Monday, March 12, 2018

Two Juicy Big Mysteries

Not bad, not bad at all. . . only three weeks have elapsed since my last post, the one which I closed by promising to name the two fat mysteries I borrowed from the library's Fast Reads shelf to bring to Palm Springs with me earlier last month. Not quite enough time to have forgotten the plots completely, but already, I must admit, they've become hazy, partially erased by the books I've gobbled since then.

Both mysteries are the latest volumes in series by dependable writers featuring characters whose detective exploits I've been following for years and years. Peter Robinson's Alan Banks, for example, I've "known" since he was married, watched the hurtful breakup, the divorce, Banks' efforts to maintain his relationships with his teens (now adults). I've watched him date a colleague, befriend and date an expert witness (have I remembered that correctly? I think so), and I've kept track of the exploits, challenges, and relationships of his co-workers, particularly DS Winsome and DI Annie Cabbot. Not to mention the considerable pleasure, with each new entry in the series, of keeping track of its Playlist -- Banks is an eclectic lover of music, across a variety of genres and styles.

The fat new novel I snatched from the library's Fast Reads shelf last month was his Sleeping in the Ground, and it was the perfect book for airplane and poolside, although I could also have enjoyed savouring it a bit more slowly. Unusually, the mystery focusses on finding the person responsible for a mass killing, so there's considerable urgency moving the plot along. Robinson manages to fold in some melancholy on Banks' part related to memory and aging, some thinking many of us can relate to, and he also engages with moral and social questions regarding class, the military, individual conscience and honour. In the end, I found the book engaging enough, but the ending/solution a bit flaccid. If I'm honest, I'd have to say, though, that I don't read mystery novels for the puzzle anymore, if I ever did. I read them more -- especially in series -- because they allow me to immerse myself in a setting to which I can return every year or so, in which I can follow fictional lives that I have somehow invested myself in. It's a long, long time since I've been thrilled by a particularly elegant and satisfying plot in a mystery novel.

And most of those reservations would also hold for Lee Child's latest in his Jack Reacher series, The Midnight Line. These mysteries, I know, have become a bit too formulaic for many, but I'm fascinated to see how, if at all, Child can continue to develop Reacher's character, whether or not Reacher can sustain his idiosyncratic lifestyle of continual, random movement, a life with No Fixed Address. As well, part of Child's formula is an indictment of some aspect of contemporary social life, particularly one in which past or present political/military policies or actions have widespread deleterious results. In this book, it's the terrifying spread of opioids that comes under his lens, and the part of Reacher's character that interests me here is his grappling with the Lone-liness he's choosing by refusing (or being unable) to settle in one spot. I'm using that peculiar hyphenation of lone-liness, because Reacher doesn't wallow in isolation, he's not holed up and unhappy. But there's clearly a pull toward someone he'd hoped might stay on the road with him. . .

Do any of you read either of these series? Or did you and you've abandoned them (and if so, why)? As mystery readers, how much does plot matter? And if you'd like to recommend a mystery with a truly elegant plot, please, go ahead!

Can you believe I have nine other recently finished novels to tell you about? So I hope I don't let another three weeks elapse before I post again -- the math just isn't working in my favour (instead of the one step forward, two steps back, I'm at Two Books Blogged, Nine More Read? -- yikes!!). Indeed, I should be able to give you three more mystery titles in the next short while, and let you know whether they're ones with a satisfying ending or simply ones with satisfying characters and settings.

And in case you're interested in what else I've been reading (given the distinct possibility I may never manage to stay much more about those titles!) I've finished four of the Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn, in anticipation of the upcoming BBC series featuring Bernard Cumberbatch (thanks, Brenda, for the recommendation). I've also read Cynthia Ng's Little Fires Everywhere and George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo. . . plus the three mysteries I just mentioned and will name very soon.


14 comments:

  1. Peter Robinson has long been one of my favourites - I've read all the Alan Banks series in sequence, except this last one - on my list! Ian Rankin's John Rebus is another character I enjoy following, They share many similarities, including an eclectic taste in music. I also enjoy Henning Mankel's Wallander series for the Swedish setting and Donna Leon for Venice. Come to think of it, the only mysteries I read are series, for the pleasure of getting to know a particular character and place. I haven't read Lee Child, though he's a favourite of a friend of mine.
    Frances in Sidney

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    1. Not sure why I haven't read the Wallander series -- we really enjoyed the TV series with Kenneth Branagh.
      Thank you SO much for recommending Higashino -- I'll write a little about The Devotion of Suspect X next post -- wonderful find, thank you!

