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Book Nook

Monday, December 29, 2014
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to [email protected]

The Case Of The Toxic Elixir
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s creation Aloysius Pendergrast, is an FBI agent, and a thriller hero like no other. He has immense personal wealth and works for the FBI for the adventure. He is very handsome, has a face “so finely modeled that it could have been carved by Michelangelo,” and responds coolly to every crisis by inclining his head.

 In the 14th book of the series, however, he is mostly out of action. It begins with the corpse of his son Alban being deposited on his doorstep. An autopsy that Pendergast watches expressionlessly,  reveals a rare turquoise stone in the dead man’s stomach. Pendergast is convinced this is a message sent to him, but why and by whom—he has to find that out, even it means going over the heads of the cops investigating the murder, and travelling to strange places.

In a parallel plot, a guard at the New York’s Museum of Natural history is found murdered, and there seems to a link between the two seemingly unconnected incidents.

When Pendergast follows the lead of the blue stone, he is exposed to a deadly poison that leaves him bed-ridden and will lead to a very painful death, unless an antidote is found very quickly. Pendergast’s adversary is a ruthless billionaire avenging his own son’s death, which was caused by a genetic illness, which in turn could be traced to a deadly elixir made and sold by Pendergast’s great-great-grandfather a century ago.

The plot is as convoluted as it is bizarre and because it has so many what-the-heck moments it is also hugely entertaining.  Eventually, two very accomplished women race against time to look for the precious ingredients for the antidote to the toxin that is killing Pendergast.  One of them is the elegant Constance Greene, who lives with him as his “ward;” the other is his old friend, Margo Green.

The breathless climax leads to mayhem and massive destruction at the Museum, as well as the Brooklyn Botanical Garden housing rare plants. The weaponry goes from a giant Indonesian buckthorn to bottles of acid. It takes a fiendish imagination to cook up a plot like that; the next Pendergast book will be keenly awaited, just to see how the writers top this one.
Blue Labyrinth
by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Published by Grand Central
Pages: 403

Excerpt from Blue Labyrinth
The stately Beaux-?¬Arts mansion on Riverside Drive between 137th and 138th Streets, while carefully tended and impeccably preserved, appeared to be untenanted. On this stormy June evening, no figures paced the widow’s walk overlooking the Hudson River. No yellow glow from within flowed through the decorative oriel windows. The only visible light, in fact, came from the front entrance, illuminating the drive beneath the building’s porte cochere. Appearances can be deceiving, however—sometimes intention ally. Because 891 Riverside was the residence of FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast—and Pendergast was a man who valued, above all, his privacy.

In the mansion’s elegant library, Pendergast sat in a leather wing chair. Although it was early summer, the night was blustery and chill, and a low fire flickered on the grate. He was leafing through a copy of the Manyo¯shu¯, an old and celebrated anthology of Japanese poetry, dat ing to ad 750.

A small tetsubin, or cast-?¬iron eapot, sat on a table beside him, along with a china cup half-?¬full of green tea. Nothing disturbed his concentration. The only sounds were the occasional crackle of settling embers and rumble of thunder from beyond the closed shutters. Now there was a faint sound of footsteps from the reception hall beyond and Constance Greene appeared, framed in the library door  way. She was wearing a simple evening dress. Her violet eyes and dark hair, cut in an old-?¬fashioned bob, offset the paleness of her skin. In one hand she held a bundle of letters.

“The mail,” she said.

Pendergast inclined his head, set the book aside. Constance took a seat beside Pendergast, noting that, since returning from what he called his “Colorado adventure,” he was at last looking like his old self. His state of mind had been a cause of uneasiness in her since the dreadful events of the prior year. She began sorting through the small stack of mail, putting aside the things that would not interest him. Pendergast did not like to concern himself with quotidian details. He had an old and discreet New Orleans law firm, long in the employ of the family, to pay bills and manage part of his unusually extensive income. He had an equally hoary New York banking firm to manage other investments, trusts, and real estate. And he had all mail delivered to a post office box, which Proctor, his chauf  feur, bodyguard, and general factotum, collected on a regular basis. At present, Proctor was preparing to leave for a visit to relatives in Alsace, so Constance had agreed to take over the epistolary matters.

“Here’s a note from Corrie Swanson.”

“Open it, if you please.”

“She’s attached a photocopy of a letter from John Jay. Her thesis won the Rosewell Prize.”

