The Dog Days of August are upon us. Gone are those lovely temperate summer days we had until now. The clear blue skies and refreshing breezes have been eclipsed by hazy sunshine and humid air, and the world outside feels heavy and thick – dense with heat and moisture. It’s fit for nothing but lying under the ceiling fan, a glass of iced tea beading with sweat at my side.
I’ve been reading mysteries this month, and the kinds of mysteries I love best are dense like the atmosphere. Do you know what I mean by a “dense” mystery? Not the “cozy” kind where the characters are rather one dimensional and the plot drives the story, but a mystery where the actual event becomes almost secondary to the sublots and personalities involved. I’ve had two of those in quick succession…Careless in Red, by Elizabeth George, and now A Monstrous Regiment of Women, by Laurie King.
George’s writing is rich with detail and description, a density born of long hours of thought, note-taking, and research. In Write Away, her book about the writing process, George talks about creating detailed plot outlines and character studies for each of her novels. She spends hours, days even, visiting the places she intends to write about, taking photographs and searching for details as minute as the types of stone used to build a pathway, or the thatching on a cottage roof. Her characters are multi-dimensional, fleshed out to the smallest of physical and psychological details. For some, this density of detail can be as oppressive as the Augus humidity. “There’s too much detail,” in her books, my husband complained (oddly I thought for an engineer who lives for detail in his own work). “I forget what the’s story’s about.”
But I love that kind of complexity in plot and place and person. George is a master of it, and so, I’m finding is Laurie King, in her Mary Russell series. This is just my second read from that collection, and I’m finding it even more enjoyable than the first. The actual mystery (the sudden deaths of several wealthy young women who are followers of a ministry led by the charismatic Margery Childe) is embedded in an interesting study of women’s rights in the 1920’s, a study of the roles of women in religion, and the coming of age of Miss Russell herself.
So on this hot and rather oppressive day, I’m content to lie quietly on the chaise lounge and immerse myself in the deep thoughtful waters of a dense mystery.
Now tell me, how do you like your mysteries? Detailed and dense, or quick and quriky?