BOOK & BLOG
March 17, 2008
Books of the Week: THE OUTLAW DEMON WAILS by Kim Harrison and HIT LIST by Lawrence Block
Like many, many of my readers, I’ve spent this past week reading Kim Harrison’s latest installment in the adventures of Rachel Morgan, witch and bounty hunter. I’ve enjoyed all the books in the series, and this last one was no exception. Kim is one of the few people I know who puts her protagonist through as much as I do Sookie. In the last book [spoiler alert] Rachel’s boyfriend Kisten died, and Rachel has blanked out the circumstances surrounding his death. She desperately wants to remember and she wants the responsible party to pay . . . in a painful way. Ivy the vampire, Rachel’s business partner and roommate, is still fighting her emotionally twisted upbringing, which makes it hard for her to live with Rachel without biting her or bedding her, preferably both. Rachel is battling her demons of recklessness and impulsiveness, which have gotten her into terrible trouble in the past.
These are only a few of Rachel’s problems, amazingly enough. But what we admire about Rachel is her ability to see her own flaws, and her effort to correct them, though it’s not terribly effective. I won’t spoil any of the plot surprises for those who haven’t finished TODW yet, but I’ll just tell you I was never disappointed, and I think Kim just gets better and better.
To decompress after DEMON, I reread a favorite book, Lawrence Block’s HIT LIST. Block has written three books about hit man John Keller; the other two are HIT MAN and HIT PARADE. Block has been an icon in the mystery field for years, and he’s written book after book, all in the good-to-excellent range.
Aspiring writers, take note: Block’s TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT and WRITING THE NOVEL: FROM PLOT TO PRINT are widely considered classics.
But it’s Block’s fiction I’m thinking about to day, and I think the Keller books are my favorites among his many series. Keller is a loner by nature. His closest associate is a woman named Dot, who lives in a big house in White Plains. She’s the former aide to, and now the replacement for, the old man who originally acted as the broker for Keller’s skills. Dot is an interesting character herself, and without her Keller wouldn’t have an anchor or anyone at all to talk to that knows and understands what he does. Dot herself is responsible for ending a few lives.
Block’s writing has a magical simplicity. You never doubt for a minute, while you’re reading HIT LIST, that Keller will come out all right in the end, and in fact, you’re rooting for him to escape capture; not that he ever seems to come near capture. Keller is not a great shot and not very athletic. What he has on his side is utter ruthlessness and determination.
And yet in many ways, Keller is a mild fellow. He collects stamps, likes dogs, and every now and then cares for a woman. But his life consists of the passive avoidance of relationships, rather than the psychotic hostility or “bad guy” persona so often portrayed in the movies. Keller looks like everyman, apparently. And he acts like everyman. No one around him ever suspects what Keller does for a living. That’s the reassuring side of Keller, and it’s the scariest thing about him. Revisiting Keller was a real pleasure, and I think I’ll dip back into all the Keller books.
Do you ever feel like you’re always the last to know something? I frequently have this feeling, though I scan the newspapers and watch CNN, and I feel I’m at least tied into popular culture as the average middle-aged woman, maybe even a little more so since I have a teenager living at home and I’m an avid reader of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY.
This past week I found out about a wonderful website that many of my friends had already visited. KIVA is splendid. It’s based on the theory that we can change the world by extending small loans to people in third-world countries, thereby enabling them to continue providing for their families. It’s impossible for these people, many of them women, to obtain what seems to us quite small sums of money that would make all the difference in their lives. For example, a woman in Benin needs a few hundred dollars to buy hair extensions so she can take more customers in her beauty shop. She tells KIVA she needs, say, $500. Visitors to Kiva start loaning money to her in increments of perhaps $25. If twenty people do that, she has enough money to expand her business and support her children. And she pays this money back when she can.
I’m oversimplifying, though not by much. This seems to me the most incredibly rewarding way to help the world, one family at a time. In theory it’s much like another of my favorite helping-hand organizations, Heifer International, which supplies poor families with livestock, teaches them how to care for them and breed them, and requires that they divide the increasing herd or flock with their neighbors so everyone benefits from the original gift from Heifer of a block of ducks or chickens, or a pair of goats or rabbits.
I know that giving $25 is beyond some people. There are people reading this who live hand-to-mouth, and there are students and older people who are on fixed incomes. But I’m sure there are some of you who might have that much to spare every now and then, so I’m asking you to visit the Kiva website and read their material. See if this is something you’d feel good about doing.
© 2009 Charlaine Harris