Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Big lights will inspire you

Coincidentally following the recent "Rah Rah New York" theme, I finished the next (and sadly, last) two books in my current mystery series. Set against the backdrop of the World War II home front, the Rosie Winter mysteries are pure joy - though it seems a bit disrespectful to say that, given that the overall tone is noir-esque and the author convincingly paints wartime society as an anxiety-ridden and depressed collective consciousness taunted by ghosts of hope.

Like the first two, I loved the sarcastic, plucky, crime-solving, struggling-actress main character. Unlike the first two, I had no clue who the culprits were until the heroine did - something every mystery fan secretly loves, especially if they've been catching on to the clues way too early in the capers lately.

In Winter in June, Rosie and her pal Jayne join the USO and tour the South Pacific with a performance troupe, lifting the morale of servicemen and women. Then in When Winter Returns, they go home to NYC as war veterans who saw combat as civilian entertainers. Murder and mayhem ensue, on top of all the stress caused by wartime food rations and saboteurs.

What was impressive about these last two was that characters and stereotypes from some of the previous books were completely upended. There was definitely continuity, but since the contexts and settings changed, so did new and shocking developments about some of the protagonists. Each book didn't neatly wrap up a chapter in the lives of all the colorful characters; it picked up with their personal drama in the next few books. And since actors and actresses (as well as mobsters) are the focus of these addictive whodunits, it all worked as great theater - not in an unbelievable soap-opera manner, but in a small-town-with-some-serious-skeletons kind of way.

And the subtle way the author addressed racism and sexism in the 1940s (both in and out of the armed forces) is definitely appreciated by a modern reader.

Looking forward to whenever Book 5 comes out!

Friday, June 24, 2011

These streets will make you feel brand new...

Earlier this week, at a karaoke function for a conference in DC, I discovered I could sing the Alicia Keys part of Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind".

I can't get the song out of my head now, after the State Assembly voted to make New York the 6th and largest state to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Great image from Manhattan tonight, via ThinkProgress:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

When the lights go on again

After finishing the mystery series set during the Depression, I've found a new series set in NYC during WWII. I like it better than the first, despite the same problem of guessing the murderers' identities in the last few chapters before the sleuth does.

The heroine, for starters, is hilariously witty. She's a struggling actress whose sort-of boyfriend is missing in action in the South Pacific and whose roommate is dating a guy with mob connections.

Before ordering the entire series from the library, a few reviews I read claimed that the books have many historical inaccuracies. There are so many references to wartime New York and 1940s popular culture and slang that there's no way I would catch most of them. Besides, they don't really affect the plot or distract from the tale.

I appreciate how the changes the war caused in everyday life, relegated to history books, are the central backdrop for these whodunits. In The War Against Miss Winter, a pervasively patriotic entertainment industry is the main focus of the mystery; in The Winter of Her Discontent, it's wartime meat rations that take center stage. Though I (disappointingly) pinpointed the murderer in each book, each one had an important plot twist that was impossible to foresee. What I loved was that the unexpected turns highlighted gray ethical areas and the irony of making sub-moral choices on the home front of a "Good" War.

I also really, really like the heroine. Aside from being sarcastic and perceptive, she also has an overly active, sometimes damaging imagination and a sort of war-induced social anxiety ... and I can definitely relate to both of those things.