Saturday, July 02, 2016

Book 48: Umberto Eco's new book is a farce, all right, but not the way he wants it to be.

Foucault's Pendulum remains one of the best books I've ever read. I don't recall all the particulars of it, as I read it nearly 30 years ago, but I do recall how amazing of a book it was, densely packed with allusions and references and managing to be a thriller, too.

After Pendulum I tried reading The Name Of The Rose, which is probably Eco's most famous book. I tried twice, in fact, both times getting to about page 70 before becoming bored.  That, too, was about 30 years ago.  Since then, I've never forgotten Pendulum, so when I was at the library a week ago and saw a brand new book from Eco, I picked it up just to see what it was about.

Here is the book's description on Amazon, which is more or less the same book-jacket description I read:

From the best-selling author of The Name of the Rose and The Prague Cemetery, a novel about the murky world of media politics, conspiracy, and murder
A newspaper committed to blackmail and mud slinging, rather than reporting the news. A paranoid editor, walking through the streets of Milan, reconstructing fifty years of history against the backdrop of a plot involving the cadaver of Mussolini's double. The murder of Pope John Paul I, the CIA, red terrorists handled by secret services, twenty years of bloodshed, and events that seem outlandish until the BBC proves them true. A fragile love story between two born losers, a failed ghost writer, and a vulnerable girl, who specializes in celebrity gossip yet cries over the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh. And then a dead body that suddenly appears in a back alley in Milan.  Set in 1992 and foreshadowing the mysteries and follies of the following twenty years, Numero Zero is a scintillating take on our times from the best-selling author of The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum.

And here is what I said after I finished the book today:

Well, I feel ripped off.

Numero Zero is quite honestly one of the worst books I've ever read, on a number of levels. It's not Armada bad, but that's because about the only flaw it doesn't have is the desperate pandering Ernest Cline displayed in Armada.

Zero is described as a thriller and a political farce and an intellectual journey and blah blah blah whatever.  It is trash. This is a book that owed me about 4 hours.

You have the plot above, and that is loosely -- very loosely-- the plot behind the book. I say 'behind' because this book quite literally has no plot, or as little as can possibly be.

Here is how the book unfolds:

Chapter 1: Colonna, the narrator, wakes in his apartment to find the water turned off. He thinks paranoid thoughts about people being after him, they must have broken in overnight, he has everything on a computer disk, he's in trouble.

Chapter 2-nearly the end: In numerous overly-talky sequences, Colonna and a friend, Simei, talk about how Simei was hired to start a fake newspaper, one that for a year will pretend it is a real newspaper and then will fold, and Colonna will ghostwrite a book about the process for Simei. This is, we are told --everything in this book is told, not shown -- the brainchild of a rich Italian.

Also, Colonna and Maia engage in a bit of a romance that features occasional talks about how Maia may be crazy or autistic, with brief glimpses into Maia's life as a former-celebrity magazine writer who cries when she hears Beethoven's 7th Symphony's second movement. (Maia is the sole interesting character in this book, so of the major characters [there are 4] she of course gets the least time.)

Also, "Braggadocio," who appears to have been named using the literary styles prevalent when Punch knocked Judy on the head, tells Colonna his EXTREMELY longwinded, narratively confusing, jumble-of-words paranoid theory about how Mussolini faked his own death.

This theory, which is central to the supposed 'plot' of the 'thriller' Eco has 'written', is garbage on many levels.

First, it is told like a 7th grade girl tells stories. Have you ever heard a 7th grade girl tell a story? It begins like this: "Macy told Sophia who is friends with Julie not the Julie who liked Mark but the one who lives in the red house over by where the park is where we had a birthday party when I was 6 but I didn't invite Tammy..." and ends like this: "So they didn't even have a car." If you are able to follwo the story in between, you are one of the people in the story, or on Adderall.

That's how Eco has Braggodocio (*sigh*) tell his theory: he just lays out a series of groups and events and happenings that may or may not be true but which are not in any way explained. Possibly Eco expects his reader to be familiar with them; possibly he doesn't care one way or the other. The book reads like the latter is the true statement.

