Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Summer Place (1958)

A Summer Place by Sloan Wilson begins in Pine Island, Maine, and moves midway through the story to a vacation spot in Florida. The author's focus is on the social issues surrounding sexuality and adultery during the 1930s and 50s. He describes how one family, torn apart by divorce, suffers guilt, resentment, and unresolved anger for many years. The pain the characters feel is ameliorated, though, by the fact that Ken Jorgenson's wife Helen is frigid and more interested in money than she is in her marriage, and it's a bit easier for us to forgive Sylvia for her transgression when we learn that her husband Bart Hunter is an advanced alcoholic.

The reader's allegiance, while Ken is building his financial kingdom and Sylvia awaits her punishment, goes to the children, Molly and Johnny, who in their innocence inherit the sins of their parents. They struggle throughout their teenage years amidst their family drama and eventually find their own place in the world, back home where they met on Pine Island.

I recommend this novel because …

1) the casting off of the old caretaker, Todd Hasper, with his evil dog Satan, from the island paradise, at the very end, is overwritten and cruel, but symbolic;

2) these mid-century novels all have a certain elegance of life that escapes us now;

3) and, because the author served in the Coast Guard.

Yes, Sloan Wilson gets it. 

Palm River, Florida, is full of characters who live the boating life. Yachtsmen wave as they take the inland water route down to Miami and parts south. A woman lives on a houseboat and walks her dog every night with a man who dreamed of sailing around the world but decided to settle down instead. Another man, not quite right in his head, keeps a grand piano on his motor boat and anchors out all alone in the river. Molly and Johnny bond romantically while they sail their dinghy farther and farther, eventually capsizing and in need of rescue.

For all of the books I sought out (68 Knots and Adventure on the High Sea) and for all of the books I cannot bring myself to read (Moby Dick), this is the one story that gave me in part what I was looking for … a little bit of the boating life, some glamour, and a nice conclusion. "Well done, and good luck."

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Ice Princess (2003)

From Scandinavian Crime Fiction: Writer Erika Falck returns to her hometown after the funeral of her parents. She finds no solace. Erika is instead met by the news that the body of her childhood friend Alex has been found frozen in an ice cold bath. Her wrists have been slashed, but did Alex really take her own life? In order to deal with the tragedies, and to overcome her writers block, Erika starts working on a memoir (about) her dead friend. The writing process turns into an obsessive interest in Alex and her fate, and soon Erika's research leads her to local detective Patrik Hedstrom. Only when they start working together are they able to find answers, and to unfold the small town's deeply disturbing past.

The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg first drew my attention on the Metro. I don't remember what the advertising poster said but I went so far as to seek the book out with no luck at my local library and bookstore. Time passed and I forgot about the novel until recently when Chuck, a fellow mystery reader, recommended I read it.

Now available via download, The Ice Princess is a good BBC-style mystery with a Swedish village as its backdrop. The mystery itself and the conclusion to the story are satisfying but I can't fully recommend the book without telling you about its multitude of faults, primarily its lack of organization and content editing.

Too many primary characters. 
The most confusing structural problem with The Ice Princess is its lack of a primary character. To whom do I owe my allegiance? Eilert Berg introduces the book as the man who finds the body. Erika Falck follows as the main character who cares about Alex's death. And then suddenly, halfway through the story, Patrik Hedstrom takes over as the detective who drives the story to its conclusion.

This problem with focus is further evidenced by the fact that Goodreads initially called the series the "Patrik Hedstrom books" and now has revised that title to read the "Fjallbacka series." I have read books where there are many people narrating the story but it didn't work easily in this case.

Too many minor characters. 
I know it's a literary device for writers of crime fiction to create an entire village of people so the killer is better hidden from the reader's suspicion but there were just too many minor characters. The inner life for each was well done and interesting to read but I began to feel as if the vignette was more important to the writer than the character was to the story.

Too much information when it comes to romance. 
The budding relationship between Erika and Patrik was central to the story but it was TOO detailed, particularly when it came to underwear choices and the avoidance of urinary tract infections. YUCK. What kind of book is this?

Too many pages in each chapter. 
Hundreds of pages, in fact, with no clear reason for the text division when it finally did occur. Where is this going? I like organization within a book that makes sense and I like a clear place to stop and take a break.

Too chatty.
Overall, the book was satisfying but a big red pencil would have helped it read better. Hopefully as the series continues, Lackberg will have learned how to remove the excess and focus on building her story and characters with more relevant information and less inconsequential detail.