The Friday review coincides with the morning after for mystery writers, the lingering smoke in the air, the thoughts of Otto Penzler, and a quick look at the Edgar winners. Donna Moore, a writer from Scotland, captured the Nevermore prize again this year offered by Partners & Crime bookstore in Greenwich Village. Your reporter was among the vanquished, so it’s bittersweet to report Donna’s triumph. Congratulations Donna.
Otto Penzler bashed women writers and cozy mysteries in particular. Hey Otto my sister writes cozies. Penzler has an imprint arrangement with Houghton-Mifflin.
TJ Parker won for California Girl beating out Laura Lippman and Rhys Bowen, among others, for the hardback Edgar. No surprise there. Don Lee, the Ploughshares editor, won best first novel for Country of Origin. And Little Girl Lost by Richard Aleas took a prize as well. That’s a good read reviewed here last autumn.
This week’s Friday review includes Ken Bruen and Alice Hoffman’s The Ice Queen. The Killing of the Tinkers is the second of Bruenâ€™s Jack Taylor series set in Galway. You may recall that I said his novel The Magdalen Martyrs was the best book I’ve read this year. The Killing of the Tinkers preceded that one. Why do I feel as though I’m explaining Australian rules football?
I wasn’t as taken by this one. While many of the same elements are on display, most notably wit and timing, Ken Bruen chases his story too hard and catches up with it too late. Someone is killing tinkers, gypsies, and Jack Taylor is hired to look into it. Almost immediately we delve into Jack’s incredible love life. He’s taken a wife but left her in London. When she flies into Galway Jack is less than attentive. She leaves. In her place we have Keegan, an English cop and soul mate for Jack. Through Keegan Jack meets a girl named Laura who falls in love with him immediately.
Keegan is a terrific character. When he is on the page Jack Taylor shrinks back. I think Ken Bruen was holding a mirror up for his main character to study. Despite their physical differences the two men share a need to be cops. Keeganâ€™s hold on his job is tenuous, and Jack grasps the vulnerability Keegan feels all too well. Like many of the novel’s good moments it ends abruptly. This isn’t a byproduct of style; the story feels rushed, almost incidental to the greater drama of Jack’s struggle with booze, coke, and speed. The ending was predictable, falling flat because the story never gelled.
The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman doesn’t tantalize the reader with possibilities. It falls flat immediately and gets worse. Maybe this kind of story is meant to be thought provoking. Being mugged at knifepoint is thought provoking too. Sometimes magical realism feels neither real nor magical. A woman incapable of love is struck by lightning. She takes a lover whose very touch causes intense pain. Love hurts. Lightning isn’t good for you. If you sense these things are true stop right there. For dissing my sister we’re going to send this book to Otto Penzler.
Otto reminds me of my eighth-grade science teacher, Mr. Reagan. He was convinced that the girls in his class were inherently stupid. So dumb in fact that we wouldn’t notice when he gave the answers to the boys in the weekly boy vs girl oral quiz. He’d become frustrated as the girls won each week, so he started feeding the correct answers to the boys. Oh yeah, girls are dumb.
Rave on, Otto.
Oh, and Girls Rule, boys drool.
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