Tuesday November 25, 2014

Not true crime, but good reading


Summertime and the reading is easy.

Last week, my “View from the Cheap Seats” colleagues wrote about summer reading, a subject which I was quite disappointed to miss out on, but I was on vacation and doing a fair bit of summer reading as a matter of fact, that is, when I wasn’t bailing out my flooded basement.

I read a lot. This winter I read all of the major books about current Canadian politics that were been published in Canada in 2013 and 2014. I also read a lot of books about science and particularly the interaction between science and religion. I love a good book about history. I throw in the odd novel here and there, mostly current challenging stuff, novels generally categorized as fine literature. Once in a while, I will reread a classic by the likes of Dickens, Hesse or Dostoyevsky, which I used to devour by the bagful when I was a teenager.

Vacation time, however, is a time for a little more casual reading. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy my other reading. I do. Immensely. But it’s not what most people would characterize as “light.”

Had I written a “Cheap Seats” last week, I would have cheated and instead of recommending three books for casual summer reading, I would have recommended three authors: Carl Hiaasen, Tom Robbins and John Irving, all of whom are simply masters of the bizarre and entertaining.

I have very little interest in genre literature. I did the obligatory sci-fi/fantasy thing when I was a kid. Horror just doesn’t do anything for me. And Romance, well, enough said.

A good murder mystery, however, now that is a perfect way to while away a lazy summer afternoon. For some time I have intended to tuck into the Murdoch Mysteries by Maureen Jennings. So, on the first day of my staycation I went over to the library and cleaned them out of everything they had by her. As it turned out, they only had the seventh and last Murdoch, A Journeyman to Grief, but they did have the first two of her Tom Tyler series and the first two Christine Morris mysteries.

I had never read anything by Jennings so it seemed somewhat bold to clear the shelf, but that’s the beauty of the public library system, if I didn’t like the first one I could always take them back and find something else.

I had been forewarned that a lot of people who are fans of the Murdoch TV series—which I certainly am—didn’t like the books because the characters, particularly Murdoch were portrayed a lot differently. I normally don’t have a lot of problem with that. I don’t compare because I view the mediums as completely separate art forms. Nevertheless, I decided to go with Murdoch first. If it bothered me too much, I could always move on.

It was true, although I found it quite refreshing. As much as I like the television show, the characters in the book rang much truer to the late nineteenth century to me. Just as an example, Murdoch is not the teetotalling puritan he is made out to be on TV. He smokes, he drinks whiskey and brandy and he questions his faith. George is a family man with a brood of kids. Like I said, different mediums, what works in one does not necessarily work in the other. Ultimately though, a thoroughly enjoyable read. Jennings truly brings the period alive. She must have done untold hours of research and no character is above exhibiting human foibles. Plus, she is very fair with the clues. It is all there for the observant reader to solve right alongside Murdoch.

I have since bought the first of the series and plan to collect them all.

I chose to go to present time next. Christine Morris is a forensic profiler. Again, the characters are three-dimensional and sense of place and time are impressively authentic.

It was the same with Tom Tyler, a detective inspector with the Shopshire Constabulary (Britain) during World War II. Although totally fictional, Jennings weaves historical context into the narrative with a deft hand that serves to enhance rather than distract from the mystery at hand.

So, for a fourth what to read for casual summer fun, I will add anything by Maureen Jennings if you are a fan of the murder mystery.



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