Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts

Friday, November 29, 2013

SPEAKING FROM AMONG THE BONES: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley

"When they finally saw the light, I might even become something of a village heroine, with banquets, etc. held in my honor, with after-dinner speeches by Father, the vicar, the bishop, and, yes, perhaps even by Magistrate Ridley-Smith himself, thanking me for my dogged persistence, and so forth.
     I believe Daffy referred to such an extravagant outpouring of praise as an encomium, and I realized that I had not been given an encomium for a very long while."


"Neither of us spoke a word and we didn’t need to. We stood there clinging to each other like squids, damp, quivering, and unhappy."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The first two books in the bibliophile series by Kate Carlisle

Bibliophile series #1
Ebook (B&N)

Rating (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being best)
Plot: 4
Characters: 3.5
Writing: 3.5
Final: 3.66

Comments: Extra points were given to the plot category for setting the series in the world of book restoration. This series reminds me of Evanovich's Stephanie Plum mystery series. It's pretty goofy, but not quite as over-the-top ridiculous. It helps that the main character is actually good at her job.

Publisher's description
The streets of San Francisco would be lined with hardcovers if rare book expert Brooklyn Wainwright had her way. And her mentor wouldn’t be lying in a pool of his own blood on the eve of a celebration for his latest book restoration. With his final breath he leaves Brooklyn a cryptic message, and gives her a priceless—and supposedly cursed—copy of Goethe’s Faust for safekeeping. Brooklyn suddenly finds herself accused of murder and theft, thanks to the humorless—but attractive—British security officer who finds her kneeling over the body. Now she has to read the clues left behind by her mentor if she is going to restore justice . . .

If Books Could Kill
Bibliophile series #2
by Kate Carlisle
Ebook (B&N)

Rating (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being best)
Plot: 4
Characters: 3.5
Writing: 3.5
Final: 3.66

Comments: I'd love to see even more about book restoration. I hope that Carlisle doesn't let that part fade away as result of Brooklyn's improved financial circumstances. I'm finding the number of very attractive men she encounters ridiculous almost to the point of distraction. I think we have enough in there to keep her busy for a while. Please don't add any more.

Publisher's description
Murder is easy-on paper. Book restoration expert Brooklyn Wainwright is attending the world-renowned Book Fair when her ex Kyle shows up with a bombshell. He has an original copy of a scandalous text that could change history and humiliate the beloved British monarchy. When Kyle turns up dead, the police are convinced Brooklyn's the culprit. But with an entire convention of suspects, Brooklyn's conducting her own investigation to find out if the motive for murder was a 200-year-old secret—or something much more personal.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Author: Lee Child
Narrator: Dick Hill
Title: 61 Hours

The problem with long-running series is that it's hard to keep them interesting, hard to avoid either becoming so repetitive you're putting people to sleep or so far-fetched it feels as if the characters/plots become unrecognizable. Anyway, Lee Child is a very smart guy and Jack Reacher has remained a very interesting hero, but I had started to feel some series malaise lately. In this book, Child takes Reacher in some unexpected directions psychologically. Maybe it felt too fast or neat in some senses, but I was mostly okay with it, very diverted. Reacher did not sleep with a woman in this book, which I found refreshing; however, he does still go on one of his patented shopping sprees, which I love most dearly. I pray to god in heaven he'll never stop *that.*

I listened to the audiobook for this one. Dick Hill, who I used to like, has lately become hard for me to take. I've noticed he tends to increase volume and decrease the pace of his reading to signify intensity, and to me in this book, it just felt too heavy. Maybe he's gone batty. Maybe I have. I don't know.

Author: Sarah Graves
Narrator Lindsay Ellison
Title: Trap Door (Home Repair is Homicide series)

I started reading this series around book 9, so I can't claim to have an extensive knowledge of it. I'll start with what I like most, which is the local color/detail about Maine (landscape, clothing, accents, food, etc.). I've been listening to the books and I enjoy Lindsay Ellison's Maine accent a lot. I find the heroine, Jacobia Tiptree, tiresome and not all that bright, and she's impulsive, which drives me crazy as a personality trait because it's so inimical to good home repair or good detective work. The supporting characters are more sympathetic and interesting. I do love the realistic plotline involving Jacobia's son Sam, who battles substance abuse; this is handled very well, because he doesn't *get* well at once; he has relapses, and the incredible every-day difficulty of staying clean is portrayed well. Just wished I found the heroine less annoying--more sensitive, more thoughtful--though she has her moments.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cozies and Louise Penny's Three Pines series

