Monday, January 21, 2013

Novels by Peter May and Daniel Woodrell deliver highly enjoyable reads

Book 11 -- Extraordinary People by Peter May

I don't merely collect books. I also collect authors.

Authors whose writings strike my fancy. Authors who can spin a story, create a character I'd like to have a beer with or strike a phrase in such an original manner it makes me chuckle in appreciation.

It is books by these authors that line my shelves.

And since stumbling across his superb The Blackhouse late last year, Peter May is among those authors I'm making room for.

Extraordinary People isn't quite as good as The Blackhouse, but it's a helluva enjoyable book.

A classic mystery in structure, Extraordinary People is the first of two novels by May featuring Enzo MacLeod, a Scottish forensic biologist living in France.  Enzo boasts that, using modern forensic techniques, he can solve the long-unsolved disappearance of a brilliant French teacher and film critic.

Enzo soon confirms that the missing man was murdered. He's also discovered that the missing man's body parts have been buried in various locations and each missing piece contains clues to the identity of one of the murderers.

Soon, the murder suspects start turning up dead and it isn't long before Enzo himself is attacked.

Enzo persists in his investigation, using the Internet to unravel the clues to the murderers' identities. Late in the novel there's a delicious scene where one of the accused tells Enzo he shouldn't think too highly of his crime solving skills:

"You were never in our league. You had the internet at your disposal. In 1996, we had no idea what the internet might become, or how it might unravel all our carefully considered clues. It took us five months to assemble them and put our plan together."

Enzo is a vivid character and the French setting is a fresh one for this American reader. May deftly keeps the reader guessing the identity of the mastermind behind the murder until the final pages. The final revelation comes as a satisfying jolt.

Book 12 -- Muscle For The Wing by Daniel Woodrell

Muscle For The Wing is the second book in what has been described as Woodrell's Bayou Trilogy.  As with the first book in the trilogy, Under the Bright Lights, the novel is set in the fictional Louisiana town of Saint Bruno and features detective Rene Slade.

In many respects, these novels remind me of the television show Justified, set in Kentucky and featuring Raylan Givens, a character created by Elmore Leonard.

Leonard and Woodrell are similar writers, offering the reader a lean narrative that moves along crisply. Each has a gift for describing the low-life that populate their books and their motivations, and each has a definite gift for the apt and delightful turn of phrase.

Written in 1988, Muscle For The Wing contains the promise Woodrell delivers in Give Us A Kiss, Winter's Bone, Tomato Red and The Death of Sweet Mister. Daniel Woodrell is simply the best writer of crime noir at work today.

Book 13 -- The Aliens of Earth by Nancy Kress

I am not going to spend much time on this short story collection by sci-fi writer Nancy Kress.  Kress has justifiably earned acclaim as a sci-fi novelist, especially for her "Beggars" series, but this short story collection falls short of her best work.

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