12 December 2009

Politics and Fiction: the Possibility of Learning?

Bird Loomis, prof at the University of Kansas, wrote again about his serious, professional reading. Not that serious, professional reading can't be enjoyable. (See how easy it is to add your ideas here.)

"For the second time I'm teaching my course on Literature and Politics, of which I asked for suggested readings a couple of years ago. (Suggestions still welcome!) But my focus today is to write a bit about one book - A Dangerous Friend -- by one of my favorite authors, Ward Just [left]. Just writes intimately about politics in various venues, most notably D.C. and around Chicago. But he was a war correspondent in Vietnam (a good one, a contemporary of David Halberstam) for several years, and has lived a lot in Europe.

"In A Dangerous Friend he writes about Vietnam in 1965, near the start of the major troop build up. Americans were still hopeful, albeit naively, in their approach to the 'effort' to do some good in this nation we could scarcely locate on a map.

"As usual, Just brings broad political, policy, and moral issues down to the personal level Moreover, writing a decade ago about an older conflict, Just offers a news lens through which to examine our 2009 (and ongoing) involvement in Afghanistan. This seems one marker for effective fiction - a plot line and a set of characters that transcend time and place. (Think Shakespeare)

"What makes A Dangerous Friend such a compelling read in 2009 is that it's a 1999 book that looks back to 1965 in Vietnam, when there were still many American optimists (naifs?) who had concluded that we could build a Western-style democracy in a small, rural Asian nation. What was most thought-provoking for me here, beyond Just's narrative, is that I've read this book three times - in 1999, in 2007, and now in 2009. The contexts of U.S. military involvement have been quite distinctive in those three periods; strangely enough, I think ADF packs more of a punch in this third reading, as we commit more troops to Afghanistan, than it did in my two previous ones.

"In the past, I've talked a bit about rereading books, but often just for pleasure. But here there is some instrumental value to revisiting a book. Might it even be worthwhile to give a copy of ADF to some policy makers. One never knows."

Character driven story

While I was reading the McNeill's father-son world history book (see below), the Carleton College book store had its annual sale day: 20% discount on everything. Students were on break; the campus is pretty deserted. The discounts are advertised in Northfield as a sale for the community. Gee, 20% off -- that's almost as good as the discounts at Barnes and Noble. Of course I went.

Outside the bookstore were half a dozen tables of remainders. How could I resist looking? One short stack on a table contained The Cruel Stars of the Night by Kjell Eriksson [right]. Yes, another Swedish murder mystery.

This novel stands out from other Swedish mysteries and most non-Swedish mysteries. I'm not sure I liked the way it stands out. It's a story told through character development rather than through actions. Even the firemen who show up at one point to put out a house fire get names and hints at the relationships among them.

There are many inner monologues -- many more than the number of dialogues or conversations. And, until the last 30 pages, there are more dialogues than events.

The primary characters have flashbacks, meditations, and day dreams. It's through these mental rummagings that I learned about the characters and the events that constituted the plot. (A plot, by the way, that involves a serial killer.) It's like everything is in past tense.

It's a laborious way to tell a story. This was especially true for me because I never got attached to any of the characters (except for one of the murder victims and a hapless crime lab tech who wasn't even a big player in the book).

And then there was the patchy nature of the characters that were developed in depth. The thoughts of a few characters were exposed in great detail. In spite of that, I was startled several times by actions that were not hinted at in a character's thoughts.

The main investigator, a single mother, professes great love for her toddler son, but there are no actions that express that love. Only words. Okay, it's a murder mystery, not a domestic tale, but a mother-son relationship asserted by the mother to be central to her existence ought to be reflected in more than her words. Well, Mr. Eriksson?

And how is it that a repressed, middle-aged recluse of a woman suddenly becomes an aggressive seductress, Mr. Eriksson?

It seemed that Eriksson painted detailed pictures of large parts of characters, but left other parts completely blank. Even at the end of the book, the main investigator is hauled off in an ambulance, not reunited with her son. The primary villain -- okay a pretty insane villain, an urbanite who even dislikes gardens -- wanders off into the Swedish wilderness.

Some of this book was interesting and some of it was a pleasure to read. Much of it was tedious. I kept waiting for something to happen. When big things finally did happen (in the last 30 pages), they had less impact than if they'd been more carefully described.

Have you read The Cruel Stars of the Night or another of Eriksson's other mysteries? What did you think? Write, and tell this little bit of the world what you think.

07 December 2009

New York recommendation from Ohio

Marc Reigel used his Facebook page to recommend Ian McEwan's story, The Use of Poetry in The New Yorker.

It surprised no one to learn that Michael Beard had been an only child, and he would have been the first to concede that he’d never quite got the hang of brotherly feeling. His mother, Angela, was an angular beauty who doted on him, and the medium of her love was food. She bottle-fed him with passion, surplus to demand. Some four decades before he won the Nobel Prize in Physics, he came top in the Cold Norton and District Baby Competition, birth-to-six-months class. In those harsh postwar years, ideals of infant beauty resided chiefly in fat, in Churchillian multiple chins, in dreams of an end to rationing and of the reign of plenty to come. Babies were exhibited and judged like prize marrows, and, in 1947, the five-month-old Michael, bloated and jolly, swept all before him...

It's late, but I've bookmarked it for reading tomorrow since Marc thought the story "had the power to move me into that fabulous 'next-layer atmosphere' where one thinks that these words provide the key to life!" Naturally, he assumed he "might as well tell the hoi polloi!"

We've been told by the former English teacher, cover band rocker, and all-round guy.

Other opinions welcome here too. Tell this little bit of the world what you think.

02 December 2009

Years in the reading

After finishing the Craig Johnson book, I reached for a book on my nightstand. That's the depository for books I think I'd like to read and books I think I should read and books I've started reading. What I grabbed was J. R. McNeill and William H. McNeill's The Human Web, A Bird's-eye View of World History.

William H. McNeill was a professor at the University of Chicago and, for a long time, a lonely crusader for the cause of teaching world history. J. R. is his son and a professor at Georgetown University.

I became familiar with the elder McNeill's work when I was teaching a course called World Studies. It was difficult to teach because the secondary textbooks which purported to be about world history were really just European history with a bit of Asian history and even smaller bits of African and Latin American history appended to them (mostly as topics for discussing European colonialism).