Author: Louise Penny
Titles: Still Life (Mass-market paperback)
A Rule against Murder (Audiobook, read by Ralph Cosham)
ISBNs: Still Life: 9780312948559; Rule against Murder: 9781433251306
Publishers: St. Martin's (2007); Blackstone Audio (2009)

Detective: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, at the Sûrété du Quebec
Setting: Three Pines, a fictional village in Quebec
Genre: Cozy but with psychological complexity that is rewarding. Series seems to focus on artists and the act of creation; generational miscues and attempts to communicate; group dynamics; psychological growth or entrapment

I'm confused by the "cozy" genre of mysteries. I guess they're supposed to make you feel cozy and happy . . . about murder? About not being murdered? Generally, they seem to produce "feel-good" murder stories. At their worst, they tend to kill off threats/scapegoats (not "nice" people) and preserve the strength of the community through the ultimate expulsion. On the positive side, cozies do not intend to glorify violence or crime; they show it as a tragedy and chart the subtle ways murder can affect a community and the psychological dynamics within it.

The cozies I've read feature close-knit groups of people who happen to live in places where many murders occur. That's where the genre gets a bit dicey for me. If these are such great places, why do so many people die in them? I am reminded of the TV show Murder, She Wrote. Why weren't people shunning Jessica Fletcher or running like hell from her? Why wasn't she banished from Cabot Cove? Nothing good happened while she was around.

In more seriousness, it is a worthwhile project to think about how crime affects a community, and in this, cozies excel. Often, mystery novels forget to trace the longstanding, painful effects of violent crime: how families/friends of victims, suspects, the police, and so forth all cope with the fallout. If some of the cozies I've read tend to idealize community ties and affluence, they also provide well-drawn and interesting characters and seem more psychologically astute than the standard plot-driven whodunnit.

Louise Penny's Armand Gamache series features a great main character and an interesting community in Quebec. I have learned much about the English/Quebecois relationship in Canada from the two books I've read. Penny is a great plotter and her mysteries have interesting twists and turns. She makes you feel exasperated and fond of her characters on alternating pages, and she does not idealize them. They are flawed and yet still likable. If these books tend toward a certain worship of Gamache, I have to sympathize, because he truly is a great character. Sometimes the denizens of Three Pines are a bit too talented, too progressive, too witty, too sensitive and artistic to be believable, but at the same time, the place seems appealing as well. Gamache is an outsider in a sense to the community, which is an important, useful device because this way readers, like him, can evaluate the positive and negatives in the community. I've found the plots very interesting and engaging; Penny is a good storyteller and does a great job of creating tension. The two books in the Three Pines series I've read, the first and fourth, are very interesting, and I'm going to keep reading the series. Louise Penny is a great find for me--I love character-driven mysteries, and hers are very engaging.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Guards by Ken Bruen

The Guards
by Ken Bruen
0-312-32027-2 (paperback)
St. Martin's Press

Rating (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being best)
Plot: 4
Characters: 4
Writing: 3.5
Final: 3.83
Comments: As you can see, I'm reading the Jack Taylor novels completely out of order, thanks to my inability to consistently find them as ebooks. What's even worse, I had to read the Kindle edition of this one and the formatting was so horrible. I've never seen formatting any where near this bad in either eReader or Barnes & Noble eReader editions. Check it out below: I know it's blurry (it's a picture of my iPod Kindle app taken with my Pre), but you can still see the huge gaps between the words, which means you're constantly turning the page. And that brings up another complaint: I hate having to "swipe" the screen to turn the page. Such a hassle. Why not allow me to just touch the screen like every other ereading app? Come on, Kindle. Help a girl out.

Publisher's description

Jack Taylor's life is spiraling downward. Dumped from the Garda Siochana ("the Guards"), Ireland's elite police force, he now passes his days drinking in a friend's bar. Enter Ann Henderson, a woman searching for her missing daughter. Jack agrees to take on her case, learning about Ann's daughter as well as other young women who have recently disappeared . . .

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Dramatist by Ken Bruen

The Dramatist
by Ken Bruen
Minotaur / St. Martin's Press

Rating (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being best)
Plot: 3.5
Characters: 4
Writing: 4
Final: 3.83
Comments: Don't read Ken Bruen if you don't want your heart broken--his books hurt. This one actually made me gasp audibly at the end.

