Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Watching the Detectives

The first in a series of checking out 
some contemporary mystery series

   Finding a new detective series (new to the individual reader, anyway) reminds me of searching for the next, best comfort food.  It can’t be too salty, sugary, or fatty.  The bread-and-butter of the Mystery/Thriller genre is the detective series, ever
since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set Holmes and Watson on their first of many adventures.  Actually, Poe invented Inspector Dupin about forty years earlier, but he didn’t live long enough to turn him into a series hero.

   The current literary cool and financially hot mystery writers are the Scandinavians, an invasion led initially by Henning Mankell (the Vallender series that’s been televised and shown on PBS, starring Kenneth Branagh) and turned into a sensation by the late Stieg Larsson with the Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.).  I picked up Jo Nesbø’s Nemesis, the fourth in his Harry Hole series in an intriguing new/used bookstore in Wooster.  

   Harry Hole is a detective working primarily in Oslo.  Nesbø mixes it up by setting different entries in the series in different countries because that’s where various cases take Harry.  The writing captures a strong sense of locales in Oslo and the Norwegian coast.  Nesbø delineates place and character broadly and with great detail, but without being overwhelming.  It’s the type of police procedural where Harry and his colleagues investigate multiple cases simultaneously.  The narrative pull for the reader becomes trying to figure out how they’re related, more even than the culprits’ identities.  

   Though the tone and milieu are determinedly realistic, there’s the flawed hero/mastermind villain trope common to this type of procedural.  Harry’s an alcoholic and, at the beginning of the book, he may have had something to do with the death of a woman with whom he had an assignation.  The villains are both a serial bank robber and a fellow cop.  I enjoyed the book, but it reminded me maybe too much of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series, four of which I read.  Like Rankin, Nesbø stretches himself with both a detective series and various stand alone novels.  I’m on the fence about reading another Harry Hole book because there weren’t any surprises for me and I don’t know if there will be others.

   Julia Spencer-Fleming’s In the Bleak Midwinter, the first in her series featuring Clare Fergusson, an Episcopal priest, and Miller’s Kill, New York police chief Russ Van Alstyne.  Joseph-Beth Booksellers’ staff highly recommended the series and Spencer-Fleming won a slew of mystery organizations’ awards for first novel in 2002.  The hook for the series is that Fergusson is a very fit ex-Army helicopter pilot.  This works to her advantage when she’s placed in an excruciating climax being chased through the show by the villain.  I’d figured out that character’s identity about fifty pages earlier.  However, Van Alstyne is a more compelling character for me because of his compassion and ambivalent attitude about his marriage, which is only touched upon, but probably examined more fully in later series’ entries.

   What turned me off about the book was that I disliked the crime, the continuing motif of the damsel in distress (even one with US Army training), and a baby thrown into extreme peril.  The cheapo paperback edition I bought also had some copy typos, which I find annoying in this age of spell check and electronic typesetting.  Oh well, that complaint reflects my OCD tendencies.  Unfortunately, I don’t feel I’m missing a lot by not continuing with Spencer-Fleming’s series.  

   The search continues for the ‘just right’ bowl of detective fiction comfort food.

3 comments:

Lane Pederson said...

These are a few quality authors, Donald E. Westlake being a comedic mystery writer. Donald E. Westlake (Dortmunder series 14 books)(Parker series 19 books), Lee Childs (Jack Reacher series 18 books), Michael Connolly (Harry Bosch series 18 books) (Mickey Haller series 4 books) (Jack McEvoy series 3 books), Nelson DeMille (11 titles good, 7 not good check reviews on Amazon).

Lane Pederson said...

These are a few quality authors, Donald E. Westlake being a comedic mystery writer. Donald E. Westlake (Dortmunder series 14 books)(Parker series 19 books), Lee Childs (Jack Reacher series 18 books), Michael Connolly (Harry Bosch series 18 books) (Mickey Haller series 4 books) (Jack McEvoy series 3 books), Nelson DeMille (11 titles good, 7 not good check reviews on Amazon).

Dexter said...

Thanks, Lane!