11 February 2007

Another Kerstin Ekman

Dan Conrad wrote a little note about another Scandanavian mystery. The plot gets thicker. When I think about it I know that people write mysteries in other cultures. There were the Judge Dee mysteries in Tang Dynasty China, after all. We just don't see many of them in the U.S. So far this year, Dan has discovered two Scandanavian mystery writers. Maybe we should make it a quest for 2007 to find more mystery writers whose original works are not in English. (And maybe I should convert the special mysteries edition of Reading I did 10+ years ago to the blog.)

Here's what Dan wrote. You can write for the blog too. All it takes are some thoughts about what you've read.

Just thought I'd mention that having been "hooked" by Blackwater I got a copy of another Kerstin Ekman novel, Under the Snow.

Compared to Blackwater it is shorter, easier to read and not so oppressively bleak. Where Blackwater is rather a study in character and landscape with a murder mystery lurking in the background, Under the Snow is more a murder mystery with a study of how landscape affects character lurking in the background.

I enjoyed reading it, but it doesn't continue to lurk there in my mind (to haunt me) like Blackwater.

  • A discussion group guide for Under the Snow
  • In Margot Livesey's review of Ekman's Witch's Rings for the New York Times, she notes that
    "Under the Snow, which was first published in 1961, is among the earliest of Ekman's books. Admirably translated by Joan Tate, who also translated ''Blackwater,'' it is an engrossing (albeit slighter) novel in the same crime-novel genre..."
  • David Harrolsson's essay, The Novels of Kerstin Ekman from Parameter Magazine

01 February 2007

Tony Hillerman: The Shape Shifter

It's been over 35 years since Tony Hillerman wrote his first mystery, The Blessing Way. I don't know when I began reading his books, because once I did, I quickly read all the books that were available, and made a couple vacation trips to the desert southwest. I've been a fan of Hillerman's books ever since.

Now, whenever I read one of his books, I think it might be his last. He is, after all, over 80 -- at least 15 years beyond the age of retirement. He's been married almost as long as I've been alive. He could have stopped writing a long time ago and not even his most fanatic fans would be justified in comlaining too much.

A couple years ago, I read Skeleton Man and really liked it, even though it didn't quite measure up to A Thief of Time. I thought that Skeleton Man could be a respectable way to end a writing career.

But, Hillerman has written a new book, The Shape Shifter, which is also pretty good. Maybe better. I could be picky about things like some character development, incongruous plot elements, and the action-packed climax that wasn't as good as some earlier Hillerman books, but I won't. The guy has done a great job of putting together a story and telling it.

Plus, I got to hang out with old Joe Leaphorn. He's an interesting guy and I've liked him since I first read about him. Joe's retired from the Navajo police force, but there are still loose threads he wants to tie up. One of those loose threads invloves two stolen 5-gallon buckets of pinyon sap. That thread leads him to an old Navajo rug woven during the Long Walk and to a shape shifter.

The shape shifter is part of the magical history of the Navajo. It's a menacing creature that looks like one thing at one moment and becomes something else in the next moment. Hillerman has built the story around that image. The shape shifter in this story isn't Navajo, but is certainly menacing. And the story is intriguing. And the countryside that Hillerman describes is bleakly attractive.

Go ahead read the book. This one didn't disappoint me. And it's in the library.

An adoring review of Tony Hillerman and The Shape Shifter from BlogCritics.org

Roz Shea's plot summary and review of The Shape Shifter from Book Reporter

Thoughts from Deutschland

Michael Thielen from Hamm, Germany, wrote in response to the early announcement of how this blog is replacing the newsletter, Reading. Here's what he had to say and some reading recommendations:

"What a pleasant surprise it was to see your first eleactronic Reading. I especially liked the adition of book covers in colour, and I guess that electronic publishing helps reducing your own expenses for it since you´ll save considerably on printing and postage. So you can buy more books to review.

Readingwise I would like to bring your attention to an American author by the name of James Patterson who specializes in crime fiction dedicated to those readers too tired to read long chapters (like myself). There is a new chapter every three or four pages in e.g. The Fifth Horseman. If you haven´t already reviewed the man, I might come up with a line or two on him one day. [And I'll add those words right here, Michael.]

And have you discovered Bill Bryson´s latest, Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, in which he describes his life in Iowa in the fifties of last century? It´s more like his older, and funnier, stuff for which I enjoy his writing.

Finally on this, there is British motor journalist, TV presenter and columnist of British rag The Sun, Jeremy Clarkson who published what they claim are bestsellers in Britain, like I Know You Got Soul, A Brief History of Machines ( on technical achievements) and The World According to Clarkson which you might also enjoy. You know he writes and publishes what he (and sometimes I) think of as common sense coments on daily life.