20 December 2008

Holiday Gift Guide, Part 3: For The Da Vinci Decoder

My dad has a particular philosophy about gift giving which I didn't understand when I was younger but I really love now: Dad never gets us something on our list that we've always wanted. Instead, he finds something just beyond our radar, something that will push our own boundaries of what we like and enjoy -- and more often than not, he's on the money. You may not agree with this philosophy for everyone, but I think it's apt for people who are fans of the above mentioned book, and by "are fans of" I of course mean "will not shut up about." I have done my due diligence with Dan Brown, but the book is old news, and my sources say he is nowhere near completing his next one. Thank goodness for a wealth of smart new thrillers and high-profile suspenseful novels to tide us all over:
John Darnton, BLACK AND WHITE AND DEAD ALL OVER. Back when I reviewed this murder mystery in August, it was still funny to joke about the death of print. But perhaps Darnton was far-sighted in setting his book in a newsroom racked by the particularly nasty death of a top editor, and substituting for the naive new police detective the up-and-coming reporter who ought to know better. There are some very funny real-life stand-ins here, like a Murdochian agent of change in the news biz, but they're layered over what is actually a pretty taut mystery.

David Wroblewski, THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE. I'm including this book, which came up in the comments earlier, even though I haven't read it yet and am not sure if it's really suspenseful. And the reason for that is, if I had to pick one book this year to hold as a contingency present, it would be this one. (Contingency present: the present you hold onto in case someone gives you a present you weren't expecting and you need to find something for them.) It's a debut novel that became a big hit through word-of-mouth reviews; it's a contemporary take on Shakespeare that has also been blessed by Oprah. It's all things to all people! And that's why it's on my own Christmas list.

Francie Lin, THE FOREIGNER. There's the bumbling sleuth, and there's the gumshoe so far out of his depth that unless he can reach within himself and draw out some new quality, he's a sitting duck for the bad guys. Emerson Chang, the protagonist (possibly hero) of THE FOREIGNER, is the latter, a 40-year-old loner who arrives in Taipei to handle the settling of his dead mother's estate and gets wrapped up in the shady dealings his brother, Little P, has mastered in the 20 years since he and Emerson have seen each other. Sometimes I wanted to shout at Emerson for being absolutely obtuse, but I still wanted to know what would happen to him while he was woefully out of his depth.

Stieg Larsson, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. It's sad that Larsson died before this book, a bestseller in his native Sweden, could ever see publication and critical success in the U.S. The good news is, he left a trilogy featuring his disgraced journalist turned sleuth and his partner, a prickly and troubled 24-year-old hacker. In this volume, Mikael the journalist is hired to investigate the disappearance of a woman from a prominent industrialist's family 30 years ago; he enlists Lisbeth the hacker when he discovers that the perpetrator of the act is a lot closer to him than he ever wished.

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