Filling in the Blanks

September 9, 2010

It’s a fair bet that few folks read more mysteries in the run of a month than I do; even when I am not “on the clock” gathering monthly fodder for my BookPage magazine column, I tend toward suspense novels for pleasure reading as well. Every now and then I sneak in a bit of travel literature, or some classic I have missed along the way, but for the most part it is mysteries that occupy my nightstand and briefcase at any given time.

As there are so many authors out there, and so many books to read, I sometimes get a bit overwhelmed, especially when I discover a writer in mid-series. If it is somebody really good, I want to go back and read his or her previous novels. So, for the past couple of weeks, as I wait for my new box of books from BookPage, I have been catching up on some of the “missing links” from a couple of my long-time favorites.

First up is Giles Blunt, whose novels featuring Ontario cops John Cardinal and Lise Delorme have crossed my desk on numerous occasions, most recently with his 2002 book, Forty Words for Sorrow (the title being an allusion to the Eskimo people, of whom it is said that they have some forty words for snow), which called out to me from a remainder table at the Charlottetown Indigo bookstore. To the best of my admittedly sieve-like recollection, the last time I reviewed a Giles Blunt novel was for the June 2005 issue of BookPage. That book was Black Fly Season, and it was the Mystery of the Month (over such luminaries as Jeffery Deaver, Theresa Monsour and John Connolly!). In closing, the review noted: “All the genre superlatives apply here: taut, gripping, visceral, riveting (not to mention that the book appears just in time for black fly season).” Forty Words for Sorrow predates Black Fly Season by a few years, just as Lise Delorme is assigned as partner to John Cardinal. What Cardinal does not know is that Delorme is quietly investigating him regarding compromising information leaks to Ontario’s premier criminal, a slippery character who has thus far foiled every attempt to bring him to justice; it seems that Cardinal has been spending well beyond his means, and Delorme intends to find out how.

Giles Blunt has built up a considerable fan base, both at home in Canada and abroad. Fellow writer Jonathan Kellerman said of him: “He writes with uncommon grace, style and compassion, and he plots like a demon…” Val McDermid adds: “A taut and enthralling tale that is as dark as the Canadian winter setting is cold. Humane, intelligent and gripping…” The award societies agree: Blunt has won both the British Crime Writers Silver Dagger Award and the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award for best novel. If you like Ian Rankin or John Connolly, give Blunt a try; you will not be disappointed. Meanwhile, I will seek out one last book of his that I have missed thus far…

The second novel in my recent acquisitions list is the third installment of John Burdett’s gripping series featuring Buddhist detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, Bangkok Haunts.

The last time I checked, there were four books in the series, this one and Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, and The Godfather of Kathmandu. I have reviewed the other three for BookPage, and each time they won the Mystery of the Month, perhaps an unprecedented event in BookPage lore. In fact, of his most recent book, The Godfather of Kathmandu, I noted: “I pity any Mystery of the Month contender who has to go up against John Burdett; it is almost as if they should consider releasing their books in a different month.” I was surprised to see the review, in its entirety, on John Burdett’s website, when I did a quick search on Google:  It is good to see that the authors are paying attention!

I had been meaning to pick up Bangkok Haunts for some time, but book prices in Japan and Canada conspired to keep me from getting it until a recent trip stateside (the US price for the hard cover edition is $24.99, which for some unknown reason translates to $32 Canadian, never mind that the US and Canadian dollars are about at par, and over $60 worth of Japanese yen at a Tokyo bookstore; go figure…). That said, it would have been worth either of those prices, and it would have won the Mystery of the Month hands down, but somehow it eluded my grasp at the time and never got reviewed.

You should read this series in order, as there are frequent references to people and events from previous books, but that should present no hardship to the devout mystery aficionado. Burdett’s books are a pleasure in all regards: pacing, plot development, originality, characters, dialog, and surprise twists. He is one of but a handful of authors whose work I would cheerfully pay my own money for, perhaps the highest compliment a reviewer can give.


Pavement Patty

September 9, 2010

One doesn’t think of Canada as being on the cutting edge of anything except perhaps political correctness, and its kissin’ cousin, politeness, but a recent news story out of British Columbia suggests that our northern neighbo(u)r may be leading the pack with regard to high-tech speed limit enforcement: the virtual pedestrian. It seems that the good townsfolk of West Vancouver, BC, dissatisfied with the policing effects of the low-tech old standby, the speed bump, have upped the ante on scofflaws by painting a weirdly wonderful trompe-l’oeil mural of sorts on the pavement adjacent to a local school, depicting a young child chasing a ball into the street. As the driver approaches the painting, it appears to “rise up” off the surface of the street, an effect not unlike the painted eyes of a portrait “following” the viewer around the viewing room. For a remarkable visual demonstration on just how effective an illusion this is, have a look at this short video on YouTube:

The girl in the video is nicknamed “Pavement Patty,” no doubt an allusion to her two-dimensionality (think “hamburger patty”). Discover magazine had this to say about PP: “In what sounds like a terrifying experience, the girl’s elongated form appears to rise from the ground as cars approach, reaching 3D realism at around 100 feet, and then returning to 2D distortion once cars pass that ideal viewing distance. Its designers created the image to give drivers who travel at the street’s recommended 18 miles per hour (30 km per hour) enough time to stop before hitting Pavement Patty—acknowledging the spectacle before they continue to safely roll over her.”

Note that last: “…before they continue to safely roll over her.” Now there’s a concept that merits some discussion, or at least a bit of forethought. A tongue-in-cheek observation from hits the mark, no pun intended: “Nothing promotes vehicular safety like desensitizing the act of running over children with your car. I’m sure this will end well.” Certainly there is the potential of Three Stooges scenarios in which one driver slams on the brakes to avoid hitting the “child”, setting off a chain reaction of rear-end collisions; the drivers of the second-through-the-umpteenth cars would see no looming danger, as flat Patty would be effectively blocked from their vision by the first vehicle in the line. It’d be a hoot to watch, though. Conversely, might drivers who become used to Patty and her soon-to-be-ubiquitous playmates inadvertently neglect to slow down for a real child? British Columbia Automobile Association Traffic Safety Foundation Spokesperson (does he really fit all that onto a standard business card?) David Dunne brooks no such balderdash: “It’s a static image. If a driver can’t respond to this appropriately, that person shouldn’t be driving, and that’s a whole different problem.” Well, harrumph, David! Me, I’m going to look on eBay and see if I can find a vintage bumper sticker from my halcyon hippie days: “Warning! I brake for hallucinations.”