Tuesday, May 18, 2010

TBR Tuesday -- SuperTrooper Liam Campbell

I have a confession to make.  I've already admitted to being a cranky reader but I need to admit I'm awfully casual with my choices here at Promantica.  Last week, I wrote about Laura Leone's book, Fallen From Grace.  I didn't hate the book; I actually enjoyed reading it.  When I wrote about it, though, I focused on the bits I didn't like.  I may have given you a negative impression of the book.  That wasn't my intention; I just didn't feel like writing about the daring choice Leone made in having a male prostitute as the hero, for example.  Blogging is easier if I write about what interests me.

Today, I'm going to write nice things about a book I didn't love.  Again, why?  I don't know.  They're the bits that caught my attention.  Like this description of the hero, putting on his uniform nearly at the end of the book:
And then he put on his uniform -- light blue shirt, dark blue slacks with a gold stripe down the outside of each leg, dark blue tie -- adjusting badge and nameplate, buckling on his belt and holster, shrugging into the shiny dark blue jacket, getting the round crown of the flat-brimmed hat just so.

Six pages later, the murderer sees Liam in his uniform:
Liam's appearance in uniform had been noticed before.  "The man's a walking recruitment poster," [his boss] had told a colleague privately, and it was true.  Liam didn't just put on his uniform, he merged with it.  When the last snap was fastened and the hat set just so, Liam Drusus Campbell became an Alaska state trooper from the bone marrow out.  The uniform was sword and buckler, an outward manifestation of the full power and majesty of the law, with Liam as its tool.  In uniform, Liam looked capable, incorruptible, and virtually invincible.
To [the murderer], he looked like the wrath of God.

Here's what I love about this.  Liam's our hero; the book's written almost entirely from his POV; we know nothing unless Liam was there to learn it first.  So for 270 pages, he's naked in a metaphorical sense, stumbling around (for a lot of different reasons) struggling to figure out his new posting.  Then he figures out whodunnit -- and also where he can press his own uniform.  At which point, he's invincible.

That one decision, to suggest he didn't pack his uniform in such a way that it could survive the flight from Anchorage to his new posting in fictional Newenham without getting hideously wrinkled, may be implausible, but it's necessary so that we see Liam as human and even a bit frail before he turns back into SuperTrooper.

(Went looking for a Flickr Photo of an Alaska State Trooper and here's what I came up with:


I can see why that was a photo op.  For both of them.)

Moving on.  The first book in Dana Stabenow's Liam Campbell series is Fire ad Ice.  Even the title gets a nice, late-in-the-book revelation, all about how fire destroys more quickly but they both get the job done.  And there's a lovely bit about how "Fate has to be a woman because men aren't smart enough to be that mean."
No, no, you're walking the straight and narrow, coping, productive, content, maybe even happy, and Fate comes along and says, "My, don't you look smug," and gives you a big shove and the next thing you know you're wandering around in the wilderness with no idea where you are or where you're going.  You can try to figure out where you've been and how you got there but that's pushing it.  All you can really do is feel your way through the brambles and pray you see daylight before you get cut to shreds.

It doesn't help your forward progress that during all this time you can hear Fate laughing at you.

He'd like to meet up with Fate in a dark alley sometime, he thought . . .  With a club in one hand.

He'd like that a lot.

I suppose you could rate Fire and Ice on three criteria: as a police procedural mystery, as the first in a series with an engaging protagonist and a hint of romance, and as a book about a foreign (to most of us) location.  It's not a great mystery, or at least I've read better.  It's an okay start to the series: I certainly came to love Liam by the end (the uniform gets a big thumbs-up!), but Stabenow has some heavy lifting to get Wyanet Chouinard, the love interest, up to snuff.  All the same, I am looking forward to So Sure of Death, book 2.  Be sure to read this one first, though, for that slow build up to the uniform.  (I don't have a thing for uniforms, really I don't.  You all know my type: brainy Brits who do cryptic crossword puzzles.) 

Finally, for me the descriptions of Newenham, a fishing village on Bristol Bay (fictional, but a glance at a map suggests it's based on Dillingham) were interesting, particularly as it's a part of Alaska that I didn't see as a tourist or watching The History Channel's show Tougher in Alaska (with the deliciously named Geo Beach).  I told Ross when he moved to the US that "everything is bigger and better" in America.  But if that's true, certainly everything is bigger in Alaska: land mass, coastline, mountains, and wild animals.

In Fire and Ice, though, we read about the smallness in Alaska: how interwoven the lives are of the people who live there, the limits on their options and opportunities, the pettiness of the motives.  But with all the crimes solved and the nasty element removed, the town seems intriguing and worth a second visit.  There are some characters in Fire and Ice I'll enjoy meeting again, starting with Liam in his uniform. 

3 comments:

  1. "I just didn't feel like writing about the daring choice Leone made in having a male prostitute as the hero...". Sorry, the whole idea is too 'The Wedding Date' (gag!) for me.

    I can totally get behind unconventional heroes but am too much of a mommy to feel really jazzed about papa selling his wares in a former life. But Julia Robert's can be a prostitute all the live-long day as far as that's concerned. Sexist? Maybe. But this woman couldn't relax and birth babies if I knew that daddy's only means of support involved g-strings and singles.

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  2. That quote about the uniform, and your comments on it, were so great that they made me want to read the book.

    Do you think that there's a deliberate allusion to the Christian notion of a sacrament in that passage ("an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace")? There's quite a bit of vaguely religious language, actually.

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  3. Keira -- Julia Roberts' character, Vivian, has a key moment when she reveals that she had been a "bum magnet" in her past relationships. By contrast, her experience as a hooker was a lot less hopeless than we know it must be for a lot of prostitutes. I'm not sure that's sexist, but it's Disney-fied.

    In Fallen From Grace, the squick factor for me wasn't so much the renumerative nature of his sexual experiences, but the overlap of his relationship with the heroine AND his uh, business clients. That grossed me out.

    Elizabeth -- I can see how there could be parallels between religious allusions of the evidence of a connection to the divine and the significance of a state trooper's uniform. I'll admit I'm not very knowledge about religious allusions, though. For that I need my unbaptized ex-husband, who is bizarrely well-read on both the Old Testament and New Testament for a non-believer...

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