31 March 2009

Chilling Complexity

J. A. Jance writes entertaining murder mysteries. I wince every time I write something like that. How can a murder mystery be entertaining? The answer has to be that Jance and her "colleagues" write fiction. No one is harmed in the writing, publishing, selling, or reading of her books.

I still get queasy when I spend spare time reading about murders -- even fictional ones. Even the stories that focus on the work of people who try to find the murderers. (At least I'm not parsing the differences between murder, assassination, and killing in battle, like Eric Black did recently in his blog, Eric Black Ink. There was no fiction to hide behind there.)

Cruel Intent is a recent Jance novel set in Arizona. The story surrounds a serial killer who murders women he's seduced and keeps a scrapbook of his kills. Of course, the story is really about the attempts to unravel the devious charade he's built around his obsessions. The book was another gift from our book supplier from Chicago. (Thanks, Mary.)

Jance tells a good yarn. This one gets a little complex technically, but I'm confident she got most of the computer tech right. After this week's revelations about the apparently-Chinese hacker network that could turn on cameras and microphones embedded in computers to eavesdrop on the rooms where the computers were used, nothing in the book is outlandish. Jance's main character is certainly lucky to have such a talented acquaintance, though. In fact, I thought for a bit while reading that it gave her an unfair advantage over the obsessive killer. Of course, the main character is lucky to be alive by the end of the story. She also learned the importance of backing up her data and having good anti-virus software on her computer.

I was entertained by the story and wasn't distracted by improbables, gaps in the story, or ethical doubts about amusing myself with fictional pain, suffering, and death. It's not great literature, but it's better than most of what passes for entertainment on television. (Even though Samantha, who is co-host of Dancing with the Stars, was a student in a class I taught, I haven't been able to watch that "entertainment" since I sat through the very first program to see if the 16-year-old beauty I'd known had turned out to be a grown up beauty. She had. Sorry, Sam, I just can't take the show. I'd rather read a murder mystery.)

Have you read Cruel Intent? Tell us about your reaction.

See also

13 March 2009

Messy everyday living in murder mystery

The book pusher in our lives also dropped J. A. Jance's book, Damage Control, on our library table a couple months ago. I read it promptly and liked it, but then it was buried beneath the paperwork for other "jobs" on my desk. The pile on the corner of the desk finally got high enough to force me to investigate. And that's how I found this book today.

Now, what was that book about? Well, it's one of the series that Jance has written about fictional Cochise County sheriff Joanna Brady. Brady's life has gotten more and more complicated with every book. In this one she not only has her domineering mother to deal with, but her older daughter is a teenager. At least her fairly-new husband is a great stay-at-home writer/dad for the baby who recently joined the family.

Then there's an apparent suicide by an elderly couple and the surviving daughters who are at war with each other. Then there are garbage bags full of human body parts washed out of an arroyo. Oh, and there's some suspicion that a group home for vulnerable adults might be run by people as caring as Oliver Twist's boss, Fagin. (What's with these rural Arizonans?)

One of the reasons I like these stories is that Sheriff Brady has a personal life and she deals with bits of it "on screen." She also, like most elected public officials, has to deal with politics and shrinking budgets. And those things are parts of these stories too. There's more than bare police procedures in Jance's stories.

Hooray for all that. Damage Control was a good bit of escapist reading back in December or January (I really can't remember when.) If you've read it and have thoughts about it, write and tell a little bit of the world what you think.

Chase and peep

We're lucky to have a connection to the bookstores of Chicago. Our connection pushes books she's read on to us when she's in town. We're grateful, but sometimes it's hard to keep up.

She dropped off C. J. Box's latest, Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, a couple weeks ago. I read the first couple chapters and then put it on the DONE pile. It was just too threatening, too intense, and too foreboding for me.

However, Margaret Coel's new book, Blood Memory, was in the same bag as Box's book. It's threatening, intense, and foreboding too. But I liked it.

Many years ago, I had a film teacher who said there were two kinds of films: chases and peeping Tom voyeur experiences. Blood Memory is both. It begins with a botched murder attempt by a professional hit man, and the rest of the book is the chase by the hit man to kill a threatening reporter. And, every few chapters, there is a peeping Tom observation of the hit man. It doesn't humanize him, but it does make his rationalizations apparent.

Coel has written a baker's dozen mysteries set on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. I was getting a little tired of reading about the missionary priest and the Native attorney who braved the bad guys on the rez and resolved the too-numerous, convoluted mysteries there. This book is set in Denver and includes fictional glimpses of local and state politics. It's proof that Margaret Coel can write stories about other characters set in other settings.

I recommend it. Anyone else read it? What did you think?