Friday, June 16, 2017

Motion, in three recent novels

I've recently read three crime novels that have a lot of movement, back and forth across Paris, Galway, and the Italian peninsula. In two of them, the motion is a bit dizzying, and in the third it's punctuated by conversations that are perhaps more dizzying than the physical movement.

Cara Black's Aimee Leduc is frequently portrayed in movement, across the particular arrondissement of Paris in which her current novel is set. But
in Murder in Saint-Germain, the crisscrossing of that neighborhood and across several plotlines seems to be motion for its own sake, rather than activity that keeps the plot moving. Still, for fans of detective Leduc, the book has its charms, as well as some forward motion in the overarching plot of Aimee's personal and family life.

The movement in Ken Bruen's The Emerald Lie seems more gratuitous. Bruen's plots sometimes meander, for sure, but this novel seems more to lurch. The murders and murderers are quickly dealt with and then the perpetually down-and-out private detective and former Garda Jack Taylor veers off toward another one--without influencing the action very much himself. What The Emerald Lie has to offer is Bruen's distinctive voice, his constant references to other crime writers, several distinctive characters we meet along the way, and what pleasure the reader may take from seeing how the author can manage to take Taylor even further on the road to dissolution.

The Second Day of the Renaissance is a belated sequel to Timothy Williams's excellent series of novels set in northern Italy, featuring irritable Commissario Piero Trotti. In the new novel, he's retired, but a series of events brings some of the cases in the earlier novels into the story. Trotti travels from his foggy home town to Florence (where he meets a young girl at the train station, an encounter that has repercussions later), Siena (where he has a long and often oblique conversation with a Carabiniere officer who tells him that there's someone trying to kill Trotti), to Rome (where his god-daughter and a former colleague are getting married) to Bologna (fleeing from a killer but inadvertently leading the violence toward his own daughter). There's a lot of dialogue in the story, much of it indirect (Trotti is not an easy person to engage in a conversation), along with considerable discussion of Italy's troubled past (particularly the "years of lead," when the international rebellions of 1968 threatened to spiral into terrorism, in the north, and  the mafia was resurgent in the south. No one would say that Trotti is good company, through all this, but the reader will nonetheless care about him and his fate as well as that of all those who are near him. And the reader will also learn much about the Italy beyond the monuments and tourist attractions.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Denise Mina's new The Long Drop

Friday, April 07, 2017

Jassy Mackenzie, Bad Seeds

My review is at Los Angeles Review of Books

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Anita Nair, Chain of Custody

I'd like to hear from someone who's read Anita Nair's first Inspector Gowda book, A Cut-Like Wound, which I haven't read. I recently finished the second in the series, Chain of Custody, which picks up the story after his assistant is recovering from injuries he received in A Cut-Like Wound, and a good deal of the story revolves around his recovery and other threads from the earlier novel. Not that it's difficult to keep up, when starting with Chain of Custody: Nair is careful to include new readers in the story.

Set in Bangalore, Chain of Custody deals with the trafficking of children, in particular a young girl who is the daughter of Gowda's housekeeper. The story shuttles between the Inspector's daily life (the investigation, his wife who has reappeared in his life, his mistress) and the point of view of a young man who works for the traffickers. Gowda's life only skates above the dark underside of the story, while the trafficker provides the heartless underbelly.

The result is dark but frequently amusing, providing a glimpse of Bangalore and India today along the way. Is A Cut-Like Wound a similar blend?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Donna Leon: Earthly Remains

Donna Leon's new Guido Brunetti book follows the typical/atypical pattern of the series, developing slowly toward an ambiguous ending, with familiar and unfamiliar elements along the way. In Earthly Remains, as in some of the earlier books, we are immersed in an aspect of Venice not commonly available to the tourist: in this case woeing (Venetial style) among the outer islands of the laguna.

Brunetti falls into a trap he has created for himself and as a result finds himself taking an unexpected vacation, staying by himself in a villa some distance away from the city, a house belonging to one of his wife Paola's relatives. The caretaker finds out that the detective is interested in spending some time out on the lagoon rowing, and begins a series of excursions that tax Brunetti's muscles but not his ptience (and not the reader's, although there is more about rowing in this particular style than we would have thought we wanted to know). This is a side of Venice way beyond the calle and campi, instead among burds and reeds and especially bees (another major topic of the book, both in the process of the detective's vacation and in the working of the plot.

Of course, there are twists involving a death in the present and a violent incident in the past, as well as currption of a new sort for a series that has often explored corruption. In addition to the faxing natural glories of the region, we also see the industrial mainland, as well as the bureaucracy and the family life for which the series is renowned.

All of the Brunetti books have a dark, pessimistic core, but some are more bleak and some more hopeful. Earthly Remains earns its gloomy atmosphere with a complex portrayal of human nature along with its detailed exploration of nature itself at the edges of Venice's glorious and its dark corners. Leon's strength as a writer is to inveigle the reader with language that seems casual and unforced into following down the book's twisty and twisted path.