Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More work-reading

I found two Ngaio Marshes that I hadn't read in the section for Large Print. It's a kick-ass section, enabling you to borrow books that you can prop up and read from across the room. No, I exaggerate, but almost.

Death In A White Tie:

This one is set in the late 1930s (first published 1938). Alleyn has a mahoosive crush on Troy, and they've had a good few run-ins in previous novels we deduce (our library is sadly understocked). This is a subplot to the main plot, which is a blackmailer at large in Society, during the débutante season to boot. Alleyn asks a friend to keep an eye open for this blackmailer, and the friend promptly gets himself killed. Alleyn's mother features a lot, which is nice, and we can note that Fox isn't yet committed to learning French.

I liked this one, it has some nice hints at the political situation brewing in Europe, with a Jewish débutante being harrassed by her chaperone among other things.

Opening Night:

...and this one was written more than ten years later. It's set in the world of theatre, a well-known Marsh theme. She does it well, too. It's one of those novels that has a long build-up to the crime, then Alleyn steps in, and since the crime isn't really complicated he solves it in a matter of hours. I mean, the crime-solving is not the main issue in this cathegory of Alleyn novels, it's a story about the people around it really. Not deep psychological stuff or anything, just a different slant to the whodunnit. Our heroine here is a young New Zealander who has come to London to act. Bad luck befalls her, and she stumbles upon a job as dresser to a star, and immediately takes it. The theater troupe is stressed over opening night and riddled with conflict, and her introduction into the close group causes more.

Not a bad book, but not a favourite. Of course, I do always get a kick out of how Marsh brings up "the homosexual issue" in her theatre novels (for lack of a better term). It must have been quite gutsy of her to dare allude to it in those censorious times.

And then I found a new Kathy Reichs! Break No Bones has Temperance working an archaeology site in South Carolina with a group of students. They uncover a more recently dead body, and events are set in motion. It's a decent Brennan novel, I like the banter, the emotional drive and the... well, reality of Reich's stories. Tempe Brennan feels nice and real. So I was sadly reminded of how disappointed I was in the TV series Bones, in which all the characters and even the actual work feels so false and show-cased. Bleurgh.

I tried reading another Ben Elton, one called High Society, all about drugs, but it bored me so I gave up. Life's too short.

In a panicky frame of mind I picked up a very classic, basic whodunnit by Patricia Moyes. Down Among The Dead Men is about a small village/town in England that attracts sailing folks, and where there has been a robbery and a death, seemingly unrelated, but aha! Chief Inspector Henry Tibbett sees more than meets the eye, and ruins his holiday by picking at the scab.

I read this right after reading Peter Dickinson novels, and was slightly shell-shocked at the simplicity, or rather blandness, of a book like this. It isn't terribly good at all, but it does have all those whodunnit triggers, so if you enjoy keeping track of the clues and working out who the murderer is thusly you might like it. I spotted the murderer anyway, without remembering diddly about tides, because it's the type of books where it's obvious.

And this brings me, last but not least, to said Peter Dickinson. First Play Dead, the second of his I've read with a female heroine (the first being The Lively Dead, which I never really wrote about..). It's always refreshing with a male author who can portray women well, not many can. It's more linear than I'm used to with PD, which makes it easier to follow and get "into", obviously. Poppy child-minds her grandson, and is involved in a local playgroup. One day a man is watching them, and then follows Poppy on the way home. Although she manages to lose him, the playgroup is in outrage over what is thought to be a paedophile, and when he turns up murdered even the nannies become suspects. Of course there are more twists, since this is a Dickinson novel and all. It's very enjoyable. He's brilliant at giving you all the clues in the first five pages, in off-hand conversation, and then making them relevant towards the end.

Then Walking Dead, set in the Caribbean. The island dictatorship we visit here was previously mentioned in The Lizard In The Cup, which I read just the other week but seem to have forgotten to blog about! Shame on me. Anyway, our hero David Foxe is a scientist, who via this and that is forced by the island's tyrant to conduct experiments on humans. However, he has with him a laboratory rat who by the believers in the local Voodoo-esque religion is perceived as a symbol of the Sunday Dwarf, and this gives our hero a lot of power.

While reading this novel I reflected on how it isn't possible now to write about black people or, let us say, other cultures in the way Dickinson does here. To Foxe, the islanders are alien in culture. Almost completely. He starts out thinking their beliefs are grotesque. But that's okay. It's a very honest way of looking at things - to an outsider things are strange and ununderstandable. It doesn't make these natives less human though. Foxe doesn't despise them. I'm not explaining myself well, because my brain is dead, but I couldn't help thinking that nowadays it's so hard to be brutal like that, since we're afraid to offend.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

This week's "back at work"

There's not much to do at work now for various reasons, so I sit and read.

Deborah Crombie: In A Dark House
Another Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James mystery. Not bad. I does still annoy me that she quite obviously writes for foreigners, i.e. the US market. A few too many cups of tea, but there are less in this book. This one is about an arsonist, and a women's shelter, and a kidnapped child (she's in the dark house). It's an okay read.

Ben Elton: Dead Famous
I never though Ben Elton wrote anything resembling crime fic, but my friend E said he did. So I picked this one up for a try. I really enjoyed it - it's slightly exaggerated, but still fun. A murder takes place in front of the cameras in the Big Brother house (except Elton calls it House Arrest). The book pokes fun at the reality tv craze - always enjoyable - and it also quite a clever whodunnit. It's even for half the book a whodiedthen, since we don't know who the victim is from the start. Definitely possible TV-script novel.

