Wednesday 4 March 2009

Talked down off the ledge

After the disappointment that was Natsuo Kirino's Grotesque I just couldn't take any risks - I had to read something that I wouldn't fail to really enjoy. After the last few books I read, I actually didn't feel like reading at all or ever again, which is a tragic state I couldn't allow myself to remain in. My response was thus the only one possible: I picked a book by the only writer I know who's even more reliable than P.G. Wodehouse: Ellis Peters.

Thank all good things for Ellis Peters, for One Corpse Too Many (the second in the Brother Cadfael series) has talked me down from the non-reading, tv-watching, eating potato chips and getting fat ledge. Peters' writing is always perfect, her plotting compelling, her pacing the right balance between patient and forward-moving: in other words, she's all that I want every writer to be, dammit!

But I've realized another key reason why I adore her so much and wish she were my granny or something (if she were alive; unfortunately, Peters died in 1995): Peters knew how to make medieval England seem real, not magical and foreign as in so many fantasy novels, but also kind of homely and lovely (even when the wishy-washy King Stephen is wreaking havoc in his attempt to maintain the throne against his cousin Maud).

Yes, even though Brother Cadfael seems to find himself with a murdered body on his hands once a month, and even though Peters hints at the shitty things he did while crusading in the Middle East, he's still somehow a kind of perfect dad. And most of the people around him are just nice. And even murderers have these great, good things about them.

I think Peters just had a lot of faith in humanity. It's weird to say something so mushy but her characters do really good things, but in ways that seem entirely human and normal, not heroic at all. Her optimism is damned refreshing, I tell you, and I love that it is so present somehow in murder mysteries of all things.

Now I feel fortified enough not just to try an author less tested and reliable than Peters, but indeed to try an author entirely new to me: Guy Gavriel Kay. Also, I have to read this Kay book to stop perpetrating a serious book crime, i.e., to finally read and return a tome lent to me over a year ago. Mea culpa.


R/T said...

The ups-and-downs of reading are, I think, a universal problem. Repeating the hackneyed statement, I would simply say that there are so many good books, and there is so little time. The supplement to that statement, of course, is the fact that there are really dreadful books out there. As a reviewer, I am too frequently compelled to read things that are awful; then I wonder about the state of publishing (i.e., why would a publisher waste time, money, paper, and ink?). At any rate, you can hardly ever go wrong with Ellis Peters. Now, though, there are plenty of contemporary pretenders to Ellis Peters' crown as the very best among writers of medieval mysteries. Finally, as I have already taken up too much space, I must tell you that I enjoy your blog (which I just discovered), and will visit again often (when I am not otherwise distracted by my teaching job and my own blog).

Bookphilia said...

If you feel like it, please pass on the author names and titles of other medieval mysteries...I think half my love of Peters comes from the medieval setting of the Cadfael novels.