Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Woman's EyeA Woman's Eye by Sara Paretsky
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"What we have all learned in the last three hundred and fifty years is that the reading and writing are 'such things as belong to women'."
(Sara Paretsky, in the Introduction to A Woman's Eye)

The emphasized phrase that Ms. Paretsky mocks in the sentence above comes from the 17th-century A Puritan Opinion of Literary Women by John Winthrop. Indeed, it would be my impression that mystery/suspense/crime fiction has become about equally women's as men's domain in the 20th century. Female authors are as successful - if not more - as their male counterparts. For example, Denise Mina and Karin Fossum are among my top four mystery/crime authors of all time, along with Nicolas Freeling and Ross Macdonald, so maybe I am not guilty of preferring writers of one gender over the other. The disclaimer is needed, lest I am accused of sexism, as I do not much like the collection of mystery, crime, and suspense short stories written by female authors and titled A Woman's Eye. The set was published exactly a quarter of a century ago, in 1991, and edited by Ms. Paretsky. It contains 21 stories, some by well known authors, such as Ms. Grafton or the editor herself, and many by authors whom I have not heard about.

To me, Amanda Cross' Murder Without a Text is a standout in this collection. The story of an elderly female college professor accused of murdering a college senior is intelligent and funny. Being myself an elderly college professor, albeit male, I can appreciate the sharp and accurate portrayal of college sociology. The following passage about the young college feminists is still relevant 25 years later:
"[...] they are known to be an unruly bunch, [...] They spoke about early feminists, like me, as though we were a bunch of co-opted creeps [...]"
Sue Grafton's short story Full Circle is well written and interesting yet lacks plausibility when the mystery is solved by accident. Nancy Pickard's tale The Scar, a cool yet predictable suspense story that involves Maori customs in New Zealand, impresses with the heavy atmosphere of foreboding. While Gillian Slovo's Looking for Thelma is a nice homage to Raymond Chandler, both in the setting and mood of the story as well in the prose, it had been done better before. Carolyn Wheat's Ghost Station shows the author's great potential yet is wasted by formulaic touches, insistent repetition of phrases, and cheap sentimentalism. And finally we have Ms. Paretsky's own Settled Score, an interesting story yet one whose full enjoyment would require the reader to know most of the recurring characters from her novels, like Lotty or Mr. Contreras.

Although I quite enjoyed reading a few selected stories, I cannot recommend the collection because its overall tone is set by many completely unremarkable pieces. Of course, if the reader approaches the collection as a sampler from which to choose the authors to get better acquainted with, it may serve its purpose as long as one has the patience to read all the tedious stories.

Two stars.

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