Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Books: Wanting Sheila Dead, by Jane Haddam

I rarely trust a novel that mentions the current President by name, or demonstrates an awareness of the latest movies. I'm not saying that an interest in current events is bad. I'm not saying that brand new novels are bad. I'm saying that the combination of the two makes me suspicious. I've read, for example, books from the early eighties that seemed to think that "Hey, wow, I've heard of this Internet thing!" qualifies as a substitute for plot and characters, and I don't like to repeat that experience too often.

So when the jacket of Wanting Sheila Dead revealed that much of the novel is based around a reality TV show, and when the first page contained a side reference to Oprah (who, admittedly, isn't exactly a new phenomenon), I normally would have put the book back on the shelf. But the first page also said:
Sheila Dunham's voice came into the room like battery acid over a bullhorn. That was a metaphor that made no sense. Olivia didn't care. It fit exactly.
That's not something that would come from someone who's saying, "Hey, wow, I've heard of this reality TV thing!" at least not at the expense of the book. So I bought it. I bought it used, so sadly I won't do the author, Jane Haddam, a bit of good, but I liked it so much that I can imagine buying one of her books new. In paperback. There is almost no level of desperation to get my hands on a story that will cause me to pay for a new hardback. So I'll have to wait a while for her next book, though there's a huge backlog of past books that I can work my way through.

The book reconfirms a theory of mine: I like male protagonists, but I like them best when written by women. In my admittedly limited experience, male protagonists written by men tend to be too uncomplicated, too strong, too clear in their purpose. They don't muse. Unlike Haddam's Gregor Demarkian, they wouldn't speculate on how and why the sidewalk in front of the church was washed, or think about their decision to initiate, or not initiate, a handshake with a woman. I like Gregor Demarkian; he seems to be full of stray thoughts.

And I liked the book. There were two mysteries, so the whole book wasn't about the reality TV show, which was a good thing--there's a limit to how much even a good author can do to overcome my severe lack of interest in that topic. But I was engaged by the TV plot, and all of the annoying young woman tied to it, so imagine how much I'd like a Jane Haddam/Gregor Demarkian book without either one.

I recommend the book, and I probably recommend the author more than the book. Which is just as well for the author, because Wanting Sheila Dead is already down to bargain pricing, and the next book is still in hardback. And some of you might buy hardbacks. Maybe. I realize that getting the author paid isn't my problem, but, well, sometimes I think about it.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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