulnerability for all those in its path.

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7% Solution Book Club to Discuss: LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE by Jessica Knoll

On Monday, September 12, the 7% Solution Book Club meets to discuss Jessica Knoll’s stunning debut, Luckiest Girl Alive. October’s book is Last King of Texas, by Rick Riordan. As always, book club selections are 10% off at the registers in the month of their selection. 

  • Post by Molly Odintz

97814767896441There are few things I can reveal about the fascinating journey that is reading Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive. The novel holds too many surprises to speak much of what occurs – although I do feel “trigger warning” would be an apt phrase to attach to the novel. For those who’ve already read the book and are interested in discerning fact from fiction in the novel’s inspirations, here’s a haunting article from Jessica Knoll about how her own experiences made their way into Luckiest Girl Alive.

The novel’s darkness is matched only by its level of success. Reese Witherspoon has plans in the works to turn the book into a film, and Luckiest Girl Alive has become an international bestseller. The novel’s appeal stems from its perfect merger of societal critique, mystery novel,  and message – of hope, recovery, forgiveness (for some) and vengeance (for the deserving).

Knoll’s debut begins with a facade. TifAni FaNelli is a woman who has achieved career success, found a blue-blooded fiance, and adopted convincing upper-class mannerisms. Only TifAni FaNelli’s name gives her origins away – a working class childhood and a severe Catholic school, full of bullies, misfits and targets. She’s been contacted by a camera crew making a documentary about a traumatic event at her high school, forcing FaNelli to take a step back from her hard-won success and take a look at the lingering scars of her past.

As the novel switches between grown-up TifAni and teenage TifAni, the reader sees much of the journey of modern womanhood. Grown-up TifAni knows how to rule the roost; she uses a series of psychological tricks to establish dominance over her interns in the first few chapters, and knows exactly what statement she makes with every aspect of her ensemble. Teenage TifAni, beautiful and naive, tries to fit in with the rich kids at her new school, ready to blend in and assume a higher social status. Instead, the school’s elites exploit her and then turn on her, devoting much of their energy to harassing her and smearing her reputation (to put things lightly).

Luckiest Girl Alive’s examination of bullying and slut-shaming is both eye-opening and contemporary. Of particular note, Knoll immerses the reader in the distance between a woman’s relationship with her own body and society’s attempt to equate her curves with her experience. Knoll additionally excels at establishing sympathy for characters capable of heinous acts, while destroying the sympathy unjustly rewarded to those who deserve their suffering.

You can find copies of Luckiest Girl Alive on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. The 7 % Solution Book Club normally meets the first Monday of each month, but due to Labor Day, we have moved our September meeting to the second Monday, September 12, at 7 PM

Our Favorite MysteryPeople Moments

mysterypeople panel
From the left, Scott Montgomery, Jesse Sublett, Hopeton Hay, Meg Gardiner, Mark Pryor, Janice Hamrick, and Molly Odintz.
  • Introduction by Scott Montgomery

This past weekend, MysteryPeople celebrated our fifth anniversary, with a panel discussion featuring local authors Mark Pryor, Jesse Sublett, Meg Gardiner, and Janice Hamrick, and local critic Hopeton Hay. Molly and I moderated the discussion. Afterwards, we all enjoyed celebratory cake, beverages, and most importantly, trivia with giveaways.

After our anniversary party on Saturday wrapped up, we decided to share some of our favorite event moments throughout the history of MysteryPeople. Below, we’ve shared our favorite memories of the fantastic authors who came through and the fun times we’ve had with them during and after our events. Molly and myself picked six standout moments each. As you will learn, Craig Johnson in particular has gotten to be an important part of our store.

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7% Solution Book Club to Discuss: STRANGERS ON A TRAIN by Patricia Highsmith

On Monday, October 5th, the 7% Solution Book Club meets to discuss Patricia Highsmith’s debut, Strangers on a Train. November’s book is The Murder of Roger Ackroydby Agatha Christie. As always, book club selections are 10% off at the registers in the month of their selection. 

