Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

What I've Been Reading: Mysteries

This morning's spam subject line theme was "mutant dicks explode." As I have been reading the first four Nero Wolfe novels, I parsed that as "Mutant detectives explode??? There's gotta be a story in that!" I was smart enough not to follow the links to find out what the spammers thought the story was, though.

(That was an alarming moment in my mom's life, when I was 5 or 6. "Mom, what's a dick? Besides Grandpa, I mean. [My grandfather's name is Richard.] The lowercase kind." "Ummm...what are you reading, honey?" "Trixie Belden, and it says this guy is a private dick." "Oh! They used to call detectives that, but I don't think you should use it that way any more.")

Aaaaaanyway, as a nice segue, even, here's what I've been reading, the mystery edition.

I reread Gaudy Night, which is just lovely, and if you haven't read Dorothy Sayers, do. Fortunately or not, my favorites are late in the series. I like it when authors improve; that's always a good thing. But I don't like it when I have to say, "Well, if you don't like the first one, you really might like the tenth one. Really."

Along those lines, I've read the first four of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books this month: Fer-de-Lance, The League of Frightened Men, The Rubber Band, and Some Buried Caesar. If dd_b hadn't lent them to me in a stack, I probably wouldn't ever have read the second one, much less the fourth; I spent all of Fer-de-Lance wanting to kick Archie (the narrator) and Nero, mostly Archie. But then they were just sitting on my desk ready to be read, and so many people whose taste in books I respect have liked these, so I picked up The League of Frightened Men anyway. And by the time I got to Some Buried Caesar, I only wanted to kick Archie about half the time, and I wanted to find out what happened next. So I guess I'm reading the Nero Wolfe books. (Archie still needs a good kicking, though. Like Turtle-from-The Westing Game style.)

The other mystery series I'm reading, also courtesy of dd_b, is John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels. In the last month or so, I've read A Deadly Shade of Gold, Bright Orange for the Shroud, Darker Than Amber, One Fearful Yellow Eye, Pale Grey for Guilt, The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper, Dress Her In Indigo, and The Long Lavender Look. (Oh dear. I had been typing that as The Long Lavender Loo, which was bad enough, but this time my fingers went on autopilot: The Long Lavender Loki. McGee and Meyer team up with the Aesir to...aaaaaand no. We'll just stop right there.) Anyway, these are fun to read, quick to read, available to me in stacks just sitting around available, and -- importantly for a large portion of the last month -- small, physically light paperbacks quite suitable for reading while lying down.

I keep remembering someone I knew as a teenager who loved these books, and while I didn't like him very much, I can see why he liked these books. And I like these books. It's a very weird feeling. It's like when you have a friend who is dating someone you don't like very much, but you can see why the SO fits with the friend, sort of along her other side? Yah. Like that. Sort of. (And now everyone reading this will say, sorry, I am totally unfamiliar with either of those feelings, so the analogy just made it worse. Ah well.)

I also read Denise Hamilton's The Jasmine Trade. The reviewers seemed to think this book was better because it was about an investigative journalist finding out about some subcultural irregularities, and the author was an investigative journalist who had found out those very subcultural irregularities! And I did not think that improved the book at all. It wasn't as bad as the "I'm writing a novel about someone who can't think what to write their novel about" subgenre, but some levels of self-reference don't work out nearly as well as one hopes, and I think this was one of them.

And the last mystery of the last month was Jane Langton's The Escher Twist, which was not nearly Escher-y enough, nor twisty enough, for my tastes. It was fine, entertaining, quick read. I just didn't fall in love.

Ages ago, I asked novel_gazing readers to recommend mysteries to me, because I suspected there was stuff out there I would enjoy if only I found out about it. And so I've been picking up a few here and there, and more and more I find that I like mysteries individually, sometimes in series, but not as a genre. The ones that don't hit me quite right just leave me totally indifferent. Whereas science fiction and fantasy novels that don't hit me quite right are a lot more like my relatives: sometimes they drive me nuts, sometimes I love them all out of proportion, but either way they're mine.

Or, to put it another way, sometimes the individual aspects of mystery novels interest me, but the mystery genre as a whole is not a conversation I'm all that interested in having. And spec fic is.

Still, I may read more mysteries in a year than many people who self-define as mystery readers.
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