Books of the Week:
- The Poisoned Chocolates Case, Anthony Berkeley
- Downfall, Rob Thurman
- The Skeleton Takes a Bow, Leigh Perry
- Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, Diana Gabaldon
Anthony Berkeley’s wonderful mystery was originally written in 1929, and it’s still a great read, very entertaining. In the tradition of mysteries of that time, it’s lighthearted and features a group of people of varying degrees of intelligence and social status who meet to decipher a murder that has affected many of them personally. The poisoned chocolates delivered to that cad, Sir Eustace, instead killed the innocent wife of Graham Bendix. Each of the group is supposed to deliver the solution; after many ingenious theories, with a little more truth exposed each time, the most unlikely person actually solves the mystery and exposes the murderer. It’s a charming exercise in plotting. Any of Anthony Berkeley’s books are worth reading if you can find them in reprint (this one was produced by Felony and Mayhem Press).
I’ve enjoyed Rob Thurman’s books for years. Downfall is a more challenging read because it switches viewpoints from that of Cal Leandros (a half-Auph, perhaps soon to be full Auph) to that of Robin Goodfellow, who has befriended Cal and his brother Niko many, many times in reincarnation after reincarnation, only to loose them to violence. If you’ve read the other Cal and Niko books, don’t skip this one; if you haven’t, don’t start with Downfall.
My friend Leigh Perry’s new book, The Skeleton Takes a Bow, will be on the shelves Sept. 2. If you want a lighthearted mystery with a very relatable protagonist, this is your book. Perry’s Sid the Skeleton series is becoming very popular, and deservedly so. Dr. Georgia Thackery, adjunct professor, who is just scraping by making a living for herself and her daughter, returns to her family home to teach at the local college and is reunited with her friend Sid. The first book in the series tells the story of their friendship and solves the mystery of Sid’s own death. In this second book, Georgia’s daughter borrows part of Sid (his skull) for her school production of Hamlet, and Sid becomes a witness to a murder. It’s delightful reading.
Diana Gabaldon has always been one of my favorite writers, and I’m really loving Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. It’s incredibly complicated, moving what feels like a dozen characters around during the American Revolution, but well worth it. Again, it’s not the book to start reading Gabaldon on. Start with Outlander! You’ll be in for a great treat. Claire Beauchamp is one of the best characters in American popular fiction.
I’m flying over the UK later today to do some signings on my way to the ancient city of York, where I’ll be a guest of honor at Fantasy Con. I always love to meet my readers in the UK, who are invariably welcoming and polite. The compact size of the UK makes it possible for me to do two signings a day. The noon signings are designed to accommodate people on their lunch hours, so I don’t have a chance to do a talk at those. I walk in, wave, and sit down to start signing. The evening events are more relaxed, since I do get to answer questions and feel that I’ve given the audience a little bit of an experience.
After all my duties are done, I’m going on holiday with my husband. I’m pretty excited about that, since we don’t do vacations that often. I’ll check the board from time to time, I’m sure, so don’t party too hard while I’m away.
I hope some of you regularly visit the Femmes Fatales blog site on Typepad. We’re one of the oldest groups in existence (in Internet terms) since a core group of us did a print newsletter together before the prevalence of computers. We gradually shifted from print to Internet. Toni Kelner (Leigh Perry), Hank Phillipi Ryan, Donna Andrews, Dana Cameron, Dean James (Miranda James), Catriona McPherson, Elaine Viets, Kris Neri, and Marcia Talley – and me – try to put up a new blog each day. Some are about writing issues, some about reading, some about everyday life as a writer. I think they’re all entertaining. Over the years, the personnel roster has changed a bit, but we’re still plugging away. My blog sisters (and brother) are all smart and entertaining, so pay us a visit.
This week I sent the manuscript for Midnight Crossroad: The Day Shift to my new editor, Diana Gill, and to my agent, Joshua Bilmes at JABberwocky. I’d implemented Toni and Dana’s suggestions, which made it a much stronger book. I feel pretty confident, but nothing stops me from being jittery while I wait to hear from them. No matter how many books I write, or how good my sales figures may be, this is always a tense time for me. Other writers confess they feel the same.