Publisher's description

The impossible has happened: Jack Taylor is living clean and dating a mature woman. Rumour suggests he is even attending mass . . . The accidental deaths of two students appear random, tragic events, except that in each case a copy of a book by John Millington Synge is found beneath the body. Jack begins to believe that "The Dramatist," a calculating killer, is out there, enticing him to play. As the case twists and turns Jack's refuge, the city of Galway, now demands he sacrifice the only love he's maintained, and while Iraq burns, he seems a step away from the abyss. 

Friday, February 26, 2010

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects
by Gillian Flynn
Shaye Areheart / Crown / Random House

Rating (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being best)
Plot: 4
Characters: 3.5
Writing: 3.5
Final: 3.66
Comments: Something about this book just didn't quite work for me. There are some interesting ideas and images here, but there was just too much--too bad Tim Gunn wasn't there to tell her to bring her editing eye to this project. In the video below, the author describes intending the book to have a fairy-tale quality to it so maybe that explains the excess.

Publisher's description
WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.

NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.

HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Robert Parker/Jesse Stone on TV and in audio

Title: High Profile
Author: Robert B. Parker
Reader: Scott Sowers
Publisher: Random House Audio
ISBN-10: 0739318683
ISBN-13: 978-0739318683

CBS's Jesse Stone series: Thin Ice

Usually, I don't get the TV my mom chooses to watch. When I was in Ohio one time minus the last time, we saw an episode of Gray's Anatomy in which all plot lines were sad and everyone was dying or failing at their job, and I kid you not, I believe every single character cried at one point or another. The whole thing was just so very, very depressing that at the end of the episode, I was moved to yell, though tears, "Why do you watch this?" at my also-crying mother. NOT the ideal TV experience for me. So, when I was home this past Christmas and my mom and dad seemed excited about the "Jesse Stone" show that was coming on TV, I was very, very dubious.

In CBS's Jesse Stone series, Tom Selleck plays Jesse Stone; the episode I saw was called Thin Ice. I expected it to be awful, but instead I loved it, and I'm grateful to my mom and dad for pointing it out to me.

Tom Selleck plays Stone in the series, and he's really perfect, I think. Once in a while--though hardly ever--a fictional detective is cast perfectly in a TV series. The last really great (and probably unparalleled) example of this would be the inimitable Jeremy Brett in the BBC's Sherlock Holmes series.

Jeremy Brett was Sherlock Holmes.

Now, I can't make the same claim for Selleck/Stone because at this point I've only read a few of the Stone mysteries (and still have seen only one of the TV shows), but I feel that Selleck really nails the essence of Stone (in my opinion): he's great at the restrained delivery required to make Stone's deadpan brand of humor come off successfully on screen. He also does a fabulous job of communicating Stone's world-weary, thoughtful approach to police work. The other main roles are cast very nicely, too: I liked the guy who plays Suitcase a lot, and Kathy Barker, who plays Molly, is wonderful also (though I believe we are to think she is younger in the books, I actually prefer her to the book version). At any rate, the TV show was quite a surpise, in the best of ways.

Since I'd liked the TV show so much, I started listening to the audiobooks, and I think those are also well worth the time. It's a rare gift to me to find a great detective series I hadn't known about before, and this series has many of the components I love most: a complicated, introspective, flawed but likable detective; intelligence and humor in the dialogue and the story, but also a respect for the horror of crime/homicide; strong supporting characters; crimes that are resonant and upsetting. In addition, Stone is in therapy, and I enjoy how Parker portrays his therapist, Dix. It's an excellent example of how even a macho guy can be thoughtful about his emotions and moral behavior.

The audiobooks are read by Scott Sowers, and he does (to my Ohio/Nebraska ears) a fine job with the New England area accent of the locals (Suitcase and Molly in particular). The audiobooks are really addictive; thus far, I've listened to High Profile, Night and Day, and Sea Change. All of these audiobooks are available for download from the Lincoln City Library's downloadable audiobooks page. It has revolutionized my life, that service.

I have yet to actually read a Stone mystery from a physical book. That's my next goal. I was quite saddened, like Jana, to see that Robert B. Parker recently died, particularly (for selfish reasons) since I just discovered him and was hoping for many more Stone mysteries. I will have to try the Spenser books, perhaps.