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  2. Love your reading posts, Frances. You've inspired me to begin writing down the titles of each book I read along with a bit of what I thought about it in a separate notebook from my journal. My parents loved mysteries, so I grew up with bookcases full of the classic mystery writers' books. A few interested me, but I was more a literary classics kind of kid since my parents had a bookcase full of those for us as well. We could choose anything that interested us, so I'd make my way through something such as Tess of the d'Urbervilles at too young an age to fully understand the plot and return to it later with greater understanding. In the mystery genre? When I lived in Chicago I became interested in Sara Paretsky's V. I. Warshawski novels, which then made me look into Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone series. More recently, when snowed in in Astoria, Oregon in December 2008, the local bookstore recommended the first in Tana French's Murder Squad Series, In the Woods. The book impressed me and it scared me. I still get a chill thinking of it. You have reminded me of one of my all-time favorite books, Smilla's Sense of Snow, possibly published as Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow in Canada? I adored that book, and would love to enter its world again. Smilla's mixed-race background fascinated me and made me look at my own in new ways. The book had a big sweep in a Eugenides' Middlesex kind of way. Reading multiple books a week was always central to who I was. Due to a series of Unfortunate Events over a period of years I lost my reading mojo. Each time I'd work to get it back by reading the collected works of, for example, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Barbara Pym (both superb), I'd get sidetracked by something, the most recent being a series of concussions. I'm giddy to find I can now read again. My third book since 20 February is Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You, which I have in a signed first edition from a bookstore club I belonged to. I want to read it before I read Little Fires Everywhere.

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    1. Weren't we lucky to grow up in reading households? My family's budget didn't run to owning many books, but we carried armloads home from the library each week.
      I've read the ones you mention here, and now I'm wondering if I still have a copy of Smilla's Sense of Snow on my shelf somewhere -- superb mystery, beautifully written, such an interesting setting and characters. Interesting comparison you make with Middlesex, that big sweep, and fascinating that Hoeg pulled that off in a relatively more compact form.
      I'll be curious to see what you think about the Celeste Ng. I enjoyed LFE, but have a few quibbles. Will have to post about those later. You're so very articulate and passionate about your reading -- I'm so glad you have it back in your wheelhouse again ;-)

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    2. Yes, we were! We didn't have that many books at our house. There were the two bookcases of mysteries and assorted adult and children's favorites, the bookcase of classics, a reference book bookcase with encyclopedias, dictionaries and such, and books on my parent's bedside tables. We kids got to buy the books from the school catalogs. What a glorious experience that was, choosing those books. When a book was purchased, it was after time spent deciding it was a worthy addition to The Collection.:) That's how The Silent Spring and Cadillac Desert were added to my mom's bedside table. My mom was a teacher and a librarian who stopped working outside of the home while she and my dad raised we four kids. When we were all beginning college at about the same time, my mom went back to work as a children's librarian. Libraries were a big deal at my house. I have a vivid memory of the day it dawned on me that I could pick whatever books I wanted and saunter out the door with them to pore over at home. It seemed decadent; as if it should be illegal. We went to the library once a week in the winter in the town I grew up in and where I went through school. In the summer my family went with my dad to his latest western mapping project. We'd go to the local library once a week in whatever small town we were staying in. There were some magnificent Carnegie libraries in some of those towns. For some reason I remember the Logan, Utah library with particular fondness. They had a beautiful edition of Leaves of Grass I can still remember admiring as I read it. Their Alice in Wonderland books were also beautiful editions. I think of those books and wonder what happened to them. My parents went to the library once a week until the week before my dad died of pneumonia at 89. I returned his books with my mom. I;'m the family member who has the most books. One of my goals is to use my library card more and bookstores less, thus the end of my first edition's club membership. It's difficult to know how to balance support of an author's work and overspending on books. I console myself that the library is buying copies if we request them (and support the libraries with our tax dollars). Thank you regarding having reading back in my wheelhouse. It is a luxury.:)

