Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Kinsey v. Maisie

First I read S is for Silence by Sue Grafton. I've been reading a few Graftons lately, but the early ones, since the library are stocking up on their collection, so this became an opportunity to see the difference between the early books and the later ones. S is for Silence is not written exclusively from Kinsey's perspective, instead Grafton switches between Kinsey-chapters (in the present, i.e. 1987) and historical chapters (set in 1953 when the crime takes place), written from the perspective of alternating lead suspects/other characters. It works well, and gives her scope to develop more fully even side characters.

The story is simple enough - in 1953 Daisie's mother Violet disappeared, and now she feels she needs closure. Kinsey reluctantly takes on the very cold case, since Daisie is a friend of a friend. Naturally her prodding gets her results, and the book ends with a spectacular bulldozer chase (please, never film this), which somehow works in the Kinsey genre but is really very OTT. An easy read, and Kinsey seems less boxy and set in her ways than I remember from P and R.

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear once again features Maisie Dobbs, who here turns out to be almost a bit clairvoyant. Or "sensitive". Or something - I really can't take to this blend of suffragism (is that a word?), Eastern guruism (that definitely isn't) and Afterlife. Anyway, Maisie takes on some cases that take her back to France and all the bad memories that come with that. I do enjoy a WW1 theme, but Maisie Dobbs is too OTT a heroine for me to truly enjoy myself. If this were filmed it would end up some preposterous mix of Lara Croft and Florence Nightingale. With less action, and more long gazes.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Crime from the Mind of a Woman

The time before last at the library I noticed this collection of short stories, edited by Elizabeth George. It's nice and thick, and looked like it would last me a long time, especially if mixed with sudokus, which I'm sadly becoming addicted too. (If they're simple. Otherwise I throw my toys all out of the pram, thankyouverymuch. And they'll never be as much fun as a good crossword.)

It's a rather impressive collection. I have to admit I was a bit surprised, since I personally don't think that highly of Elizabeth George's own books. She writes well enough, I suppose, but her characters are a little trop for my taste. They've never grabbed me, in short. However, if she'd had a hand in choosing the stories for this collection she shows good taste and quite a bit of intelligence. The book contains 26 stories from different authors, and each story and author is introduced with a short text by someone called Jon L. Breen, who seems to know his stuff. I googled him, and he appears to be a writer himself, of pastiches among other things, but also a literary critic. I suspect he's had a large hand in choosing in other words, but Elizabeth George gets author credit, so she must've been involved. I sincerely hope so, anyway!

The collection limits itself to women crime writers of the 20th century. "Crime writer" is apparently a loose term, to be applied to someone who writes of crime. I quite like that, as it's sort of my idea of the genre too. The appealing thing about the frame of "crime fiction" is that it provides you with a linear movement ahead in time, to the solution of the mystery, but it's no good at all unless it's also literature, right? So, we find Nadime Gordimer's short story of the affair between the white land-owner's son and the black girl from the farm here (Country Lovers, a classic), aswell as more classic detective stories. Several authors were completely new to me, and now I'd love to find more of their work. It'll probably be hard though... Some were old favourites, like Marcia Muller, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers, Christianna Brand, Sara Paretsky (I'd read the story though). I was interested to see a story by Antonia Fraser - the name rang a bell, and the story note said she was married to the writer Harold Pinter; aaahhhh, of course, the (now) Nobel Prize winner! This tickled me. I was even more tickled when I didn't like the story much... I'm wicked.

Now, here I'm just going to list all the new (to me) authors and stories I found particularly interesting. So I can check for future reference. It doesn't get cleverer than that, I'm afraid.

Susan Glaspell: A Jury of her Peers - nice feminist story from 1917. A woman appears to have murdered her husband, but the sheriff can't see a motive. However, the neighbouring ladies think they can, but they are being ignored.

Shirley Jackson: The Summer People - a thriller-esque piece with an open ending; we don't know if anything will happen to the couple, or if their imagination is running away with them. From 1950.

