The Dying Detective: Swedish Mysteries for the Win

Not to be confused with the Conan Doyle mystery, Leif Persson’s The Dying Detective takes on a 25 year old murder case and the dying detective who will solve it. In the opening chapter our protagonist and detective-hero, Lars Martin Johansson, has a stroke. While in his hospital bed he is asked to solve the cold case of a murdered girl. Disregarding medical advice, he sets about investigating. Lots of phone calls, some strange encounters with socialist-medicine-helpers and an unrelenting (and perplexing) desire to eat herring ensue.

It is in keeping with the genre of Swedish mystery novels (is that a genre? whatever) in equal parts silly and totally absorbing. I had the book with me at the doctor’s office, and my doctor asked whether it would be entertaining enough to keep her captive after a long shift and while her children ran around, and I emphatically argued that it would be. It’s the sort of mindless, page-turning nonsense that you want on a long flight, or in a waiting room. I’ll admit I’m tired of reading about (young) women being murdered, but perhaps that’s a complaint to take up with society rather than the author.

So yeah, enjoy on your next flight or don’t, whatever suits.

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The Keep: Spooky

Just in time for Halloween you can grab Jennifer Egan’s excellent modern gothic “The Keep.” Set in a castle complete with ghosts and dungeons, the novel more than nods to its gothic genre. The psychological suspense of wandering the line between the real and imagined is the stuff of spooky nightmares without actually being all that scary.

Egan proves again to be masterful in the writing, hooking the reader from page one and off we go.

I freely admit this is a boring review. Deal with it.

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Seven Fallen Feathers

Reading Seven Fallen Feathers was tough. Not only because it engages with the history and present of colonialism and genocide, or because of its methodical attention to the ways the Canadian state continues to underfund education on reserves in ways that replicate structures of residential schools (isolation from family and community), but because it drove home for me how completely I’ve been avoiding doing any of the work of reconciliation I need to be doing.

I’ve long thought “oh I should read the compete text of the TRC report” or “I should find out more about rates of I incarceration of indigenous people,” or or and or. And I haven’t. Not for a good reason and certainly for bad reasons: I’ve thought it wasn’t my responsibility. Or not my priority. Or that I’d missed an earlier opportunity and now it was too late and – and I’m ashamed to say this – that I was too proud to admit how very much I don’t know. Like I wanted people to think I was suitably progressive and to say all the right things and be a good lefty social justice human without doing any of the work to actually live those ideals out.

Reading this book hasn’t changed much of this feeling. It does offer an impressively comprehensive and synthesized consideration of the intersections of many threads: missing and murdered indigenous women, the Indian Act, residential schools, treaty rights and intergenerational trauma. And I have some greater understanding as a consequence, but for me what it did best was to call me in to the living present of colonialism and my contribuatory role. Of not letting me get away with shifting responsibility or pretending not to know (or care).

So yeah. I have some work to do. And if you’re reading this with any resonance with my feelings pre-reading, I can’t urge you with enough pep to read this one.

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Bridges of Madison County: Romance makes me a bad judge of novels

It took my book club people expressing total surprise that I liked Bridges of Madison County for me to reflect on why I liked it. I kept saying ‘but it’s good writing’ and they were like… no. They read a few passages out loud. They reminded me of the repeated references to peregrines and the representation of men as total wood-smoke masculinity. And I blushed. They were right. The writing is excessive. The representation of masculinity is problematic. The commitment to soul-mate-love is unbelievable.

And yet.

I liked it. I liked the frame narrative and its efficacy in trapping me into believing the reality of the fiction. I liked the romance of the relationship with its intensity and improbability and sacrifice. I recognized the limitations of this romance – of course any relationship that lasts for a week can be idealized for the rest of your life, you never have to deal with mortgage payments or diapers or redistributing emotional labour – but still found it compelling and heartbreaking.

So yeah. It’s problematic and not brilliant writing. And I still liked it. Plus it took like ten minutes to read, so there’s that.

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