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Voices by Arnaldur Indridason. St. Martins Press 2003. 313 pp.

The country is Iceland, the city is Reykjavik, and the setting is at the Reykjavik Hotel. It is shortly before Christmas and Gudlaugur (Gulli), the man who is about to be Santa Claus for the hotel’s children’s Christmas party, is found dead.

When he did not show up for the party, a young hotel maid was sent to his room and found him not only dead, but additionally what was a rather disturbing scene. The police were called, and the manager’s reaction was not concern for Gulli, but that the police be very discreet, so the hotel Christmas festivities could go on as usual.

Years before, Gulli had been a doorman, then a caretaker for the hotel and also was the Santa every year. He was living in a very small room in the basement of the hotel that didn’t have much in it except very basic furnishings. He had been there for a long time, but kept to himself, and no one seemed to know much about him.

With a lot of digging, the police detectives found that as a young boy he had had an amazing voice, gave concerts and made recordings; then his voice changed and he could no longer sing. At this point the trail ended and the rest of the story is trying to pick up the trail again and find out what had happened in his life that would have caused someone to murder him.

It’s an intriguing story and the police detectives are rather likable and have their own stories. But even though it’s set in the Christmas season, it’s not one you would read to give you a Christmas feeling.                        –C.M.

The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd. Harper Collins 1977. 294 pp.

This book tells the story of a young woman named Mary Mackenzie, who grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland. It begins when she is twenty and traveling on board a ship on the way to China, where she will marry Richard, a British army officer. This section of the book is told in the letters she writes home to her mother in Scotland, describing everything that happens as the ship travels along.

Richard meets her at the harbor in Tientsin and from there they take a train to Peking, where he is stationed. Soon they are married, but this marriage is a disappointment; Richard is a cold person. Mary does have a baby, a little girl. But later Mary is attracted to a Japanese nobleman and they have an affair. When Richard finds out, he leaves her and takes away the baby. Mary will not see the child for many years.

How Mary survives in China is a story in itself. She learns to speak Chinese well and develops a small business of her own. Later she will be living in Japan. The story covers forty years with two world wars and a terrible earthquake. This is a book you can’t put down.            –P.M.

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