1. Val McDermid's Insidious Intent, the latest in her Carol Jordan/Tony Hill series, borrowed in hardcover from the library. Such a treat to read it this way for free; as much as I find e-reading convenient, I do love the additional sensory pleasures of reading a paper copy, especially in nearly-new, hard-cover format. The smell, the feel of the pages, and the growing tension of gauging how many plot twists might be contained in the dwindling number of pages beneath my right hand. . . .
Someone recently commented on a post here that they were finding this series a bit tedious, and I would agree that the last few might have benefited from tighter editing. The plots are interesting enough, but there's a certain rhythm in "serial-killer" mysteries that can feel a bit protracted. I've got such a fondness for Tony Hill, though, and for his fondness for Carol Jordan. She's not as easy to like, but she's bright and interesting and principled, and she's gathered a solid crew of loyal colleagues around her. In this novel, some chickens are coming home to roost for Jordan, and while she's working hard to maintain her hard-won sobriety, she and her colleagues are being hounded by a journalist determined to expose both Jordan's earlier transgressions and the way her superiors brushed these away for strategic/political reasons.
This pressure builds to a shocking conclusion, and McDermid makes a special plea in an Afterword, asking readers not to spoil the ending's surprise for others. So I won't -- you'll have to read it for yourself. And after you do, perhaps you'll speculate with me on which of the other characters in this series might deserve either her/his own volume or at least a much larger role: Computer whiz Stacey Chen, for example, or DS Paula McIntyre who, with her physician partner Elinor, has taken on the guardianship of a teen-aged boy.
2. Peter May's Extraordinary People is the first in a series of mysteries featuring the half-Scottish, half-Italian forensic expert Enzo MacLeod who teaches university in France. When we were together in Palm Springs last month, my sister recommended the "the Enzo files," each volume of which has our protagonist betting he can solve yet another cold-case. I enjoyed May's Lewis trilogy last year, and I'm an unabashed France-lover, so I put the title on hold at the library as soon as we got back. The mystery is well-plotted, although in the end you'll have to decide if you think the motive is credible enough. The puzzle aspect of the novel is perhaps its most satisfying element -- you'll be well rewarded if you have an esoteric knowledge of French history, or even if your coverage is just Jeopardy-level solid.
As well, there's a promising entourage of credible and entertaining characters, although I suspect I'm not the only female reader who is slightly annoyed, at times, by a sexism which might be Enzo's but might also be May's. I'll definitely read more of the series, but if the sexism becomes more evident, I'll probably not continue. Another minor complaint is that in this first book in the series, the author is grappling with how to be sure his readers will follow the use of the Internet. Perhaps that was necessary in 2006, when the book was first published, but it's tedious if not laughable now.
3. In my last post, I commented that it had been a long time since I'd "been thrilled by a particularly elegant and satisfying plot in a mystery novel." At the time, I'd just begun Keigo Higashino's The Devotion of Suspect X, Higashino's mysteries having been recommended to me by Frances of Sydney in a recent comment. The title is the first in Higashino's Detective Galileo series, and at 320 pages, it's as elegant as you could want for a novel that also deftly sketches its setting--both physical and cultural--in urban Japan. The best mysteries, to me, are ones that reveal something about our humanity while also offering us a puzzle to solve or distracting us from the everyday with their tightly-wound plots. This is one of those in the way it describes the "devotion" of the middle-aged math teacher to the single mother he admires from a respectful distance. The man's lonely existence is brightened by the presence of this mother and her teenaged daughter in his building, and when her ex-husband comes to threaten her and is killed, the neighbour offers to help dispose of the body and to deflect police suspicion. And the final twists of the novel -- the last fifty pages or so -- are truly surprising and are heart-rending as well. Read this one. Tell me what you think.
If you'll remember, I fretted about book-blogging math last post, calculating that while I reported on two books in that post, I had read another nine I needed to tell you about. Today, I've crossed three of those nine of the list, but, of course, I've picked up new books since then. Still, I'm making headway. Next post, I expect to offer a brief survey of the Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn, for a four-with-one-blow effect. I'll probably throw in a quick summary of my response to Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere and mention the dazzling concatenation of following George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo with Ali Smith's Winter. Or not. It may be that this is all the mention those books get here, which would be a shame. They deserve so much more disciplined a blogger. . . .
Ah well, back to the books now. Over to you. . .