Staff Musings

February 21, 2008

Elizabeth George is Awesome

Filed under: Mystery & Suspense — carricee @ 12:37 am

It’s not often that I get so involved in a mystery that I nab the next book in the series before anyone else can get to it, but that was before I discovered Elizabeth George.

Now to be honest, I am technically familiar with her. I listened to the novel A Traitor to Memory on audiobook once when we had a copy at the store. See, I like to perform the public service of listening to all of the audiobooks we get in that I can to make sure they don’t skip. Aren’t I a great employee? Now obviously I knew after listening to this that the audiobook was great, but I don’t usually connect how I experience an audiobook with how I experience a book that I read myself. It’s more like listening to a radio play or something. Just because I like Prairie Home Companion doesn’t mean I want to read Garrison Keillor’s novels.

Oh, how wrong I was. If only I could go back in time, and instead of just nod appreciatively at the end of the book and scour the shelves for something else to keep me occupied on my ridiculously long drive back then…well then I guess I wouldn’t have the pleasure of reading her now!

The Lynley mysteries are just amazing. Not only are they good mysteries, they contain a depth that you rarely find in the genre. Everything you can find in the most pretentious literary fiction you can find here. This isn’t Law and Order; the characters, including the cops and not just the victims, are fully fleshed out and make you care about them. And I think that’s what I like so much about them. I do read quite a few mysteries, but usually I read them as a way not to think – if I’m tired at night and don’t want to get involved in something, but just want something to help my brain stop shouting at me so much (SHUT UP, BRAIN!).

Elizabeth George doesn’t beat you over the head with platitudes like a lot of litfic writers do, nor does she introduce you to a dead body and have people run around a city doing nothing but drinking coffee and talking to shady characters until they solve the crime. Nor are the murders so gruesome that they make me want to never, ever read her again, which is a good thing. Her characters consistently have issues they have to deal with apart from their jobs, and they show growth throughout the novels. They make assumptions based on their own experiences that are incorrect, they have to deal with real people in bad or good situations, their lives conflict with and coincide with their cases in the most inopportune ways. They observe society through the patina of their jobs, and at times they are callous, but most of the time they manage to make some really amazing connections about human life through the events they observe; in fact it’s so well done that I’ve actually marked passages to show to friends who are going through similar issues.

I do have to warn you, her books are set in the strange and wondrous country of England, and her main character is some type of fancy-pants lordy guy. But I promise, he doesn’t act like it. Though she’s an American, she does a great job of communicating the class issues and divisions that are still present there – but if you as a reader aren’t familiar with the society structure it may be daunting, I’m not sure. I was rather surprised she was American when I read her biography on her website; I just assumed that she was British since she wrote British mystery novels. I should have known that didn’t matter from the hugely ridiculous list I made of Scottish historical romance writers I made at the store today for our customers! I doubt many of those writers are from 17th century Scotland.

Her Inspector Lynley mysteries were actually made into a show for the BBC! That eliminated any doubt of British cred I thought might have just been my American public school ignorance (for Brits, public school here means exactly the opposite of what it does there). You can get them on Netflix! I just added one to our queue, though we’ll have to wade through Lost, Black Adder, Monty Python, Absolutely Fabulous, Memoirs of a Geisha (me), and 28 Weeks Later (um…zombie-lovin’ husband) before we can see it.

If YOUR Netflix queue is also ridiculous, why, you should just stop in at the bookstore and pick them up in novel form! Then you can tell your family how different the show was from the book when you finally get it. That’s always much appreciated and an appropriate fannish response.

October 20, 2007

Cozying up to Mysteries

Filed under: Mystery & Suspense,Uncategorized — carricee @ 11:33 pm

Today at the store we got in a ton of cozy mysteries, and while I was shelving them I was thinking about why I love them so much. Of course, I love lots of books, so it’s really not surpising that I love the cozy mystery genre, but let me ensure you know what a cozy is before I leap into why they’re great.

A cozy usually has an amateur sleuth, rather than a PI or a police detective. These sleuths are quite often women, and they usually end up investigating the death of a neighbor, co-worker, friend, or enemy quite often while running their own business or working a particularly appealing job. These jobs or businesses usually (but not always) have something to do with food, flowers, drink, or cleaning – thus giving the author the opportunity to package recipes and tips along with her story. These mysteries are most often marketed towards women.

