Thursday, January 9, 2014

Trends, Fads, or Coincidences?

Have you ever noticed that you read a book about a certain type of character (a Filipino attorney with a slacker boyfriend, say) and then suddenly--without planning to do so--you're reading another book about a Filipino attorney.  Or you're suddenly reading books about terrible mothers, or books set early in the AIDS epidemic, or books about middle-aged women changing their lives, or books set in remote California coastal locations. Is there a sudden spate of such books or do you find them because somehow that's what you need to be reading? Is it a trend, a fad (like Amish or knitting books), a coincidence, or . . . ?

The latest "trend" I've run into (it's a small trend--just two books) is the series mystery that suddenly involves its character, firmly rooted somewhere in the United States, in a case with complicated international threads. Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky and Storm Front by John Sandford both fit this mold. In Critical Mass, V.I. Warshawsky is looking for a missing college-age boy and finds herself learning about physics and class relations in Austria prior to World War II, migration of scientists to the United States following the war (even Nazi scientists), librarianship, cut-throat high-tech businesses, meth labs, and completely unethical and violent Homeland Security agents. It's rather a ridiculous story, but it's fairly entertaining and explores some interesting issues/topics.

Storm Front is even more ridiculous. In it, Virgil Flowers, assisted by two Israeli officials posing as the same person (I said it was ridiculous), is pursuing a Lutheran minister who has stolen an artifact from an archeological dig in Israel. The inscription on the stele has the potential to change the history and the future of the Middle East. Meanwhile, potential buyers from Hezbollah, Turkey, Texas, and reality TV are also buzzing around Mankato in search of the stele. Like Paretsky, Sandford brings in government agents, although this group is less thuggish but more secretive. As usual, Virgil is hitting the sack with a local woman, in this case a felon herself. It's bad enough that the case makes little sense; the surprise ending makes it even more annoying.

So--Critical Mass a lukewarm thumbs-up, Storm Front a thumbs-down, and the trend of international intrigue in series thumbs-down until someone does it better!

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