BOOK & BLOG
January 13, 2008
Books of the Week: DEAD TO ME by Anton Strout, WINTERBIRTH by Brian Ruckley, HOLE IN ONE by Catherine Aird
My first B&B of the new year! I know my last one wasn’t on the website until 2008, due to our continuing problems with the changeover, but I wrote it in 2007.
I started my 2008 reading life in a happy way with an ARC of DEAD TO ME, the first novel by Anton Strout. DEAD TO ME will be on the bookshelves in late February. Though it has a few “first book” aches and pains, DTM is a jaunty adventure about a psychometrist, Simon Canderous. Simon can sense clues about the owners of an item by holding it. He’s had a past as a petty criminal, but now he’s ranged himself with the forces of good, and he gets lots of on-the-job training. I blurbed this book; it’s a fun read, and I look forward to watching Strout and Simon as they gain confidence in their new jobs.
Right now I’m in the middle of WINTERBIRTH (Brian Ruckley). On the spine it says, “The Godless World, Book One,” and when I checked on Amazon I saw that the second book, BLOODHEIR, will be out next June. It may take me until then to finish the first book, because believe me, it’s long. But you fantasy readers need to saddle up, because WINTERBIRTH is very good, and Ruckley achieves the almost impossible task of establishing the characters so well that it’s not too difficult to keep them separate. Given the scope of the book, that’s amazing. This is a book with little or no tinge of romance; it’s classic fantasy.
Just to make myself happy, I gave into temptation and read a book by Catherine Aird. She’s long been one of my very favorite mystery writers, and I’d been hoarding HOLE IN ONE. For those of you who haven’t yet read Aird, she’s an English mystery writer whose books are set in the fictional town of Berebury in the fictional county of Calleshire. Detective Inspector C.D. Sloan and his perpetual sidekick, the impossible Detective Constable Crosby, are called to the private golf club when a body is found buried in a sandtrap. Unfortunately, their boss, Superintendant Leyes, is a member of the club and wants the mystery solved tout suite so he can tee off. Though HOLE IN ONE can’t rival some of Aird’s earlier books (A LATE PHOENIX springs to mind), any Aird is worth reading.
In reading a huge panorama like WINTERBIRTH, I find myself looking for someone to root for. There’s a core character I bond with, and that’s the characters whose movements I follow through the book with the most interest. In this case, it’s young Orisian, who’s the equivalent of a prince. Now that I’m in the middle of the book, Orisian is in a lot of trouble. He’s watched his dad and many of his friends being killed, and he’s on the run and will surely be put to death if he’s caught. But he’s still got one faithful guardian, and he’s been healed of his wounds by a mysterious and largely unfriendly people. Why did I pick Orisian to back? Well, he’s sixteen, which engages my sympathy, and he’s lost his family, which engages my sympathy even more. He seems a little more open-minded than a lot of his peers. Why’d I pick Orisian over his sister Anyara, who has just as much right to my sympathy? So far, Anyara hasn’t done anything heroic; in fact, she’s behaved pretty much like a normal young woman, if that young woman was held hostage by her family’s foes. Anyara doesn’t seem brighter or more determined than her captors. (I’m cautiously optimistic that she’ll survive, though.)
In every book I read, I seem to look for someone to care for, someone who seems admirable or at least interestingly NOT admirable. If I can’t find a protagonist, or even a subsidiary character, who speaks to me, then I usually set aside the book. Though Hannibal Lector is a fascinating monster, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was “made” by Clarice Starling. In Jeff Lindsay’s “Dexter” books, Dexter, too, is a monster, but with a few interesting twists that make us root for him. Lindsay’s effectively engaged our emotions; we want Dexter to be free, though he’s a serial killer.
I haven’t ranged that far to the dark side yet. My protagonists all have something about them to admire, or at least I think so. Aurora Teagarden is thoughtful, kind, and dutiful. Lily Bard is ferociously loyal (and ferocious). Sookie Stackhouse is hard-working, optimistic, and determinedly cheerful. Harper Connelly has a clear view of her life and has succeeded in that life despite overwhelming odds.
On the Femmes Fatales website, my colleague and fellow Femme Mary Saums has written about the love we give the characters we admire. I think that’s very true. We use them up as examples of what is good; we may even wonder what they would have done with faced with our own problems. Fictional characters are by definition limited to the pages of the book in which they figure, but we extend their lives by holding them in our hearts. That’s all a writer can ask for.
© 2009 Charlaine Harris