Monday, November 29, 2010

I can quit you

Have you ever decided to stop reading an author? I don't mean your interest in her lengthy series wanes, or you forget about a writer after going onto other authors, or even that his last book left a bad taste in your mouth. I think that's what happened with me and Patricia Cornwell, but I stopped reading her so long ago that I really can't remember why. 

I can remember only two authors I chose to stop reading. Elizabeth George, because her books are overwritten. I stopped long before she killed off one of her main characters, which wouldn't have bothered me but caused quite an uproar in her reading community. And Archer Mayor, because it seemed like every crime at the center of his books involved violence against women. 

I doubt I'll pick up Elizabeth George again, my patience for verbosity growing shorter with age, but I will read Archer Mayor. I love Vermont and I don't doubt that his mysteries are more diverse than I remember.

For lovers of film noir, Five Books interviews film writer Barry Forshaw about his favorite books on film noir. Me, I'd rather watch one than read about the genre, but I am certain the books are worthy in their own right.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

'Best Books' lists

The year-end 'Best Books' lists are coming out. I love these lists because I love books, and not because I want to rank them, but because the lists always introduce me to some new books and remind me of books I'm already aware of and have yet to read.

For instance, there seems to be consensus that Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration is a wonderful book. I was also happy to be reminded of Marlon James' The Book of Night Women. I kept noticing the arresting book cover at my local library and when I returned to take it out I learned something new: libraries often have new books that rotate out and are not part of their collection. I always assumed if you saw a book at the library it was part of the system's collection. The Guardian's list also introduced to me a fascinating-sounding book mentioned by several writers: The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal.

Mysteries/thrillers/suspense don't often make it on such lists, but Janet Maslin, one of the New York Times book reviewers, gives kudos to two: A Faithful Place by Tana French and Lee Child's 61 Hours. I don't see a list by Marilyn Stasio, the newspaper's crime fiction reviewer, but other reviewers there list their books and there is the editors' 100 Notable Books of 2010 listing. The 10 best books of the year listing comes out later.

Geez, I love books.

PS New poll to the right. Thanks for voting!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Odds and ends

Here's another upcoming mystery movie release: All Good Things, starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst, based on a true story about a real estate tycoon in New York whose wife disappears. Release date is Dec. 3.

Here's a brief interview with Denise Mina, a Scottish crime writer who was honored at the recent Bouchercon mystery conference.

Here's another Scandinavian author -- actually, authors -- with an upcoming book. They sound a bit too grim for me (see any Girl with the Dragon Tattoo posts). I also shy away from books written by two authors. No reason, really, just that I can't imagine writing something with someone. I'm sure plenty of people have done it successfully. 

And, finally, here are a couple other authors I fell upon. Haven't read them, but their books sound interesting: French author Pierre Magnan and  P.L. Gaus, who writes mysteries set in the Amish country of Ohio.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Call me a wimp

Watched Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last night, the Swedish film of the first in the insanely popular Stieg Larsson trilogy. (An English-language version is reportedly being made with Daniel Craig set to play Mikael Blomkvist.) I had read the book and it is always difficult to judge a movie, at least for me, when I already know what's going to happen in it. That said, I thought it was a really effective adaptation. Anyone who has read the book knows it is thick and dense with detail about the main mystery, the disappearance of a young girl 40 years earlier. The movie eliminates all but the most important particulars of the story, but is totally faithful to the book at the same time.

Unfortunately, for me, it was too faithful to the most violent parts of the book. I don't think of myself as that squeamish. Martin Scorsese is one my favorite directors. I read George P. Pelecanos. I adore The Wire. But I find some of the violence in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo excessive and gratuitous. To be honest, I find the characters bordering on cartoonish, and the plot definitely takes a cartoonish turn at the end when Lisbeth Salander dresses up as a blonde to take some non-violent revenge.


Not being familiar with Icelandic names, I didn't realize Erlendur is the first name of the detective in the series by Arnaldur Indriđason. His full name is Erlendur Sveinsson, but apparently everyone refers to one another by first name in the books. The opening line of Voices, for instance, is "Elìnborg was waiting for them at the hotel." Her full name is never mentioned and Elìnborg is her first name. I don't think Erlendur's full name is ever mentioned either. Maybe it is in the first of the series, Jar City, which I may sit down and read today as snow has knocked out our satellite.

The former reporter in me just wanted to clear that up.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Casting Erlendur

Finished Arnaldur Indriđason’s Voices. The book is really three mysteries, all revolving around children. The main story is about a doorman murdered at a popular Reykjavik hotel during Christmastime. Doubling as Santa for the hotel’s holiday parties, the doorman is found dead dressed in his red suit and in an, uh, awkward pose. The setting provides many suspects, including several hotel workers and a British guest. Little is known about the victim, although he’s worked at the hotel for 20 years, making the task of narrowing down the suspects difficult for the lead detective, Inspector Erlendur, and his crew. The case starts to open up when the police discover something about the doorman’s childhood. (It’s revealed early on, but I don’t want to spoil it for potential readers.)


