Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Road Rage and other Recent Reads

Baroness Rendell of Babergh, aka Ruth Rendell has finally roped me in completely. I will be reading my way through all of the books of hers our library has on its shelves.
Road Rage is one of her Inspector Wexford novels, published in 1997, the same year Ms. Rendell was made a life peer. (She sits in the House of Lords for Labour.) There are twenty-two Inspector Wexford novels. The 22nd said to be the last. At first I felt I should read them in order, then discovered I really didn't have to. Road Rage is #17. Reading some of the earlier works is sometimes confusing, as in: "Why don't they just check for DNA?" or "Why don't they just call the airport and have TSA hold the suspect?" As long as I remember what decade the book is set in, I do alright helping solve the crimes.

I am guilty of picking up a book based on the cover picture. "Don't judge a book by its cover" doesn't always apply. Happily, I have found a new author this way. The cover of Nancy Pickard's The Scent of Rain and Lightning shows a young woman walking down a road between wheat fields into the dark clouds of a storm.
The fact that the book is set in the ranch country of Kansas also appealed to me. Ever since my niece, Lorrie, told me about Monument Rocks in west central Kansas, I've wanted to see them for myself. These chalk pyramids in Gove County are renamed 'Testament Rocks' in the book and the county becomes Henderson, but the setting added to my reading pleasure.

Enjoying the first book I read of hers sent me back for a second: The Virgin of Small Plains; another book set in Kansas. This time in another area I would like to explore rather than just drive through a corner of: the famous Flint Hills. Two of my all time favourite books share being set in the Flint Hills - William Least Heat-Moon's PrairyErth and Janice Graham's Firebird.

These two books of Pickards are mysteries, but they are so much more than that. Pickard captures the essence of rural and small town middle America. She delves into the dark secrets of families and the "good old boys" network that contrives to keep their own out of trouble. Her lyrical prose is beautiful; her characters are so human I found myself comparing them to people I knew in my own small town.

Ms. Pickard is also author of the Jenny Cain mystery series, one of which I grabbed on that second library run: her seventh in the series - I.O.U. At first I wasn't sure I cared for Jenny Cain, but the more I got into the book, the better I liked her. I.O.U. is set in Port Frederick, Massachusetts, but it looks like some of the others are set in Kansas. I will try one of those to see if I really want to read more Jenny Cain adventures.

Liking a character can really affect whether or not you like a book. Remember how I didn't care for Return to Sullivans Island last month even though I had loved its predecessor, Sullivans Island, as well as other Dorothea Benton Frank books? I read Frank's Lowcountry Summer, the sequel to her Plantation and liked it as well as I did Plantation. I realized Frank's writing style is the same, so it has to be the difference in lead characters.

I have a couple more books to report, but I will save them to include with the two I am currently reading. I hope our winter is giving you time for a good read or two.

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