Monday, October 13, 2008

It's a Mystery

It's a mystery to me how my very fair-skinned daughter could walk around un-sunscreened in a sleeveless top in the sunshine all day yesterday and not get pink shoulders. It's a mystery why someone would practice long and hard enough to be able to make a sandwich with his feet. It's also a mystery why I would pay to watch this.

The main mystery for today is how Elizabeth George's last two books have been so boring. I thought that What Came Before He Shot Her was just an aberration, probably because it focused on characters I didn't already know. But the newest one, Careless in Red, has Lynley and Havers in it, two of my favorite characters, and it's still as boring as the book is long. Did she have a good editor when she was younger, and now has too much power to have to accept editing suggestions? Or is she just so full of herself she thinks she can write any old long-winded, sloppy way and we'll keep reading her books? Well, she's wrong about me. Passages like this one make her books not even worth carrying home from the library:

He was watching her. She saw that he looked ineffably sad, and in that sadness she understood that while they were a family--the four of them then, the three of them now--they were a family in name only. Beyond a common surname, they were and had always been merely a respository of secrets. She'd believed that all of these secrets had to do with her mother, with her mother's troubles, her mother's periods of bizarre alteration. And these were secrets to which she herself had long been a party because there was no way to avoid knowing them when the simple act of coming home from school might put her in the midst of what had alwasy been referred to as "a bit of an embarrassing situation." Don't breathe a word to Dad, darling. But Dad knew anyway. All of them knew by the clothes she wore, the tilt of her head when she was speaking, the rhythm of her sentences, the tap of her fingers on the table during dinner, and the restlessness of her gaze. And the red. They knew from the red. For Kerra and Santo, what came on the heels of that colour was a prolonged visit to the elder Kernes and "What's the cow up to now?" from her granddad. But "Say nothing to your grandparents about this, understand?" was the injunction that Kerra and Santo had lived by. Keep the faith, keep the secret, and eventually thing would return to normal, whatever normal was.

After about 500 pages of that kind of overblown prose, having learned too many details about too many characters' lives, the completely improbable mystery is finally revealed. It follows up on one of about 200 red herrings, the rest of which are left, stinking, on the shore.

There are good Elizabeth George mysteries: A Great Deliverance, Payment in Blood, Well-Schooled in Murder, A Suitable Vengeance, For the Sake of Elena, Missing Joseph, Playing for the Ashes, In the Presence of the Enemy, Deception on His Mind, In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, A Traitor to Memory, I, Richard, and A Place of Hiding. But that, it seems, is that. I'll never know what else happens to Lynley, unless one of you, against my advice, wants to plow through hundreds of pages of tripe just to find out what he does next. It's just not worth it to me anymore, and that's sad.

I don't think I know any other mystery series where the quality plunged this precipitously before I was finished caring about the characters. But I came late in life to reading mysteries. Do any of you know another series where this happens? Share your warning!


lemming said...

ve lost track of a lot of what's going on with Lynley and Havers -I think I missed a book or two along the way.

Oddly enough, I read "Before He Shot her" before I read, er, the one where she gets shot. Thus I read "the other one" looking for connections which didn't exist. I think that "before" woudl stand much better on its own.

I will probably try to wade through the latest, but only when the library gets it in.

Cschu said...

I stopped reading the Kate Scarpetta books at some place along the way. Basically, I had the same experience you had with the Elizabeth George books. The series started out well, but then the books got to be pretty bad and I stopped reading.

paj said...

For me it was the V.I. Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky. After the umpteenth concussion suffered by VI, I decided it was the author, not the character, who was suffering brain damage, and I quit reading. Haven't picked one up in years.

Jeanne said...

I think Cschu means the Patricia Cornwell series about the fictional pathologist Kay Scarpetta. That series did have a strange ending a few books back, in which she killed off a character named Benton in a way that guaranteed he couldn't come back...and then he did, but after that, the series wasn't as good.

And paj, I've been mildly irritated by the number of V.I.'s concussions, but since I never read that series in a very methodical way, they didn't add up for me. Yet.

Karen D said...

I feel that way about PD James' books about Adam Dalgleish, but I haven't read them all in order, so I'm not sure there's a monotonic decline in quality.