Lots of orts this month and no central theme, a reaction no doubt to the cold, then thaw, then cold again.
I’ve enjoyed the class I’m facilitating that introduces Maine Mystery Writers to students at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at USM. OLLI is the Maine equivalent of Senior College and I’ve had some great discussions with the thirty or so people who signed up to meet local mystery writers and talk about the various subgenres. Great group, very engaged readers, and we’ve had some lively discussions. Looking forward to doing the course again in the fall.
I’m reading a very fine book on writing by Harold Evans called Do I Make Myself Clear? Evans is the former editor of the Times of London and a journalistic treasure. What I came across that startled me was his account of research into how sentences have gained clarity over the centuries. An academic named Lucius Adelno Sherman spent his career counting the various linguistic elements—words, prepositions, clauses, etc.—in classical texts and documented how sentences sped up from pre-Elizabethan times to the twentieth century. The early sixteenth century average length of a sentence was fifty words; by the early twentieth century , the average was down to twenty-three. Strictly word-nerd stuff, but fascinating.
I read thirty-two books in January (no, I’m not going to bitch about that 10-day frozen spell again) and most of them were crime novels but I’m making a concerted effort to try new things and so I want to give you a short review of several books by non-US writers that you may not have come across.
Henry Chang’s Detective Jack Yu series is about as noir as they come and urban as all get out. The protagonist is a New York City Police Detective who’s been transferred back to his old Chinatown neighborhood. The kids he grew up with are now gangsters and the precinct is as crime-ridden as any in the city, with the added complication of community leaders and tong bosses who prefer to solve their own crimes. Yu uses his knowledge of the community he grew up in to catch killers, trying to stay ahead of the possibilities of vigilante Chinatown justice. I read Chinatown Beat but there are others in the series.
Inger Ash Wolfe’s protagonist Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef presides over the Port Dundas Police Department but only temporarily, until her former protégé returns to lord it over her as his boss. A Door in the River begins with a well-loved resident dead of what appears to be a bee sting outside the Canadian reservation’s smoke shop. The tale spins out into subterranean gambling and prostitution and corruption around police with a finish worthy of the Lethal Weapon movies.
Colin Cottrell’s Dr. Siri series (not the Siri we already know and love . . .) is set in the Indochina of the 1970’s during the oppressive Communist regime. Dr. Siri Paiboun is the country’s only coroner and despite the politics under which he operates, keeps finding murders to solve. The glimpse of the historical situations, as well as the raucously funny character of Dr. Siri, made The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die easily the most laugh-inducing read of the month. There are a dozen or so in the series but you don’t need to read them in order.
I’m always fighting my own tendency to read only the writers I already know and it’s difficult. There is so much good crime writing going on, locally, nationally, and internationally that I find it hard to keep up with my favorites, let alone try something new. But there is a round ton of good stuff flying around out there that repays a little investigation.