Even academic historians (except for McNeill [right] and a few others) argued that world history was just too huge and too diverse to be a legitimate subject of study. McNeill and his allies began writing history that was really world history and demonstrated to all but the most chauvinistic that there were generalizations and comparisons to be made and lessons to be learned in a field that supposedly "diluted" real history. I had the pleasure of meeting the senior McNeill at a conference in Washington, DC a long time ago. He was as impressive in person as he is in his books.

One of McNeill's cohort, Ross Dunn of San Diego State University, wrote a secondary textbook and it was actually published. Links Across Time and Place was pretty radical. I remember that chapter 8 was about the Roman Empire and the Han Dynasty. (You can see right there how "real" history was being "diluted" -- Lynn Cheney's word.) It was also a pretty good textbook and helped get students thinking.

Things have changed some in the past 30+ years. World history is considered a legitimate, if rare academic subject. The Advanced Placement program has a World History course that is rapidly catching up with European History in popularity. And we're back in a war in Asia when even Jon Stewart is pointing out that no one has ever been able to run Afghanistan: not the Mesopotamians, not Alexander the Great, not Ghenghis Khan, not the Turks, not the British, not the Russians, and not even the Afghanis. (That's a real world history lesson and the kind of lesson a lot of us learned in the 1960s.)

So, most of what's in The Human Web... was familiar to me. I haven't taught World Studies in this century. So the book has been partially read for a long time.

What I enjoy from this book is seeing new connections, and this is the book for that because it's about webs among people. Webs that were created by things like creation of speech, sharing of technology, and competiton for resources.

I liked things like:
  • "Bureaucratic administration, alphabetic writing, and portable, congregational religions have never been surpassed as instruments for sustaining civilized societies, and stand as the most important innovations generated among ancient Southwest Asian peoples between 2350 B.C.E. and 331 B.C.E."
  • "Cheap transportation allowed goods of common consumption to circulate widely. In favorable locations, a peasant family could concentrate on raising silk worms, or some other commercial crop, and rely on the market for food and other necessities."
  • "The linking up of the world's ecosystems altered Australia and the Pacific islands more drastically than any other parts of the world."
  • "Urbanization and population growth stands as the cardinal social change of the last century."
  • "Ironically, therefore, to preserve what we have, we and our successors must change our ways by learning to live simultaneously in a cosmopolitan web and in various and diverse primary communities. how to reconcile such opposites is the capital question for our time and probably for a long time to come."

If you're a fan of history, especially if you're familiar with traditional and localized histories, you might find this entertaining and worth your time. I liked it, but I've been a fan of McNeill and his work for a long time. Check it out and tell us what you think of it.

See also:

30 November 2009

Craig who?

Somewhere recently I came across the name of Craig Johnson [left] and a list of the books he's written. I don't remember where it was, but I wrote down the list and took it with me to the Northfield library when I was last there.

Sure enough, one of his books was in the catalog, Death Without Company.

What had caught my attention initially was that Johnson comes from northern Wyoming. The author bio on the back flap says he lives in "Ucross, Wyoming, population twenty-five." (Sure enough, if you look for Ucross on Google Earth, you'll see a highway intersection with a few houses. And just north of the intersection is The Ranch at Ucross, a dude ranch and meeting center (for the private corporate getaway far from distractions). Ucross is a few dozen miles northeast of Cody.

What I wondered was what kind of writers club they have in northern Wyoming or what's in the water there. Johnson lives there and writes about it. So do C. J. Box and Margaret Coel. And then there's Diane Smith, a Montanan whose books, Letters from Yellowstone and Pictures from an Expedition, are historical fiction about the big park just west of where the other books are set. Seems like a high density of writers for such a sparsely populated area.

Back to Death Without Company. I liked it, but i wasn't carried away by it. But that might have been my fault. I started the book in widely separated tiny bits of time. So, the beginning and the introduction of characters was hit or miss for me. I had trouble throughout the rest of the book keeping track of who was who and how they were connected. And there were quite a few whos to keep track of.

I also had trouble tracking the scenes in the story line. Half a dozen times I felt like I'd missed a transition, and had to go back and reread a section. I never found a missed transition, and then I had to cogitate and imagine what had happened between scene A and scene B. Usually I could make up a reasonable explanation, but I'd really rather have an author tell me what he "saw" happening between a climax and the resumption of the story.

The other problem I had was imagining the scenes. Much of the story takes places during snow storms, but I kept picturing night time. Then one of Johnson's characters would do something that clearly had to be done in daylight and I'd have to re-imagine what was going on. It might have been my inattention, but I think more description would have helped.

One final bit: this story gets a couple Heart of Gold medals for improbabilities. Too many wounded heros, too many important coincidences, too much serendipity.

I won't judge Johnson's other books by this one, and I will search out another. This was good enough to encourage me to read another. Even my old favorite Tony Hillerman didn't write a superb novel every time he tried.

Johnson has written half a dozen mysteries in the past decade. Have you read any of them? What did you think? Write and tell this little bit of the world.

See also:

26 November 2009

Neurological anthropologist

While we were in California, I finished a book and had thoughts of finding a bookstore, when I spotted Oliver Sacks' An Anthropologist on Mars on Jeff's bookshelf. Jeff was generous in allowing me to borrow it, and implied that returning it was not necessary.

Once again I was more intrigued by the idea of Sacks' book than by the book itself.

I probably should have known after my ambivalent reaction to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Sacks profiles people with quite peculiar problems that result in quite peculiar behavior. His goal in his observations is determine how people's brains work and don't work by observing their behaviors. In this respect, he's very much an anthropologist.

But he's a scientist and a neurologist and he offers much more than sideshow curiosities. He describes clinical details and elaborate hypotheses about how the brain functions. He relates the people he's writing about to other people he and others have written about. Once again, that's more than I really wanted. I skimmed a lot of pages.

The best of the profiles in this book is of the blind man who, in middle age, gains eyesight after surgery. What makes it the best is that Sacks raises questions about differences between seeing and looking. Those of us who are sighted don't understand how much learning goes into the process of looking. We have been learning since birth, and were pretty good at it before we could speak. The middle-aged man who had never seen anything before has to learn to distinguish foreground from background; to distinguish between spheres and cubes with his eyes, not just his fingers; to recognize eyes and noses and faces. It's not easy, and people like the one Sacks describes often fall into deep depression after experiencing sight for the first time. This man did.

