Sunday, February 05, 2012

On Rankin, Robinson, Crumley and Lippman; three thumbs up, one down

Rankin, Robinson and Lippman complete my reading in January. Opened February with James Crumley as I continue to plow through a towering to-be-read pile by reading nothing -- or almost nothing -- but mysteries and thrillers.

Book 15:  Let It Bleed by Ian Rankin

Book 17: Cold Is The Grave by Peter Robinson

Recently, I've been whining about a couple of my favorite British writers who've wandered off in new directions. Rankin has retired Rebus and taken up with a new guy named Fox who works in the Complaints, Britain's version of America's Internal Affairs.  Robinson shelved Banks for a one-off, featuring a mysterious death in a haunted house.

The solution -- return to Rankin and Robinson's early works.  Let It Bleed was issued in America in 1996, Cold Is The Grave is from 2000.

Let It Bleed is an unusual Rebus mystery in that there are no murders to solve. Instead, two suicides lead Rebus to investigate corporate-government malfeasance.  It is an especially appropriate book for our times.

Cold Is The Grave has Banks heading off to London as a favor for Chief Constable Jimmy Riddle. Riddle dislikes Banks, but when the chief constable's daughter shows up on a porn site, he knows Banks is the man to locate her.  A favor for his boss leads Banks down a convoluted path of intrigue and murder.

Both books are perfect examples of why Rankin and Robinson have been successful writers here, and in their native Britain, for a couple of decades.

Book 18:  Dancing Bear by James Crumley 

Rankin and Robinson's mysteries are positively genteel when stacked against the hard-boiled thrillers of James Crumley. If you're seeking sex, drugs and a climbing body count, Crumley's your man.

His hero, or anti-hero, is Milo (short for Milodragovitch), a general layabout who likes his cocaine and drinks peppermint schnapps to keep some distance from whiskey.

An old (literally) girlfriend of his late father asks Milo for a favor, which promises a hefty payday for a little work.  Here's an ironclad rule for such novels -- there's no free lunch or the easier the pickings appear to be, the more dangerous the case becomes.

Soon after hiring on, Milo watches as a man is blown up. Naturally, he soon finds a grenade rigged to blow beneath the driver's seat of his own car.  From that first explosion, the body quickly starts to rise.  Milo is reluctant to kill, but his reluctance only goes so far.

There are two mysteries in Dancing Bear: What are the bad guys up to? And why was Milo ensnared in the whole thing to begin with? The answers matter a whole lot less than an exhilarating ride with Crumley

Book 16: The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman and I are parting ways. The bond between writer and reader has come apart.

The Baltimore writer is talented. I thoroughly enjoy her mysteries featuring Baltimore P.I. Tess Monaghan. But Lippman doesn't want to write about Monaghan quite so often any more.  Her latest works have been a series of one-offs, leaning toward a sociological exploration of bad things that happen to people, rather than outright mysteries or thrillers.

The latest, The Most Dangerous Thing, from 2011, is dull.  Lippman explores the lives of three families, all very different, but united through their children's friendship.  The kids spend most of their summers exploring a vast forest near their homes.   

They stumble upon a homeless man living in a rundown shack.  Let's just say the man isn't leaving this book under his own power.

Part of the problem with The Most Dangerous Thing is that the man's death is more unfortunate than mysterious or compelling.  And the another is that none of the families are all that interesting.  None of the characters can carry the weight of a novel.

There's a cameo by Tess Monaghan and that's a serious mistake on Lippman's part.  Tess soaks up all the energy of the novel during her brief appearance.  I wanted to stay behind with her, rather than go where Lippman wanted to take me. 

I've decided to take a pass on Lippman's future one-offs.  If she wants to bring Ms. Monaghan back, it will be as if I'd never gone away.

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