Rock the Casbah

So, I finished inputting the line edit of my WIP. It went for 101, 276 words to 72, 545. Gulp. I literally sliced a little more than a quarter of the manuscript out, but that’s fine. I think it needs to be slightly over eighty thousand as an optimum, and I have some things I need to add. I am going to print it out one last time (this old school stuff seems to work best for me) and sit down and read it, making notes as I go on where things need to be added. With any luck, on October 1 I’ll start sending out the queries. Wish me luck, Constant Reader!

I should start drafting the query letter, I suppose.

In other drama, someone side-swiped my new car (well, bought it in January) in the parking lot at the office this morning. To add insult to injury, when they backed out of their spot they dragged the front edge of the car along the side of mine–which means they knew they’d hit it/brushed against it, and continued to back up, dragging their front edge against my car, the slimy ass motherfuckers. Of course, they left no note.

Don’t think I won’t be checking the front corners of those kidnap/rape white cans for gray paint every day for the next week or so. They’d best set their van on fire, if they know what’s good for them.

I also finished reading Louise Penny’s Still Life last night.

still life

Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all round. Miss Neal’s was not a natural death, unless you’re of the belief everything happens as it’s supposed to. If so, for her seventy-six years Jane Neal had been walking toward this final moment when death met her in the brilliant maple woods on the verge of the village of Three Pines. She’d fallen spread-eagled, as though making angels in the bright and brittle leaves.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec knelt down; his knees cracking like the report of a hunter’s rifle, his large, expressive hands hovering over the tiny circle of blood marring her fluffy cardigan, as though like a magician he could remove the wound and restore the woman. But he could not. That wasn’t his gift. Fortunately for Gamache he had others. The scent of mothballs, his grandmother’s perfume, met him halfway. Jane’s gentle and kindly eyes stared as though surprised to see him.

I became part of a discussion on Facebook the other day on whether Louise Penny’s readership–which is quite large–was either male or female. I had not, at the time, read any of Ms. Penny’s work; but I had a paperback copy of her first novel, Still Life, in my TBR pile. I also knew Ms. Penny was quite successful–had hit number one on the New York Times list, been nominated for every possible crime writing award and had won any number of them, and had recently won the Pinckley Prize here in New Orleans (previous winners included Laura Lippman–who was the first recipient–and Sara Paretsky). Any number of people whose opinions I respected were fans, and she got excellent reviews everywhere. I am always a little reluctant to come to the party late–I believe she has twelve or thirteen titles out, and as is my wont, I tend to be hyper-critical of things that have achieved great popularity before I’ve turned my attention to them; it’s a moral failing of which I am quite aware.

First novels can also be tricky. The discussion about Ms. Penny’s readership also veered off, at one point, into a mild debate as to whether her work could be classified as cozy or traditional; there is a distinction between the two categories of crime writing, but it’s also a very fine one; a book can be either, both or neither. I always tend to think of cozies as books with amateur sleuths solving the crime, usually in a small town or village (but not always); traditional do have professionals solving the crime, but aren’t quite as hard-boiled–say, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels. Someone else chimed in to say Ms. Penny wrote procedurals, yet another distinction within the field; procedurals obviously have professionals solving the crime and take the reader through police procedure.

Still Life defies categorization; I can only define what I’ve read, after all, and one novel doesn’t give one the ability to officially classify a writer as anything, but this novel seemed, to me, to be both traditional and procedural; the crime-solver is a Surete police detective in Quebec, Armand Gamache, and the book does rather follow his procedure in solving the murder of Miss Neal–shot with an arrow. It also is the story of the village of Three Pines, a close-knit community which is surprisingly diverse for such a small village in the woods in Quebec, close to the American border–there is a black woman who runs the bookstore, and a gay couple who run the B & B which also doubles as a bistro and antique shop. Three Pines is actually a very charming little town, and the book itself is also charming…but it’s not as soft-boiled as these small town mysteries often are.

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple was also charming, an old spinster who knitted and was kind, but also was a keen-eyed observer of human nature and the goings-on in her small town, St. Mary Mead, and those observations always had a touch of acid in them; Ms. Penny’s characterizations are very similar to those. At first, the way the narrative jumped around and would suddenly give you another character’s point of view for merely a paragraph was just a bit annoying, but as I continued to read on, I realized these sudden shifts were bits where she was defining the character for the reader–and she was doing it masterfully–a few short sentences about that person’s reactions to what was going on at the moment and how their personality, who they were as a person, shaped that reaction; it gave the reader insight into a character that never faltered throughout the rest of the book. Her unpleasant characters were very unpleasant indeed, and the more time you spent with those unpleasant people the less you liked them; even if you felt a bit of sympathy for them in the beginning, she eventually showed you more and more of them until you realized what monsters they truly were. The character of the victim’s niece Yolande was one of these; another was a member of the investigation team, Agent Nichol, whose arrogance and narcissism soon became so unbearable that her final come-uppance was enormously satisfying, even as she failed to learn from it and soon justified it as not being the result of her own failing, but Gamache’s.

Quite monstrous and unsympathetic, indeed.

One of the most interesting things to me about the book–which makes me curious to read more of Ms. Penny’s work–was that the book in and itself, the way it was written, how the story played out, etc., reminded me of Fair Day, the painting Miss Neal had entered into for consideration for an art show in the story. Miss Neal’s art was always seen as primitive at first by the viewer, but the more you looked at it the more it made sense until suddenly the viewer realized that Miss Neal was, in fact, quite genius. At first, the way the story and point of view jumped around seemed disjointed and almost amateurish in its story-telling; but the more time I spent with it I realized it was impressionistic art–once you start seeing the entire story, you realize how clever and brilliant it really is.

And while I was happy to find out the secrets of Three Pines, I was also sorry to finish the book. I certainly enjoyed my visit there, as did Inspector Gamache, and look forward to a return trip.

3 thoughts on “Rock the Casbah

  1. Good luck with the W.I.P! Hope they catch the ^%$!!! who messed-up your car! (I park in the driveway because the kid across the street,we call him “Speed Racer,” once wrecked two cars in a week, once while turning into the street as a matter of fact!) Haven’t read any Penny, my TBR pile is at a frightening height!


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