Monthly Archives: August 2014

An Event in Autumn by Henning Mankell

Parting with Kurt Wallander was difficult. Mankell sent him off to that gentle night in 2009 in The Troubled Man. I thought I would never meet with him again.
This series should be more well-known. Kenneth Branagh’s TV series was on PBS a few years ago, but I would love to see the Swedish series. I don’t think Branagh caught the real Wallander – I was not blown away. TV can spark interest in a book; I guess that’s a good thing.
To my delight, Wallander’s back! An Event in Autumn is now, for the first time (!!!!), available in the U.S. It is set in 2002, and Mankell’s note places it chronologically in the period just before The Troubled Man. He adds that “There are no more stories about Kurt Wallander.” Mankell himself has been diagnosed with cancer: he has a tumor in his left lung, another in his neck and the cancer may have metastasized elsewhere in his body.
Wallander is feeling his age and is troubled by intimations of mortality. He discovers two skeletons in the yard of a house he is considering buying. This leads him to visits to old folks’ homes and an investigation of happenings 60 years before. A melancholy man by nature, Wallander sinks deeper into depression.
His relationship with his daughter Linda is up and down, as usual. She lives with him, giving him some human contact; I can only imagine what would happen were he more alone.
Mankell writes that he doesn’t miss Wallander and that his story about Wallander “has come to an end.” He may not miss him, but I certainly will.
I had wondered why there had been only one book about Linda Wallander. I learned that the actress who portrayed Linda committed suicide. Mankell has not written another book in that series.
If you enjoy mysteries, discover Henning Mankell and Kurt Wallander.

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Death in Autumn by Magdalen Nabb

The Marshal Guarnaccia detective series is so enjoyable. I have spent the past few weeks slogging through the first three books of an historical mystery series and have taken a vow not to ever read books I don’t care for. People have different guidelines for deciding whether to finish a book; I’m inclined toward the 30 page rule. If I can’t get into a book, if I don’t care about the characters, then I will put that book in the Half-Price Book pile.
As soon as I make this rule, I remember books that I ended up loving. For example, I must have tried four or five times to get into Women in Love before I became accustomed to Lawrence’s style. I wasn’t crazy about the first Marshal Guarnaccia books I read: Death of an Englishman and Death in Springtime. They were good, but not exciting. But I persisted. I was rewarded by this book.
I was lucky enough to be able to visit Florence several years ago. I wish I could go back and back and back. I saw it as a tourist; Nabb, an Englishwoman, moved there in 1975 and stayed. She knew it intimately. This all adds to the immediacy of and involvement in the story.
It seems that the character of the Marshal is becoming more developed. We are learning more about it and he is becoming more real.
I have two nits to pick: 1) why was it necessary to kill the dog? Marshal Guarnaccia was so indifferent to this dog’s fate. Why are people so important and animals so disposable?
2) What is a Substitute Prosecutor? I wish Nabb had included notes. I Googled this, to no avail. Does anyone know? Is he really a substitute? Why does Italy use Substitute Prosecutors? Where are the Permanent Prosecutors?
I have begun reading Property of Blood – engrossing.

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Why Mermaids Sing: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery by C. S. Harris

I ordered the first three books in this series because they seemed to be good fun and satisfying mysteries, Well, I’ve made mistakes before. As Siskel and Ebert used to say, I just don’t care about the characters. They just aren’t interested. They are two-dimensional pasteboard characters. They are what you would expect in this genre.

So I had the first three books and I read them. Hours I will never get back. Hours I did not spend on more worthy books. I have finished them, and the series and I can move on. I don’t like to leave a book or a series unfinished, but one must be practical and cut one’s losses.

Good bye, Sebastian, Kat, Tom, and your friends. It’s been real, but it hasn’t been real fun.

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What Angels Fear by C. S. Harris

I discovered this title, series, and author in a list from a source I trust, but which I, unfortunately, cannot remember at present. I like mysteries and I like history, and I have enjoyed historical mysteries in the past. I was disappointed in this book, for reasons I will explain. Because I tend to overdo, I had ordered the first three books in the series and I am currently reading the second in the series. I wanted to give it a chance; it’s not always good to judge by a debut novel. I wouldn’t want anyone to judge my abilities by my first novel – not that there is or ever will be such an animal. Anyway, when I finish that book, I’ll report.

As to this book –

In Regency England, Sebastian St. Cyr, a gallant viscount with PTSD, investigates a murder in order to clear his name of the woman’s rape and murder, all without a forensic lab, DNA, or a cell phone.

Sebastian is a marvel with preternatural powers of sight and hearing, which the author explains in her Author’s Note. Sebastian has Bithil Syndrome. Like Superman, I guess.

Although the book starts off promisingly with the gruesome near-decapitation and rape of a lovely actress, the story gets blogged down. St. Cyr interviews each of his suspects again and again. The third or fourth time he goes back to the Italian painter, I just wanted to say, “Enough already!”

Harris, like so many contemporary authors, needs a good editor with a supply of red pens. (I don’t actually know whether editors use pens or pencils or what color they are. Sorry.)

Harris has a PhD in European history. OK, but I have a PhD in children’s literature and I teach English literature. I’ve read enough Jane Austen to know that Harris’s characters are not speaking Regency diction. I am pretty sure that folks didn’t say that someone got a “kick” out of doing something.

There are historical inaccuracies. The police, for example. Yes, there were men called the Bow Street Runners. But, prior to 1839, the responsibility for policing in the City was divided between day and night, primarily under two Sheriffs. The Bow Street Runners represented a formalization and regularization of existing policing methods. There was a formal attachment to the Bow Street magistrates’ office, and they were paid by the magistrate with funds from central government. They, however, did not patrol but served writs and arrested offenders on the authority of the magistrates, traveling nationwide to apprehend criminals.

I suppose that Harris felt it necessary to simplify and modernize history, language, and culture. Being the picky reader that I am, though, it bothered me; that and the repetition of plot.

I’m going to finish the second book and even venture into the third. I suppose if I want accuracy I need to stick to the originals, like Poe, Holmes, and real-crime nonfiction. Some very enlightening book are Duel with the Devil, The Beautiful Cigar Girl, and The Maul and The Pear Tree.

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When Gods Die by C. S. Harris

I’ve identified two elements about this series that prevent me from embracing it fully (or even partially!).

Number One: no humor. Loren Estleman’s Amos Walker series, one of my favorites, gives me at least one big laugh per book. Chandler and Hammett have sly, subtle humor. Donald Westlake is hysterical. Heck, Shakespeare is famous for his comic relief. Mystery writers should understand the value of humor.

Number Two: too much personal information. Again, I cite Chandler and Hammett. I just saw the film A Most Wanted Man, based on John Le Carré’s novel. The only direct view we have of Bachmann’s personal life lasts about two minutes. The information we have about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character is presented indirectly. Of course, Hoffman was a first class actor, but authors and screenwriters should follow maxims of “less is more” and “show, don’t tell”. We don’t need a lot of backstory about our protagonists.

As to this book – Marginally more interesting than the first. Regency politics is not a familiar topic for me; Jane Austen doesn’t really get into it. However, a few days after I finished the book, I can’t remember who the murderer was.

And I never did know who the gods were.

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