Tragedy tomorrow– Comedy tonight

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Ok– I have a confession.  For a former English major, I don’t like Literature very much.  I would rather read a book written to entertain and tell a story, than something that gets all kinds of critical awards and “makes a statement for our time.”  So, most of what you’ll see here will be regular, every-day books.  Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way– on with the show!

book: “A Night at the Operation”

author: Jeffrey Cohen

series: Double Feature Mysteries

summary: Elliot Freed, owner of the historical movie theater “Comedy Tonight,” searches for his ex-wife, who has suddenly vanished under suspicious circumstances.  Her disappearance involves him in a problem on inheritance.

Randomly impressive things: praise & recommendations from Larry Gelbart (writer of M*A*S*H, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and Linda Ellerbee (any one remember Nick News from back in the day?)

This is the latest in a list of good stuff from Cohen.  My summary doesn’t do it justice.  It’s a fun and easy read.  I really enjoy his writing style, with his dry sarcasm and well-realized narrator.  His use of classic comedy movie plots/ devices sets his books apart.  The set piece towards the end of the novel is wonderful!  I’m a sucker for opening books & chapters with quotations, and Cohen picks some nice ones here– from Sondheim and the Marx brothers.  Cohen’s day jobs in television and movie writing mean that he has his characters “do” rather than “say.”  In the realms of niche mysteries, this technique makes a refreshing change.  The plot was convoluted enough to keep me guessing. 

I like this series, but I do, however, miss Cohen’s earlier series about the dad and his autistic son (the Aaron Tucker mysteries).  For me, and this will come up again, narrators are the key to a book.  If the narrator is strong & interesting, I can forgive a weaker plot.  A boring or uncomfortable narrator, though, will see me leaving the book open and upside down on the table indefinately (yes, I’m one of THOSE people– I also dog ear pages.  so there). 

Both of Cohen’s series are written from the first-person persective of a relatively easy-going, male narrator, who is fundamentally out of his depth when solving mysteries, but, of course, manages to solve them anyway– usually with lots of help from quirky family/ friends.  Tucker was a friendly, guy-who-lives-across-the-street, kind of narrator.  He was a dad first, then a husband, then a sleuth.  Freed, however, is a harder character.  He’s much more sarcastic and damaged by life.  He’s not unfriendly, just more protected.  I wonder if the change in styles reflects a more mature view on the author’s part or simply a desire to tell a different kind of story.

Overall– good stuff.  I’ll keep following the series, and I’ll probably read this one again when the next book comes out.

If you want more, try the links below.

http://www.aarontucker.com/

http://heydeadguy.typepad.com/

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