We may have settled on our Best Books of 2012 back at the end of November, but here we are in early January and we’re still finding great books from last year. This week, we have three very different takes on thrillers that all bring to mind (for me anyway) the movies.
First up is a debut novel about killer ants, which for me immediately recalls the 1954 SF movie Them. A..J Colucci’s The Colony is a bit more scientifically minded than that–these aren’t giant mutant ants and there are no flamethrowers to be found. Still, any story about ants is going to need an entomologist or two, and will require a race to find the queen. I’m just creeped out enough by ants for this one to be my kind of thriller.
Next we have a new crime novel from the very prolific Iain Banks. Banks writes SF novels (including the popular Culture series) under the very different name of Iain M. Banks. But this time out its a gangster book. Priscille Dando’s review likens it to The Sopranos, but the Scottish setting and gritty violence make me think of 1970s British films like the Michael Caine version of Get Carter.
Finally, we have a novel that can hardly fail to bring Hollywood to the mind. Written by a sometime-screenwriter, and set in seedy Los Angeles, Diana Wagman’s The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets even features a character whose mother is an Oscar-winning actress. Read the last line of Sarah Flowers’s review and insert the title of any number of self-loathing Hollywood black comedies here.
COLUCCI, A. J. The Colony: A Novel. 294p. Thomas Dunne . 2012. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-1-250-00129-0. LC 2012035593.
Adult/High School–When it comes to natural disasters and the end of civilization, chances are that readers don’t first think to fear ants, but a super breed of fire ants can indeed end the world as we know it according to the scenario played out here. An unsuspecting young father, teens carousing through Central Park, and other innocent civilians are attacked by ants that are rapidly multiplying in the subterranean architecture of Manhattan. Deaths are not pretty. These insects sense heat and movement and attack in unison, eating flesh and injecting an excruciating venom that first paralyzes and then liquefies bodies from the inside out. As the feds start to realize the magnitude of the problem, it appears that the solution will be left up to the preeminent experts on ant behavior, scientist Paul O’Keefe and his ex-wife Kendra. Her research in ant pheromones and the role of the queen seem to be the key to destroying these creatures by having them turn on each other. As the attacks on thousands of humans become overwhelming, military zealots favor nuking New York to save the world. That spurs the scientists into a race against time to locate the queen and preserve humanity. The characters may be predictably drawn, but the plentiful ant attack scenes and the sense of peril feel authentic. The strong infusion of science throughout keeps the story somewhat plausible. Share this one with teens who enjoy disaster thrillers or appreciate a science focus in their horror books.–Priscille Dando, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
BANKS, Iain. Stonemouth. 368p. Pegasus Crime. 2012. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9781605983820.
Adult/High School–One of the most powerful mob families in Scotland allows Stewart Gilmour to return to town just to attend a funeral. Even after five years, getting high and being caught cheating days before his wedding to mob princess Ellie Murston is hard for her father and brothers to forgive without punishment. Stu knows his few days of reprieve are a gift and he plans to play it safe, but tension builds as he reconnects and realizes that the events leading to his exile might not have been as straightforward as he’s believed. Flashbacks of childhood mishaps and the chronology of his first and only love keep this loosely built story of modern gangsters grounded. The story is more atmospheric than plot driven, and individual scenes punctuate the narrative with strong emotion; it is these episodes that will appeal to teens. Banks’s pointed dialogue can generate both unexpected humor and sudden menace–sometimes on the same page. However the most enthralling moments are in the slow building of a scene, such as the flashback of a children’s game that goes horrifyingly wrong or the unassuming conversation at a pub that evolves into a threat of violence toward an unlikely target. Graphic sex, drugs, and violence are counterbalanced by humor, some romance, and a sweet depiction of a lifelong adolescent friendship. Teens up for a slightly challenging read who have only been exposed to The Sopranos version of mob life will find this one worthwhile.–Priscille Dando, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
WAGMAN, Diana. The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets. 240p. Ig, dist. by Consortium. 2012. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9781935439646.
Adult/High School–This quirky combination of thriller and black comedy set in Los Angeles is told from multiple viewpoints. Winnie, despite being the daughter of an Oscar-winning actress and ex-wife of a popular game-show host, lives a modest life in a small bungalow in Echo Park, supporting herself and her 16-year-old daughter, Lacy, on her salary as a secretary. Oren is a 25-year-old neat-freak and carpet store employee, president of the Iguana Keeper’s Club, and proud owner of a seven-foot iguana named Cookie. Lacy has been having an online relationship with him, telling him that she is 18, that her mother treats her badly, and that the (nonexistent) chauffeur has tried to rape her. The novel takes place in one day, during which Oren kidnaps Winnie, thinking he will teach her to be nicer to Lacy. But Winnie doesn’t fulfill any of Oren’s expectations, and his big plans begin to unravel almost immediately, as Winnie surprises even herself with her ability to fight back and to understand Oren’s motivations. Meanwhile, Lacy is having her own adventure with a boy her own age. It all comes to a bloody but predictable end in Oren’s overheated house. Teens will enjoy this darkly absurd and fast-paced thriller that manages to poke fun at L.A. life while showing the psychological depths of its characters.–Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County Library, CA