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Book Report: Fallout and The Murder of Mary Russell

Your Humble Blogger used to read a lot of mysteries. Novels, short stories—my parents had a subscription to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and a ton of novels on the shelves. Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayer, John Dickson Carr, Rex Stout, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, John D. McDonald and Ross McDonald, Ed McBain, Dick Francis, Josephine Tey. A bunch of others I can’t recall. I got more from the library, or my mother did and I read ’em while they were in the house. I enjoyed the puzzle aspect, and particularly liked locked-room mysteries, and also enjoyed the Isaac Asimov Black Widowers stories at one point in my life. Police procedurals, not so much, and the Ruth Rendell-ish psychological thrillers didn’t thrill me. I thought of myself as a mystery fan, of the old-fashioned one-of-the-people-in-this-room-is-a-murderer you-now-have-all-the-clues-you-need sort.

At some point, I stopped reading mysteries. Stopped enjoying reading them, and then after a decade or two, stopped reading them. I think I just ruined them for myself somehow, as puzzles, and then of course tastes change (both mine over time and the great book-buying public’s) and the Mysteries area of the new book shelf at the library stopped appealing to me.

I should say that I do think that being a fan of mystery novels—I feel I should put it in scare quotes for some reason—being a fan of “mystery novels” seems like it puts a person in for reading a lot of lousy books. Or I suppose more accurate, puts a person in the way of reading a lot of books that the person won’t like… there are an awful lot of different kinds of “mystery novels”, and there’s no particular reason that someone who likes some kinds would like other kinds, and it may not be entirely clear from the shelf whether any particular book will have your own Sources of Reader Pleasure. Also, it seems to me that a whole lot of crap gets published in that category, but then I don’t read it much, as I said, so what do I know about that. Still, Sturgeon’s Law presumably applies.

Anyway, the last two novelists that I started really following, back when I was picking up new mystery novelists toward the end of the previous century, were Sara Paretsky and Laurie R. King. They’re both still writing, and I’m still reading their stuff, when I notice that there’s a new one.

I just read the most recent Paretsky, Fallout, this past weekend. It took me a bit to get into it, but as often happens with her stuff, when I got into it, I didn’t want to stop reading and do other interesting things. Absorbing is the description I’m looking for, I think. Not that it was perplexing as a mystery, as it was obvious that the military, the local law enforcement officer, agribusiness and the guy who was mean to his daughter and wife were all working together to coverup the Bad Thing that had happened thirty years previously. Also, the Missing Persons had evidence of that Bad Thing, and were perfectly safe but lying low until they could safely expose the coverup. The details of the Bad Thing were mysterious and eventually uncovered, and the details of who exactly knew what, and when, and who participated in the coverup tacitly and who murdered a bunch of people to further it, that was mysterious, too. But I didn’t much care about those details, honestly. Once you get in to them, these books are probably more accurately thrillers than mysteries, despite the whodunit aspect. The real suspense is over the tactic used to try to put V.I. Warshawksi out of commission, and how she overcomes it.

This is the eighteenth book in the series, and I think I may have read them all by now. I loved the first five or so, then there were four that I didn’t like at all, and since then they’ve been mostly pretty good, I think. The series, like many such series, suffers from supporting-character creep, where the accumulation of supporting characters clutters up each book just a little more, until each new book is a kludged-up mess of distractions. Fallout takes our hero out of Chicago completely, so the supporting cast are reduced to a couple of quick scenes at the beginning and the end, plus a few phone calls and emails. So that’s all right, d’y’see?

The most recent Laurie R. King, on the other hand, is dreadful and annoying. It’s The Murder of Mary Russell, and no, Mary Russell isn’t murdered, even though the reader is meant to believe she is, but it turns out that the reader isn’t stupid. ’Twould make a man drink himself dead on gin-toddy/To have neither a corpus delicti nor body, nor in fact any reason to play along with the author on this one. Nor was I so all-fired keen to know the secret criminal history of Mrs. Hudson, which takes up the bulk of this book, in a different sort of supporting-character creep, the kind where the author is so clearly bored with the main characters that she takes up the minor ones and gives them their own books. It can work, of course, but this time it didn’t. And I have become increasingly frustrated with Ms. King’s Mary Russell books anyway, with their tendency to re-write the bits out of the earlier books that she now evidently finds unconvincing. Don’t get me wrong—she’s still a hell of a writer, and I finished the book very quickly. I just complained all the way through it. Ask my Best Reader, she’ll tell you.

That was the last time I spoke with President Trump,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

At least one of my parents was reading those Sue Grafton mysteries, back when they first started coming out, and I read the first, I dunno, six or eight? And kept buying them when they came out in paperback, but stopped reading them, and eventually stopped buying them. I don't really remember a point at which I stopped liking them (although there may well have been one), they just never seemed to be the thing I wanted to read right then.


Yeah, I also read a few of the Sue Graftons and then stopped, and I also don't remember exactly why. I remember there were some mildly irritating things, but I don't remember them being completely awful or anything.

Thanks,
-V.


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