This is not a review, but a little note.
John Updike passed away this week. We are all sad to see him go. Luckily we got one last piece of work from him: The Widow's of Eastwick. I thoroughly enjoyed the Witches of Eastwick and last evening got two pages into Widows last night (interrupted by Husband, not because it wasn't good.)
Review will be coming.
Until then, a moment of silence for our fallen comrade.
This one will make soda come out of your nose.
Janet Evanovitch delivers again. More than 15 books into the series and her formula works as well as Law and Order...except perhaps more accurately: Law and Disorder. I was thrilled to see it on the shelf a mere four days before a dreadfully long plane ride and had to exert a massive amount of willpower to wait those four days to read it. It was worth it.
Given that Plum Spooky is a Between-The-Numbers Novel, Diesel makes his fourth unannounced appearance in our heroine’s apartment. Stephanie Plum, our whirling-dervish of a Bounty Hunter, quickly learns that her assignment and his overlap...in the form of his Dracula-like cousin, Wulf Grimoire, who has partnered up with her skip, Martin Munch. Together they are going to first take over the Jersey Swamp and then take over the world. As I read I couldn’t help but have visions of Pinky and the Brain made human.
The usual suspects come along for the ride, and we’re always glad they do. Lula, the rotund ex ‘ho, has left her diets behind in this book but catches a cold she blames on Tank, her fiance. If you’ve read any of the previous novels you can imagine that Lula sick is, in itself, an amusing concept. If you haven’t read any of the previous novels...stop reading this and start with One For The Money. Trust me. Morelli’s cousin is kicked out of his own house and takes up residence on Morelli’s couch - with would throw a wrench into Stephanie’s relationship with Morelli if Diesel hadn’t already. Ranger is, as always, enticingly on the periphery, bugging Stephanie’s cars and trying not to laugh at her...and there is much to laugh at because along with Diesel there is also a Monkey.
That’s right. One of her previous skips has gotten married and taken her honeymoon, leaving her pet monkey, Carl, for Stephanie to babysit. In addition to the humor Evanovitch always delivers, Carl proves to be a useful addition to the Plum Task Force.
I didn’t find myself spooked, as the title promised, but at one point I was laughing so hard I almost dropped my book...and I’ll take that any day.
This is one of those books that you pick up thinking, “yeah, I know what happens. What could this little novel possibly tell me?” And then you read the blurb on the back and the pull quotes from reviews (“terrific, gripping”...and “The blast from Vesuvius kicks ash”) and you think, “Ok, I’ll give it a shot.”
And then you’re sunk. It’s one of the densest books I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering. The research Harris embarked upon before putting pen to paper is obvious. Not only are there historical figures playing main roles in the plots, but cultural, political, and historical references make it feel like it’s set now, rather than 2,000 years ago.
So yes, you know what happens. Vesuvius erupts and covers Pompeii in ash and stone, buried for centuries until it is unearthed for the tourists. But what about the people? There is the aquarius, Marcus Atillius Primus - referred to as Atillius or simply, the aquarius, called to Misenum to replace their former aquarius who has unexpectedly disappeared. There are his slaves and crew: Corax who openly hates him, the slave Polites who trusts in the guidance. There are politicians and freedmen. There is - of course - a beautiful girl, whose destiny is one that most readers cringe at.
It is two days before the eruption - the book is broken into time like this so you always know where the main event lies - and the Aqua Augusta has failed. Water in the far towns is drying up. It is - as Corax says at the book’s opening: “a fool’s errand” to try and repair it. Isn’t it? It’s an errand that takes us up and down the Neapolitan coast, introduces us to slaves, whores, politicians and social climbers. Harris describes the land in a way the evokes the senses and inspires a pilgrimage - if only to see the remains of what was once a “hustler’s town.”
The novels ends shortly after the eruption cools and the rains wash the air clean. Even though you know what happens, you know that most of these people are going to die, you keep reading because the aquarius keeps going. He is always thinking, planning, mourning. You want him to get on the ships, you want him to push through the ash, you want to give him your strength so that he can keep going.
Harris has a gift...I hesitate to use the word “magical” but there it is. Sure, Rowling can conjur up creatures you’ve never imagined and make you fall in love with them, but Harris makes you root for a civilization you know to be doomed before you even open the cover.
And not to give anything away...it ends the way it needs to end. It’s as though Harris knows that one way is too smarmy and the other too wrenching and he steers it through in a way that leaves you not quite sure until he’s ready to tell you, and then you know that it couldn’t have ended any other way.