Charlotte Armstrong: S:t Patrick's Day in the Morning - interesting, maybe not great. From 1959. Armstrong wrote several stories that were later filmed, I'd like to check out more of her stuff. The twists in the plot reminded me of Hitchcock.

Dorothy Salisbury Davis: The Purple is Everything - cozy, about a woman who accidentally steals a Monet. 1963.

Nedra Tyre: A Nice Place to Stay - very good. Tyre was, among other things, a social worker. This story is about how poverty can drive a person to crime. Must find more of Tyre's work. 1970.

Joyce Harrington: Sweet Baby Jenny - another American writer writing about what poverty can do to a person. Sweet Baby Jenny is much smarter than people give her credit for though, and she'll take revenge in her own sweet time. 1981.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: The Young Shall See Visions, and the Old Dream Dreams - wins prize for longest title... Rusch writes science-fiction too, so I'd like to find more of her work, it appears to be sort of cross-over. Nice story in which an old woman remembers her past.

Carolyn Wheat: Ghost Station - woman alcoholic police officer. Need I say more? Original enough just there. Not bad, and Wheat seems to know her background. Wouldn't mind reading more.

Wendy Hornsby: New Moon and Rattlesnakes - a sort of noir tale of a woman running from her oppressive (abusive?) marriage, and taking revenge. Nice. Me like.

Gillian Linscott: A Scandal In Winter - a rather clever Sherlock Holmes story. Linscott is smart enough not to fall into the trap of trying to emulate Conan Doyle, but rather writes her own story using the well-known characters. Not bad.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Shanghai Baby and Fahrenheit Twins

Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui is a book I'd heard of, as an example of "new Chinese literature". I accidentally spotted it in the library and borrowed it on a whim. It's semi-autobiographical, according to the author. The main character and narrator, Nikki/Coco, is a young woman who has published a collection of short stories that has been both acclaimed and denounced as decadent. She meets a young man, Tian Tian, who wants her to write the great novel he is convinced she is destined to write, a novel for their generation. Nikki and Tian Tian live in a spacious flat, absorbed in their love for one another. However, Tian Tian is impotent and Nikki starts an affair with a married German named Mark, for the sex - though she later starts feeling emotionally involved too. Tian Tian becomes more introvert and starts doing drugs more seriously, as Nikki tries to finish her novel.

I'm not sorry I read this book, but I'm not quite sure I like it that much. Possibly something gets lost in the translation, so I don't feel like I really understand the motivation behind people's actions. The cover says that this is a story of "self-discovery", and Nikki talks about how she is discovering herself, but I don't really see it, to be honest. The setting and mood is interesting though, a sort of fin de siècle feeling, but with a bit more hope all in all.

Then I read Michel Faber's collection of short stories, The Fahrenheit Twins. Now again, I can't say I didn't like it... but he does have a tendency to an open-ended finish that gets a trifle annoying. In the manner of "She gazed out the window of the train as it moved across the country. She didn't know where she was headed." That sort of thing (that wasn't a quote by the way, merely an example). It bugs me a bit. Some of the stories are excellent though, and I remain very impressed by how well he can write from a woman's point of view. One of my favourites is the one about the former heroin addict who is now reaccquainting herself with her young son under the supervision of a social worker. Several of the stories remind me of Ray Bradbury, in the slightly fantastic settings and moods he evokes. Strange things happen, but we're not on Mars, we're still on Earth. I also thought of Michael Ende - I have one of his collections of short stories.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Not Babes in Beijing.

Shanghai Baby. Good lord, memory like a sieve. But I suppose it's understandable considering the similarity...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Sue Grafton and Michel Faber

D is for Deadbeat (by Sue Grafton) has Kinsey accepting a job as messenger - a man asks her to find a teenage boy named Tony and deliver a check for 25 thousand dollars to him. Kinsey accepts, but when the client's retainer check bounces she goes to find him instead. He turns out to be bad news, an alcoholic just out of prison. He also turns up dead, and now his daughter hires Kinsey to find out if and by whom he was killed. Middling, I'd say - one of those where I'm not 100 % in on what makes Kinsey tick. But the end is quite good, when she tries to talk someone suicidal off a roof.