So wish me luck, and I’ll “see” you again when I return.
The dates and locations of Charlaine’s upcoming UK book signing tour are now available. Her tour will culminate at Fantasycon in York. Please see the Events List for full details.
“I hope to see you while I’m in the UK.” – Charlaine Harris
Books of the Week:
- Irresistible Force, D. D. Ayres
- Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger
- Private Demons, Judy Oppenheimer
- The Girl Who Had Everything, Rae Foley
Irresistible Force is the first of a three-part series about police dogs and the men and women who train and deploy them. Loyal trained dogs? Hunky (and good-natured) cop handlers? What more could you ask for? If you said, “Character development,” you’ve got that, too. Shay Appleton, has been misunderstood and tormented her whole life, and has managed to build a career for herself anyway. Unfortunately, her last boyfriend was a rotten apple, and he just won’t leave Shay alone. But Shay, a volunteer at a dog shelter, adopts a dog that a very beautiful woman has just brought in. Shay doesn’t know it, but the dog is a trained K-9 corps dog belonging to Officer James Cannon. I enjoyed this book a lot, and you will, too. It’ll be on the shelves in SEPTEMBER.
William Kent Krueger is a long-time friendly acquaintance of mine, I’m proud to say. He’s also a writer who’s grown in stature every year. He’s an award nominee multiple times, and he’s won a lot, or so it seems to me. Ordinary Grace deserves all the praise that’s been heaped on it. Two minister’s sons in small-town America grow up over a summer when a series of deaths rouses prejudice and suspicion in the people. Their beloved sister, older and talented, has her own sad part to play in the unfolding of events. This is a wonderful book, elegiac in tone, about people and events long past that resonate for the rest of the lives of the characters involved.
Private Demons is a biography of one of my favorite American writers, Shirley Jackson, by Judy Oppenheimer. It’s certainly not a dry-facts recitation of the events of Jackson’s life, but a warts-and-all recounting of Jackson’s intense life, her marriage with Stanley Hyman, her four children, and her untimely death when Jackson was only in her forties. I was a little baffled by Oppenheimer’s frequent references to Jackson’s study of magic, since she does not ever spell out how Jackson used her knowledge. Was she a practitioner? Did she think of herself as a witch? It’s hard to figure out. But the conflicts Shirley had with her family are spelled out loud and clear, and also the tremendous love she had for her children.
After a discussion Facebook among a few friends, I decided I’d like to reread Rae Foley, who wrote romantic suspense in the sixties and seventies. I was surprised by The Girl Who Had Everything, because some of its themes and references are decidedly modern. On the other hand, the man with whom the heroine falls in love has no problem letting her know when he thinks she’s stepped over a line between being assertive and being shrewish. On the OTHER other hand, he doesn’t mind her being assertive. If you like slightly dated romantic suspense, a la Mary Stewart, you should get some Rae Foley books from AbeBooks or some similar used-book purveyer. They are good reading.
I’m at that point in the book I’m currently writing; the point where I can see the end approaching. I’m not exactly charging at this glorious moment full steam, because I don’t know the ground I have to cover before I get there. It’s part of the peril of writing. There are so many options open to me, it’s like being in a really fascinating store, one where you have so many garments to try on that it’s only a question of what really suits you best. (Not that I’ve ever discovered a store like that, but I can dream.)
I don’t think of myself as being good with choices, but after all, what is being a writer but making dozens of choices every working day? Is this character a blond or a brunette? Does this woman have good intentions or bad, or both? What background shall I give a character to explain the character’s behavior? How bad a mistake can a protagonist make and still engage the sympathy of the reader? The success or failure of a book can depend on the choices the writer makes.
So how do I decide?
There’s not one clear-cut answer. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could say, “The one on the right”? Sometimes you have to mentally test-drive different answers to find the most rewarding one. And you have to be aware of what tone you’re setting. Do you want the funniest result? The most dramatic? Should another character arrive on the scene to contribute? If so, which one? At the end of the scene, should your protagonist get in the car and go to the post office? Lie bleeding on her living room floor? Make passionate love with the postman?
