With the Middle East consistently in the headlines, fiction as well as non-fiction serves to educate us. “The Girl in Green, a Novel,” by Derek B. Miller instructs but also entertains, largely because of its main characters, the proverbial odd couple, a staid English journalist with The New York Times and an American soldier who acts flippant, even in the face of torture and death.
Thomas Benton, the Brit, and Arwood Hobbs, a private, initially meet in 1991, just after Desert Storm, in an isolated area 100 miles from the Kuwaiti border.
Benton badly needs a story and is on his way to a village to interview Iranians dealing with the horrors of war they continue to contend with — warring factions and Saddam Hussein — this as the United States finalizes paperwork following the ceasefire.
Bored with sitting in the desert with his rifle, off-the-wall Hobbs asks Benton to buy him an ice cream when he’s in the village, then worries that Hobbs is in danger and rushes to his aid, deserting his post, an infraction that leads to a dishonorable discharge. This is nothing compared to the anguish Hobbs feels when a young Iranian girl dressed in green, who Benton is trying to help, dies in Hobbs’ arms.
The tragedy dogs him for two decades, unproductive years when Hobbs drinks too much and goes from job to job, eventually trading in guns. Though he tries to forget the young girl in Iran, he can’t, and when he sees a Syrian girl who looks like her on a newscast, he can’t let it go. He’s sure the girl in green he thought was dead, is alive, and he tracks down Benton to accompany him back to the Middle East to rescue her.
Hobbs’ timing couldn’t have been better — Benton’s marriage is on the skids and though he believes Hobbs is going on a wild goose chase he agrees to the mission.
It takes a bit to break into “The Girl in Green” but give yourself over to the novel and it will reward you with excellent writing, delivering a touching, timeless tale of humanitarianism.
Reflection tinged with quirkiness and regret permeate the psyche of an aged, yet lively, former advertising whiz out for a walk on New Year’s Eve, 1984. Stroll along with 83-year-old Lillian, and you’ll be privy to her struggles, and the wisdom she’s gained, in “Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk,” an introspective novel by Kathleen Rooney.
Readers meet Lillian in New York City on Dec. 31, as she talks by phone with her son Gian, now in his early 40s with children of his own. Gian calls to tell Lillian that his stepmother is dying. The news doesn’t faze Lillian, who remains cool to the woman her husband Max had an affair with, the final blow to Lillian and Max’s marriage years earlier.
Gian continues the conversation urging Lillian to take care in the city, a teeming metropolis she adores, but which he feels isn’t safe for her any longer, especially at her age. Lillian won’t leave the city where she worked for years at Macy’s attaining the pinnacle of success in advertising, unheard of during an era when women took the backseat to their male counterparts.
Lillian made a name for herself at Macy’s because of her talent for writing clever, funny copy, humorous poems to sell the store’s products. She reflects on her career, her courtship, marriage and the birth of her son, as she takes a walk she’s made for 20 years, stopping at her favorite haunts. Bits and pieces of her life are revealed, the book becoming more addictive with each chapter.
Lillian’s story is set against the backdrop of a city she loves, the role of women changing through the years, her husband off to serve in World War II, returning different, the first chink in their marriage. Other problems erupt, and Lillian suffers mightily, yet remains a survivor, a woman you’ll enjoy getting to know, and one guaranteed to make you stop and think.
In the author’s notes, Rooney, also a poet, writes that her book was partially inspired “by the life and work of the poet and ad woman Margaret Fishback, herself, the real highest-paid female advertising copywriter in the world during the 1930s, thanks to her brilliant work for R.H. Macy’s.”
There are enough red herring in “Fatal,” by John Lescroart, to fill a rowboat, but the who-dun-it is surprising throughout. Set in San Francisco, the thriller begins with two old friends meeting for a walk in a scenario that will snag readers from the get-go.
Kate Jameson, an uncommonly beautiful wife and mother, confesses to her girlfriend, Beth Tully, a police officer, that she’s met a man at a friend’s get together that she can’t get out of her head. Kate’s fantasy alarms Beth, and she cautions Kate against acting on her obsession. Beth has seen how damaging these liaisons can be — hurting others and sometimes leading to violence.
Of course Kate doesn’t heed Beth’s advice; she tracks down Peter Ash, a lawyer, and boldly arranges a meeting with him under the pretext of needing legal assistance. Though Peter’s happily married with children, he’s bored with his job and his life, and agrees to see her, quickly succumbing to Kate’s looks and charm. Their affair sets into motion a series of events that lead to three murders, the first being Peter’s, his body washing up on the shore six months after his encounter with Kate.
Beth and her partner Ike are assigned to the case, and so begins the introduction of myriad characters and events, including a terrorist attack in which Beth and Kate are injured.
There’s a lot going on in this mystery, at times a bit too much, everything from eating disorders to gun control. Rather than trying to keep all the characters straight in print, I chose the audio narrated by Jacques Roy, and found the recording entertaining.
Books suggested in “Novel Ideas” can be checked out at Washington Public Library.