Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Denise Mina's Exile, the middle installment in her trilogy isn't quite as good as the first (probably because the novelty is gone), but is still better than half the mysteries I read this year. Like many trilogies, the middle book is where the heroine is brought low, her insecurities exploited, her strength shown to be lacking. Here Maureen leaves her natural environment of Glasgow and heads to London to try and find out what happened to her friend Leslie's cousin. While there she finds that as tough as she thought she was, she is nothing compared to the bad guys she discovers there. Her friendship with Leslie is on the rocks, she's being taunted and threatened by the bad guy from the last book, and she has to deal with the fact that her father who abused her is not only back in town, but is being welcomed back by most of her family. One thing I really liked about this book is that the couple of questions I had throughout the whole thing as the plot unfolded were supposed to bother me and I came to the same realization as Maureen did and right about the same time too. Which was very cool.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I read Garnethill by Denise Mina while visiting the family over the holiday weekend. Her newest book got some great reviews so I thought I'd check out her back catalogue while I'm waiting for that one to get processed and cataloged. This is the first of a trilogy of mystery/crime novels and I'm really glad I checked out all three at once because I totally loved this one and started the second immediately after finishing it. The main character is Maureen, a single woman in Glasgow with a history of mental illness, a supremely dysfunctional family, a dead end job, and a dead boyfriend in her front room. She and her brother are considered suspects by the police and Maureen starts looking into the murder as a way to help clear herself and her brother. Complicating her search are the other members of her family, most of whom deny the abuse that eventually caused her to have a complete mental breakdown. It's pretty bleak stuff, but it has many moments of black humor that prevent it from becoming too overwhelming. The dialogue is fantastic, as are the characters, and the plot is compelling and moves along quickly with a few unexpected twists.


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Last night I did laundry and read Traci Lords Underneath It All by Traci Lords. Now, I might be the one person on the planet that had no idea until just a few years ago that she'd been a very famous porn star when she was a teenager. I only knew her as the blonde chick in Cry Baby. She talks about all that here, in less detail than I'm sure some would like, and about her struggle to leave that behind her and become a serious actress and singer. I'm curious if her decision to use her porn name is a way to capitalize on the recognition and infamy or if it is a way to own her past. I don't think that's made clear in the book, which is a fairly dry, straightforward retelling of events made readable by its brevity and subject matter.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I read The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore yesterday. This being a Christopher Moore book, there are angels, talking fruitbats, a DEA pilot, a pot smoking sheriff, a Warrior Babe, an angel, and a child with a very special Christmas wish. Oh, and zombies. Can't forget the zombies. How can you not love a book where the author warns you: "If you're buying this book as a gift for your grandma or a kid, you should be aware that it contains cusswords as well as tasteful depictions of cannibalism and people in their forties having sex. Don't blame me. I told you." As with all other Christopher Moore books, it made me laugh loudly in public and was a quick read and a lot of fun.


Monday, December 20, 2004

I finished up Winter House by Carol O'Connell yesterday. O'Connell's Mallory series is one of my favorites because of the unusual nature of Kathy Mallory, an intense and beautiful sociopath and a police detective. In this book Mallory is faced with a woman who could possibly be her future: Nedda Winter, one of the survivors of a massacre that left nine people, including most of her family, dead, and who has been missing for 50 years. Not only has she resurfaced in the very house from which she disappeared, but has drawn police attention for killing an intruder in self defense. With an ice pick. Which just so happens to be the same type of weapon that was used to kill her family. O'Connell's plots, while nice and complex and compelling, are largely vehicles to explore Mallory and this book is no exception. This time though, instead of protecting her, the people around her line up to protect Nedda and even Mallory shows her some consideration, perhaps recognizing how the early violence each experienced formed and shaped them in similar ways. There are some interesting relationship dynamics that shift in this book and I'm excited to read the next one to see how they affect her.


Monday, December 13, 2004

Then yesterday I read Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. I don't think I've read a bad Pratchett book. Sure, some are funnier or more pointed than others, but I haven't not liked one and this latest entry is no exception. This one focused on big business and communication. In the spirit of "it takes one to know one," a condemned con man is put in charge of revamping the Post Office and ends up taking down the dirty Enron-style board of directors of the faster, newer technology "clacks" service. The romantic interest is, in best Pratchett fashion, smart and no-nonsense and sees right through the hero. I'm less sure about the message - while the satire of big business is entertaining, I'm not sure exactly what he's trying to get at with comparing the post office to what is obviously supposed to be email or the internet. I get the obvious arguments, but has Pratchett only been using AOL on dial-up or something and wrote this to get back at them? I just don't buy that part of it. But he at least showed that both have their place in the community if properly operated, which redeemed him.