Braggadocio begins his conspiracy theory with (seriously) a several-pages-long discourse on the differences between various cars he wants to buy to use to investigate his story. This discussion is long on things like engine size, width of car, and cost. It is impenetrable, and ultimately meaningless so far as I could tell because Braggadocio (*sigh*) never gets his car but does investigate his story anyway.

The conspiracy theory, too, appears ultimately meaningless: The book spends about 1/3 of its time setting out how various groups conspired to get Mussolini to Argentina, why they would do that, how they did it, and what they were going to do after, only to then have the conspiracy theory include the fact that Mussolini then actually did die, 25 years later, before the goals of the conspiracy could be met, although along the way it might implicate a Cardinal as killing a Pope.

The parts between Chapter 1 and the last couple of pages take up 90% of the book, and this portion of the book is divided thusly: 10% interesting bits about Maia, 50% Braggadocio's story, 40% people sitting around talking about newspapers and how they shape their stories. This, too, is not an exaggeration about this book. It is inexplicable, the amount of time Eco devotes to this part of the book, ultimately only to have it also have no bearing on the story.

Around page 170 of the roughly 190-page book, the 'thriller' gets 'going'. That is, Braggadocio gets killed, and the rich guy behind the newspaper is said to have gotten a threatening call that makes him fold the (already fake) paper before it can dig deeper.  This causes Colonna and Simei to decide to run. Colonna calls Maia and they flee to her country cottage. This is accomplished in about 2 paragraphs.

At the cottage -- we've seen the last of every other character at that point -- Maia tries to convince Colonna he is crazy or paranoid, to no effect until about 3 nights in they see a BBC program that outlines 90% of what Braggodocio (*sigh*) was claiming to be his secret conspiracy theory. Although it doesn't mention the Pope bit, Maia has some sort of deus ex machina-esque explanation for why "they" who are possibly thinking about killing Colonna will not try that now. (By the way, the 'disk' from chapter 1 is, so far as I could tell, never mentioned again.)

Still, Maia (who has never believed in the conspiracy) says they should move to South America, where conspiracies don't happen because everything is out in the open and nobody cares. Colonna (who does believe in the conspiracy, a little still) says they might as well stay in Italy because Italy is like that.

And: Curtain.


The book is overly talky, any interesting thing about a character is quickly buried, no plot ever develops, and any 'commentary' Eco might have intended the novel to contain devolves into a lot of clever (?) graduate-student level blather about papers and government and conspiracies and blah blah blah, plus some talk about the Mafia.

"It's like they translated the wrong book," I told Sweetie.

"I doubt they'd do that," she said.

"Well then maybe they only translated his outline," I said.

This book would be a vaguely entertaining set of ideas to use in a real book that actually told the story of some of these things, except that it's too slow moving and talky to even be vaguely entertaining.  The fake-for-a-year-newspaper? Great idea, never amounts to anything in this book. Every idea never amounts to anything in this book.

How does something like this even get published? Nearly 1 in 3 reviews on Amazon are 2- or 1-star reviews, and it's obvious this book wasn't ready to be published. A couple of times on this list already I've seen publishers apparently attempting to cash in with mediocre stuff (Gillian Flynn, Ernest Cline, Mickey Spillane and That Guy, Jonathan Lethem), and that may be what's going on here, but Eco's not really big-name bestseller stuff anymore.

I took a look at the good reviews on Amazon to check into a hunch I had. Here are some things people who gave the book a 4- or 5-star review said:

Numero Zero is not as accomplished as Eco's previous novels. Its short length precludes offering Eco's subject the depth it requires. Unlike the previous novels, where their sheer mass of detail served to exemplify the search in a very tangible way, giving the novels an oppressive and mysterious atmosphere that filled the reader with foreboding, Numero Zero loses that advantage and feels somewhat incomplete as a result.


Unlike many of Eco’s work, this did not require a great deal of effort to read. Most of his novels (I have read everything published in English) tend be a challenge to get through, though I enjoy the rewards and the complex storylines he develops.

