Tag Archives: American fiction

“The Case of the Felonious Friend” and “The Question of the Dead Mistress” – Asperger’s Mysteries by EJ Copperman and Jeff Cohen

 

The Question of the Dead Mistress (An Asperger's Mystery Book 5)

Among the forms of “identity politics” emerging in American culture is the “disability” subculture. The Americans with Disabilities Act (now almost 30 years old) prohibited discrimination based on disability and codified the concepts of accommodation and accessibility. As always, the devil is in the details. The past three decades have been spent working them out, and along with this has come a cultural shift in how “disabled” people see themselves and interact with others. So, logically, a genre of “disability literature” is appearing.

I stumbled on the Asperger’s Mystery series at the Library. The series dates from 2014 and the books I read are #2 and #5 (I think).

When I started reading The Case of the Felonious Friend, I found the language, which is in the first person from an Asperger’s point of view, to be unpleasantly choppy. But an early plot twist caught my attention and I got used to the author’s cadence. A very good mystery read, with the advantage of being set in New Jersey, which I found amusing!

The protagonist, Samuel Hoenig, has spent his life learning how to get along with “neurotypicals”, that is, those of us who aren’t on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. It’s a struggle, and he works hard at it, with help from his mother and a psychologist. He owns a successful business called Questions Answered. He has two close neurotypical friends (his work partner and a taxi driver named Mike). Samuel is the only character with Asperger’s in The Question of the Dead Mistress. There’s a romance in the works. If this series unfolds like other mystery series (for example, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone books), it could go on for MANY more volumes.

I’m not giving the plots away. If you like mysteries, read these books! Another good series with an Asperger’s protagonist is Graeme Simsion’s Don Tillman/Rosie series. That’s romantic comedy, not mystery. I reviewed one of these here.

A young person with Asperger’s syndrome is much in the news recently – Greta Thunberg of Sweden, 16 year old climate activist. She has kicked the conversation on climate change to a new level (crisis), addressing international bodies with an enviable level of composure. She’s a notable leader in our difficult times.

So what does it mean to be neurotypical? Hard to say, when “normal” cannot be defined. Usually, it refers to anyone NOT on the autism spectrum. But a new concept, that of “neurological diversity” is emerging, and it is broader. It might include brain injury survivors and stoke victims, who think and function differently from their earlier baselines, and who may (or may not) consider themselves to be disabled. It might include dyslexics. Oliver Sachs wrote about many people whose brains seem to operate “differently”.

I recommend the Asperger’s Mysteries for mystery lovers and anyone looking for new and interesting avenues in contemporary fiction.

 

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“The Green Mile” by Stephen King.

My son, a Stephen King fan, knows that HORROR is not my genre, whether in books or movies. I’m such a wimp! Don’t scare me! I already suffer from enough anxiety.

Robert told me “The Green Mile” was more like fantasy. But I couldn’t read the whole book, I stopped before I got half way through. King is a compelling writer, and his tale of death row prisoners and executions in the Depression South was more than I could cope with. He created some great characters, especially the death row manager, who carefully eased the path of the miserable, violent men he ultimately executed. He narrates the story from the perspective of his old age.

What makes this “fantasy”? A condemned prisoner arrives who seems to have supernatural powers, a strange, poor, mentally challenged man who may accomplish miracles.

But I couldn’t face reading about another electric chair execution, so I can’t tell you more! Maybe I should check the Internet Movie Database for the plot. “The Green Mile” was made into a highly successful movie starring Tom Hanks.

Robert’s next book recommendation was considerably more cheerful.

“Arsenic with Austen” by Katherine Bolger Hyde

I finally found fiction to relax with! Wait, I shouldn’t say it that way… The heroine is a Professor of English (at Reed College in Oregon, no less) and she would disapprove of a preposition at the end of a sentence.

Emily Cavanaugh is an appealing protagonist, and the frequent literary references (ranging from the Old Testament to JK Rowling) in this mystery amused me. When stressed, Emily retreats into the worlds of Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope. When confronted with murder, she relies on Dorothy Sayers. Emily is a bibliophile who suffers from a level of technophobia even worse than my own. She would never condescend to blog. Horrors! Such an ugly neologism!

Two of the themes of this book are old grudges and land development. It works. There’s romance, too.

This is Ms. Bolger’s first novel and I look forward to more. She is calling her series “Crime with the Classics”. I don’t think she can go wrong.

“Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett

This is the fourth book by Ann Patchett that I have read, and I felt disappointed. Too “ordinary”. Patchett’s suburbia is a dull place. A man and woman fall in love and divorce their spouses in order to marry. He has four children, she has two. They constitute the “common wealth” of the title. All six children suffer.

I couldn’t help comparing this book with Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels.

Each deals with children. In each case, events at a party are pivotal. Patchett describes a christening party that turns into a dark, ironic version of the Biblical story of loaves and fishes. A marriage is destroyed. Ferrante’s event is a wedding party, at which the groom betrays the bride, then rapes her.

In each tale, a child is lost. In Commonwealth the oldest of the six children dies from an allergic reaction to a bee sting. His confused siblings watch uncomprehendingly. Every parent’s nightmare. But the loss described in the last of the Neapolitan novels is even worse – a tiny girl disappears, from a bright street on a sunny day. She’s gone. Her death cannot even be confirmed. Foul play is suspected. Ferrante has a knack for dealing with the most harsh blows that life can inflict.

In each story, someone tells or publishes a story that “belongs” to another person, with disturbing repercussions. Elena (Ferrante gives her own name to her heroine) writes about her friend Lila’s factory employment, bringing down retribution and violence. One of the neglected daughters in Commonwealth tells her lover, a prominent author, about the tragic death of her older stepbrother. He appropriates the story but denies its origins. His book is made into a movie, causing terrible pain to the family.

In my earlier blog post about Ferrante, I described My Brilliant Friend as being worthy of the category of “literary fiction”. The rest of her quartet also meets that standard. Commonwealth, in my opinion, doesn’t make it. Too bad, because I would certainly include Patchett’s wonderful Bel Canto in that category, and I plan to continue to read her work.