Monday, May 28, 2012

The Book Review, Sunday, May 27, 2012: Poirot (Third Girl) Vs. Van Veeteren (Mind's Eye)

Madame L enjoys mystery and detective novels. She likes trying to figure out what really happened, why it happened, and "whodunit," even though she's not very good at figuring that out before the detective does. 

Madame L thinks many people who read any and all novels do so for the same kinds of reasons: to understand more about human nature, why people do what they do, and how the dominoes fall after that first one topples. Mystery and detective stories, even when they have so-called happy endings, tend to focus on the rough, the nitty-gritty, the parts of human nature whose existence we don't always like to admit. 

Is "human nature" different in different countries? Apparently not that different, at least judging by the detective stories from countries all over the world.

Motivations are very much the same, with love (or lust), greed, and jealousy topping the list. 

And the fictional detectives are very much the same, with their single-minded dedication to righting wrongs and bringing justice to those who would otherwise not be punished, or helped, by the formal machinery of justice.

This holds true not only for the detectives who operate outside the system, like Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, but also for those who are formally employed by the police, like Hakan Nesser's Chief Inspector Van Veeteren.

While Madame L loves the Poirot stories, she's always looking for new ones, and since Agatha Christie isn't writing any new ones, she has had to look elsewhere. She found "Mind's Eye," by Hakan Nesser, in her local Borders store when it was closing (grrr!) months ago, and wishes she'd gotten around to reading it sooner because she enjoyed it, though she doesn't recommend it for all her Dear and Gentle Readers.

Here's why: If Madame L had to choose between Poirot and Van veeteren, she would choose Poirot. 

The Belgian with the elaborate moustaches and patent-leather shoes is courtly and gentlemanly and has the disadvantage of working outside the police system and therefore having to get his information without official help. He also has to deal with English-speakers who tend to treat him with marked disdain as a "Frenchie."

In "Third Girl," Poirot also has to deal with a young girl who initially refuses his help because he's too old; in addition to his faintly ridiculous friend the female crime novelist who hasn't had any actual experience solving the kinds of crimes she's famous for writing. 

Van Veeteren is, by contrast, an established detective in an unnamed country (might be Sweden, since the novels are written by a Swede, in Swedish; but could be Poland or Holland?--Madame L is no expert!). The cases he deals with are far removed from the genteel murders of Poirot's, and Christie's, time, and the details are sometimes gruesome and the language often objectionable. 

In short, while "Mind's Eye" was engrossing and enthralling and gave deep and valuable insights to human nature, Madame L won't be picking up any more of the Van Veeteren mysteries. 

Madame L will continue to enjoy reading the exploits of Hercule Poirot and the other great and idiosyncratic Agatha Christie detective, Miss Marple.

It's not that Madame L thinks crime or criminals or detectives were really different in the 1930s than they are now. It's all the same. We're all the same. Human nature is all the same. 

As one of Van Veeteren's police officers, C.G. Reinhart, says, "When we finally find what we have been looking for in the darkness, we nearly always discover that it was exactly that. Darkness."

And darkness is all the same, so Madame L sees no reason to read darkness tinged with gratuitous ugliness.

1 comment:

AskTheGeologist said...

And Madame Elle has thus most graciously saved her dear readers and best friend from wasting precious time reading a Dark, gratuitous, bludgeoned all-the-same-thing.