Second time around, Part 1

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
Recently
a genre study has compelled me to finish two books I’d started and discarded
(not literally; I returned them to the library). And in both cases, reading them was a
happy experience.
I’d had
a feeling I’d like The Spellman Files,
but I must not’ve been in the mood the first time I started reading it. This
time, though, I was only ornery during the first few chapters, during which
Izzy Spellman, the 20-something narrator, talks about her badass misbehaving
petty crime days. I kind of wanted to slap her.
But
then the book improved, as her family became more of the story and as Izzy
seemed to start to grow up.
Hers
is a family of private detectives, and everyone’s in on the act, even her
little sister Rae, who was bit with the bug as a child and conducted her first surveillance
at age 6. I adore that girl.
So her
family is enchantingly offbeat, and that’s always a plus.
And
the structure of the book appealed to me. Each chapter had a theme—such as her
ex-boyfriends or her uncle Ray’s lost weekends—yet the story moved forward
nicely even with these side excursions (which actually provided some great
background information about the characters).
And
Izzy is a Get Smart addict, and
there’s lots to like about that.

So,
yeah. I liked it enough that I have book 2, Curse of the Spellmans, riding around with me in the car, queued up
as my next audiobook. I don’t dive willy nilly into a series, so this is a
meaningful step, guys.

Also — I got all the way through the book without realizing it doesn’t exactly contain a mystery. In fact, no substantial mystery whatsoever. But the book still works. It’s really quite something.

More Elmore

Killshot by Elmore Leonard

When anyone says the words “Elmore Leonard,” I get a dreamy look in my eye. I adore that guy.

So when a friend chose one of his books for our book club, I was a happy girl.
Then I got partway through the audiobook, and my happiness began to wane a bit. And I know exactly why.
This book gave me a feeling of dread, and I thought, “This thing’s a horror novel!”*
Because here’s the premise: A nice, ordinary couple, through no fault of their own, find themselves pursued by a professional hit man and his sociopathic sidekick. So they enter the witness protection program, and that’s a whole new nightmare. 
And meanwhile, during at least half of the book, we’re hanging out with the bad guys. And I’ve basically decided life is too short to waste on such stuff, so I would’ve bailed on the book had it not been assigned for book club.
Also, I knew Elmore wouldn’t let me down. And sure enough, he brought it home in style. But still, I think I’ll be spending more time on the sunny side of the street. 
*It’s not. 

In which excessive TV viewing is confessed

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Well, guys, it’s
happened.
I’ve fallen in love
with a TV show based on a book series, before having read the books themselves.
I know.
Shameful.

Sherlock, I hold you fully responsible for my fall. You seduced me, you minx of a
BBC production.


So when I finally read a Sherlock Holmes novel, I was
seeing Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson. Normally,
I’d be writhing in pain at the thought of doing this backwards—watching before
reading—but in this case, I’m just rolling with it and feeling pretty darn content.

Nothing but one
more sign that society’s gone to heck in a handbasket: a natural-born reader is
TV-addicted when it comes to Sherlock.

But there’s kind of
a happy ending here… When I read A Study
in Scarlet
, I adored it. It made me happier than I ever could’ve imagined. And
part of it is because I was envisioning my two friends from the telly in the
lead roles. But also because I was discovering what aspects of the story were
used in the TV series, and I know: it’s wrong to watch before reading.

I feel like I
should apologize, but I shall not.

Instead, there’s a
very real danger that I may become a minor little non-serious, merely adoring Sherlockian. 

(Dang! Should’ve kept that hardbound Sherlock Holmes set I bought as a new
librarian, convinced I’d read and love them. Finally, after more than a decade
of not reading them, I hauled them off to the library book sale. Some lucky got
a deal on uncracked bindings.)


The only thing that
mystified me—and my friend, too—was the Mormon interlude in the middle of the
book. Too long, too rambling, too weird. Other than that, this was one darn
happy reading experience.

And to think I
expected stodginess…  

Against type

(photo credit: Library of Congress)
Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson
Recently I broke a
solemn vow I’d made to myself.
You know those
horrid little Christmas-season books—usually novellas—that are published by
bestselling authors of series?
I detest those
things.
They’re a
combination of grotesque commercialism and sentimental tripe, and I can’t
stomach them.
Well, after
swearing I’d never read one, guess what?
Craig Johnson wrote
one of those things. 

