Sunday, May 09, 2004

A Very Special Weekend Update 

Before I launch into the link parade, and even before I launch into the opening rant--Happy Mother's Day to all moms (or those with moms) reading here this morning. Not to get overly sentimental or anything, but it's not been the easiest year for my own, and so I'm glad to be able to celebrate the holiday with her in every way I can.

Now, the rant: what the hell is up with the review convergence at the New York Times? Monday--Janet Maslin reviews Michael Connelly's THE NARROWS. Thursday--she reviews THE RULE OF FOUR. Now along comes Marilyn Stasio with her crime column and oh gee, guess which two books comprise the bulk of the column? In fact, her review of THE NARROWS may be the longest critique she's written of a book in some time, while the other three books (the new Anne Perry and Boris Akunin as well) barely merit a paragraph each. I've never been able to understand why a book that is reviewed during the weekday would get reviewed again on the weekend. Convergence between The Guardian and the Observer? Fine, because technically they do have different staff and freelancers. But any paper that has a Sunday edition (Times, Independent, Telegraph, Scotsman, Herald, etc.) doesn't have to repeat itself, because by doing so, another book gets left out, and lord knows there's a premium on review space in newspapers these days. I wonder how many more times I have to repeat this gripe before someone pays attention. Probably a few hundred more...

Oh, and all those nasty spoilers--Marilyn, oh dear Marilyn, could it be just the teeniest, tiniest bit possible that you were trying to be--gasp!--deliberate in revealing all those plot points? Are you trying to give poor Mr. Connelly a heart attack when he tried so hard to keep all those spoilers under wraps? Although others have suggested you go and stand in a particularly lonely corner of the city, my only suggestion is to take a look at oh, Oline Cogdill's review of the same book--gets all the necessary information out there, with nary a spoiler in sight. See? It's possible!

And speaking of Connelly, check out this long feature in the New York Times Magazine on the man, his creation, and his love of LA from a distance (even though the story ran a week later than scheduled; the May 2 edition of the magazine was, I think, suppose to run the story because it was given out to every Edgar attendee--but oops, it wasn't there.)

Otherwise at the paper of record, I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed Laura Miller's new column about giving up on books--it's hard to do, but frankly, I learned the hard way that it's really no great loss to let a book go after reading 50-odd pages instead of gritting my teeth through the entire thing. Some of my attitude is in part because I read so many books, but no doubt it's a big dilemma for those who only read a select number per year. And then there's Thomas Berger (author of LITTLE BIG MAN and other fine works) who has a new volume out, ADVENTURES OF AN ARTIFICIAL WOMAN--which is skillfully reviewed by one Donald E. Westlake. Maybe some folks here have heard the name before.

Next up: Book World, where Andrew Wylie expounds, and then natters on some more, about how he became a Superagent and takes a global approach to poaching, er, taking on writers' backlists and frontlists and selling them to publishers at exorbitant advances. Or something like that. Snarkiness aside, Wylie does have a point--which is that one can't just look to one nation or one market to get the word out--but it does seem to get lost in his own ego somehow. Otherwise, Les Roberts (author of the Cleveland-based Milan Jacovich PI novels) looks at Jim Lehrer's new book FLYING CROWS, Stephanie Wilkinson rounds up some Mother's Day-related books (albeit, some relate in a very tenuous manner) and THE BONE WOMAN, Clea Koff's fascinating memoir of forensic anthropology in the midst of the Balkan war, gets a nice nod as well.

Over at the Guardian, there's a healthy dose of crime fiction reviewed, starting with Chris Petit's slightly sarcastic take on Mo Hayder's TOKYO. He likes parts of it "very much" and ultimately approves of the book, but there's something about this--and Petit's reviewing style in general--that rubs me the wrong way. Then there's Maxim Jakubowski's roundup of raves, as he looks at new releases from Colin Harrison, George Pelecanos, John Harvey and Boris Akunin. And shockingly, I actually agree with Maxim on one point--I'm also looking forward to Akunin's homage to the Chandler/Hammett visions of crime fiction, too. And finally, E. Annie Proulx offers up a tribute to Edward Hopper, whose work is getting a nice retrospective at the Tate Gallery soon.