Faber is a new one for me. I was recommended him on a forum I hang out on. The library had The Courage Consort and The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps, so I borrowed them. They have one fault - being too short for a full day at work. Quick reads, but good ones.

TCC was my favourite. The Courage Consort is the name of an a cappella group dedicated to modern composers. Courage is also the name of the group's leader, Roger, and thus of his wife, the wilting, severely depressed Kate. She lives her life in the shadow of the dominant man who has shaped her, contemplating suicide daily. Faber's description of how Kate's depression controls her is excellent - in no space at all he sketches a portrait of someone in thrall to despair. Now the group is headed for two-week rehearsal in a chateau in the Netherlands (I didn't know they had chateaus in the Netherlands!), forcing them into closer contact than they have ever been before. The quiet atmosphere, exposure to the other members and the strange cries she hears in the night start to draw Kate out of her shell. I really liked this. It was moving, funny, succinct and realistic.

T199S was not bad, but I just didn't like it as much as TCC. Again we have a female main character, Siân, who is trying to overcome depression - in this case perhaps not as severe. The book is set in Whitby, where Siân is working an archaeological dig, plagued by nightmares in which she is murdered. She meets an attractive man with an even more attractive dog, who shows her an old letter he inherited from his father (the man did, not the dog. Obviously.). Carefully Siân opens the damaged scroll to read the confession of a man who did something terrible more than 200 years ago. My only gripe with this book really was that it felt a bit short and unexplained somehow, like the ending came too soon and suddenly. It's an absolutely beautiful little book though, with gorgeous photographs of Whitby throughout. I'd love to go there - mr Bani has been and really liked it.

I've borrowed The Fahrenheit Twins now, a collection of his short stories. Looking forward to it. I imght read Babes in Beijing first though (palate-cleansing, as it where).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Food inspiration from books

Am reading D is for Deadbeat (I know, like a fecking dog with a bone I am). Kinsey visits a soup kitchen where they are serving apple sauce sprinkled with cinnamon for afters.

So guess what I had for afters. With cream.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Andrew Taylor: The Sleeping Policeman

Another one featuring William Dougal, the publishor/editor cum private investigator. He is hired by the youngish GP Hanslope to find out who is blackmailing him. Hanslope has a fiancée, a mistress (his fiancées stepmother) and a girlfriend, and does not want to turn to the police. There's a lot going on in the little community where they live - burglaries, two teenage girls who are perhaps too close to each other, a neighbourhood snoop, Hanslope's sexual escapades... Things start to escalate, and there is murder done. It's quite a well-crafted little story, all the loose ends are tied up at the end. The first chapter ends with the readers being told that the whole affair will end with a tragedy at a London tube station, and it does. Very abruptly, and then there is no more. It's quite typical of Taylor's style. I like it - it's not fantastic literature, but it's clever detective fiction, with a good, varied array of characters and a likeable and not-too-perfect hero. Sadly, they don't seem to have more at the library than the two I've read now, perhaps one or so.

I'm going to have to branch out. I was recommended Michael Faber, so he's next, and also Sarah Waters, who was not available. Fingers crossed.

Oh, and a sleeping policeman is apparently what you call a speed bump on the road. Who knew? I certainly didn't. Took me two pages to cop on, I thought there WAS a sleeping policeman somewhere.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sue Grafton: C is for Corpse

Kinsey is recovering from the injuries she sustained in B is for Burglary (I presume), which I've read but can't recall precisely at the moment. I think there was a shoot-out in an office. Anyway, so she's working out at the gym when she befriends a young man also in recovery. Nine months ago is was in a bad car accident, which killed his friend and left him badly hurt and with memory losses. Only money and effort has gotten him out of the hospital bed. He confides in Kinsey, saying that he can't remember precisely why, but he is sure that his accident was a deliberate murder attempt, to keep him from revealing something he knew. He hires Kinsey to investigate. Four days later he is dead, in another car crash. Etc, Kinsey investigates, etc she finds the villain. And also saves Henry the landlord from a golddigger.