In other profiles, Sacks marvels over the artistic and musical skills of a child who can barely speak, a surgeon who has Tourette's syndrome, and a man with literally no short term memory. These are out-of-the-ordinary people, but most of Sacks' book is more textbook than I wanted.

It helped me pass the time on the flight back from California, but skimming through the last half was more a self-imposed chore than a pleasure.

Have you read it? What did you think? Write and tell this little bit of the world about your reaction.

20 November 2009

Not everything can live up to expectations

We were getting ready to head for California to see the incredible granddaughter and the incredible Yosemite. Luckily, our flight was non-stop, but still long. I paused at Target in front of the paperback best sellers and grabbed Jonathan Kellerman's True Detectives. Kellerman's reliable, isn't he?

Well, yes, he's reliable. But he's not always great. This book features a couple characters who evidently appeared in one earlier book, but they aren't the usual stars of Kellerman's mysteries. Instead of the aristocratic psychologist, there's Aaron Fox, trendy fashion plate private investigator, and instead of the gay veteran detective Kellerman creates Fox's half brother LAPD detective, Moses Reed.

Of course, these two guys are as different as Kellerman can think to make them. It's an investigative odd couple. Aaron is a few years older and making piles of money he spends on fancy cars and fancier clothes. Moses is a straight arrow cop with a chip on his shoulder. Neither of them knew their fathers, who were cops and killed in the line of duty. They never got along as kids and they still don't, according to Kellerman's telling of the story. They run into each other once in awhile when spending time with their mother.

A cold case murder brings them together and neither of them is excited about the prospect. But the conflict/rivalry/opposition never really came to life for me. And, by the end of the book, the brothers are joking and sharing mutual admiration. But the progression of the realtionship was never really explained to me. I don't really know how that happened.

The book kept my mind off flying between those brief naps I always take on long flights. The story was nothing special. At least the playboy didn't make a move on the cop's wife.

Both the granddaughter and Yosemite lived up to expectations, and that's why we got on the plane in the first place.

If you agree with me about True Detectives or think it was special, write and tell this little bit of the world why.

When I finish it, I'll have a few things to say about the Oliver Sachs textbook I read on the way home.

31 October 2009

Tired, tired, tired...

Last night I hated Stieg Larsson. Dan Conrad had warned me. Dan's name finally got to the top of the waiting list at the Minneapolis Public Library for The Girl Who Played with Fire. Dan warned me that it was better than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Larsson's first book.

At 11:00pm last night I was falling asleep. But I couldn't stop reading The Girl Who Played with Fire.

The story-telling was superb. The huge cast of characters was fascinating. The mysteries were complex and compelling. I could see I was nearing the end of the book and there was no way I could put it down. Larsson is dead, but I still hated the way he was keeping me awake.

I kept reading.

Larsson manipulated the story telling -- making the later scenes shorter and full of action. He kept revealing plot details a very few at a time leading up to the climax.

The ending was full of action and danger and fear. And the climax came at the very last sentence of the book!

It was just after 1:00am. I was still awake and staying awake had been worth it. (It also seemed that it took a lot less than 2 hours to finish the book.)

Somewhere in the future there's one more mystery by Larsson. I'm looking forward to it, but it's hard to imagine it will be as good as The Girl Who Played with Fire.

If you haven't read either of Larsson's books yet, go find The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It's in the library and in paperback. By the time you've finished it, your chance of getting The Girl Who Played with Fire from the library will be much improved.

Then write and tell us what you thought of the book.

Solid mystery

Almost 10 years ago, son Jim gave me a volume containing three Harry Bosch mysteries by Michael Connolly. Jim had been reading the Bosch novels and knew I liked mysteries, so it was a great gift. And three in one was quite a deal.

Way back then I read the first novel The Black Echo. I took the book up to the cabin called Sidetrack, where I do a lot of reading. Then it got "buried" on a bedside table until this fall.

On one of those last clean up days at Sidetrack I started reading The Concrete Blonde. I finished cleaning and closing up the cabin before I finished the novel. So, it came home.

Like Connolly's other novels, this one is straight forward and well-paced. Nothing fancy and nothing subtle. Nothing fanciful either. Enjoyable reading. No wonder he sells so many books.

Harry Bosch, like so many mysteries' main characters, is a tough semi-renegade, dogged investigator. You'd want him on your side, but judges and his bosses might be worried about what Bosch might do. I'm ambivalent about the character even though I like the stories.

In this one, a body is found in the poured concrete structure of a building being torn down. It seems to be a victim of a serial killer from some time ago. But not everything fits, and Harry Bosch, who shot the serial killer, is part of the investigation into what looks like a copy-cat killing. Oh, and he and the city are being sued by the serial killer's family who argue that the killing wasn't justified. (See why Bosch's bosses aren't always thrilled?)

Have you read a Connolly book? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought of it.

16 October 2009

More on Swedish murder mystery writers

Aha, someone else has noticed Swedish murder mysteries.

This was on MinnPost, an online news source here in the lesser north.

Sweden has murder on the brain
Sweden's second city does not look like it's in the grip of a crime wave...

It only takes a look in any bookstore however, to see that this is a city, and a country, with murder on its mind...

Peter Wahlqvist, a Goteborg-based lecturer in crime fiction, said the international success of Swedish thrillers results from a combination of good writing, a taste for the exotic and the contrast between the make-believe mayhem and common foreign perceptions of Sweden as a blond, healthy, welfare state utopia...

04 October 2009

Global warming, competition, and more people

So, I picked up a copy of Thomas L. Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded at the Northfield Library.

Friedman seems like a reasonable observer. However, a decade ago I tried to read The Lexus and the Olive Tree, and couldn't get far because his explanations of his observations seemed so incomplete.

This time, I couldn't read very far either. Friedman's subtitle is "Why we need a green revolution and how it can renew America." I don't need to be persuaded.

My problem is that it's depressing to read about why we need a green revolution, when it seems so impossible. Friedman himself catalogs the reasons: we're walling ourselves off from the rest of the world (one of the reasons the Olympic committee didn't want to send the summer games to Chicago) and the national attitude seems to be that IF there's really a problem, we'll get around to it in our own good time.

Of course it didn't help to read Scott Canon writing in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, that we can't call on politicians to lead us out the big messes we're in now. Because making things better is going to require sacrifice. And we all know what happened to politicians who asked Americans to make sacrifices. Remember Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter, and Ross Perot?

