Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Few Good Mysteries, Belatedly. . .

Ay-yi-yi! I've just found this unfinished draft sitting in my files, waiting patiently for completion. I started it weeks ago. . . .Let me add a few titles to it and press "publish."

I seem to be averaging once a month with these posts, not often enough to get caught up with what I've been reading, so I'm going to ramble off a long list of titles here and offer just the briefest commentary on each. Better than nothing, I hope. . .

Before our trip, I mentioned that I'd just got Patrick Modiano's Les Boulevards de Ceinture (I think the English translation is titled Ring Roads) from the library, and I enjoyed that, found its dreamy, strange tone very similar -- as was the subject matter, a son searching for a father, various shady characters, an elusive, glamorous woman, the Paris streets, social history (racism, xenophobia) -- to that of Nocturne, which I'd read earlier, in English.

Since we've been back, over the summer months, I've read a slew of mystery novels:
Donna Leon's Blood from a Stone, even more interesting to read now that I've walked the streets of Venice. This volume in her Commissario Brunetti series focusses on the plight of African immigrants trying to make a living as unlicensed, but generally tolerated, vendors. It reflects and illuminates some of what we've seen in Italy and France, immigrants, refugees, displaced and disenfranchised persons trying to survive on the bottom rungs of capitalism. As always, Brunetti and his wife, the professor, provide a thoughtful perspective, and despite Leon's clear indictment of Italian bureaucracy, corruption, xenophobia, and environmental shame, there is also aesthetic pleasure to savour in her descriptions of place, of culture, and perhaps especially of food.

More of those mysteries I read over the summer:
Val McDermid's Out of Bounds (a Karen Pirie mystery) -- No point pretending that my favourite McDermid books aren't the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, but Karen Pirie is an engaging, credible woman, strong and smart and very human, exposed in her grief here. This volume is well-plotted with twists enough to keep you turning the pages, although I'll admit that three months after reading it, I'm only retaining the rough outlines.

John Farrow, Perish the Day, If you don't know Farrow's Emile Cinq-Mars mysteries, I'm envious that you still have them to discover. Farrow is a nom-de-plume of Trevor Ferguson, a Canadian novelist whose reputation was built on supposedly more literary writing. Honestly, I hope he never turns back to that from his mystery-writing. The genre, so far, has demosnstrated his ability to sketch compelling settings -- in this book, rural, small-town, and academic New England; to develop characters and explore the challenges of ageing (retired detective Cinq-Mars is 66) and of maintaining a relationship across a significant age difference; and to explore questions of good and evil, epistemology, hermeneutics, in a provocative, never pedantic, literarily stylish prose. I'm already impatient for the next one. . . (Instagram posts on Perish the Day, featuring quotations I liked,  here and here

Sara Blaedel, The Forgotten Girls (a Louise Rick mystery). Paul picked this one up at an airport and passed it along. Another Scandinavian writer worth following, with a strong, but vulnerable, female detective (and a backstory that will be unfolding with each volume, I suspect). Character development, plot, setting, all strong -- the hermetic sense of a tightknit small rural community is convincing. . . 

Julia Keller, Last Ragged Breath (a Bell Elkins mystery) -- my favourite, so far, of this series, as Keller seems less prone here to the extended (and often folksy) metaphors that tended to irritate as much as entertain, in the earlier books. The series reads well with/against J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy, which I hope to get 'round to here, eventually. 

I do have several more mysteries to recommend, but if I don't click "Publish" today, this post may well languish for another month. So . . . .

Comments always welcome: your feedback if you've read any of these as well, or recommendations from your recent reading. Or whatever. . . .


  1. I am currently reading Stoner (John Williams); it is bleak-ish (quietly bleak. very little action) so far and reminds me of...Sinclair Lewis? Willa Cather?

    I borrowed A Gentleman in Moscow from the library and it has now been returned. It wasn't what I expected but that's my fault I think. It was a good bedtime read.

    Two male sad, in a (to the point I've read) regular life, the other happy, in a life full of restrictions. Hmm.

    I'd like to go down the rabbit hole of a mystery series to keep myself amused this winter. I like a bit of grit with a LOT of description of person and place. I haven't been a reader of mysteries but had a great few months with Donna Leon. Any suggestions?

    1. Seriously consider the John Farrow mysteries -- City of Ice and Ice Lake. River City is an odd stretch, but as a Canadian interested in history you might make it through, as I did. But then the last three in the Storm Murder series. Quite sure you'd like all of these. . . . I also really like Carol O'Connell's Kathleen Mallory series, wonderful characters and great setting (NYC) . . .

  2. Interesting combination (both of you)
    I've liked Commonwealth a lot,A Gentleman in Moscow as well,Stoner was a very sad story
    Last two months I've enjoyed a lot of mysteries as comfort reading (or I could say binge reading-I've gulped all eight books in Ann Cleeves Vera Stanhope series-I liked them very much,as well as Shetland series before. Have you read any of her other series?
    Anny suggestions?)
    My mystery list also included Deborah Crombie's Garden of Lamentations and A Share of Death (the last and the first book in series :-)),Elly Griffits's The Chalk Pit and Louise Penny's Glass Houses
    I've read Kent Haruf's Our Souls at Night (have you seen the film with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford?)
    And something serious for the end:
    I've mentioned here our writer Kristian Novak and his Gypsy but the most Handsome One- now I've read his first book The Black Mother Earth,a poignant story about north-west (I could't resist the name :-),but it is geographical correct) part of my country,written in a dialect,full of old mystic legends interwoven with an unhappy childhood surrounded with cruel and primitive people
    I'm reading Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being

    1. So much reading, Dottoressa!!
      I've just read A Tale for the Time Being as well -- so much to think about there, and, of course, the setting is very familiar, well-written.
      I'm currently waiting for the second Ruth Galloway (Elly Griffiths) to become available at the library -- I have it on hold at the moment.
      I do wish more of your writers were translated and published in English. So many powerful stories to share, I'm sure.