Recently Read: Murder, Melding Worlds, and a Soothing Mug of Bush Tea

Mysteries, with and without murder, and the penultimate volume in the Dark Tower series.

HERE ARE A FEW of the books I’ve read purely for entertainment in the past few weeks. I’ve read, or am reading, others for more serious purposes, but I’ll list them separately at another time.

Two by Charles Todd

An Impartial Witness: A Bess Crawford Mystery (Bess Crawford Mysteries) and Legacy of the Dead (Inspector Ian Rutledge Mysteries),both by Charles Todd (who is apparently actually a mother-son team of writers). These are murder mystery novels set around the time of World War I in England, the protagonist of the first being a young nurse busy patching up the wounded behind the lines in France (but getting plenty of leave in England, which facilitates her sleuthing). The second takes place immediately after the war and features a Scotland Yard detective recovering from shell shock and suffering from guilt after having to shoot a non-com for cowardice during the long, dehumanizing slog of trench warfare. The personality of the dead man continues to haunt Inspector Rutledge and offers running commentary on his investigations. Both these series are well-written; the author(s) know how to add details, turns, and unexpected revelations in a way that seems natural and reflects realistic human psychology.

Stephen King’s Dark Tower series

Stephen King Song of Susannah Dark Tower VI

Song of Susannah (Dark Tower VI), by Stephen King, the penultimate in his Dark Tower series. I’m currently working my way through the series for the second time (I first read them about ten years ago), after reading a notice recently that King is about to publish yet another novel connected to this series — not carrying on from the last one, but filling in details of a crucial period in the early life of the gunslinger, Roland Deschaines. This series (or serial novel) is a strange mixture of alternate universe sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and metafiction that seems to be an attempt on King’s part both to get all of his stories out of his head and also to see how they all fit together, perhaps even to understand the nature of story-telling. I’m not generally a Stephen King fan (I find him crude and shallow), but there are a number of things about this strange saga that appeal to me enough to get me past the more distasteful aspects of his writing.

Mysteries of Life in Botswana

Big Tent Wedding Party, Alexander McCall Smith

Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party , the most recent in Alexander McCall Smith‘s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series about Precious Ramotswe, the first and only lady detective in Botswana. Although the protagonist is a detective, these are not murder mysteries or even, really, crime novels — Mma Ramotswe does not accept cases involving serious criminal activity, and she prefers to settle her cases in such a way that the evil consequences of wrongdoing are minimized for all parties involved (even the wrongdoer). I find her very warm and charming, and her faith in people very refreshing. Ultimately these novels are not so much about the cases being investigated as they are about the lives and foibles of the protagonist, her friends, and family. I like the sympathetic portrayal of Botswana and its people, very different from the impression given of many other African countries in news stories. I read the twelve novels in the series back to back, as they became available from the local public library, and was afraid when I read this installment that it would be the last — a number of plot lines that have been drawn out over several volumes are finally tied up — but it seems I’ll get to enjoy at least one more installment, when no. 13, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, appears next month. Smith has several other series going, and I’ve read one or two from each of them, but find none of them as captivating as these stories of ordinary people, and the troubles they get into, in Botswana.

Almost all of these books I’ve acquired at no cost through the electronic lending arm of the local public library (which I love, not least because it’s impossible to accumulate late charges). With easy access to the catalog of digital books available I can get a pretty good idea of what is popular among the general reading public (at least those who rely on the library), and I must say it’s appalling what kind of trash many readers seem to prefer these days. The novels I’ve listed above are among the better offerings, however, and I would recommend them to others.

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