I read a couple of books this weekend, the first of which was a recent recommendation from Daisy, The Murder Artist by John Case. Basically, I agree with her - it managed to avoid the romantic cliches that so many thriller writers depend on. There were no beautiful women tagging along, no reconciliation at the end, no new love interest to distract from the investigation. I also think the voodoo subplot was a little out of place but the magic was cool, if a little too easy to figure out. It was just a nice, satisfying, fast-paced thriller.


Thursday, December 09, 2004

After the pale imitation James Ellroy that was California Girl, I felt the need for the real thing. Enter White Jazz. This book was... just... wow. I'm still overwhelmed. I was reading it between bands at the (amazing) show last night and even though it was after 2 a.m. when I got home I had to finish the last 30 pages before I could go to bed. I think there were entire chapters during which I didn't breathe simply because the action was so intense and fast moving. I loved the writing style; it's a stripped down first person, almost stream of consciousness that moves so quickly and is so dense and dark and heavy with lingo that it consumes all the reader's attention:

"Home, paperwork. Pissed at Junior - an erratic punk getting worse. Paperwork: Exley's Kafesjian report padded up fat. Lists next: potential Glenda tailers, potential pervert framees. Calls in: Meg - Jack Woods glommed our back rent. Pete B: do Mr. Hughes solid, I convinced him you're not a Hebe. Calls out: Ad Vice, Junior's pad, no luck - find him, ream his insubordinate heart. My tailer list, bum luck holding - no men to start tonight. My job by default - a publicity date meant contract breaker."

It's a little disconcerting at first, but it draws you in quickly and pulls you along at breakneck speed.

And the characters. Man, I love that none of Ellroy's characters are innocent. Each has depth and shading and you find yourself sympathetic and rooting for people who have done horrible things over people who do even worse things. Dave Klein, the character through whose eyes we see everything, is a mob enforcer, contract killer, brother, thief, lover, attorney, and a lieutenant in charge of the Ad Vice department of the LAPD. And he's the good guy!

It's essential to read L. A. Confidential before White Jazz because several of the same characters (Exley, Dudley Smith) are in both books and references are made to events that occurred in the previous one. Indeed, the currents and conflict from that book are carried over here, complicating what starts out as a story of a rather gruesome B&E into a wide reaching plot full of police corruption, political maneuvering, and brutal murders. This is noir at its darkest and most interesting.


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

This weekend I read The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of Darkness by Karen Armstrong. This is a second sequel to Through the Narrow Gate, which I read earlier this year. In this book Karen revisits the events that she already wrote about in Beginning the World, written soon after she'd left the convent. She criticizes her own work and argues that she needed the distance of time to properly appreciate what she went through and that she lacked the perspective and assertiveness to accurately portray those years. I haven't read Beginning, so I can't compare the two, but from the comparisons she makes, I believe this is a darker, less optimistic book. She describes the unknown attacks she suffered and the years of inaccurate treatment she went through before finally being diagnosed with epilepsy and the effects that had on her academic career. Mostly though, she talks about how she turned her back on the church and how she eventually made her way back to God through her research and writing, including her recent books on non-Christian religions.


Thursday, December 02, 2004

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I finished California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker. It got a couple of great reviews so I was excited to read it, hoping I'd find another mystery writer I could follow and whose back catalogue I could dive into. Unfortunately, I think my hopes were a bit too high for this one. The bulk of the action takes place in the 1960s and some of the cultural references and cameos started to feel a little forced after a while. The author was clearly trying to paint a larger picture of our society in flux and the generational culture clash that was happening in the late '60s, but you can see the strain. The mystery itself wasn't all that hard to figure out and the murderer is revealed in a swift move set in the present day that rings false. It read like Michael Connelly doing a subpar James Ellroy impersonation. Despite all that I did enjoy it in a disposable, unchallenging sort of way, but I don't think I'll go searching for his other books any time soon.


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