Tuesday, July 24, 2007

More "Wash This Blood ... "

I'm still reading Fred Vargas' Dagger-winning Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, and I'm not at all embarrassed or disappointed to be reading a bit more slowly than usual. This is a book to be savored. Among the pleasures of its first 222 pages:

1) Vargas works her protagonist, Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, into a predicament similar to those of a string of men later jailed for murder — wrongly jailed, Adamsberg believes. The similarities are so obvious that even I realized it, yet Adamsberg does not, at least not right away.

Weak plotting on Vargas' part? I thought so for about a tenth of a second. Then I realized that this is Vargas' small, subtle way of making a point that other writers would hit the reader over the head with: Her protagonist is not perfect. He has blind spots, weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

2) She puts a forthright, touching declaration of self-knowledge into the mouth of an Adamsberg colleague, then turns it into a declaration of strength:

"You didn't seem to be taking any notice, just sitting in a corner, looking bored."

"That was an act," said Retancourt, pouring out two more cups of coffee. "Men pay no attention to a fat, plain woman."

"That's not at all what I meant,
lieutenant."

"But it's exactly what I meant, sir," she said, waving away the objection. "They don't bother looking at her, she's just part of the furniture, and they actually forget she's there. I depend on that. Add a bored expression and hunched shoulders, and you're sure to be able to see everything without being seen. Not everyone can get away with it, and it's served me well in the past."

3) Vargas gets the distance between Montreal and Hull, Quebec right.

More later.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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11 Comments:

Blogger Dave Knadler said...

I'm going to have to quit reading this blog. I'm ordering too many books from Amazon.

July 24, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

An easier course is available: Order books from abebooks.com. The books are cheaper, and you'll perform the supreme good deed of supporting independent booksellers. The only downside is that most stores affiliated with ABE specialize in used books, so you're unlikely to find new hardcovders. So, show some patience, order from ABE, save some money.

I want to start one of those "Best books I read this year" lists just so I can put Wash This Blood ... and He Who Fears the Wolf on it.

July 24, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Ahem. There are still libraries, people. I recently got the state's only copy of the first three Tommy Hambledon books (in an omnibus) from a library in Hilo, three islands and one hundred miles away.

July 24, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Hah! You reminded me of the weakness of which I am most embarrassed. I got out of the habit of using my local public library because it seemed that everything I wanted from there was available only in non-circulating copies.

July 24, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

And you with one of the two most famous library entrances in the world!

BTW, I just plugged this site and Steve's Mystery Files over at Library Thing. It has a zillion groups, one of which is "Crime, Thriller and Mystery." I put up a thread for useful web resources.

July 24, 2007  
Blogger Dave Knadler said...

I use my neighborhood library all the time. But the titles Peter mentions are rarely available at such a small branch. In fact, if it's been written in the past year, forget about it.

July 25, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks, Linkmeister. I heard about a similar service, whose name escapes me for the moment. That service seemed to be potentially useful for people who want to catalogue their books. The user types in a title of a book, and Amazon or somebody else supplies the information, this sparing the user the necessity of writing descriptive notes for each book.

July 25, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

That's what Library Thing is, sort of. Not the descriptive notes thing, though; it does a lookup at Amazon or 61 library sources to find the book you're searching for, then offers you the opportunity to add it to your catalog. You can tag (think Flickr) with any note you want (fiction, crime, mystery, SF, etc.). It's worth looking at, particularly if you've got a huge collection and aren't entirely sure what you own anymore.

I was lucky; I only found five dupes when I entered my first 1,400 books (now up to 1,675).

July 26, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I'm fairly sure of what I own; I'm just not always sure where to find it. On the other hand, I have more than once had the experience of buying a book I already had.

July 26, 2007  
Anonymous LauraRoot said...

My local libraries are surprisingly good for crime - there's definitely a noir fiction fan doing the buying - copies of Bitter Lemon Press books always turn up very quickly!

July 27, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

This string of comments has me squirming uncomfortably. I think public services are important, and I decry their decline in the name of privatization. Just as I make an effort to avoid chain bookstores in favor of independents, I should make an effort to compile reading lists ahead of time and take those lists to the library.

One problem is that I love to relax at my local used bookstore/cafe with a cup of coffee. That lends itself to impulse buying. And owners who know my tastes and recommend books do not help!

July 27, 2007  

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