  • Post by Molly

strangers on a trainPatricia Highsmith, in her long career, became one of the world’s most renowned crime novelists, and was one of the first women to be accepted into the mystery cannon as a master of psychological suspense. She has stayed in print continuously, when most of her female contemporaries had no hope of a classic reissue.

Her often-filmed Ripley stories catapulted her into long-lasting fame; yet even her debut novel, Strangers on a Train, was made into a classic noir by Hitchcock with a large following to this day. While many of the greatest mystery plots have been replicated often enough that it is difficult to notice the creativity of even the original, Highsmith’s unique simplicity of narrative, especially in her debut, stands alone, and feels as disturbingly plausible today as when it was first published.

Highsmith had many obsessions throughout her life, including at times, a preference for the company of snails over that of people. In her writings, she is fixated on obsession itself, and with the violence hidden within an ordinary individual, brought out by the repressive dysfunctions of a conservative society. She concerns herself with the point at which obsession becomes compulsion, and the moment when that compulsion becomes action. Highsmith’s style is almost synonymous with the definition of noir; her novels are characterized by as much atmosphere as action; she follows ordinary people changed by violent acts, and has no easy division of character into good or bad, cop or criminal.

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7% Solution Book Club to Discuss: NIGHT WATCH by Terry Pratchett

night watch

On Monday, July 6, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s third floor, the 7% Solution Book Club will discuss Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch, one of his many Discworld novels to detail the adventures of Sam Vimes and the watchmen of Ankh-Morpork. Our pick for August is Heat Wave by Richard Castle.

– Post by Molly

A few months ago, we lost a hugely important voice in fantasy writing; one of the funniest, most ethical, and least judgmental voices to ever appear on the written page. Terry Pratchett, who gently fought the good fight by parodying the hypocritical hypotheticals of the bigoted and the intolerant, passed away March 12 of this year, and left millions of fans bereft, yet determined to honor his work.

Night Watch was the first of Pratchett’s novels I read, and (the day after finishing it the first time) the first I re-read. It functions as a good introduction or supplement to the Vimes series. Night Watch involves a time-travel plot where many of the regular characters are either absent or present in their younger selves, so for those who haven’t read a Pratchett novel before, Night Watch functions as a stand-alone, while those already familiar with Pratchett’s characters will be able to appreciate the subtle variations when meeting these characters in an earlier time period.

Night Watch begins during an electrical storm, when Sam Vimes, head of Ankh-Morpork’s Night Watch, climbs to the top of a tall, magical building in pursuit of a killer and is promptly transported back in time to 30 years before, just in time for a revolt against Ankh-Morpork’s crazed despot of the time. Vimes must go undercover and guide his younger self and the citizens of Ankh-Morpork to the revolt’s proper conclusion in order to ensure that the future remains intact. Night Watch draws historical inspiration from the Battle of Cable Street, a 1936 confrontation between fascist demonstrators and a diverse coalition of anti-fascist counter-demonstrators that led to a ban on uniforms and the British Nazi Party’s corresponding loss of popularity.

Although I’ve read and re-read much of Pratchett’s work an embarrassing number of times, his Sam Vimes novels have always appealed to me the most. They merge two of my favorite genres – fantasy and noir. Vimes, as a character, is somewhere between a cartoon superhero and a classic hard-boiled detective. As head of the Night Watch (Ankh-Morpork’s police force) he upholds the law and crusades against corruption and injustice, while simultaneously dealing with his own alcoholism, prejudices, and bizarre coworkers.

He presides over the Night Watch as the force continues to diversity and expand, and each Vimes novel brings with it a first on the force, including the first female detective, the first troll and dwarf detectives, the first vampire detective, the first female dwarf detective, and so on. Ankh-Morpork, a historical mash-up of 19th century London and 15th century Venice, experiences a remarkable adoption of modern ideas and attitudes throughout the series, and Night Watch, as the only Vimes novel to involve time travel, frames this progress well by setting it against a nightmarish recent past.

You can find copies of Night Watch on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Book Clubs are free and open to the public, and book club picks are 10% off at the register in the month of their selection. The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month on BookPeople’s 3rd floor.

