Sunday, October 28, 2012

Death du Jour, by Kathy Reichs

After my foray into The Casual Vacancy, I decide the best way to get my reading feet underneath me again was with some pop-lit, so I turned to Death du Jour, by Kathy Reichs for a little relaxation.  And, it worked.

Death du Jour is the first (so says the interwebs, I got a feeling it’s at least the second) book in Reichs’ Temperance Brennan series.  Brennan is a top-notch anthropologist who splits her time between North Carolina and Montreal, working as both an academic and a medical examiner.  Brennan is highly sought after, and extremely skilled.  Death du Jour follows Brennan as she investigates a series of gruesome murders/unexplained occurrences that always seem to drop into her lap.  The plot is good and is always moving forward with little lags or unbelievabilities (other than the way Brennan manages to stumble across so many bodies).

The characters are engaging and interesting.  Brennan is likable and down to earth in her assessment and reaction to situations; the detective she works with/likes, Andy Ryan, can be a bit pompous (which I don’t think was Reichs’ goal) but he’s an okay guy; Brennan’s sister, Harry, is a fucking mess in a way that’s recognizable to anyone with a similar person in their own lives; and the supporting characters are all well written and no one stands out as a major miss-step.

The only think I didn’t dig about the book from beginning to end was the feeling that I should hold a degree some sort of science-related field to understand what the hell Brennan was describing.  More than once, I found myself thinking of that old TV cop-show cliché “can I get that in English, doctor?” – and Ryan even asked something similar at one point.  While this devise can be played to great effect in a 44 minute television show, in a book, it just takes up extra time and page space that isn’t really needed.

What I did like was the setting – so often Canadian audiences are underserved, but this is one book/series(?) that should speak to Canadians because a large part of the action happens in Quebec.  If you’ve spent any time driving through la belle province, or in Montreal, then the scenery is familiar to you, and the observations that Reichs makes about her locations are added colour and connection to the story.  It’s a nice little twist to what I was expecting to be another by-the-books (pardon the pun) story about a cop investigating a murder.

The names Temperance Brennan and Kathy Reichs may be familiar to some of you – that’s because they are the inspiration for the Fox show Bones.  Now, how in the world Reichs’ Brennan got transformed into Emily Deschenel’s Brennan, I have no idea – on the show, Brennan is an almost unwatchable character with seemingly little humanity as she’s portrayed as far to book-smart to know or care about the plebes.  That dynamic always seems to fall apart at least once an episode to display the emotional side of the character, but there’s never any substantial character growth as she’s always back to her usually self by the start of the next episode.  Honestly though, it’s been a while since I watched, so this might have resolved itself (but, I doubt it, since Hart Hanson has helmed that show since the word go).  

I think Reichs made a huge mistake in selling the character rights to Fox – Bones kept me from reading the books for a long time because I thought they would be similar to the show.  Now that I know better, I’ll probably look out for them when Chapters has its buy 3 get the 4th free sale.

So, final verdict?  This is great beach-blanket reading.  It’s no Dennis Lehane, but it is pretty close to the Preston/Child series that I enjoyed.  For Canadian readers, it’s nice to finally have a story that we can relate too from a big-name author.  Finally, the books prove the point that literature is far superior to television; if you’re a Bones fan, I strongly recommend that you pick up Reichs’ book, and spend that hour every week reading – you’ll get a better plot and more believable characters, and fewer commercial breaks.

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The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling

Okay, so… Wow.  It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. Yikes.  There are some really good reasons for that though, one of which I’m excited to share with everyone.  So, back when I started at my job last year, I suggested that my boss allow me to write an institutional history of the association I work for.  It didn’t go anywhere at the time, but in the lead-up to our big, annual meeting, she decided that she wanted not only a history of our association written, but a history of Canada’s health care system and nursing education.  The original brief for the project was a 20-25 paper, within 2 weeks; my coworker and I completed a 46 page pager, with 2 trips to local libraries, 3 trips to archives out of town, and 1 trip to Canada’s national archive in 3 weeks.  It was a bear of a project that reminded me of my student days…. And while I’m not 100% sure, I’m hoping the results will be available for sale shortly.  Other reasons for the dirth in posts: TV season started up, and TV on DVD release dates…

All of these factors were further complicated by the book I was reading shortly before my life got filled with distractions: The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling.  This book took up a lot of my time before it was released, and a substantial amount after.  After its release, I was wondering when/if I would commit to buying it – but as it turned out, that was wasted time, since I won a copy off Twitter from @indigo_chapters.  I was so excited and waited for my mail with baited breath, and when the book finally arrived, I dived right into it!  Only to experience a sinking feeling within the first 100 pages….  Let me explain.

So, near as I can tell, The Casual Vacancy follows the trials and tribulations of a small rural village in England.  The impetus for the story is the death of one of the village council members, who was in favour of incorporating slums into the village to provide the people who lived there with better services.  On the other side of that debate were council members who were thisclose to getting rid of the community by foisting it off on a neighboring town.  Into this political mine field lands the need to fill the seat left by the death of a council member.  I think.  Here’s the problem: I only got ¼ of the way through it before giving up.

The plot is fucking boring… other than the inciting incident, nothing really exciting happens.  I found myself several times thinking that the events would benefit strongly from a dose of magic, but none was forth coming.  To further complicate the plot are the 600 characters that Rowling introduces and jumps between – and NONE of them contribute in an interesting manner to the main plot.  Some of these character stories are interesting, but in the pages I read, I couldn’t find anything to draw me in and keep me reading.

When you compound a slow moving plot with too many characters and my crazy-ass schedule for the last month, what happened was that I lost interest.  There is no way I have the least desire to finish the book, and I’m super glad I won a copy rather than paying $40 for it.  But this is just another example of why Rowling is the smartest author in the world – though this book sucked, I’m still going to buy her next one.  She’s got so much juice following her from HP, that I firmly believe there’s an amazing author in there somewhere, and this book suffered from a publisher who didn’t want to alienate the golden goose.  I’m hoping on her next try, she undertakes some more judicious editing.

So, final verdict?  Borrow a copy from a library/friend, but don’t buy it.  You should definitely explore this book (and hopefully you’ll like it!) if for no other reason that it’s a major piece of our literary tradition now.  Whether you like the book or not, Rowling’s first foray into literature after the Harry Potter juggernaut is going to be talked about and considered for a long time to come.    

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