A second mystery involves an ongoing case of suspected child abuse being conducted by another detective, Elìnborg. By the end of the book, the main mystery is solved and the second one is figured out if not entirely resolved, while the third is unsolvable. It involves Erlendur’s childhood and is not a mystery in a whodunit sense, but what happened will never be fully known.


That mystery haunts Erlendur, who lives in a sort of limbo. He literally moves into the hotel during the investigation, as much to be on top of the investigation as to escape his personal life. He’s followed there by another child, his grown daughter, with whom he has a tentative and tense relationship after ignoring her and her brother for many years. His inattentiveness to his children is another sort of mystery, at least to Erlendur and especially to his daughter.


All the storylines are about the complex relationship between children and their parents, the responsibility parents feel, or don’t feel, for their children and the often overwhelming responsibility children feel for their parents.


It’s a wonderful book.


Voices is the third Erlendur book. I bought the first in the Erlendur series, Jar City. It was made into a movie by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur. It’s available on DVD. I’m curious to see the actor playing Erlendur. I tried to imagine who I’d cast as Erlendur as I read Voices. He’s an odd character, compassionate but judgmental, an anti-authoritarian authoritarian. And he’s funny in a deadpan sort of way. He doesn’t like meaningless chit chat, but he never seems to censor himself.  I was thinking possibly Jeff Bridges, although I think there is another actor who would perfectly capture Erlendur and the name just hasn’t crossed my mind.


If you’ve read Indriđason, any suggestions for who could play Erlendur?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My love affair with cold-country mysteries continues

I’ve been slow to read Arnaldur Indriđason’s Voices and don’t want to write about it until I’m done, but I am very pleased to have discovered it. It’s my first but his third in a series of mysteries set in Reykjavik featuring Inspector Erlendur. I picked it up at a recent library book sale. My library – or Friends of the Library to be accurate – has half a dozen book sales a year. They divide the books into categories – history, politics, cookbooks, etc., and then they divide hardcover fiction by gender of writer. I’d never seen it done that way before and found it odd and mildly upsetting at first, as if women were only interested in reading other women and men just want to skip to the manly table. But if you’re looking for something specific it’s somewhat helpful. I wish they would separate mysteries out, and I really wish they did that on the library’s shelves. My library has a system of colored dots on the books’ spines, representing mystery, romance, etc., which is almost useless. I’ve been to other libraries that shelves mysteries separately. If you’re going to bother to label them why not just give them their own shelves? 


In the meantime, while I strive to finish Voices in the next couple days, maybe someone could solve the mystery of why Bristol Palin is still on Dancing with the Stars.  

Monday, November 8, 2010

Estleman interview, Turow's favorite legal novels

For Loren Estleman fans, a brief interview with the author

I want to read the book he mentions: Otto Penzer's The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Detective Stories. What a great cover. 

And notice to commenter KRK: Scott Turow discusses his favorite novels involving the law and one of them is Snow Falling on Cedars.

Also, new poll to the right.  

Amazon announced their 10 Best Books of 2010 last week and two mysteries are included: Tana French's A Faithful Place and Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. 

What were your favorite books this year?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Locale close to my heart

I'll have to pick up this mystery. I've had family near there all my life so it's one place, outside of where I've lived, that I have spent the most time and know well. 

Ever fall upon a book that's about something you know well? Did it enhance your reading or ruin it when you knew it wasn't accurate?  

For instance, the cover sure looks like an illustration of the famous lone pine in Pebble Beach - not Carmel. Picky, picky, I know. It is iconic and it's not like there aren't similar trees all over the area.

I'm looking forward to reading it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I should love ...

Alan Furst. Noirish espionage set in wartime Europe. Perfect. Here's a typical blurb from the back of The Foreign Correspondent, Furst's book about antifascists in 1938 Paris: 
"No other espionage writer touches [Furst's] stylish forays into Budapest, Berlin, Moscow and Paris. No other writer today captures so well the terror and absurdity of the spy, the shabby tension and ennui of emigre communities at the time. His characters are hopeless, lethal, charming. His voice is, above all, knowing."
Yet I've never been able to get beyond the first chapter of any Furst book I've picked up. I think he's lousy at exposition and there's always a lot of that in the first chapter or two of any book. I'm sure he's great at plot, characterization, etc., all those things that make any book good, but I may never know because I can't get past the first 20 pages or so. 

