Wednesday, July 30, 2008

reading in the shade

To roar through a few good books in one day is not my forte, but I did manage a fairly quick pace with two books recently--unusual of me, I know--both good summer reads, each in their own way.

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz (Bantam Random House Canada)
I have certainly handled books by Dean Koontz while working in the library world; I have certainly gazed upon his books in the shops; certainly read the blurbs; and certainly contemplated the dustjacket photos of the author, who, over the years, has experienced a type of reverse tonsorial evolution--initially sporting a vigorous mustache and a shining prominent forehead with short hair in receding fashion, to the now clean-shaven look with a youthful head of hair--a rather impressive transformation, but perhaps fitting for an author who has also written under many other names.

Not being a thriller, suspense or horror aficionado--at least, that's my excuse--he is an author I never got around to reading. Until now that is. As is usual with me--generally the last to know of anything--I find myself starting in medias res so to speak. Odd Hours is the fourth and latest book in the series featuring the character Odd Thomas, a character who I sense has a loyal following. I can see why. He is a sympathetic, quirky, smart twenty year old short order cook looking for a simple life--simple due to the fact that he can see the lingering spirits of the dead which tends to complicate his life just a tad. Odd has been drawn to the small California coastal town of Magic Beach, and has found work as a live-in personal chef and assistant to an 88 year old former Hollywood actor with enough anxieties, fears and phobias that could very well require an index. There is an entertaining banter between Odd Thomas and Lawrence 'Hutch' Hutchison which I found I wanted more of, but Odd is having peculiar dreams involving a red tide, and one visit to the boardwalk leads to a multiple encounter that initiates the adrenalin rush of the plot propulsion and I quickly found myself pulled by the narrative undertow, my hands turning pages, my feet squirming with unease, my heart rate up. I have to admit I once again felt like a youngster reading The Most Dangerous Game.

Dean Koontz is an old pro and knows how to throw a sharp fresh sentence on the page. I very much enjoyed Odd Hours. I have the nervous pleasure now, of exploring the backcloth of Odd's life in the first three books in the series: Odd Thomas, Forever Odd, and Brother Odd, where I should discover his unusual life and good friends in Pico Mundo. Perhaps I shall pace myself. Reading his books before bed tends to shade into one's dreams. . . .

The Roar of the Butterflies by Reginald Hill (Doubleday Canada)

Here again I found myself reading an author whose work I have handled but never read, another old prolific pro who has also used the odd pen name or two. And once again, I find myself reading into a series from the most recent end, the fifth in the series featuring Joe Sixsmith, a sympathetically drawn, funny and lovable, former lathe operator now working as a private detective in the fictional town of Luton. Joe is surrounded by interesting characters in his life including his Aunt Mirabelle and of course his own cat. In this outing, it is one hot summer, perhaps the hottest yet in Luton, and Joe, in his shorts with the colourful parrots, has been requested to look into a possible irregularity which took place at the private posh Royal Hoo Golf Course. Anyone who is a golfer will enjoy this one. And anyone who is a duffer on the links like me and Joe, will enjoy it as well. Lots of humour and detection, and narry a drop of blood. My kind of summer reading.

The Roar of the Butterflies is a well written and perfectly paced work of humourous detective fiction. What I found fascinating is how, though it is set in England, the narrative voices of the characters have none of the "englishness" one might have expected, in fact the voices and the use of language reminded me of North American hard boiled, but in a light-hearted fashion--refreshing. I now find myself trying to schedule the earlier books into my reading list: Blood Sympathy (1993), Born Guilty (1995), Killing the Lawyers (1997), and Singing the Sadness (1999). I think a marathon weekend of Joe Sixsmith would do the trick.

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