REVIEWS FROM JEAN UTLEY
Jean's favorite bookstore, where she is Manager, is Book'em Mysteries in South Pasadena, California, the last remaining mystery/crime fiction bookstore in Los Angeles.
POSTED NOVEMBER 4, 2012
What is a stereotypical librarian? Middle-aged, reads a lot but has never travelled, naïve, single? Karen Nash is all of these characteristics and more. She has been dating Dave the plumber for four years and just as they are to leave for her first-ever trip to England, Dave dumps her. What's worse, she decides to take the trip alone -- and Dave shows up on the plane with a bimbo. Murderous thoughts visit Karen all through the flight and, as she begins her solo trip, after a few drinks at a local pub, she spills all her anger and venom to a stranger, Guy, who just may be someone who can take care of Karen's problem.
This is one of the coziest of mysteries -- more romance than murder and mayhem, yet the compelling reason to keep on reading is the question: Does Dave get what he deserves? The book is laden with literary references and allusions to English authors and books. Karen's new love interest -- Caldwell -- collects books and also owns the B&B in which Karen is staying. Karen herself tells just a few too many untruths and gets caught in the web of her lies until she pulls herself together and confesses her untruths. She is not the most likable of characters -- very rigid and librarian-like and then a completely different person when she gets to England -- following cabs, getting tipsy, doing crazy things and making up stories to make people like her more.
I adored the tourist vignettes of London -- museums, galleries, pubs and theaters. The tension was lacking but, again, this was more romantic than mysterious. I did enjoy the supporting characters -- Rosie back home, the Tweedles -- two American ladies staying at the B&B and even the bimbo Kirsten, all added a bit more dimension to a plot that was a bit flat. The ending had a couple of interesting, gosh-I-didn't-see-that-coming twists. This is a fun book for cozy lovers. I will read another book to see what happens to Karen next!
- Jean Utley
Cass Neary is a middle aged, used- up, burnt-out photographer, formerly famous and now lost in a haze of drugs, alcohol and memories. She is looking for meaning in her outsider life in New York, and when a job comes up to authenticate some photographs for a collector of murderalia in Helsinki, she grabs it. She goes to Finland and meets the former fashion photographer whose shots of death and dying are his masterpieces. She does the job, and, on the spur of the moment, she goes to Reykjavik, Iceland, to find an old soulmate she thought was long dead. She finds him, Quinn O'Boyle, selling old punk vinyl records at a flea market and discovers more darkness than the lack of daylight.
This is a story about obsession. And Elizabeth Hand writes it beautifully. She uses the senses as metaphors: the punk rock scene, heavy metal, dark music echo thru the chapters. The setting: Reykjavik, so empty, icy, cold, lack of sunlight, friendless and dangerous. The photographs: black and white, scenes of death and Scandinavian folk tales, gods and demons. All this darkness parallels Cass's emotional life. The light of flashbulbs makes the startling transitions to the living. Eventually she discovers that the artist has been brutally murdered, the police want her for questioning and her safety with Quinn is questionable. He, too, knows the dead man and has done business with the collector. All these men have dark sides and experiences to hide. Can anyone be trusted?
This is a book for the strong. Perhaps Cass is fictionally related to Lisbeth Salander -- violence, drugs, music and all. The writing is stunning and not depressing. The pictures that Hand evokes with her title and the themes that run through the novel are artistic and beautiful. I'm crazy about her writing and will read more -- including her first Cass Neary book, GENERATION LOSS.
- Jean Utley