I’ve been busy immersing myself in summer–flaming heart heirloom tomatoes as big as my son’s head, large enough that one tomato makes six BLTs easy, admiring the sweet faces of my roses, writing, riding water slides, walking the dog and of course, reading. Lately I’ve been reading a bunch of short story collections that aren’t mystery related, but in the past month, I’ve also devoured a couple of Michelin three star mysteries that left me licking my fingers in case any of the mystery was still on my page-turning fingers, a perfectly acceptable but non-swoon mystery, and a drive-through value meal YA mystery. And sometimes you need a quick drive through meal of salty fries and mediocrity(I know my way around salty fries and mediocrity–just saying. Like I’m a scholar of salty fries and mediocrity).
My summer pick and one I bestow all three Michelin stars to was a recommendation that came to me via the Pacific Northwest, courtesy of my friend Annamary, an avid reader and talented writer beyond just being a fine person. Macomb Public Library does not carry this series, but one thing I love as much as public libraries in general is the interlibrary loan system. I requested what I thought were the first two books in the series. Three days after I requested them–boom. There they were and a mere 48 hours I had finished The Crossing Place. Sadly, the second book was in fact the fifth book and after three pages, I couldn’t continue. I need the books in order–usually (see section on Goldbraith’s/Rowlings’s Cormoran Strike series). So again, I am at the mercy of interlibrary loan, but I have requested the next three in the series(I believe in being prepared, and I am in deep, deep denial that summer is ending).
Ruth Galloway, the protagonist, is a forensic archeologist which appeals to me because I wanted to be the female version of Indiana Jones. Ruth actually has a Raiders of the Lost Arc poster in her office. She lives alone on the salt marshes of Norfolk in the company of two cats. She’s a professor and active writer/researcher. She’s slightly overweight, but this fact does not consume her and she’s perfectly at ease in her own company. Her last serious relationship, she ended, understanding she didn’t love him. In a landscape others consider barren and even frightening, she finds great beauty. Silence isn’t something she avoids. She’s really smart and talented, but she’s also down to earth.
A dead body, that of a young girl, brings up a decade old cold case–that of Lucy Downing–and instigates the professional relationship (and okay, more than a professional relationship) with Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson. Nelson and Galloway are round, compelling characters and Griffiths has chops. I figured out the killer early on, but I enjoyed the ride as Galloway and Nelson decipher the mixed clues. The past weighs heavily on these two, and has a way of re-emerging and clouding the present. Griffiths takes two of my pet peeves regarding female detectives and subverted them enough, allows Galloway to deal with them in a way that seems uniquely “Ruth Galloway” that I honestly didn’t mind. It just made me want to read the second book more.
The Ruth Galloway series would make for awesome winter reading too and I imagine I’ll be spending a good deal of time with Galloway and Nelson, curled up with tea as the snow flies. I loved the historical nuggets I gleaned about the history of that area, the precise and methodical approach to not only digging up the past, but attempting to reconstruct it.
Speaking of reconstructing the past, I read the J.K. Rowling/Robert Goldbraith series out-of-order, and grabbed The Silkworm out of new books, just based on the cover and inside cover synopsis. I wasn’t aware of the Rowling/Goldbraith connection or the leak that had occurred to such media frenzy. In my humble opinion, The Silkworm is much more nuanced, intricate, disturbing, and compelling. Plus, it’s about the publishing industry and the ego of writers! Strike, the PI, is much more developed and has found his footing on the page. And so has Robin, his attractive, albeit flat (at least in The Cookoo’s Calling) receptionist/side kick. So, three Michelin stars for The SilkWorm, but The Cookoo’s Calling gets only a solid meal rating. The mystery itself is well plotted, but at times it was slow, slow moving. The writing in both is accomplished, but if you want a “killer” nine-course meal, go right for The Silk Worm.
Last, but not least, let’s talk YA fast food or like a snack size mystery McFlurry for dessert. I just finished Lili Anolik’s Dark Rooms. The beginning is compelling–I mean take her first sentence: “The first time I saw Nica after she died was at Jamie Amory’s Fourth of July party.” You want more, right? Like shove another handful of hot, greasy fries right into your word hole, right? And while this murder (of the protagonist’s super cool younger sister) happens at a private prep school in Hartford, Connecticut and there’s a cast of intriguing characters from gorgeous stoner Jamie to rough hewn, day-stay Damien (read scholarship kid), to creep of a photographer mother–they were all just a bit too flat. This one is pure beach read, and while it’s going for a Veronica Mars vibe, it doesn’t even come close. I finished it because I wanted to know if I got it right, and I did, except for one shining, creepy aspect which redeemed the entire novel for me and made me want to share it. If you are looking for a quick read, pure escapism to deny the fact that summer is ending and school starts next week, then by all means, pick up Dark Rooms. You still have time.