Saturday, September 8, 2007

Murder in Scotland, Spain, Portugal, West Africa and Berlin

We have to add key books and people to the discussion right away, so I'm publishing without all the links that should be added (I'll edit them in later):

  1. Ian Rankin, whose Inspector Rebus novels like Fleshmarket Alley (Fleshmarket Close in Britain) are truly excellent. I can't say the same about the Jack Harvey novel Blood Hunt- I found it to be pedestrian. But, nobody is perfect, and we should be thankful that Rebus is on the prowl in Scotland. I also know too much about the chemical and agricultural issues that formed the foundation of the crimes in Blood Hunt to find their treatment very satisfying in the book. But, hey, this just shows the danger of too much learnin'. Read it and enjoy! Perhaps enjoyment, or at least suspension of disbelief, will be easier if your aren't an industry insider.

  2. The Blind Man of Seville, A Small Death in Lisbon, The Company of Strangers and The Vanished Hands represent one type of Robert Wilson's work, the intricately plotted, remarkably dark stories of murder, family, betrayal, pride, patriotism, spying, manipulation, secrets, weakness, love and pain. Pretty good territory for a rainy day, eh? These are works of literature,* though I wouldn't lend them to my kids. The Vanished Hands seemed to me a little weaker than the others, but it was married to political and social messages about repression in South America (by South Americans and the US) that needed to be published, so I give it some leeway. The first three I listed here are strong stuff, and are nothing short of brilliant. Rarely do I react as viscerally to the printed page, and rarely am I so engaged in the puzzle, as when I read this side of Wilson's writing.

    The other part of Wilson's work that I am aware of is the series of Bruce Medway novels, including The Big Killing, A Darkening Stain, Blood is Dirt, and Instruments of Darkness, all of which should be read. Soon. These books are less ambitious than the first set is some ways, and somewhat less satisfying, but still excellent. Although frequently violent and filled with betrayals and much sadness, there is a bit of optimism in these books, if seen through the boozy haze. The brotherhood of mankind has not completely broken down. Also, with the books being shorter, the characters are less fully developed (we don't know about three generations or more for each person's family, including all lateral genealogy, nor all GPS waypoints in everyone's lives for the past 85 years- just teasing a bit, here!), and the depths of depravity are somehow slightly less horrifying than in, say, The Blind Man of Seville.

    I'm not complaining about the characters at all: Medway and Co. form a terrific ensemble cast that sometimes stays a step ahead of crooks, sometimes a few steps behind, but mostly survives, to drink too much, another day. They ply their trade in West Africa, which is fully as foreign to me as any distant locale.

    Actually, it is a difficult to decide why the violence is less horrifying here, in Medway's world, than say in Inspector Falcón's world, because it really isn't. I hope the different affect is because somehow everything is less personal, life being painted with a broader brush in the Medway books, making events easier to accept and move on (to one's own life). However, it must be difficult to craft a great read in one third the number of words of the other books, so I'm not trying to be a jerk here, because they are great reads, and we should all know more about West Africa (at least where I live). It's not that I don't respect the Medway books in the morning, it's that I don't think about them as much in the morning, or find myself haunted as much by them at night, as I do with Seville, Lisbon, et al.

    I strongly recommend reading each subset of Wilson's books in the order of their publication, given that aspects of character development can carry over from one story to another. I believe that the books are written by the same person, but the two have really nothing in common. That both sets of novels are very successful is impressive.

    *Did I just break a Nick Hornby rule? Or am I about to? See here.

  3. Philip Kerr is a cypher to me, or perhaps not, maybe I grok his fullness. What I can say is that he has written some of the best murder mysteries ever (see Berlin Noir), but he seemed to "go commercial" a while back and I don't connect too well with him any more in a consistent manner, though I don't deny the man his right to make a living. So where do I draw the line and why? I guess on another day.

    Question: is Philip Kerr coming back into the fold?

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