Talking About Books
“Now let me make this perfectly clear . . .” (as the late President Richard Nixon liked to say.) In this case, I want to be sure you understand that I’m not formally reviewing the books I’ve noted below; I’m talking about books and stories that I’m reading and my thoughts about them, positive and maybe not so much. It’s as if a friend and I are talking over a cup of whatever, and my friend says, “Read any good books lately?” After we chuckle about her deliberate cliché—we’ve been saying that forever, it seems—we talk about what each of us is reading.
Often these aren’t first-run bestsellers, but they are books I am reading now, some for the second time. Some are hardcover, some Nook books, and a couple are e-books from other sources. In each, I found something I thought was worth sharing. So here goes, today’s “reviews,” a two-fer . . .
This Body of Death (Elizabeth George)
George usually produces voluminous books set in England which have good detecting and plausible, occasionally even likable villains. Her characterizations work well, and some of those on the good side are unlikable, yet the reader understands why. There are multiple mysteries within the same book, sometimes directly to the plot, sometimes as equally engaging side issues. There is lots of non-mystery interaction among the characters, and odd yet appealing relationships. This Body of Death is on the top of my reading-now pile on my favorite reading spot, the sunroom, rain, snow or shine.
As I do with most Elizabeth George books, I read a number of chapters of This Body of Death, put the book down, pick it up again, hours, days or weeks later. Yet George has a way of grabbing at me each time I pick her up, so after a few paragraphs I’m involved again and it doesn’t take long for me to catch up on the plot and the characters. And when I’m finished, I know I’ve had a good read. This was especially true with This Body of Death. I don’t always find this with other mysteries.
On the other hand, I couldn’t read this heavy hardcover tome in bed; it’s weight would be murderous for that kind of reading; it requires someplace where it can be more easily held, usually on my lap or propped on the kitchen table or even my desk in my study. But the read is worth it in the long run, it’s an engaging story, a good, finely plotted mystery, although it took me many a day to finish. I would happily lend it to a friend, although I wouldn’t expect return for weeks!
In the Bleak Midwinter (Julia Spencer-Fleming)
How about a female Episcopal priest/former army helicopter pilot for a quirky character? The Reverend Clare Fergusson is spunky, quick-witted, inclined to dig around in places where she’s not really welcome. Add to this an attractive, married police chief who is having some issues in his marriage. A baby is left on the rectory doorstep, and we’re off to a darn good tale. In the Bleak Midwinter is the first in a series of seven mysteries centering on the priest and the police chief—also the first I’ve read of the series—and I intend to download the rest. That’s how much I enjoyed my visit with these people, the community, and the Adirondack Mountain scenery.
I generally skip over chase scenes in novels. This book, however, has probably one of the best-written, most-suspenseful chase scenes I’ve read. And the chase is on foot. In the bleak midwinter. Across half-frozen streams, through icy woodlands and boulders and brambles and up and down ravines. The conclusion of that episode is surprising, yet it fits perfectly with the character Spencer-Fleming has built for the Reverend Clare Fergusson.
One reason I’m going to continue reading this series is because, although it’s hinted at only obliquely in this first one, I am convinced that the two central characters, unmarried Clare, the Episcopal priest with a penchant for snoopery, and the married-but-not-necessarily-happily-so Sheriff Russ Van Alstyne, Millers Kill’s top law enforcement officer, are, in upcoming stories, going to build on the attraction between them.
If I were a betting woman, I’d lay odds on it. I’ll read the next in the series and see where it’s going.
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