I’ve read 3 books since the start of October, one was a short novella that was supposed to be a taut futuristic thriller—Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds—and let me tell you, it was anything but. I followed this up with two crime fiction novels. Of the two novels one was exemplary while the other, well, wasn’t.
Let’s start with Overkill (2019) a debut novel by NZ author, Vanda Symon, which was less than stellar, to say the least. The story features Sam Shepherd, a feisty young rookie cop, or so we’re told. However, the more I read about her the less I liked her. For me at least, she came across as whiney, petulant, and prone to fits of temper—she threw her phone … a lot!
After a while, this kind of behaviour becomes tiresome. Add in a cast of secondary characters that had about as much depth as the paper they were printed on, and a story full of plot holes, and it became dull very quickly. Worse, the author was want to lead the reader to conclusions, rather than let the reader come across them organically. And let me tell you, there is nothing more frustrating than being spoon-fed a narrative.
The other thing I found unnecessary was the need for a prologue centred around a nasty murder, which seem to be all about the shock value. It just read like hollow violence given how staid and boring the rest of the book was.
All-in-all, this was a plodding police procedural, with little or no depth of story or characters.
In stark contrast, the second crime novel I read, and one that was almost a palate cleanser, was Bitter Medicine (1987) by one of my go-to authors, Sara Paretsky. Her V. I. Warshawski detective series just goes from strength to strength. Each story is always so well-plotted and peopled with characters that really come across as fleshed out and always, all too human.
In Bitter Medicine, V. I. or, Vic to her friends, is wading her way—as usually—through a mess of leads over a fatal death of a pregnant young woman in hospital and the subsequent death of one of the doctors who treated her. I love how Paretsky takes the reader up and down the emotional highway, as Vic checks out one lead after another, piecing together how it was that Consuelo Alvarez, and her new born baby died. And how the brutal murder of Dr. Malcolm Tregiere ties in, if at all.
Of course, V. I. never solves the puzzle alone. She always relies on some great secondary characters to help her out along the way in the guise of her mentor, Dr. Lotty Herschel—who runs a women’s clinic in one of the poor areas of Chicago—and her reporter friend Murray Ryerson. Both are wonderfully written.
If you like your detectives smart-talking, hard-boiled, and female, then you can’t go wrong with a V. I. Warshawski novel.