The ending is a bit lame-ish tbh, but there are several good Kinsey moments in the book. Not a favourite, however. Though I was thinking while reading it that this earlier Kinsey is more mellow and human than later on. Possibly some time when I'm on maternity leave I'll re-read one of the later books to see what I'm after. After all, I haven't read S, and then I must expect T-Z before Grafton is done....

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Just added labels!

This new Blogger thing is a right lark for a computer ignoramus like myself! However, if I'd been smart I'd've done them surname first. *doh* I only thought of that half-way through (had to add them all manually), and then I couldn't be arsed. No no no. Nevertheless, I quite like this list.

I've got a problem though - since converting it seems like the quotes I write (have written?) turn up in white writing. That's not good. They're not secret. I'm not sure why this happened, or how to fix it. Hm. *baits possible smart readers*

I shall now label this post as miscellaneous. *smirk*

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Jess Walter: Land of the Blind

I don't know if it's actually considered a genre, but in my mind there seems to be a particular kind of American novel dealing with growing up in the 60s/70s. Something about the way the author is both nostalgic for that time of comparative innocence, yet often writes very bluntly about childhood cruelties and emerging sexuality.

The frame for the novel is once again the Spokane police department, and once again Caroline Mabry (as in Over Tumbled Graves). It isn't a part of a series though, I like that, it stands alone ad does it well. A man is taken in to the police station saying that he wants to confess, and, at a loss, Mabry gives him pen and paper and lets him start to write. He writes and writes, and tells the tale of growing up poor in Spokane, of the most-bullied kid in school who eventually becomes his friend, of loyalties and sex, of wanting to be rich and looked-up to. Mabry begins to suspect that possibly he really has killed someone, and starts looking for this someone while he is still writing.

I think Walter really managed the balance between novel and crime fic frame well here. Towards the end there is a heightening of pace, as we begin to anticipate a violent act, and instead of feeling disappointed when it fizzes out I felt like it was appropriate. It wasn't a thriller. In the end it's just Mabry and the confessor, Clark Mason, waiting for sunrise. I liked it.

I was going to write some quotes, but I'm a little too tired. I recommend it anyway.

In other news, today I tried to buy books for friends and failed. I find it soooo hard to buy books for others, I don't know why. I kind of know what I'd like to get them, but what if they don't like it? Indecision, indecision....

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I'm the worst eejit.

Remember this post? Yet, only two posts ago I had forgotten I'd read Andrew Taylor. God help me anyway.

The doctor prescribed me a very mild sedative to help me sleep. I think I need it.

Peter Lovesey: Bertie and the Tinman

I've written favourably about Lovesey before. This novel is set in the Victorian era, just like Wobble to Death, a book I very much enjoyed. The twist here is that it is Queen Victoria's son Albert - Bertie to his intimates and His Highness to the rest of us - who is the detective. His favourite jockey, the "Tinman", commits suicide, and Bertie isn't happy with the notion that this was done in a fit of madness brought on by typhoid fever. Bertie himself has suffered from typhoid, and one is madder than the Tinman then he thinks. So he starts investigating.

I think it's quite cute, but not much more. I found it a bit predictable in style - the bumbling over-sexed Royal attempting to bluster information out of people. The historical references are fun though on the whole. I wouldn't not recommend it, but I didn't think it was Lovesey's best, not by a long shot.

Let's see now if I can sort out my blog. Gulp.

Found the books.

They were lying in my dresser. *blushes*

Also, as you can see perhaps I switched to this new Blogger thing with Google, and I lost some of the stuff I'd made to the blog, so I'll have to re-insert that ASAP.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Still missing my books.