Even when I skipped ahead to the section titled, "How We Move Forward," I kept feeling worse and worse. I read nothing that would lead me to have a bit of hope. Friedman's insistence that it's the creativity and entrepreneurship so powerful in American culture that will lead us out of the woods doesn't convince me. Of course, I didn't read the whole thing.

Did you read Hot, Flat, and Crowded? What did you think?

See also:

28 September 2009

BWCA adventure

While at Garrison Keillor's bookstore in St. Paul, I picked up what I thought was William Kent Krueger's first mystery novel, Boundary Waters. It turns out this book was his second. Not that it really matters.

This murderous mystery was much like the one I read earlier. That one may have been written later, but the similarities are great. I kept wondering if I read Boundary Waters before.

This was one of those books that kept me reading. I read most of it during one lazy Saturday at Sidetrack. Krueger tells adventure stories very well. In this book, I think there are five of them, one right after another. Just about the time I was thinking, "This is nearly the end of the story, what's going to happen in the last half of the book?" Krueger pulled an unexpected out of his hat and another dangerous adventure began. And most of them are not implausible.

(There are several implausible story elements in this book. They'd power the Infinite Improbability drive on the Heart of Gold quite a way toward the restaurant at the end of the universe. But the action was compelling enough to keep me reading right through the improbables.)

Imperfect hero Cork O'Connor, former sheriff and hamburger stand operator, is once again at the center of the stories. And he is the action hero who saves the day a couple times and almost saves the day at the very end. (The saving of the day at the end is one of those improbables that could send the Golden Spaceship to the restaurant at the end of the universe.)

The action was so continuous and the suspense so well maintained, that I read right through things like that. It was only on some reflection that I thought, "Huh?"

Native Americans, wolves, bears, really evil people, greed, political ambition, double crosses, and an organized crime boss are parts of the book. So are nearly a dozen murders (nearly all of which are committed in a small, far-northern Minnesota county seat). That's part of the trouble with Krueger's books: How do you get your small town "restauranteur" hero invloved in a series of once-in-a-century crimes? (Even in New York or Los Angeles or Las Vegas, the events in this book would be less than once a decade situations.) It's like some small town mayor from Alaska got elected governor and then was chosen to be a vice presidential candidate. Like that could ever happen. Suspend belief a lot!

I had a good time reading this book. Thankfully, I don't live in a community where such inhumanity is commonplace. But, I'm not sure I really liked the book. Does that make sense?

If you read Boundary Waters or another of Krueger's books, write and let this little bit of the world know what you think.

See also:

25 September 2009

History lessons

A couple weeks ago, Dan Conrad and I had lunch at the Swede Hollow Cafe in St. Paul. Swede Hollow was a shanty town/slum/dump/open sewer just east of downtown St. Paul. Beginning around 1850, Swedish immigrants scavanged building materials and built places to live in the hollow. They were followed by successive waves of Polish, Italian, and Mexican immigrants. Neither electricity, city water, or sewer service followed any of them. The place was condemned, the last 11 residents evicted, and everything burned down in 1956. After that it became an informal land fill and a hobo jungle until the 1970s, when Swede Hollow was cleaned up and declared a nature center.

That's a history lesson to go along with the book I just read.

After lunch, Dan and I visited Garrison Keillor's Common Good Books in St. Paul. So, what kind of bookstore does the old Scout run? It's an old fashioned place, crammed with books and little advertising and a few section lables on the walls. Oh, and it has a very knowledgeable staff. That's probably more history.

While there, Dan pointed out The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indriðason. On Carol Stoops' recommendation, I had read Jar City and sort of liked it. Dan thought The Draining Lake was very good. [The actual draining Lake Kleifarvatn, right]

I agree.

First of all, there are at least two stories told in this book. There are probably others, but I'm not enough of an English major to recognize them. I've even given some thought to the lake of the title that loses all its water because of some geologic phenomenon at the beginning of the book and then begins refilling at the end.

I can think of some symbolic meanings, but they seem pretty lame. Then again, there are those moments that bring the past to our attention for a short time. For Americans there are anniversaries like July 4 and September 11 and October 28 and December 7. However, not long after the anniversary (especially the older ones) we shelve the memories and get back to paying attention to what's going on in the present.

That's sort of like a lake draining, revealing a bit of the past, and then refilling to hide things beneath the surface again.

In Indriðason's novel, what is revealed is a human skeleton tied to heavy piece of Soviet spy equipment. Spy equipment in Iceland? The skeleton had been at the bottom of the lake for 30 years or more? An Icelander a spy?

Detective Erlendur and his colleagues draw the low priority assignment of identifying the dead person and finding out what happened.

The back story involves Icelandic students, idealistic young socialists all, who got grants to attend university in Leipzig, East Germany in the 1950s. The police state they found there was not the socialist utopia they expected.

The contemporary stories are told in the conversations and interviews between Erlendur, the other detectives, their families, and people who might know something about a dead person thrown in a lake, weighted down with Soviet spy machinery.

The back story is told in an account of coming of age, disillusionment, love, and loss by an old man recalling part of his youth in East Germany. The themes of the back story are reflected in the themes of the contemporary one.

The stories come closer and closer together as the detectives fit together bits and pieces of information over a summer and fall of on and off investigation and as the hand-written journal of a man haunted by his past is completed.

The writing, the characters, and the structure of the stories are well done. I liked The Draining Lake very much. I will go looking for other books by Indriðason. (His main character, Erlendur, is almost as depressing as Mankell's Swedish detective, but not quite so hopeless.)

And, it's obvious why this is not a story about Americans. Idealistic socialists are only slightly more welcome and believable in the USA than athiests. All of the disillusioned Icelanders returned from East Germany with their socialism intact. What they gave up was their willingness to tolerate the authoritarianism of the Soviet system. They became democratic socialists. To most Americans, that's an oxymoron.

Anyone else have thoughts about Indriðason's book? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you think.

BTW, the strange (to me) letter in the middle of Indriðason's name (that I missed when writing about his previous book) is "Eth, a letter used in Old English, Icelandic, Faroese... and Elfdalian," according to Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia entry goes on to say that "In Icelandic, ð represents a voiced dental fricative like th in English "them", but it never appears as the first letter of a word. The... letter is... voiceless, unless followed by a vowel."