This difficult process definitely bolsters the case for outlining. That way, at least you get some of your decisions made ahead of time. But you still have to make them. I have tried outlining, but it felt unnatural to me. (At this point, for every book, I think I should have tried it again.)
Every fork in the road, every choice made, every decision chosen. Well, it’s daunting, but that’s the job. To paraphrase the government officials in “The Hunger Games”: May the choices be always in your favor.
Books of the Week:
- Shattered, Kevin Hearne
- Zoo City, Lauren Beukes
- Shapeshifted, Cassie Alexander
I had the pleasure of hanging around with Kevin Hearne at Phoenix ComicCon. In fact, he took me and two other writers to Rula Bula, the bar that features largely in the first two or three Iron Druid books. We had a kind of guided tour of the topography of Atticus’s world, and it was fascinating. Shattered is something of a departure for Hearne, since it’s not only his first hardback Iron Druid book, but it’s also told from three points of view now that there are three Druids. Finally, Atticus discovers the identity of his secret enemy, and there’s a pitched battle. The newest Druid, Granuaile, becomes more and more a strong character in her own right. Of course, Shattered is as action-packed as its predecessors.
Lauren Beukes is not the kind of writer who likes to explain what her world is like. She’s an immersion writer; she plunges you into the protagonist’s world and lets you swim to shore on your own. And it’s a strange South Africa. Murderers carry animals with them perpetually, animals that have sought them out. These animals (the protagonist, Zinzi, has a sloth) both mark the carrier as a criminal and yet give a particular gift. Zinzi is a finder of lost things. This is one of her more reputable means of making a living. Zoo City is spellbinding and dazzlingly original.
Shapeshifted is the third Cassie Alexander novel I’ve read, and I enjoyed it just as much as the first. Edie Spence, Alexander’s nurse protagonist, has a real talent for getting into trouble and somehow getting out of it, but each time she seems to have sacrificed something, even if it’s only her couch. And she’s so often sleep-deprived, I worry a little about her patients. But Edie is loyal and tough and determined, and these are all characteristics you want in an urban fantasy hero, which she certainly is. In this book, Edie finds her mother has cancer, and Edie wants some vampire blood to cure her. But Edie’s being shunned by the supernatural community. How’s she going to get it? A loose plot point or two get tied up in this book, but other threads are left open. We can all look forward to what happens next.
Last week, I was invited to the Hallmark Channel’s party, held to introduce the press to what the channel’s going to be doing in the new TV year. For one thing, it’s changing its name, to Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. This signals a change of direction, though I don’t think it’s a huge one; Hallmark viewers have always liked mysteries of the milder sort. There’s a huge viewership – huge – that doesn’t like provocative programming. And that’s where I come in. Aurora Teagarden, the heroine of my first mystery series, is perfect for the Hallmark demographic. If all goes well, there’ll be a series of two-hour movies, each one based on one of the Aurora books.
And, as you perhaps already know, Candace Cameron Bure will be Aurora. I’ve already heard a number of protests about this casting, but I’m delighted. She’s a Hallmark viewer favorite, she’s charming and lovely, and she can act. It was a pleasure meeting her at the party (we talked about our children), and I’m pretty excited about the whole process.
This year, the event (usually held in an auditorium or similar arrangement) was held at a mansion rented for this purpose, in the hills above Hollywood. The view from the terrace was spectacular, and the theme was Christmas in July.
I did not wear the right clothes or jewelry to this shindig, I’m sorry to say, and yet I didn’t suffer unduly. Obviously the right thing to wear is a short form-fitting dress and some killer heels, and I don’t have the shape to wear either the garment or the shoes, so I have to cobble something together. In this case, I wore a black leather jacket, a dark blue tank, and black pants. And a major necklace. I got my toenails painted dark blue and I wore black sandals with an inch heel. I’m telling you all this so you can appreciate the torturous process I have to go through when I get invited to something like this. I have to say, I was comfortable (except for the shoes; I simply hate heels) and when the sun went down, I was glad of the jacket. Sometimes you win; sometimes you miss the mark. But now I don’t feel bad about it, so that’s an improvement!
