Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Kathy Reichs: Cross Bones

I am a huge fan of Ms Reichs' novels. I just love her heroine Temperance Brennan, I love the snappy dialogue between her and Andrew Ryan, I love the sciency bits, I love that I now know what a forensic anthropologist is... I love them so much that I overlook the sometimes annoying habit of pointing out that people speak French in Montréal, the occasional deus ex machina plotlines... They are well-crafted, enjoyable crime novels. Muchly recommended. And the spin-off telly series is starting here in April, I'll have to check it out.

This one takes our heroine Temperance Brennan abroad, to Israel, which is a new move. She and Andrew Ryan are investigating a murder, in which the motive may or not be an ancient skeleton which may or may not have been found at Masada. Once in Israel they get caught up in what appears to be a massive conspiracy to cover up historical facts; but as usual in a Reichs' novel simpler explanations prevail in the end.

Having been to Israel and Palestine I thoroughly enjoyed her descriptions of the country. I too was overwhelmed at the beauty and historical presence of the place. I can see why we fight over it. Ms Reichs does not fall for the temptation to write her books as travel guides. She mentions what is necessary, a refreshing attitude. I like to see that other people have noticed what I noticed there; how strange it is that every person in authority you meet appears to be barely twenty, how humourless the Israelis seem (so odd to us who grew up with Mel Brooks, Seinfeld, Woody Allen etc. - one is far less surprised if an Arab is humourless, considering), how normal it quickly becomes that there are road blocks everywhere and people with machine guns. I was thrilled when my mind's eye can picture the places she mentions: The American Hostel, hey, I've been there! Not inside, but my airport taxi stopped there to pick up some passengers. Hey, Tempe's friend Jake lives in Beit Hanina, I've totally been there! Wow. I get the food, I get the descriptions of buildings.

A good book, on the whole, even though I'm never a fan of the "Jesus never rose" speculative novels - it's been done, is my general feeling. But it was done rather nicely here.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

In The Company of Cheerful Ladies

By Rra McCall Smith, of course.

God I just love this series. I know I go on and on about this... but it's true. They're so full of life and charm.

This one is a little bit darker than the ones I've read previously. For example, Mma Ramotswe and Mr J.L.B. Matekoni go to church with their children, and the minister asks them all to pray for everyone who is dead or dying of AIDS. The name of the disease is never spoken outright in the books, but we all know what they're talking about. We join in the grief. And Mma Ramotswe's first husband, the abusive and cruel musician Note turns up again and tries to blackmail her. It is quite sad.

There are many people cleverer than I who have reviewed these books and who can explain better why they are so appealing. Maybe it all boils down to this; that we would all like a Mma Ramotswe on our side. To teach us about decency, honesty, humanity. Not that she is perfect, not really. She's just a nice person. What people should be.

Friday, March 17, 2006

2 x Sara Paretsky

Was very happy to find two early Paretsky novels at the library. I have read several of hers, but I did feel I had missed out on some background since the first ones have been unavailable. I think I'm going to have to do a more thorough check for novels by my favourites in the library catalogue, to see if more are lurking in the suburbian branches.

So I found a volume with Indemnity Only and Killing Orders, no. 1 and 3 in the Warshawski series. Funnily enough I think I have read Deadlock, which is no. 2. I read the synopsis on though, and I'm not sure. Not 100 %. I love Paretsky's novels dearly, but to be quite honest I don't always understand the plots, and that tends to make it hard for me to remember them. Not that they don't make sense, oh no, just that they often boil down to some sort of financial trickery and I tend to blank out at that. This time I made a very conscious effort to understand what was going on, but I still think I may have failed.

Indemnity Only introduces V.I. to us. She has been working as a P.I. for maybe 8 years, if my memory serves me correctly, dealing mostly with financial crimes. One night a man turns up at her office asking her to find his son, who has disappeared. V.I. goes looking, finds the son (dead), discovers that the man who hired her is not the father, and starts unravelling a complicated insurance fraud scam with union ties. Well, it might not be complicated, like I said, I'm financially stupid.

I like this one; it flows well, plot is solid and good, interesting characters. Having read the later V.I. novels it's interesting to see how she has developed and changed. She's very much a hard-ass here, she's a little cooler later on in life. Also, a lot of her habits are presented and explained -stuff that I've noticed in the later novels without really getting. Like the obsession with baths and exercising after getting beaten up.

Killing Orders has V.I. taking on a problem for a much-hated aunt, involving forged share certificates belonging to a Dominican priory. The aunt quickly changes her mind and sacks her, but once V.I. has started researching something she doesn't quit, even when she is attacked with acid. (Side note: why doesn't she quit? Surely she should have enough with all those other cases? Why take on a thankless task she won't get paid for? I never really get that. I think in every novel she gets the boot but keeps at it, and I'm not sure I know why.)

Funny quote:

"I stopped for a breakfast falafel sandwich [...] The decimation of Lebanon was showing up in Chicago as a series of restaurants and little shops, just as the destruction of Vietnam had been visible here a decade earlier. If you never read the news but ate out a lot you should be able to tell who was getting beaten up around the world."

Have I ever mentioned, by the way, how greatly instructive detective stories can be? I know, thanks to Ms Paretsky, that there is a roundabout road in Chicago called "The Loop", for example. Stuff like this comes in handy, I'm sure. In Swedish it's called allmänbildning.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Ellis Peters: The Virgin In The Ice

Oooh, the library had a Brother Cadfael novel I hadn't read! Joy and celebrations! The Brother Cadfael mysteries are some of my absolute favourite books. I can see why some people don't take to them, but I enjoy the core of goodness in them. Parts of the series was televised, I believe, but they never showed it in Sweden.