7% Solution Book Club to Discuss: THE THIEF by Fuminori Nakamura

the thief

This Monday, June 1st, the 7% Solution Book Club will be discussing Fuminori Nakamura’s award-winning exploration into the world of pickpockets, The Thief. The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month at 7 PM on BookPeople’s 3rd floor to discuss an eclectic range of detective fiction. Book club selections are 10% off at the register in the month before discussion.

– Post by Molly

Fuminori Nakamura, a Japanese novelist who bridges the gap between literary fiction and noir, broke out onto the international crime fiction scene in 2010 with The Thiefpublished in English translation through SoHo Press, and winner of the Kenzaburo Oe and David Goodis prizes. The novel tells the story of a pickpocket at the top of his game, yet increasingly aware of his own mortality.

The titular character mentors a young shoplifter, mourns the loss of his partner, and watches his choices narrow as he finds himself increasingly drawn in to Yakuza business, all while skillfully – nay, artistically – picking the pockets of Tokyo’s wealthiest. Nakamura lists some sources at the end of his novel, and his careful research into the techniques and argot of the pickpocket’s world shows throughout the novel.

The Thief is a mystery novel, a minimalist roman noir, but it also carries on the tradition of the outsider novel, telling the stories of the lumpen-proletariat realistically, without glamorizing the underworld. If Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal had been written with the same noir sensibility of The Stranger, it perhaps would have read like this. I thought of Jean Genet frequently while reading The Thief. 

The Thief is a novel about petty criminals, buffeted by forces they have no power against and may or may not ever affect them. It is set in a world where the gap between those who commit nonviolent crimes and the masterminds that occasionally (and dangerously) recruit their labor is such that no reader would lump each into the same dehumanizing category of “criminals.” The Thief is one of those fascinating explorations of underworld society where the authorities are those who are higher up in the criminal world, and the police exist only as figures to avoid, rather than as the prime impediment to criminal activity.

“This tension, between the neutrality of looking and the citizen’s burden of response, seeps from the narrative into the reader’s own sense of self, drawing attention to the voyeurism inherent in all fiction, but especially crime fiction.”

The cops are shadowy, ominous presences, appearing to the story’s characters in the same way that the prosperous may lay awake at night, worrying about the spector of home invasion. What matters to Fuminori Nakamura’s characters is that with which they can allow themselves to be concerned – namely, their day-to-day hardscrabble existence, mixed with the long-term fantasies of their broken dreams, or the fiendishly complex schemes they embark on that cannot possibly go wrong – at least, for the man in charge.

I chose Nakamura’s latest novel, Last Winter, We Parted, for last November’s MysteryPeople Pick of the Month, and while the two are very different narratives – Last Winter, We Parted follows a journalist’s investigation into the psyche of a murderous photographer who burns his victims alive – the two novels are equally obsessed with the act of watching others, and the overlap between observing others and targeting them.

Last Winter, We Parted stars a photographer whose obsession with capturing beauty leads him to kill his victims, while the protagonist of The Thief spends his days observing others intently, using observation to pick targets and execute theft – another blurring of the barrier between observation and action, recording the present and determining the future. This tension, between the neutrality of looking and the citizen’s burden of response, seeps from the narrative into the reader’s own sense of self, drawing attention to the voyeurism inherent in all fiction, but especially crime fiction.

It seems no coincidence that The Thief won awards named after Kenzaburo Oe and David Goodis – Nakamura’s writing seems to draw inspiration from both, or perhaps his writing just dovetails nicely into the bleak, noirest-of-the-noir characters and relationships of Goodis while including the stark minimalism and fate-defying humanity of Oe’s post-war Japan. Both Oe and Goodis were known for their desperate, yet moral, characters living on the edges of society.

Oe and Goodis each made frequent use of characters who, although doomed, continue up until the last second to live within their own code and do what they consider to be the right thing, and this adherence to their own ethics rested entirely outside of society’s ever shifting moral compass. Perhaps, for Goodis and Oe, two writers of the mid-20th century, adherence to ethics with no discernable reward was the only way to preserve humanism beyond World War II. Perhaps, for Nakamura, this notion of decency without benefit is as true today as in the blighted landscape of Japan after WWII, and the United States during the Great Depression. Perhaps, this notion should not cheer me, but it does.

