So, I’ve been reading. This shouldn’t be something I actually think of as surprising – when I was a kid, all I did was read. Somehow, that stopped several years ago. I missed reading, though, and C bought me a Kindle (partly to see if he’d like one. Hi, my name is Proof-of-Concept. Nice to meet you.) He got me the one with the keyboard, which I think is fantastic. All the buttons are exactly where I’d like them to be!
And then I started poking about in the Amazon low-price fora (which seem to be hard to find right now – I’ll post a link to them later) and I found a couple of books I love and oh-wow so many bad ones.
I’ve found a couple of good review sites – Dear Author is one of them, but it’s mostly romance novels. Which I’m happy to read, and to read about, but still, I’d like to read reviews of other genres.
Anyway, on Dear Author, someone reviewed Requiem of Ashes, the first book in the Albert Mysteries by David Crossman. They were for sale at a very low price (.99, I think) at Amazon, so I picked them up.
Then months went by when I forgot about them entirely. I sewed things and knitted stuff and was harrassed by my cats and, you know, life things happened. Anyway, two days ago, I sat down to read something over breakfast and Dead in D Minor looked interesting. Maybe I should have started with Requiem of Ashes, but I didn’t remember that they were in the same series and without enough information, I’d never have guessed which one came first. I started reading, with no preconceptions of the story and no fore-knowledge of anything about the story; all I knew was that the title implied something musical and the cover image had a Civil War looking coat on it.
The main character, the sleuth, is named Albert. When we meet him, he’s on a bus travelling to Georgia to try to escape the aftermath of the murders he’s solved in the first book (which I didn’t know about). He gets off the bus at one of the stops on the route and ends up staying in that small town.
In the first few pages, his oddities show strongly: he has trouble navigating common human interactions. At first, I found this difficult – I couldn’t tell how the reader was supposed to take this difference. He was, to me, clearly very Aspie, which contributed to my initial concern – I know lots of Aspies and like them, and it’s frustrating to see the many negative portrayals of them in the media.
The moment when my perception of Albert, and the book’s take on him, changed was when one character said, “It’s as if Providence was clearing the way for you.” and Albert was confused – Providence, he thought, is in Rhode Island. At that point, I laughed and relaxed – the tone of the book is never dismissive of Albert because he’s non-neurotypical.
Unfortunately for him, there’s recently been a murder in the town and he ends up involved. His non-neurotypical thought process is, in some situations, very helpful, and in others, of course, less so. He does manage to make friends and find a place for himself.
Ultimately, I liked the book quite a lot and I’m looking forward to reading the others in the series. However, there are a few places where I found myself uncomfortable or unhappy with the author’s choices.
First, there are some typos and other language issues. ‘Amendment’ has only two letter m’s, for example. I don’t know who Crossman is using as an editor, but that should have been caught by a spell-check. Most of the typos are of that nature, and they did pull me out of the story to a certain (small) extent. Crossman, while clearly very well educated and whilst having a good vocabulary, seems to have trouble, sometimes, with when to use simpler words or phrases – he seems to get caught up in the fun of using Big! Fun! Fancy! Words!, but they’re not always appropriate.
Second, I find Crossman’s depiction of women disturbing. He seems to have two categories of women – young ones who are physically attractive and old ones who are good at housework and housekeeping. I haven’t read the first book in the series, but a review at Good Reads indicates that this isn’t a one-book phenomenon, which is disappointing. All of the men in the story seem to be continually distracted by the physical attributes of the young women. I found the constant reminders that the young women have omgbreasts and are omgpretty to be distracting and demeaning. At least none of them were randomly murdered in order to “up the ante”, so to speak.
Third, I found Albert’s total withdrawal at the end back to the college at which he teaches to be confusing. Albert is very comfortable at his school, but he is capable of learning new things and making new friends, as is very amply shown over the course of the book. He appeared to make real connections with the people he met in Georgia, but in the epilogue (and this doesn’t spoil any of the actual mystery, so don’t worry!), he is uninterested in maintaining that connection. This bugged me because it seemed as if Crossman wanted to ‘re-set’ the character and put him back into his easy little box labeled “Doesn’t Understand The World”, which is unfair. The character had grown; why not include that? It actually felt as if the author was forcing Albert to be dismissive and detached; as if Crossman thinks that this is how Aspies really are. Albert had been pleased to have made those friendships; having him choose to reject them later struck a very sour note for me.
And lastly, I found the mystery itself to be mediocre. Part of that is that I am neurotypical, so some of the information which was revelatory to Albert was not so to me; I was able to put things together much faster than he did. There were a couple of surprises, one of which seemed a little tacked on, as a distraction.
Ultimately, however, I enjoyed the book. The character of Albert is delightful – I enjoyed seeing how he perceived the world. Crossman has an often amusing turn of phrase, which leads to gems such as “Albert sipped the [dandelion] tea. The taste was so bitter his face went to press immediately, without editing.”. I’m certainly happy I read the book, and the 99 cent price point only makes that easier.
I will be reading more of his work soon.