Re-resolution 2014

I don’t make resolutions because I don’t like to fail. And I can guarantee with a fair degree of certainty that I will fail at any given resolution. We don’t choose easy endeavors like, “I will pursue the perfect black lager.” Rather we choose tricky things that will be challenging, feats that might in fact not be doable.

So this year I foolishly made a resolution. In print. Well, in electrons. I publicly proclaimed my intention to read books that I either started but didn’t finish, or checked out but didn’t even begin reading in 2013. This might not sound difficult, but once I put a book down all interest in it vanishes, even if I thoroughly enjoyed the bits that I did read. I’m also extremely picky about what I read at any given moment and so wouldn’t even be tempted by the most fabulous tome ever penned unless struck by the right mood. So this task has actually been a bit formidable.

“And just how is that resolution going?” you might be asking at this point. Well, let me tell you in a word: Not so good. I’ve not read a single book on my list because new (and old) compelling reads keep tempting me. I am the anti-Carol.

Here are a few titles from my resolution list, and their status:

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller – Checked it out again without reading it. Again.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence – Purchased it but have not recommenced reading.

The Janus Affair by Pip Ballantine – Have thought very hard about reading it.

3 booksNot a spectacular showing on my part.

However, a new resolution has slowly emerged from the primordial ooze of my brain. In keeping with my mid-life nostalgia crisis, I began rereading Martha GrimesRichard Jury mysteries. The first volume appeared in 1981, my first encounter with Jury was somewhere around 1990 and since then I’ve read all 22 books in the series (with #23 coming out this month). It occurred to me that I’ve never read a lengthy series, in order, in a relatively short period of time, and I felt the siren’s call luring me into another, possibly ill-conceived, resolution.

This time, however, I feel confident that I can fulfill my contract. Grimes’ writing is fabulous, her characters are charming and memorable, and I have the added incentive of wanting to ascertain how the series has evolved.

So let’s meet the cast of characters, shall we?

Chief Inspector, later Superintendent Richard Jury of Scotland Yard is a morose character, forever colored by the death of his mother in a London bombing raid, somewhere in his forties, attractive to women but unlucky in love, intelligent, caring and determined to carry out justice.

Sergeant Wiggins is Jury’s constant companion on cases. He is an uncompromising hypochondriac but has a way with servants and ordinary folk, and often uncovers useful tidbits of information.

Melrose Plant is wealthy, brilliant and bored. Jury meets him in the series’ first book, The Man with a Load of Mischief, and thereafter looks for Plant’s keen insight to help solve cases.

Additionally, a cornucopia of quirky characters inhabits both Long Piddleton, the series’ initial crime scene, and the building where Jury lives.

This large cast rotates in different permutations throughout the books, and locales vary significantly from case to case, so Grimes is able to create ample variety in Jury’s world. While there is a bit of formula involved, Grimes’ writing is so wonderful and her characters so interesting that I don’t mind similarities from book to book. Of course, we’ll see how I feel after reading a dozen of them.

Cozy in feel yet dark and often gruesome, veddy British yet penned by an American, this series has hooked me like few others. If you enjoy the genre, check one out and prepare to be dazzled. And be sure to bring a fairy cake for Aunt Agatha.

 

Nostalgia, or, Whatever Happened to Beany and Cecil?

I don’t know if it’s a common progression in the first-world aging process, but I seem to have hit the part of life where I crave things from my youth, perhaps to reconnect, perhaps for comfort. In the world of books this translates into re-reading favorites, something I’ve seldom done in the past as I’m always seeking out new treasures. Perchance I’m searching for old friends to see if our relationships have changed. Whatever the reason, I’m firmly entrenched in a tour of previously-read books.

So here’s a bit of what I’ve been up to.

Old FoxThe Old Fox Deceiv’d by Martha Grimes
I think the first mysteries I read were by Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, but the first series I really connected with was the Richard Jury mysteries by Martha Grimes. I discovered these books about 25 years ago, and since then I’ve read every Jury title (with a new one due out this June!). The Old Fox Deceiv’d is the second in the series and contains the many elements that I so enjoyed when first encountering Grimes’ writing. Early Jury books often focus on the characters from a small town that Jury’s sometime amateur assistant, Melrose Plant, calls home. These people and their goings-on are at least as interesting as the mysteries themselves. As the series has progressed, the bit players have appeared less and the focus of the mysteries has turned much darker. I still love the books, but I do miss my “friends” from the earlier stories. Anyone who enjoys British cozy mysteries (even though Grimes is from Baltimore) should check out Richard Jury.

Dirk Gently bookDirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
On the heels of the fabulous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Adams introduced a strange detective, Dirk Gently, who appeared in two books. Not as uproariously funny as Hitchhiker’s Guide, these books are still quirky, dry and hilarious.

Dirk Gently DVDThe BBC recently produced a short series based on the character of Dirk Gently, and this inspired me to re-examine the books. I’m not too far into this one yet, but what I have discovered so far is a profound lack of Dirk Gently; it’s taking a while for him to find his way into the story. Whereas Hitchhiker’s Guide is a knee-slap-a-minute, Dirk Gently is a much more, well, gentle and abstract humor. One has to work a bit harder to get one’s money’s worth with Dirk.

TekWarRon Goulart, a writer not widely known, is perhaps one of the most prolific American authors of recent times. I discovered his quirky, humorous sci-fi in high school, and went on to read every title of his I could find. Recently Calling Dr. Patchwork (the first of his books I ever purchased) found its way onto my Kindle. Sadly, I’m not as taken with Goulart’s unique style as I once was, but I am enjoying analyzing his writing techniques (for example, conversations where every single sentence is interrupted by the other participant) to discover tricks I can borrow. While EPL does not have any of his entertaining pulp novels, we do carry books from the TekWar series which were credited to William Shatner but are quite obviously penned by Goulart.

My nostalgia has manifested in many other ways, leading me to watch old movies such as Rear Window, Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope and That Touch of Mink. Or to delve into finales and conclusions of TV shows such as The Office and The Mentalist. Pulp readings from young-adult years revisit me, including works of John D. MacDonald and Robert Sheckley. It’s a strange phenomenon, and I’m not enjoying everything of old as much as I once did, but overall the experience is positive.

I’m not sure what the next step or phase of life will be, but I do know that I’m not ready for pants that go halfway up my chest.

Yet.