August 10, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Broken Homes, Ben Aaronovitch
  • Cold Shot to the Heart, Wallace Stroby
  • My Friends Call Me Moon, James Morrow Walton

It’s work pointing out that inspired by our trip to the UK, I’ve also been brushing up on my Agatha Christie. The godmother of mystery was not what we would call a great writer: her characters in any given book were often indistinguishable from her characters in other books. But she was the queen of plotting, and her mind must have been amazing. The vigor and originality of her solutions still has the power to astound.

 

Ben Aaronovitch and I have the same British agent and publisher, but I didn’t know that when I became a fan of his. I’ve been waiting for Broken Homes for forever, and I was delighted when my publicist in the UK handed me a copy. Though I think the books would be richer if I had a better understanding of the geography of London, that’s no reason not to plunge into Aaronovitch’s world. PC Peter Grant and his co-worker Lesley, two of the few policemen in London who can practice magic, are still working under Nightingale, who must be the oldest police officer in England . . . not that he looks it. A low-income housing tower gone awry, an old enemy with a bone to pick . . . and a shocker of an ending – Broken Homes is a delight.

 

Wallace Stroby writes noir, as black as noir can be. Cold Shot to the Heart is set among the community of criminals. Crissa Stone, career robbery artist, is trying to get her lover, Wayne, out of jail in Texas. She also wants to buy a house and set down roots. But when a heist in Florida goes wrong, her little house of cards collapses in a series of disasters. This is an unstoppable novel. I wasn’t able to put it down.

 

My Friends Call Me Moon is James Morrow Walton’s first novel, and there’s maybe too much story for one book; there’s the story of the reporter who’s being threatened in 1958 (Jack Ward), and the long back story of the man he’s interviewing (Will MacMorogh), and the entwined histories of the Jackson family (people of color) and the white MacMoroghs. So there’s a lot going on in Moon, but it’s all told in a genial, intelligent, southern voice, and it’s all interesting. This is a natural choice for readers who enjoy family sagas and slices of history.

Beyond This Point Be Monsters

After reading Facebook this morning, which is maybe not the best way to start the day, I had a mélange of thoughts. One posting (by CJ Redwine) about America’s rape culture made me sad and despairing, and reading the many postings about our loss of the great Barbara Mertz, known to literally millions of readers as Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels, also dampened my hopes for the day.

 

I thought about Barbara and the unforgettable characters in her books . . . and her own unforgettable character. I thought about the prejudice against female mystery writers which she had to confront early in her career, and the fact that we’re still fighting that battle against being considered less than our male peers. Barbara was more than. Always. She was smart, concise, educated, talented, opinionated. It seems that CJ Redwine is, too.

 

I imagined Barbara’s comments about the prevalence of rape culture, about how simply appalling it is that young men thought grabbing women up from behind and carrying them away was a harmless prank. How they thought the anxious laughter of the women excused this behavior – if they’re laughing, they must think it’s funny, right? So it’s okay. But not so. People laugh the same way dogs wag their tails – not only to express amusement, but to express anxiety. “If I pretend this situation is okay, maybe it will BE okay.”

 

Barbara was never afraid to speak out. She was never hesitant about expressing her opinion. She was never one to back out of a healthy argument. I don’t pretend I was a close friend, but I was a friendly acquaintance . . . and I knew that about Barbara, even on our slim experience of each other. She was a pioneer, and a great example.

 

Here’s what gives me hope: we’re addressing the monsters and not letting them stay under the bed any longer. If you shine a strong light on them, they shrink. If you study them, they acquire context. Monsters are diminished from the undefeatable to the conquerable through examination. I’m heartened to know women who are doing this, and optimistic that someday the monsters will be the size of peas. But this process takes the courage to turn on the flashlight.