Thus, the authors name is pronounced in-dri-tha-son, not in-dri-da-son.

My, the things one learns.

See also:

21 September 2009

Chicago mystery

In my effort to find new escapist reading, I not only picked up a book by an Austalian author (see The Broken Shore), but I picked up one by a Chicago author. In fact, I wasn't attracted by the "Edgar Award-Winning" notice on the cover, nor the Publisher Weekly "Best Book of the Year" note on the back. What I noticed about Theresa Schwegel's Last Known Address was that much of was set in the neighborhood where our book pusher, Mary, lives. In fact, a brownstone on the street where Mary lives [below] is mentioned in the book.

Mary might enjoy reading the book because of the setting. I didn't.

Schwegel [above] uses a first person narrative in some of the chapters, and I didn't figure out why until I was nearly finished. Before that it was just distracting.

The main character, a woman detective in the Chicago Police Department, who is fighting the good fight in an intimidating and sexist workplace, never really earned my sympathy, and I never really cared about her. The chapters that she appeared in were written in a third person narrative style, even though there was some dialogue. Perhaps those ought to have been first person narratives.

It was difficult to keep track of all the characters because so many of them came and went quickly. And because I was lazy and never cared enough to do the work necessary to keep track of them.

Her previous books probably deserved the awards they received, but this one gets none from me.

If you read it, let this little bit of the world know what you think.

14 September 2009

Southern (hemisphere) fiction

Okay, I swore off Swedish mysteries for the winter. Next June, when there's more sunlight, will be soon enough to try another one.

I was scanning the stacks at the Northfield Library and came across an Australian mystery that looked promising. I do mean "looked promising." The cover of The Broken Shore features a dramatic Regis Martin photo of some limestone seaside cliffs. They might closely resemble the broken shore referenced by Peter Temple [left] in this mystery.

This was a book I wanted to finish once I started. It wasn't quite one I didn't want to put down, but the story was compelling. Once I finished, on a very quiet Saturday morning at Sidetrack, I thought, "But... but... but..." There were things unfinished. Is that an invitation to the next book or what?

That invitation fits well with the frequent references to at least one earlier story. Those references to detective Joe Cashin's past, did make things confusing early on, but there was a bit of explanation (insufficient, as far as I was concerned) in the middle of the book. Is that an invitation to the previous book or what?

As the plot progressed, the main character's past became less important, while other characters' pasts became more important.

I had to adjust my reading style early on in this book. Temple has a way of dropping significant plot bits into throw away descriptive sentences. Normally, I skim over those sentences and look conversations and actions. So, I had to re-read some things and then pay attention to every sentence in the final half of the book.

There were also a few more characters than I could keep track of in the first two-thirds of the book. There's a glossary of Australian terms at the end of the book, but it could have used a list of characters in the beginning (like those old Russian novels). However, as I think about that, I suspect that such a cast list would have made the plot too transparent. Temple was right not to add it. I should have paid more attention in the beginning. Just like I should have noticed the details he stuck into seemingly trivial sentences.

In the first part of the book, I felt like I was reading about the visiting detective Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night. The racism, the redneck cops, and the Aborigine detective brought in to "help investigate" a murder that might involve some native kids. The story got more complex later in the book, but those cultural dynamics played a part in the plot. The complexity means that Temple was writing about more than simplistic stereotypes — mostly.

I will return to the library and look for another Peter Temple mystery — probably an earlier one that will explain Joe Cashin's mental and physical scars that Temple refers to often in The Broken Shore.

Have your read anything by Peter Temple? Did you like it?

Write and tell a little bit of the world what you think.

06 September 2009

Almost Top Ten

Mari Jungstedt's [right] Unseen was number 6 on Camilla Läckberg's Top 10 Swedish Crime Novels. I couldn't find Unseen at the Amery Library, but I did find Unspoken.

Unspoken is Jungstedt's second crime novel. (I suppose Unheard is next.) Okay, I said to myself, let's check this one out. And I did.

I took it up to Sidetrack and read it in an evening, a morning, and an afternoon. This was another book that was hard to put down. I did set it aside for coffee and conversation with a neighbor this morning, but I even read during the boat "parade" at noon (there were only three boats in the parade this year).

Jungstedt creates some interesting characters. And she describes more than their professional lives for most of them. And she tells a good story. I should say she tells good stories.

One of the stories involve the murder of a seemingly harmless old drunk. But there's something about the murder that suggests that he wasn't so harmless – at least to someone. Another centers on the search for the killer of a 14-year-old girl, a murder victim whose body is found in an out-of-the-way rural area. Another of the stories Jungstedt tells seems quite peripheral to the main plot. It's peripheral enough to make me wonder about whether it is actually important to the other stories (Unheard?).

This one was good and I will actually read Unseen if I find it before winter.

It's only September, but I've read enough about the short daylight of Sweden in November and December that I'm ready to head south for the winter. I've already noticed that when I get up at 6:00am, the sun isn't up yet and that the sun is going down around 7:15pm. Anybody know somewhere in New Zealand I can go for November through February?

Has anyone else read one of Jungstedt's books? How did you like it? Write and tell a little bit of the world what you think.

Reread and finally write

At the Amery library, I checked out two books. One of them was another Henning Mankell novel, Befor the Frost, a Linda Wallander Mystery.

I read this one awhile ago. It must have been between the time I stopped publishing an actual newsletter and when I started this blog.

I didn't remember the title, but I did find things in the first 30 pages familiar. I read random chapters through the rest of the book to remind me of the plot and the characters.

Linda Wallander is the daughter of Kurt Wallander, the chief character of most of Mankell's Swedish mysteries. This book begins as the young Wallander is about to join the police force in Ystad, where the elder Wallander is a chief inspector.

[at left: Johanna Sällström who played Linda Wallander on Swedish TV]

There are a number of mysteries that the two of them get involved in. One involves one of Linda's friends. Another begins with the suicides and murders in Jonestown. The mysteries all merge by the end in a plot to blow up cathedrals all over Sandinavia on September 10, 2001. Mankell seems to be reminding us that fanatic suicides are not restricted to Muslim cultures.

In spite of the themes in the stories, there is a lot less of Mankell's pessimism and unhappiness in this story than in many of his books. Maybe because Linda Wallander is young and still hopeful. The stories are intricate and detailed. It's a long book and probably good for a winter read.

Any other responses?