You can find copies of The Thief on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. June is International Crime Fiction Month, and this month we’ll be traveling all over the world in our three mystery book clubs. On Tuesday, June 16th, at 2 PM on BookPeople’s 3rd floor, the Murder In The Afternoon Book Club will be discussing Jean-Claude Izzo’s underworld classic, Total Chaos, the first volume in his Marseilles Noir trilogy, and the Hard Word Book Club tackles Jacob Arjouni’s Happy Birthday, Turk!  on Wedesday, June 27th, at 7 PM in BookPeople’s cafe. 

7% Solution Book Club To Discuss: MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH by Ariana Franklin

mistress of the art of death

On Monday, May 4, at 7 pm, on BookPeople’s third floor, the 7% Solution Book Club discusses Ariana Franklin’s first  Adelia Aguilar novel, Mistress of The Art of Death. All book clubs are free and open to the public, and book club picks are 10% off at the registers the month of discussion.

Post by Molly

As Mistress of the Art of Death begins, a child is murdered in the sleepy hamlet of 12th century Cambridge. The child’s severe injuries lead to a rumor of crucifixion, which leads to a blood libel accusation against Cambridge’s small and beleaguered Jewish community. The Jewish population flees to the castle, the Christian population waits outside, and the lord of the manor sends a missive to King Henry II: if the true murderer is not found quickly, the Jews of Cambridge will face expulsion or death, and the King will lose much of his hefty tax revenue.

A motley trio heads to England from Sicily to find the child-murderer and clear the rumors of ritual sacrifice – Simon, the King of Sicily’s Jewish fixer, Adelia, a doctor of Salerno who is well versed in the art of reading corpses, and Mansur, a Moorish eunuch proficient in both swearing and fighting.

The novel is Ariana Franklin’s first to chronicle the adventures of Adelia Aguilar, female forensics scientist extraordinaire. Adelia is a graduate of the medical academy of Salerno in Sicily, fluent in several languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, and English, and she is, quite possibly, the most cosmopolitan and capable woman to ever set foot in Medieval England, fictional or real. She also has strong allies and a stronger backbone, both increasingly necessary to her preservation as the novel continues.

Mistress of The Art of Death combines many of my favorite things – forensics and feminism; murder and the Middle Ages. Ariana Franklin, in her afterward, admits a certain amount of deliberate anachronisms, in order to create more relatable protagonists. Franklin’s context for her characters’ actions, her grounding of their experience in appropriate physical locales, and her descriptions of earthy humor and punished medieval bodies are all spot-on for the era explored by the novel.

Ariana, Mansur, and Simon all display much more freedom of thought and expression than was available to the average medieval subject, whether peasant, lord, or clergy. In contrast, the host of characters they encounter along their peregrinations and through their search for a murderer represent a diverse array of prejudice, ignorance, and censorship that fit right in with the times.

Franklin’s characters, in their narrow-minded behaviors and cosmopolitan impulses, also represent one of the biggest contradictions of the Crusades. At the same time that crusaders swept across Europe, killing any Jews, Muslims or “heretics” they could find even before reaching the Holy Land, these same crusaders were drastically expanding their worldview through their encounters with diverse cultures and their war-driven need to adapt to circumstances, and thus to other customs.

Franklin’s portrayal of the Middle Ages shows a dynamic society, adapting and evolving to new circumstances; a society engaged in an endless struggle between doctrine and common sense, power and charity, local allegiances and international curiosity.  While Franklin’s characters may frequently express attitudes incomprehensible to the Medieval studies novice, they experience enough upheaval, trauma, and of course, murder to fit nicely into today’s bloody headlines. In short, Franklin, in Mistress of the Art of Death, has written a great Medieval murder mystery.

Copies of Mistress of The Art of Death are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month. As always, books for book clubs are 10% off when purchased the month of discussion.