And I read it

And, damn it, I liked it. 
But that’s only
because of Craig Johnson. This is not going to become a habit, this reading of
the Christmas-themed mini-books.
And I have to
acknowledge that even though nearly this entire book took place on a B-25
Mitchell, I still found the plot a bit thin. It was basically an adventure
story. Now I have no quarrel with that, but it didn’t result in quite the usual
Craig Johnson bliss attack I usually experience.
So the story is
that when Walt Longmire was a brand new sheriff, he needed to get a little girl
flown to the hospital in Denver
after a car accident. And the weather was ghastly and the only plane that
possibly could make the flight was this old warbird. And Lucian Connally, the
crusty old feller who was sheriff before him, had been a Doolittle Raider, so
the dude could handle that kind of aircraft. And off they go.
So there’s lots of
stuff to like there: Walt, Lucian, an airplane. And a female pilot in the right
seat. A happy (of course—it’s a Christmas book, for the love of Mike) ending. And
I liked it just fine.
Crow: eaten.*
*tasted like chicken

I dropped everything and read

A Serpent’s Tooth by Craig Johnson
OK, I’m gonna try
to do the thing Joyce Saricks suggests: apply 3 terms to describe a book.
For the latest by
Craig Johnson, the terms I’m choosing are:
wry
testosterone
Western/mystery
This latest in his
stellar series particularly feels like a Western to me, and that’s a huge
compliment. I’ve got me a weakness for the Westerns. But it’s clearly still a
full-fledged mystery, too.
I’ve also got me a
weakness for Walt Longmire. And for his friend Henry Standing Bear, too. These
fellas are the manly sort of men: they don’t say much, but when they do, it’s
pretty darn good.
And Vic, his
undersheriff (and love interest) is pretty entertaining, too.
Here’s an exchange
between Walt and Vic:
“I eased back in my
chair. ‘Can I talk now?’
‘No, you cannot
talk until you show some semblance of being able to behave like a rational,
reasonable law-enforcement professional.’
I considered. ‘I’m
not going to be able to talk for the rest of my life?’”  (p. 200)
And, yeah, this
book has a plot and everything. Some Mormon fundamentalists are moving into
Walt’s county, which he discovers via a boy who’s been cast out from the group.
And then stuff gets
interesting. There are guns and shootouts and explosions and all kinds of good
crap like that. And things aren’t what
they seem…
So, while the plot
races right along (there was one point where I was turning the pages fast with my eyes wide), the thing I
continue to love about this series is its people. I like Walt’s narrative voice
and dry sense of humor, I like Henry’s use of plain language, I like Vic’s
cursing, and I like the strong sense of teamwork that infuses these stories.

So all I can say
is: thank you, Mr. Johnson, for gracing the Junes of my recent years with your
latest installment. Please don’t stop

Mystery series, still going strong

Garment of Shadows
by Laurie R. King
So Laurie R. King does a risky thing in this book: she inflicts
Mary Russell with amnesia. And, as even the characters in the book remark,
that’s something that usually happens only in books that need it as a plot
device.
But in King’s hands, I’m telling you: it works.
And after the previous book in this series, Pirate King, felt a bit flat to me, it was a delight to find that
King has returned to fine form.
It’s hard to believe this is the 12th book in the
series, but that’s the situation.
Here, Russell and Holmes (once they reunite and Mary’s memory
returns) get involved in the labyrinthine politics of 1924 Morocco, and
people are getting kidnapped and shot at and run down by cars, and it’s all
wildly exciting.
The brothers Hazr (who appear in O Jerusalem and Justice Hall)
reappear here, which adds a blast-from-the-past aspect to an otherwise
unfamiliar setting.
In spite of all the high action that runs through the pages, the
thing that’ll stick with me about this book is the way Mary recognized Holmes
as belonging to her tribe even before she was able to remember who he was. That
was rather lovely.

Clowns are scary

Hunting Sweetie
Rose
by Jack Fredrickson
I’m wildly fond of this author. This is the 3rd book in
his mystery series, and it’s as good as the 1st
That’s some serious praise.
Dek still lives in the turret his grandfather built, and he
continues to spar with the city officials who claim the property for themselves. 
And his on-again/off-again relationship with his ex-wife Amanda continues. (Yeah,
it’s time to move on, dude.) 
And his
wonderfully weird friend Leo is still hanging around being odd and
entertaining.
The new thing here is Dek’s
latest case: he’s asked to investigate the death of a clown (Scary! Clowns are
hella scary!)
who plunged to his death off a roof while performing a stunt.
Yup, probably it was murder. 
And it’s a strange situation, because Dek doesn’t
know at first who actually hired him. So that’s the second mystery to solve.
And the whole thing gets all convoluted fast.
Looking forward to book 4…

