Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"You see these old fellas in the pub going: 'I've had a great life, me. Gone nowhere. Done fuck all. Aye.'" - Paul Tonkinson

I have a particular fondness for the English mystery. Not necessarily the Miss Marple/idyllic English village type (not that they’re not fine in their way and not that I haven’t read every Agatha Christie written), but more the mysteries set in the dales and shires of rural England. Elizabeth George’s early Inspector Lynley books; Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse books; Caroline Graham’s fabulous Chief Inspector Barnaby stories. I love them all - I love the villages, the farmers that populate the villages, the moors and copses that become a character in the mystery themselves, and most of all, the wise and canny detectives that must not only solve the mystery but also must navigate the minefield of the insular rural communities from which the victims and suspects emerge.

Monday night, before I had a chance to get myself to the library to pick up my requests, I took Charles Todd’s A Cold Treachery off my TBR shelves. It’s the second in the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, previously unheard of by me. Like the Maisie Dobbs mysteries, this book is set post-World War I, and the trenches and battlefields of the war still haunt its characters. I got a couple chapters in, and definitely liked it; I intend to keep an eye out for Todd’s other novels.

When I finally stopped at the library, I was pleasantly surprised – I’d forgotten that I’d requested Val McDermid’s A Place of Execution. A Salon review of her latest, The Grave Tattoo, contained this quote: Val McDermid is known for her hard-bitten, grisly crime novels -- a critic friend describes her "A Place of Execution" as one of the scariest books he's ever read…. How does one resist that endorsement? Clearly, you can’t, and I didn’t. I started the book last night, just before the migraine hit, and when I woke up this morning, groggy and bleary-eyed, I picked it up and read three more chapters before crawling out of bed, making myself a cup of hot, strong tea, and crawling back into bed with the tea and three more chapters.

Set in the tiny farm village of Scardale, in Derbyshire, so far the book boasts everything I adore about the English mystery: the local color (the farmers, the schools, the village gossip), the class and rank struggles of most of the characters (in this case, the Squire of Scardale Manor, and the village folk), the same struggles reflected in the interaction of the townie police force versus the Scotland Yard. The chief detective, here the young but very promising Detective Inspector George Bennett, must learn when to be assertive and when to defer to the knowledgeable locals, must play his desire for using this case as a stepping-stone in his career against finding himself caring terribly about the victim and the results of his investigation, must untangle the secrets of a close-knit community and know when to expose secrets and when to hold them close to his vest.

McDermid writes admirably well. The pacing is perfect, the bits and pieces of clues dropped throughout keep you guessing, and I know I am in for quite the ride.
I will hate to see this book end.


Gina said...

I tore through A Grave Tattoo last week, and the only reason I can't say that I *loved* it was that it's an academic-type mystery. You know what that means: It has to be compared to Possession, which is never a good thing for any book.

That said, though, you should give it a go--it's a good time.

Joke said...

1- Wow! Gina's alive!

2- Get the Penguin Guide to Mystery & Detective Fiction.


MsCellania said...

May I ask; How DO you read with the boys about?! Mine are all over me like a cheap suit! No matter where I try to sit, lie, lounge; they will find me and pounce.


Anonymous said...

You give me such great additions to my long list of books I want to read. My kids' school has a program called DEAR (Drop Everything And Read). That's what I did yesterday becase the new Janet Evanovich book became available.

Kathy said...

I've never read Val McDermid. Sounds like an author I would like.

Iamthebookworm said...

I KNEW that author sounded familiar! There is a British crime show called Wire in the Blood based on the books by that author. I watched the first season on DVD not too long ago. I'll put her name on my To-Read list.

Suse said...

Ooh, Wire in the Blood is a fabulous series, featuring the rather delectable Robson Green. I didn't realise it was written by Val McDermid. It can be pretty gory to watch sometimes but it's always gripping.

And I was thinking the same thing as MsCellania when you said you woke up, read 3 chapters of a book, made a cup of tea and returned to bed. HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

Anonymous said...

You know the fact that Inspector Ian Rutledge is unheard of by you just shows how little attention you pay to me. I told you about A Test of Wills –which is I believe his first book and really good – eight years ago. I had picked it up randomly in a book story when I ran into Professor Mooney who (being Mooney) spotted it in my hand, knew the whole story by heart and recommended it to me. I read it and recommended it to you… twice I believe. Humph.

P.S. – Your site is unblocked in Thailand! Yeah!

BabelBabe said...

2 things - this week I got lucky because H had the two older boys out of town for three days, and I schlepped Terzo to the babysitter's overnight. Whoo hoo! But also, I wake up at the crack of dawn, and the boys sleep till seven most days. so on a good day I have an hour and a half to two hours before any of them stir. I am turning into my father! Now I KNOW why he woke up at 430 every morning!

Sinda said...

I don't know why I'm not over here more often, since I love Blackbird, and she loves you, and you love all my favorite authors - Laurie King, Barbara Kingsolver, anything adding you to my readers list NOW. Hi!