Monday, February 28, 2011

Too much pressure

I don't know if anyone reads this blog, but if you do, I'm sorry I'm falling down on the job here. I tend to read in spurts. I wish I were more consistent, but what can ya do? 

I've been reading a little history, but did finish one mystery, a historical mystery: C.J. Sansom's Dissolution, the first in his series featuring Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer-investigator who sometimes works for Thomas Cromwell. In Dissolution, Shardlake travels to a monastery on behalf of Cromwell to solve the murder of another investigator who had been sent there to audit the monastery's books during a time when England, under Henry VIII, is beginning to dissolve the monasteries and take possession of their valuable lands. The monks, understandably, are ill at ease. Sansom adeptly walks a tightrope, telling a story set 500 years ago that both feels set in the time and believable today. Shardlake is the narrator and he is forward-thinking (for the time) without feeling like some New Age guru dropped into the 16th century to keep a modern reader entertained. I enjoyed it enough to get from the library the second in the series, Dark Fire, but Sansom's books are long and I got distracted and will likely have to return the book before I can finish it. 

Meanwhile, I've been reading James Thompson's Snow Angels. Thompson is an American living in Finland and the book is set there. It features a Finnish detective, Inspector Kari Vaara, and the grisly murder of a black actress reminiscent of Hollywood's still unsolved Black Dahlia murder. It is definitely classified as noir, and written in first person present tense, which adds to the noir aura, and took some getting used to. I'm about three quarters of the way through so can't say yet if it is totally satisfying, but it is well-written and a compelling read. Vaara is married to an American, which gives Thompson an opportunity to comment on Finnish culture as Vaara explains it to both his wife and the reader -- too much for my taste. The picture drawn of Finland is pretty depressing, and it may be accurate for all I know, but as a reader I often feel taken out of the story to be given a lesson on Finnish culture. I think a Finnish writer would just let the plot and characters speak for themselves, like Arnaldur Indriđason does in his great mystery series set in Iceland.  

I've also started watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the 1979 TV mini-series based on the John le Carré novel and starring Alec Guinness. The clothes and hairstyles are outdated and the pace slower than what viewers are accustomed to today, but once you adjust, it's a wonderful spy thriller. (Cerebrally thrilling, not action packed.) 

Finally, I changed to Chrome when my Firefox browser kept crashing. Chrome has a bunch of so-called applications (really Web sites), including one called YourNextRead, which gives you suggestions for books based on other books. So, maybe I want to read something like Sansom's Dissolution. I plug that book in and YourNextRead tells me I might also enjoy Wolf Hall, a fictional account of Thomas Cromwell's life. I've already heard of Wolf Hall and some of the choices are obvious, like more in the same Sansom series, but others, like Ariana Franklin's Grave Goods, are new to me. It's a fun tool. 

P.S. Sorry the font is small. Don't know what's up. It's the font and font size I always use, but is coming out small. And the next size is too big for my taste. In both Firefox and Chrome (and maybe other browsers as well) hitting control + will increase the font size. 

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