A Devil’s Mind

As you may know by now, I am attracted to books placed in foreign countries, especially when the author lives in that country.

This murder mystery was originally published in China as Criminal Minds–The Files. I think that title is a better representation of the book. It was very popular in China, but I expect American readers will struggle with it because, as one two-star rater wrote, there is too much confusion.

I believe the author (and perhaps the translator) could have eliminated the too-numerous-to-count repetitions. There was very little of the SDT–show, don’t tell–happening. That was especially true of the emotional reactions of the characters.

I assume the author’s style fits in China, but it is heavy-handed in the US. On the other hand, many readers will be surprised at the sophisticated level of police work being done today in China.

This is a police procedural at its most elemental.

Still, I recommend the book. It is an interesting story and, after interviewing all the witnesses who might have been guilty, you would have to channel Agatha Christy to divine the outcome before the last few chapters. I did not.

Mike Lawrence

The Other Side of Everything

This book is an unexpected prize. I expected a murder mystery, which it is, but it is mainly a look at the people of the neighborhood where seventy-year-old women are brutally murdered. The key characters are Bernard, a man older than his many years; Amy, a middle-aged artist and recovering cancer patient; and Maddie, only fifteen, but able to cope in a struggling family setting.

The first sentence reads, Her shoes had come off during the struggle. We read about the first murder, but from there we are held at a distance: police cars come, questions are asked, police cars leave. The second murder appears entirely from a distance.

With that technique, Owens insists that we delve into the lives of the people who live in the aging Florida neighborhood, not into the murders.

I confess to feeling a bit upset at being pushed into the intimate lives of the neighbors, but as I kept reading, I began to see how they were affected by the events. I was looking at the other side. Murder does not happen to the victims alone. While we understand the impact on immediate family and friends, we seldom consider the disruption on the lives of the hundreds of people who only hear about the crime. As in the cases of recent school shootings, murder can affect the whole nation.

This is a book worth reading, even if Owens did sometimes spend more time than I wanted to on the minutia of daily lives.

Mike Lawrence