The people who work for Hallmark (Crown Media) were all very friendly. And here’s who I spotted at the party: Morgan Fairchild, Bruce Boxleitner, Andie McDowell, Greg Harrison, and Jon Voight. (I’m still stumped by his presence, because I missed the explanation.) There were many more actors who are familiar to Hallmark watchers, but they were new to me. I look forward to sampling the Hallmark programming in preparation for this experience.
And here you go — interesting tidbit: When my media escort (a lovely young woman assigned by the studio to match me up with interviewers) took me into the mansion’s dining room, underneath the vast table was a glass floor, through which you could see the swimming pool. Wow.
Books of the Week:
- The Kindred of Darkness, Barbara Hambly
- Designated Daughters, Margaret Maron
- Skin Game, Jim Butcher
I’ve always enjoyed Barbara Hambly’s books, from the very excellent mystery series about Benjamin January to her vampire novels. I was delighted to find there was a new book in her James Asher/Don Simon Ysidro series, The Kindred of Darkness. While Oxford don and secret spy James Asher is off on one of his mysterious journeys to the continent, the most horrible thing happens: in his wife Lydia’s absence, their little girl and her nanny are kidnapped by the vampires of London. Lydia and James know exactly what can happen to their child. They discover what they must do to ensure Miranda’s return: destroy an interloping vampire who is somehow able to hide his whereabouts from the English vampires. In such a great crisis they must ask for the help of their ally, the terrifying Don Simon Ysidro, a vampire who loves Lydia. This is another satisfying entry in a series that puts the awfulness back in bloodsuckers.
Designated Daughters is by Margaret Maron, which is like saying there’s a seal of goodness stamped on the cover. Maron’s consistently excellent writing has secured her one of the great landmarks of the mystery world: she has been voted a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America. Judge Deborah Knott is a great character; she’s part of a huge family, children and grandchildren of the bootlegger Kezzie Knott. Deborah’s married to Deputy Dwight Bryant and a happy stepmother at this stage of her life. Part mystery, part meditation on the role of caregivers, the book is based on the curious circumstance of a dying woman who says too much.
Jim Butcher is one of the biggest names in urban fantasy. This is no surprise to anyone who’s been following his career. Butcher’s Harry Dresden books are amazingly, consistently, outstanding (to my admiration and envy). Skin Game has flickers of hope for Harry to come; amidst all the double-dealing and mayhem, the disasters and near-brushes with death, Harry and former police officer and ally Karin finally have a conversation about their feelings for each other. There’s so much to enjoy in this full-tilt adventure that I’m not even going to attempt to summarize the plot.
Like all other writers, at every personal appearance I’m asked the same things. But the most common questions, the ones posed at every speaking engagement, are: “Who’s your favorite writer? What’s your favorite book?”
My answer has come to be, “It depends on which week it is.” I have read so many books and found so much to admire that I have no one clear response. Sure, I have writers that I often recommend to people who like my books. But that too can depend on which books of mine they’ve enjoyed the most. If they’ve liked my conventional mysteries, I can safely recommend any of my friends with whom I blog: Donna Andrews, Toni L.P. Kelner (Leigh Perry), Miranda James (Dean James), Catriona McPherson, Mary Saums, Marcia Talley, Dana Cameron, Hank Phillipi Ryan, Elaine Viets. Or I can advise them to read Margaret Maron, or Carolyn Hart, or Eve Sandstrom, or Denise Swanson.
If they’re readers who like something edgier, I can tell them what pleasure I’ve found in Laura Lippman, or Robert Crais, or Lee Child, or Karin Slaughter, or Charlie Huston.
If you tell me you like writers who write both mysteries and science fiction, well, I’ve got a list of those, starting with Barbara Hambly and stretching onward.
Out and out urban fantasy? Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Kelley Armstrong, Carrie Vaughn, Kevin Hearne, Benedict Jacka, Mike Carey . . .