Numero Zero is not nearly as long, deep or complex as books like The Island of the Day Before or Foucault’s Pendulum, but I really enjoyed the flow of the story, and it is still clearly an Eco work, just more concise.


I write as an Eco fan who was greatly taken with Name of the Rose, Foucault's Pendulum, the Prague Cemetery, etc., and I was looking forward to Numero Zero.

Basically, I was not disappointed. Here is another conspiracy, complete with red herrings, witty dialogue, and interwoven historical and literary elements. Numero Zero is funny, entertaining, intriguing, and thought-provoking. The central plot, about the attempt to create a non-newsy newspaper, seems deliciously absurd given today's media environment, and bizarre enough to spark suspicions of ulterior motives. The book works as mystery and comedy.

But it is less successful at convincing this reader that its characters are fully human -- they are underdeveloped. Indeed, at 163 pages, Numero Uno is a fraction the length of other Eco novels and has the impact of a short story. Perhaps Eco is tiring of the efforts in churning out big, convoluted best-sellers? I wished the book had been longer, with more plot and less talking about plot. A bit of a back-handed compliment to be sure; Eco fans will like Numero Uno even as we wish there were more to it.'


Basically, those are Eco apologists: it's not a very good book but it's by Eco so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.  The show Family Guy once poked fun at Stephen King:

There's some truth to that. I think the same thing might apply to Eco: people have concluded he is a brilliant writer, so what he does must be brilliant. Then they find ways of talking away the obvious lack of effort, talent, or brilliance displayed by this book.

When we walked out of The Happening by M. Night Shymalan, both Sweetie and I were struggling. We'd liked every movie of his up to that point. So I tried to say something nice about it, Sweetie tried, then I tried again, and then she said "Well I'll just say it: that sucked."

At this point, I am dithering between two ideas.  I have read two books, and tried to read a third, by Eco. This book was trash, The Name Of The Rose was stultifying.  So here are the two theories I am working on: either Foucault's Pendulum wasn't actually the brilliant work I thought it was, and if I go back and re-read it it'll be offal, too; or, Eco managed to write one good book and never did anything worthwhile again. He's basically Rick Dees.

Either way, I can't imagine ever voluntarily reading something by Eco again. I don't want to go back and try Pendulum and ruin my memories of it, but I'm not going to give Eco the benefit of the doubt by trying something else he's written. That's how bad this book was: It has made me swear off Eco forever.

Update on 'MERICA!: "In our country the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State."

(Bloom County)
A reporter for a small paper in Georgia was jailed and charged with identity theft (along with his lawyer) for 'identity theft' after issuing a subpoena for bank records.

The reporter was caught in a battle over records requests trying to prove judges, a prosecutor, and some deputies had used racial slurs during a trial. After suing to get audiotapes, he was countersued for defamation by the stenographer who transcribed the trial. When those two suits were dropped, the stenographer demanded legal fees, and the reporter and his lawyer issued a subpoena to seek bank records which they felt would prove the fees had already been paid.

The issue appears to be that the stenographer's legal fees were (allegedly) paid by the judge involved in the racial slur story. The charges were sought by the chief judge, who was not the judge using racial slurs, but who (in a comment which displays a remarkable lack of understanding of the role of a free press in society)(let alone the FIRST AMENDMENT): "I don't react well when my honesty is questioned."

For those of you who may not practice law, I can tell you that issuing a subpoena for bank records is a supercommon thing to do. I bet bank records are sought in about 75% of my cases, and I've never seen anyone even treated with suspicion because of it, let alone charged with a crime.

(Full Story here)

(Title Quote by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.)

Friday, July 01, 2016

Book 47: Eh, okay whatever.

I was in the midst of an audiobook drought when I picked out book 47. Both the books I wanted to listen to were temporarily unavailable; when the borrowing time had expired I had to get back in line for them. But I had lots of driving to do, so I went looking for something that would be entertaining. Remembering that I'd enjoyed Joyland I looked at some other Hard Case Crime books and picked out this one.

