Monday, November 15, 2010

From the mountains of North Carolina to the streets of Boston

Vicki Lane is one of my favorite authors. She writes the wonderful Elizabeth Goodweather series set in the mountains of North Carolina. The books are lyrical, evocative. They all have several layers overlapping each other, each more mesmerizing than the last.

Vicki and I were on our very first Bouchercon panel together back in Chicago in 2005, the one that spawned my previous blog endeavor, the First Offenders. Alison Gaylin, Lori Armstrong, and Jeff Shelby rounded out our "first novel" panel, and while Vicki didn't join the First Offenders, she and I have kept in touch and her books are always must reads for me.

I ordered her latest book THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS with a little bit of trepidation, however. This book does not feature Elizabeth Goodweather, rather Miss Birdie, a secondary character in previous books. This is Miss Birdie's story, and while I've enjoyed the character, I wasn't quite sure how I would like a whole book about her.

I loved it.

Miss Birdie starts out as "Least," the youngest child of a rather formidable, angry woman. She is called "quare" and her mother tells everyone that she is simple and can't handle going to school—so she doesn't. But when Granny Beck arrives to live with them, the older woman sees that Least has the Gift, and Granny Beck teaches her about that as well as teaches her to read. There is a bit of woo-woo in this book, with Least having a mystical power that carries her through the first part of her life. But mostly it is Least's story, how she gets through those first years of her life, how she survives when Granny Beck is gone, how she meets Young David and manages to survive.

I have to say, though, the first part of the book was my favorite. In the second part, Least has become the Miss Birdie of the Elizabeth Goodweather books, and she is drawn into the kidnapping of her friend Dorothy's grand nephew Calven and goes back to her Gift for the first time in a very long time to try to save him. While it's interesting, and the chapters from Calven's point of view are well done, I'm not sure that adding a crime like this to this novel was really necessary. It's as though this novel is actually two books. That said, I still recommend it, because it's still an amazing story. Vicki also uses the local dialect in telling the story, which works beautifully.

Another book I've read in the last week is Dennis Lehane's MOONLIGHT MILE. This is his much-anticipated return to the Patrick Kenzie/Angie Gennaro series, which ended several years ago with PRAYERS FOR RAIN. This book is a sort of sequel to GONE BABY GONE, in which a four year old girl is kidnapped and Patrick and Angie are hired to find her. In MOONLIGHT MILE, that little girl is now 16 and is again missing, and Patrick is hired to find her.

It's a classic crime novel. Lehane's style is easy to read; the plot is a basic one. However, the book didn't stand out for me like his earlier series books. Maybe it's because Patrick and Angie are now married with a four year old of their own, and there are a lot of references to how "old" they're getting and how they can't do what they used to be able to. Well, I didn't much care for whining about that. They're also supposed to be a little softer around the edges because of the passage of time, but I liked the grittiness of the earlier books. It's sort of like how on soap operas they could never let anyone get married and be happy because it would get boring. While I can appreciate how Lehane sees his two characters now, I agree with Sarah Weinman's assessment that it was like meeting up with friends at a high school reunion: You enjoy their company for a couple of hours but you probably don't have to see them again.

Perhaps it's because Lehane hasn't written about these characters in a long time that the gap is too noticeable. Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone has changed over the course of 20 books, but Muller has never taken a long sabbatical from McCone so the growth is gradual.

What have you read lately?


Vicki Lane said...

Well, Karen, you caught my attention with your post on DorothyL! Thanks so much for the kind words!

I agree with you about the difference between Birdie's early life and the present day bit. I was tempted just to deal with the early part of Birdie's life but at the same time I wanted to show Birdie as an old woman with POWER.

The older I get, the more aware I am of how easy it is for society to ignore, patronize, or trivialize white-haired women. In the Elizabeth books, Birdie has always been just a cute old lady -- I thought it was time for her to kick some ass.

Karen Olson said...

I completely agree with you, Vicki. And that second part of the book would not have been so powerful without the first part, so they do come together.

jenny milchman said...

I would also just like to add that the cover on THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. Vicki was kind enough to write a Made It Moment for my blog, and everyone raved about the cover (in addition to discovering Vicki's work--I'm sure the raves will soon come in about the writing)!

Kaye Barley said...

I just wanted to add my praise for THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS - I love it, and Vicki - thank you again for giving us such lovely words.