Sunday, January 16, 2011

If Books Could Kill and The Lies That Bind by Kate Carlisle

I reviewed the first book in this series, Homicide in Hardcover, a few weeks ago. I liked it well enough that I bought the next two books soon after. I read the second book, If Books Could Kill, right away although I've held off reviewing it until now, obviously, since I wanted to review the third book at the same time.

It's a good thing I bought the third book, I suppose, because otherwise I probably wouldn't have continued with the series after book two. I never expect a whole lot from a second book in a mystery series--they're usually pretty bad--but If Books Could Kill just didn't interest me much. In it, bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright attends the Edinburgh Book Fair in Scotland, where she meets up with an old ex of hers. He asks her professional opinion about a scandalous book he's discovered, a collection of Robert Burns's poetry that contains some poems never before published, poems that could cause a scandal in the British monarchy. Then her ex turns up dead, and Brooklyn is the main suspect.

I think what I most disliked in the book was the fawning anglophilia throughout, which really turned me off. Obviously that's my own minor hangup. The mystery itself was okay and sometimes a lot of fun, but it was marred by over-the-top characters and unrealistic events. Brooklyn's relationship with security expert Derek Stone didn't interest me--in fact, I was starting to worry about them until near the end of the book, when they finally have a real conversation instead of a snarky-banter match.

So I set the third book, The Lies That Bind, aside for a little while to cleanse my palate. I was worried that I was just in the wrong mood for this sort of frothy, light mystery. I finished the book yesterday and I've been thinking about it a lot, trying to decide how I feel about it and the series as a whole.

In the third book, Brooklyn is back home, teaching a bookbinding class at the Bay Area Book Arts. The BABA director, Layla Fontaine, is a bitchy woman who hits on every available man and makes her employees' lives miserable. Brooklyn confronts her about a book that Layla has claimed publicly is a rare first edition of Oliver Twist; Brooklyn knows the book isn't nearly as valuable as Layla claims, and that offering it for auction as a first edition is fraudulent. Then someone shoots Layla dead, naturally.

I liked the third book better than the second, although not as much as the first. I don't like how some characters (like Brooklyn's nemesis, Minka, who frankly is a character I would not miss if she were edited out completely) are ridiculously over-the-top while others are just regular people. It's jarring. I also guessed the murderer really early, not because I was following clues but because I noticed that the author was ignoring one character as a suspect; this is an expected practice for mystery writers, but it was too obvious here and stood out too much. I don't like being right about the murderer; I much prefer to be surprised, so the ending in this one was disappointing too. Brooklyn also makes some stupid choices so that the reader can observe key moments in the plot.

On the other hand, Brooklyn and Derek Stone are having more conversations instead of pissing contests--although, seemingly as a result, Brooklyn has lost the feistiness she showed in the first book and instead dithers in Derek's arms every time she gets upset. I'd almost rather have them sniping at each other than calling each other "darling" in every single sentence and trying to sneak off to be together. Plus, Derek and the police are the prime movers in this book; Brooklyn does no sleuthing on her own, and she isn't even a suspect so she hardly has a personal stake.

I'm coming across as really negative because it's easier for me to pinpoint what I don't like about these books than what I like. I do appreciate that the author doesn't make fun of Brooklyn's family's neo-hippy beliefs. The books are often really funny, too. Kate Carlisle does a good job, oddly enough, writing characters who are interacting in groups--Brooklyn's bookbinding classes, a couple of informal parties, and so forth--and when Brooklyn's on top form, she's intelligent, proactive, kind-hearted, strong, and resourceful. I think the problem is Derek Stone, who's basically taking over. Maybe the author should spin him off into his own mystery series, or just kill him off. Then at least Brooklyn wouldn't have to spend so many pages losing her mind with jealousy every time Derek smiles at a woman. Yeah, their relationship is going to be rocky.

There's a fourth book in this series coming out pretty soon. When I asked myself last night whether I wanted to read it, I was surprised when I thought, "Yeah, I think so." So despite all my nitpicking, there's enough to like in these books that they're worth picking up.

B&N link If Books Could Kill
B&N link The Lies That Bind

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