I'd immediately move on to the Observer but honestly, there isn't a lot of note--even Robert McCrum's column is all Clinton all the time, and while that's noteworthy and all, well, eh. So next up: the Globe and Mail, where crime columnist Margaret Cannon gets the chance to write a standalone review of Alexander McCall Smith's THE FULL CUPBOARD OF LIFE. Of course she loves it--did you even think otherwise? Other notable reviews at the Canadian PoR include Camilla Gibb's examination of THE SHADOW OF THE WIND, Jane Juska's ode to three maligned moms in literature, and Jessa Crispin, stretching her freelance wings across the border, taking aim at THE MOMMY MYTH.

In the news that doesn't fit the roundups:

The Philadelphia Inquirer loves, I mean LOVES, Rebecca Pawel and her books. Which is as it should be, since she's a fine writer who puts a lot of older, more experienced folks to shame. The paper's review of her newest book, LAW OF RETURN, is full of rhapsodizing and accolades.

I'm a bit surprised to see an article on culinary mysteries now--I thought they were somewhat passe. But evidently, they aren't, and the Miami Herald takes a look at the current practitioners of the subgenre--and even wrings out some cranky quotes from the just-married Otto Penzler (NB: anyone see his takedown of cozies in the New York Sun? Hardly anyone else did, either, but I want a copy...)

As evident by the success of Natsuo Kirino's OUT, which was nominated for the Edgar for Best Novel, Japanese novels in translation attract quite a healthy audience overseas, and the Japan Times examines this new phenomenon in some detail.

ZZ Packer's well-acclaimed debut collection DRINKING COFFEE ELSEWHERE (which has been on my TBR for a while) is now published in Australia, and she speaks to the Sydney Morning Herald about her long road to "overnight success."

Hitler's favorite actress, Olga Chekhova, was the niece of playwright Anton Chekhov--but did she also spy for the Russians? Antony Beevor's biography of Chekhova is fascinating, according to the Scotland on Sunday, but the spy angle isn't the reason for reading the book--her life is.

The Minnesota Crime Wave is a group of area crime writers who have been touring together for years. The Brainerd-Dispatch covers a recent event the group--comprised of Ellen Hart, Carl Brookins, Deborah Woodworth, and William Kent Krueger--appeared at a few days ago.

Rick Riordan's new Tres Navarre thriller, SOUTHTOWN, inspires a mighty nice review in the San Jose Mercury News.

I get the feeling that this review of Donald Westlake's THE ROAD TO RUIN in the Dallas-Fort Worth Star Telegram kind of misses the boat. Westlake as blockbuster? Does he really have to be? He's funny and brilliant and writes awfully well. But overall it's a good review, so I guess that's good. Les Roberts' review in his roundup for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, on the other hand, just tells it like it is, calling the book "funnier than anything else in crime fiction right now."

Speaking of blockbusters, Ann Hellmuth rounds them up for the Orlando Sentinel, including what may be the first North American review of Lee Child's THE ENEMY, which certainly deserves such an accolade.

The Oregonian takes a different approach in reviewing THE NARROWS--no spoilers, but the piece spends much of its time putting the book in context, and how by following up THE POET (which caused much hand-wringing and debate and even provoked Connelly to answer his critics on Amazon) perhaps the writer has put things to right.

And finally, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has a fairly benign interview of Connelly--although there is his acknowledgement of how "surreal" THE NARROWS gets at times:

This incursion of reality into the narrative provides some surrealistic moments. Clint Eastwood, who portrayed McCaleb in the film version of "Blood Work," attends the character's funeral. Another character complains about his portrayal in the movie, and Connelly also references three of his peers -- Ian Rankin, Dean Koontz and George Pelecanos -- in the book.

Connelly says he made a conscious effort to break the "fourth wall" between fiction and reality. Because of a previous novel, "Angels Flight," he was left with no choice. In that book, Harry Bosch talks about an upcoming movie with Eastwood and his portrayal of McCaleb. It was a throwaway line, just banter between two cops.

Then the film version of "Blood Work" appeared in 2002.

"That meant, in my fictional universe, there was a movie about Terry McCaleb in which Clint Eastwood played him," Connelly says. "So in 'The Narrows,' I had to carry that forward. I had to acknowledge there was a movie, so I went with the real movie, and the real movie changed my fictional story quite a bit. It had a different bad guy and a different ending, but I thought that was stuff that should be commented on."

Oh yeah, I'll say they did. Some of the funniest moments in the book, too.

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