Much, much edgier fantasy? Oh, gosh, just a few: Richard Kadrey, Lillian Saintcrow, Rob Thurman, Laurell K. Hamilton.
And that’s just living writers. Don’t get me started on dead ones.
So please, if you see me in person, be prepared for a long answer if you ask me who my favorite writer is.
And if you really care who I’m reading, you can find out what books I’ve read for the past two years; at least, the ones I’ve enjoyed. Just click on BOOK & BLOG here on this website. You can find out there.
There are so many great books out there. The only problem, as I see it, is finding the time to read them. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, and I’m probably going to do so again. It’s one of the few things I see no other side to.
Books of the Week:
- A Shiver of Light, Laurell K. Hamilton
- Bad Angels, Rebecca Chance
- The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, Joel Dicker
- Cop Town, Karin Slaughter
Laurell K. Hamilton’s decision to wrap up the Meredith Gentry series will leave a lot of fans desolate, but other readers will be happy because this means she can concentrate on her Anita Blake books. As always with Hamilton, the world she created for America’s own faerie princess is complex, vital, and dangerous. Though sometimes she seems to get sidetracked by making sure the reader knows all the details of that world, Hamilton’s world building is amazing. If you’ve read all the previous Meredith Gentry books (when last we saw our part-human heroine, she was pregnant with multiples), you really have to read A Shiver of Light. There’s no happily-ever-after for this faerie tale, but there is a glimpse of what could be a less dangerous life for all concerned. Plus, babies!
I knew Rebecca Chance under her previous writing guise, so I bought Bad Angels out of sheer curiosity. It won’t surprise anyone that Rebecca Chance is just as great a romance writer as Lauren Henderson was a mystery writer. There’s not ONE romance in her books, there are SEVERAL . . . it’s like the thriller of the romance world. This plot includes an actress who is having all her plastic surgery undone, a killer who’s recovering from plastic surgery also, the nurse who tends both of them, the Russian zillionaire who owns the penthouse, the concierge, a football player . . . well, you can tell a lot happens, and there’s plenty of love to go around. Sounds like a mess, doesn’t it? But it’s great reading and a ton of fun.
Joel Dicker has become an international phenomenon, and The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair has been published in 32 languages. Dicker is young, Swiss, and now incredibly well known for this book, which is set in America. I’m breaking my habit about talking about books that didn’t appeal to me, because obviously I’m missing something. Here’s the plot: a young writer, Marcus, has been mentored throughout his college career by Harry Quebert, a teacher at the college who has one very, very successful book. The subject of that book is the love affair between a very young woman and an older man. But then the skeleton of a missing girl is found on the property of Harry Quebert, and he’s arrested. Marcus spends months trying to prove his innocence, and regaining his writer’s chops. (His dealings with his increasingly irascible publisher are really funny, and scary, to any writer, I have to say.) I read this book all the way through, but in the end, it simply didn’t resonate with me. I am clearly in the minority over this, and I hope many of you read and enjoy it.
Cop Town, which will be on the shelves in JULY, is simply amazing. Karin Slaughter and I know each other, and I was really interested when she sent me a copy . . . and I found a character was named for me. But that aside, this is an exciting book. It’s set in Atlanta in 1974, and it’s about women police. Newcomer Kate Murphy faces challenges her first day as a cop, challenges which would make most of us run screaming, and she’s a little surprised when she doesn’t. The female cops are ghettoized by the male cops, and the black female cops and the white ones are sharply divided to the point where they have to negotiate territory. The case that is the catalyst for the action in the book is the shooting of a policeman and his partner. What happens after that is incredible. This is some truly great writing and a truly great book. Please read it.
By the time you read this, I’ll be in Phoenix at ComicCon. Most of my professional traveling for the year will be done, and I can actually put my suitcases away until late August, when I leave for the UK for FantasyCon in York. That’ll be really nice. After that I have a speech at Books in the Basin in Midland, Texas, in October, and Bouchercon in California in November. Now I’m weighing the events I want to attend next year, and I already have a few lined up. Planning my travel is a constant balancing act.
