Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Some thoughts on two books

I've read two mysteries in the last month that kept me thinking after I finished them.

My daughter's violin teacher is a huge fan of Lawrence Block. In particular, Block's Matt Scudder series. So when I was at Bouchercon last month and my friend Alison Gaylin said she'd gotten an ARC for the latest Scudder book, A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, I talked her into giving it to me so I could give it to Miles.

I had never read a Block book. But since it was in my bag on the plane, and I had three hours to kill, I pulled it out and began to read.
I am kicking myself for never picking up a Block book before. It was amazing. A relatively quiet mystery; a flashback to the year after Scudder stops drinking; a case about an old friend who is violently murdered; a slow, languid pace that just sucks you in and keeps you thinking long after you finish the book. I have lived with recovery in my life, not my own recovery, but in my family, and Block gets it all right. A scene where Scudder comes back to his room to find a glass of bourbon on his desk waiting for him is one of the strongest in the book. The temptation is clear, his resolve uncertain. The mystery takes a back seat to his struggle.
I'm now going to seek out more Block books. Better late than never. Sadly, though, you'll have to wait for this latest, since it won't be released until May 2011. But it's worth the wait. My daughter's violin teacher was very happy he could get this sneak peek!
The other book is one I just finished, and I admit that I'm not exactly sure what I think about it. Either it was brilliant, or it was ridiculous. But I can't make up my mind.

I have loved Louise Penny's Three Pines mysteries. Her chief inspector, Armand Gamache, is wise and clever. The setting is what drew me initially and has kept me enthralled: a small town just outside Montreal that's not on any map. My family has been to Quebec and Montreal a few times, so the setting speaks to me.

Her new book, BURY YOUR DEAD, is set in Quebec City. I absolutely loved following Gamache around there, since I could close my eyes and picture exactly where he was at all times. The city within the walls is not that big, and since we explored every inch of it, it was easy to picture.

The problem with the book is that there are basically three plots going on simultaneously. The first is the initial one: Gamache is in Quebec City and has stumbled across the murder of a man who has spent his life searching for the remains of Champlain, the founder of Quebec. Penny addresses the problems between the English (Anglophones) and French (Francophones) in Quebec in this plot.

While Gamache is investigating, however, suddenly we get snippets of conversations he has with a young agent named Paul Morin. And as the book progresses, we realize something has happened to Morin, that Gamache is "recuperating" in Quebec City, and his right hand man, Jean-Guy Beauvoir has also been wounded.

We then move into plot No. 3: Gamache sends Beauvoir to Three Pines to see if Olivier, the bistro owner, (SPOILER HERE) actually did kill the Hermit in the previous book. Now, I had huge problems with that last book, and I wasn't sure I was going to read this new book because of that. I never once believed that a beloved, recurring character had become a murderer. Perhaps Penny knew all along that perhaps he wasn't, and that's why she revisited that in this book. But it still feels wrong.

So all three plots are intertwined in this one book. While I got used to the conversations between Gamache and Morin interrupting the flow from time to time, it was an odd device to use. I found myself rating the three plots as to their importance to me: 1) Morin and what happened to Gamache and Beauvoir; 2) Three Pines and Olivier; and 3) Champlain's body. Sadly, I think Penny meant that I should be more interested in the third since that took up the majority of the book, but I found myself skimming a bit to get through all the history to find out just what happened with Morin.

Like I said, either this was brilliant or it was silly to take on three complicated plots at the same time. I'm not quite sure which.

What have you read lately?

No comments: