Thursday, June 17, 2010

A blast from the past

It's been a while. Sorry. I decided I was more interested in reading another book than writing about the one I just finished.

But this post heading is relevant in another way. I'm not going to bother writing about everything I've read in the past year(?) - it seemed more efficient to just generally mention a few stand-outs. And those would generally be not-so-recent books.

Despite my general preference for trashy romances, of late I've been sticking to classic British mysteries (discussion of this shift to follow). We all know elizabeth has a thing for Peter Wimsey; I've enjoyed all of his books recently.

However, my preference is for someone who could be considered his contemporary - Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn. Also the younger son of British nobility, Alleyn is a bit more grounded and works at Scotland Yard. Marsh is a native New Zealander known equally well for her direction of Shakespearean plays, which would be why Alleyn gets pulled into several murders in theaters. Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and Marsh were known as the "Queens of Crime" for decades, for good reason. It's too bad only Christie appears to be well-known these days.

And my love of Alleyn resulted in me wandering around the mystery section of the library, hoping to find a few more good Brits. I've also enjoyed Sara Woods, who writes about Anthony Maitland, a barrister (reading books set in Britain results in a lot of research on Wikipedia - apparently barristers are very different from solicitors).

But the best random finds feature Peter Shandy, a professor at an agricultural college set somewhere in New England that I swear must be the inspiration for all of Rose Nylund's stories about Saint Olaf. Charlotte MacLeod created a college president who grunts in Swedish, whose wife is obsessed with herring, and where Shandy is world-renowned for his creation of a massive rutabaga. Completely insane, and everyone other than Shandy features ridiculously Scandinavian names.

In summary, read something by one of these women.

So back to my issues with trashy romance novels. I'm apparently becoming too much of a feminist to really enjoy many of the books I've started recently. It goes along with my extreme hatred of commercials for food/laundry detergent directed at moms. No matter how independent, intelligent, and self-sufficient a heroine is, all of a sudden the man gets to make all decisions. For example, Nora Roberts has been a favorite author for years. I wasn't a fan of her High Noon, but Black Hills might be worse. Lil, the heroine, has a doctorate in animal studies, founded and runs a sanctuary for big cats, and has been riding and tracking in the wilderness for years, most recently 6 months tracking pumas in South America. All of a sudden, when her former lover Coop gets back to town after an absence of several years, shit starts to happen. Can she make her own decisions? Of course not. Her father insists that Coop move into her cabin to protect her. Coop insists that he's back to stay and that they're going to start dating again, even though she tells him to leave her alone, and won't move out. He also tells her she's not allowed to go into the woods anymore because it's "too dangerous", and SHE GOES ALONG WITH IT. She has a pet cougar! All she does is capitulate to his (and her parents') ultimatums, even when she's busy escaping from the killer, where her brilliant plan is to stall long enough for Coop to rescue her. This, from the highly educated and formerly independent heroine. Her best friend, with a doctorate in something else related to animals, falls in love with a farm hand who's one step above mentally challenged; nothing is written about him having any good qualities other than being nice, attractive, and persistent in his adoration. These are supposed to be inspiring stories making me want to have a similar romance of my own? I gave up on another book recently because a former PI was feeling guilty about getting dragged back into the business (after her son was brutally attacked) because her husband didn't like her being involved in that sort of thing. Hello? If you don't like her career, don't marry her. And yet the issue was all on her side, because she (and the author) seemed to think it was ok for the husband to be so righteously indignant about it.

I certainly hope there's some exceptions to this crap out there, because I'm quickly running out of vintage mysteries...

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posted by ket at 4:40 PM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome post, ket! Which Sayers have you read? When I was going through her books I liked them only moderately until I got to Gaudy Night, which really knocked my socks off. And then I went back and found myself enjoying her earlier works much more than I had before.

I've had Ngaio Marsh recommended to me by a colleague severla times, but I don't seem to have luck finding her. I think the library didn't have any last time I was there, or maybe they only had old, beat up copies that were so dirty I figured I'd leave them on the shelf. And I can't ever remember finding her at a bookstore. Maybe I just have to try harder... But I look forward to discovering her writing!

Sorry that the bloom has faded from your romance novels...

~ elizabeth

6/29/2010 5:37 PM  
Blogger ket said...

You avoided books because they were old and dirty? That's rather shocking and disappointing. However, you have no excuse now, because Central has recently started to acquire new(!) paperback copies of Marsh's books, and they're even located on the same shelf with the (old and dirty) hardcover copies (of which there are several - there goes the other half of the excuse...).

I read all the Sayers I could find at the various library branches - so probably nearly all of them. They were fine, though none were memorable enough for me to consider a favorite. The only thing that stood out was how there were just as many collections of short stories as full novels, and those aren't nearly as interesting. Oh, and I do remember one of them causing me to spend a while on Wikipedia learning the rules of cricket.

6/30/2010 3:25 PM  
Blogger reyn said...

Ironic... praising old, dirty books at the same time you turn your back on dirty books.

Here's all you need to know about cricket: it is utter madness, and nobody actually fully understands all the rules. I think that's why individual games can last for weeks.

6/30/2010 3:27 PM  

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