Here he is in the first chapter of The Foreign Correspondent, describing the book's protagonist, Carlo Weisz:
Weisz knelt by his knapsack, found a small bag of tobacco and a packet of papers - he'd run out of Gitanes a week ago - and began to roll a cigarette. Age forty for another few months, he was of medium height, lean and compact, with long dark hair, not quite black, that he combed back with fingers when it fell down on his forehead. He came from Trieste, and, like the city, was half-Italian, on his mother's side, and half-Slovenian - long ago Austrian, thus the name - on his father's. From his mother, a Florentine face, slightly hawkish, strongly made, with inquisitive eyes, a soft, striking gray - a face descended from nobility, perhaps, a face found in Renaissance portraits. But not quite. Spoiled by curiosity, and sympathy, it was not a face lit by prince's greed or a cardinal's power. Weisz twisted the ends of the cigarette, held it between his lips, and flicked a military lighter, a steel cylinder that worked in the wind, until it a produced a flame.
Okay, where to start. Lots of details, too many details, and they don't tell me much. He smokes, he's sort of a European mutt, which may be the most revealing part of the paragraph, he pushes his hair off his forehead, which tells me what?  I have a rich visual of the guy - 40, graying, patrician-looking - but that's all physical and tells me nothing about the character of the man. And the other details are either cliche - "inquisitive eyes" - or overwrought - "... it was not a face lit by a prince's greed or a cardinal's power." Plus it's all presented like a dutiful laundry list of physical attributes, like Furst is filling out an online dating profile. And he stops the narrative to tell the reader all this. To really nitpick, all those parenthetical phrases, which Furst uses a lot, are jarring.

I remember reading Joseph Kanon's most recent novel, Stardust, and marveling at his ability to tell me so much in the first chapter. If you're not familiar with Kanon, he's similar in subject matter and setting to Furst. He wrote The Good German, set in Berlin immediately after WWII and made into an unsuccessful movie by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett.

Stardust is set in post-war Hollywood where the lead character, Ben Collier, is working to figure out who murdered his brother, a Hollywood writer whose death was assumed a suicide. The story revolves around a community of Communist sympathizers, mostly Jews, working in the movie industry and being threatened by politicians on a witch hunt in the state's capitol.

Here's the book's opening paragraphs: 
     As it happened, Sol Lasner was also on the train. Ben spied him first on the red carpet at Grand Central posing for photographers, like one of his stars. Shorter than Ben remembered, his barrel chest wobbling on thin legs, storklike, but with the same tailored look, natty. He gave a quick, obligatory smile to the flashbulbs, then herded a group of men in suits onto the train, back to business. At Croton, where they switched over to the steam engine, most of the suits got off for the ride back to the city, but two stayed on through dinner, so Ben didn't have a chance to talk to him until they were past Albany, when the landscape had already turned dark and there was nothing to observe from the observation car but blurs of streetlamps and platform lights streaking past.
     He'd been sitting near the rounded back of the car, smoking and staring out at nothing, when Lasner came in, holding a cigar. He nodded to Ben, not recognizing him, and for a moment Ben was tempted top let it wait, talk later on the Army's time. The next few days were supposed to be his, little shrouds of time to wrap himself up in, prepare for the funeral, stare out windows, get used to it.
There's loads of telling detail - barrel chest wobbling on thin legs, well-dressed, herding other well-dressed men, perfunctory grins for photographers, "like one of his stars." The reader knows Lasner is a powerful man in the movie industry, probably older, and the focus of press attention, whether due to his fame or something newsworthy that has happened. Ben, the book's protagonist, knows him, but not too well as Lasner doesn't recognize Ben or rush to greet him. But Ben, a military man, has business with Lasner. "... talk later on the Army's time." After he "prepare(s) for the funeral." In two paragraphs, the reader learns so much about the characters and what's ahead. The story moves, breathes.

In the end, I didn't love Stardust, but I do recommend it. And if you only get a chance to read the rest of the first chapter, do.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Guess I'm not a mystery lover

Vulture, which looks to be New York magazine's pop culture blog, interviewed author Dennis Lehane. Here's one question and answer:  
You're mostly thought of as a literary fiction writer who works in genre. Do you agree?
There's a new shattering of the old straitjackets of genre and now suddenly is it literary or is it genre? At the end of the day I don't really care which you call me. I'm super-comfortable with either. If you want to call me a crime writer I'm okay with it. The only thing I say I'm not — call me a crime fiction novelist, call me a noirist or an urban writer — but I'm not a mystery writer. Those are whodunnits and I've only written two of those and it's very clear while reading them that I don't give a shit who did it. 
I am definitely in Lehane's camp: I don't care either whodunit, which is why I posted the poll to the right. I don't know what that means, or if it matters. It seems to matter to Lehane, who may not want to be lumped in with Agatha Christie and P.D. James, although both, especially James, are admirable writers.

Coincidentally, Lehane's latest book, Moonlight Mile, was released today.