Reading: Hunt Sharp

Grabbed a stack of mystery novels from the library. Quickly absorbed Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich and The Hunt Club by John Lescroart. They couldn’t be more different. About all they have in common is nasty crimes and the obligatory Thrilling Climax in which the main Good Guy is face to face with the main Bad Guy.

Also, both authors seem quite concerned about food — a feature I noticed in a recent Kate Wilhelm mystery as well. Maybe this is a trend; do you suppose?

Evanovich writes fast-paced humor, and there’s lots of wiggle-wiggle-wink-wink sex. The heroine, Stephanie Plum, works in a bail bond place, and her main job is tracking down lowlifes who didn’t show up for their court dates. But that’s the fun part. She spends most of the novel being stalked by a psycho, which is less fun except that she’s well protected by her two boyfriends (that’s right, two, and she sleeps with them both in the course of the book, though she only actually has intercourse with one of them). Twelve Sharp is not a whodunit — any doubt about who done it gets erased very early on. It’s a crime suspense story.

Lescroart (it’s pronounced “les-squah,” by the way) writes in a slow-paced but absorbing style. The action in The Hunt Club, which is a whodunit, is utterly serious, though it’s leavened by the obligatory private eye/cop repartee. There’s only one sexual encounter in the book, and it’s almost G-rated — offstage except for a smooch and the morning after.

Oh, I forgot to mention another thing these two books have in common: They’re both very well written. I don’t just mean the prose is good, though it is. Everything is good — the pacing, the characterization, the tone, the dialog, and so on. You don’t get to the top of the stack in crime fiction these days if you can’t deliver.

Next up in the stack: Damage Control, by J. A. Jance. Again, the writing is nicely controlled. Jance is clearly doing exactly what her fans want. Trouble is, it’s boring. Damage Control is half police procedural and half soap opera. The first 1/3, which is all I’ve read (or intend to read) is full of sad stories about people dying of cancer, committing suicide, having family feuds, having Down’s syndrome, having parents who are drug addicts and hookers, on oxygen because they’re retired miners with lung disease — ugh and more ugh. There are brief and apparently pointless scenes involving civic politics, church attendance, feeding babies, helicopters, phone outages due to a storm, dogs, laundry, and pepperoni pizza.

The opening scene involves a woman being stalked (good for a dramatic opener!) and killing a midnight intruder in her apartment, only to discover that the intruder wasn’t her stalker, it was someone else. But then we hear nothing more about this incident for the next hundred thirty pages. If this is effective plotting, I’ll eat my hat. But as I said, Jance’s readers clearly don’t care. She’s giving them exactly what they want: soap opera about a lady sheriff. If that’s your cup of Bosco, enjoy.

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