Now why does this grizzled veteran of thousands of science fiction books adore cozy mysteries? Easy! First of all, sometimes science fiction is just too hard. If I come home, after a long annoying day of work and just want to fall in bed – and especially if I’ve just finished a book and am starting a new one – I don’t want to pick up a science fiction novel and have to understand an alien culture! As much as I enjoy it, I frankly don’t always have the energy for it. Cozies, on the other hand, are incredibly easy to digest and get into.

Also, cozies are not gritty or gory. Hardly ever. Sometimes mystery novels freak me out, not many of them, but some of them, sometimes. I know I can read a cozy even if I’m home by myself at night during a thunderstorm and everyone in the prison just escaped. No problem! They might have murderers and and violence, but there’s always some sort of charm that glosses over all the really gross stuff. Plus, the killers in cozies usually end up being pretty pathetic – after all, the mystery is always solved by removing a stain or realizing someone added a new flower bed!

Another reason I love cozies is that they have to be the least pretentious books in the world. People who read cozies know that they are reading for pure escapism, and maybe they like the stain-busting tips or recipes that go along with the mystery. Though I do enjoy reading literary fiction, non-fiction and other esoteric such things, sometimes it’s just as fun to know that you aren’t getting anything extra out of a book. Who needs enlightenment when you can learn how to make a perfect cup of coffee? In fact, isn’t it near to being the same thing?

Hmmm…I hope I’m not veering towards learning something from a cozy…that would take away some of the joy. Well anyway, let me give you a short list of some of the cozies that I enjoy, and for once, ones that we have in stock in the store!

Coffeehouse Mysteries – by Cleo Coyle. If you like coffee, you will LOVE these mysteries. The protagonist manages a fantastic historic coffeehouse in New York City, and all too often finds herself in a mess of trouble with some type of murder or other threatening her business. Add to the mix delicious gourmet coffee tips, believable and likable characters, a fun and interesting backdrop, and an acceptable and pleasing amount of romance, and you’ve got yourself the perfect cozy!

Death on Demand Mysteries – by Carolyn Hart. Running a mystery bookstore in the small-knit, idyllic island community of Broward’s Rock, Annie Darling has the perfect setting (and name) for the cozy genre. And who loves books who doesn’t love reading about people who run bookstores?

Toadfern Mysteries – by Sharon Short. Josie Toadfern runs her small Ohio town’s only laundromat, and has become something of a stain expert, leading her to be one of the few people who can figure out what the mysterious markings on a silk blouse or handkerchief actually are. The characters in Short’s series are wacky and fun, and the setting is believable and interesting, making for a perfectly satisfying read for me.

The one downside I’ve found with cozies is at times the characters are very stereotyped and the plot can be incredibly formulaic – not with all, but definitely with some. Sometimes, the authors work so hard to be acceptable to as broad an audience as possible that in the course of trying not to offend anyone they offend most people – or at least me. But when you know you’re only reading for fun, those things really don’t seem that important. Come in and ask about cozies, everyone here will be more than happy to lead you to the best of the bunch.

December 30, 2006

The Alpine Christmas

Filed under: Mystery & Suspense — katrinalouise @ 11:04 pm

by, Mary Daheim

When I began reading The Alpine Christmas, coincidentally just prior to Christmas 2006, I did not realize that this Emma Lord mystery is part of an alphabetical series. You, however, may learn from my realization.

The Alpine series begins with The Alpine Advocate, and is named after the local weekly newspaper of the town of Alpine, Washington. Emma Lord is the owner/publisher of the periodical. The cast of characters from this series includes Vida Runkel, Emma’s rather crusty yet endearing friend and cohort, Sheriff Milo Dodge, Carla Steinmetz, a young and rather ditsy reporter, Ed Bronsky, the hang-dog advertising manager, and Ginny Burmeister, Emma’s office manager.

The Alpine Christmas centers around solving the mystery of a rather gruesome discovery: a human leg! It is an interesting trail of clues that we follow as Emma and her brother, Ben, lead us through the cozy town of Alpine. In spite of the disturbing discovery, the story is fascinating and the characters are endearing.

If you are looking for a book, or a series of books, to snuggle up with on a cold winter day (or night), I recommend the Alpine series. Many are already available at Don’s Books.

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