“>It’s been a long time since I’ve read Charlotte MacLeod. I know I have a shelf full of her proto-cozy mysteries, the slightly goofy series or three about unusual people who happen to be capable detectives… I don’t seem to have ever had this particular book. It’s been a very long time, so I don’t remember if the things that bothered me here are endemic in her writing or specific to this outing. I don’t remember being bothered in the past, but I was less tetchy then.
Run-on sentences were everywhere. I mean, uncountable. I mean, comma splices were like passenger pigeons at their height – present in flocks so great they blocked the sky. I mean … either MacLeod or the editors understood the function of a semi-colon, because they appeared a couple of times in the book, but apparently whoever was in charge really hated them, along with conjunctions and short stand-alone sentences, because oh the humanity. For a grammar nazi like me it was very, very painful.
A fact that explains a lot is that this book is a resissue, originally published in 1992. Things really were different in 1992. The casual, almost well-meaning racism that dapples the book wasn’t something that would have set off as many klaxons in ’92; “Oriental” was, as I recall, okay then – or, if not okay, then not widely known to not be okay. I kept thinking of Avenue Q – “Brian, buddy, where ya been? The term is ‘Asian-American’…” But man, however I would have swallowed this twenty-four years ago, it grated now.
Regarding an Asian man of unknown specific origins running around:
“…You should try to make friends with him.”
“How?” said Max. “Hold out a fortune cookie and whistle?”
Which is almost funny – but holy crap. PC really wasn’t A Thing yet when this originally came out.
I mean, I liked Max and Sarah well enough; I remember liking this series best of MacLeod’s writing, partly because of them. The rest of the cast was laden down by cliché and character tics which basically stood in for personality. It’s all over the top – and it’s supposed to be, I take it, because: Proto-Cozy, but it’s hard to take at times.
The story had some good points, during the first half – here is an art restorer who runs a closely-guarded atelier of artists, because in the past few years he has seen a great deal of tragedy and is trying to avoid a recurrence. And the owners of artwork which has been restored by the group are being robbed – and, in the case of a relative of Sarah’s, gruesomely killed.
It’s fine. It has some really fun moments. When the OTT stuff is reined in, between the bouts of racism, and (with great effort) ignoring the comma splices, I really enjoyed the character stuff – again, Max and Sarah, the kid Jesse … maybe the other recurring characters might be more enjoyable if I’d read more of the series lately. But then suddenly the whole thing goes deep-dyed Wilkie Collins, and I spent the last chunk of the book saying “Wait, what?” And “No, not really … damn, yes really.” Yeah. The resolution to the whole thing was kind of awful.
What a shame. I was looking forward to revisiting an old favorite, an author who’s been on my List for literally decades; I thought it would be a quick and very fun read and rather warm and fuzzy and nostalgic. It wasn’t quite any of that – at least, the only nostalgia was rather negative (really? This was perfectly acceptable a quarter century ago?), and I don’t foresee digging my Charlotte MacLeods out of storage.
The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.