Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sweetheart ($14.99) & Night Season (hardcover, $24.95), by Chelsea Cain

Chelsea Cain came to the store last night for a signing. I re-read Sweetheart, the second book in the series, to get me in the mood. Night Season is her fourth and latest in the Archie Sheridan/Susan Ward series.

There's no villain quite like Gretchen Lowell in the mystery world. She's clever, manipulative, and, for the moment, Chelsea Cain is keeping her past under wraps. Gretchen is also vicious and sociopathic. She will flick out a heart, suck out a brain, slice a throat, or otherwise maim, mutilate, then murder a man, woman, or child without a second thought. She is police detective Archie Sheridan's obsession, and apparently he is hers.

Although Chelsea Cain ladles on the gruesome details, there's a stylishness and verve to how she does it. With reporter Susan Ward, Chelsea finds an outlet for her humor. Susan's eccentric, hippie mother, Bliss, also provides respite.

Having said all things in praise of the ultimate villain, Gretchen has only a small part in Night Season. (I've only read the first thirty pages, so this is mostly a book signing report.) One of the things Chelsea does so well is to make the city of Portland one of the characters in her book. She names real places and real events. For those of us who live here, there's a gasp of recognition when she delivers a dramatic scene or dead body at a local spot. Night Season takes the real Vanport Flood of 1948 and a fictional, contemporary flood (but one that's based on a recent overflowing of the banks of the Willamette River, which bisects the city), and weaves a mystery from them. Although Gretchen is absent, there's still an outlet for the ghoulish with a morgue scene or two, as evidenced by Chelsea's reading.

I've seen Chelsea talk several times -- she's a Portland resident -- and I am always entranced and entertained. She has great comedic timing and the inclusionary grace of an extroverted hostess. She decorates some of her autographs with stick-on gems and laughs readily with fans waiting patiently in long lines.

Authors are often asked about autobiographical elements in their fictional stories. I'd say that the only thing Chelsea shares with Gretchen Lowell is creative thinking. The rest … not so much.

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