03 January 2012

Literary Drive-By #00005: I Am Half-Sick of Mysteries

Otto Penzler's The Line Up introduced me to some heretofore unexplored mystery series. I find at least 95% of mystery series disappointing (Who doesn't?), so I rarely try something new on my own. I get recommendations from like-minded mystery lovers, so that's how I got turned on to Louise Welsh, Tana French and Ian Rankin, for example. I read The Line Up and got super-excited--over-excited--truth be told. I went out and got a bunch of new mysteries, and I think I OD'd.

The Guards - Ken Bruen. The best of the lot. Bare bones, lyrical writing. Anti-hero who doesn't play by the  usual rules of "How to create a fictional detective." Jack Taylor is possibly the worst drunk I've run into in a crowded field of drunk detectives. This guy is so wasted that I wouldn't be surprised to turn the page mid-sentence and find on the new page: "Story aborted: protagonist died of alcohol poisoning." But he's also a soulful fellow: a reader, lover of poetry and music, insightful, sharp observer of social realities, self-aware (of course). Excerpt: On his work:

There are no private eyes in Ireland. The Irish wouldn't want it. The concept brushes perilously close to the hated "informer". You can get away with most anything except "telling". 
What I began to do was find things. Not a difficult task, it requires only patience and pig stubbornness. The latter was my strongest point.
I didn't come to one morning and shout, "God wants me to be finder!" He could care less.
There's God and then there's the Irish version. This allows Him to be feckless. Not that the doesn't take an interest, but He couldn't be bothered.

An exchange with the family priest:

Malachy was like Sean Connery, minus 
        The tan.
        The golf.
You couldn't call him a friend. Priests have other loyalties. I knew him since I was child. He took in my injuries, said,
"You're still drinking."
"This was unrelated."
He took out his cigarettes. Major. The green and white packet. As strong as a mule kick and twice as lethal. I said,
"You're still smoking."
"Me and Bette Davis."
"She's dead."
"My point exactly."
He watched two nuns and said,
"Great shiners."
"Polishing. No one can touch them for it."
I looked round then asked,
"Where's the Church on suicide these days?"
"Leaving us, are yah?"
"I'm serious. Is it still the 'can't be buried in hallowed ground' stance?"
"Ah, you're very out of touch, Jack."
"That's an answer?"
"No, that's a sad fact." 

 So, I've got the next in the series The Killing of the Tinkers on my shelf.

Resurrection Row - Anne Perry. I wanted to start with the first in this series, but it wasn't available at the used bookstore, so I had to go with No. 4. Set in Victorian London and good at giving a sense of place. Thomas Pitt is a police officer and he solves crimes with his wife, Charlotte, former society lady. This one had an interesting premise: dug-up corpses are staged in various places around London. I like this series. I will continue.

Service of All the Dead - Colin Dexter. I didn't finish this one. I was trying to get over the description of a skirt as "nigger-brown" (who does that?) when I ran into a description of a "Chinaman" and his "oriental" mien and gestures. I guess I'll just have to live in ignorance of the charms of Inspector Morse.

Baltimore Blues - Laura Lippman. The first Tess Monaghan. It was okay. I keep reading all this praise for Lippman, and this is the second book of hers I've tried, and I just don't get it. She's a perfectly competent genre writer. And that's it. I'm not averse to reading another one, but only if my choices are limited. There's nothing wrong with this series, but there's nothing pulling me forward.

The Ritual Bath - Faye Kellerman. The first Pete Decker/Rina Lazarus. The hook for this series is great: Orthodox Judaism and culture clash. Pete is an LAPD detective in Sex Crimes and Rina is a young Orthodox widow living on the campus of a yeshiva where a rape has taken place. There's an instant attraction between the two, but the relationship is verboten. I went on to read the next Sacred and Profane and I will continue, more to find out how things evolve between Pete and Rina than because of the mysteries, which are good.