Saturday, February 18, 2006

A quiet thriller

A psychic at a birthday party tells a young man that he will kill someone before his next birthday. The young man becomes obsessed with the prediction. Weeks before his birthday, as the southwesterly winds of Brazil start to blow, two people linked to him are violently killed. Southwesterly Wind by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza takes that simple premise and weaves a seductive mystery. I call it a quiet thriller because there are no car chases or bang-bang scenes. The only chases are when a detective (on foot) follows one of the suspects, sometimes for hours at a time. With only three possible suspects, you think you know where the author is headed -- but do you really?

Friday, February 17, 2006

An author to read

"Andrew Taylor is one of the most interesting, if not the most interesting novelist writing on crime in England today. Like Ruth Rendell he produces particularly good, emotionally complex psychological novels and rather better straight detective novels than she does in her Wexford series." Harriet Waugh, The Spectator

Having just finished another book in his wonderful Lydmouth series, I have to say Andrew Taylor is one of the most underrated authors today. These are books in which everything comes together wonderfully: plot, dialogue and especially characterizations. The story within the stories is the relationship between Det. Insp. Richard Thornhill and journalist Jill Francis, and that is as riveting as the mysteries themselves. Thornhill and Francis reveal themselves to us slowly, layer by layer. Each book in this series has gotten better, with an eighth one to be published soon. Lucky for us!


It's bad enough being a prepubescent teenager, but can you imagine learning at the age of 14 that you're a hermaphrodite? Such is the story at the center of Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. Although, to be fair, the story is much more than that. It's about the history of a Greek family and their assimilation into the U.S. culture. It's about Detroit and it's about the changing mores of a country. It's a rather long story and at times, I wished Eugenides would have just gotten on with the story, but it did hold my attention until the very last page -- page 527. Even though it was quite implausible at times, at other times it read like a memoir. Poor Eugenides, people must look at him sideways nowadays and wonder if he's actually a hermaphrodite. Sometimes, you can be too good of a writer.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Judgment lost?

I really like Sue Grafton's book -- well, her audiobooks. They're pleasant to listen to as I commute to work and they have a quirky female P.I. who I like -- Kinsey Millhone. I'm up to J is for Judgment with Grafton (still a ways to go till I get to her latest, S is for Silence). I like that Kinsey's family background was expanded in this book. And, for the most part, I was liking the storyline and plot. Now mysteries stretch the limits of credulity all the time, but I was listening to the last chapter and shaking my head. Grafton has Kinsey dive into the freezing ocean to rescue the killer and -- the kicker -- Kinsey and the killer carry on a full-length conversation as they swim and tread water. Now really! I can believe a lot, but swimming after a killer as you try to get their confession? Hmmm, a bit too much.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Our heroines

I've read two books back to back with female P.I.s, strong, independent ones. But they couldn't be further apart. In The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith, we have Aud Torvingen, an ex-cop who teaches defense classes and is always on the defense herself. More than that, she verges on the edge of being a sociopath herself. She likes to be in "the blue place," the place she's transported when she becomes violent. She's a cold person, not the kind you want to meet in a dark alley unless she's a friend. But despite this (or because of it), the book really draws you in. The writing is also quite wonderful, very lyrical. Takes place in Atlanta and Norway.

Birth Marks by Sarah Dunant is my type of book. For starters, it's set in London (and Paris). For mysteries, you can't do better than an English setting, in my mind. Here we have Hannah Wolfe, who is hired to find a missing dancer and then hired to find out why she drowned in a river -- was it suicide or murder? I love Hannah's quips: "Funny how time flies when you're breaking the law," as she breaks the law by picking a lock and entering an apartment. I love that she tries to pick up a guy in a bar and, of course, he's someone who's been following her. And that, nervous over said guy, she pokes herself in the eye with her mascara brush. She's smart, yet vulnerable. The book is also a good commentary on greed and corruption. This is one author I want to keep reading. In fact, Dunant speaks about another book that has just joined my must-read list, Transgressions.