I'd never read a Mickey Spillane book before, mostly because I'm not really big on mysteries. As mysteries go, this wasn't much of one, but I kind of gathered that wasn't the point.  This was somewhere between a real mystery and a Quentin Tarantino gangster movie. It was really a pretty basic book, which isn't to say bad but also not really something that made me want to read more of his books. I kind of get the feeling that if you've read one Mickey Spillane book, you've read them all.

The basic plot is this: Mike Hammer gets back into New York after a trip to Florida to recuperate from a knifing. On his first day back, a kid almost gets beaten up by goons in front of him, but he intercedes and beats the attackers up. That gets him embroiled in a gang war of sorts between a guy called "The Snowbird" and some mobster, with a doctor and the kid also involved as well; the plot hinges around the fact that there is a shortage of drugs on the streets but a big shipment -- the "Big Bang" of the title -- is headed in.

This being a pulp fiction Mike Hammer book, the characters are basically Dick Tracy cartoons: all the women are voluptuous sex kittens (except one skinny girl that pops out of nowhere to be interviewed by Hammer, who is told that Hammer prefers them skinny), the mobsters are cordial but cold ("The Snowbird" is somehow foppish, described as speaking in a fake British accent and sounding like he dresses like Austin Powers), the cops are suspicious, the G-men are straight arrows, and Mike Hammer is basically Batman but with a gun and a looser moral code. (Well, looser than Comic Book Batman. Batman vs. Superman Batman is more of a killer.)

Mostly the book just chugs along, hitting all the marks you expect, and moving where you figure it will go.  I was kind of surprised at the hint of a moral question at the end, when Hammer has a decision to make about whether he should stop the drug shipment or not (SPOILER ALERT: the drug shipment may be tainted, so that it'll kill a lot of junkies.)  There's a lot of sort of social judgment and hamhanded commentary on issues like the drug war, but it doesn't interfere too much.

This was a book that Spillane is supposed to have written in the 1960s and then left on the shelf for decades before whoever this co-author is got it out (with permission I guess) and maybe added or edited it a bit? It had the feel of filler, right down to the generic title and the so-so mystery/gang war at the center of it. Probably it was just put out to make a buck off something Spillane never bothered to publish himself. So maybe pure Spillane might be a bit better, but I doubt I'll be checking anything else by him out.

I thought it was like the Garden of Eden almost and then I wondered how come nobody ever mentions the ocean animals in that Bible story?

An actual conversation with Mr Bunches:

Me: "And what's the 3rd planet?"

Mr Bunches: "Earth."

Me: "Who lives on Earth?"

Mr Bunches: "Me, and you, and Mommy, and [Mr F]."

Me: "Anyone else?"

Mr Bunches: "And animals."

Me: "Anyone else?"

Mr Bunches: "And ocean animals."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Sorta Great Wall

This is a repost from June, 2008.

Here's why I'm increasingly down on science: I've heard over and over that most of what we think of as "matter," which laypeople call "stuff," is actually made up of empty space.

Well, that's a lot of, as my dad used to say, "bull-lar."

I don't know what "bull-lar" was, but my dad said that a lot of things were "bull-lar." He'd say what we did, as kids, was "bull-lar." He'd be yelling at us for something, and say something parental, old-school parental, like "You think you can just take a car and race it along and jump it 100 feet off the road? Well you can't! That's a lot of bull-lar!" (It was not 100 feet, though. It was 110, at least.)

Between the frequent use of the phrase "bull-lar" and my dad's habit of holding my younger sister, who was only about two, while he yelled at us, very little 'punishment' actually soaked in because we spent half the time wondering what "bull-lar" was and half the time watching our sister mimic dad as he yelled.

I suppose "bull-lar" was one of those things that parents learn to say when their kids are young because they don't want to swear around their kids and are trying to be good role models. I try to do that, too, which was why a while back when I slipped while installing the stove hood and banged my head hard enough to draw blood, I didn't swear or cuss or yell. I didn't do anything for about 10 minutes except try not to explode, and I did it. I didn't swear at all. I just bled. So I'm a good role model, except that while I try not to swear and I never drink, I also regularly let the Babies! watch, on Youtube while they eat breakfast, a clip of Butters from "South Park" singing What What In The Butt, which I think is hilarious and the Babies think is hilarious, too, and it really helps us get through breakfast a lot easier.

