My reading this May has been a real mish-mash. Some satisfying mystery novels, some not-so-satisfying, some dabbling with short stories, and even a non-fiction title.
These three were probably the most satisfying books I’ve read this month. Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay was a page-turning thriller (or should I say “screen-tapping”, since I was reading a library e-book version…) about a man who is obsessed with a Google Street View-like mapping program, and in the process of his explorations he sees something that looks very much like a murder being committed. He and his brother start to figure out what happened and it leads to one twist and turn after another.
I took a cross-country train trip last week and covered half of Canada in 2 1/2 days. It was a beautiful and relaxing trip, and vacation reading was a must. I had found Death of a Mystery Writer and Prairie Hardball in a used bookstore for 50 cents each and they were the perfect books to bring along and leave behind on the train for the next reader. Death of a Mystery Writer, by Robert Barnard, was a well-done cozy à la Agatha Christie. The titular mystery writer is a horrible man, disliked by family, friends, and acquaintances. He is poisoned at his birthday party, and the person who most clearly had motive did not have opportunity, so it really was a puzzle. All very cleverly solved in the end, of course. Prairie Hardball, by Alison Gordon, was set in Saskatchewan and since we were traveling through Saskatchewan, it seemed appropriate. This was also a nicely-done, satisfying little mystery. A sports journalist from Toronto returns to her Saskatchewan home town with her police officer boyfriend for a special occasion – her mother is being inducted into the Saskatchewan sports hall of fame for having been a member of the All-American women’s baseball league. One of her fellow inductees is found murdered the morning after the hall of fame party, and the clues to solving the crime go all the way back to the women’s days playing baseball.
I have been watching episodes of the BBC Inspector Lewis series, which also prompted me to borrow some Inspector Morse episodes from the library, one of which was Last Bus to Woodstock, and watching that made me want to read it. I quite like Colin Dexter’s books and they are some of the few mystery novels that I will buy – but I don’t have a copy of Last Bus to Woodstock! So I read Last Seen Wearing and quite enjoyed it. Morse is such a character, and his foibles are laid out so clearly. Bossy, alcoholic, womanizer. Convinced that he’s right, only to find out a few chapters later that he was very, very wrong. And then he moves on to the next stage of solving the crime. There is probably a lesson in there about persistence and creativity… I have borrowed a copy of Last Bus to Woodstock from the library, but just cannot get into it. One dose of Morse was satisfying, but two doses seem to be too much.
I have a love-hate relationship with short stories. I am often enticed by them, because they are so precise in their language, and convey so much in such compact space. I used to buy issues of the New Yorker just for the short stories. But reading a whole collection is frustrating, because each story ends so soon and usually leaves the characters (and me, by extension) hanging out there without a really satisfying ending. I have heard many people say that short stories are best read one at a time, dipping into a collection here and there. But I like reading best when I can really get into something and then feel like I’ve finished it – I mostly don’t like dipping. That said, I’ve enjoyed these two collections more than I thought I would. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro was the third book I brought on the train, and the train trip was actually a good setting for dipping in and out of a story collection. The first story also featured a train trip from Ontario to the prairies, and is probably my favourite story so far. This Will Be Difficult to Explain and other stories by Johanna Skibsrud has been sitting on my bedside table for a few weeks now. Not sure when (or if) I’ll finish either of these collections. If I get into a real satisfying, meaty book, they may just fall by the wayside…
Lastly, I have been reading The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea by Philip Hoare. When I was a kid, I often named whales as my favourite animal, and I still find them fascinating. I love whale watching trips. I know it’s best that fewer aquariums have whales in captivity, but I’m kind of glad that the Vancouver Aquarium had killer whale shows when I was a kid. So, I was drawn to this book when I saw it earlier this year in a used bookstore. It’s quite interesting, and includes lots of photos (black and white) throughout the book, but it’s also kind of dissatisfying in how it rambles and floats around, talking about this, that and the other – going from whale anatomy to Moby Dick to the whaling industry. So far, the biggest impression it has left me with is that I should read Moby Dick. Like the short story collections, The Whale might just fall by the wayside here.
And the month is not yet over! I don’t feel quite settled unless I have a good book to read – by which I mean a book that I want to read, that matches my mood, that makes me want to read it while I’m eating breakfast and while I’m brushing my teeth… so I am off to look through my bookshelves to find that last book for the month, and hopefully, I will find a good one!