Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

The November List

with 2 comments

So, another first of the month, and the November list runs as follows:

64) Mark Levin. The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic.

65) Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Lucifer’s Hammer.

66) Alison Weir. The Life of Elizabeth I.

67) Charlotte MacLeod. Exit the Milkman.

It’s not a terribly exciting list as lists go, but it’s the end of the term and I handed in a book and…well, you know.

I was fairly sure, mid-month, that there would be at least one more book on here, but I ran into the same trouble I had with the Pinker last month. 

I had problems with that book itself, and for several days I found myself unable to force myself through more than a couple of pages of the thing. 

It was a much shorter book than the Pinker, and normally wouldn’t have taken me more than four or five days of even a very busy week, but here we are.

I’ve started to wonder if this is something new or something I’ve always had and never noticed until recently. 

Since the thing about always finishing what I start is not new, I assume I must have had some response to books I either didn’t like or distrusted all along, but I just don’t know what it was.

And maybe it was this.

Anyway, as to the books:

The first thing I want to point out is the Charlotte MacLeod, Exit the Milkman, at the end.

I have a little stack of MacLeod’s Peter Shandy books on my coffee table, and I picked up this one because it was on top of that stack and I was looking for something light.

I have a soft spot in my heart for MacLeod, because her first Peter Shandy mystery, Rest Ye Merry, is probably what propelled me out of graduate school and college teaching and into really making a shot at being a mystery writer.

I stumbled into a bookstore called Jocundry’s in East Lansing, Michigan, after a really harrowing two weeks involving classes who hated me and prelims I couldn’t wrap my mind around and looking desperately for some kind of respite, and what I found was Rest Ye Merry.

It’s definitely a cozy, but the high end of cozy, well done and interesting and with characters you want to live with, and right after I finished it I bought the only other thing by MacLeod the store carried in its mystery section: The Family Vault, the first book of her other series.

And it occurred to me that if this was the kind of thing people were publishing in mysteries, I could be very happy doing something similar, assuming I could do it at all.

And that’s where the Pay McKenna series came from, a couple of years later, after several tries at book that just weren’t going anywhere.

I was, in those days, a much cosier writer than I am now.

That’s the kind of thing watching people die can do to you.

This book is, I think, the last in the series, and it is not one of the best.  Too much depends on enormous coincidences, and not enough depends on the mystery.

And the thing is sort of…disorganized.   And it bothered me.  Charlotte was not normally disorganized.  So I started checking around a bit, and found that it was published in 1996.

And there, I think, is where the problem may be.

1996 was the year when Bill was dying, and also desperately attempting to finish a book subtitled “an oral history of the mystery.”

That book required interviewing dozens of mystery writers about their lives, work, experience in publishing, you name it.  There was urgency on two fronts.  Some of these writers were very old, and there was the need to get them on the record before the time ran out.

And Bill was getting sicker, so there was the need to get the book written in case the time ran out.

Close to the end of everything, Bill called Charlotte to ask her to interview for the book, not expecting any trouble.  We’d known Charlotte for years, and it was one of those things.  Even people we didn’t know wanted to be in the book, including some extraordinarily authors.

But when Bill called Charlotte, she not only didn’t want to be in the book, she didn’t want to talk at all, and she was highly agitated and upset.  Bill went through his spiel and Charlotte said “No!” and hung up.

Bill proceeded to do his usual thing and start worrying that he had said something that upset her. 

Then,a while later, we heard from a mutual friend that Charlotte had moved to a nursing home, the victim of a rapidly progressing case of dementia.

And that, I think, may be what is wrong with this book.  It may be the book she wrote when the dementia was first coming on.  Dementia would explain the kinds of problems it has.  The odd driftiness.  The lack of cohesion.

If you like cozies, the Peter Shandy series is a good one to read, but don’t read this one until you’ve done the rest.

Charlotte’s best work is very good indeed, and it deserves to be appreciated.

Oddly enough, I’ve beent thinking about Charlotte for a while now.  She was one of a trio of mystery writers who were close friends for many years:  Charlotte, and Marion Babson, and Barbara Peters.

