Monday, November 30, 2009

Post-Holiday Week Reading Report

I had planned to do a lot of reading during the holiday, and I did, but I only finished one book.

I'm not a big fan of non-fiction, but I finished The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher Saturday. And I loved it! I thought Kate Summerscale did an excellent job narrating the details of the murder and its ensuing investigation. I had never really thought about how the profession of a detective, whether policeman or private, might have developed nor how the public might have felt about the creation of this new profession. I was fascinated with this aspect of the book. Being a literature lover, I also really enjoyed Summerscale's use of the investigation of the murder as a parallel to the development of detective fiction. I was a bit surprised that Summerscale was able to weave all these informative and narrative threads into such an enthralling book that kept me reading not only to find out who did it but also see how it affected the public psyche and literature.

It's funny that I've never considered myself a mystery connoisseur, because I have always liked mysteries, even as a young reader. I loved Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys. As an adult, I've enjoyed Lawrence Sanders, especially his McNally series, and P.D. James. I have always liked movie mysteries too, especially those based on British mystery stories, such as Agatha Christie's, and Conan Doyle's. Some of my favorite TV shows are police dramas, which are often mystery-like in plot, such as the Law & Order franchise, the CSI franchise, Cold Case, and Criminal Intent. In addition, I love British mystery series like Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, and Midsommer Murders. I like mysteries, I think, because I like solving puzzles and trying figure out the answer before it is revealed, and something about knowing the answer in the end is comforting.

Because I think of mysteries as my "easy" reading, I've never thought about mystery sub-genres, such as the country house murder mystery even though I'm sure that I've read and seen some. The murder that is the focus of the book is a real-life country house murder. A child is brutally murdered and someone in the house did it. Because this is a real life murder, it's a bit more difficult, actually damn near impossible for the detective to prove his case. Even years later, when the accused confesses, there's some question as to whether she could have done it alone. I really hate it when TV mystery/police dramas don't tie up all the loose ends at the end of an episode, but I don't mind when a book leaves me wondering.

In the Afterword, Summerscale comments:
"Perhaps this is the purpose of detective investigations, real and fictional--to transform sensation, horror and grief into a puzzle, and then to solve the puzzle, to make it go away. 'The detective story,' observed Raymond Chandler in 1949, 'is a tragedy with a happy ending.' A storybook detective starts by confronting us with a murder and ends by absolving us of it. He clears us of guilt. He relieves us of uncertainty. He removes us from the presences of death."
So in the end, we are comforted and cleansed and feel better about the (fictional) world. Is it any surprise that there is more than one book where the detective is/was/almost was a priest/rabbi? (Okay, I can only think of one that I've read, Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman, but I'm sure there are more.)

Other Reading
I read some more of both of the two motherhood books that I named in the previous post, and I might blog about them later this week. I also started Water for Elephants. I've only read about 50 pages, but I think I'm going to really like it. (Is it just me or does the opening narration by the 90- or 93-year-old narrator remind you of Little Big Man? I've never read that book, but I've seen the movie a couple of times.)

I did not read any of the YA books that I brought home with me from work. Today at work, I finished the first chapter of Tender Morsels, and I decided it wasn't the YA book for me right now. I read the first chapter of Marked, the first book in the House of Night Series, and thought I might give it a chance. I also read two or three chapters in The Missing Girl, and the opening chapter was kind of creepy, so I think I'm going to give it a try too. Tomorrow, we are doing some testing at my campus, and I have to sit in the hallway all morning and relieve teachers when they need a bathroom break, and I plan to use that time to read more of one of these two books.

Now it's time to go to bed and read for a while. Later.

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