(Jump over to read a review of Beautiful Ruins)
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"Land of the Blind"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer AUG 22, 2003)
"Look, said the cop, I'm not sure what kind of detective you think is going to want to hear about you breaking into an empty building ---
The Loon interrupted the cop. Homicide, he said."
At first they only know him as the Loon, a man found in the Davenport Hotel, a historical landmark going under renovations. They would have let him go, usually, no harm done, but he insists that he wants to confess to a murder.
Caroline Mabry is the detective that he's handed over to, a thirty-seven year old who's been transferred to the swig shift, where all the burn outs and drunks end their days. She's too young to be here, and lives with an uncertainty about her future. She is drawn to the Loon, because he feels familiar, despite the fact that his hair is too long, and the patch he wears gives him a piratical look. This attraction reveals her state of mind, "When did she begin looking at suspects and derelicts (not bad looking; employable) as potential romances?"
He delivers a hand written confession over the next two days, a confession of the life he's lived that does not tell her who the murderer is so much as it tells of his story, the choices he'd made, and how it relates to Eli Boyle. The Loon, who we soon learn is named Clark Mason, is not a particularly bad person, but as many people do, he got caught up in the need to be accepted by the crowd in school, and so he was often dragged into doing some pretty nasty things to Eli, whose brace-encased legs and lack of personal hygiene made him a perfect target for bullies. Eli's and Clark's stories twist together, beyond high school. It is a strange, sad story, one that provides few clues for Caroline to follow as Clark writes it. But follow clues she does, as she tries to find the body that must be out there, somewhere in the city, waiting to be discovered.
The Land of the Blind...that is us, that is our world. Later in the book a character says that Clark has a hard time seeing what's right in front of his face, and it's true...true for him, as we, on the outside, often wince at the things he clearly does not see that are so obvious to us, and true for all of us. We are blind to the things that should be the most obvious, people's feelings, people's intentions, and to the true impact of our actions. When a person makes a confession, they are looking for absolution...Clark no less than all of us. We all want to be forgiven for the things we do...small, petty things that were just an accident, things that we do on purpose out of social self preservation...sins that are not just against the people who suffer for our actions, but are against our own soul. (When I say against our own soul, I mean, that we betray who we are, or who we would like to think we are.) Absolution would allow us to think that perhaps our vision of ourselves isn't so corrupt after all.
Clark is not the only one who seeks absolution...Caroline, does too, in a way. She hopes that by figuring out this increasingly complex case, that she will prove herself to be the detective she once was.
This book is a very honest read, laying the characters bare to their bones. There's a lot of interest in that we want to know who Clark killed...or, even, did he actually commit any crime? In the end, was his crime just murder, or something even more cruel? The mystery is strong, potent, but the ideas are what shine through, as we are all forced to, uncomfortably perhaps, place ourselves in the shoes of Clark, Caroline and Boyle, and maybe realize how blind we've been in our own lives.
- Amazon readers rating: from 29 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Over Tumbled Graves (2001)
- Land of the Blind (2003)
- Citizen Vince (2005)
- The Zero (2006)
- The Financial Lives of the Poets (2009)
- Beautiful Ruins (2012)
- We Live in Water: Stories (February 2013)
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- Official website for Jess Walter
- The Mystery Reader reviews Over Tumbled Graves
- Tangled Web review of Over Tumbled Graves
- Reading Guide for The Zero
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Financial Lives of the Poets
- MostlyFiction.com review of Beautiful Ruins
- MostlyFiction.com review of We Live in Water: Stories
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About the Author:
Jess Walter is coauthor of Christopher Darden's bestselling account of the O. J. Simpson trial, In Contempt. He has won national recognition for his reporting and writing, and his coverage of the Randy Weaver case helped the Spokane Spokesman-Review earn a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Walter lives in Spokane with his family.