Valley of Bones — Michael Gruber

[asa left]B000BHA3VS[/asa] I reviewed Gruber’s Tropic Night a few days ago and I’ve just finished his follow up novel, Valley of Bones. This one also has Iago (Jimmy) Paz as a detective working a murder, and the setting again is a very vibrant, very vivid Miami. Noisy, colorful, crowded, dreadfully poor and rundown on the one hand and polished like a gemstone on the other.

These are crime novels. A guy gets thrown off a hotel balcony, a woman is found in his room, her fingerprints on the object used to clonk the guy over the head. Her name is Emmylou Dideroff and she is caught up in an intense conversation with St. Catherine of Siena when Jimmy starts asking her questions. Religious mania? Looks like it. Of course that’s not all there is to the story.

The third central character is Lorna Wise, who is a therapist/social worker assigned as one of a team who evaluates the accused’s mental capacities.

Okay, so you’ve got three main characters, and complex back stories on each of them. Emmylou declares she’ll tell them everything, but she wants to do it by writing it all down in notebooks. What we get then, in chunks, is her first person autobiography. It’s disturbing and entertaining reading, covering a horrific childhood and finally her association with the Nursing Sisters of the Blood of Christ. Not what you might be thinking in terms of nuns. These are not your typical nuns.

So here’s the good: There are great characters here and I loved watching them interact. In fact I read until really late because I was intrigued. The attraction between Jimmy and Lorna is nicely done, often funny and sad at turns. Their conversations, the cultural clash and how they work it out, all of this worked. At first Lorna is shocked at the idea that Jimmy never went to college: he’s very smart, widely read, often bests her in logical argumentation. He calls himself a student of the University of Girl because he only dates smart women and spends a lot of time talking to each of them about their work. She’s an upper middle class white girl from the north with a PhD from Columbia — Jimmy plays havoc with her preconceptions. In a whole variety of ways.

You can tell I liked this novel. But something kept getting in the way, what was it– oh yeah, the murder.

I guess I’d say there were some pacing problems here. The first 3/4 of the novel are great, and then Gruber seems to realize he’s left the actual plot behind the murder alone for too long and it’s time to get down to work. So in about a fourth of the book we get it all packed together, how Emmylou was tied in a roundabout way to the victim, the money question behind it all, the quilty parties. A complex backstory here that involves oil and Africa.

Which really? I needn’t need. Or I needed far less of. And still I really liked this book, and I can recommend it in spite of what I see as pacing issues. I think I liked this one more than the first Jimmy Paz story because I was more comfortable with the way the religious theme was worked in and carried out. For which you may call me ethnocentric, and I’d have to plead guilty.