I know, I know. I can hear you now: How can you possibly do that? How can you, of all people, possibly expose your not-even-two-year-old boys to copyright infringement? I feel bad about, it, too. But listen to my side: A family is an economic partnership. Everyone has to pitch in. So some people make sure that the Babies! get fed and some people make sure the Babies! get bathed and some people make sure that the Babies! don't fall out of windows. Those people, in our family, are Sweetie. Other people (me) have them watch South Park clips on Youtube and determine what occupations they will have in the future to make sure they make enough money that Other People (me) don't have to work after they're fifty. (Currently, Plan A is them having a Disney show, since if you are a kid and you appear on Disney TV you are instantly worth a billion dollars, and also, I like "Bunnytown.")

Plus, consider this: if someone in the family is going to take a fall for the rest of us, shouldn't it be the infants? Let's face it; someone has to pirate the South Park clips and illegally download music and make fun of Tom Cruise. If, when the hammer comes down, the Babies! take the fall, then they will receive shorter jail terms and lighter sentences because, well, they're cute. Cuteness is still a defense to most criminal charges, isn't it? I should probably know that.

But I don't know that. I don't know a lot of things because all my memory is taken up with everything "science" has filled my head with, like hokey stories about how everything is mostly empty space, how we are all made of "atoms" and that these are very small and are made up of mostly smaller things like "electrons" and "quarks" and "my paycheck" and that as a result of all this small-osity, things that we think of as solid matter, things that seem good and thick to us -- the table, the old shed, Kris Kristofferson-- are in fact mostly empty space.

Well, I'm not buying it. I'm not buying it because nothing is mostly empty space.

I'm not mostly empty space. I've tried, unsuccessfully, fitting into some of my more favorite t-shirts lately, and I've tried going jogging, and I can assure you that I am far from being made up of mostly empty space. Empty space would have a far far easier time lugging it's empty-space-belly up the hill at the end of empty space's running route, and empty space would not fill up a t-shirt quite so snugly. My own scientific analysis has led me to conclude, at this point, that I am mostly made up of Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch, which also is not mostly empty space.

Another thing that is not at all empty space was our old shed, which is finally down, and which somehow warped time and space in that the shed, torn down, managed to contain more actual material than it had when it was still standing. I can remember when it was standing, and it was four walls and a roof and some old household furniture inside. I would go inside, sort of. I would actually stand just outside the shed and look in, to see if there was a place to put more junk, in between the older junk and the raccoons, and the shed was full of lots of seemingly empty space, because it wasn't full of stuff and according to "science," things that aren't full of stuff are mostly empty space. I wish "science" had been here to help with the work. But, as usual, "science" never shows up until the work's done and the pizza's being served, when "science" tries to prove that it knows something after all by having your pizza remain superhot for longer than it should so that you burn your mouth even though you waited a really, really long time before eating the pizza.

Tearing down the shed was like battling the hydra; every board we tore out created three more. Every wall that came down left two more. It just kept multiplying and multiplying and we just kept hauling it to the second of two dumpsters using our specialized shed-tearing-down-tools of "old winter gloves" and "a garbage can with wheels."

Using that highly technical equipment, we threw away the entire shed which, when torn down created a pile of rubble that took up two dumpsters. Two. When they redid our roof last year, they only used one. So there was more stuff in that shed than there was in our entire roof on our house.

Of course, the roof of our house did not contain, as I found out the shed did, five live raccoons and one very very dead raccoon. At least I hope it didn't, because if there is that much wildlife in our roof, I'm moving.