This one features the usual trappings - there is always a young man and a young woman who are very handsome and good and deserve each other, always a sick person who needs Cadfael's care... The oddity here is that Cadfael's son makes his appearance - that's why I've wanted to read this one for so long, since the son turns up in later books, that I have read.

Just before the sack of Worcester, a young boy and his elder sister, both noble, left the town to make for Shrewsbury. A young nun followed them. In the winter storms a band of bandits burn, murder and pillage, and the small group of refugees is separated. One of them turns up dead.

A lovely book, as they all are. It hints at darker things, but focuses on life. I've always liked how Peters weaves in some moral teachings, without preaching them. Her style of writing doesn't work so well in her more contemporary novels, in my opinion; the slightly naivistic tone works a bit better in the escapist setting of mediaeval England.

"But surely our little faults do not deserve so crushing a penalty. Without time to reconsider, to repent, to make a reparation. Youth destroyed for a folly, when youth should be allowed its follies on the way to maturity and sense."

Paula Gosling: The Woman In Red

Nicked this in the clearout at my father's flat. The name Gosling rang a bell, but I couldn't remember what I'd read by her. As usual, eh? So just now, before blogging, I looked her up, and she's written some lovely little mysteries, that I enjoyed very much; in other words my memory served me well on this occassion. I've read The Body in Blackwater Bay (the reviewer on doesn't seem to like it, but I remember it as being fair enough), and I know I've read The Wychford Murders... but I don't remember the storyline at the moment.

Anywhoo, this one is about a dead man who has fallen of a tall building of luxury holiday homes belonging to foreigners residing in the Costa del Sol (did that sentence just become extremely long?). A man is arrested for his murder, and an embassy employee is told to come help him out. The whole affair has its roots in the arrest and death of the arrested man's son some years before, and the forged paintings Junior produced.

Quite charming, and a niblet-sized account of post-Franco 1983 Spain, before the EU really kicked in. It's also rather funny in parts.

"This time, when he moved his body, it wasn't so bad. It was still agony, but the agonies had sorted themselves out. There was a small agony in his left knee, a medium agony in both elbows, and quite a respectable-sized agony in his chest. Also, his nose itched.
Being alive was not all he'd hoped it would be as he'd leapt out of the falling car."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ann Granger: Mixing with Murder

Found in a second-hand shop, now read for lack of anything else... features heroine Fran Varady, aspiring actor who does odd jobs to make a living. She is persuaded by strip-club owner Allerton to go to Oxford to make contact with one of his dancers, who suddenly quit and ran off.

Not a bad book, quite varied and enjoyable characters, but on the whole it feels a bit slow and repetitious.

Albert Sánchez Piñol: Kall Hud

Originalets titel La piel fría.

En skräckroman med drag från Conran står det på baksidan, och det tycker jag stämmer bra. Han skriver lätt gammalmodigt (eller är det översättaren som gjort det så?), vilket gör att boken känns autentisk. Den utspelar sig under mellankrigstiden någon gång. En desillusionerad irländsk motståndsman på flykt undan det nya Irland kommer som väderobservatör till en liten ö i Sydatlanten. Där finns en märklig fyrvaktare, men den tidigare väderobservatören tycks ha försvunnit. Redan första natten anfalls irländaren av grod- och människolika varelser, och så följer ett mardrömsår, där han tvingas in i en försvarspakt med den alltmer vansinnige fyrvaktaren.

Klart läsvärd!

Ian Rankin x 3

In an effort to understand the Ian Rankin phenomenon, I borrowed a book called Rebus: The Early Years, consisting of the three first Rebus novels; Knots & Crosses, Hide & Seek and Tooth & Nail. I can now say that I do get the fuss. Rebus, the way he is portrayed here, with his unfulfilled religious feelings and dysfunctional relationships is a much more appealing figure than I found him in Dead Souls. And btw, how the feck do you link when blogging anyway? It's driving me around the bloody bend, and I can find feck all useful in the so-called "help" section. Anyway, in these three I can even cope with the eternal whisky (sic).

This compilation comes complete with foreword by Rankin. He claims that when he wrote Knots & Crosses he had didn't have a clue that he'd written a crime novel. "When the book was published, I found to my astonishment that everyone was saying I'd written a whodunnit, a crime novel. I think I'm still the only crime writer I know who hadn't a clue about the genre before setting out. There were crime sections in bookshops and libraries - news to me - and a healthy number of practitioners extant." Two bones to pick with this though; firstly, if he has no knowledge of the genre, he could hardly have Rebus refer to the plot he finds himself in as something reminiscent of a "cheap thriller" somewhere half-way through the book (QED and all), and secondly, who in their right mind would call this a whodunnit? Beggars belief, dahlinks.

Methinks he is having us on a little. Well, not about other people calling it a whodunnit, but about himself knowing absolutely nothing of the genre. Although, he might be in earnest, and the cheap thriller comment only shows how much of the crime fiction what's-the-word-I'm-looking-for-can't-concentrate-worth-a-damn-here um, attributes perhaps have become such common knowledge that people refer to them without actually knowing them first-hand.


Knots & Crosses: Introduces Rebus, who is carrying some sort of dark secret from his days in the SAS. Young girls are being abducted and killed. Rebus is receiving crank letters. We understand in five seconds that the two things are connected, Rebus doesn't, because he is daft. Interesting homosexual theme, am left unsure if Rebus actually had sex with his army friend or not.

Hide & Seek: Junkie found dead, something not right, Rebus finds out junkie hid possibly incriminating photos.

Tooth & Nail: Least favourite novel. A bit complacent. Author looking for television rights? Rankin goes to London to help out on serial killer case. Portrait of killer not bad. Ends with pathetic car chase - God almighty, I do hate car chases. Better on paper than on film, but nevertheless.