Two for the price of one*

Restless in the
Grave
by Dana Stabenow

Oh, this is good, guys.
Stabenow’s brought back Liam Campbell. Yes, he of Fire and Ice and the 3 other books—the
series I wish Stabenow’d return to.
Here, she does that nifty thing mystery writers do when they have
more than one series—she goes and has the detectives meet. Love.It!
So here we get to see Kate Shugak on Liam Campbell’s turf, and
that’s pretty interesting. I sorta kinda like it when a detective leaves her
home base and treks out on her own, without her their usual posse accompanying
her. It’s almost like a character study in a way.
So, yeah. Liam hires Kate to investigate the suspicious death of a
pilot, because his wife Wy, also a pilot, had had words with the guy right before his death. So the townspeople are
a-talkin’. So Kate and Mutt are on the case, and mayhem ensues.
Now, these days I’m feeling a wee bit distracted when reading, so
some of the ins and outs of this plot didn’t really stick with me (actually, I didn’t really stick with them) because my attention was all
wandering all over creation while I was trying to read. 
Nonetheless, this book
does all the stuff mysteries are supposed to do, and plus it’s got two
remarkable detectives in it. What’s not to like?
*No, I’m not talking about the Clinton campaign promise 

P.D. James… again

Talking about Detective Fiction by
P.D. James

At the same time that I was reading Death Comes to Pemberley, I was listening to this book on audio.
(Actually, I wasn’t precisely reading them both at the very same time, because there is a limit to my multi-tasking
abilities. But I was reading them during the same timeframe.)
And maybe that was just a bit too much P.D. James all at once, or
maybe… (and I actually think this is the reason)… maybe I just got too darn
good an education during library school.
’Cause here’s what I kept thinking all the way through the section
about the Golden Age mystery writers: Yeah, I learned that in library school.
And that, too! So this (audio)book was kinda boring, a little bit.
So I really only perked up and got interested in the new stuff
somewhere around disc 4 (of 4). That’s where James started talking about her
own writing, and that was darn interesting. For example, she learned from
Agatha Christie’s experience (of getting annoyed with Hercule Poirot’s
oddities) not to make her main character too quirky. And she writes about the
inspiration for the settings of some of her books, and that’s good stuff, too.
some of my Agathas
(just don’t look too close: dust bunnies!
…because reading’s way more fun than dusting)
Though, one saving grace: James isn’t as hard on Agatha Christie as
some people are. Sure, Christie’s characters were cardboard cut-outs, but
guys—that lady could write one heck of a plot! During junior high and high
school, I read every darn Agatha Christie mystery I could get my hands on, and
I’ve still got a boatload of them on my shelves today. I’ve a fondness for
those old things.
And James recognizes Christie for her strengths, while also
acknowledging her weaknesses… and rather forgiving them, it seems. 

If you’re a huge P.D. James fan and just can’t get enough of her viewpoint, or if you’re interested in learning the basics of the 19th- and early 20th-century roots of the mystery novel, this book might hold your attention better than it did mine. I just felt like I was watching a re-run of a documentary I’d already seen.

P&P Part 2

Death Comes to
Pemberley
by P.D. James
This is a tall order: Write a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, and throw in a murder. If anyone could do it
justice, it’s P.D. James. And I think she does.
But still, I was a wee bit disappointed. Which actually makes me
feel like a dreadful ingrate, because the book’s darn good and decently
captures the feeling of both P & P and
a decent historical mystery.
I’m not sure, really, what I found lacking. I think maybe I just
feel like it’s somewhat bogus when anyone (even Baroness James herself) deigns
to write a sequel to a classic. There’s something in me that just kind of looks
askance on such a thing, even when I know it’s been done by an expert.
OK, so enough about that.
The mystery in the book is this: Mr. Denny, Wickham’s sidekick,
ends up dead in the Pemberley woods. And that’s decidedly not OK, because Pemberley is meant to be all that is good and calm
and decent. And it appears that the horrid Wickham has murdered his friend
(heck, he even confesses).
And then the investigation and trial begin… and there were moments
where I actually had the feeling I was reading an Anne Perry novel (during the
trial at the Old Bailey). This isn’t a bad thing, just odd. 
There are some surprises in the story, which is
always a fine thing in a mystery, and it all made sense and rang true and did all the things a sequel is meant to do.
But still. I’m only mostly satisfied.