03 September 2009

Swedish Zen

I was at the Amery library on Thursday last week trying to get some writing done. I learned the hard way that Thursday is the day the library closes at 2:00pm. Well, I did get all but one of my online tasks done before closing. (I felt like I was in British pub. "We're closing in 15 minutes" It reminded me of a line from a T. S. Eliot poem, The Wasteland, "Hurry up please. It's time.")

On my way out, I pulled out my list of best Swedish mysteries and headed for the shelves. Håkan Nesser's [right] book, The Mind's Eye, was number one on the list. I didn't find that one, but I found Nesser's Borkmann's Point. I figured it was worth a try, so I checked it out as I left.

Nesser's featured character is Inspector Van Veeteren. Swedish, eh? I'd say Van Veerteren is a zen detective. He asks a few questions, listens to what others find out, reads a few reports, and waits for enlightenment. Strangely, his reputation is such that the people he works with accept his meditative investigation style and are willing to wait for the guru to speak.

There's some police procedural stuff in this book, but there's almost as much chess. Nesser is quite good at creating and describing characters, but there's virtually no action -- outside of his descriptions of very brief violence.

It was as exciting as a Swedish hot sauce. I finished the book because I was curious about the plot and about whether the story telling was every going to get off the ground.

I wonder if The Mind's Eye is different. I think I'll look up a review before I try reading it. I did find out that in Nesser's The Return, Van Veeteren solves the mystery while in a hospital bed. How much action can there be in that?

The Van Veerteren stories have been made into Swedish television programs. I guess the winters are long in Scandinavia.

Any of you out there read The Mind's Eye or Borkmann's Point? What did you think?

31 August 2009

Londinium Mystery

One of the books I picked up at the Amery Library a couple weeks ago was The Jupiter Myth by Lindsey Davis. I pulled this one off the shelf because I remembered being entertained by a couple of her books several years ago.

Davis is an Oxford-educated former civil servant, who "ran away to be a writer." What she has written more than a dozen mysteries about a first century (C.E.) "informer," Marcus Didius Falco. Old Falco has worked his way up from being a free lance fixer and finder of missing relatives to working for the top Romans in colonial London.

The story in The Jupiter Myth circles around (and boy, does it go round and round) the attempt by Roman (not Scilian) organized crime to expand its protection and smuggling business to the frontier. In the process a retainer of a British ally of Rome, a local "king," is murdered. Falco is assigned by the Roman governor to fnd out what's going on and placate the "king."Of course, things get more complicated. Falco's best buddy, a fellow veteran, is undercover from Rome investigating the Roman mob. And the people Falco is interested in are the same people his old pal is interested in. And, his best buddy is secretly in love with Falco's sister. And Falco's wife is trying to rescue a homeless waif who is a British orphan. And one of the governor's centurians is on the take.

The story telling seemed to start off very slowly (like a Swedish mystery?). It may have been that I was reading in bits too small to keep me interested. However, when I began reading more than a couple little chapters at a time, the story was more interesting.

Marcus Didius Falco might whine about British weather and carp about being so far from his glorious Rome, but it was a relief from the dour Scandinavian weltanschaung I've read a lot of lately. Better? No, just a bit more uplifting.

Davis is great on researching the historic details and she does tell a good story. Check out one of her books and tell us what you think.

29 August 2009

Interstate escapism

Our family book supplier, Mary the banker (for awhile more), dropped another J. A. Jance novel on our shelf not long ago.

I'm in the midst of a political science writing project and I need some escapist reading now and again to maintain my sanity. This book was a great help.

The book Mary provided was Fire and Ice. Like the C. J. Box book, Below Zero, I read recently, I have little clue about the meaning of the title. Fire is a peripheral clue in one of the mysteries in the book. But ice? Well, it snowed in one scene.

Jance included two of her recurring characters in this book. J. P. Beaumont, a Seattle detective is trying to find a serial killer. Meanwhile in Cochise County, Arizona, Sheriff Joanna Brady is investigating the murder of an ATV park caretaker.

Guess what. Clues in the Seattle case connect to people involved in the Arizona case. Beaumont and Brady together again. The last time Jance put them in the same book, I may have groused about a mystery that was really a romance novel. Thankfully, not this time.

Fire and Ice is a pretty good tale of police work. Beaumont and his partner/wife in Seattle and Brady and her staff in Arizona. These are the usual interesting Jance characters in a well-told story, even if it's a bit jumbled. Sometimes it seemed like a hobo stew: Jance seems to have tossed in all the ideas for stories that were floating around in her notebooks and added some seasoning to see what happened.

What happened was good and just the kind of escape I needed once in awhile from the political culture of Iran, centralization in Putin's Russia, and corruption in Nigera. Check the library.

See also:

Follow up on list of top Swedish mysteries

Dan Conrad wrote:

I finished Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin a couple nights ago and while I wouldn't rate it above Dragon Tattoo I'd probably put it somewhere on a top twenty (or so) Scandinavian crime novels list.

It seems to be a pattern in a lot of these that little that goes on in the first 80-100 pages has much to do with the main mystery -- but keeps you just interested enough that you persevere until the main story kicks in and your hooked. In this case I'm glad I stuck with it -- though I almost didn't.

The novel opens with the disappearance of a 7 year old boy and then jumps ahead 20 years to a still distraught mother and grieving grandfather -- both of whom feel it may be their fault that the boy disappeared. The grandfather is old and rather feeble (physically) and has been thinking about the matter all these years and is closing in on a possible solution and brings his daughter (the mother) in to help -- and to help her. It gets pretty interesting at that point and the solution is clever, reasonable, and not quite what I expected.
See also:

[Seems spooky to hear that plot summary just days after reading news stories about the California woman kidnapped 18 years ago.]

Dan Conrad wrote

We apparently not the only ones who liked reading Stieg Larsson. I just checked where I was on the Hennepin County/Minneapolis reserve list and found I am now number 151 out of 679 requests for The Girl Who Played with Fire. The most I've ever seen before was like 150 or so reserve requests.

13 August 2009

Icelandic mystery

After I posted the list of Swedish mystery novels that Dan sent along, Carol added a couple books to the list.

When I stopped at the Amery library on my way to Sidetrack, the only one I could remember was Jar City by an author whose name began with an I. On the shelf, right between the Hs and Js were half a dozen mysteries by authors whose names began with I. And in the midst of them was Arnaldur Indridason's [right] Jar City.