There is nothing quite like pulling up an old board and seeing most of a raccoon skull sitting there in front of you, not quite attached to most of a raccoon skeleton. The only thing I could think was where's the rest of it? Is it on me? I still kind of feel that way. That's my most common reaction to nature, as I sit here and think of it: Is it on me? I'm not the outdoorsy type. Put me outdoors for any length of time, and I'll begin to think that the outdoors is on me, and not shake that feeling or the way it makes my skin crawl, until I get back inside, take a shower, and watch Newhart on DVD.
But it's done! The shed is down, and where there used to be a sagging, possibly haunted shed there now stands what looks like empty space but isn't. What it is, is a bare dirt area covered with leaves and bits of grass and the smaller debris that I decided to leave there. Trust me, it's an improvement, even if technically part of that dirt area is still made up of shed parts.

There's still shed parts there because I took The Boy's advice, something I only am ready to do when I've been working in the hot sun all day and am covered with raccoon flakes. We were hauling and hauling and I was trying not to think of what the pieces of animal would do to my lungs and, and we got down to the last two items of stuff to haul: the world's largest collection of cement cinder blocks, and a pile of stuff that included shingles but was, in my imagination, made up mostly of dead animal skin, animal skin that was getting on me.

We looked at that, me and The Boy and The Boy's Friend, who I'll call "Q," and The Boy said the smartest thing he's ever said. He said "Let's just let erosion do its thing." Who says kids don't learn anything these days?

I brushed some raccoon parts off my head and decided we'd do just that. We spread the pile back out and hoped for erosion to work more quickly than most so-called "science."

That left the cement bricks, which as it turned out made up a lot of what appeared to be the empty space under the shed. (They may also make up a lot of the empty space in me, if the doctor's scale is to be believed.) There were more cement bricks under that shed than I could have imagined. If cement bricks were money, we'd be rich. But they're not, so we're just tired.

We decided to not haul the cement bricks, and instead to turn them into The Sorta Great Wall. I began stacking them into a line of bricks along the lot line between our house and Q's house next door. I got permission to do this by asking Q "Do you think your parents would want us to stack those bricks there?" He shrugged and said he'd ask them, and then I began stacking them there before he could do thatbecause people can only tell you "no" if you give them a chance.

The Sorta Great Wall now extends about fifteen feet along the lot line, and about two feet tall, and will hopefully one day be very scenic. Until then, I'm hoping that Robert Frost was a little wrong. "Good fences," Robert Frost probably said, "make good neighbors." I'm hoping that "Crummy fences made up of things you are too lazy to haul to the dumpster" make good neighbors, too. Or least make neighbors not call the zoning committee on you.

That's what I've spent the first three days of my vacation doing: Tearing apart the last of the shed, beginning construction of The Great Wall, and pondering just why science is never right. Because I know now: matter is not made up of 'empty space.' It's made up of cement blocks and raccoon skins, and it's on me.

If you left a comment here (and statistically speaking you didn't) then

Maybe leave it again? Periodically Google weirds out on my comments, probably because I have been attempting to make them pay me the $84 they say they want to pay me but before they pay me the money they want to pay me (they say) I have to log into a program I last logged into in 2010, which might as well have been 1873 for all my memory cares, which means I have to try to recover my password for a Yahoo! email account I no longer use and haven't since 2009, and that has led me to make several phone calls to the only phone number you can find for Google, and at which number the man insists that this is not a Google help number, and gives you an email address to write to. That email address writes back and tells you it is not an email address. Then you call back the number and nobody answers. Then all your search results land you on a page that talks about people who have mysteriously gone missing over the past 13 years.

Long story short: Comments are wonky right now. Here's a picture to help tide you through the mayhem:

It's my new change jar. I call him "Professor Pennybottom."

Monday, June 27, 2016

Book 46: PS I got those Mac & Cheetos they were pretty good

(In case you're wondering how I'm doing on reaching 100 books; I need to be at 50 by June 30 to be on track. I am 1/2 way through four other books -- two audiobooks whose time expired before I finished them are on hold for me -- and have started another one, so I'm kind of on pace? Two of the current books are superlong.)

Faithful Place is the third book in my book club with Sweetie, and (completely unrelated to the fact that she hid the existence of a new snack food from me) I decided last week that I would go ahead and finish the book ahead of our club.

