Friday, January 18, 2008

Riding the Awkward Express all the way west.

So I'm in the third week of my internship at a non-profit Off Broadway theater. I'm interning in Development, just like at school, but instead of dealing with bitchy alums I'm dealing with bitchy theater patrons. I should suggest the "No-Crank" policy- it works for MST, it can work for these folks. They're all pretty nice at my office, managing not to hew too closely to the theater stereotype--my immediate superior is clearly an ex-musical theatre girl, and her voice goes up to ungodly octaves when she says thank you (which, being a development associate, she does all the time).

My Immediate Superior is very superior indeed. She's been there for a while, and gets into that groove where she knows what's going on and then, when explaining it to me, leaves out some vital piece of information, which leads inevitably to me doing something wrong. This necessitates me having to re-do whatever it was, sometimes three or four times. I'm sure the Executive Director thinks I'm a total dumbass, because I had to re-do the thankyou letters about six times.

I did hope that there would be some cute male, straight-type interns there, and lo and behold, the good lord gives me Carl, the Enigmatic Literary Intern. He's British. He's got gorgeous hair. He sits on the couch in my line of sight, reading in an adorable way all day. Have I said word one to him? No. I'm riding the aforementioned Awkward Train, and I ain't a-getting off.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Review: The Big Over Easy

Jasper Fforde is my hero. I have devoured almost the entire Thursday Next series, and then I found out that unbeknownst to me he had an entire other series—of mysteries! The Big Over Easy is the first featuring detective Jack Spratt and his sergeant, Mary Mary, and is a wonderful send-up of the hard-boiled branch of detective fiction, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, true-crime publications, the criminal justice system, and sacred relics. With a little mythology thrown in for good measure.

Detective Jack Spratt is the head of Reading, England’s Nursery Crime division, which suffers from a perpetual lack of funds, manpower, and respect from the other branches of the police. Sergeant Mary Mary has just transferred in—she got stuck with the NCD instead of with her idol, Friedland Chymes. Chymes, a kind of Sherlock Holmes, has an ego the size of Minnessota and a personal vendetta against Spratt. Spratt is given one last chance to save the NCD when he begins investigating the death-by-falling of Humpty Dumpty. Was the big egg man pushed from his favorite wall? Was he shot? Was he poisoned? Was he fertile? Was he drunk? And just what do genetic splicing, black-market spinning wheels, and a visit from the Jellyman have to do with anything?

The Big Over Easy almost defies description. Half the fun is just trying to figure out the references Fforde crams each page with. There are aliens in this strange other-England, aliens who are quite boring, really—they speak in binary, and have no concept of how to interact with people. Mary Mary is from Basingstoke, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Miz Hubbard is the most crotchety landlady in existence, her dogs perpetually boneless. And the heroes of Reading are the unsung heroes of the Nursery Crime Division, where everything usually works out the way you’d expect it to.

The greatest part, for me, of The Big Over Easy was Fforde’s imagining of a police force more concerned with plot than justice—The Knox Decalogue run amok. The chapters are headed with hilarious faux news clippings—“Police Shocked to find Butler Really Did Do It”—“Chymes Undertakes Effort to Break Fastest Solution Record; Dismayed to Learn Murders Can’t Be Ordered For the Purpose”—and the desire for a good story will lead men (and women) down dark roads. Fforde gives us a glimpse into that world we escape to when we read mystery novels (particularly those of the Golden Age and before)—if Sherlock Holmes were really all the police had to solve crimes, there’d be lots of dashing about in hansom cabs in the fog and precious little of the police methodology that Spratt and his coterie use. Even if nobody believes them when they say that the wolf was just a victim of porcine-on-lupine torture, the NCD still has to try.

Review: Maisie Dobbs

I had no plan of action when I walked into Murder by the Book, just a $25 gift certificate and the vague knowledge that I prefer Dorothy L. Sayers to, say, Janet Evanovich. Thankfully, the store’s shelves are dotted with post-its carrying recommendations from the store’s owners and other customers. Several of the books that came with the highest marks had already been cleaned out—thank you, post-Christmas. I managed to pick up two great books, one of which was Maisie Dobbs .

I’m a sucker for anything set in the years after World War I, so Maisie Dobbs seemed like a good choice. The titular character, Maisie, is a girl-genius ex-Red Cross nurse embarking on a career as a private detective. Shortly after renting her own premises she begins investigating what looks like a fairly routine case of infidelity: the wife of a wealthy industrialist has been leaving home twice a week the minute her husband leaves the house. The enterprising Miss Dobbs follows her to a graveyard, where her quarry visits a grave with only one name on it—Vincent. After befriending the woman, Maisie learns that Vincent was an officer who, disillusioned with the war and the way veterans were treated, renounced his surname and all his fortune to the guardianship of The Retreat—a retirement home run by officers, for officers. Especially those with massive, brutal face injuries.

If The Retreat turned out to be the Camp Singalong of the post-traumatic World War I set, then Maisie Dobbs would probably end on the page when Maisie tells the would-be cuckolded husband that his wife isn’t cheating, and hey, maybe he could treat her nice once in a while. And since The Retreat is capitalized, you know from the start it’s going to be extra ominous.

The rest of Maisie Dobbs is part mystery, part stroll down particularly a bombed-out section of Memory Lane. Maisie must, predictably, come to terms with her own Inner Demons before she can solve this mystery—demons involving a hot doctor and slogs through French mud. I burned through Maisie Dobbs in about a day thanks to my wicked commute and enjoyed it for the most part. Maisie herself hovered just on the edge of Mary Sue-dom—did we really need a description of her early life, how she excelled at everything while being charmingly poor with a colorful, Cockney father and a dutiful desire to do right by her family. All in all, Maisie Dobbs was a charming read. Still not sure if it deserved the glowing accolades written on post-it notes all over Murder by the Book, though.