Sunday, 05 May 2024

I Will Ruin You
by Linwood Barclay
William Morrow, May 2024, $30

No good goes unpunished, right? Linwood Barclay explores the price of altruism in his latest thriller, I Will Ruin You. English teacher Richard Boyle manages to stop a disgruntled ex-student named Mark LeDrew from blowing up the high school where he teaches.

In the aftermath, Richard is a hero and he gets plenty of attention—but not all of it is positive. Suddenly, he’s being blackmailed by a former student. At first, he doesn’t tell anyone—not even Bonnie, his beloved wife—because he’s afraid of his reputation getting besmirched. But trying to solve it himself, Richard only digs himself in deeper.

Richard’s rationale for responding to the extortionist’s demands makes sense in today’s day and age when everything is judged in the court of public opinion, and you’re guilty until proven innocent—and even being innocent sometimes doesn’t matter. A sad sign of the times, something Barclay delves into with vigor. But is Richard truly such a good guy? 

Barclay has written scores of excellent novels. Most notably, a few of my favorites No Time for Goodbye, Elevator Pitch, Never Look Away, and Take Your Breath Away. I Will Ruin You takes its rightful place in that list as the author takes readers on an emotional roller coaster of deft plot twists and what-the-hell?! moments. I Will Ruin You will indeed ruin you—or at least your sleep schedule until you've reached the end. Barclay proves once again that he's at the top of his game.

Review: "I Will Ruin You" by Linwood Barclay
Kurt Anthony Krug
Monday, 29 April 2024

The Djinn's Apple
by Djamila Morani, translated by Sawad Hussain
Neem Tree Press, May 2024

In 803 A.D., Baghdad, it is at the height of the Abbasid Empire, a golden age of literature and medical knowledge. Yet, unrest stirs within the highest ranks of the government. The Baramikas, once among the most influential families, have fallen out of favor with Al-Rashid, the ruler of Baghdad. When a group of men attacks her family’s home, 12-year-old Nardeen Baramika is the sole survivor. At first, she assumes the massacre is related to family's loss of status, but she soon discovers the attackers were looking for a mysterious manuscript that belonged to her father, a renowned doctor.

Nardeen is saved from being sold into slavery by doctor Muallim Ishaq, a colleague of her father’s who take her under his wing. She becomes Ishaq’s student, learning more about medicine as she trains in the hospital than even most male physicians. As the years pass, Nardeen continues to struggle with grief of losing her family—and prepares for the day when she will take revenge on her family’s killers.

But the truth is more complicated than Nardeen can imagine, and connecting the dots between her family’s murder, the missing manuscript, and Baghdad's political unrest will take every bit of courage and perseverance she has. During her ordeal, Nardeen will discover how thin the line between justice and vengeance really is.

The Djinn’s Apple, a YA novel originally published in Arabic in 2017, has been translated into English by Sawad Hussain, making this magical and enthralling book available to a English readers for the first time. Author Djamila Morani skillfully blends mystery and historical fiction to tell a gripping tale about a girl seeking justice for her family, while also bringing readers into a time and place that many of us may not know much about.

Readers will also surely like Nardeen, a feminist before her time, who perseveres to learn medicine despite opposition from several men who believe that females are incapable of being physicians. There is even a touch of romance (Nardeen and a fellow trainee doctor start falling for each other), which will have readers rooting for the couple as the novel progresses. Ultimately, The Djinn’s Apple is an artful rendering of an ancient time and way of life, with a perfect dose of intrigue to please the modern mystery lover.

Review: "The Djinn's Apple" by Djamila Morani
Sarah Prindle
Tuesday, 09 April 2024

Fiona Davis, photo by Deborah Feingold

My family moved around a lot when I was young, but the one constant was that once a week my mother would bundle me and my brother into the car and head to the main library branch of whatever town we were living in. My brother would race to the section on trains, and I’d wander over to Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie. We’d grab as many books as allowed and then wait for my mother to check them out.

I loved the snap of the Mylar covering as the book was opened, followed by the satisfying “chunk” of the mechanical stamp coming down hard on the due date card. Library books protected me, wrapping me in the safe bubble of other stories when I was nervous about attending a new school or making new friends. There were other worlds out there, each novel reminded me. Worlds where I might fit in.

At the time, I couldn’t imagine anything better than being a librarian. To have all of those books to peruse at my pleasure, what an embarrassment of reading riches. Later, while researching a novel, I stumbled upon the existence of the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library, which holds literary archives, manuscripts, and printed books of over 400 authors like Vladimir Nabokov, Mark Twain, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The treasures in the Berg Collection offer a window into the creative process. The scratched-out words in a draft of a Walt Whitman poem, for example, or Virginia Woolf’s entries in her diary, remind us that these authors who we revere were human, and that the act of writing is a difficult one, and shouldn’t come easy.

The value of such collections can’t be understated.

After a thief was caught stealing $1.8 million in rare books and manuscripts from Columbia University’s Butler Library in the 1990s, Jean Ashton, the library’s director of rare books and manuscripts, went before the judge and requested a harsher sentence. She explained that the items were worth more than their stated value because they were important pieces of history and culture, and that their loss would have a dramatic impact on scholarly research. The judge was duly impressed, and remanded a longer sentence. Later, a law was passed protecting cultural heritage resources, so that from that point forward, thefts from a museum or library were taken more seriously.

To read a draft of a Walt Whitman poem is an honor and a privilege, one that Ms. Ashton protected. As a child, I looked up to librarians as literary heroes, and that remains true to this day.

Fiona Davis began her career in New York City as an actress, but after getting a master's degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, eventually settling down as an author of historical fiction. Fiona's books, which included The Lions of Fifth Avenue, Chelsea Girls, and The Masterpiece among others, have been translated into more than a dozen languages. She's a graduate of the College of William & Mary and is based in New York City.

This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in “At the Scene” enews August 2020 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers.


Fiona Davis on Librarians, Our Literary Heroes
Fiona Davis