RARA-AVIS: Recent reads

From: Karin Montin ( kmontin@sympatico.ca)
Date: 10 Jun 2004

In April, I read Bad Chili (1997), another Hap and Leonard by Joe Lansdale. I enjoyed it, but the excitement of the new find was beginning to pall, so I switched gears before getting to the fourth one I had borrowed from the library. I'll get back to it eventually.

I raced through two more by Sallis, The Eye of the Cricket (1997) and Moth (1993). I read them out of order, as I got them on ILL, but I'm not convinced it really matters with regard to the overall storyline. In each book, the narrative jumps repeatedly forward and backward. Perhaps it would be worthwhile in terms of character development. This is another author I learned about here whom I am now recommending to all my crime/mystery-reading friends. The excitement is not beginning to pall.

I've always liked Thomas Perry and was pleased to find a "new" title, Death Benefits (2001). It's kind of an update on The Wreckers, with a hint of Harvest Home. The "detectives" are a consultant hired by an insurance company to find the agent suspected of being behind a major fraud, her sort-of ex-boyfriend (an accountant) conscripted to help, and an expert in illegal computer searches. I don't believe they are series characters, but I can see the potential.

Next I read my first by Max Allan Collins, who is often mentioned here. I hadn't realized that the Nate Heller series is historical fiction. Majic Men (1999) is set in the Washington of the late forties. Private detective Nate is hired by a paranoid government official who thinks people are out to get him. At first Nate decides that he's just crazy, but eventually comes to the conclusion that his fears are founded. One of the main elements of the story is the Roswell flying-saucer crash. As Nate investigates, he starts to believe it might really have occurred. At the end, he comes up with what seems like a fairly plausible explanation. Many of the characters, even the main ones, are actual historical figures, and historical records are cited. Collins discusses his sources in an afterword. Very interesting.

I've just finished Denise Mina's second novel, Exile (2000). I really liked Garnethill and was a little let down by this follow-up. It is very bleak and though it seems to end on a hopeful note, I wasn't convinced. Maureen O'Donnell is persuaded by her best friend, Leslie, to go looking for a woman who has disappeared from a battered women's shelter. When she turns up dead, and it starts to look like her husband never beat her, the plot thickens. About half the book is set in Glasgow and the other half in London. In Garnethill, Maureen was recovering from a nervous breakdown related to the sexual abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her father. Now the long-absent father is back in town and she seems to be slipping into a depression. She makes many terrible decisions. For instance, she gets really drunk by herself in a really rough bar, then tells everyone her name and flashes around a photograph she has been advised to destroy. Bad idea. One thing that bothered me ! was that Leslie, whom I remembered as a tough cookie in motorcycle leathers, is now in love, kind of wishy-washy and wearing low-cut sweaters. It kind of bothers Maureen, too. I am still on the lookout for the next Mina book, though.

Even more recently, I whipped through Elmore Leonard's Riding the Rap (1995), a fairly typical one of his in which a U.S. marshall outwits some none-too-swift miscreants. He's a good character, and so is the psychic who helps the bad guys, but it wasn't spectacular.

Right now I'm getting to the end of a Kate Martinelli mystery, the first, by Laurie R. King: A Grave Talent (1993). Kate is a detective in the San Jose police department trying to track down a serial killer of six-year-old girls. She's a lesbian who thinks coming out of the closet will damage her career, so her private life, while closely guarded from other officers, is another story element. This isn't strictly speaking a police procedural--a lot of technical details are glossed over--but the case is being solved by good solid police work: lots of interviews, timing tests and logic. I have to force myself to put it down after lunch and get back to work. I've got another Martinelli waiting. I read a much more recent one last year, Night Work, that was very good. King also writes a series featuring Mary Russell and her mentor, Sherlock Holmes, which I have been avoiding, but which get good reviews from those who like that sort of thing.

Well, that's a couple of month's worth.


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