I know a lot of people who travel more than I do for work, people who are on the road over half of the year. Some of them try to find something fun to see or do everywhere they go, and some make the process as painless as possible by holing up in a hotel room and staying private. I sympathize with both attitudes. When I first started being on the road a lot, I felt like a failure if I didn’t take advantage of being in a new city. I had to see at least something that made me realize I wasn’t home any longer. But usually signing trips are so quick – you land, go to the hotel, go to the venue, go back to the hotel, go to the airport – that there’s really hardly any time to sightsee.
Now that I’m older, I tend to let the travel roll over me while I look straight ahead at what comes next. It’s like having blinders on, I suppose. This minimizes the wear and tear on me, but it does make tours seem curiously homogenized. I remember cities by their hotels! The Heathman in Portland, the Four Seasons in Seattle, the Adolphus in Dallas . . . and all points in between. There are certainly worse things than having to stay in luxury hotels across America!
I do wonder how many more years of traveling I have in me. I feel a little more reluctant every time I leave, arthritis makes me uncomfortable, and I regret the work slowdown. I am not as productive when I’m on the road. I know plenty of writers who manage to keep to their work schedule, but I’m not one of the happy band. I can see the day coming when I’ll just say, “Naaaah. I don’t think so.”
Until that time . . . did I put in my charger cord? Did I replace the Bandaid in my bathroom bag? Are the batteries in my little flashlight still good?
A “group of writers, specifically chosen by Charlaine, pays tribute to ‘the southern, mind-reading belle who gets mixed up in the world of vampires and magical creatures’ (The Kansas City Star) with a collection of fifteen all-new stories about your favorite residents of Bon Temps.
Publisher: Ace Hardcover (November 25, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0425271749; ISBN-13: 978-0425271742
Also Available in Kindle, Nook and Audio formats.
Books of the Week:
Since I’ve been travelling, I’m doing a lot of rereading. I’m going through Laurell K. Hamilton’s Meredith Gentry books in preparation for the publication of the final one. And I have decided to get back to my mystery roots and read a lot of Agatha Christie and a lot of Rex Stout. Short, concise, and to the point: Christie and Stout have more in common than you’d think. When I’ve finished travelling, I’ll start reading new stuff again, and I’ll have more to talk about.
BLESSED BE THE TIES
Yesterday was Mother’s Day, a holiday created to sell cards, flowers, and candy. It’s also been a boon to restaurants everywhere in America. But the sentiment at the heart of it is a real one. It’s a day of recognition, a day to stand back and really consider a basic relationship.
Writers don’t create from a vacuum. We are all at the center of our own webs, our ties to family and friends and business associates — our origins and our futures.
When I was a “tween” and a teen, I held the firm belief that writers had to live in New York, had to play poker, and they had to drink . . . a lot. Maybe this was the Hemingway model? I know he lived in Florida in the later part of his life, and I have no idea if he played poker or not, but this was my naïve impression.
I was sure it would embarrass my parents horribly if I carried on in such a fashion. Though carousing in college seemed to be expected, I figured it would be sort of depraved to carry that behavior any farther.
When I finally achieved adulthood – much later than I should have, frankly – I finally understood that writers are all just people, and people come in all sorts and persuasions. Some writers DO live in New York and drink a lot. Lots of writers can play poker. But a vast majority of them live scattered across the world and have more or less moderate-to-negligent alcohol habits. And some of them prefer a vigorous game of Scrabble.
Think of how boring our work would be if we all adhered to my stereotype! I believe it’s our ties that make our work diverse and rich. Our families and friends (and enemies, too) will always be huge influences on our writing.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Books of the Week:
- Pack of Strays, Dana Cameron
- Brazen, Kelley Armstrong
- Beneath the Dark Ice, Greig Beck
- Watcher in the Shadows, Geoffrey Household
Just about anyone who knows me knows that Dana Cameron is one of my best friends. So you know I’m going to love her work, and Pack of Strays is well worth your reading time. This is Dana’s second Fangborn book – in the Fangborn world, werewolves, vampires, and seers are dedicated to helping humanity – but of course, this isn’t going to go smoothly, since they must keep their existence secret. Zoe Miller, an archaeologist, is a newly self-discovered Fangborn who’s had the misfortune to open Pandora’s Box. She has plenty of enemies to battle now: evil politicians who will reveal the existence of her race, and the Order of Nicomedia, who just wants to wipe out the Fangborn. There’s action and conflict aplenty for any urban fantasy lover.
