BOOK & BLOG
January 28, 2008
THREE BOOKS: Timothy Hallinan, Andrew Vachss, and Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
I was very excited to find a new book by Timothy Hallinan, A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART. Hallinan wrote some wonderful private eye books about a decade ago, and I’ve kept them all these years because I thought they were so wonderful. If you can find them at a second-hand bookstore, they’re well worth the search (THE BONE POLISHER, INCINERATOR, SKIN DEEP, NOTHING BUT THE SQUEAL). His new book is quite different. For one thing, it’s set in Thailand. It’s just as heart wrenching as his other novels, but it’s got a new protagonist, and the Asian setting gives the book a whole different flavor. Poke Rafferty, an American travel writer, is living in Thailand because he loves it. He’s fallen in love with Rose, a former bar girl, and he’s adopted a street kid, Miaow. He needs money, though. Rose’s new business is failing, and he has to have enough bribe money to expedite Miaow’s adoption. When a rich but vicious widow makes him an offer, he feels he has to accept. He’s also helping an American woman find her missing uncle. In the course of both these investigations Poke uncovers a number of secrets he would rather not have known. I *highly* recommend A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, and anything else Hallinan has written.
In a somewhat similar vein, I’ve read most of Andrew Vachss’s work, too. His New York is like a foreign country to me, and I’m grateful. It’s a terrible, heartless place, full of violence and ugliness. Vachss has spent a lot of his professional life defending children who’ve fallen victim to predators, and his books reflect that. He requires a real focus on the part of his readers; the more books he writes about Burke, a bottom-feeding character with some noble qualities, the more elliptical the dialog becomes. I find myself uncertain if I’m filling out the broken spaces correctly, and feeling very anxious that my understanding isn’t equal to the task. I recommend reading his earlier Burke books first BLUE BELLE, STREGA, HARD CANDY, among others. TERMINAL, his latest, though certainly as well written as his earlier work, is much harder going.
AGNES AND THE HITMAN is a change of pace. Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer make a great team. Agnes Crandall is a peppery but vulnerable cook, determined to renovate an old mansion and turn it into a wonderful wedding site to make the money she and her fiancé need to start their business. Then a lowlife tries to kidnap her dog, a hitman climbs through her window, and all kinds of misunderstandings and crises arise. You need to read this on a day when your credibility threshold is high, but it’s really delightful and well written.
I’ve never understood the occasional reader who only wants to read the same book, over and over. It’s like determining you’ll only have vanilla pudding when there’s a full-service buffet within ten feet of where you sit. There are people who only read romances; there are certainly some wonderful romances available, but after all, there’s not a lot of suspense in the process. You can be pretty darn confident that the hero and the heroine will end up together with a solid prospect of happiness.
There are people who read only conventional mysteries. They shy away from the explicit violence or sex of harder-edged novels. I confess I come closer to understanding this point of view; there is certainly enough violence on the evening news to make a tender-hearted reader shy away from encountering it in books. But still, I sometimes crave a good blunt instrument or a book that doesn’t stop at the bedroom door.
Then there are readers who are snobbish in the extreme; they pooh-pooh those who read romances and conventional (“cozy”) mysteries. Again, my hackles rise. Why insist on “realism” in every book you select? Is a private eye novel any more “realistic” than a murder that has a dog as a detective? Do journalists habitually encounter Mafia hitmen and child pornographers? Most journalists cover the local town council meeting, and most private eyes get their clues via the computer.
The long schism between science fiction and mystery baffles me, too. Read both! See the world! The fictional world, that is.
Broadening your reading horizons can only be good.
© 2009 Charlaine Harris