We started our book club last year, deciding we would read a chapter at a time and then talk about it. We picked Tana French's book to read because I'd just come across a review of her 5th book and it sounded good, so we started the Dublin Murder Squad mystery series at book 1, In The Woods.  We read through that one and its follow-up The Likeness and started Faithful Place a LONG time ago.  How our club works is that you read at your own pace but you only read the current chapter and then wait for the other person to catch up before discussing.  I had finished about the fourth chapter maybe 5 months ago? Longer? A while back. Sweetie, though, wasn't as into this book I think or at least not in the mood for it for the past half-year. I wanted to find out what happened, though, so last week I announced that I was going to go ahead and read the rest of the book and discuss it with her whenever she wanted to finish it.

She didn't really protest, but, then, that's the first time I've broken the We'll do this together pact. On other things -- TV shows, mostly-- that we've decided to watch together I've waited for her (or she's waited for me.)(With the exception of Lost, which she and Middle watched ahead of me and then gave away that my favorite character, Charlie, died in one of the episodes.)

Now, she keeps bugging me to tell her if she was right about who the murderer was, and I keep saying I won't tell her. (She's threatening to read it from the back forwards just to find out, which would be interesting to watch.)

(It might, in fact, be interesting to write a mystery from the back forwards, unwinding to each previous stage of the mystery. I wonder if it could be done and still be exciting. Challenge... considered.)

Anyway, Faithful Place is pretty good. I don't ordinarily go in for mysteries very much, because I am bad at solving them. (Pretty much everyone the detective interacts with is a suspect in my mind.)  But mysteries where the main point isn't the mystery can be entertaining, and that's what two of the three Tana French books are like so far.

To back up a bit, because the books all sort of interrelate: In In The Woods (the best one so far) a dead girl is found in a woods that developers are tearing up. Two detectives are assigned to investigate: Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox.  Rob, though, was involved in some sort of near-abduction as a kid right in those woods, and he can't remember what happened. That nearly derails the investigation as Rob slowly goes to pieces trying to figure out what happened to him and his two best friends.

The follow-up, The Likeness, has only Cassie from the first book. She's used by Undercover detective Frank Mackey to investigate a murder among some graduate students, infiltrating the group because she is a dead (pun intended) ringer for the victim; the cover story is that the victim was only seriously wounded and has returned to the home they all share.

Both of those stories are good. Sweetie liked (pun intended) The Likeness less than I did, because she found its premise pretty unbelievable.  In The Woods was fantastic, The Likeness just good.

Faithful Place is in-between. This one stars Frank Mackey, and has him heading back to the poor part of Dublin where he grew up when the corpse of his former girlfriend from his teen years is found in the abandoned house up the street from where he lived.  He and the girl were going to elope, but she never showed up on the planned night, so he left himself and spent the next 20 years thinking she'd run off from him, too.

The mystery isn't much of a mystery; it pretty quickly centers on one of three suspects and although late in the game there's some attempts at making two of the three seem credible there's never very much doubt who did it.  The better part of the book is not only the way Frank has to investigate -- he's not on the case, of course, and is somewhat of a suspect himself -- but how Frank interacts with his family, both the family he left behind in the poor part of town and the ex-wife and 9-year-old daughter he's got in the newer part of his life.  The story manages to show a dirt-poor group of Irish people in a way that makes them sad but not pitiful, and feels like a really great look at what life in Ireland is like for regular people.

There's a part at the end of the book where I thought for a minute it was going to go off the rails. Without spoiling much, I'm going to simply say that authors need to tread carefully when they have kids do stuff that kids don't do. I'm no expert on kids but I've been around 9 year olds and I've never seen one --even a precocious one-- even one raised by a detective -- behave like the 9 year old in this book.  That almost in fact killed the book for me, except that the scene right after the awfully-written 9-year-old scene is so great that it pulled it back. By this point, three books in, I'm willing to let French have a really bad spot of writing. The scene read like it was an attempt to gin up some suspense while also revealing some information, and was hamhanded and overly precious at the same time.

Despite that one flaw, the book is pretty good, and worth reading even if you're not crazy about mysteries.

(And, Sweetie, since I know you read this sometimes, no I'm not going to tell you who did it.)  :P