Monday, April 03, 2017

Anticipation & Good Books

Today I'm serving up a tale of being talked into reading a book and the acutely delicious sense of anticipation I felt as I read it.

I was attending one of The Poisoned Pen's events when host Barbara Peters began chatting with us to fill in the time while the author was in back signing all the mail orders. One of the things she talked about was John Sandford's newest Virgil Flowers book, Escape Clause, which hadn't been released yet. She loved it, and there was just something in the way she raved about it that convinced me that I had to read the book, too. I'd noticed that Sandford came to The Poisoned Pen each time he had a new book, and even though I'd read his first Lucas Davenport book and thought it was okay, there wasn't enough of a pull for me to read any more of them. However, I hadn't read any of his Virgil Flowers books yet.... Needless to say, Barbara's recommendation had me buying my own copy of Escape Clause, and here's a synopsis of the book for you:

"Whenever you hear the sky rumble, that usually means a storm. In Virgil Flowers’ case, make that two. 

The first storm comes from, of all places, the Minnesota zoo. Two large, and very rare, Amur tigers have vanished from their cage, and authorities are worried sick that they’ve been stolen for their body parts. Traditional Chinese medicine prizes those parts for home remedies, and people will do extreme things to get what they need. Some of them are a great deal more extreme than others—as Virgil is about to find out.

Then there’s the homefront. Virgil’s relationship with his girlfriend Frankie has been getting kind of serious, but when Frankie’s sister Sparkle moves in for the summer, the situation gets a lot more complicated. For one thing, her research into migrant workers is about to bring her up against some very violent people who emphatically do not want to be researched. For another…she thinks Virgil’s kind of cute.

'You mess around with Sparkle,' Frankie told Virgil, 'you could get yourself stabbed.'
'She carries a knife?'
'No, but I do.'

Forget a storm—this one’s a tornado.

The minute I began reading the book, I started enjoying the humor. Virgil Flowers is a piece of work-- the kind of independent spirit that makes me smile and think I've found a new friend. But then the anticipation kicked in. Boy, did it kick in!

Escape Clause deals with a subject that some readers will want to avoid: endangered animals being stolen and sold for their body parts. (Do not get me started on rich old Chinese men and their traditional "medicines"!)That's what's happening to the pair of Amur tigers that are stolen from the Minnesota Zoo. One of the thieves has the entire operation planned down to the very last detail... or he thinks he does. Now, I'm going to do something that I try very hard not to do in any of my reviews: I'm going to give away a tiny piece of the plot. One of the tigers is killed.

That senseless death made me angry. As my anger rose, I read this passage and all of a sudden, I had a channel for my anger:

She knew he was dead, Simonian thought. He could see it in her eyes when she turned to look at him.

Another thought occurred to him: he should shoot her now. He shouldn't wait, despite Peck. If he didn't shoot her now, something bad would happen. Like, really bad.

When I read that, I began to smile. Because I knew-- somehow, some way-- Katya (the female Amur-- Siberian-- tiger) was going to have her day in court, and I couldn't wait.

This fueled the most delicious sense of anticipation that I've felt about a book in a long time. I'd think about Katya whenever I was doing chores or out on the road running errands. I'd think about her as I was knitting and watching television. It was very, very difficult for me to keep myself from flipping back to the end of the book to find out what happened, but I did not allow myself to cheat.

I love that sense of anticipation when I'm reading a book, don't you? I think it's one of the best gifts a writer can give us because it can take us so completely out of ourselves. 

When's the last time a book affected you the same way? Inquiring minds would love to know (and possibly add books to to-be-read shelves)!


  1. Wow! What an endorsement. My heart just started pounding thinking about the crime against tigers, etc. I would also be angry, knowing that often fiction reflects real crimes.

    I couldn't wait to find out the resolution of Tana French's The Trespasser, but I made myself wait until the denouement unfolded. I knew I'd be missing some good writing if I peeled ahead.

    Also, in Peter May's Coffin Road, couldn't wait to find out the culprit. And in Helene Tursten's Who Watcheth.

    1. May and Tursten are two of my favorite authors. I read French's first book, but I didn't like something about it and haven't read any more of her work. I should probably give her a second chance.

  2. I know exactly what you mean by anticipation, Cathy. I feel that way whenever I read one of Paddy Richardson's books. She has a way of really drawing the reader in like that.

    1. Ooooh... someone I've never heard of! Definitely got to check this author out. Thanks, Margot!

  3. Try The Trespasser by French. Her books aren't uniformly great, but this one I think is tremendous. She won last year's Irish Crime Fiction prize for it. Dialogue is brilliant.


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