We don't always talk about such serious issues on our walk, although it's not unheard of, but this morning's conversation was precipitated by a couple of murder mystery novels I've recently read. Two mysteries which are definitely about more than just murder. In fact the backstory/ subject matter for each is at least as gripping as the murder plot. I love a good book that has what I call value-added. You know, those books which teach you interesting facts about places or subjects new to you, or give context to social issues. And although I love a great mystery novel, I'll admit that "value added" in the form of intelligent background on cutting edge social issues is not necessarily what I expect them to deliver. But the books I'm talking about delivered exactly that.
|The stepping stones, last year. I was too busy talking and stepping for photos this morning.|
And that ain't all folks. The prime suspect for Harriet's murder is her lover Dr. Alois Bentner, a radical academic and expert climatologist, whose cottage in historic Lympstone is named "Two Degrees." Two degrees Celsius was identified at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2009 as the maximum limit of warming before we risk global "climate catastrophes." Interestingly enough, Hurley's fictional character, Bentner, works at the very real Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research. You can read all about the Hadley Centre and their work here. Hurley always tells a good tale, with well-rounded characters whom we come to care about, and a plot that hangs together well. But his examination of such timely social issues through the eyes of his characters makes this latest book a wonderful read. Reviewer Bruce Lawson on Goodreads says that in a genre where there sometimes seems to be a "race to the bottom" with "ever more ludicrous plots, a cranking up of the body count, and weirder and nastier psychopaths," Hurley's book is a "beacon of excellence." He adds that, "if you love literature and have an interest in our complicated screwed up world," you need to read Hurley's latest book. My sentiments exactly, Bruce.
|Historic Lympstone, setting for Hurley's latest novel|
May's latest offering, Coffin Road, is set on the Isle of Harris where a man is washed up on Luskentyre beach in the opening paragraphs. Battered, dazed, wearing an orange life jacket, and without a shred of memory of who he is or what he has done, May's character attempts to piece his life back together. To discover why it seems he's been so interested in the Flannan Isles from where three lighthouse keepers mysteriously disappeared decades ago, and how, despite the fact that he doesn't know his own identity, he appears to know so much about bees.
Peter May makes the Isle of Harris setting come alive for the reader. He captures the harshness of the weather, and the beautiful starkness of the landscape. Like the real coffin road below, along which the character, known on Harris as Neal MacDonald, walks trying to retrace his steps, and discover himself-- literally. Now a route for hikers, the coffin road is the ancient path islanders walked carrying the coffins of their dead loved ones to the burial ground on the west side of the island. You can read a bit more about the coffin road, as well as about other ancient Scottish pathways, here.
"Neonics," as this class of pesticides is also called, are globally the most commonly used insecticides. And their reputed effect on bees has been widely reported. According to May's Canadian scientist friend, it's not that "the pesticides kill bees directly, but that they destroy the insect's memory-- and without memory the bees are lost and the colony dies." And without bees as pollinators one third of the world's food is in jeopardy. But also in jeopardy are the livelihoods of farmers the world over, the profits of big agro-pharma companies like Bayer, and the economies of lots of countries. So one might say that this issue is a teensy bit contentious what with all the economic arguments, the political arguments, and the scientific arguments. You can read about the EU argument over banning the use of neonics here, and about some of the scientific debate here. Those are just two of the many articles I read in my research. Phew. My head is definitely buzzing like a bee now. And I haven't even finished the book yet.
But I will, directly after I finish this post. And after I water the garden. Hubby has 'gone fishing.' Literally. He left early this morning for Algonquin Park, hardly able to contain his anticipation to be on the road, and then on the water in his canoe. And for the next few days, I am "main man" on the old homestead, as my step father used to say. Looking after the vegetable garden and the flowers, and hoping I don't have any "battles" with mice like Hubby had when I was away last winter.
But that's okay. The rest of my time alone will not be misspent. I'm meeting a friend for coffee one day, another for lunch the next day, and a third for dinner and a movie on the last day. And in between, well, there's that Peter May book to finish.
Aren't we lucky as readers to have access to the work of such talented writers as Peter May and Graham Hurley? Writers who can spin a great yarn and also have a social conscience. And who can teach us stuff about, as that reviewer on Goodreads said, "our complicated screwed up world." I swear I think every interesting fact I ever learned came from a book. Hmmm. Now that's an interesting idea for a blog post.
How about you, dear readers? Any thoughts on mystery writers with a social conscience? Any other murder mysteries that are about more than murder to suggest? I'll soon be done my Peter May book, and I'll be trolling for something new to read.
Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner and All About You at Mama and More