Sunday, March 30, 2008

Upcoming discussion: Animal Detectives

Next month we will be meeting to discuss “Animal Detectives.” The fans of Three Bags Full: a sheep detective story will finally get a chance to explain why they like it and we should read it. I’ve read the starred reviews, and I still don’t get it. If you are also skeptical, you may read about one of the many cat or neo-cat detectives, or get braver still and try out a dinosaur detective. One of our members had just started Anonymous Rex by Eric Garcia, and she had us in stitches explaining how “like the vampire, they have been with us always…” Here’s the first of Amazon’s blurb (being of the mind that you have to read it to believe it):

For Los Angeles private eye Vincent Rubio, the idea of having a tail means a lot more than being followed. Vincent is a velociraptor, one of those little dinosaurs who caused so much panic in Jurassic Park. He keeps his tail tightly strapped up in the special latex costume that he wears to make himself look human.

Well, you get the picture. Sort of.

Here’s the list of animal detectives we’ve tracked down so far. You get extra points if you find one we’ve missed. Just remember these aren’t sidekicks or “mere” pets, these animals do the actual detecting on purpose.

Cottage Tales series by Susan Wittig Albert

Big Mike series by Garrison Allen

Canapés for the Kitties by Marian Babson

Freddy the detective series by Walter R. Brooks (yes, we know it’s juvenile)

Hank the Cowdog series by John R. Erickson (another really juvenile series)

Mrs. Murphy series by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Midnight Louie series by Carol Nelson Douglas

Vincent Rubio series by Eric Garcia

Joe Grey series by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann

Deborah Crombie

Sorry I’m a bit behind reporting on the last meeting, writes Jeannine. In full panic from incoming budget cuts, we’re all running around trying to dodge falling axes. No bloodshed so far, but we’re keeping the HazMat team on speed dial.

Last Thursday the book club met to discuss the mysteries of Deborah Crombie. At first we were supposed to be in the Ford room, but a Children’s spring craft program bumped us to the Board room. But then a budget meeting full of very serious faces locked themselves in the Board room, and believe me, we weren’t going anywhere near them. So we scrambled back to the Ford room, helped them clear up and move tables, put the children’s program decorations to use and stole what was left of their refreshments. Nice punch! I think that worked out rather well.

Deborah Crombie writes British police procedurals featuring Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. Initially partnered as a Detective Inspector with his Sergeant, their relationship, both personal and professional, shifts and realigns throughout the series. Because they work for Scotland Yard, they are called on to solve cases throughout the U.K., including Glastonbury, Yorkshire and Scotland, as well as London locations. So there is a strong sense of place, as well as character development and detective work. Deborah Crombie is actually an American (she lives in Texas) who has spent a great deal of time in Britain, and her work is compared most often to another American who writes British mysteries, Elizabeth George (the Inspector Lynley series).

Most of the group enjoyed the series a great deal. Some had read many, one had read all of them, and for a few, this was their first and they intend to read more. There was also a small group of dissidents gathered at the end of one table. These three were bored to tears and not afraid to say so. They did, however, manage to keep their heckling to a minimum J. Because it is a series, different people started at different points of the characters’ lives, and came away with different views of the series. Here’s a list of them in order with links to Amazon:

A Share in Death (1993)

All Shall Be Well (1994)

Leave the Grave Green (1995)

Mourn Not Your Dead (1996)

Dreaming of the Bones (1997)

Kissed a Sad Goodbye (1998)

A Finer End (2001)

And Justice There Is None (2002)

Now May You Weep (2003)

In a Dark House (2004)

Water Like a Stone (2007)

Where Memories Lie (June 2008)

We started with the people who had read the first in the series, A Share In Death. Most enjoyed it well enough to read more. Some thought it was more of a cozy, or traditional mystery, than a police procedural. There was the element of all the suspects under one roof, sort of a country house murder mystery. And just like the reader, the characters of Kincaid and James are meeting each other for the first time, and getting to know one another and their working styles. Some people thought the early Crombie stories were less complex than later, when there is more character development, including that of outside characters, and often more historical background (A Finer End set in both modern and medieval Glastonbury, or Kissed a Sad Goodbye set in both modern times and during World War II, are good examples of these). The dissidents of the group said the character development may be all right, but they didn’t care about any of the characters, so they quickly lost interest. The others thought them quite mad.

The mysteries themselves were considered complex and involving, and often left the reader unsure “whodunit” right up to the end of the book. Loose ends were drawn together and nothing vital left dangling. Coincidence was kept at a minimum and characters’ relationships and careers advanced at a believable pace. Both Duncan and Gemma have reasonable ambition for career advancement, and the usual difficulties with “politics,” family dynamics and child care. One reader speculated that both the home and professional lives of the characters were better understood and enjoyed by Americans because Crombie is herself an American. But others found the British colloquialisms, habits and diet to be so firmly, well, British, that some had difficulty understanding parts. But all were happy that most of the writing hadn’t been “Americanized” (though there were a few that crept in).

All in all it was a very enjoyable evening. We always like the ones where some love it, and some hate it, and only the mildest of insults are tossed around like a hot potato. And what kind of meeting would it be if I didn’t have to ding the bell at least once?