I've read the latter two, and thought they were both OK. Vine/Rendell is reliably good, especially in her Vine mode, but this new one (The Birthday Present) is strangely subdued and unsuspenseful. And the James (The Private Patient) feels a bit as though she's going through the motions. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the act of reading these books, and picked them up with great eagerness in the evening, despite their shortcomings. Why? It's the way these writers create and maintain their settings. In Vine's case, it's London, with particular attention to the workings of Parliament; in James's it is Dorset, and a former manor house that has been converted into a private plastic-surgery hospital. There is a lushness and comforting realism to these places; both writers are masters at describing streets and roads and interiors, never in terribly thrilling prose, but always with steadfast professionalism. Both books were genuine pleasures in a personally anxious week.
Yesterday's mail also brought the latest Paris Review, featuring two items of note: a new short story by a guy I've never heard of, Jesse Ball (yes, yes, that website is pretentiously uninformative, but hey), and a new poem, "October," by our own Ed Skoog. The Ball story is about a starving poet who applies for a mysterious job--he fills out a bewildering application, and then endures an interview with an inscrutable man; the result is a hundred-thousand-dollar gig trying to avoid being murdered by another applicant. It sounds hopelessly Chuck-Palahniuk, I know, but it's really more like a less tired, more driven Paul Auster--spare and cryptic without seeming coy. I strongly suspect it's the first chapter of Ball's forthcoming novel.
Ed's poem I have read before, in a manuscript copy of his forthcoming book, Mister Skylight, coming out from Copper Canyon around the same time next year as my new book. The money shot:
It's eleven-eleven, time
to make my daily wish,
catch the stilt legs of those
two birds who land twice
a day inside the clock.
And finally, for fans of my better half: Rhian's return is nigh. Stay tuned.