Thursday, September 29, 2011

mysteries, foreign and domestic, physical and digital

After reading Stieg Larsson's trilogy of crime novels, detective novels, mystery novels, after enjoying the conundrums and the dangers and the answers, I've spent the summer reading Norwegian (Jo Nesbo) and Swedish (Henning Mankell and Hakan Nesser) and American (Richard Stark) and Dutch (Janwillem van de Wetering) and Irish (Benjamin Black -- John Banville) mysteries.

I love the stories.

I love the problems posed and exposed.

I love the fact that in every case the world turns from the inexplicable to the explicable. There are answers. And the detectives and inspectors and constables figure things out rationally, skillfully, certainly.

They are, of course, as the genre demands, precariously fallible. Harry Hole, Jo Nesbo's inspector, is an alcoholic and lonely man. Quirke, the Irish inspector, is lonely and alcoholic. Nesser's chief inspector Van Veeteren really wants to be a bookseller. And, oddly enough in this genre, Stark's Parker is himself the criminal for whom the reader identifies.

The closure in every case is like the closure afforded by a slot machine when the triple 7's line up. It's satisfying. And it's a lure for suckers who want to believe that closure is the essence of both arche and telos in human history.

In this context, my favorites of the bunch (all of which I like, with the exception, perhaps, of the conservatively tinged Henning Mankell stories) are the Dutch constable and inspector Grijpstra and de Geir, and their boss the Commissaris. The latter has to keep dipping into hot baths to ease pains in his legs. The former two are easy going Dutchmen who, after capturing an escaped prisoner, commit to bringing him good cigars in prison because they're not really sure he is such a bad person. There's not much gunplay, not much testosterone, just a lot of paragraphs like this one from "The Corpse on the Dike": "The commissaris nodded. He had stopped going to parties ten years ago, when his rheumatism had begun to change from an occasional twitch of pain to a worsening and continuous feeling of hot needle pricks. He had never regretted his decision."

Good people. Good stories. And what's so bad about slot machines anyway, as long as it's clear from the beginning that they will win all your money in the end?

Finally, in an earlier post about Scott Carrier's e-book "Prisoner of Zion," the book that enticed me to buy a Kindle and then to buy Benjamin Black's mysteries as Kindle books and to read them on the little machine, I mentioned my ambivalence about e-texts.

Now, when I look at the beautiful tower of mysteries I've read this summer, when I hold the sets of books from Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Holland, and America, the combined titles in the e-reader don't seem very satisfying, even though I enjoyed the actual reading.

A pretty girl who naked is, is worth a hundred statues. 
e.e. cummings

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