Thursday, July 21, 2011
More detectives, this time with paint
This summer I've been positively frolicking with Lord Peter Wimsey, Dorothy L. Sayers's charming amateur detective. How I got to be 41 years old before I picked one up is as big a mystery as anything Lord Peter tackles. (I'm prematurely sad about the fact that by the time I'm 42, I'll have read everything Sayers published.) The last one I finished, Five Red Herrings, is so far my least favorite, though you may as well ask which type of scone I like least. (However, Amazon didn't have an image of it to link, so I put in Have His Carcase, which I'm in the middle of now and relishing for all its great worth.) What holds Herrings back is the scarcity of Bunter, Wimsey's wry and uber-capable manservant/fellow investigator, and of Chief Inspector Parker, who sits back at Scotland Yard not doing much this time as Wimsey bounds from place to place in Scotland figuring out who killed the painter Campbell. It all hinges on what was missing from the scene of the crime, and only because Wimsey knows a bit about painting does anyone know there was a crime at all.
Painting techniques and small-town artists are the focus of Louise Penny's first Chief Inspector Gamache mystery, Still Life. Penny's Anglo-centric Quebec town of Three Pines is full of interesting people who seem to hover frequently on the brink of change, and it's nice to know that Gamache will be back to visit them, even though it will be to solve future cases. The murder in Still Life is of Jane Neal, the perfectly nice, beloved, slightly reclusive retired schoolteacher. Gamache is an intellectual detective, who uses teamwork and insight to solve cases, and he is great fun to watch at work.
Turning to suspense, this month I read my first Geoffrey Household novel - his most famous, Rogue Male. Atmosphere, psychology, intrigue, a mean feral cat who might ruin everything - this has it all. No wonder it's a classic. The hero (unnamed) has been caught almost-assassinating an also unnamed European dictator and manages to escape back to England, but he can't rest there. He knows too much, and has to go to ground to keep the dictator's forces from finding him. He can't put his compatriots in danger by seeking help, and can't go to the government because of the delicate political situation (this is in the 1930s, so....) It's all very tense and very yummy and you should definitely check it out.