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Culture Watch

THE THIRD ANGEL – A Novel

By Alice Hoffman, © 2008

Crown Publishing Group; Hardback, 256 pp

 

Alice Hoffman is a writer it’s impossible to compare with another writer. She writes superb prose — poetic and precise — and her characterizations are layered, complex, real. Her latest novel The Third Angel has a structure unlike anything else I’ve read. Instead of starting either at the beginning or in the middle of her story, and then using flashbacks to fill in what the reader needs to know, Hoffman begins pretty much (but not exactly) at the end.

The novel deals with the interconnected lives of three women and their romantic experiences. The book works backwards from the first story to a time over 30 years before; it ends with the earliest story that takes place nearly 30 years earlier than the second. Yet, there’s no confusion.

The relationships between the three women are clear as are their varying styles in managing their lives. That perhaps none understands all she should about the other two is one factor that adds to the poignancy of their experiences.

This is a writer who is able to handle grippingly accurate portrayals of people in desperate situations as if the reader were watching the action taking place. She is also adept at adding touches that verge on the paranormal, the magical, without alienating a reader not interested in ghost stories, fantasy or fairy tales. The Third Angel isn’t a parable, or any of those genres just named, yet it shares the resonances of tales that are more than lifelike.

This is literate, out-of-the-ordinary fiction to be enjoyed.

Joan L. Cannon

 

SEA CHANGE

By Robert B. Parker, © 2008

Publisher, G. P. Putnam's Sons; Hardback, 296 pages

Parker is the prolific author of over 50 books, mostly mysteries with protagonists who are detectives: the Spenser series, Sunny Randall, and Jesse Stone. If you pick up one that's new to you, though you're familiar with others, you're likely to meet at least one of the other two, at least tangentially.

Sea Change is from the Jesse Stone group. Jesse is a retired alcoholic policeman from California who seems to have retreated to a fictitious New England town named Paradise, where he serves as an unconventional Chief of Police.

For those who aren't familiar with him, Parker has several endearing trademarks. One is his incredible economy of words. Many of his novels have page after page of dialog, each speech of which takes less than a line of type. The words chosen are so telling that you never feel you've missed a hint of characterization or plot movement.

Another talent is Parker's ability to set a scene that includes every necessary sensory image, creating a cinematic impression. And sentiment is never excluded, however much sentimentality is. Nobody could write this many books without some being better than others. Sea Change is one of the good ones.

It deals with the fallout resulting from the discovery of a drowned woman's body at the Paradise marina. Typical of Parker's plots is the misinformation that his canny detectives are invariably able to perceive early enough to assure that the plot's complications can proliferate until a satisfactory denouement is reached. Evil is found out, the means and motive are revealed and not everyone lives happily ever after. Parker is not above an implied moral comment.

Another characteristic of Parker is his romantic subplots. In the case of Jesse Stone, this involves Jesse's now ex-wife, who appears in earlier books as a kind of constant reminder of what Jesse views as his own failings. In this story, she and he are living together again in an effort to see whether they might be able to make a success of it. As Parker would say, "So far, so good."

I recommend this to mystery lovers who want real characters, good and bad, and who don't mind having a suspenseful story carry one or two moral messages. It's a fast read, a page-turner, and full of atmosphere.

Joan L. Cannon

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Joan is a retired teacher, retail manager, and editor, library trustee, and always aspiring writer. Mother of three, grandmother of seven, her first novel Settling is out in paper and as an e-book. Due out "soon," as the publisher likes to say, is Maiden Run, eponymous story of a farm and the family who love it.

For comments and questions: jlcannon28 (at) att.net

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©2008 Joan L. Cannon for SeniorWomen.com
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