Where's the book?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Mysterious disappointments

I'm a very picky mystery reader. I loved Elizabeth George's Inspector Linley series, until she completely lost it -- really, the woman's writing ability fell off a cliff somewhere. I like, although a little less with every new book, Deborah Crombie's Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series. I loved all of Ngaoi Marsh and Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter!). Is there a theme here? Is the Pope Catholic? Mystery + a charming, sardonic, pretending-to-not-care detective + a tough, smart, superficially-disinterested-but really-madly-in-love-romantic interest = bingo! I like the mystery to be just as much about will-they-won't-they as it is about will-he-solve-the-crime.

The interesting locales, like Venice or Sicily or the backwoods (backfjiords?) of Norway don't really grab me. Put it in England, please. Preferably London, please. Country houses are nice, especially if there's a rose garden and a nearby Vicar. (This is so making me want to go and re-read Sayers, start to finish).

But I keep trying. This week's attempt to find a new mystery writer was another look at Kate Atkinson, whose Life After Life was so wonderful. But Case Histories (#21) was just middling, the kind of book that's interesting enough while you're reading it, but almost instantly forgettable, as if the words and lines just slid right off the page and out of your brain. Case Histories is the first in Atkinson's series of four (to date) Jackson Brodie mysteries, all of which have been adapted by the BBC starring Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy!) as Brodie.

Lucius Malfoy as Jackson Brodie?
Brodie's an interesting but somewhat unformed character. There are assumptions made in his personality that made the book feel more like the third or fourth in an established series, where there could be some shorthand in his characterization, than in the book that introduces him. There are three (three!) mysteries -- case histories -- being investigated, one the disappearance of a little girl from her backyard, one the murder of a young husband by his wife, and one the seemingly random murder of a young woman at her father's law office. The book moves back and forth in time, roams from place to place, and incorporates a large cast of characters. It isn't confusing, it more has the effect of watercolors, a canvas thinly covered. Atkinson, as she does in Life After Life, has an amazing ability to get a lot across very economically, like a good short story writer. But there are too many balls in the air here, and there's a sense that she's stretched herself too far.

I enjoyed reading it just enough to maybe give book number two in the series a shot. But I think I'll go find my old Ngaoi Marsh first.

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