September reads: Murder, travel, conspiracy and a carnival sideshow

This month's books include "The Excursion Train" by Edward Marston, "A Moveable Feast" by Ernest Hemingway, "The Osterman Weekend" by Robert Ludlum and "Freeks" by Minnesota author Amanda Hocking.

This month's books include "The Excursion Train" by Edward Marston, "A Moveable Feast" by Ernest Hemingway, "The Osterman Weekend" by Robert Ludlum and "Freeks" by Minnesota author Amanda Hocking. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

I branched out of my comfort zone yet again with three of the four books I read this past month, and came out of it with mixed results.

If I’ve learned anything through my reading this year, it’s that I’m a pretty big fan of eerie paranormal stories, and sometimes lesser-known authors will engage me much more than the big names.

September’s featured Minnesota writer is Austin-born Amanda Hocking.

‘The Excursion Train’ by Edward Marston

When a man is found murdered on a train bound for an illegal prizefight outside London, Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Robert Colbeck is the first man called, having made a name for himself as the Railway Detective.

Once the victim’s true identity is revealed, Colbeck and colleagues go into a tailspin connecting the murder to a previously solved crime with a verdict that still left some questions unanswered. Ominous death threats, uncooperative witnesses and contradicting accounts of events make for a tricky case and one Colbeck and his partner, Sgt. Victor Leeming, are keen to close sooner rather than later, as it quickly becomes apparent they, too, may be in danger.


When I picked this book up at a used book sale earlier this year, I had no idea it was actually the second in a series of mysteries with Colbeck as the main investigator. I don’t believe I was at much of a disadvantage not having read the first book — “The Railway Detective” — but I will likely hunt down a copy and read it at some point because I thoroughly enjoyed this story.

Those who have been reading my columns know Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors, and “The Excursion Train” gave me definite Christie vibes.

Edward Marston is a pseudonym used by Keith Miles, a Welsh writer of historical fiction, mystery, children’s books, radio and television dramas and stage plays.

‘A Moveable Feast’ by Ernest Hemingway

I have a love/hate relationship with Hemingway.

I struggled through “The Sun Also Rises” a few years ago but absolutely loved “The Old Man and the Sea.” So when I happened upon a cheap copy of “A Moveable Feast” at a recent library book sale, I decided to give old Hemingway another try. But after this book, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that a majority of his writing just isn’t for me.

I can appreciate — to an extent — his storytelling capabilities, but it’s mostly the style that gets me. The long, drawn-out sentences with little-to-no punctuation are difficult for me to find engaging.

“A Moveable Feast” tells the story of Hemingway’s early years in Paris, when he’s working as a correspondent for the Toronto Star and trying to get his literary career off the ground. The book is essentially a compilation of snippets of Hemingway’s time in Paris, struggling to make ends meet but engaging with the biggest names in the literary world at the time — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, to name a few.

While I did enjoy reading about his conversations with Stein and escapades with Fitzgerald, Hemingway never quite reeled me in with this one. I understand what he was going for, showing the reality of day-to-day life and how Paris was different for everyone who lived there and gave each person no more or no less than what they put into it. And while Hemingway seems like someone with whom I would have loved to sit down and have a beer, I’m not sure I’ll be reading more of his work anytime soon.


But then again, perhaps “A Moveable Feast” made me think too much of my own weekend in Paris, full of bird poop, miserable weather and public restrooms with sticky door locks.

‘The Osterman Weekend’ by Robert Ludlum

As I expand my reading horizons this year, I’m trying to add in works by famous writers who I haven’t read before. Robert Ludlum is one of those authors whose books can always easily be found at used bookstores and library book sales. While I would have liked to find a copy of “The Bourne Identity,” the first in Ludlum’s famed Jason Bourne series, that proved difficult, so I picked a Ludlum book at random last time I was shopping and ended up with “The Osterman Weekend.”

News director John Tanner is astounded when a CIA agent tells him his six best friends are involved in a Soviet-led conspiracy called Omega that could cause the financial collapse of the entire United States. Tanner isn’t sure what to believe but knows he must put on a happy face during the weekend get-together he has planned with his wife and friends. His first task, though, is keeping his family safe in the week leading up to what the agent told him will be the exposure and end of Omega.

There was a lot going on in the first few chapters of this book, and I had a little bit of a hard time focusing on what all was happening, but the last 100 or so pages kept me glued to the book and sped by rather quickly.

I’m glad I branched out into the thriller/spy fiction genre and got a taste of Robert Ludlum’s works, but I don’t think it’s quite the genre for me.

‘Freeks’ by Amanda Hocking

This month’s featured Minnesota author is Amanda Hocking, who was born and raised in Austin. Hocking is a self-published writer turned bestselling author known for her paranormal young adult novels, like the “Trylle Trilogy.”

While she has written quite a few series, I decided to go for one of her stand-alone books, as I’m almost certain I would get swept up in a series and not be able to read anything else for a while. So I chose “Freeks,” which turned out to be a good decision.

As I’ve been searching out Minnesota authors this year, one thing I’ve really enjoyed is finding books I probably otherwise would not have read. I wouldn’t normally gravitate toward a paranormal story about carnival workers who have special abilities, but it ended up being a great read.


“Freeks” follows 18-year-old Mara Beznik, who travels with her necromancer mom and a carnival sideshow full of people with abilities like pyrokinesis, fortune telling and superhuman strength. When the gang lands in the small town of Caudry, Louisiana, something seems amiss. Even Mara, who doesn’t boast any special talents, feels a strange energy. And things get even stranger when she meets handsome young Gabe Alvarado, a townie — as the carnival workers refer to the locals — who captures her heart but is obviously hiding something behind his beautiful golden eyes.

As darkness falls on the carnival campsite each night, whatever weird energy the group is feeling manifests itself into a shadowy being that wreaks havoc on its surroundings. But after falling on hard times, the carnival workers need to finish out the week specified in their contract so they can get paid. But will the threatening figure be too much for Mara and her family? Does whatever Gabe’s hiding have anything to do with it? And, most importantly, will everyone get out alive?

I lost all sense of time while reading “Freeks.” Knowing something new and probably sinister was around every corner had me turn the pages almost faster than I could read.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

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Theresa Bourke

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Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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