Friday, October 2, 2009

Hammerhead Ranch Hotel, Gone to her Death, The Guards

A bit of a dry patch this week... I read Tim Dorsey's Hammerhead Ranch Hotel, and it was pretty unsatisfying. I've got many reasons for not liking it that I could pontificate on, but it really just comes down to not having any likable characters. The obvious contrast is to Donald Westlake, who made a career out of humorous crime novels. But he realized that if you're going to have a novel full of people doing stupid and illegal things, their should be at least one sympathetic character, even if he's also doing stupid and illegal things.

For example, Westlake's Dortmunder gang is never violent, as well as being spectacularly unsuccessful in their various schemes. Dorsey's Serge Storms, on the other hand, ties someoneto the ends of a drawbridge when it's going to open. Even if that person is total scum, there's a point where things aren't really funny any more. (Obviously, to me -- Dorsey seems to have plenty of fans!).

Gone to her Death was a very solid puzzle mystery, and I really like the relationships between the major characters. I don't know what it is about British writers -- they really seem to work nicely with the language in a way most Americans don't bother with. McGown has a lot of nice similes, but unobtrusive. She also has a great narrative voice, just a touch of occasional snark/cynicism. Same with Reginald Hill (whose Exit Lines I'm in the middle of right now, and which is so far excellent) and P.D. James. Even Peter Robinson and Peter Lovesey, of whom I'm not a big fan. Whereas faux-British Deborah Crombie or Elizabeth George just don't have it.

I also read Ken Bruen's The Guards, and it was OK, but it felt like I'd already read it all before. P.I. who used to be a policeman -- check. Main character an alcoholic -- check. He reforms, but a particularly gruesome crime knocks him off the wagon -- check. Short punchy sentences -- check. It's not that I hated the book, but life is too short to read retreads -- I doubt I'll pick up any of Bruen's other books.

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