If there is one thing that rankles a bit in the Stone books, it has to be the portrayal of him as devastatingly attractive to most (if not all) women, and also, his addiction to a bad, bad relationship with Jen, who is an interesting if fairly irredeemable character. Women like Jen--beautiful liars who sleep their way to the top--don't really exist, I always thought; they are mostly a sexist stereotype. Now, I could be wrong, but I hope I'm not. But like I said, Jen is at least marginally interesting, though Stone's blind devotion to her is puzzling. (He is working it out in therapy, of course!) Finally, there is a healthy level of on-the-job sexual innuendo at the Paradise Police Dept., and while mostly that makes me smile, sometimes I feel sorry for Molly, the lone female in the department.

If you are reading fairly hard-boiled detective novels, you're going to encounter stereotypical portrayals of women; that is a given. The great writers end up making these women compelling characters nonetheless, and my early impression of the Stone books is that Parker manages to do so successfully.

One of the most common lines of the Stone stories I've read is "Jesse smiled." He usually does this in an interrogation when he's helping someone hang themselves. Here is a photo of Selleck doing "Jesse smiled" to perfection:

(from the CBS site for the Stone series)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Evil at Heart by Chelsea Cain

Evil at Heart
by Chelsea Cain
Minotaur Books (St. Martin's)

Rating (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being best)
Plot: 4
Characters: 4
Writing: 3
Final: 3.66

Comments: Cain hasn't run out of twisted ways to torment Archie yet. I wonder how long she can keep it up. Currently, though, Susan is my favorite. I'm so glad she has become a recurring character. Here is one of my favorite Susan bits where she is casually tossing around her Lewis & Clark knowledge:
"Go Pioneers," he said.
"They should have gone with Seaman," she said.
"Excuse me?"
"They should have made the mascot Seaman. After Lewis's Newfoundland. He was right there with them, blazing the Oregon Trail."
And now, please to enjoy author Chelsea Cain with Archie & Gretchen, Episode 1: Valentine's Day

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rage, by Jonathan Kellerman

Have listened to a couple of Jonathan Kellerman novels, most recently one called Rage, which is something I feel I know a little bit about.

The crimes are horrifying.
I like Milo Sturgis, the second main character.
Interesting to have a psychologist as the main character.
I usually can't figure out the mystery.

The main guy is named "Alex Delaware"
The idea that someone named "Alex Delaware" would be attractive to two women at the same time--or any woman, at all, ever.
Having to hear Alex Delaware's perceptions of what other people look like. The books are set in L.A., and I just think the character has been driven crazy by all the plastic surgery and obsession with looks. Kellerman's descriptions are merciless and detailed and obsessive. He is also partial to partial sentences, which drives me crazy. Here's a descriptive passage from Therapy:

A pretty young girl in low-riding, skintight jeans that looked oiled and a black midriff blouse exposing a flat, tan abdomen stood in the doorway. Two belly-button pieces, one studded with turquoise. [N.B. THAT IS NOT A SENTENCE.] Over her shoulder was a black silk bag embroidered with silk flowers. She wore too much makeup, had a beak nose and a strong chin. Her hair was long, straight, the color of new hay. The blouse revealed luminous cleavage. [QUERY: WHAT IS LUMINOUS CLEAVAGE?] A big gold "K" rested in the cleft.

His love for detail extends to clothing. Here is Alex Delaware describing the clothing of a woman he's with:
When I reached Allison's office building, she was waiting out on the sidewalk, dressed in a sky-blue cashmere cowl neck sweater and a long, wine-colored skirt, drinking something from a cardboard cup and kicking the heel of one boot. Her black hair was tied back with a clip.

This man can identify cashmere on sight. This man knows what a cowl neck is. This man should be working in fashion, not delving into murder cases.

One more, because I just can't stop:

A blonde, a brunette, both in their late thirties. Big hair, heavy in the hips and bust. The blonde wore a black tank top over epidermal jeans. [QUERY: WTF] The brunette's tank was red. Backless high-heeled sandals gave them both a mincing, butt-jiggling walk. Alcohol added some wobble.

Faces that had once been pretty had been paved over by bad decisions.

I have made fun of/been terrified by these descriptions, but I will say that the crazy characters and situations make these books fun to listen to; I've enjoyed them even if they make me a little bit giddy and unhinged.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bones of Betrayal by Jefferson Bass

Bones of Betrayal
by Jefferson Bass
cloth (borrowed from my mom)
ISBN: 9780061284748

Rating (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 best)
Plot: 3.5
Characters: 3.5
Writing: 3
Final: 3.33

Comments: My favorite thing about the Body Farm novels is all of the scientific detail you get about skeletons and the process of putrefaction.

