Fall From Grace

You know how, in a certain type of (often-British) mystery, your protagonist has some big, self-destructive flaw? He drinks too much, he has intimacy issues, he’s all hung up over his lost love or he’s Sherlock Holmes and shoots heroin? It’s sort of grittily romantic, if you have that thing where you sometimes imagine taking people home, feeding them soup and kindly sorting out their lives?

Yeah. So Wayne Arthurson has raised the bar on this particular literary convention. The sport isn’t even high jump anymore… he’s taken it into the realm of pole vaulting.

In Fall from Grace we meet Leo Desroches, a guy so spectacularly screwed up he makes Cracker seem cuddly and functional.

Leo’s a journalist and a full-time mess on legs. He’s been in jail, he’s been homeless, and even though he currently has a job, it’s in Edmonton. (Okay, Edmonton, sorry for the swipe. Where was I? Ohhh… balmy balmy Vancouver.) He has a regular gig at a local paper and a place to live, but he’s also a howling black hole of gambling addiction and bad choices, and he’s found a devilishly inventive and thoroughly shocking way to keep himself out of the casinos.

When he is first on scene at a murder, Leo gets a chance to put his career back on track. And since there are two Leos–the Gambler, and the earnest guy who wants to put his life together and maybe even reboot a relationship with his kids–he makes the most of it, turning one anonymous murder victim into front page news. As he digs deeper, of course, it turns out that poor Ruby Cardinal is hardly the first strangled sex-trade worker of Aboriginal descent to turn up in an area wheat field. The police are officially unaware of the trend, but they’re also more than a little sensitive about the suggestion that there may be a serial killer in the city.

Which is great for Leo, because what self-destructive person wouldn’t want to antagonize the hometown police?

Leo’s investigation brings him all the danger his self-loathing side could hope for and then some. Because Fall from Grace doesn’t pretend to be gritty–it embodies grit. It’s rough-edged and scary, a fascinating crime novel about a guy who can’t quite surrender to his own darkness, even as he continually, compulsively sets himself up to lose every single thing he’s got.

Shoulding all over oneself

Like a lot of writers, I often feel I should read more. Which is ridiculous, in a way: I read research books and novels and mountains of student fiction. But there’s always more, and I want to keep up with my friends’ books, and learn all of history evar, except the parts that bore me stiff.

So I review. This makes me responsible to others for the reading, and I’ve always had the good fortune to review for editors who give me a lot of latitude to pick books I expect to like heartily, or even love. (I have no interest in reading bad books or panning same.) I get a deadline and a free copy and a financial carrot for pushing something I’d do anyway to the top of the pile. Ideally, everyone wins.

In recent weeks this strategy has led to my reviewing Lyda Morehouse’s wonderful AngelLINK prequel, Resurrection Code and M.K. Hobson’s delectable bustlepunk romance-romp The Hidden Goddess. Now I’m onto a delightful and surprising mystery, by Wayne Arthurson, Fall from Grace, which among other things evokes the prairies and Edmonton so vividly it’s a miracle I don’t have hives.

Still. I should read more, dammitall. And when I’m reading fiction I think I should be reading research stuff, and when I’m deep in a history book I think about how I write novels and should read them. And someone gave me that book out of the goodness of their heart, and I asked for that one as a birthday present… oh, I know it’s ridiculous. Shut up, inner voice, and all that.

But this month I’ve taken that fortune-cookie advice I mentioned awhile ago, by way of a discussion of characterization and revision, to heart. (It’s the one that goes, roughly: “if you want something you’ve never had, you have to try something you’ve never done.”)

I’ve never ever been one to read more than one book at a time. I’ve always been a serially monogamous reader; I’ve met people who claim to have three, four, even five books on the go and goggled at those individuals like wondrous marvels of nature, like chameleons or sperm whales or Venus flytraps. Now I’m making an effort to go poly: to have one novel and one non-fiction book happening at once. So, along with the Arthurson, I’m poking my way through American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century, by Howard Blum.

Normally when I catch myself shoulding, I do try to go for more of a “Shut up, inner voice!” type of strategy. But fictional and factual texts satisfy related but different parts of my brain. I feel not only happier but healthier when I’m reading history or science or political theory, just as I do when I eat a delicious and thoroughly wholesome meal: I feel smarter, sharper, enriched by the experience. A fine novel, on the other hand, adds to happiness too, and it certainly doesn’t make me feel dumb. But the experience falls more in line with a hot bath, a good massage… there’s something sensual about it. Both are recreational and both are work, but non-fiction is meat and an invigorating hike, I think, while fiction is tropical fruit and sun on a beach.

My hope is that by reading a little of both, on an almost daily basis, my overall intake of books will go up. Since I track my reading so closely, I’ll be able to tell you how it goes, once January is here.

Thoughts falling like raindrops, in no especial order…

It’s pouring, which does not bode well for a Mother’s Day outing with Barb. We may be jostling for elbow room at a brunch place tomorrow if the rain doesn’t let up.

In the meantime, I have finished Josh Lanyon’s The Dark Farewell, which–when I take over the universe and am boss of you all–shall be retitled: “Ha Ha Ha, Bored Now! The End, Suckers!” until such time as Lanyon can be made to sit down and finish the thing properly. Or at all. Just as things were starting to get messy he solved the crime, wiped out the Romantic Obstacle, and finis! I am moving on to Wayne Arthurson, and Fall from Grace, in what might be described as a Profound Reader Snit.

(Which state I do expect Wayne to remedy. I already love how he writes about the Alberta landscape.)

Words, words, words: 1748 words since last time on the current novel.

I am working on a bunch of related shorts, though, and have just had a grand realization about the next entry in that batch. So once I fix up the chapters I drafted this week, I may defect from the novel to the shorties, which I’m calling The Gales, for 8500 words or so. Meanwhile, here’s a snippet from that book; I Tweeted it earlier this week:

At his feet, the gutted remains of the monster were soaking into Sophie’s second-best jeans.

And a sea star. Well, two:
Sea Star

220 Sleeps until Rome

As prep for our holiday trip, I have just read and loved Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter’s, by R.A. Scott. It’s got almost everything I love in a book: History! Popes! Architecture! More History!

Okay, there wasn’t a lot of girl in the thing (as The Spike might say: “What a cockfest!”) but it was a dramatic and thoroughly entertaining read about a building process so immense and protracted that parts of it are incredibly hard to credit.

I have always been a one book at a time type of reader but in recent weeks I’ve been trying to have both a novel and something non-fictional on the go. As a result, Basilica has been sharing time and head-space with Josh Lanyon’s The Dark Farewell, a post-war gay romance serial killer novel (see previous comment by Spike) which one of you recommended. Was it you?

Medici Money

Before I read Deathless, I read Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence

The raw info in this book was excellent. The intricacies of how bankers managed to profit from the exchange of money without charging interest (Christians were forbidden to practice usury at the time, on pain of excommunication) and the description of the backstabbing Florentine politics was great. I do love a little backstabbing political intrigue.

Something about Tim Parks’s style didn’t quite do it for me, though. He would slip into a dreamy narrative tone, meant to evoke the time and place, the mindset of the players. Usually I love that kind of thing, but somehow with this particular book I found it jarring and ineffective. I’m reading Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter’s, by R.A. Scotti, and in terms of writing style I’m enjoying that a lot more.

My complaint about Parks is a matter of taste, though, not so much failure of execution. And it seems almost ungrateful to say so, because reading this book definitely enriched the story I was working on at the time.

On another note: the word count for Wednesday-Thursday’s writing session is: 2603, bringing the total to 23,328.