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The Hollow Ones

               I didn’t intend to spend the last three days speed reading “The Hollow Ones” by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (Grand Central Publishing 2021; $28). Indeed, I had other things to do—deadlines to meet, a new workout program to keep up with, and my daughter’s wedding to help plan. But I didn’t do any of those. Instead I caromed around the universe, going back and forth in time, following this complicated by fascinating novel written by two greats in their field. del Toro is a prolific writer, producer, and director who wrote and director the four time Academy Award winning movie “The Shape of Water.” Hogan, an American novelist, screenwriter, and television producer, who co-authored, with del Toro,  The Strain trilogy. He also wrote the novel “Prince of Thieves” that was made into a movie “The Town” with Ben Affleck .

Guillermo del Toro. Photo by Lorenzo Agius.

               This is not a book for the faint of heart—and I typically fall into that category. But I just had to figure out what was going to happen next after the first chapter. That’s when  Odessa Hardwick, a young and inexperienced FBI agent arrives at the scene of a gruesome murder taking place along with Walter Leppo, her seasoned partner. Inside an upscale home, the two encounter the owner butchering his family. Odessa, believing her partner is under attack by the murderer, shoots and kills him. But then the unexpected occurs, Walter takes a knife to the only surviving family member and Odesssa is forced to kill him to save the child. She already is under a lot of stress when she had to question if that was a shadowy figure she saw fleeing from Walter’s body after his death?

               Most likely, given the supernatural forces that are in play here starting with why this prosperous home owner killing his family, why did Walter suddenly take over the job of butchering them, and what the heck is going on anyway? Odessa, distraught and doubting her actions and indeed, her own sanity, is  given the assignment while awaiting the results of the inquest into the killing of Leppo, to clear out the desk  of ailing FBI agent Earl Solomon who started his career investigating lynchings during the early 1960s in the American south.

               “Solomon puts her on the trail of a mysterious figure named Hugo Blackwood, with whom the dying Solomon has been professionally — but unofficially — aligned since his rookie days,” says Hogan, who describes his collaboration with del Toro as long talks over breakfast batting around ideas which they then expand until finally turning out chapters.

Hugo, an immortal has seen a lot through the centuries. To solve the mysteries of the moment, they must retrace what happened in 1582 when he was a young attorney and a portal to another world was accidentally opened allowing the evil and dangerous hollow ones to enter ours.

               Hogan, who describes the hollow ones as “nasty creatures who live to possess human victims, jumping from host to host” is vague about whether this is the first in a series focusing on Hugo and Odessa solving supernatural crimes. He does acknowledge though that Blackwood’s story which in this novel encompasses England 1582, the Jim Crow South of 1962, and New Jersey in 2019 is only 20% told.

               If they do have another book coming, I need to get all my chores done ahead of time so I can immerse myself once again.

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

Still going through withdrawal now that Downton Abbey has signed off the air. Then get your fix with Belgravia (Grand Central Publishing 2016; $27) written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.

Set in London during the 1840s, the novel takes place in another grand house and just like the television series, it’s full of secrets, numerous intersecting story lines and that touch of British posh and stoicism that makes us want to find a time machine and travel back to jolly old England.

Before the Fall: A Riveting Mystery by Noah Hawley

A Great Beach Read!

I wasn’t sure that I’d like Noah Hawley’s “Before the Fall”(Grand Central 2016; $26) because I already knew it involved a plane crash and that didn’t sound too appealing. But this mystery about a rich media titan and his family and friends is so absorbing, I kept turning the pages way after it should have been lights out.

Only two people survive plane crash — Scott Burroughs, a once very promising artist and now a recovering alcoholic barely able to make ends meet, and the mogul’s 4-year-old son. Both end up in the dark Atlantic waters, and Burroughs, who has achieved sobriety by intensive swimming, pops the kid on his back and heads for land — an epic swim against currents and gigantic waves. But that’s the least of his problems.

Once ashore, he’s hailed as a hero until the media titan’s star anchor concocts conspiracies about Burroughs’ part in the plane’s crash. It all ends very satisfying and the plot is mesmerizing. Just watch out for sunburn if you pick up this book.

Testimony by Scott Turow

More than 30 years ago, Scott Turow released his first legal mystery, Presumed Innocent, a best seller that soon had any lawyer with a modicum of writing ability penning novels. Since then, Turow, a Chicago attorney, has continued to specialize in complex, multi-faceted books about the legal scene in scene in Kindle County—think Cook County. But in the just released Testimony (Grand Central 2017; $28) Turow moves beyond Kindle when his protagonist, United States attorney and criminal defender Bill ten Boom accepts a job working for the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. ten Boom is suffering mid-life crisis blues and prosecuting the genocide of 400 Roma men, women and children who were buried alive in a cave is just the uber change he needs as the typical solution of a red sports car just wasn’t going to do it for him.

ten Boom has a witness, the lone survivor of the massacre which took place in Bosnia. It should be easy but there are layers upon layers of misperceptions, lies and half-truths as well as centuries of nationalistic pride and grievances, the prejudices against the Roma (or gypsies) and his own vulnerabilities for ten Boom to sort through. It doesn’t help when he finds himself engulfed in an affair with sexy Esma Czarni, a time-bomb of a woman with a law degree from Cambridge and a Roma background. Czarni, who gobbles up ten Boom like he’s so much candy, is, of course, not to be trusted.

So how did Turow come up with all these thread to weave such a story?

“In 2000, I was at a reception in The Hague and found myself in a circle of lawyers who said you have to write about this–it’s an amazing case,” he recalls. “Usually when people say they have an amazing case it’s about their divorce but this actually did sound fascinating.”

His interest in the Roma culture goes much further back to some 40 years ago when he was visiting a sick relative at Rush Hospital.

“The King of the Gypsies was ill and there were Roma camped all over the hospital, the staff had to lock patients’ doors because things were disappearing,” he recalls.

When their king died, the Roma departed as well but not before removing all the large metal ash trays (smoking was permitted in hospitals back then) in the waiting rooms.

“At the time I thought to myself I have to figure these people out—they’re clearly coming from a different place than me,” says Turow. “Why would they do this knowing it would make people hate them and less willing to deal with them in the future. What I later learned when researching for this book is that there’s no tense but the present in the Roma language and no written or oral tradition for passing down information. Their history goes only as far back as the oldest Roma alive.  So that’s a big cultural difference from us.”

Scott Turow has three book events in the Chicago area.

What: Scott Turow in-conversation with Dave Berner (journalist, NPR’s Weekend Edition contributor and associate professor at Columbia College Chicago).

When: Wednesday, May 24 at 6:30pm

Where: Hollywood Blvd. Cinema, Bar & Eatery, 1001 West 75th St., Woodridge, IL

Cost: Advance tickets are required and may be purchased from Frugal Muse by calling (630) 427-1140 or stopping in the store.

FYI: This will be a ticketed event, the discussion and audience Q&A will take place at the theater and then the book signing will be at the museum.

What: Talk, Q&A and book signing with Scott Turow

When: Thursday, May 25 at 7pm

Where: Barnes & Noble Old Orchard, 55 Old Orchard Center, Skokie, IL

FYI: 847-676-2230

When: Saturday, June 10 at 11:00am- 11:45am

Where: Harold Washington Library Center, Multipurpose Room, 400 S State St, Chicago, IL

FYI: (312) 747-4300

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