BOOK & BLOG
August 31, 2012
Books of the Week:
Three mysteries this week, which makes the reading week a bit unusual for me. Hank Phillippi Ryan is not only a long time Femme (have you followed the Femme Fatales blogging website? We also have une Homme!) but a person I’m always happy to see, which puts her in a category that doesn’t hold an awful lot of people. Drive Time is one of Hank’s Charlotte McNally mysteries, a series that has gotten nominated for all kinds of awards. Plus, Hank herself is a perpetually glamorous TV reporter, and has won awards in that field. It would be easy to hate Hank! But she’s a fine writer and a delightful person. In Drive Time, reporter Charlie McNally has to deceive her fiancé for the purposes of a story involving his private school. I won’t spell out the plot, but if you like mysteries in general and strong female leads in particular, this is a book you shouldn’t miss.
Elaine Viets’s Final Sail is absolutely in the same category. I’ve followed Helen Hawthorne through Dead End Job after job, and even now that Helen’s a private eye and a partner with her husband, silver-haired Phil, she has to become a worker on a private yacht to get the goods on an emerald smuggler. (The demands of this job are so extreme that I really wonder more people aren't tossed overboard.) Phil is on land trying to get the goods on a possibly murderous widow. Both Helen and Phil end up successful, but not after trials and tribulations. This is as much fun as Elaine’s previous books, and as always learning the job along with her is fascinating.
The Yard, Alex Grecian’s debut novel, is a depressing picture of Victorian London and the detectives who are trying to solve the murder of one of their own. I say “depressing” in the sense that life for poor people in Victorian times was especially grim, with very few services for children, and very few resources for those whose children went missing. Grecian’s book features Detective Inspector Walter Day, who’s moved to London from the country, and Constable Nevil Hammersmith. Their cases aren’t the same, but their sense of justice is. Criminology is in its infancy in The Yard, and a more scientific way to track criminals is represented by Dr. Bernard Kingsley, clearly modeled on the real Victorian pathologist, Dr. Bernard Spilsbury, a pioneer in his field. This is a must for those who enjoy historical mysteries.
My continuity editor, Victoria Koski, has coined a new word. Maybe we can get it into Webster’s? It’s “complaintment.” This is a complaint thinly disguised as a compliment. I may have mentioned them before, since I get a lot of complaintments, particularly on my professional Facebook page.
Here’s how complaintments work. What the complainmenter wants to say is, “I think your last five books are crap.” What she says is, “I used to love your books, but the last few have been real disappointments. I love your work so much that I really look forward to your getting back on task and giving us the ending we deserve.” That last sentence’s real meaning is, “Give me the ending I’ve decided must be the right ending for the series.”
Another favorite complaintment? “I love your books so much, I hate what Alan Ball has done with them. I’m sure you can’t enjoy this pornographic show. Can’t you stop him?” This means, “You sold out.”
I often respond with, “How did you mean me to feel when you wrote this?” It’s obvious the complaintmenter wants me to feel . . . bad. Really, really bad. (No, I can’t recall the last five books and rewrite them to suit the first person, and I’m very comfortable with my dealings with Alan Ball and HBO, thank you very much.) One complaintmenter never responded after I asked that. Another one huffed, “Well, at least I’m honest. I wouldn’t say anything behind your back that I wouldn’t say to your face, unlike all those other people on Amazon.” There are some false assumptions here. The first is that I read my Amazon reviews. I don’t. I realized three years ago that was the equivalent of drinking from a poisoned well. The second false assumption is that I was waiting to hear her opinion repeated to my face so I could be secure in the fact that she was being “honest” with me. I was not.
Though this may sound really snooty of me, I rely on the opinions of people whose judgment I trust. If the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that I have to know whom to trust and whose advice I should follow. I have a renowned editor, a copy editor, a continuity editor, and two very intelligent friends (also writers) who give me their reactions to the book. I believe that’s enough input. After the book comes out, I read the reviews I value, the reviewers whose judgment seems sound to me. And that’s all I read. Otherwise, I’d end up as I did after DEAD IN THE FAMILY, paralyzed by second-guessing and indecision.
I have to say the past thirteen years have been wonderful, thanks to you, my readers. I love my job. I don’t always love the trappings that come with it, but considering what a great time I’ve had with the adventures of a Louisiana barmaid, I’ll gladly take the bad with the good. Even the complaintments.
© 2012 Charlaine Harris