Saturday, June 16, 2007

New Authors

"We had another lively meeting last night," writes Jeannine. "It was a smaller group than usual. Several people had company, and others were off gallivanting around the Olympic Peninsula – as if that’s any kind of excuse."

We gathered to discuss “authors on the cutting edge,” new authors of well-reviewed mysteries, some the first in new series. We limited the selection to 8 different titles, and members could read any one (or more!) they wanted to. It was a pretty broad variety of styles and subjects, so there was definitely something for everyone. Some people wanted to read more of the titles than they were able to, which was a reoccurring theme throughout the discussion (“if people would just return the book as soon as they finished”...).

Our final tally of readership:

Baby Shark – 1

Consigned to Death – 2

Holmes on the Range – 5

Mark of the Lion – 6 (our winner!)

Shadow of the Raven – 4

Still Life – 4

The Thirteenth Tale – 3

Wild Indigo – 3

Rather than person by person, we took the discussion book by book, with anyone who read it jumping right into the discussion. Sometimes there were amazingly different responses to the same story, which made for a very lively conversation – ding ding ding. Yes, I had to resort to the bell a few times, but no one had to be threatened with the duct tape. Though there may have been a few who wanted to use it on me.

We started with the books read by the fewest people. Only our original reader (who picked out the titles) read Baby Shark by Robert Fate. The initial crime was more than some of us wanted to approach, but it created an unusual anti-hero with plans for revenge. “Baby Shark” and her father are pool sharks, but her father is murdered and Baby assaulted (to put it mildly), and at the age of 16 is now on her own. She’s taken in by friends, becomes a pool shark on her own and designs her plans…. Unusual setting and interesting character – our reader said she would probably read the sequel Baby Shark’s Beaumont blues to find out what happens next t the character.

Next with 2 readers is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Both readers agreed that this was an extremely literate, very British tale with gothic overtones. Anyone who loves books will enjoy it; one of the characters works in a bookstore, and there are a lot of literary references. One person had one reservation concerning a theme about twins that occurred twice. The main character, Margaret Lea, was a Siamese twin separated from her sister (who died as a result) as an infant. This theme was was effective and interesting, but when another twin relationship featured in relation to the 2nd main character, Vida Winters, it seemed too much. He also thought that the story was a very closed world, just the main characters in their homes and workplaces, talking among themselves, but no contact or references to the outside world. Which he admitted was probably on purpose, but he personally prefers to have the wider political and economic forces woven into the story. A third reader straggled in (some people have other lives – imagine) who hadn’t quite finished it. She said the first third was absolutely fabulous, and caught her interest like Harry Potter had, but then she got bogged down in the next part when it got to “really weird incest stuff” and she realized she couldn’t recommend it to some of her old lady friends. She thought it should have been handled differently, and then she could have recommended it. As she was starting to get back into the story, the book was due! And her librarian husband (hm, who could that be?) made her return the book, which may have won him librarian brownie points, but lost him a few husband points. She thought there should be a few perks with the job... Alas, there are not, we librarians have to pay the same fines as the rest of you.

On to Consigned to Death by Jane Cleland, also read by two members. Little controversy with this one. The readers thought it was an interesting setting, both coastal New Hampshire (what little there is) and the antique business, with likable characters. One of the members is a lawyer, and she was pleased that the first thing main character Josie Prescott did when the police came to question her was to request her lawyer be present. As Josie was the police’s main suspect, she turned to sleuthing to clear herself. The readers said there were lots of twists and both enjoyed it. There is a sequel out called Deadly Appraisal.

Our clunker of the evening turned out to be Wild Indigo by Sandi Ault. Three people read it and all were disappointed. The setting and premise were fine, but not well carried off. Several found it downright boring, as well as unconvincing. Author Ault and her character, Jamaica Wild, are both white women enamored of New Mexican Native culture, the character is trying to learn more to get inside the culture, and also has a pet wolf, and is held responsible for a killing, so also must turn sleuth to clear her name. Relationships were “tenuous and unclear” between characters, transitions were poorly done, and the wolf was considered the most interesting character. One member with a background among the some of the tribes of the Southwest checked out the author’s website and was not impressed, saying she showed neither a proper respect or understanding of the relevant cultures and traditions.

A far superior Southwest tale is Shadow of the Raven by David Sundstrand, which takes place in the Mojave Desert of primarily southern California. Main character Francisco Flynn is a local part Mojave Native/part Irish BLM agent who finds a body (his third in a few months, for which he gets quite a bit of ribbing) in the back country near an illegally killed bighorn sheep. All the readers found it very authentic to place and characters, liked the level of back-story and the “plausible thoughts of the characters.” It reads somewhat similar to the outdoor mysteries of Nevada Barr and Kirk Mitchell.