What. The. Hell?

Unable to find the books I'd already borrowed (One Jess Walter, one Andrew Taylor (whom I've never read)) I had to dash to the library and find something else. Had to. Or work is UNBEARABLE. So luckily there was another Jess Walter, since I had my heart set on him. Citizen Vince (ha ha, just automatically typed Kane and had to change it...) is a novel just waiting to be filmed, in which case it'll be just another gangster film, a genre that bores me. I was even casting it in my mind, with actors from the Sopranos. Bo-o-oo-ring. Thank God I read it anyway.

It's 1980. Vince Camden lives in Spokane. We quickly understand that he isn't originally from there - Vince is in the Witness Protection Programme and has left his old N.Y. small-time gangster life behind him. Except he hasn't: he does work as a baker, but runs a credit card scam and sells marijuana on the side. One day he gets his voter registration card in the post. Then it suddenly hits him that he really was given a new life when he joined the WPP. Since he turned to crime as a child he's never been eligible to vote, but in this new life he can. It's Reagan's first presidential election, with President Carter trying to manage the US hostage situation in Iran. Vince becomes a little obsessed with this - he follows the debates, tries to talk politics with his gambling friends. Out of the blue, someone from the old life appears to show up in Spokane to get rid of Vince. And in the end Vince has to choose between being the new guy, on the voter registration card, or stay the same small-time gangster.

It's quite a good book this. Walter has a definite flair. I love how Detective Alan Dupree, whom we met in Over Tumbled Graves as an older, disillusioned mentor cop, here is a young rookie. I even put up with the gangster angle - much easier in literature than in films! Having the story set to the background of the election is a great idea, especially how being allowed to vote really affects Vince. I suppose it's a bit moral, but in a good way.

There's also a really interesting middle bit, where part of the story is about what Carter and Reagan are thinking and going through just a few days before the Big Day. I'm still pondering to myself why he put that in. Cool.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Where's my book?

I borrowed a Jess Walter novel, where is it? Bloody household this. Somebody moved it, and I'm very upset.

69,7 square metres of living space - you'd think I'd be able to find stuff.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Two new authors, one re-read

I always find myself hovering over Liza Cody's books in the library, thinking "have I read them all? Surely this one is new? No... Yes... No...." and last week I borrowed Dupe, in one such fit of insecurity. A chapter in or so I was sure I had read it, but I obviously didn't recall enough of the story to be bothered by this, so kept going. I like Cody, and her heroine Anna Lee. Independent, believable, competent on the whole, but not perfect. Cody's best heroine in a way has to be Eva Wylie though, of the books Bucket Nut and Monkey Wrench, of which I've only read the latter. Eva is a big, ugly female wrestler who takes no shit, and it a little thick in some ways but very street-wise in others. I liked her.

Anna Lee is good too though. She is introduced to us in Dupe, a private detective working for a company led by the obnoxious Brierly. She is condescended to since she is a young woman, but useful to him in some cases. Like those involving runaway minors. Now however she takes on an investigation into the apparently normal traffic accident death of a young woman, since the parents are convinced something is not right. It's a good book on the whole. The cover says it was televised, but I haven't seen it. I strongly suspect it was less good on telly though. Telly tends to take out those little quirks that make a novel in a cliché-ridden genre like crime fic stand out.

On impulse I also borrowed an unknown, Blood Relation by Andrew Taylor. And I got this mostly because the praising blurbs on the cover are from Punch, The Times, Guardian... The snob within. It got me hoping for something like Peter Dickinson. And it sort of is. Taylor's hero is William Dougal, a charming man of slightly flexible morals. This has cost him a relationship, and also his daughter. Since this isn't the first book I can see that there is a lot of history in their relationship and Dougal's past that I don't know yet, so I'm hoping to find some more books.