Dr. Bill Brockton is in the middle of a nuclear-terrorism disaster drill when he receives an urgent call from the nearby town of Oak Ridge—better known as Atomic City, home of the Bomb, and the key site for the Manhattan Project during World War II. Although more than sixty years have passed, could repercussions from that dangerous time still be felt today?

With his graduate assistant Miranda Lovelady, Brockton hastens to the death scene, where they find a body frozen facedown in a swimming pool behind a historic, crumbling hotel. The forensic detectives identify the victim as Dr. Leonard Novak, a renowned physicist and designer of a plutonium reactor integral to the Manhattan Project. They also discover that he didn't drown: he died from a searing dose of radioactivity.

Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich

Finger Lickin' Fifteen
by Janet Evanovich
ISBN: 0312383282
St. Martin's Press

Rating (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being best)
Plot: 2.5
Characters: 4
Writing: 3.5
Final: 3.33

Comments: Good, silly fun. Not the best in the Stephanie Plum series, but not the worst.
Stephanie Plum is working overtime tracking felons for the bonds office at night and snooping for security expert Carlos Manoso, A.K.A. Ranger, during the day. Can Stephanie hunt down two killers, a traitor, five skips, keep her grandmother out of the sauce, solve Ranger’s problems and not jump his bones?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Nero Wolfe

Good things about Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books I've listened to or read thus far
1. excellent dry tone, lovely sense of humor
2. Nero Wolfe = sublime eccentric character. Anyone who is afraid to leave the house, loves to eat, and reads all the time is a friend of mine.
3. Archie Goodwin is a great narrator, very funny/clever/gallant. Dreamy.
4. The always-angry Inspector Cramer

My boyfriend has suggested that I ditch my normal style of profanity and start to swear like Nero Wolfe. This would involve:
Pfui!: sounds like "phooey," seems to mean the same.
Confound it!: for when frustrated
[Accusing someone of] FLUMMERY: I would use this a lot. People are always trying to trick me, I feel. Webster's Collegiate lists "MUMBO JUMBO" as a synonym. Brilliant.

The very best thing NW does, however, is simply bellow NO! when he does not want to do something. Most of us had to discard that communication strategy somewhere in the terrible twos. I think the time is very ripe for a revival.

Wolfe on TV
I checked out some of the episodes of the Nero Wolfe TV program starring Murray Chaykin and Timothy Hutton; they're very enjoyable. They use a repertory theater model for minor parts, so the same people appear repeatedly in different roles. The guy who plays Inspector Cramer is brilliant. Timothy Hutton is immensely good-natured/darned adorable as Archie. Chaykin does a fabulous job of portraying Wolfe's eccentricities. Sometimes the pace is frenetic and the plots make no sense; soemtimes, the episodes fall apart. This does not matter, somehow.

Dear god, people: THERE IS A MEGA SET
So, somewhere between eighty and ninety dollars' worth of Nero Wolfe. Buy now!

Wolfe Audiobooks:
Family Affair This one is read by Michael Pritchard; he's got a great voice for Wolfe and makes Archie Goodwin very likable.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Frank Tallis, A Death in Vienna

I just read Frank Tallis's A Death in Vienna, and I really liked it.

Detectives: Max Liebermann (a psychotherapist/doctor) and Oskar Rheinhardt, a police detective

Type of series: The series (there are three books so far, I believe) is set in Vienna in the early 1900s around the time of the birth of psychoanalysis and before World War I. I'd probably characterize it as detailed and gritty historical fiction; the focus is on police procedure and on therapeutic procedure, although the characterization is also quite nicely done.

Sigmund Freud was living in Vienna at this time, and Liebermann talks to him once or twice in A Death in Vienna. Anti-Semitism was alive and well in Vienna as well, and the book hints at the emergence of the nostalgic Germanic groups that would give way, later, to Nazism.

The author: Frank Tallis is, the author description tells me, a "practicing clinical psychologist and an expert on obsessional states." In a "dossier" after the novel, he gives an excellent description of how the tasks of psychoanalysis and detective/police work dovetail. This reminded me of a work I read in graduate school wherein Jacques Lacan (a postFreudian psychoanalyst literary theorists were into at the time) did a similar thing in a reading of Poe's story "The Purloined Letter" (Poe's detective story that features C. Auguste Dupin). I like the arguments that Tallis/Lacan have made and think it is fascinating to consider the links between psychoanalysis (solving problems about the mind/character through clues) and crime fiction.

