This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Mysteries I've Been Reading

            If you’re a writer, one of the ways you keep in shape — mentally, in any event — is by reading a lot. There may be an exception to the rule that good writers are good readers, but I can’t think of one offhand.
            Having just published my first mystery novel, The McHenry Inheritance, a little over three months ago, I find myself reading more mysteries than usual lately. As I consider writing a second book, reading what others have written in the genre helps me keep my head in the game, so to speak.
            In a typical month it would not be unusual for me to read, for example, Eric Ambler, Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Louise Penney and Henning Mankell. I like to mix the Brits, the Yanks, and authors from abroad, or who set their stories abroad, and am partial to writers who have stood the test of time but open to checking out the new guy. After all, I’m one of the new guys now.

The Obsession and the Procedural

            Here’s a look at three books I read and liked in October. We’ll begin with Thirteen Steps Down by Ruth Rendell, published in 2004. Rendell, probably best known for her Inspector Wexford series, is one of the grandmasters of the genre. The Wexford books are stylish whodunits, with a perceptive eye cast to the vagaries of modern English life.
            Thirteen Steps Down is a stand-alone book and belongs to a subset of books she’s written that follow a non-police character whose life is unraveling. Here, the protagonist is an exercise-machine repairman who seems normal but quirky at the beginning of the book and by the end has gone crazy over an obsession and committed a murder. It’s a testament to Rendell’s skills that the former is almost scarier than the latter.
            Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo are a husband and wife Swedish writing team who wrote ten Martin Beck police procedurals together before Wahloo died in 1975. The Laughing Policeman is the fourth in the series, published in 1968. It follows a group of Stockholm detectives as they attempt to solve a massacre on a city bus where one of the victims was a fellow detective. Over a period of months, the clues gradually and painfully come together to form a surprising picture. It’s a near-perfect book, and I don’t say that often. Jonathan Franzen liked it enough to write an appreciative introduction for a recent Vintage Crime edition.

Found Among the Used Books

            Last weekend I read Deadstick by Terence Faherty, first published in 1991. I’d never heard of the book or the author, but came upon it while browsing the racks at Logos used bookstore in Santa Cruz and picked it up for two bucks. It’s easier to “find” a book like that in a bookstore than on Amazon. The books and their publishers give off clues in their physical form that you just don’t get on a computer.
            Deadstick follows the adventures of Owen Keane, an ADD researcher for a Manhattan law firm retained to look into a 40-year-old plane crash that killed two people. As you may already have guessed, there was more to the “accident” than authorities discovered at the time, and Keane is kept busy following that trail and attempting to sort out his relationship with a nymphomaniac red-haired librarian named Marilyn. It’s a good book (all three were), and now that I’ve discovered Faherty and Owen Keane at the used bookstore, I look forward to following further adventures through the bookstore and Kindle. That’s the way of the book-shopping world these days.