Wednesday, November 4, 2009

No Nest for the Wicket

A friend loaned me Donna Andrews' mystery novel No Nest for the Wicket because she knows I like playing croquet. I like backyard croquet best, preferably with partners so we can play off each others' balls and go for the final post together, rather than suffer the inevitable ignominious defeat when one person hits the post and goes out, leaving his partner at the mercy of all the other players on the field. I have played competition croquet, with the billiard-smooth lawns and tall, narrow wickets. But I have never played X-treme croquet as it is described in this mystery...nor am I ever likely to, because the rules are not explained in enough detail to recreate the game. It would have to be created from hints like that cow legs can serve as wickets and radios can be used to inform far-flung players when it's their turn.

I did enjoy one character's explanation of why croquet was banned in Boston in the 1890s:
"Several prominent clergymen denounced it for encouraging drinking, gambling, and philandering. Men and women playing on the same field. The occasional bare ankle explosed to the leering eyes of the spectators. Young couples disappearing into the shrubbery in search of lost balls."
Come to think of it, my version of extreme croquet should probably include some drinking; makes the game more challenging!

And I very much enjoyed the culminating decision on house rules for the game being played during a murder investigation: "Spectators are fair game, but if you try to murder one of the other players, your team's out."
Croquet, of course, is infamous for having wildly varying house rules. Personally, I don't much care for playing with people whose major fascination with the game is rocqueting balls into the next county and chortling that there's no out of bounds.

The mystery itself, in this novel, was uninteresting. Possibly this is because the croquet one is the seventh in a series (my friend did tell me this), and it's more interesting if you know some background on the characters and their unfriendly dog. I spent three hundred pages with these characters and never got to like them, so I'm not feeling inclined to start at the beginning of the series to see if we could get off on the right foot.

I have started some mystery series novels with one of the middle ones and been interested enough to read backwards after the first one, and then forwards. I did that with Elizabeth George's Lynley mysteries, Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael tales, and Dorothy Gilman's series about Mrs. Pollifax. Have you ever tried dipping into a mystery series in the middle?


FreshHell said...

I did that with both Josephine Tey's and Susan Grafton's series. Tey's stand alone, I think, even though Inspector Grant is in each one. With Grafton's, you get just enough back story that it doesn't matter if you pick them up in the wrong order though they do make a bit more sense in order because there is character development and progression with her landlord and boyfriends.

Jeanne said...

FreshHell, I looked up Tey and got interested in The Daughter of Time. I can never resist speculation about the fate of the little princes in the tower.

PAJ said...

Never. (But you know that already.) However, I have happened upon a book, started reading it, discovered that it's part of a series, put down that book, and then found and read the first book in the series. That's how I got started on Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan series.

Jeanne said...

PAJ, I'm still reading the Tess Monaghans. I like to ration them out. But I am going through them in order!

Anonymous said...

I stumbled into the Donna Andrews books with The Penguin Who Knew Too Much and didn't get it. At a friend's strong recommendation, I stated at the beginning Murder With Peacocks and liked the series much better. Wicket isn't one of the better ones, and I agree that Andrews assumes a great deal in her later books.

Steven King writes about the challenge of starting in the middle and how to write for that challenge in On Writing. He praises J.K. Rowling's work in this regard as genius, and I have to say that the first chapter of Half-Blood Prince amazes me each time I read it.


P.S. I burned through all of the Andrews bird mysteries in about a month, and it was light reading time well spent.

Jeanne said...

Lemming, I need more reading time. I'm afraid I'm going to get it by being laid up in bed with the flu (one kid down)!

lemming said...

It's possible to have more reading time? I confess that I made it to the exclusion of other activities - I hot a point at which I needed to simply rad all of the Andrews books and get them out of my system. The only other author I've ever felt that way about is John Bellairs.

Jeanne said...

Lemming, I've always made time for reading. But I've never had two kids in high school before. You'll see!