Oh yes, and a word on the book: A Death in Vienna provides great descriptions of the food, music, architecture, clothing, and manners in upper middle-class (I think) Vienna at the time. It also highlights the struggles that the emerging field of psychoanalysis was causing for the medical profession: this gets played out in an argument in the book on the best way to treat women with hysteria.

The mystery--well, I enjoyed it, but it was less compelling to me than the characters and the descriptions. There are many gorgeous passages about elaborate Austrian pastries; I long to try one of these some day.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Darker Domain by Val McDermid

A Darker Domain
Val McDermid
Palm Reader edition, December 2008

I started reading this on my trusty Treo using eReader. About halfway through I bought an iPod Touch and finished it on there (still using eReader).

McDermid is so good that things that would normally annoy me don't. For example, I don't often find myself liking mysteries that take place over a large amount of time, jumping back and forth from past to present. I'm not sure what it is about this technique that bothers me, I just know that it serves as a red flag warning me that I'm likely to be disappointed.

Here are a couple of my favorite bits from A Darker Domain:
The woman who answered the door had the air of someone who had spent her days lying down so life could more easily trample over her.


"It felt like a slap in the face. Nothing glamourous about helping the miners, was there?" A bitter little smile lit up her face. "Could have been worse, though. We could have had to put up with that sanctimonious shite Sting. Not to mention his bloody lute."

From McDermid (via
People sometimes remark that I must work hard to produce a book a year. They look offended when I laugh. Then I explain. And they get it. Both my grandfathers were miners. The one who only had daughters rejoiced that no child of his was going to have to spend a working life underground. Deep underground in the heat and the stink and the filth and the danger, they knew what hard work was, my grandfathers.

I spent a lot of my childhood in East Wemyss, staying with my grandparents. My grandfather once took me underground in the cage, strictly against the rules. I was about six years old, a lover of fairground rides and scary helter skelters. Nothing had prepared me for the way the cage dropped through the darkness, so fast I felt weightless, my stomach left behind somewhere above me. The faces around me, weirdly lit by the lamps on their helmets, were unmoved. They were used to so terrifying a start to their shift. They were destined for eight hours of hell, relieved only by the companionship of the other men on their gang. Me, I went straight back to the surface. My grandfather took me to the canteen for steamed pudding and custard.

Another memory from childhood: a close family friend, Uncle Doddy, was caught in the blast when a fuse burned too fast and a shot fired too soon. His face was wrecked, healing into a mask of scar tissue and blue-black coal tattoos. He lost most of his eyesight, spent months in a hospital bed. Everybody was reluctant to let me visit. They thought I'd be too scared. But it turned out I was too young to be scared. I knew his voice, I knew him. I had no reason to be scared. Other kids, kids who hadn't known him before—they were scared. They were terrified of the man with the melted face.

I didn't realise it then, but those tiny windows into life at the coal face tempered my whole experience of life in a mining village. It saved me from sentimentalising the community spirit that ran through East Wemyss like the veins in blue cheese. It was real enough, that sense of mutual support, that 'kick one and we all limp' mentality. People did take care of each other. It was bred in the bone, a legacy of the grim battles the miners had fought through history to earn respect and a decent living wage. My grandfather remembered when miners were treated as if they were as much the property of the mine owners as the coal itself. He remembered the strike of 1926 when he was barely thirty years old with three children and a wife to support, when they stood in line at the soup kitchen, when he walked twenty miles for a hand-out of new boots for his gang. If you didn't stand together at times like that, you all went under. The miners united will never be defeated.

They played together as well as working together. I remember mass picnics, miners' galas, football matches on terrible pitches, pit bands playing in Sunday parks. I remember visiting my grandfather in the miners' convalescent home when he was recovering from his first episode of heart disease. He'd had rheumatic fever as a boy, which had kept him out of the WWI trenches but not the mines. Years underground compounded the damage. When I was growing up, he'd walked us kids for miles along the beaches and through the woods, teaching us the names of shells and trees. The last few years, he could barely make it to the end of the street. At least by the time he was sixty, they finally had running hot water. And a bath.

