Sunday, December 30, 2012

BooksFirst - January 2012 (NaJuReMoNoMo)

Books Bought
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Kindle)

Books Read
F is For Fugitive by Sue Grafton  
H Is For Homocide by Sue Grafton
I Is For Innocent by Sue Grafton  
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


I'm a collector of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone novels. Sadly, I buy many more than I read, so as part of National Just Read More Novels Month, I resolved to careen through the backlog. As you can see by the Books Read list, I fell woefully short. This does nor reflect poorly on Ms. Grafton, quite the contrary. Her books are well-crafted and require a fair amount of attention to be paid. I know for a fact that I have read the first four of her novels but my memory on the fifth was a bit hazy so I decided to jump to the sixth, F is For Fugitive, just for safe measure. The titular fugitive is a guy who was convicted of a murder and then escapes from prison only to go on the lam again. His relatives hire Kinsey to clear his name but things go awry when new crimes go haywire. For this book, Milhone decamps from her native Santa Teresa to Floral Beach, a small beach town with a lot of dark secrets. Within this Peyton Place-ish enclave there is a lot of history some people would just prefer stayed hidden. Part of the strength of this book and Grafton's novels in general is that all the characters are interesting and complex. They all interact in ways that tie the history of the town together but still make finding the final culprit a challenge and a surprise.

 More linear is H Is For Homocide where Kinsey goes undercover to get the goods on the sociopathic ringleader of an insurance fraud ring. She spends most of the novel just trying to keep from being discovered as she walks a narrow path between keeping her cover and protecting her life. More action oriented than some of the other mysteries, it also seems more prone to random set-ups. Kinsey gets involved when a meeting with a fraud suspect also involves an old school friend and the evening ends in a shoot-out. For there things go even further off the rails. There is also at least one unjustified final twist. I don't know whether it was meant to set up future storylines, but it just seems random.

 For a writer, a series character can be quite restrictive so a little playing with the form is good, but in this case it doesn't really pay-off. In I Is For Innocent, Kinsey is back on her home turf of Santa Teresa investigating an acquitted murder suspect trying to get his dead wife's money. As usually happens there is more than meets the eye and the private investigator Milhone is following up on died under mysterious circumstances as well. The word 'innocent' is used rather ironically because the cast of characters is a little more blue-blooded than usual but still rather despicable. Normally I find the scenes about Kinsey's neighbors and her home life to be boring filler, but this one had a good subplot. Her friend and octogenarian landlord's brother shows up only to start carrying on with the Hungarian diner owner. It's funny and endearing.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is the latest phenomenon. I've been seeing it and its sequels in bookstores for years and have been dismissing it as some sort of cousin to the sexy vampire genre. Needing a quick read on my Kindle for a plane trip, I bit and bought it. It turned out to be many things that were not tropes in the Twilight-ish world I dreaded. It was fast paced. The romance was underplayed, indeed subverted. And the heroine was genuinely an agent of her own destiny.

It was far from flawless though. There are huge plot holes and tons of inconsistencies. The one item which just nagged at me was a nitpick I have with a lot of dystopian fiction and science fiction in general aimed at teenage readers and even older readers. That is that the economics of the post-apocalyptic world make no sense whatsoever. The Capital is this huge post-modern marvel with mind-boggling technology. But its all based on what seems to be a very small base of the outer districts. District 12 doesn't seem like it would support a decent suburb's energy needs let alone an entire country. And what are they doing still mining coal anyways?

There is also way too much lead-up to the Games themselves. It's well over half the book before kids start killing each other. Oddly, the premise of teenagers battling each other to the death is one of the least of my problems. As a plot device and a metaphor I think it works very well. I am totally unfamiliar with the sources people claim it resembles such as The Running Man and Battle Royale, but this sort of set-up goes at least as far back as The Biggest Game and Lord Of The Flies, so there is plenty of prior art to lean on.

I understand that the sequels delve deeper into the politics of the world and I'm a little hesitant to continue on since this was what I found least satisfying.

No comments: