Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Books, August 15, 2008

Adrian McKinty is the author of The Dead Yard and Bloomsday Dead. His choice:

Thus Was Adonis Murdered

by Sarah Caudwell.

Neither Thus Was Adonis Murdered nor any of Sarah Caudwell's other books are currently in print in the United States. Thus Was Adonis Murdered was the first in her series of four novels about a group of young crime solving barristers at London's Lincoln's Inn.

The story is narrated by legal academic Hilary Tamar who helps solve the mystery. I'm not going to provide any plot spoilers but I will say that the title tells you pretty much all you need to know at this stage.

Sarah Caudwell (1939 - 2000) was herself a lawyer who lived in London, part of the famous English Cockburn clan of journalists, writers and politicians.

There is little blood and violence in Caudwell's books, but they are certainly not cozies. They are far too sly and intelligent and, in their own way, dark for that. She understands people the way few novelists do. She has an almost outsider's perspective, looking with a gentle smile on the foibles of the human race from some benevolent Archimedean point in space.

Perhaps she is out of print because most of her plots involve arcane aspects of trusts, inheritance or tax law (no dont stop reading!) but they are laced through with a light touch and a rich humor that the non specialist will enjoy. If you are a lawyer and you wonder why your life isn't quite like The Pelican Brief, read Sarah Caudwell. She nails the blackletter nitty gritty of what it means to pratice law; the tedium, the lock picking intricacy of a case and the intellectual pleasure that comes from seeing something that no one else has spotted in a judgement or a brief.

Caudwell's prose is like that too. Oh so careful, oh so finely balanced, oh so quietly hilarious. If you like tight plots and clever people and you sometimes wonder why they don't make 'em like His Girl Friday anymore, read Sarah Caudwell and have fun.

Al Tucher writes short fiction for zines such as Muzzleflash. His choice:

Hard Rain by Peter Abrahams

In 1988, when Vietnam was the last war, this tense and intricate thriller satisfied the demands of the genre while ramming home the hideous waste of the war.

Jessie Shapiro, a very appealing protagonist, starts the story sheltered and na├»ve, but she learns fast. That’s good, because when her ex-husband fails to bring her daughter Kate back from a weekend visit, no one else will believe that anything out of the ordinary has happened. Soviet-American espionage rivalries plausibly find their way into the story, and young Kate may pay the price for events that happened before she was born

Hard Rain is a story about bad choices in a time when there weren’t many good ones. I don’t know of many reasons to recommend going back to that era, but this book is one.

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Randy Johnson said...

I was wondering why I wasn't getting any hits. The link is for lesabookcriques.

pattinase (abbott) said...

God, that happens every once in a while. I'll try to fix it. It's like one clings to another.