Wednesday, February 24, 2010


8. Shooting at Loons, by Margaret Maron

An early Deborah Knott mystery, which somehow had escaped me! Knott, now judge, has been seconded to a town on the Outer Banks of North Carolina to fill in for an ailing colleague. She and a local boy head out looking for clams, and discover a body instead. And, of course, it won't be the only one.
The hook in this book is the tension between local fishermen and developers, wealth and the struggle to survive, rigidity and compromise, and the odd alliances that are often found in politics. As with all Maron's Deborah Knott books, this one is as much about place as it is about people, and it tells us a story about change and growth and North Carolina at the same time as it's telling us a story about murder and mayhem.

9. The Dain Curse, by Dashiell Hammett

Head to the west coast, where the Continental Op is called in to figure out a burglary and diamond theft for his insurance company employer. A suspect turns up dead, but without the diamonds. Then the guy who was burgled commits suicide, or maybe it wasn't. And he's got a wife who's behaving oddly and a daughter who is gorgeous, troubled, addicted to morphine and pretty sure that she's the victim of a family curse.

Things just keep happening here. Once you think everything's resolved, something pops up, generally a dead body. It's Hammett at his hard-boiled best.

10. Frontera Dreams: A Héctor Belascoarán Shayne detective novel, by Paco Ignacio Taibo II

I am so glad I picked up this book! This is actually the seventh book in the series, the fifth that's been translated into English, but there's a hugely informative essay at the beginning that fills the reader in on what went before. You need to know that Héctor has a body "impervious to wounds", that he was killed and resurrected.

When Héctor was a teenager, he had a sweetheart. Now she's a famous movie star, except that she's disappeared, and his daughter comes asking him to find her. This is about the literal frontera, the U.S.-Mexico border, but also the borders of reality and dreams, past and present and future, who we are and who we were and who we want to be. There are whores and narcotrafficantes, people who still have dreams and people whose dreams have died.

It's too bad that not all of Taibo's books have been translated, but you can bet I'll look for the rest that have been.

11. Talking Mysteries, by Tony Hillerman and Ernie Bulow

If you're a Tony Hillerman fan, I urge you to find this book. The bulk of it is an interview of Hillerman by Bulow, about Hillerman's work, how he came to set his books in Navajo country, how he writes, a lot of great stuff about the process of writing that should be of interest even if you're not a Hillerman devotée. There's also an essay by Hillerman on similar themes; a short story, a "Jim Chee mini-mystery"; and several drawings by Ernest Franklin, originally intended for one of Hillerman's books. This is a great glimpse into how an author works, where his ideas come from, and how he makes those ideas flesh.

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