Thursday, January 20, 2011

Floating bodies - two mysteries - two series

This past week, our book club discussed a mystery written by a local Maine author. At the same time I was reading that one, I was also finally getting around to reading one of the latest mysteries by another author set in North Carolina. At the beginning of each of these books, female protagonists- professional women in fields other than police work-discover a body floating in the water. Both of these women choose to insert themselves into the police investigations of these deaths. Both endure scorn, physical danger, and ultimate success in their quest. There the similarity ends. One book, the 2nd in a relatively new series is just plain awful, the other, the 17th in a continually maturing saga is a treat to read on many levels.

Author: Linda Greenlaw
Publisher/Format: Hyperion (2007), Hardcover, 272 pages
Characters: Jane Bunker, Nick Dow, Clyde Leeman
Subject: Murder
Setting: Green Haven Maine
Series: Jane Bunker mysteries
Genre: mystery - amateur detective
Source: my shelves

The book club chose this because they wanted to read a Maine author, they wanted to read a mystery, and this one fit the bill.  Just barely.  Linda Greenlaw is well known here in Maine for her non-fiction works: The Lobster Chronicles, The Hungry Ocean, and her newest one Seaworthy, to name a few.  These are excellent well-written books about a subject she knows well-- deep sea fishing and lobstering.

So it was terribly disappointing to read a poorly plotted, cardboard caricatured 'mystery' story that reads like a high school freshman's first attempt at creative writing.  Everyone in the group agreed that the writing was poor- she was just trying way too hard. It was an excellent example of using 15 words when 3 would have done just fine.   I had visions of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone and her landlord Henry, visions of the Perfect Storm, visions of James Maverick and Flo ("Mel..kiss my grits") from Alice all tumbled together in a search for a killer under the guise of insurance company inspections.  Jane Bunker comes across as an immature, petulant, spineless wonder who can't seem to find herself, and who is too dim-witted to try.

I live in a small town in Maine, and I realize we may not have our own police force, but we have at least enough brains to know when to contact the county and/or state authorities, and we sure would have done so in this instance.  Nowhere in this book did I see the authorities called to investigate a suspicious death. 

Oh it was painful....particularly when I was also reading

Author: Margaret Maron
Publisher/Format:Grand Central Publishing (2009), Hardcover, 304 pages Characters: Judge Deborah Knott, Chelsea Anne Pierce, Detective Gary Edwards
Subject: murder
Setting: Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach NC
Series: Deborah Knott Mysteries
Genre: amateur detective mystery
Source: ARC from publisher (2009)

First of all, I'll say that this book did get reviewed earlier when I received it from the publisher - I had a friend who did a marvelous guest review back in September 2009.  I finally had a chance to get to it, and I'm only sorry I waited so long.  As I said above, I was immediately struck by the similarities of how the main problem was set up in each book.  A body floating in the water.  Ok...yeah....there the similarities end.  Judge Deborah Knott is a sophisticated, well-defined character who has grown on us over the series. Her ability to decide when it is appropriate to insert herself into an investigation, when to take risks, when to involve the police, when to use feminine wiles, and when to use her considerable powers of observations and deduction is sharp, well-honed, and just enough on the edge to keep the reader guessing.

Using the backdrop of the annual judicial convention in the state, Maron gives us a an entire convention of possible suspects, keeps us guessing, and keeps us entertained with exquisite vistas of rolling ocean waves, summer storms, and sand dunes.

Greenlaw on the other hand, tries to give us a techno-drama worthy of Sebastian Junger's Perfect Storm by providing an incredibly detailed (i.e., lose the reader in minutiae) description of one of the most un-believable (as in no way am I believing this one!) scenes of mayhem ever written.

I don't normally read two books in such similar genres at the same time.  In this instance, I'm glad I did. It really clarified the good and the bad in mystery writing.  I hope Linda Greenlaw continues to write her well-researched non-fiction.  She gives us an understanding of the world of fishing that few can do better.  But perhaps she should leave the dark and stormy nights to Snoopy.


  1. These reviews will come in handy when I look for authors for my mystery challenge. I didn't know Greenlaw did mysteries but I have seen Maron. Thanks!

  2. Excellent comparison review, Tina. Now I think it's time to put Sand Sharks on my wish list.

  3. I thoroughly agree with you about Maron, and Sand Sharks was just as good as any of her others. I like the way our favorite judge has evolved through the years and I'm always amused at her family and its history.

  4. I read the first Greenlaw will be my last.

    It is funny...I have read all her non-fiction and it is excellent. Well written, interesting...and her fiction seems like someone else wrote it. It is hard to believe she thought it was good....
    you are right. It was painful, especially since I had high hopes for it.


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