Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mysterious Disappointments

With a few outliers here and there, mystery novels comprise about half of my fiction reading, the other half being middle-grade books.  Lately I've been struggling to find mystery authors I like.  And I had a huge disappointment while on vacation, when I eagerly trotted off to the Seattle Mystery Bookshop in Pioneer Square, a longtime favorite, only to find it had moved to a space one-third its former size, as the owner explained, "Due to lack of sales."  Thank you, Amazon.

The selection was not very good, and I wound up buying a "cozy" mystery mostly out of pity for the owner.  It was a terrible book.  Well Read, Then Dead by Terrie Moran is set in the Florida keys and the amateur sleuth is the co-owner of a bookshop/cafe who investigates a book club member's murder in an incredibly boring fashion.  At the end, she does the thing that I detest the most in mysteries -- goes off to meet someone who sent her a cryptic note about the crime in an isolated location all by her lonesome and naturally winds up in danger.  Jeez.  I threw it away.

Last month I tried a few historical mysteries and wound up disliking every single one.  Mr. Churchill's Secretary had intriguing background around WWII London, but the 21st-century attitudes, lack of character development, and absurd plot ruined it for me.  Reviewers who disliked it said, "If you want a much better historical, try Jacqueline Winspear", so I did. Maisie Dobbs was set in 1929 London and featured the most dour heroine I've ever encountered.  As my coworker, who also hated it, said, "The biggest thing wrong with Maisie Dobbs is Maisie Dobbs."  Sigh.  I threw it away.

Finally, I decided to give the French a go, with Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner (a pseudonym for two sisters), set in 1890s Paris at the time of a world exposition.  The sleuth is a journalist and he was dull and lifeless, except for his infatuation with a young artist that bordered on stalking.  And the plot turned out to be completely wacky.  I threw it away.

There was one shining light in my past month or two of mystery reading:  Bryant & May: The Bleeding Heart, by Christopher Fowler.  This series features two elderly detectives working for contemporary London's Peculiar Crimes Unit, and it is just as fabulous and fascinating as the earlier books.  The first in the series is Full Dark House.  Highly recommended.

I leave you with a one-paragraph description of a side character in Fowler's novel, which shows exactly why I find his work delightfully entertaining:

Rosa Lysandrou was a virtuous, decent woman who knew that the world was a wicked place and that life was short, ugly and disappointing.  Most of the time sin and ill fortune surrounded  her, seeping into her bones like damp and dragging at her limbs until she sometimes longed for the release that eternal sleep would bring.  On other days she cheered up a bit and went to bingo.

Love it.


  1. Go back to Grimes! I'm reading "The Stargazey" and enjoying it immensely. Also went to the library a couple of days ago and picked up a baseball book and something called "The Armchair Birder - Discovering the Secret Lives of Familiar Birds" by John Yow. I liked the cover. What could this possibly mean? Closet birder in the making? Ye Gads.

    1. I finally started re-reading the first one in the series, "The Man with a Load of Mischief" today. So far, so good!
      The Armchair Birder, huh? Hah. You can't be a birder without getting out of that chair, though! Well, except for bird feeders in the yard, I guess....

    2. I'm quite enjoying the book so far though I only read a chapter or two during lunch. My favorite so far is the Belted Kingfisher. Very interesting bird. The only drawback is that the illustrations, while lovely and by Audubon, are in black and white. Phooey. I've been looking up each bird on as I go.

  2. I have the vague notion that I suggested this before, but can't find a record of the comment, so perhaps I only meant to. I've been having trouble myself finding mystery authors I like, and my mother finally got me to try Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon books. The protagonist works for the National Park Service as a law enforcement ranger. The books take place in various national parks around the country. Anna is very funny and snarky and there's lots of nature, though sadly mostly she likes mammals more than birds.

    The books have a higher level of violence and occasional psychopathy than I like in my mysteries, and I'm still working on figuring out why I can put up with it here where I stop cold in other books and get rid of them mostly unread. I think it's partly the viewpoint, which is sufficiently feminist that women aren't always victims, and when they are they aren't helpless. Anna is the very opposite of helpless, which is extremely refreshing. Anna likes animals better than she likes most people, and I can really get behind that in the context of murder mysteries.

    Anyway, I'm not sure what you'd think, but it might be worth trying her books. The first two are Track of the Cat and A Superior Death. The only one I had serious issues with comes late in the series -- Flashback. It takes place half in contemporary times and half during the Civil War, and I'm afraid that while the facts seem good, the language isn't really Civil War language, which is something that always annoys me, especially if there's an epistolary component, which there is.


    1. Thank you for reminding me of those -- a friend recommended them many years ago and I never took her up on it, probably because of the violence issue. I'm especially sensitive to violence against animals -- don't know if that's a huge factor in these?

    2. It is a factor in four or five of them, I'm afraid. Some have no aspect of that at all, but several do. There's a scene in High Country, less than two pages, that I just skip on rereads. It's seldom a huge factor, but it does happen.


  3. By the way, I can't believe you THREW AWAY any books at all. Just because you didn't like them doesn't mean that everyone would hate them. Donate them for crying out loud - Wah!! (That's me crying out loud.)