Sunday, March 18, 2007

Booklog: No Witnesses, by Nancy Sanra

This is a new feature I'm starting here at Chez CounterMonkey, in which I review the books I run across. I'm currently working my way through the Pynchon roster, so my day-to-day reading tends to run towards the simple and straightforward, but once I've gotten Pynchon out of my system I'll be reading and talking about more in-depth books. I'll probably leave the Pynchon out, because I'm intending these to be short snippets about books, things that I will generally read in a day or two and which are very easily digested. More complex posts about books will go in under a separate label.

No Witnesses
Nancy Sanra
Rising Tide Press Trade Paperback, 182 pages

This is a bit of an inauspicious deput for this feature, as this book just really isn't all that good. Oh, it's a decent little read, fine for a couple of hours' entertainment, but other than the basic premise it's really not all that special, and the writing drags in places.

No Witnesses is the first of what seems to be a series of books (my store also carries No Escape and No Corpse starring Tally McGinnes, a private investigator out of San Francisco (ex-cop, naturally), who is called in by Lieutenant Cid Cameron of the SFPD to help solve a murder case involving Tally's ex-lover, Pamela Tresdale. And herein lies the main "twist" of the book -- other than a few supporting characters, all of the speaking roles are gay women who are very aware of each other's sexuality and tend towards wearing sensible but sensual clothing. Though I'm not a longtime fan of the field, I am aware that most of the mystery novels on the shelf at the local bookstore are fairly lightweight affairs with some sort of theme or character that runs through them, so I suppose this isn't really any worse of an example of this than, say, a series of mysteries involving food, or a series involving a knitting club.

I was hoping, though, that Sanra (openly gay herself) would use her setting as a way of poking holes at the conventions of these sorts of crime thrillers, or to make some sort of sly social commentary with her characters or with the crimes that occur in the novel. Instead, these characters remain stubbornly two-dimensional despite the twisting web of motivations that Sanra attempts to use to envelop them, and the actual killer is telegraphed from her very first appearance. Fans of complex or entertaining mysteries should look elsewhere, as should anyone looking for depth of characterization.

In fact, this book is barely even a novel -- at 182 pages with wide margins and large type, it's more of a novella in length, and the $11.95 sticker price would scare me away if I hadn't been able to read it for free. Even readers hoping for steamy love scenes will walk away disappointed, as aside from a memory Tally has of Pamela early in the story, there's really nothing at all dirty in the book, and the romantic subplot towards the end remains mostly platonic. The writing is also choppy, composed of simple sentences strung together into barely descriptive paragraphs. It's far from the worst writing I've ever read, even in a published novel, but it never really feels like a professional work to me.

Granted, I'm not the target audience for this book, and it's certainly worth an afternoon's reading, but I can't really give this book my recommendation. Later on I may try one of the sequels to No Witnesses, but for now I'll leave the series thinking I got my money's worth.

No comments: