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24. Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky

I'd been renewing this from the library since before Christmas. Partly because I haven't been reading as much as I usually do, but also because I wasn't convinced by the blurb on the back. This despite the fact that I have thoroughly enjoyed the few books that I have read in this series.

Anyway, I picked it up on Wednesday night and returned it to the library on Saturday afternoon. (And these books, like everything else, have been creeping up in length over the years.

I was unconvinced because it's one of those books where everything hinges on things done by various characters' grandparents or great-grandparents during WWII. When done well, it works, but most of the time it's not, and I was especially concerned about it not working in the context of the hard-boiled detective story.

The flashback sequences should have been annoying but they weren't, really, and the story is well paced so that I kept turning the pages anyway.

It's just disposable detective fiction, but it's really good disposable detective fiction. I've mostly read the early books in the series, which date from the 80s, and it's nice to see that VI moves with the times and had an iPad etc. these days. It'll be interesting to see where, if anywhere, the series goes from here - VI is in her 50s, Lotty is getting to be too old to be convincingly still practising medicine, and Mr Contreras is on borrowed time.
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23. Body Work by Sara Paretsky

One of the newest in the series about the female hard-boiled PI set in Chicago. (Some day I want to do a mashup of Warshawski and Harry Drescent).

Warshawski's cousin is working in a club where the "body artist" performs - she goes on stage more or less naked, covered in primer, and invites members of the audience to paint on her. Two weird things - there's an older, unpleasant, man who writes a series of letters and numbers; and then there's a woman who draws a really beautiful picture that sets off an Iraq veteran with PTSD. The cousin asks Warshawski to see what's up, and before you know it, the woman who does the pictures is shot in the club's parking lot, and the disturbed veteran is arrested for the crime. His family hire Warshawski to clear his name. In an awful January with lots of snowstorms.

I'm not describing it very well, but I basically couldn't put it down.
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13. Hardball by Sara Paretsky

This is just about the latest in the VI Warshawski series (hardboiled female PI based in Chicago).  I've read the first few, and a random one in the middle.

Reading in near conjunction with the Dresden Files has been kinda weird (if I haven't mentioned this before).

I think this is the best I've read so far.  A lot of writers of crime franchises have stopped making an effort by this far into the series, so I was especially impressed.

More please.

February books

(I finished this when it was still Feb.  I've been that busy.)

Only read 5 books in Feb, partly because one of them was Vanished Kingdoms, but also because I've actually been busy.

All 5 were library books, and 3 new books made their way into the house.  I succumbed to the Radio Times offer for nearly free Sherlock Holmes books.

In other words, Could Do Better.
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Once again, I've failed to keep up.

72. Deadlock by Sara Paretsky

This is the second in the VI Warshawski series.  I've read the first and the third (and a random volume from later in the series).  I liked this a lot more than I liked either the book before or after it.  Maybe because it's obvious she's put a lot of research into the subject of the mystery (Great Lakes shipping); maybe I was just in the mood.  The dramatisation has recently been played on Radio 4 Extra, so I read it with Kathleen Turner's voice in my head.

One thing that really struck home was at VI's cousin's funeral, many of the relatives pass judgement on his choice of career (he'd been a professional hockey player) at his own funeral and are really negative about VI not living in the suburbs and having 6 kids.  I remember all too well people being like that in the 80s (the book was published in 1984 and is set a couple years earlier).  In some ways I really don't miss the 80s.

73. Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

A novella really, following a 1930s scientific expedition to Svalbard.  Three English men choose to over-winter in a remote location; but there's something else there with them.  A few of you have read this recently and recommended it; it is indeed very, very good and highly recommended.

I just have one little niggle; the protagonist finds out about the history of their site through a conversation with a Norwegian trapper who also overwinters on Svalbard who is probably illiterate.  It is clear that the Englishman does not speak Norwegian, so that assumes the trapper speaks (quite complicated) English.  I'd have to check, but I'm fairly certain that most Norwegians speaking English is a post-WW2 phenomenon.

I thought her name was familiar and I see that she wrote the Wolf Brother series of books for young people.  I started to read the first one and gave it up not because it offended me, but because it didn't grab me that much and I had too much else going on at the time.  I might give this series another go.

74. Microcosm: A Portrait of a Central European City by Norman Davies and Roger Moorhouse

This is a history of the city of Wroclaw (previously Breslau), now in Poland (previously in Germany, Prussia, Austria, the Holy Roman Empire, etc).   Davies' central thesis is that most of Central Europe has been subject to changes in ethnicity, population and nationhood for as long as the historical record goes back, and a similar book could be written about many Central European cities.

This book is huge, and full of really interesting factoids.  It mainly left me wanting to know more about medieval and early modern Central Europe, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The only complaint I have is that it is weighted heavily towards the 20th century, which interests me less, but I'm sure that's a minority opinion.

75. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

This book is also huge, but only took me five days to read.  I think I like it even better than The Blind Assassin.  It's the story of three Toronto women whose lives have been blighted at different times by their involvement with a femme fatale named Zenia.  They thought she was dead, but then she turns up again.

All three main characters are real enough that you care about them, but tip just slightly into caricature so that a lot of the book has an undercurrent of being really funny.  I especially got a kick out of the teeny tiny history professor who specialises in the history of war.  Atwood makes well observed comments about women academics studying subjects that are still perceived as male domain (It was a prominent feature of my own academic career), but the titles of the classes that this woman teaches are hilarious.

It was published in 1993 so the present-day part of the story is set in the Toronto I was still living in, and I recognise just about every shop and restaurant she mentions.

My only complaint is that I felt slightly let down by the end.  Logically, it works, but emotionally I felt a bit ripped off.
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22. Killing Orders by Sara Paretsky

On reflection, reading two VI Warshawski novels so closely together may have been overkill.

Or maybe I would have enjoyed this more if it hadn't been alongside Faithful Place, which is in another class altogether.

What I'm saying is I didn't get terribly excited by this book, which I think is probably a failing on my part rather than anything to do with the book. Cos really - Dominican friars holding fake stock certificates, corruption in the Catholic church, mob connections, pissing off snobby rich people - what's not to love?
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19. Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky

The first of the long-running VI Warshawski detective novels. I grabbed another random one from the library last year or the year before and found it to be perfectly acceptable disposable bus reading. This was pretty much the same.

I can't believe they've been going since 1982!

Disposable is probably unfair - both of the books I've read so far are a little meatier than that, but quite formulaic.

Interestingly, although my first reaction is "wants to be Raymond Chandler", the only fictional detective mentioned by the private eye in the book is Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey.
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52. Blacklist by Sara Paretsky

After the Big Bag o'Disappointment that was my encounters with Patricia Cornwell and Jed Rubenfeld, this is more like it!

Private Detective VI Warshawski is hired to check out reports of lights in a deserted mansion, and ends up knee-deep in a murder that is connected to the super-rich of Chicago and how they manipulated their way through the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the 1950s, and the hunt for a young "terrorist" in the post 9/11 wave a panic.

I was afraid that this book might be too long for what it is, but it didn't drag at all.

I'll definitely be getting more of these from the library when I get the pile here down to a more manageable level.


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