Thursday, October 4, 2012

Janice Law

Janice Law is an acclaimed author of mystery fiction. The Watergate scandal inspired her to write her first novel, The Big Payoff (1977), which introduced Anna Peters, a street-smart young woman who blackmails her boss, a corrupt oil executive. The novel was a success, winning an Edgar nomination, and Law went on to write eight more in the series, including Death Under Par (1980) and Cross-Check (1997).

After Death Under Par, Law set aside the character for several years to write historical mysteries The Countess (1989) and All the King’s Ladies (1986). After concluding the Peters series, she wrote three stand-alone suspense novels: The Night Bus (2000), The Lost Diaries of Iris Weed (2002), and Voices (2003). Since then, Law has focused on writing short stories, many of which appear in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

Her latest novel is Fires of London.

Recently I asked Law what she was reading.  Her reply:
At the moment, I am reading Pierre Puvis de Chavannes by Aimee Brown Price in an attempt to discover why a French muralist, fond of pallid gods and goddesses, was so popular with avant-guard painters from Van Gogh to Picasso. Answer: some serious weirdness, especially in his smaller, more personal paintings. His work for the Boston Public Library goes on my must see list.

I am also struggling through a book of renaissance Scottish poetry, The Makars, ed. J.A. Tasioulas, which is extremely interesting if slow going. Fortunately, unfamiliar words are glossed at the bottom of each page. This is essential, as lowland Scots, familiar from my parents, has changed a great deal over the centuries, at least as much as standard English from Chaucer.

I’ve also made some less strenuous discoveries this summer. My favorite has to be the Australian pianist Anna Goldsworthy’s Piano Lessons, a thoughtful and sensitive memoir of her years studying with Eleonora Sivan, a Russian emigre of vast musical knowledge who was no slouch in the life and character department, either. Even an amateur violinist like me can envy her lessons.

Of professional interest, were several good new thrillers and mysteries. Three, each with a new angle, were Robert Harris’s The Fear Index, Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Keeper of Lost Causes, and Alan Furst’s Mission to Paris. The Fear Index is a clever mix of science fiction and financial thriller. To say more would spoil the up-to-the-minute plot, but I enjoyed it the more having done a scholarly article on one of its famous predecessors. Suffice to say that Harris has updated an old story with panache and what has recently turned out to be prescience.

The Keeper of Lost Causes is Scandinavian noir, Danish style, and the sadistic villains would have tipped this into the frankly unpleasant range if not for the wonderful addition of the detective’s assistant, Assad. Detective Carl Morck is a good character, but it is his Muslim assistant, a man of many talents and dubious provenance, who really adds a distinctive touch to this story of cold cases and delayed revenge.

Mission to Paris is fun because of its glimpses of the movie business just before the Second World War. Hero Frederic Stahl, Austrian born and Hollywood acclimatized, negotiates the treacherous atmosphere of pre-War Paris with Fascist sympathizers and pro-German propagandists with a realistic mix of fear and aplomb and, refreshingly, falls for an age- appropriate woman.

I’ve also been reading Hillary Mantel, not just Bring up the Bodies, her super sequel to the outstanding Wolf Hall in her ongoing trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, but some of her earlier work. Fludd is a terrific short novel about a mysterious stranger– angel, devil, magician or some blend of all three– who transforms the lives of an old priest burdened with a modernizing bishop and a young nun tyrannized by a too conservative superior. Wonderfully written.

Finally, old but good and now reissued in an attractive paperback, P.G. Wodehouse’s Young Men in Spats. No, Jeeves and Bertie are absent, but the assorted Drones of Bertie’s club are in fine form in this collection of the master’s short stories. Seldom have trifles been packaged with so much invention and so much style. Laughter guaranteed.
Visit Janice Law's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Fires of London.

--Marshal Zeringue