John Maytham's Book Reviews

John Maytham's book reviews: Killers, eccentric families and a tale of injustice

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

Former Chief Inspector Gamache has been hunting killers his entire career and as the new commander of the S ret Academy, he is given the chance to combat the corruption and brutality that has been rife throughout the force.

But when a former colleague and professor of the S ret Academy is found murdered, with a mysterious map of Three Pines in his possession, Gamache has an even tougher task ahead of him.

When suspicion turns to Gamache himself, and his possible involvement in the crime, the frantic search for answers takes the investigation to the village of Three Pines, where a series of shattering secrets are poised to be revealed . . .

Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers A captivating, often hilarious novel of family, loss, wilderness, and the curse of a violent America, Dave Eggers's Heroes of the Frontier is a powerful examination of our contemporary life and a rousing story of adventure.

Josie and her children's father have split up, she's been sued by a former patient and lost her dental practice, and she's grieving the death of a young man senselessly killed. When her ex asks to take the children to meet his new fiancee's family, Josie makes a run for it, figuring Alaska is about as far as she can get without a passport. Josie and her kids, Paul and Ana, rent a rattling old RV named the Chateau, and at first their trip feels like a vacation: They see bears and bison, they eat hot dogs cooked on a bonfire, and they spend nights parked along icy cold rivers in dark forests. But as they drive, pushed north by the ubiquitous wildfires, Josie is chased by enemies both real and imagined, past mistakes pursuing her tiny family, even to the very edge of civilization.

A tremendous new novel from the best-selling author of The Circle, Heroes of the Frontier is the darkly comic story of a mother and her two young children on a journey through an Alaskan wilderness plagued by wildfires and a uniquely American madness

We Are Not Such Things by Justine van der Leun In the vein of the podcast Serial, a gripping investigation of an iconic murder case that calls into question the accepted narrative that has come to exemplify the process of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa

The story of Amy Biehl is well known in South Africa: After the twenty-six-year-old white American Fulbright scholar was brutally murdered on August 25, 1993, during the final, fiery days of apartheid by a mob of young black men in a township outside Cape Town, her parents’ forgiveness of two of her killers became a symbol of the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa.

Inspired by the story, Justine van der Leun, an American writer living in South Africa, decided to introduce it to an American audience. But as she delved into the case, the prevailing narrative started to unravel. Why didn’t the eyewitness reports agree on who killed Amy Biehl? Were the men convicted of the murder actually responsible for her death? And then van der Leun stumbled on another brutal crime committed on the same day, in the very same area. The story of Amy Biehl’s death, it turned out, was not the story hailed in the press as a powerful symbol of forgiveness, but was in fact more reflective of the complicated history of a troubled country.

We Are Not Such Things is the result of van der Leun’s four years investigating this strange, knotted tale of injustice, violence, forgiveness, and redemption. It is a gripping journey through the bizarre twists and turns of this case and its aftermath—and the story that emerges of what happened on that fateful day in 1993 and the decades that followed provides an unsparing account of life in South Africa today.

Like Katherine Boo and Tracy Kidder, van der Leun immerses herself in the lives of her subjects. With her stark, moving portrait of a township and its residents, she provides a lens through which we come to understand that the issues at the heart of her investigation—truth and reconciliation, loyalty, justice, race, and class—are universal in scope and powerful in resonance.

We Are Not Such Things reveals how reconciliation is impossible without an acknowledgment of the past, a lesson just as relevant to America today as to a South Africa still struggling with the long shadow of its history. and turns of this case and its aftermath and a lucid, eye-opening account of life today in a society still fractured and haunted by apartheid.

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John Maytham's book review: Murder, comedy, myths and memories

John Maytham's book review: Murder, comedy, myths and memories

Murders in a Christmas setting, a biting satire about a comic genius...and a collection of essays on art, myths and memories.

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John Maytham's book reviews for the week: Mystery, agony aunts and addiction

This week John talks about three books that deal with everything from a missing twin conundrum, to a novel about an advice column writer and then the story of Sam Cowen's journey to sobriety.

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