Tag: racism

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

Posted July 3, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime / 0 Comments

Cop Town by Karin SlaughterTitle: Cop Town (Goodreads)
, 2014
Pages: 416
Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Karin Slaughter is a prolific crime writer whose novels mainly are in the Will Trent or Grant County series. She is a writer I never thought about picking up, mainly because I avoid bestseller crime novels (they are too formulaic) and I don’t like the idea of starting a series that already has so many novels to catch up on. Can you imagine trying to catch up on something like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone (currently on book 23) series? When I saw that Cop Town was a new standalone novel by Slaughter, I knew this was my chance to try her without making a huge investment.

Cop Town is a police procedural focusing on two female officers working for the Atlanta PD in 1974. Kate Murphy is a beautiful new recruit that comes from a wealthy family; she is determined to make it on her own. Maggie Lawson is a hardened no-nonsense type officer from a cop family that has been on the force for a while now. Right off the bat you can pretty much guess the themes within this book; sexism, racism, police corruption/brutality and that is before even understanding what type of crime is involved in the book. However, the central mystery within this novel revolves around the search for a cop killer, but for me this plot took a backseat to the themes.

I feel like Cop Town mainly focused on the gender imbalance in society, though set in 1974 the reader can still see just how far we have come toward sexual equality (not far at all). I want to focus on two little incidences that happen in the book that highlight this and don’t give away any spoilers. Firstly there was an incident in the novel were Kate was basically told by a married man that ‘wives are for babies and women like you are for fun’. Lines like that are not just a feminist issue but it also shows a fundamental flaw in our social thinking. The idea that sexual satisfaction can’t happen in a marriage is still a very real problem nowadays and too often portrayed in the media.

The second issue involved Maggie, with a cop killer on the loose her uncle forcefully asks her to quit the force to keep safe. This scene made me think that the biggest risk to Maggie’s safety was her family more than the cop killer. The idea of wanting a woman to quit the force while you plan to remain and do something about this issue is problematic and raises many questions about equality. I’m not going to go into too much detail about my thoughts with these two scenes but I thought it would be nice to just highlight what this book is dealing with while avoiding spoilers.

Normally when I read a crime novel, I read it for plot and I tend to stick to the ones that dive into the dark and twisted. The exception is obviously hard-boiled and noir but I will admit that even if Cop Town doesn’t fit my preferences in crime novels I was glad to read it. The themes that this novel explores made this both an enjoyable and compelling read, even if I didn’t think much of the plot. Can’t say I will revisit Karin Slaughter again, however if another standalone novel offers a similar experience I may reconsider.

The Yellow Papers by Dominique Wilson

Posted April 10, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

The Yellow Papers by Dominique WilsonTitle: The Yellow Papers (Goodreads)
Author: Dominique Wilson
Published: Transit Lounge, 2014
Pages: 348
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In an effort to learn the secrets of the West, China sent a group of boys to America to be educated. This was following their defeat in the two Opium Wars in 1872. Seven-year-old Chen Mu was one of the boys sent to America; but at nine he fled to Umberumberka, a mining town in outback Australia. The Yellow Papers is a story of love, obsession and friendship set against a backdrop of war and racial prejudice.

The title refers to a Chinese tradition of determining a soul is at rest; this involves a priest determining if the death fell on a lucky day or not as well as performing some rituals. I couldn’t find much information about this process but the book suggests that the family is given yellow papers to indicate the soul is at rest. Also it may be interesting to note that the colour yellow is considered lucky in Chinese culture but Westerners use it as a racial slur. You might think this information would be useful and paid a big part in the novel, especially when it comes to tackling racism, but it doesn’t.

One of my major gripes with the novel is the fact that it attempts to look at a subject but ends up just glossing over it. The Yellow Papers tries to be a big sweeping historical epic but compact into 300 pages. This means that there are huge gaps that we have to fill in for ourselves and while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing it does detach the reader from the novel. The novel could go into detail about racism, culture clashing, even the Opium Wars but this book avoids dealing with these subjects in great detail.

While The Yellow Papers is essentially the story of Chen Mu, this book is broken into three parts that shifts into different focalisation.  Chen Mu, Edward and Ming Li are the primary focus on the three parts. While Chen Mu is not a well-developed character by any count, Edward and Ming Li’s development fell flat. Both characters are two dimensional with no real indication on personality or motivation. This causes The Yellow Papers to start off well but plateaued out a third of the way through the novel.

There is some beauty within the text; some of the syntax reviews great imagery. While Dominique Wilson never really gives us much to do with scenery, the discourse is often very revealing. “Since that evening the thought that she could not love him had festered like a cancer in his belly.” This sentence hit me pretty hard; the idea of not being love and cancer being used in the same sentence, an idea that suggests being unloved is both unwanted and weighed heavily on him. Sentences like this are found throughout the novel and what saved this book from abandonment.

I wasn’t happy with The Yellow Papers at all and while I see some beauty in Dominique Wilson’s writing, I think she needed to flesh this one out a lot more. It is her first novel and I’m sure she learnt from writing it; her next novel will really determine my opinion of her style. As I’ve said, I found beauty in the syntax, enough to try her again.

Murder in Mississippi by John Safran

Posted October 14, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Murder in Mississippi by John SafranTitle: Murder in Mississippi (Goodreads)
Author: John Safran
Published: Penguin, 2013
Pages: 304
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

Buy: Book Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When John Safran was filming Race Relations he was going to include a segment where he announced at The Spirit of America Awards that Mississippi’s most notorious white supremacists Richard Barrett has an African heritage. This was no stretch as all bloodlines will eventually lead back to an African ancestor but the threat of legal action meant it was never aired. A year later this white supremacist was murdered and the killer African American. Safran heads back to Mississippi to find out just what happened.

I’ve been a fan of John Safran’s documentary series l highly recommend John Safran Verse God if you have never experienced his style. He is not afraid to push the boundaries and his mind works in an interesting way. This makes for great documentaries that are funny, entertaining, informative and will leave you thinking. So when I found out he wrote a true crime book, I needed to read it.

This isn’t just a standard true crime book either, this is part memoir. You get to learn about what happened to Richard Barrett and befriending the accused, but you get to read about Safran’s journey too. From the filming of the segment to deciding to write this book you will follow John Safran as he learns what happens and tries to work out how to write a True Crime book.

Written in the style that John Safran’s documentaries follows, Murder in Mississippi is part true crime and part memoir. I enjoyed the memoir side more than learning about the crime, I liked following Safran’s train of thought as he tried to work out the best way to approach the research and execution of the book.

John Safran’s writing style is a little weak but I didn’t expect a masterpiece for a first book. Hiss style feels more visual focused and might have worked better as a documentary but I still enjoyed the read. The journey is fascinating and Safran’s unique style was what made the book work.  Fans of documentaries, John Safran or true crime, I think you might enjoy this one as well.