The best thing is that Dougal is an academic, who worked and works in publishing, but has joined the security/PI business later. Speak of the devil, namely a little discussion I had with HB. Am very pleased.

Here Dougal investigates a disappearance which becomes a murder, which becomes someone elses murder. I liked it. Clever enough, no jarring plot holes, good writing!

However, my real find was Over Tumbled Graves by Jess Walter. I had never heard of him, but I was quite impressed. It appears to be a routine serial killer novel, but it's quickly clear that Walter is more interested in the abberations within us all and our society. It's quite feminist, with for example a lot of thinking about whether all men are predators - sparked by a prostitute saying that all the clients give her the creeps, even the ones that are "normal". The FBI profiler questions if our heroine, police woman Caroline Mabry is fit to investigate these serial killings, because as a woman she can never understand the mechanisms of male fantasy. His suspicion is that
Maybe every man who looked at a Penthouse was essentially embarking on the same path that ended with some guy beating a woman to death and violating her with a lug wrench. [...] If she coldn't imagine the violent fantasy, what could she imagine? The victim. The fear. And what good were those?

It's always really nice to read a male writer who can write so believably about a woman. I was honestly not sure whether Walter was male or female until I googled - being openminded and all his introductory acknowledgment of his wife and kids didn't prejudice me. I'm that cool.

I borrowed the other one of his novels the library had, and I'm looking forward to it. It's a good description of police work, it's think-ey, it contains the first example I've ever see of someone writing about New Orleans and not going all gooey-eyed over the place in manner of Anne Rice. Plus I learnt how to pronounce Spokane.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Sue Grafton x 3.. no, 4 really

The library have had a little drive and bought a lot of English paperbacks, so they've stocked up on crime fic too, it seems. After all, those are the books you don't want in hardback. You want easy to carry, stick in your bag, fits in your pocket, read on the bus paperback for crime fic, right? Anyway, for some reason they only had the later parts of Grafton's alphabet series. I asked once, and the librarian thought it was superodd, but no, no branch had the earliest ones. She was a little surprised herself. However, now they're filling in the gaps - lucky me! I am very fond of Kinsey Millhone, and I do think that the very earliest books show Kinsey from her best side. As with all series the charm and inventiveness wears thinner towards the end. It's very sad.

I found E is for Evidence, H is for Homicide (well, duh) and J is for Judgment. And today I found A is for Alibi, so I was very pleased! I noticed a fun little detail in A - at one point Kinsey talks about how disconcerting the climate of Southern California is, with the constant sunshine and so on: you don't get a good grip on what season it is. That's hardly the talk of someone born and bred in a place is it? That's Ms Grafton from Kentucky talking - I'm only saying. Roots will out, won't they?

A is the one about the woman who just got out of jail, where she served eight years for the murder of her husband. She claims innocence, and wants Kinsey to clear her name now that she isn't locked up any more. I haven't finished it yet, but am more than half-way through and can note that she has so far only mentioned her lovely landlord Henry, but we haven't actually met him. Also, I'd like to say that this book must've been a breath of fresh air when it first came out! It really is a nice spin on the PI genre.

E is about Kinsey getting framed. She is investigating a warehouse fire, when evidence is found that she's on the take and California Fidelity doesn't want her working for them any more. She also gets blown up (and later her apartment gets blown up too). The description of the explosion is nicely done.

In H she gets inadvertently sucked into the LA gang scene. On behalf of California Fidelity she's investigating a woman who seems to be trying to commit insurance fraud. Turns out the woman has a gang history, even though she now is seeing a former school pal and cop colleague of Kinsey's. Kinsey agrees to do some undercover work to help out the police, and finds herself trapped with LA gang psychos. Not bad, and I like how Grafton shows compassion even for our villain.

Finally J. After/during H Kinsey's association with CF is over, but they pull her in again to investigate claims that a suicide who may have come back to life in Mexico. This one felt a little more skittish, and there is a twist at the end which I feel might have been made more prominent throughout the book, to keep us the readers guessing a little more.