Now, I'm not picky, but Indridason is Icelandic, not Swedish. And his second name, perhaps a patrnym, is not a "proper surname." Combine that with the tiny Icelandic society and you get a place where everyone addresses everyone else by their first name. Even the phone books catalog people by their first names.

Arnaldur's book is subtitled, "A Reykjavik [right] Thriller." It's not a thriller. Technically, it's a police procedural novel. The story centers around the efforts of a detective named Erlendur to find the murderer of a thoroughly disgusting character named Holberg. There are a couple side stories, the most interesting is about Erlendur's daughter, and it compliments the main story well.

The plot is nicely complicated and the telling weaves all the pieces together nicely. It's a nice book. I read it during a couple days at the lake when I took breaks from writing teaching materials. It was a break book. I was never tempted to put aside my work to read. I read because I wanted a break from writing.

Hey, good news. There were practically no improbabilities in this book. The Heart of Gold's infinite improbability drive wouldn't get very far on this novel.

Carol liked this one. I liked it in a nice way. Maybe Carol will tell the rest of us why she liked it.

If you read Jar City, write and tell us what you think of it.

I have a Lindsey Davis historical mystery novel, set in the Roman Empire's Londinium, to go on to. I look forward to Davis' authentic-sounding descriptions of life in that frontier outpost of pre-Italian civilization.

05 August 2009

Vem hade kunnat gissa?

After reading my comments about Stieg Larsson's book, Dan Conrad pointed out a "top ten" list from The Guardian. Who would have guessed (Vem hade kunnat gissa?) a list of the ten best Swedish crime novels? Camilla Läckberg, you will note if you read the article, is a writer of Swedish crime novels. The Guardian article includes thumbnail descriptions of the books.

Thanks, Dan. If Stieg Larsson's book is #9 on the list, this could keep me busy with Swedish novels for a long time. (I wonder what my Swedish great-great grandparents would think about this?)

[Title translation by Google]

Camilla Läckberg's top 10 Swedish crime novels

  1. The Mind's Eye by Håkan Nesser [Ben Vincent's review]
  2. Blackwater by Kerstin Ekman [Marisa's review]
  3. Missing by Karin Alvtegen [Karin Alvtegen's web site]
  4. Sun Storm by Åsa Larsson [Karen Chisholm's review | my review]
  5. The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell [Mankell's Wallander web site]
  6. Unseen by Mari Jungstedt [Maxine Clarke's review]
  7. Shame by Karin Alvtegen [Lilian Pizzichini's review in The Independent]
  8. Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin [Norman Price's review]
  9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson [a review from Scandinavian Books | my review]
  10. Midvinterblod by Mons Kallentoft (not yet translated) [a review in Swedish at LjudBoken]

A review of The Preacher by Camilla Läckberg at Nordic Bookblog.

03 August 2009

Pickett's world again

We scored another C.J. Box novel from Mary the banker, our supplier. I didn't read the last one she supplied because I didn't like what was implied and forshadowed in the first chapter.

This one was another of his "Joe Pickett" novels. It wasn't so scary. The title was Below Zero.

Some of Box's books have been okay; others have been quite good. Nobody keeps me reading through insane violence like Box does. This one has insane violence, with the emphasis on insane. It also involves a character given up for dead in a previous novel and a big red herring.

There's a lot of improbability in this story. Enough so that Douglas Adams' S.S. Heart of Gold (a spaceship powered by an Infinite Improbability Drive), could probably travel vast distances on the improbablility in this book.

I'm not fond of implausibility in realistic fiction. I guess this isn't realistic fiction, because I wasn't bothered much by it until I'd finished the book.

Here's the sum of my recommendation. I read the first half of the book in a couple session over three days. Last night, I crawled into bed intending to read for half an hour or so. The next thing I know, I had finished the book and it was nearly 1 A.M. (a time of day I rarely see these days -- especially on a Sunday night/Monday morning). That's how good the story telling was.

I haven't figured out the meaning of the title yet. The story is not set in winter or a freezer. But this is a compelling story. (Second book in a row that I didn't want to put down. Maybe it's me.)

Check the library for Below Zero by C.J. Box. Or if you can't wait buy it from your local book store or from Amazon.com below.

For Kindle

Paranoid sci fi

A couple weeks ago, we headed for the nearby east (Cleveland, Ohio) for a bit of family reunion and an American Red Cross fund raiser featuring a huge and wonderful fireworks show.

I stopped at the Northfield Library to pick up a couple paperbacks for the plane rides and the layovers in Chicago. One of the books I checked out, and the one I read, was Philip K. Dick's Time Out of Joint. The author is best known for his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which was transformed into the movie Bladerunner.

The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

-Hamlet, Act I, Scene V

Philip K. Dick is a cult hero for his big ideas. And conceptually, Time Out of Joint is an intriguing and complex project. It was written in 1959 in the midst of the Cold War. In the book, it's 1996, the war is hot, and main character Ragle Gumm is a vital player. He is a tactical expert who has had a mental breakdown, but he's so important to the war effort that the powers that be will do nearly anything to keep him functioning -- even create the past. Making the scheme work requires Ragle Gumm's amnesia. But he begins to remember.

There are flashes of great writing in the book. They illuminate the mundane nature of most of the book like flashes of lightning. The basic concept is clever, but too many details are shoddy. Lou Stathis, writes in an afterward that Philip K. Dick had mental health problems, financial problems, and that he'd stoke himself with meth and go on writing jags to turn out books. Time Out of Joint seems like the product of such a time.

I'd certainly like to see what Ray Bradbury would have done with this plot.

PS: Ray Bradbury's 89th birthday is August 22. Send him a card in care of his local book store:
Ray Bradbury
c/o Mystery and Imagination
237 North Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91203

The Philip K. Dick web site

Some of Bradbury's stories are variations of Dick's story

for Kindle

26 July 2009

Book of many stories

Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I was standing in front of the "Best Sellers" rack of paperbacks while waiting for a prescription to be filled. I was next to a grocery store pharmacy.

Although the store now has some organic produce and a partial row of other organic products, it's still a middle/working class store that emphasizes thrift and large-sized cans of vegetables and Miracle Whip more than a wide selection of breads, cheeses, or sliced meats. Thirty years ago the store was called Erickson's. Then for a couple decades it was known as More 4. (The 4 was for four stores in one, but I could only ever count three. Maybe there was something out back I didn't know about.) Nowadays, it's called EconoFoods. Same corporate ownership all those years. Recently I noticed that a branch of the store in Hudson, Wisconsin, formerly called EconoFoods has a new name. I guess someone's still looking for corporate identity.