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  3. I haven’t read Lee Child yet but Peter Robinson is a favourite . I need to get that latest one . As you say , it’s not just about Bank’s latest case but the progression of his life . It’s fun to try identify where he is in Yorkshire & I’m always pleased when he visits York . I’m still reading Dalziel & Pasco & am halfway through the series . Very much enjoying them . Some writers become a little ‘samey ‘ with their books but each of his are so different . I thought Dalziel was a dreadful person in the tv series but I’m warming to him a little. I enjoyed A Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson .
    Wendy in York

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    1. I've never seen the TV Dalziel & Pascoe, but loved the books, really admired what Hill could do to maintain interest, achieve variety so that the series never went stale. Dalziel's not terribly likeable, is he?
      I'll make a note of A Kind Worth Killing. Thanks!

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  4. I haven't read either Banks or Child - I prefer female authors and/or detectives - but I will give them a try. My favorites these days are Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series (wonderfully set in WW1 to WW2 England) and Louise Penny. I also love Sara Paretsky's, Sue Grafton's and Tana French's books - mentioned above. I used to love Elizabeth George, but her more recent books are on the bizarre side and she killed a beloved character. And old series that is my favorite is Emma Lathen's - great plots and quite witty. I also loved Amanda Cross' erudite mysteries. There was a very short series by Elizabeth Atwood Taylor some years ago, the Cable Car mysteries.

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    1. Have you read Carol O'Connell's great series featuring Kathleen Mallory? I highly recommend these, if you haven't. We can agree to differ on Elizabeth George -- I've really enjoyed the last three or four, especially the development of Havers' character, but I know many readers felt betrayed when we-know-who was killed. Do you read Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler series?

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    2. Yes, I have read some of the Mallory books, and liked them, although they are not among my favorites. I am drawn to books that are soothing, for lack of a better word, possibly because I am coping with a couple of major crises and some other problems. I also only 'read' audiobooks, while driving, exercising, doing housework. I'm working long hours and don't have time to actually read. I will look for Susan Hill's books - thank you for the suggestion.

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  5. I'm looking forward to your take on "Little Fires" and "Lincoln...". I've been reading a series of books Susan Howatch wrote starting in the 1980"s about individual clergy in the Church of England. (Nerd alert- I'm a fact nerd!!)

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    1. Okay, I'll try to write about those two soon, although I'll surely give them both short shrift, I admit...
      Yes! I read those Howatch books back in the '80s. Do they stand up? I remember liking them very much at the time.

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  6. Living and raised in a family that loves to read,where books are cherished and appreciated-priceless! My favourite gifts were books,always,and first visits to the library were something I remember very well,the layout,the smell,the abundance....Both my parents were learning russian as the first foreign language (and my mother classical latin and ancient greek),so there were a lot of (mostly translated ) classics in the house
    I've read a couple of Peter Robinson's (love Alan Banks) and Lee Child's books.
    I was thinking a lot about my favourite mystery writers, especially those from before I started to read blogs about books or Goodreads-one forgets a lot (at last,I do)
    Beside Agatha Christie :-),they were Caroline Graham,PD James,Dorothy L. Sayers,Elisabeth George,Ian Rankin,Georges Simenon,Laurie R.King,Jo Nesbó ,Patricia Cornwell (I get tired eventually with the latter two),Ann Cleeves,some books of Louise Penny that were translated-here I've heard about the other ones and read all of them-,Donna Leon.... I like series,"people I've met", started to follow and like ( it is a very important part of the books,I'm reading now Donna Leon's The Jewels of Paradise,without Commissario Brunetti and I miss all of the characters so much)
    The plot,the way the books are written,the atmosphere,the characters,the ambience......everything matters and everything's important....unless if I fell in love with the characters :-)....
    Looking forward to hear about "Nine More Read "!
    Dottoressa

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    1. We were so lucky to be given that love of reading from so early. I find it hard to imagine tolerating a life without books.
      I've read most of the others you mention and when you go through the list, so many memorable characters or settings -- or simply, as with Agatha Christie or Georges Simenon, an atmosphere and/or style -- come to mind.

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