Sunday, December 11, 2011

(No.181) "The Sisters Brothers" & other reading

Many if not most regular readers of fiction have favourite authors. Some write novels featuring a continuing character who strikes a chord with the reader. I am certainly one among such readers.

In the last month or two I have been the beneficiary of many hours of reading pleasure provided by the recent novels of several of my favourite writers plus a couple of newcomers to my bookshelf. In this column I share references to several of these novels, all of which are recently published; some are not yet available in paperback. I enjoyed them all in varying degrees and I recommend them all.

Ian Rankin, "The Impossible Dead".
In the crime/police genre my longtime favourite fictional character is the now retired Scottish Detective Inspector John Rebus of the Border And Lothian (Edinburgh) police. He is the superb creation through numerous novels of Ian Rankin, a Scot who has now written a second novel featuring D.I. Malcolm Fox. He works in the Edinburgh police department referred to as "the Complaints", what in American terminology is usually called Internal Affairs -- the police who investigate the police. Fox has some similarities to Rebus but also significant differences. This Fox novel is even better than the first; a textured and multi-layered tale that suggests that the Fox novels will become as addictive as were those featuring Rebus.

Patrick DeWitt, "The Sisters Brothers".
Dewitt is a Canadian living in Oregon and this is his first novel. It has been a great success and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and the Man Booker Prize and won both the Governor-General's Literary Award and the Writers' Trust Prize. This novel has been referred to by some critics as a "concept western", a reference that I think cloaks a fashionable unwillingness to acknowledge having enjoyed a 'western' set in mid-19th century Oregon and California. It is in fact a fascinating, well written novel that is certainly different in tone and style from what the reader may think of as a 'western' novel. Two brothers whose family name is Sisters are hired regularly as killers by an Oregon businessman. This story follows their travels on assignment down to and back from San Francisco during the California gold rush. Marvellous narrative.

T. Jefferson Parker, "The Border Lords".
For some years Parker wrote crime novels set in southern California, particularly Orange County. Generally his characters did not reappear in subsequent stories. However three novels ago he began a series featuring an L.A. Sheriff's deputy named Charlie Hood who has latterly been working along the California border with the ATF and involved with the violent world of drug cartels and cross-border smuggling of drugs and guns to and from Mexico. The Border Lords is the fourth in the Hood novels and maintains the standard of the earlier novels in the series.

Lee Child, "The Affair".
This is the latest novel in the series about the adventures of the loner Jack Reacher. What distinguishes it from its predecessors in the Reacher series is that it looks back and tells the story of how Reacher, a U.S. Army major in the military police, arrives at the point of leaving the army and beginning his aimless travels around America carrying just a toothbrush (although latterly reality has forced him to add ID and an ATM card). It is as violent and tough as any of Child's previous Reacher novels and just as absorbing. It is already a bestseller.

Peter Robinson, "Before The Poison".
Robinson, a Yorkshireman who came to Canada to pursue his graduate studies in English, is best known for more than a dozen novels set in Yorkshire featuring Inspector Alan Banks. They have been translated into 15 languages and published around the world. His latest novel, while set in Yorkshire, is not a Banks story. As its focus it has a recently widowed Englishman returned from a successful career as a Hollywood movie music composer. He buys a restored house in Yorkshire and becomes absorbed in examining a murder case involving a previous resident. The novel is both interesting and complicated.

Guy Vanderhaeghe, "A Good Man".
In my opinion A Good Man should have won the Giller Prize this year; it wasn't even short listed. It is the third novel in a trilogy set in the Canadian prairies in the late 1800s that began with The Englishman's Boy in 1996 and was followed by The Last Crossing in 2001. Much of this third novel takes place in Montana but it is as Canadian in tone and content as the first two novels. Vanderhaeghe, a Saskatchewan resident, is a superb storyteller and ranks as a fine novelist in this country or elsewhere.

John Sandford, "Bad Blood".
Sandford is the author of the "Prey" series of police novels. Bad Blood is the fourth in a newer series featuring Virgil Flowers, a detective in the state of Minnesota's special department whose members are sent to handle difficult cases in various locations in the state. Bad Blood sees Virgil sent to a small town to deal with a case that comes to involve a religious cult that practises paedophilia. The pace is brisk and there is a good deal of violence. In some ways Virgil Flowers represents an American opposite to Scotland's John Rebus.

Martin Walker, "Black Diamond".
Walker is a former journalist and author of a number of non-fiction books. Beginning in 2008 he published the first in a series of novels: Bruno, Chief of Police is the first, The Dark Vineyard is the second and Black Diamond is the third. The lead character is Captain Bruno Correges, the chief of police in a small French town in the Dordogne in the southwest of the country. There are mysteries to be solved but Bruno is up to it (his military background elevates his skill and experience well above what one might expect from a small town policeman). I have just discovered this series and it is most enjoyable reading: well written, gentler (if that word can be applied to crime stories) and more slowly paced reflecting its location. Lots of interesting information about wine and truffles and rural France today, all presented as part of a novel with a good plot.

by Alastair Rickard




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