Next we have Still Life by Louise Penny, a title we only have 1 copy of, and yet 4 people were able to read it (because I brought it back right away, said D----). This takes place in the small village of Three Pines in Quebec, and is a cross between a police procedural and a village cozy. All readers found it to be very literary and well-crafted, and said one of the most interesting things about the story was not “who did it”, but how those left behind would deal with it--the same theme of mortality as found in The Thirteenth Tale. One person was annoyed with one subplot about a new member of the Surêté du Québec, Yvette Nichol, a really annoying individual. This person was obnoxious all through the story (until she suddenly disappeared from the story), the kind of obnoxious that has no clue she IS obnoxious. In fact, at one point she looks in a mirror where there is a sign that says “The problem is YOU” and looks over her shoulder to see who it is. Now I have to read it just for that one scene! This was enjoyed by all, and main character Chief Inspector Gamache stars in a sequel A Fatal Thaw.

Our next title had a little unexpected controversy, Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith. It’s a lighthearted paean to both Sherlock Holmes and the all-American cowboy. The main characters are brothers Old Red and Big Red (Gustav and Otto) Amlingmeyer, cowboys looking for work in 19th century Montana. Big Red is the only one who can read, so in the evening he reads Sherlock Holmes stories to his brother. Old Red has become obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, and wants to deduct just like him. So when the Amlingmeyers are signed on with a very dubious outfit and dead bodies begin appearing, Big Red gets to work. Most people liked the story, and said it had a good mystery with the proper twists and a surprise ending, but a few had trouble with the language. One person thought the language was corny; several others said it was too “earthy” for them (in lieu of calling it “bad language”). The rest tried to figure out if they were reading the same book. There was lots of “cowboy talk” (and come on, there’s no polite way to explain how you get steers…) and these were an uneducated lot. I liked having cowboys talk like cowboys, and be more concerned with the demise of a horse than that of a man (the man deserved it, the horse didn’t). So if you don’t mind cowboy swearin’, it’s a really fun read. And those who enjoyed it will be happy to know we have a second title about the brothers, On the Wrong Track.

NEWS ALERT. NEWS ALERT. Deb Baker’s Murder Passes the Buck is the funniest mystery M---- has ever read (excerpts). Wait a minute; where’d that come from? Look, she’s waving a book at us and raving about how much fun it was. They’re all telling me to write it down. So here it is. And Baker has another one coming out soon. Don’t worry M----, I’m ordering it too.

Returning to our program.

Our final title was Mark of the Lion by Suzanne Arruda. Six members read this one and attributed its initial popularity to its setting in Africa. One member picked it up because he thought the title was so straightforward, he knew from the title what he was getting into – lions! Everyone found it exciting and suspenseful. It follows the adventures of Jade del Cameron, a woman from New Mexico who travels to Kenya after her World War I stint as an ambulance driver on the front. No wimpy female here. There was considerable argument from both sides as to whether this character was true to the times, or a modern woman transplanted into the past. Considerable argument. And some also found it annoying that the lead is once again young, tall, beautiful, independent, brilliant and a damn fine shot. Don’t you just hate people like that? You’ll have to read it to decide for yourself. A rip-roaring tale no matter the interpretation. Most liked the local color and our member from South Africa made some interesting points about shamanism in Africa, distinguishing between herbal healers, diviners, and manipulators of evil (so-called "witches"). In the African worldview “there is no such thing as coincidence;” all is attributable to the influence on the living of their deceased ancestors. He thought that the author's portrayal of laibon as evil was inconsistent with how they were viewed within Kenya. Did the author's familiarity with Navajo skinwalkers of New Mexico lead her to superimpose them on Africa?

Arruda has a sequel out, Stalking Ivory, which has a more intricate mystery and takes place more in the wild, and once again is full of action and a nice touch of the supernatural.

Ding ding ding. We’re done.

Refreshments were yummy. Several people brought homemade cookies and candy, and we also had blue corn chips with peach mango salsa. Our decorations were the covers of the 8 books with accompanying related books and items – an African basket, giraffe, hippo and elephant figures (Mask of the Lion); a small pottery pueblo (Wild Indigo); bighorn sheep figure and Indian basket (Shadow of the Raven); arrow (Still Life); and real historical (i.e. has rust) cow bell, hand-made bit and boot scraper (Holmes on the Range). I kindly did not use the cow bell to keep the peace, tempting though it was.