- February 2, 2012
Snapshots showcases short reviews of recently published fiction and non-fiction.
Four books about deception and human nature–for pleasure and excitement in the three mysteries and thrillers described below, and for insight and information in scientist Robert Triver’s non-fiction study of the folly of fools. Have fun!
THE HOUSE AT SEA’S END
by Elly Griffiths
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
What joy to return to the north Norfolk coast and the company of resourceful, competent, conflicted and overweight Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist and single mother stressed with the demands of wanting to be the best mother she can be while excelling in the job she loves. Her fierce independence, her doubts about her life choices, her weathering the censure of family and friends, and acceptance of oddness in herself and others make her story a wonderful read even before you get to the murders and there are many, both past and present. The sea beats against the sandstone cliffs, undermining the “grey stone house, faintly gothic in style, with battlements and a curved tower facing out to the sea” – Sea’s End House. Chance and erosion have revealed six buried skeletons with bullets to the back of the head, hands bound behind them. The unexpected exposure of these World War II corpses uncovers passions, blood oaths and old secrets that result in three present-day deaths and a thwarted fourth. Also of great pleasure is “the archaeology, the painstaking sifting of evidence, the age-old puzzles of bones and soil, the delight in discovery.”
THE INQUISITOR: A Novel
by Mark Allen Smith
Henry Holt and Company
Who would have thought that a book about torture and betrayal could be so much fun? Geiger, our hero torturer, calls his profession Information Retrieval. And information retrieval is the theme of the book, those who betray to get information, those who betray to release information, and those who are paid to dig out secrets. Known as The Inquisitor for his refined and almost bloodless techniques, Geiger always gets the truth, even as he is searches for the truth of himself aided by his very own paid information retrievalist, his psychologist. His foil, the psychotic Dalton, enjoys sawing off a man’s lips to make him talk. Geiger’s refusal to torture a child drives the plot toward the explosive meeting of Geiger and Dalton, and the unfolding of an intricate story that involves betrayals of fathers and sons, friendship, loyalty, and patriotism. The detailed and believable plotting of the first two thirds of the book are abandoned in Part 3 for action that reads like a script outline placed against the literal fireworks of the fourth of July. But by this time, we’re hooked and the author sets the stage for a sequel.
THE FACE THIEF: A Novel
by Eli Gottlieb
She’s as bad as she can be, a sociopath’s sociopath, a woman with as many names as she has victims. Her desire, stronger than sex, ruins men, destroys what they want and love. Even the policeman investigating her finds her irresistible. She reads faces and uses this skill to manipulate. “She did Shock at him, seasoned with a touch of openmouthed Horror.” The two victims, middle-aged men, fall hard for her tricks. Independently they plot revenge. Only one succeeds, merely momentarily, only to be hoisted with his own petard. The other, tricked by his own goodness and guilt, makes an idiot out of himself. If you like your women evil and your men fools, then welcome to this particular suspension of disbelief.
THE FOLLY OF FOOLS: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life
by Robert Trivers
You may think that orchids are beautiful, but did you also know that they are sneaky things that emit false odors to lure bees for their pollen? And did you know that some male fish pretend they are female in order to swim closer to the females’ eggs and fertilize them? You must know that human beings are capable of deceit. But the extent to which the entire planet is rife with duplicity is the subject of The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life. Here, scientist Robert Trivers explains the evolutionary reasons for self-deception, demonstrates its wide use among the planet’s various species and uncovers both its benefits and disastrous outcomes – especially when they involve the human species.
Trivers’ central argument is that “[W]e deceive ourselves the better to deceive others.” At times, self-deception and deceit serve as advantageous tools for survival and reproduction and have even been major forces in the evolution of intelligence as competing sides adapt strategies to gain benefit over the other. But, too often, untruths and unconsciousness lead to mortal accidents, economic fallout, unjust wars, and false historical narratives.
Trivers broadly outlines the book and summarizes his argument in the preface and first chapter. He then encourages readers to freely sample the remaining chapters, which cover such topics as self-deception and deceit in nature; the family; sexual relationships; immunology; psychology; religion, and war. The cleverly edited chapters reference one another.