The Man Who Snapped His Fingers
By Fariba Hachtroudi, translated from the French by Alison Anderson. (Europa Editions, 133 pages, $15.)


This prizewinning Iranian-French author tells a gritty and arresting tale of a woman held in a military prison in an unnamed theological republic who is brutally tortured but refuses to give up the man she loves. She is spared a dehumanizing end only when a high-ranking colonel stops the assault with a snap of his fingers — an act he makes for selfish reasons we’ll come to understand.

Their paths cross later in the free world and the pair begin a perplexing relationship. They share flashbacks, told in their two alternating voices, which Fariba Hachtroudi writes in a frenetic and exhausting style. We are led through a gantlet of politics, ambition, romance and the drama of trying to find beauty in such a flawed world.

The story leaves us chilled by the tyrannical culture that created this macabre bond. But at the end, it’s just as much a tale of the capacity to love.

GINNY GREENE, copy editor


Morgue: A Life in Death
By Vincent Di Maio. (St. Martin’s Press, 258 pages, $26.99.)


Experts are cool. They sort out confusion, bring clarity to chaos, certainty to doubt — depending, of course, upon the expert. In most trials, both the defense and the prosecution employ them. So it’s fascinating to read Vincent Di Maio’s accounts of forensic whodunits throughout his career as a pathologist of international renown. In the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, often reduced to “boy with Skittles” and “neighborhood vigilante,” his examination of ballistics evidence made it clear who was on the defensive at the time of the shooting, although, he adds with some sorrow, “they both saw each other as a threat.”

Di Maio has had a ringside seat to history. He was part of the team that exhumed the body of Lee Harvey Oswald, looked into Vincent Van Gogh’s suicide, examined bits of flesh in the search for H. Rap Brown. He’s solved mass murders that most people have never heard of, such as the case of Genene Jones, a pediatric nurse who may have killed nearly 60 babies over a period of years. In his expert eyes, the final conclusions seem made-for-TV straightforward. But in laudably dispassionate language, he offers a glimpse into the confounding and curious ways in which death can arrive, in the puzzles it presents and, ultimately, how evidence lives forever.

KIM ODE, staff writer