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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

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Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Turning Angel, by Greg Iles

Started 7/27, finished 7/30

As I've indicated before, I really like Greg Iles. He's a role model for me in that he has the career path I want: he writes very good, very thoughtful prose, and in about as many different genres as you could imagine. I love his work, and I hope I'm allowed as much leeway with my agents and publishers.

Funny, at a book signing I asked him how he got such leeway when he was just starting out and wanted to get away from taut WWII suspense-thrillers. His answer? "I lied to my publisher, and it's a move I'd recommend anyone make when they aren't getting what they want."

Well it worked for him... and that's encouraging. He's going on an 11 year career of writing Stuff that Sells... and he's got me. He's no Rushdie or McEwan or Roth, but I'm not sure he's trying to be. I'm not sure he couldn't be if he tried. He has the freedom to be able to study and explore some of the most challenging issues of the real modern world, the ones that interest him personally. I admire this, and I think it adds a special dimension to each of the books that I've read (going on 5 of 10 at this point), because he really gets into them.

Turning Angel is about the fall of the All-American man. Dr. Drew Elliot is a former all-American football player: handsome, mid-40s, upper-middle class income, a promising career and a wonderful family. It all comes to an end one evening when he finds out that Kate, the 17-year-old girl he's been sleeping with for several months, has been murdered. Hijinks are thoughtfully considered and well described.

Penn Cage, the hero of the Quiet Game, is back as the narrator of this story. Iles once described Cage as his "Atticus Finch", someone so good and wholesome that he sometimes feels unrealistic, or even inappropriate in the world now. I think that's a rather sad view to take. Cage is bold, not afraid to break the rules when he has to, and his sense of morality is fundamental to who he is. I would like to consider that I'm the same way, or at least trying to be... the difference is that I'm not as smart as this guy, I'm not as good at thinking on my feet, and my current profession doesn't put me in a situation where I can save people's lives very often. In fact, I doubt it will ever happen, even in an indirect way. Cage is a good hero. He understands evil and temptation, so it's nice to see how he deals with them, but it's nicer that he's believable in my own personal universe.

I'm a slow reader, and in one day I read around 200 pages (this was just after kid #2 was born, so you can imagine how little time I had), a record only previously broken by a Harry Potter book. The mystery is a good one, and the way he tells it I just can't put it down. In retrospect (I finished it a few weeks ago), there are some weak points with the resolution and the solution to the mystery, and the plot takes a weird turn at one point that makes me think Iles just had this interesting puzzle in his head ("how to escape from an abandoned battery factory while forcibly hooked on heroin") that he wanted to have a character get out of. I can't blame him, and it worked very well for me during the moment, but I doubt it would win the book any awards.

As to the moral problems some had with the book, I think that's an interesting topic worthy of discussion. But Iles sorta stacked the deck in his favor: the girl is two weeks from her eighteenth birthday, with early acceptance to Harvard. For all practical purposes, he's made it very difficult for people to say he took advantage of this girl, who is so obviously (as described) mature beyond her years. I'm not saying it's right, but it reminded me of the only John Grisham I've read (the book that convinced me to read no more John Grisham), the Chamber, which is John Grisham's tirade against the death penalty. Grisham set the situation up so that it would be very difficult for even the most staunch death penalty advocate against the victim. The example was so extreme, it was highly dismissable... there was really no moral case at all.

Now, I'm not saying Iles is advocating relationships with underage girls, because that's not what he's going after. But along the way, he's trying to make you at least question your own views about the whole issue, and yet he uses this snake-bit case that would be difficult for anyone to argue against. Is it because he isn't ready to commit to confronting the issue? Well, probably. Like I said, that's not the fish he's trying to fry. He's essentially presenting us a keyhole view into the world of modern-day high school, where sexual relationships are every bit as complicated as those in the adult world. Drugs are everywhere, children have no illusions, they're much wiser at 17 than my generation was at 25, etc.

It opens a bit of conflict in my mind, because what little confrontation he does get into with the underage issue glosses over real abuses that happen every day, in much more difficult cases. Now, I can't hold him responsible for trying to take that whole mess head-on, because he's just trying to tell a little story. But I couldn't stop thinking about that one facet while I was reading.

So, all in all, another good Iles. Probably the weakest of his that I've read, but it's still better than any Grisham I've ever read :) . Even if he didn't cover the issues exactly like I would have, he told a good story and made me think.

Book #20 will be The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles (with apologies to MoorishGirl, who would probably prefer that I read something by a Moroccan author - fair enough... any suggestions?)

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