Our village got a preview of the devastation that would hit mining communities after they lost the 1984 strike. In 1967 a devastating underground explosion and fire killed nine men. The Michael had been a vast, showcase mine, with seams running under the sea for miles. But there's no way to extinguish a fire like that short of sealing up the shafts. So in 1967 the Michael died and East Wemyss went into terminal decline.

The miners left to find work in other pits, taking their families with them. Only the pensioners were left. As they died off and houses were left empty, so the shops, churches and pubs closed. Then a few years ago, when Edinburgh house prices went through the roof, commuters discovered the Wemyss villages and colonised them. The pit buildings were flattened, the slag heaps trucked away and the Fife Coastal Path was inaugurated. If you want to know the history of East Wemyss, don't bother asking anyone who lives there. Google it instead.

I'm glad my grandfather was dead before Thatcher and her vindictive crew chose the miners to be the sacrificial victims of their policy to emasculate the trade union movement. If he'd been alive, it would surely have killed him to see what happened to his village replicated all over Britain's coalfields. The 1984 miners' strike is part of the history syllabus now. It feels far too recent for history to have weighed those events in the balance. But at least these days, it's not only the victors who have the chance to write the record. A DARKER DOMAIN touches on some of that history. I'm proud that it's also part of my own past.
Val McDermid talks about A Darker Domain
Interviews with Val McDermid

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman

The Girl in the Green Raincoat was serialized in The New York Times starting on September 5, 2008 (read chapter 1 here).

Here's what Laura Lippman had to say about it:
. . . And I just want to say—it was a blast. I liked everything about the experience—the challenge of writing to length and creating pieces that were semi-discrete; the face-saving corrections on salient details about my hometown (the Edmondson Drive-In! the Edmondson Drive-In!). A big thank-you to Ilena Silverman, Aaron Retica, Bill Ferguson and everyone at the Times Magazine who shepherded this girl and her “Girl” through the process.

You can read “The Girl in the Green Raincoat” online. I’m not sure when it will be published as a book. I do know that I won’t expand it; it’s the length it should be. I’m also not sure what it augurs for Tess. When I wrote the proposal, I believed it would be the definitive end to the Tess Monaghan series, but I no longer feel that way. I just don’t know how or when she will return.
I, for one, am glad to hear that we can expect more in the Tess Monaghan series. I'm also looking forward to Life Sentences, Lippman's new stand-alone novel. Unfortunately, though, it appears that Lippman won't be returning to Nebraska on her book tour. Too bad. I really enjoyed her reading last time.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Catching Up: A Random List

I'm way behind here, so I'm just going to post a quick list to get caught up:
  • I read both Slip of the Knife by Denise Mina and Hardly Knew Her by Laura Lippman (go to the bottom of this entry to browse inside Hardly Knew Her). No surprise, I very much liked them both.
  • Lots of Kindle news: The Kindle 2 came out and here a friend describes his experience with it; there is now a Kindle app for the iPhone; and, of course, that whole text to speech brouhaha.
  • Barnes & Noble bought Fictionwise, and so also eReader. Will this mean more ebooks available for Jana? Let's hope so.
  • Some friends recommended the book Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I still need to get it, but I'm hoping once I do that it gets me out of my mystery rut. Here is a brief description:
A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan's California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified "dinery server" on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilization — the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other's echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

In his captivating third novel, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre and time to offer a meditation on humanity's dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Likeness by Tana French

I actually finished this one a while back. If you recall, I ended up being really disappointed in her first book. Because of that, I hadn't planned to read this when I first heard about it. Then I read this review. And thought about how much promise In the Woods showed. I'm glad I decided to read it because this one did not disappoint.
Six months after the events of In the Woods, Detective Cassie Maddox is still recovering. Transferred out of Dublin’s Murder squad at her own request, she vows never to return. That is, until her boyfriend, Detective Sam O’Neill, calls her one beautiful spring morning, urgently asking her to come to a murder scene in the small town of Glenskehy.

It isn’t until Cassie sees the body that she understands Sam’s insistence. The dead girl is Cassie’s double, and she carries ID identifying her as Alexandra Madison, an alias Cassie herself used years ago when she worked undercover. The question becomes not only who killed this girl, but who was this girl?
Since I finished this I've started reading Field of Blood by Denise Mina and I'm seeing a lot of similarities between these two authors. I'm not the only one—this blogger compares Mina, French, and Val McDermid.