Friday, November 9, 2012

Thank you, Bristol Public Library!

"The best so far..." Wow, thank you, Bristol Public Library.
Bookblog of the Bristol Library
Reviews by the Reference Department of the Bristol Public Library, Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee.

True Grey by Clea Simon

Melon ponders whodunit in True Grey.

Reviewed by Jeanne

Dulcie Schwartz is just starting to see some daylight at the end of her long academic tunnel. She has a hot lead on the anonymous author she’s been researching for her thesis, and she thinks she may be ready to start writing. Then the incredible happens: a visiting scholar shows up who claims to have already found the missing novel and is about to publish her paper on the topic. Dulcie is devastated. Years wasted! In hopes of finding out if maybe there’s still something left from which to carve out a thesis, Dulcie tries to contact this Melinda Sloan Harquist despite several warnings that she shouldn’t. There is a meeting at last, but Melinda is dead and Dulcie has blood on her hands—literally.

True Grey is the fifth in Clea Simon's Dulcie Schwartz series and I think the best so far. Dulcie is a bit more settled in her life. After several false starts, she’s finally making some real headway with her paper. She and boyfriend Chris have settled into a steady relationship. Esme, the willful little kitten who captured her heart after the death of her beloved feline Mr. Grey, seems to be growing up a bit. Did I mention that Esme can talk? And that Mr. Grey is also still looking out for Dulcie? Both offer help after their own fashion, but advice from felines can sometimes be a bit obscure. Like the Oracle at Delphi, one has to attach one’s own meanings to some of their pronouncements.

I especially enjoyed these little interludes with the cats, but the whole book is fun—especially if you are or ever have been a member of the Professional Organization of English Majors. Actually, anyone who’s been involved in academia will recognize how passionate people can be over things the general public would think to be totally inconsequential. Think of the TV show Big Bang Theory,only with less slapstick and Engligh majors instead of physists. People carve out their own areas of expertise and are focused on that to the exclusion of almost everything else, so that someone studying the Gothic tradition sniffs at someone studying the Victorian era and vice versa. Simon catches the atmosphere perfectly, even having Dulcie accept being a murder suspect with relative equanimity but being shattered to learn that she’s suspected of –GASP!—plagiarism!

Another aspect I particularly appreciate is the way Simon has the story mirror some of the material Dulcie studies, with its portents and foreshadowings which the headstrong heroine ignores. Dulcie has a good number of these both from her cats (alive and otherwise) and from her New Age mother, who calls to inform Dulcie when the signs are unfavorable. Dulcie, so intent and earnest in her evaluations of fictional situations and so heedless when it comes to real life, makes me smile in recognition. I also like Dulcie’s thoughts on the anonymous author of The Ravages of Umbria and comments on the early feminist movement as she tries to reconstruct the author’s life.

The subplot with the anonymous author remains one of my favorite aspects of the books and I’m interested in seeing how it plays out. That said, I think these books can be read as standalone mystery novels. As with most series, it’s a bit better to read in order to see the character growth but it’s not mandatory.

Full disclosure: I was given a copy of the book-- or rather, Melon was given a copy of the book-- but it did not influence my review.

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