Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Three More Mysteries

First, the three mystery novels whose titles I promised you last post. I haven't only been reading from this genre, recently, but it makes sense to group them this way, before moving on to books from other sections of the library. . .

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. . .

.

10 comments:

Lesleyc said...

I can't tell you how much I look forward to these posts. The Peter May has just been purchased along with the Keigo Higashino book. Amazon's "one-click purchase" for Kindle is a curse and a blessing.

Katherine C. James said...

Would love to hear your brief survey of Patrick Melrose by St. Aubyn. Haven't read the series, but intend to. Am currently trying to get into Everything I Never Told You before I read Little Fires Everywhere. Since I began reading again a month ago, post concussions, I sped though two books but have stalled somewhat on Everything I Never Told You. I keep beginning again. So far, I find a lack of believable behaviors in the family being depicted. The way the mother reacts to finding her daughter missing all night, including making a cup of tea and sipping from it before she calls her husband or the police? Not how I'd react. Maybe the odd behaviors are the point, but at least so far I'm not able to enter in as fully as I'd like. Lincoln in the Bardo is on my bedside table, and I'd hoped to get to it soon. I'm curious as to why you found the reading of Lincoln in the Bardo and then Winter dazzling. Did you read Autumn before Winter? The review of Winter I read (in The New Yorker) mentioned Smith intends a seasonal quartet. Smith is one of the many writers I'd like to read in chronological order. So much of her work has been so well received. Hope you're enjoying Portland.

materfamilias said...

Oh, I'm so pleased you find these posts worthwhile. I'll look forward to hearing what you think of these recommendations. Enjoy!

materfamilias said...

I hope I'll get that next post written before too long and I can let you see what I think about all these. Yes, I did read Autumn first. Did I see it was dazzling to move from the Saunders to the Smith? Might have meant "dizzying" -- we're wandering into some surreal or supernatural scenes in both, and feeling our way, at first at least, for some solid ground. And both offer so much to think about. Curious to hear what you're saying about Celeste Ng's first -- I have reservations about LFE which I'll mention soon Leaving Portland today -- it's been a good visit. . .

Anonymous said...

I've discovered so many wonderful authors from reading your blog, it's a pleasure to be able to recommend one of own favourites!
I'm envious of your visit to Powell's Books - I was almost overwhelmed on my first visit and would love to go again, list in hand.
Frances in Sidney

Anonymous said...

Keigo Higashino's are among books I want to read next. Thank's to both Frances
Waiting for the new one in the Shetland series,I binge read through a few of unread Ann Cleeves books, the Palmer-Jones series-last one I've read was Another's Man Poison. The interaction between the leading couple I've found very (from time to time ) vex and too patronizing (the husband),but it becomes slightly better in latter novels. It is interesting, because the other series,like Shetland and Vera have a plethora of brilliant,strong and independent female characters
I started with Peter Lovesey,recommended at High Heels,and finished Amos Oz Judas ( maybe misterious :-),although not a mystery)-but,I'm sure you've read it already
Dottoressa

materfamilias said...

I know what you mean about Powell's being overwhelming -- I was very reserved this time, actually, only bringing back three books, since I still have a few that I haven't even opened from my visit last fall. Even just wandering the stacks, though, is satisfying, and I jot down titles or take pictures of books to add to my list of Future Reads.

materfamilias said...

I wonder why I've never got into Ann Cleeves' books. I'll have to pick one up and give it a go. So many of you like them, that perhaps I will as well...
And no, I haven't read Peter Lovesey. Won't even add it to the list, either, as the list is already ridiculously long. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I prefer Shetland series (and Vera follows :-))
D.

materfamilias said...

noted, thanks ...