Hard to find a good read these days

You’ve noticed, of course, that in contemporary mystery fiction featuring a heroine, the lead character is always beautiful with long blonde or auburn hair and a wonderfully shapely figure.

You might also have noticed that most of the writing is just awful, as in “Why in the name of God would anyone publish this dreck?” Well, because we are gullible enough to buy/read it, for starters.

Because I find myself suddenly without a car radio – my wife took the car to be washed while I was in Florida and the antenna was left sticking up, thus it broke, thus I have no reception, thus … well, you get it – so I grabbed a book on CD from the library, just pretty much the first thing I saw, a Lisa Gardner mystery book. I lasted about 15 minutes one morning on my way to Hampshire Hills. It was, well, yes, dreck.

But the heroine was beautiful with, I think, long auburn tresses this time, rather than blonde. It’s possible that she was also good at her job, something to do with the FBI, but I didn’t get that far; I couldn’t stand it.

I’m waiting for the day when a mystery heroine is described thusly:

“Marcia had a face that looked as if it had been hit far too many times with a hockey puck and a body shaped not by the gym, but by Twinkies and beer. But she was brilliant at what she did.”

THAT’s the book I want to read. You think we’ll ever see that? Fat chance.

Oh, and the heroines are never gay, uh uh, nope. Always they’re being pursued by hunky guys and sometimes they allow themselves to be caught and then we’re “treated” to sex scenes that would have John Cleland convinced he was born too soon. (“Fanny Hill” reference, people; that’s one you should read and NOT JUST for the sex. Oh, and at least Cleland had a reason for writing it: He needed money to get out of debtor’s prison.)

I’d also like to see one with a male hero that begins this way:

“He wasn’t tall, he wasn’t dark, he wasn’t handsome. Really, he looked like Wally Cox and women stayed as far away from him as they could because he wasn’t rich, either. But his employers liked him because he would do whatever they asked without question and they didn’t have to pay him much. He was just desperate for the job.”

Oh, wait, that’s not a mystery novel. That’s a novel about contemporary American newspapers.

There are two exceptions to the bad writing mystery genre: James Lee Burke and Carol O’Connell, both of whom are excellent writers, although O’Connell’s heroine (“Don’t call me Kathy”) Mallory is, standardly, beautiful with long blonde hair, but at least she’s nasty and at least the writing is excellent. Well, excellent for the genre; Steinbeck it ain’t but it’s far better than the norm, the norm being most of what’s on the shelves.

Fool that I am, I keep trying books that always disappoint me. What I can’t figure out is how they end up coming home with me. Can’t I tell, right there in the library, that I’m gonna hate them? But home they come and 20 pages in, I’m cursing myself for being, yes, a fool. Again. So back they go and, with nothing to read, I reach for an old friend. Recently it was “Life of Pi,” which I haven’t read in a couple of years. I’ve seen the movie twice and want to see it again, but reading the book again is a treat because the first time through, I wasn’t thrilled by the early chapters about life in India and the zoo, but I appreciate it this time.

And I’m rereading “The Shipping News,” which is absolutely brilliantly written. I’ve seen that movie six times; I own a copy. And, no, Tert Card does not remind me of any editors for whom I’ve worked. Except, of course, me.

Speaking of good writing, this year is the 50th anniversary of the publishing of “Peyton Place” and if you have not read it, you are remiss. Grace Metalious wrote a fascinating novel of small-town life and the book’s first chapter is one of the finest pieces of Americana published. If you do nothing else, read that first chapter.

I wonder if I can find “Peyton Place” on CD because I’ll be driving to New Jersey in a couple of months. Of course, there’s always the 13-hour BBC radio production of “The Lord of the Rings” but since I’ve listened to it three times and am currently into my 26th reading of the book, I kinda know where things are going.

WAIT! Maybe this time, the Orcs will capture Frodo AND Sam in the tunnel and take the ring to Sauron. OK, gotta keep reading/listening.

Perhaps in a few years, when my mind is even a little more addled …

So, James Lee Burke, Carol O’Connell, “Peyton Place” and “Life of Pi,” book and movie.

And, of course, seek the mystery novel that begins thusly:

“As a baby, Lt. Lucia Lucious was so ugly that her mother would have sold her to the Gypsies but by then, the use of the word Gypsy was not approved so she would have had to find the Romanies but she’d never heard of the word, so she ended up keeping Lucia, who grew up to be incredibly unattractive but the best detective in the history of the New York City Police Department and, because of her skill and intelligence, was on the fast track to becoming chief very soon. She had the respect of all of her colleagues, male and female …”

Yeah. Good luck.