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A Crime Novel

By Joseph Olshan

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  • Published in USA  Apr 2012,
    304 pages.

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There are currently 34 reader reviews for Cloudland
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Marilyn Johnson (05/18/13)

Elegant? Haunting? Gripping?
I would like to say that I loved this book, that it was elegant, haunting, and gripping, as I saw it described on the back cover, but disappointingly, it was none of those, and I didn't.

I love language and words, and I was impressed with some of the author's "turns of phrase." I also loved the main character's love of books. The writing was descriptive, and I got a good picture of Vermont. However, I had to re-read sentences, thinking, "Was that really a sentence?" or "Why doesn't he (the author) learn to use semicolons correctly and sparsely?" I am an English teacher and still think punctuation matters, that sentences must have subjects and verbs, and that if one uses a word, it should be the appropriate word or used correctly--all this to avoid ambiguity and confusion. This story was not believable to me nor was it well -constructed. I had to re-read and dig way too hard to understand the twists because it was not clearly written. The characters were not only flat and wooden, but most were downright nasty and unlikeable.

I expected more from Catherine Winslow, the journalist/college professor and lover of literature turned household columnist and teacher of convicts. Her language ran the gamut from lofty and erudite to vulgar, including the out-of-character "F" word, and her life was a train wreck. Talk about poor choices, but especially Matthew, her lying, crying, 15-year-old, younger lover! There was also Breck, Catherine's daughter, snotty and snide; Anthony, the psychiatrist whose head was severely concussed but who wouldn't go to the hospital; and the knacker, sweet and pathetic under all the blood, sweat, and bad smell.

The author really missed the boat with the prisoners Catherine taught, had he developed their colorful personalities carefully and thoroughly. I leave the best (or the worst) for last. Does anyone really want to read about the toilet habits of the 250-pound pot-bellied pig, Henrietta, who had her own special "P spot," a grate in the kitchen floor where she urinated as guests watched? I say yuk. I wrote this in past tense because I'm happy it is in my past. I do not recommend this book.
Suzanne Z. (Highland Park, Illinois) (04/17/12)

Flying in the Clouds
The mystery plot for about a third of the book was somewhat confusing but did evolve to be somewhat clever, the setting chilling but the characters were boring. The main character's love affair with a younger man was always teasing the reader. Actually I didn't really care about the characters though the twist at the end gave the book a boost.
Dorothy T. (04/10/12)

More than an ordinary crime novel
I liked this book for a number of reasons: It is a mystery that let me think I had the answers to who and why--but, then again, maybe not; it sparked my interest to read more by Wilkie Collins (I love it when one author turns me on to other writers!); the characters are engaging and well-written, especially Henrietta the pot-bellied pet pig; and the prose is much more literary than the run-of-the-mill crime novel—although, as is often my complaint when reading contemporary fiction, I don’t see the need for the vulgar language.
Mary L. (Madison, MS) (04/04/12)

I agree with most the the other reviews. I struggled to complete this novel. I often had to go back to sections to understand what was happening or to remember who the character was. Sorry! It had good potiential.
Kelly H. (Chagrin Falls, OH) (04/03/12)

A mysterious mystery
"Cloudland" has all the ingredients for a terrific murder mystery. The ingredients, however, do not mix well. The storyline has the potential to be terrific. Instead, it merely average due, in large part, to poorly-developed, flat characters. Very few of the characters It is necessary to re-read sections of a number of the chapters because a number of the characters are fungible. As an avid reader of psychological thrillers, I expected subtle clues sprinkled randomly throughout the story to throw the reader off course and to make the reader want more.
Zonetta G. (Winter Springs, FL) (04/02/12)

The characters in this book come to life and become the reader's friends and neighbors. All of them, from Nan, the clairvoyant, to Hiram, the knacker, to Henrietta, Catherine's pet pig, are intriguing. The book rides on Olshan's descriptions of winter in Cloudland and the murders that occur and the personalities involved--a real page turner. I'll definitely read more of his books.
Deborah D. (Newark, CA) (03/31/12)

Superficial characters; implausible plot
I wanted to love this book, but found myself putting it down several times before finishing it. Joseph Olshan does set the scenes well. Having been brought up in snow country, I could feel to cold of many winters in his description of Vermont. His prose elevates the book beyond what is expected of the average "pot boiler," however, the plot is thin and rather disjointed. I found the characters superficially drawn and the end to be implausible This was not a page-turner, but a rather cumbersome attempt to rise to the level of a psychological thriller.
Therese X. (Calera, AL) (03/29/12)

Cloudland becomes a dangerous place
Narrator Catherine Winslow, former journalist and adjunct professor, now writes a Household Hints column, after testing suggestions from her readers. She lives alone with her two dogs and a 250 pound potbellied pig named Henrietta, in Cloudland, New England, where only three other people live nearby. On a trek through the snow one day in March, she sees a woman lying against a tree, dead. Stabbed. The crisp, winter countryside of Cloudland now held a brutal secret: a serial killer has returned to the area. The dead woman, Angela Parker, was found in an apple orchard, with religious tracts in her pockets although her husband claimed she was an atheist. Previous murders had had the same style of slaughter: women, stabbed after being strangled, killed near a fallen tree, tracts from the Seventh Day Adventists in their pockets.

This reminds Catherine of an unfinished novel of one of her favorite writers, Wilkie Collins--The Widower's Branch-- which sends her on her own trail of inquiry. When the news breaks that Catherine found the body, she worries someone might find her in the sparsely populated area. Yet, she has faced other fears in her life. Her involvement with a former student Matthew Blake in her professor days, resulted in her job loss and a violent breakup after the obsessed Michael who could not face losing Catherine, placed his hands around her neck, nearly strangling her. She did not report it; she loved him. He then left the country. Her current volunteer work teaching writing to prisoners shows her the violent side of youthful humanity, but she seems to take it all in stride.

Accepting possibly dangerous people keeps the reader wondering how brave she really is. Catherine is a strong character in some ways, as when she wants to inject her own theories and findings into the investigation, but heedless of any danger when her former lover returns to Cloudland and becomes a possible murder suspect. The reader may want to like Catherine, but some of her actions seem a bit naive considering her previous experiences. As the State police investigate possible suspects, a new murder occurs, with a different style. Tension rises, suspects change, and eventually the killer is unmasked after a deathless encounter.

This is an engaging mystery novel. Interesting characters and amusing household hints make this a good read for a nice, long weekend. Pulling the readers’ emotions back and forth with lyrical writing interspersed with brutal descriptions of life and even of nature keep the reader trying to balance emotions as if on a rocky boat anchored in the harbor.

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