Monday, January 24, 2011

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

It's the near future and genetic diseases are being cured by modern medicine. Most people with a genetic disorder will be corrected before birth, while the rest will receive treatment while infants. For one generation, however, the new treatments came too late, having been born after the new techniques arose.

Lou Arrendale is a member of this lost generation. A high-functioning autistic man, he works for a pharmaceutical company while living a carefully structured life (grocery shopping on Tuesday; fencing class on Wednesday; laundry on Friday). This calm life is soon shaken, however, by a series of events at work and in his personal life. First, there is a new treatment that promises to reverse his autism and turn him into a "normal" person. Then he has to deal with Mr. Crenshaw, his power-hungry and mean-spirited boss who wants to eliminate the special privileges that the autistic employees enjoy at work as a cost-saving measure. And then there is the series of attacks that are launched against his car, as his tires are first slashed, then his window broken, and finally an explosive put in his motor.

As Lou tries to figure out who wants to hurt him (and why), he imagines what will happen to him if he undergoes the new treatment. If the procedure is successful, will the new, non-autistic Lou be a different person, and will he still like his friends from fencing class, especially Marjory, the women he has fallen in love with?

I discovered this book while browsing in my local library, so I was not familiar with the writings of Elizabeth Moon. After finishing this impressive work, however, I definitely plan to read more of her books. With great skill and love, Moon is able to switch from the first-person perspective of an autistic person, to the voice of a "normal" character. In this transition, the reader gets the sense that they are viewing the world through a different set of eyes (one pair autistic; the other "normal"), and in the process acquiring a better understanding of what it means to perceive the world, and also what it means to be an individual, with a unique set of thoughts and emotions.

4 of 5 stars

Mr. Paradise by Elmore Leonard

Roommates Chlöe and Kelly are loving life in their posh apartment in downtown Detroit. Young and flush with cash, Kelly is a Victoria's Secret model, while Chlöe (a former escort who used to make as much as $900 an hour after appearing in a Playboy spread) is now earning $5,000 a week to be the girlfriend of an elderly, retired lawyer named Mr. Paradiso, who likes to be referred to as Mr. Paradise.

One night, Chlöe invites Kelly over to Mr. Paradiso's home so they can perform the old man's favourite routine: Doing dirty cheers by the side of the television while he watches University of Michigan football games. Suddenly, a coin flip leads to Chlöe and the old man being alone downstairs, while Kelly and Montez (an ex-con who has worked for Mr. Paradise for the past 10-years) go upstairs in the house. When two armed men invade the home and kill Chlöe and Mr. Paradise, the police are led to believe by Montez that Kelly is actually Chlöe.

Set over the span of a week, the story revolves around the investigation of Det. Delsa, an honest, friendly cop whose wife, who was also a cop, recently died. While piecing together why Montez lied to him, Delsa falls for Kelly / Chlöe, while meeting such characters as Lloyd, Mr. Paradise's house servant, and Tony Jr., the old man's son.

For Elmore Leonard fans, this enjoyable novel contains many of his trademarks: fast-paced dialogue, a colourful set of personalities, and a brilliant detective novel that makes you feel as if you have been transported down to street level to watch the cops chase down the robbers. If you are a mystery fan, or simply want to enjoy a fun read on a Sunday afternoon, then this book is well worth the read.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars