Lessons from My Reading

M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.

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Monday, May 4, 2015

To Cozy or Not to Cozy -- Aaron Elkins "Dying on the Vine"

Dying on the Vine (Gideon Oliver Series #17)    Was reading a perfectly good cozy mystery--by a new author, to me, which I eventually finished with enjoyment. But...the family book exchange interrupted that read. A recent paperback by Aaron Elkins, Dying on the Vine, landed on my dining room table/desk. Of course, I had to take a peek.

   Now, I think of Elkins as a forensics mystery writer, featuring one of my favorite disciplines--physical anthropology. But that isn't what hooked me. The depiction of an old Italian man facing a difficult decision about his four sons' inheriting the family winery did. Yeah, Dying on the Vine began like most cozies--with a description of a bunch of interesting characters. Only Elkins doesn't use first person viewpoint. He uses third, and his stories are based on science.

   Elkins' sleuth, Gideon Oliver, the Skeleton Detective, doesn't appear until page 36 after the old man's body had been found along with the corpse of his missing wife. Voila! Two skeletons to puzzle over until the murder was solved with gobs of info on the tales a bunch of bones can tell. Plus the reader gets a nice tour of Florence, Italy and surroundings, especially the noshing possibilities.

   Then, for the heck of it, I did some research and discovered Elkins writes cozies, at least according to Wikipedia's definition: "Cozy mysteries, also referred to simply as cozies, are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community." Nothing like having your preconceptions knocked upside-down.

   How can you have a mystery without some violence? After all, most mysteries solve a murder or a conspiracy that includes a lot of deaths. Cozies merely shoved the violence off-screen or ends right after the victim is confronted by the perp, and death might be inevitable. Yeah, there are exceptions, but the generalization holds from my reading.

   Same goes for sex among the long-marrieds. It probably happens, but it's off-scene. The fire of anticipation common in many kick-ass mysteries/fantasies is also missing. There's not even any hand-holding, that I remember.

   Almost as absent as sex was the growth in the main and secondary characters. In fact, this depiction of Lau, Oliver's sidekick, often fell into caricature. I felt his purpose was to make some dumb, somewhat funny, comment to reduce the tension rather than offer a new insight to solving the puzzle. Actually, there wasn't that much tension in the book, even at the end--no showdown with the perp or bringing the suspects into the drawing room to nail down the guilty.

All that said, I recommend the book. It's a relaxing, light, well-paced, well-plotted puzzle. Elkins' skills as a writer keep the storyline moving. And, you'll learn more about bones than you ever thought you wanted to. 

You can read a sample and more reviews of Dying on the Vine

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Interesting Links on the Importance of Storylines

 The Passive Guy, one of my gurus, pointed me to an interesting article in the New Statesman about the importance of story, a commentary on a book by Agatha Christie. You might check it out, especially if reading means you like to immerse yourself in a book.

What kind of experience do you look for from your reading experience?
What annoys you?
Me? I hate to read in dibbles and dabs, but it seems to be what I'm doing lately.


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Writing Accomplishments

   Think ignoring social media is paying off a bit. Got all the guest blogs and interviews done for a Blog Tour for The Ghostcrow. The e-story was published in March. What can I say but "I'm slow"?  I've gotten some nice reviews for my stories from other blog tours I tried. Hopefully, this one will provide the same. So far it's doing better than Doom Comes for a Sold Soul. Makes me wonder if longer stories get better reviews than short stories. Any one else have some experiences to share?

    More important, I got my revisions off to my critique group for On the Road. Not only am I transferring the already written story line to the new character, Pillar, but I'm seeing why the guys said it wasn't working. I've also shortened the chapters. Instead of running around 3000 words, they're coming in between 1500 and 2200 words.

   Translation: It means I'm avoiding one of my biggest complaints about reading late at night when I want to "read just one more chapter". I find myself reading for 45 minutes instead of 20. Grrrrrrrrrrr.

I may actually get back to Go Daddy and get my website mechanics fixed.
Wish me luck. You'll get a new snippet of my revisions of On the Road.

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