Wednesday, January 19, 2005

In the cracks

I finally got back in the work groove last week and have been working like crazy--I need to finish the novel rewrite before the semester's really and truly underway. It's getting there (a couple new scenes still to write, plus some tweaking of plot points affected by the changes, but I've done RUTHLESS cutting and copy-editing and it's starting to look finished in a way it didn't last time round--very exciting). But it's been pretty all-consuming so I haven't read much. A few things I ran my eyes over in idle moments:

T. Jefferson Parker's Silent Joe. I've been hearing a lot about this guy, never read any of his books. I liked this one very much, will certainly read more. The plot seems pretty thin, and occasional details make you wish that novels were subject to fact-checking and plausibility fixups in the way that you have a continuity person on a film set. But the prose style's excellent and the character's very appealing, if not quite as attractive as the (similar in certain ways) Jack Reacher of Lee Child's books.

The Private Wound, by Nicholas Blake. I hadn't realized he'd written detective novels other than the Nigel Strangeways ones. Not bad, but not much to it. Interesting Anglo-Irish stuff. There's something I really like about Blake's novels, though (and there's always the additional fillip that Blake was the pseudonym of Cecil Day Lewis, father of Daniel). I must go and get them all and read them again. I think it's possible that he deserves more lasting fame for the detective novels than for the poetry, though surely he would have been chagrined to hear this.

Donna Leon's Friends In High Places. Not at all bad--certainly a pleasant way of passing an hour or two--but slight. Rather Dibdinesque, too, but without the bleaker view associated with Aurelio Zen. Reading this reminded me why I'm not crazy about the traditional series detective novel--if you come in late on in the series, there's often a cursory feeling about a lot of the character/home and work setting stuff, so then it depends more on how you feel about the sensibility. This is the kind of book I won't buy in an airport because I'll finish it too quickly, but that I'll read if I don't have to pay for it.

The biggest disappointment was Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand. I'd heard such good things about this (including a discussion of underrated books of 2004 at Tingle Alley) but I could barely finish it. On the plus side: the writing's really stylish, the author's done her homework and written plausible late-nineteenth-century scenes that aren't chock-full of jarring details. On the negative side: it's really flimsy! I'm not into the doomed love/artistic madness thing, and I felt that whatever was compelling about this material to the author had been insufficiently translated to the reader. The interweaving of story-lines also detracts from the novel's effectiveness: all the young men seemed pretty much interchangeable and not really very interesting. I'm curious to read something else Hand's written, though--my final impression was that this was a weak book by a pretty talented author.


  1. Jenny, that's so interesting. I've had Mortal Love on my library list for the past few weeks and have been stymied by its always being checked out.

    Now I won't fret so much about it.

  2. Well, Carrie, do let me know what you think once you've read it. I have a sort of obsessive dislike for POSSESSION as well, which I know is well-liked by many people I much respect--it may come from some feeling of "that's sort of what I write only completely different" phenomenon...