Sunday, May 24, 2009

Roundup of recent reading

I've been reading more than blogging lately, so this post is a catch-up. A commenter on a recent post about Peru reminded me that Mario Vargas Llosa wrote a couple of crime novels, and I read the most recent (I think) one, Death in the Andes. The novel is a puzzle but not a mystery: it's a maze of interspersed narratives concerning Vargas Llosa's character Corporal Lituma (also featured in his other crime novel), his assistant, several groups of people who are about to be murdered by the terrorist group Sendera Luminoso, and a couple who run a bar in the former mining town (now kept alive by a road construction project constantly interrupted by nature and war) that is at the center of the action. The story is clear enough, and certainly violent enough, but the biggest puzzle is what Vargas Llosa is trying to say about terrorism, indigenous culture, the European culture of the capital city, Lima, and so forth. There's a very interesting article on-line at another blog,, that clarifies Vargas Llosa's position in a very interesting and very detailed manner, dealing with Death in the Andes as well as other novels and essays. I have the other Lituma novel, Who Killed Palomino Molero, on my tbr pile and if I get to it before the library wants it back, I may have more to say about Vargas Llosa--but in the meantime I defer to Ignacio Lopez Calvo at the blog just mentioned. I also recently finished Come the Executioner, by M.S. Power, the author of the remarkable trilogy about the Irish Troubles, Children of the North. Come the Executioner also deals with the Troubles, and it's a mark of the genius of the trilogy and the somewhat lesser accomplishment of Come the Executioner that the newer novel seems dated, as if the times with which it deals are a long way in the past.
But it's still a very good novel of multiple betrayals and the miseries of competing police/army/occupation forces versus local and terrorist interests. But if you read only one book (or series) by M.S. Power, it should be Children of the North (though I have yet to read most of his non-Irish and non-Troubles novels, so I can only speak of part of his oeuvre). The third novel I recently finished is Walter Mosley's remarkable The Long Fall, in which Mosley channels classic noir fiction in Obama-era New York. Mosley's narrator and main character is Leonid McGill, a private detective trying to leave behind some of his own involvement with shady (even murderous) dealings involving organized crime and other unsavory elements of the city. McGill's troubled career is mirrored by his equally troubled home life, and all of the characters are interesting and believable. The plot is ripped from the annals of Phillip Marlowe and Lew Archer, though nothing about the story seems dated (there is a lot of hard-boiled dialogue as well as corrupt rich families, lowering mobsters, and so forth, but there's also the Internet, Wall Street traders, and so forth). But one of the main subjects is so-called "post-racial" America, in which Obama (at the time of the book's writing) could be running ahead of a white opponent for the office of the Presidency but the African-American detective still finds rampant racism. Mosley doesn't ignore what has changed since the era of his post-World-War-II L.A. detective Easy Rawlins, but he highlights what hasn't changed as well (both in racial terms and in terms of the possibilities of the hard-boiled detective story). Anyone who enjoys classic noir will be fully satisfied by The Long Fall (the title refers to McGill's dreams as well as other elements in the story). Apparently this is the first book in a new series, and I'm curious what Mosley will be doing with this character in the future, now that his bona fides have been established with The Long Fall.

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