Lindsey Davis: Shadows In Bronze
The second book in the Falco series, but I hadn't read it before. I liked it more than some of the later ones, since the tentative romance between Helena Justina and Marcus Didius is well described and very moving and effectively counteracts the crime noir thing. Later in the series, when the romance is more certain, Davis tends to lose some of that emotional impact between the cynical one-liners.

Her writing style still tends to annoy me. I wish her editor would tell her to lose the ... she's so fond of at the end of sentences. It breaks the reading flow. And some of the exclamation marks too, please.

This is the one where Falco has to tidy up lose ends from the lead/silver conspiracy in the first book (The Silver Pigs). Helena Justina becomes involved since her ex-husband was.

Peter Dickinson: The Seals
Dickinson is always enjoyable to read. He assumes a lot of intelligence from his readers, and we try to make him proud, don't we? The first few pages are always difficult to follow, since he throws you straight into the story, and then gradually gives you clues to work out the background. I wonder if he's ever been filmed - I'd guess not, since you'd have to tidy up the timeline so much that much of the charm would be lost, not to mention the inner thought processes.

This one is about a religious sect whose obsession is building a stone city on a small island off the Scottish coast. A famous Nobel Prize winner has taken refuge with them - but is he protected or imprisoned? Dickinson's police hero Pibble, is summoned in secret by the old man, which sets events into motion.

Laurie R. King: The Beekeeper's Apprentice
Oh, I'd already read this, in Swedish since the library didn't have it in English. But suddenly they did, so I had to re-read it, didn't I? I love the Holmes/Russell novels. *sigh* And in contrast to many other contemporary writers setting their stories in the 20s or 30s, King doesn't make her two heroes too perfect - per definition, Holmes can never be perfect, can he? He may be a great detective, but he is often flawed as a man. And since Russell is his match, she too is not overly sickly sweet.

This first novel is almost the perfect introduction to the two partners. My only problem would be that... oh this has to be written in spoilervision I think! Highlight below to read.

Since we don't become deeply familiar with Russell's and Donleavy's relationship, her betrayal becomes less of a shock to us as readers, and Russell's emotional response a little hard to grasp in full. Thus there is a risk of Russell seeming almost a bit hysterical at the end.

It doesn't really mar the book for me though. I recommend Laurie R. King to everyone, shamelessly!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Witch Hunt by Ian Rankin

I picked this up on a whim, because it wasn't a Rebus novel. This one is about a female assassin, called Witch, the underlying motives that drive her, and the man obsessed with catching her.

I'm not going to call it briliant, but I quite enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fact that people in it were clever enough to understand when they were obviously being manipulated, I enjoyed that the main characters weren't perfect people with perfect morals. But it is fairly riddled with clichés all the same. I suppose it'd make a decent enough film, if they managed to tone down the "femme fatale" element. Because that has been Done To Death, no pun intended.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Maisie Dobbs

A looooong time ago (it feels like) a customer told me that I should read the books about Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. Except she pronounced it "Macy Dobbs", which led to some googling confusion, let me tell you. So now I stumbled across two books in the series at the library, and have read them - albeit in the wrong order; I read Birds of a Feather first, and the debut Maisie Dobbs second. But that doesn't matter.

This series falls into a cathegory that I, as you know, am quite fond of, namely novels about crime-solving during or just after WW1. Our heroine Maisie has been a nurse in France, and though she made it back alive she lost her sweetheart. Maisie is a working-class girl who has had the good fortune of being discovered by the lady of the house she was a maid in and who has been given a singular education. In short, she is a little too good to be true, as she has not only become knowledgable in the hazy science of psychology, but also in a multitude of other subjects including Eastern oum-ish ancient wisdom.

I'm not quite sure why so many of these authors who set their stories in the past have to make their main characters so perfect. Why can't they be good enough for their time? For some reason the writer doesn't want them to be labouring under the prejudices and faults that most people had at that time in history, instead they have to be more modern - but this breaks the spell, in my opinion.

As a contrast, the policeman in Rosa by Jonathan Rabb was not a superman, but an ordinary, weak man. Intelligent, but not always nice. He cheats on his wife, he betrays his partner. This is more real, this is what people are. Rosa, incidentally, is set in Berlin 1919 and is based on the murder of Rosa Luxemburg. I haven't written about it in detail, but I recommend it on the whole.

The other week my husband and I went and saw Babel at the cinema. One of the things I found so appealing about the film (please see it!) was that no nationality or gender was portrayed as inherently better than any other. People were people, sometimes weak, sometimes stronger. And even smart, loving people did stupid things. You didn't get a free pass because you belonged to a minority that has always been short-changed in Hollywood's portrayal of it. People in general are a bit daft, and a hero in a detective story should be no different unless there's a very good reason.

Anyway (I'm rambling, but hey), I'd read more of Winspear's books, but I don't think they're that great all in all. Too idealistic. But the plotlines hold up, and the characters are endearing on the whole. Nothing worth buying in hardback though, if you see what I mean.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

For various reasons I've been neglecting my blog. Pregnancy, depression... a lot of things combine to make it really hard for me to concentrate.

But since I last blogged I have read:

Rosa by Jonathan Rabb

The Kalahari Typing School For Men by Alexander McCall Smith

The Burglar In The Library by Lawrence Block

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

Trådarna i väven
av Uzma Aslam Khan

The Lively Dead
by Peter Dickinson

by Terry Pratchett

Red Dust by Gillian Slovo

and possibly something else that I've forgotten. Let's see if I can write more about them at a later date. I'd especially like to write more about Rosa I think, since it belongs to a genre I find interesting.