10 July 2012

Library Limelights 9

Sara Paretsky. Hardball. New York: Putnam, 2009.
Sara Paretsky. Body Work. New York: Putnam 2010.

It's a long time since I joined private investigator V.I.Warshawski once again to fight Windy City crime; I may have missed one or two books. As weird connections go—after very recently reading about the 1968 race riots in DC—Hardball has an inescapable link to 1966 race riots in Chicago. The complications of her plots sneak up on you as more and more characters throng in. And V.I.'s life and limbs are always in mortal danger from low-life thugs or treacherous politicians. Her new cousin Petra is introduced—young, pierced, and punk-hair-gelled—and looks like a permanent fixture. She's thoughtless and irresponsible and I wanted to kick her off the pages back to Kansas City. At times it became rather tiresome as V.I. set off in urgent chase, only to drag along this annoying ragtaggle band of cousin, neighbour, and dogs. Mostly good vintage Paretsky. I thought Body Work was not terribly successful in its basic premise; but then I find most performance art perplexing.

Anne Holt. 1222. London: Corvus, 2010.
The first Holt translation from Norwegian but not the first in a series; she's a very popular author. After my first venture into Holt, they won't be on this reader's list, assuming 1222 is any indication of previous novels. Train wreck in Norway's mountains and forced confinement of the survivors. The title refers to the height (meters) of the locale above sea level. Promising? To my mind, all the characters were thoroughly unlikeable, including the paraplegic ex-cop protagonist. She features in most of the earlier books. Even the (purportedly humourous) salute to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None was lost in far too many cryptic scene changes and character shifts that seemed laboured to me. Next!

Michael Dibdin. Back to Bologna. New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2005.
Sometimes I am killing time between waits for library books and I have to choose what looks like a secondary-level read ... to my own personal taste, of course. How encouraging to find a winner! (One who uses words like rebarbative, labile, semiotics, and peroration.) In effortless style and admirable language, Dibdin conveys a nicely convoluted mystery with a requisite amount of action. The hero, policeman Aurelio Zen (who stars in more Dibdin novels) does whine a bit, but here is humour incorporated seamlessly into the plot and characters. Almost to the point of appreciable farce. The alienated girlfriend, an illegal immigrant, a bombastic fake chef, a pompous professor, student rabble, and a misguided private detective make for a fine Italian stew. My absolutely favourite word was emarginato: in context, as a person out of the mainstream. The title itself is a sly ambiguity for locale and the professor's erudition on headings in a certain encyclopaedia.

(The unintentionally hilarious) Professor Ugo Edguardo:
Professor Ego, as he was known to students and fellow academics alike, had now reached his peroration. Characteristically, this combined witty and learned references to Eugenio Montale, the video game Final Fantasy X-2, Roman Jakobson, the Schrödinger's cat paradox, St Thomas Aquinas, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, transcendental number theory and the Baghdad blogger. He then accepted the plaudits of his audience with an equally characteristic gesture indicating that while he understood, as they of course did, that none of this was of any real importance, they also understood that nothing else was either. Or as Ugo liked to put it, adapting Oscar Wilde, 'We are all in the gutter, but some of us no longer pretend to be looking at the stars.'

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