Posts Tagged ‘Carolyn Hart’

Skulduggery by Carolyn Hart

December 4, 2012 Leave a comment


Being old and something of a collector, I’ve accumulated a mess of music over the years and, when the mood is upon me, I power up the record deck and indulge my nostalgia for old skool singles and LPs. It’s all a rather random process as I refresh my memory. Most recently, I’ve been reassessing the work of Tony Banks. Perhaps it’s just an ironic coincidence that the one track that briefly stuck in my mind was “Throwback” from Bankstatement (1989). It’s pleasingly retro in feel, a kind of recreation of simple melodic line over a bass riff. By which circuitous route, we arrive at Skulduggery by Carolyn Hart (Seventh Street Books, 2012) which brings back into print a title first published in 2000. Even in 2000, this was a throwback in style. To read it now is to relive the delights of the past where a simple and direct approach to putting an adventure novel together was the norm. Indulge me for a moment and travel back to 1930 when The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett first appeared on book shelves. This classic starts off as what looks like a routine case for a PI. All they have to do is follow a man alleged to be involved in unfortunate romantic entanglements but, when one of the two PIs ends up dead, we have ourselves an unparalleled experience as a hunt for long-lost treasure diverts from simple murder to kidnapping and extortion.

Carolyn Hart and her muse

Carolyn Hart and her muse

It should be said up front that this book is not in the same league as The Maltese Falcon, but it follows a comparable plot pattern in that an anthropologist is invited to authenticate a skull. She only has time for the briefest of examinations in a poorly lit cellar with no access to proper forensic tools with which to confirm its authenticity. Yet, just holding it, she’s convinced it belongs to the long-lost bones of Peking Man. At a stroke, this rips her from the humdrum routine of her job in a museum, and shows her a different world of danger and violence. It starts by reinforcing the use of stereotypes with the Chinese community as the backdrop. Ever since Fu Manchu and the yellow peril stories, the Asians including the Chinese have been viewed with a particular sense of horror, as if their very presence is a threat to the future prosperity, if not the existence, of those who live in the West. So this book starts us off with a confrontation and a chase through secret tunnels terminating in a gambling den. Fortunately, our author recognises she’s pandering to deep-rooted prejudices and switches into writing a more honest social document. Indeed, she invests considerable effort in cataloguing the very real problems experienced by the Chinese community as the old and newly arrived try to survive in adverse conditions. We meet a succession of people who try to help, have received help and are slowly coming out of their despair, and those who have been victimsed. It’s a major shift of pace and tone. The breathless excitement is put on hold as the author explains the “facts” of life in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Then, the documentary style is dropped and we get back into adventure mode, wrap everything up, and leave our heroine with a new love interest in her life. It seems not unlike the cruise-ship romance syndrome that people who investigate together at the risk of their lives are destined to fall into bed with each other when everything is resolved at the end.

On balance, I’m not very impressed. It’s a slight story and, although the adventure bits are done very well, it’s all a bit predictable as our heroine gets into the thick of the action and has to be rescued by the hunk. However, this does raise the more interesting virtue of the book. The hunk is Chinese and this makes for a biracial couple. I recently put a quick list together featuring HawthoRNe with the relationship between Jada Pinkett Smith and Michael Vartan, Private Practice with Taye Diggs and Kate Walsh, Happy Endings with Damon Wayans Jr. and Eliza Coupe, and Wonderfalls between Traci Thoms and Lee Pace. I was making the point that mainstream television does occasionally break the mould of prejudice and show happy mixed race couples. So it’s good I’m able to applaud Carolyn Hart who has her heroine cosying up to a Chinese guy without a second thought. She does what comes naturally without worries about what other people might say. Other than this, I can’t say I think this book is worth reprinting for the modern audience. Unlike the “Throwback” which I can still hum along with, this is forgettable.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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