Charlotte was the first to die.  Barbara Peters (Barbara Mertz) died a few months ago.  Marion is left, still writing mysteries and, I worry, lonelier than I’d like her to be.

Her publisher tends to reissue The Twelve Deaths of Christmas every year or so.  It’s a good one, if you like cozies.

As for the rest of the books up there:

The Liberty Amendments is interesting, although if I wrote my own set, they would be significantly different. 

That is, of course, the problem with projects of that kind.  Everybody knows the system is broken, but everybody thinks the system is broken in a different way. 

There are some interesting things in here that I’d never thought of, especially about the role of the courts. And my two big complaints are a) that he doesn’t want to end rule by regulation absolutely and b) that he only wants oversight of rule by regulation where the result of the regulation is $100 million dollars or more.

But the regulations I am most concerned with–how you reaise your children, what kind of chair you use at the desk in your home office, what kind of food you’re allowed to send with your kid to school, schools that punish or expel children for acts they commit OUTSIDE of school hours and grounds and auspices–are precisely the ones that have little economic impact, but lots of the personal kind.

Niven and Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer is a standard issue disaster novel, and I love disaster novels. 

Like most disaster novels, though, this one gives you about the first third of the book concentrating on disaster, and the rest on What Happens Next To Put Civilization Back Together.

My big problem with all that is that I don’t really care what happens next.  I want the disaster.

The greatest disaster novel ever written is certainly Stephen King’s The Stand in the originally published version.

King later published the full version as he wrote it, and that one is damned near unreadable.

But even King’s novel is only half the disaster and the rest What Comes After.

Lucifer’s Hammer doesn’t rise to the level of The Stand in either plot or characterization, but I had a good time with it.  I tried reading it many years ago and couldn’t even get started, but this time it went down like butter.

 Finally, there’s The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir. 

Elizabethans are what she does best, and this is very good indeed.

I’m going to go back to the music and the crime book–a nonfiction book about crime.

It’s the last full week of classes.

That’s how that is.

Written by janeh

December 1st, 2013 at 10:32 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'The November List'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'The November List'.

  1. Finally! A list I’ve read most of. (The McLeod and the Pournelle for sure, and I’m giving myself half credit on the Weir. I’ve read enough of her that I’m not sure.)

    Second the recommendation on the Peter Shandy mysteries–except for CURSE OF THE GIANT HOGWEED, which I couldn’t get through. The usual setting–Balaclava College–seems to me to set the standard: THIS is how higher education ought to be done.

    I enjoyed the Niven & Pournelle myself, and thought it said some things about ethics and civilization worth reading. but for me, the “pure” disaster isn’t enough, which is why I don’t re-read THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII. I can work with a human-caused disaster and a lot of space given to the human cause–the Winston Tunnel section of ATLAS SHRUGGED, for instance, or a lot of military history. But for a natural disaster, for me at least, the important part of the book is not wiping out most of the human race but choosing what sort of civilization emerges from the rubble, and LUCIFER’S HAMMER offered at least three. (I’m also not sure about the balance point between disaster and rebuilding in LUCIFER’S HAMMER. Yes, the comet goes away fairly early, but they’re fighting cannibal hordes until the next to last chapter, and the ice age is still with them when the book ends.)

    I repeat an earlier observation on the Levin: you can’t get through a constitutional amendment until you’ve won the political battle. Once we have, all us (we?) small-government types can sit down and argue how to change the constitutional rules to put off the next rise of intrusive central government, but NO amendment is going anywhere unless and until we win the political battle, and then they’ll be unnecessary in the short term. They’re something we’d do for our great-grandchildren. I promise to be interested if we’re ever in position to pass such amendments.

    I’ll be even more shocked than interested, though.


    1 Dec 13 at 2:00 pm

  2. I’m hijacking Jane’s blog to post this. I hope Jane won’t mind the hijack.



    1 Dec 13 at 9:32 pm

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 254 access attempts in the last 7 days.