Kelley Armstrong’s Brazen is a fun read for any Armstrong enthusiast (I am one, of course). Nick Sorrentino, the Casanova of the Pack, has to team up with part-demon Vanessa Callas to track packleader Jeremy Danver’s psychotic dad Malcolm. Along the way, Nick is able to show Vanessa he’s a fighter as well as a lover, and she’s able to relax with him enough to discover her inner female. Brazen is a short, fun, novel that expands on Armstrong’s wonderful Women of the Underworld series.
Beneath the Dark Ice is like an action movie caught in words. It’s high adventure, and if you’re in the mood for an action book, this is the one you should pick up. Scientists and commandos are sent on a mission together to the Antarctic, where a plane has crashed into a hitherto unsuspected cave system. Within twenty four hours, all contact with the survivors has been lost. Of course there’s a manly leader (Captain Alex Hunter) and a womanly scientist (petrobiologist Aimee Weir) who are attracted to each other while trying to survive all sorts of awful creatures.
Every now and then I just have to read Geoffrey Household. With an amazing economy of words and lots of hinted-at depths in his characters, Household gives us genuine tension in the most unlikely settings. In post-WWII Britain, reclusive zoologist Charles Dennim, who had a most interesting war, is tracked by a killer who wants nothing more than to end Dennim’s life in the most painful way possible . . . for exactly the wrong reason. An amazingly spare story, Watcher in the Shadows is everything a suspense novel should be.
There are books that are deep and wonderful and rouse great feelings in their passages. There are books that are fun and delightful and entertain you greatly for a certain duration. And there’s nothing wrong with loving both. I read a book recently that was so excellent, so fraught with tension and truth, that I couldn’t think what to read afterward. So I picked up a cozy, a conventional mystery, and was perfectly happy with its crafting motif against which is stacked a murder. Why not? There’s no rule that states that every book we read has to change our lives, or our politics, or our social outlook.
I’ve run up against all too many scornful readers, the kind who think that if you’re not reading a book in which a detective comes up against many ignorant and socially backward antagonists, you’re not reading anything worth the paper it’s printed on . . . especially if the ending is unambiguous and satisfying. I don’t prefer one over the other; it’s whatever I’m in the mood for.
I don’t listen to the same kind of music all the time, either. Why this militance over reading material?
It seems there’s always a brouhaha in the reading world, when some literary lion condescends to visit the genre ghetto, or when some genre writer soars and “transcends the genre,” as if that was something utterly desirable. And then there’s infighting between the knights of noir and the constables of cozy. And they all band together to deride the sameness of romance and joke about the covers.
Perhaps musicians do this, too. Maybe country fiddlers mock orchestra violinists, and ukulele players laugh at both. And I’m sure classical ballet dancers have a few things to say about hip-hop moves. To say nothing of the way portrait artists may feel about performance art.
I doubt this infighting will come to a stop any time soon. It seems very much like an episode of “Family Feud.” Who knows? Maybe the squabbling attracts spectators who will read/listen to/dance with/buy the art of one or more of the contestants . . . er, combatants.
Certainly, I’m not above getting a good mad on, as the Isabel Allende controversy proved.
In retrospect, it all seems a bit silly. All we artists are trying to make a living in a world in which fortune favors only a few. It might behoove us to drop our maces and swords (or teacups and petit fours) and concentrate on working harder, rather than swinging at each other.
On the other hand, who’s for a good brawl? Man, I can’t stand those game designers . . . or what about bassoon players? Weird!