“Indeed. I attended the ceremony.”

“I’m sure Corrie appreciated it.”

“It is rare that a graduation ceremony offers more than an anes thetizing parade of platitudes and endacity, set to the tiresome refrain of ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’ ” Pendergast took a sip of tea at the recollection. “This one did.”

Constance sorted through more mail. “And here’s a letter from Vincent D’Agosta and Laura Hayward.”

He nodded for her to scan it. “It’s a thank-?¬you note for the wedding gift and once again for the dinner party.”

Pendergast inclined his head as she put the letter aside. The month before, on the eve of D’Agosta’s wedding, Pendergast had hosted a private dinner for the couple, consisting of several courses he had prepared himself, paired with rare wines from his cellar. It was this gesture, more than anything, that had convinced Constance that Pendergast had recovered from his recent emotional trauma. She read over a few other letters, then put aside those of interest and tossed the rest on the fire.

“How is the project coming, Constance?” Pendergast asked as he poured himself a fresh cup of tea.

“Very well. Just yesterday I received a packet from France, the Bureau Ancestre du Dijon, which I’m now trying to integrate with what I’ve already collected from Venice and Louisiana. When you have the time, I do have a couple of questions I’d like to ask about Augustus Robespierre St. Cyr Pendergast.”

“Most of what I know consists of oral family history—tall tales, legends, and some whispered horror stories. I’d be glad to share most of them with you.”

“Most? I was hoping you’d share them all.”

“I fear there are skeletons in the Pendergast family closet, figura tive and literal, that I must keep even from you.”

Constance sighed and rose. As Pendergast returned to his book of poetry, she walked out of the library, across the reception hall lined with museum cabinets full of curious objects, and through a door  way into a long, dim space paneled in time-?¬darkened oak. The main feature of the room was a wooden refectory table, almost as long as the room itself. The near end of the table was covered with journals, old letters, census pages, yellowed photographs and engravings, court transcripts, memoirs, reprints from newspaper microfiche, and other documents, all arranged in neat stacks. Beside them sat a laptop computer, its screen glowing incongruously in the dim room. Several months before, Constance had taken it upon herself to prepare a gene  alogy of the Pendergast family. She wanted both to satisfy her own curiosity and to help draw Pendergast out of himself. It was a fantastically complex, infuriating, and yet endlessly fascinating undertaking. At the far end of the long room, beyond an arched door, was the foyer leading to the mansion’s front door. Just as Constance was about to take a seat at the table, a loud knock sounded.

Nora Roberts’s A Will And A Way was first published in 1986 and has been reprinted as part of an Engaging the Enemy series and made it to the New York Times bestseller list. The plot is a staple of romantic fiction—two opposite types who can’t stand each other and end up falling in love.  Pandora and Michael are made beneficiaries of their uncle’s vast fortune, provided they fulfil one condition—of living under the same roof for six months. Their uncle decided to matchmake from beyond the grave, so to say.  Problems are caused by other relatives who unleash all kinds of nasty tricks to make the two break the requirement of the will. Readers of romantic fiction will enjoy this one, though to the reader today, the absence of modern gadgets might seem odd—remember it was set way back in the 1980s, almost making it a period piece.
A Will And  A Way: By Nora Roberts
Published by
Silhouette Special Releases
Pages:  288

Kisan Upadhyay’s The Last Orange: Lost And Found Memoir is a simply written, slim volume, which works because the story is one of faith, miracles and the kindness of strangers. If it weren’t a true story, it would seem like a Bollywood melodrama. Upadhyay was born in Assam, and adandoned by his mother when he was only four, along with his sister Maya, aged eight. Their father, an armyman, sent them to Kathmandu to live with relatives, but they got lost and survived on the streets of the city doing odd jobs and begging. He fell ill and was taken to a hospital by Maya, to whom the book is dedicated. From there he was sent to the Mendies Haven Children's Home where he grew up. He went to the US on a scholarship offered by a generous American doctor, and became a techie. He kept hunting for his family, the search gathering steam when social media came into the picture. Forty-two years later, in 2011, he was reunited on live TV with his mother and sister and the rest of his clan. How this happened is what the book is about-- it’s a quick, feel-good read, and there’s movie waiting to be made.
The Last Orange: A Lost and Found Memoir
by Kisan Upadhyay
Published by Gyan Publishing House
Pages: 166

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