That's where I was when the eye-catching cover of Stieg Larsson's book caught my eye. It was in the #8 slot of best sellers, but the bar code sticker on the back said, "Best Seller #16 Expries July 30." However, the cash register receipt said I bought "Hanna Montana" in the "GM and Health Beauty" section. I guess someone's still looking for inventory and accounting identity.

In the back of my mind, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, rang a quiet bell. I'd read something about this book, but couldn't remember what I'd read or where I'd read it. The blurb on the back cover offered, "a murder mystery, family saga, love story, and a tale of financial ingtrigue wrapped into one satisfyingly complex and entertainingly atmospheric novel." I was headed for a quiet weekend at Sidetrack which everyone expected would be rainy, so I bought the book and some orange juice along with medication that promises to help me combat my hyper-lipidemia.

What an incredible luxury. Time to do nothing but read. Saturday was indeed a cool rainy day at the lake. Nancy and I were up early and headed to the neighborhood coffee shop (Cafe Wren in Luck), 15 miles up the road, for breakfast and an e-mail check-in.

When we got back to Little Blake, I opened up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It's a 640-page book. By page 110, I told Nancy that I was hooked and wanted to finish the book. At the time, I didn't think I'd finish this weekend. There's usually a lot of competition for attention what with bald eagles, loons, kingfishers, garden flowers and weeds, and chores.

The rain persisted, off and on, most of Saturday. I was able to spend some time with neighbors during rainless interludes, but mostly I read. I watched the sun go down behind the clouds as I read. I got up to stretch after dark and discovered that it was 11:15PM.

I brushed my teeth, took my prescribed medication, and crawled into bed. Sometime later, I learned who one of the real bad guys was, I put the book down.

Sunday morning I paddled the canoe around the lake, poured myself a big glass of orange juice, made some coffee, and started reading again. I finished the book just after noon.

Recommendation enough?

How about that the author came from Sweden, but his attitude doesn't quite match the misanthropic perspective of that other Swede I've read recently, Henning Mankell. In fact, in spite of one of the main themes (in Sweden the book and the movie based on the book are titled, Men Who Hate Women), there's little in Larsson's book like the dyspeptic view of life that Mankell seems to live sourly with.

The translation by Reg Keeland is quite good and very much in American English. There are a few strange things in the translation and some things just don't translate well. ("After the meeting Blomkvist had coffee with Malm at Java on Horngatspuckeln.")

The mystery revolves around a teenager who disappeared 40 years before the story told in this book. The cast of characters includes a large Swedish clan descended from a very successful 19th century industrialist. The hired investigators are a discredited journalist and a self-taught, tattooed, pierced, punk polymath.

Larsson tells several side and back stories in this huge book, but the pace never lags. I didn't keep all the family names straight, but I never kept all the names in my own family straight either. I never got confused, but I also never felt I was being talked down to by the author or the characters.

If you have read other of my commentaries, you know I don't have a lot of patience with incredible things in realistic fiction. The last story Larsson tells in this book is incredible. I wish he'd left it out. Well, I wish his editor had dumped it. I'll buy a self-taught, neurotic polymath, but not one who does the things described in the last story. It's just too much.

In spite of that, I'm ready to read Larsson's next book (it's due out in hardcover now). I rather expected the discredited and rehabilitated journalist to be the main character of the second book. I'm not sure that's true. According to the chapter published in this volume, it's the punk polymath.

There won't be many books. Larsson died in 2004 after handing three manuscripts to his agent.

The paperback edition of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo came out in June 2009 in the U.S. The library might have a copy, but you'll probably have to hang out near the rack of paperback best sellers to find a copy. I think it will be worth it.

See also:

15 July 2009

Alaska frontier mystery

Sometimes I finish reading a book and write about it immediately. Other times, I put the book on the corner of my small desk with the intention of writing about it soon. I don't yet know what determines the course I choose. It might be the book or my reaction to it. It might be the press of other tasks. I was thinking it might have to do with whether or not a book is from a library, but I've gotten overdue notices before writing about a borrowed book.

So Dana Stabenow's Whisper to the Blood has been on the corner of my desk for several weeks now. Since I read it, I've written about several other books.

I really liked this mystery. It's one of Stabenow's Kate Shugak novels. I find the little wilderness community of Niniltna as interesting as Lake Wobegon. I think I like it better than Lake Wobegon because, in spite of the murder and mayhem, the events in Niniltna are less fantastic than most of the events old Garrison Keillor spills out on Saturday afternoons.

Okay, so I like the characters in Niniltna. I like the Aunties who spend their evenings in one corner of the local tavern piecing quilts together. I like the local native elder who spends his time there watching sports on the big screen TV. I like the main character, her teen-age foster son, her wolf-dog, and her lover, the local Alaska Trooper. I like most of the other frontier residents, who have escaped from one thing or another.

How does a tiny, mostly subsistence-based community react to the discovery of gold nearby? There won't be a gold rush, but the big company that has rounded up the mineral rights will be creating more jobs than there are people locally. How do the people react when first the company PR rep is murdered? And then when the most outspoken opponent of the mining is also murdered? And how does the local Trooper along with his unofficial partner in love and investigation find the murderer(s) and protect the community? Oh, and how do Kate and her lover resolve the relationship difficulties they have? (There is a bit of soap opera in this book, but it's better than the bits of romance novel that have been stuck into other novels by Stabenow.)

Stabenow is a very good story teller. Even though she's written 15 other Kate Shugak novels, most of them are set away from Niniltna. So the little frontier village is not the hotbed of murder that some writers seem to create in bucolic settings. (It's hard to imagine, for instance, more than a couple murders a century in a place like Lake Wobegon.)

Stabenow is also very good at creating characters, and after 16 books she's got this crew down pretty well. That's why there has to be some soap opera in the central love story, a budding romance for Kate's foster son, and a new character or two who come to town and end up waiting tables in the tavern or catching on with the mining company's PR project.

Enough, already. I liked this book, Whisper to the Blood. If you've read it, let us know what you think. If you haven't read it, try it out and react here.

See also:

For Kindle