27 May 2004

Farewells...Some of Them Welcome

"Mark's" went out of business last Saturday.

"Mark's" was officially the Science Fiction and Mystery Bookshop (run of course by Mark Stevens). It was here when I arrived in Georgia in 1988. It was so much of an institution in our lives that it seems remarkable that it's gone. But Mark just couldn't keep up with the expenses of running an independent bookstore. The internet and the bigger chain stores were eating his market.

Actually, we had stopped going to the store frequently after it moved from the Virginia Highland area. The new store on Cheshire Bridge Road was roomier but not as homey, and since the Phoenix Science Fiction Society was no longer meeting, we just weren't out in that neighborhood very often. I could go at lunch at work until we moved, and even then could only spend about 20 minutes browsing because of fighting through traffic there and back.

Mark was then gradually surrounded by "adult entertainment" facilities and finally he moved to a little store off Shallowford Road. Most people didn't know it was there. In fact, the day I went to the closing sale, at least two people wandered in saying they had never known the store was there before. A pity.

Anyway, I picked up nine books, including a British Sherlock Holmes homage I enjoyed (sadly, it's the only Holmes book by that writer ever released in paperback). Five of the books were from Valerie Wolzien's Susan Henshaw mystery series, including the newest, which I'm steadily reading through.

When I'm done reading, it's bye-bye Wolzien.

I don't hate these books, but I don't really like them, either. Susan Henshaw is a well-to-do Connecticut housewife with a penchant for solving mysteries. In the later books, the police chief even calls her in on crimes. Her best friend is Kathleen, a police officer who came to town to solve a murder in the first book, fell in love, married and had a family. Susan is married to Jed, and they have two children, Chrissy and Chad. Jed works for an advertising agency.

If this all, except for the solving mysteries part, sounds unbearably boring, it is. Plus I find that, although I'm perfectly okay accepting wealthy Lord Peter Wimsey and Sir Adam Sinclair as protagonists of what I find interesting stories, the Henshaws' prosperity annoys me. Susan spends gobs of cash on pricey Christmas presents, she shops at Saks and Neiman-Marcus, her friend gets a Jaguar as a holiday gift, they all wear designer clothes and expensive shoes, they can afford to hire caterers for big parties, the house is absolutely gorgeous with slate kitchen floors, imported tile, and expensive woodwork. I feel like I'm the Little Match Girl peering in the windows at the opulence.

The other irritating thing is Wolzien's penchant for starting action in the middle of a scene at the beginning of a chapter and then "flashing back" to what happened next in the sequence. It gives the book a very cinematic feel, but if I wanted a movie, I'd go see one. For instance, at the end of one chapter Susan is trapped on a widow's walk of a house she's attending a party at after the door shuts and locks behind her. The next chapter starts with Susan in bed, enjoying the warmth and talking to her husband about the party. She then tells her husband how she got out of the predicament. One or two times is a nice change of narrative pace. But in The Old Faithful Murder, for instance, almost every chapter is written this way. In one, Kathleen and Susan start to go somewhere. The next chapter starts and they are coming back from wherever they'd gone, talking about what they did. The rest of the chapters are similar in structure. It about drove me mad.

These books get good to excellent reviews on Amazon.com, so maybe I'm just being a crank. But after constant exposure to the Henshaws' lifestyle, I have this irresistible urge to go live like the Waltons.

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