Book Notes: Long-Running Mystery Series

An author of mystery series always runs into the problem of writing more slowly than the time runs. The detective that the series revolves around simply gets too old to do any detecting long before the author is ready to retire.

Some authors simply pretend that human chronology doesn’t exist. This is the case with Elizabeth George who’s been writing for two decades about characters that have aged just a few years in the meantime. It’s all pretty weird given that the technology changes massively while the characters seem frozen in time.

Other writers try to transition to younger lead characters. This almost always fails. One such writer is John Lescroart whose recent novel Poison I finished today. Lescroart had tried to ditch his series’ protagonist Dismas Hardy for a young character Wyatt Hunt. The result was so bad that Lescroart is now back with Hardy, even though the poor fellow is well into his sixties. Because of the smart move of going back to the old and trusty Hardy, the novel is quite good. But not as good as the series was in its heyday.

Lisa Gardner’s Look for Me that I also just finished revolves around detective DD Warren who is one of those extremely typical heroines of female procedurals. She’s a manly gruff workaholic who suddenly remembers how old she is at the exact age of 39, gets married, has a kid, and then spends the next five million novels avoiding the painful need to spend any time with the husband and the child. There are so many such characters that I keep getting confused among them. But in spite of all this, Gardner’s most recent novel is enormously better than her horrible Find Her where a character gets repeatedly raped inside a wooden box for 350 endless pages.

The author who pleasantly surprised me with her effort to transition from an aged series protagonist is Aleksandra Marinina. The Russian author has recently published Cost of the Issue where she shrewdly displaced attention from the lead detective to exploring a specific theme her readers might find more interesting than any character.

I also recently finished her 3-volume Return Power. The first volume was do horrifically bad that I didn’t even finish it. But the second volume is the most powerful writing this author has ever done. I always avoid any novels or movies about the Holocaust because they all massively collectively stink. But somehow Marinina managed to come up with a novelistic treatment of the Holocaust that is actually good.

I have two more releases by mystery writers to catch up on. OK, it’s actually three but one is not a series, so it doesn’t count.

Nationalism and Nostalgia

On our way to the citizenship ceremony, N and I drove past a huge factory. I’m from the Soviet Union, so I find enormous factories very aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating.

“This is solid capital,” I said pointing to the factory. “And we are agents of fluidity, whizzing by on our way to yet another citizenship.”

When nationalism first arose in the 19th century, a huge part of its appeal was that it helped people articulate and legitimize the nostalgia they felt for the time before modernity uprooted, destroyed and swept away. Then, as now, the progressive forces unanimously rejected nationalism and scoffed at the antiquated country bumpkins who chose their bond with the neighbor over that with the international proletariat.

The inventors of nationalism very shrewdly turned it backwards towards the exaltation of the familiar. And the internationalist forces lost, every single time. Even Stalin realized that the only way to defeat Hitler was to being back the vocabulary and the imagery of nationalism. (And he did, and it worked.)