Books of the Week:
- Nightshifted, Cassie Alexander
- Possession, Kat Richardson
- Night Broken, Patricia Briggs
- Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire
- Derek’s Bane and Wolf at the Door, MaryJanice Davidson
Nightshifted was an unexpectedly appealing book. It sounded interesting, and I bought it on a whim. Paid off in spades! Cassie Alexander’s first book about Nurse Edie Spence is dark and energetic. Edie Spence works at much-despised County Hospital because she has made a deal with the Shadows who inhabit it; her addict brother’s life is safe as long as she works on ward Y4. Y4 has its own elevator, it’s so secret. This ward is for supernatural creatures with medical problems. Edie is new, and she makes mistakes. Mistakes on Y4 can have dreadful consequences. You’ll really enjoy this book; I’m looking forward to reading the others in the series.
Kat Richardson is long-time friend of mine, and I’m an admirer of hers. I think Possession is the best book in her Graywalker series in a long time. Not that any of them have been slouches, because Kat is a very good writer – but Possession is baffling and exciting. Three “vegetative” patients suddenly start exhibiting talents they’ve never had, with no awareness they are acting. Harper is called in by the sister of one of them, and as she explores this phenomenon she becomes more and more aware that something terrifying is going on, something that must be stopped at any cost.
I hesitated over reading Night Broken, because I personally dislike old girlfriend/first wife reappearing plots. But Patricia Briggs can make such a tired trope sing. Mercy’s Adam has a first wife that is so frustrating you want to scream, because Christy has a talent for making other people love her and want to help her. And she’s not evil. She’s “just” manipulative in the extreme, perhaps not completely consciously. There are pack members who still think Christy was a more desirable wife for Adam than Mercy is. Of course they’re wrong, and we proceed to find out in the course of a truly harrowing book why Mercy is the lead female in the pack, though she’s a coyote.
Sparrow Hill Road is Seanan McGuire’s May book. In fact, it comes out the same day mine does. This is a departure for McGuire, as “Midnight Crossroad” is for me. Other than that, they’re completely different. Sparrow Hill Road is about a ghost, Rose Marshall, and her struggles to live in the ghost world and to avenge her own death. It’s fascinating, the way anything by Seanan McGuire is, but it’s not as lighthearted as her Incryptid books. Enjoy the story of Rose and her tribulations in the afterworld.
I needed a dose of funny last week, so I reread MaryJanice Davidson’s Derek’s Bane (werewolf Derek is charged will killing Dr. Sara Gunn, whom a visionary werewolf believes is the reincarnation of the evil Morgan le Fay), and Wolf at the Door (werewolf accountant Rachel is sent to Minnesota to spy on the Queen of the Vampires, our very own Betsy, but in the process meets another accountant, Edward Batley, who is trying to make his life more interesting. He succeeds beyond his wildest dreams. Davidson is always fun, and somehow I feel more optimistic about things in general after I’ve read a book of hers.
THE WORLD IS WATCHING
While watching the news recently, I saw a few minutes of testimony in the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa. I’m sure most of you are familiar with this case, that of the Blade Runner and the young woman he shot to death, Reeva Steenkamp. Whatever your opinion of his state of mind at the moment of shooting (Did he truly think there was an intruder in his house, or did he knowingly kill Steenkamp?) you have to be aware he’s putting on the performance of his life. So is the prosecutor.
How much does being watched change the event being watched? Do you think televising a trial make it a different event altogether? While theatrics in the courtroom are nothing new – lawyers have been summoning up the drama since there was such a profession – having a crowd of onlookers in a courtroom can’t compare with the thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, who are passive participants in a televised trial.
Is it remotely possible to block that from one’s awareness?
Since the words said in that courtroom are echoing around the world, in effect, the defendant is on trial twice: once in the courthouse, and in secondly in the court of public opinion.
Sure, it’s always been that way, at least to some extent. I don’t imagine Lizzie Borden was a popular dinner guest after her acquittal – but most likely if she travelled, she would not be recognized. Reaching further back in time, probably no one was anxious to sip tea brewed by Scotland’s Madeleine Smith, who ended her days in America in secret. And these two were acquitted, as possibly (though not probably) Pistorius may be.
Now that we have such universal and instantaneous information networks, I don’t believe there’s any way for the verdict reached in a courtroom to be the final one. I think we’ve all joined in being judge and jury.