Friday, August 28, 2015

What we're reading: Series fiction

I guess I shouldn't gloat, because it is only due to the necessary closure of the Central Library for a second week that I was able to do this, but I walked up to the New Fiction shelves a week ago today and scored the latest John Lescroart, the latest Charlaine Harris, and the latest Elly Griffiths! Such riches. I love a good series, and was happy to have a fiction immersion week with the continuation of some favorites.

Day Shift is the second in Charlaine Harris's new series about Midnight, Texas. Midnight Crossroad was the first book to star protagonist Manfred Bernardo, the young psychic medium who played a minor role in Harris's Harper Connelly series, and Day Shift continues the saga about this dip-in-the-road Texas town with one stoplight, a few failing businesses, and a bunch of really weird "people." I put that in quotes because I'm not sure all of the town's inhabitants qualify, some being more than human and some being, well, not less, but other.

My verdict on this book is: I'm torn. Parts were great, parts were only okay. I liked gaining more insight into previously established characters. The main story, in which one of Manfred's psychic clients dies and he gets accused by her crazy son of, first, stealing her jewelry, and second, causing her death, was good, and the involvement of the other characters (and the introduction of a few from other series) to help him was big fun. But there were too many unrelated ends left dangling, red herrings that didn't lead anywhere, and sub-plots that seemed unnecessary except to tie certain things up with a bow when they could have been solved another way! Not to mention whole story lines that opened up early on, only to remain completely unaddressed by the end.

It says on the cover of the first book (but significantly not on the second one) that this will be a trilogy, but I don't see how Harris could wrap all this up with just one more book. I think it's bound to go further, but I'm hoping it doesn't go as far as the Sookie Stackhouse books, which were great for four or five books and then petered out absurdly. The Harper Connelly series was four books, and that was perfection. Don't jump the shark, Ms. Harris--you're doing okay so far!

The Fall is #16 in John Lescroart's Dismas Hardy franchise, and it's a good one. I'm really happy to say that, because I was a little disappointed in the last two, and almost didn't pick this one up.

I have read all of Lescroart's books about Dismas Hardy and Abe Glitzky since the beginning (The Vig). With these long series, even if the authors set each of their subsequent books a few scant months apart, as the series grows longer, the protagonist grows older, and it looks like their solution is to bring in the next generation. I noticed, for instance, that in Michael Connelly's latest Harry Bosch mystery (#19, The Burning Room, which I loved), Harry has a new rookie partner (Lucky Lucy Soto) who shows promise as a protagonist, not to mention Harry's teenage daughter, Maddie, who plans to join the police force.

I haven't been a big fan of Lescroart's segue to Hardy's investigator, Wyatt Hunt, and have felt that his focus on formerly minor characters in the "Hunt Club" books has been less than completely successful. But in this book, Hardy's daughter, Rebecca, has passed the bar, joined the firm, and is taking on her first (mostly) solo murder trial. Lescroart wisely inserts Dismas and Abe into the mix just enough to keep things believable and related to past books, but not so much that "The Beck" isn't the star of the show; I found her a much more gratifying and believable heir to the Hardy throne.

The plot is compelling: A young African American girl is thrown over a bridge to her death, and a political contender for San Francisco's mayor inconveniently points out that justice hasn't been served in a lot of cases lately in which African Americans were the victims. So the police and the district attorney's office make initial blunders in a rush to judgment over the identity of the murderer that solidify into a case they may not be able to win. I was dismissive of the red herring that kept popping up rather obviously but that was seemingly ignored by too many people, only to be thrilled when it took a second unexpected and wholly surprising turn. The book was entertaining, suspenseful, and satisfying. I'm glad to be able to say that, because I so enjoyed about 85 percent of the previous books in the series, and it's nice to be able to give a solid endorsement to this one! You could read this as a standalone, I think, and still get a lot out of it--but why? Go for the depth of history and story that reading the series will give you (while feeling free to skip the ones that don't resonate) and you'll have a wealth of good reading ahead of you.

The Ghost Fields is #7 in the Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffiths. A field that was sold by the local gentry to a real estate developer is being bulldozed in preparation for building holiday homes when an old World War II plane is unearthed. To the 'dozer driver's dismay, there's a body in the cockpit, so the police call in forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway to do her thing. What she discovers is that this body was buried elsewhere until someone apparently dug it up, hid it in this plane, and covered the plane up again. When the body turns out to be Frank Blackstock, a relative of the former owners of the field, a man who was supposedly lost at sea when his plane (a B-17 with a crew of a dozen) was shot down, the police, headed by DCI Harry Nelson, take a closer look at the Blackstock family.

These books are hard to review as mysteries. It's a given that when your protagonist is a forensic archaeologist, many of your cases are going to be cold cases; but in this one in particular, I felt like there was so little attention paid by the police to the clues provided them that it simply solved itself by attrition, rather than by anyone's purposeful intention. It does play out intriguingly as each further clue is revealed, but it's frustrating, too, because you wonder why no one is arresting anyone!

On the other hand, as a writer, as a developer of compelling characters, and as a setter of scenes, you can't beat Elly Griffiths. If you are a person who values setting as an active part of your story, you will be as beguiled as I have been by her lyrical descriptions of the marshy, wild, wind-blown countryside of Norfolk. If you like quirky people, unlikely romances, irritating colleagues and co-workers, charming children, you will fall in love with her characters too.

So, despite the weirdly unsatisfying, largely ignored mystery in this one, I still give it high marks, because I loved once again spending time with Ruth, Harry, Kate, Cathbad, Judy, Cloughie, and the rest of the Griffiths gang in their marshy home by the sea.

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