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moving under skies

NYRB Classics collector. Reads anything, so long as it's good. Sometimes historian. Frequently grumpy:  you've been warned. Also at aliceunderskies.tumblr.com. 

Welcoming summer with British mysteries

The Child's Child - Barbara Vine The Black Tower - P.D. James

Because British mysteries are a lifelong favorite subgenre of mine, it seemed like a good idea to welcome in my summer break reading with a few comfort reads. I have been slowly (re)reading P.D. James' oeuvre since her death last fall; after Ruth Rendell's recent passing, I thought I would try her as well. They were a perfectly acceptable way to spend some time, but neither was stellar. 


The James was fine--I do love Dalgliesh, and it was nice to see him in a different context, weakened and self-doubting--but I read it over a very long period of time, which diminished the novel very much. I actually began this back at the end of April but got too busy to finish it; by the time I picked it up again, I'd forgotten a lot of the set-up and so the mystery didn't pace out correctly. My fault. Even without reading it wrong, I would only rank this in the middle of the series. 


As for The Child's Child, I hope it was just a bad choice for my first Rendell/Vine. It wasn't awful--I read it in an evening, and it kept my attention--but neither was it great. The balance between past and present was off, and the whole thing was rather heavy-handed in its themes, though I did find some of the character evolutions within the far superior novel-within-a-novel compelling. At first, I was quite excited by the frame story, which features a young woman who is writing her thesis on unmarried mothers in British literature. It reminded me pleasantly of something like Byatt, and I was thrilled to see where it would take me. Unfortunately, this was hardly developed at all, just left to be one of those heavy-handed thematic parallels and was the only bit of character building that the narrator of the frame received. There was a curious lack of convincing emotion throughout the whole frame story that I do not think was intentional. It damaged the book. 


I've already moved on to the next Dalgliesh book, which isn't catching my attention yet. I do hope to give Rendell/Vine another try, but next time I will choose more carefully and try to find one of her best so that I can judge more fairly if she matches my taste.