chung-Chung! I interrupted this books blogs last May to pay tribute to the demise of the original Law and Order after 20 years, although reruns continue to tape loop on cable TV. I woke up early yesterday to Laura Linney’s voice as she testified she killed the Japanese businessman in self-defense. Now I’m wondering if that episode is one that will be adapted for Law and Order UK. Yes, the Brit version premiered on BBC America last night with the episode about how a slumlord’s efforts to get rid of tenants resulted in a baby’s death.
Ok, so I already knew the story, but Anglophile that I am, I adored the accents, the atmosphere, the barristers’ wigs, and several of my favorite actors: Jamie Bamber as a Logan-like detective, Harriet Walter as his boss, Freema Aygeman as a junior crown prosecutor. I almost didn’t recognize Bradley Walsh as veteran copper Ronnie Brooks; he put on 30 pounds to be the Lennie Briscoe counterpart. Further episodes are scheduled for 9 p.m. Fridays.
Meanwhile, I was underwhelmed by the premiere of Law and Order LA last week with its cliched, predictable plot. I felt like I’d seen it all before, the Hollywood mansions and young celebs, stage mom cashing in on daughter’s fame. Yawn. If I’m going to watch same-old stories, let them be in London, whose distinctive neighborhoods provide less-familiar vistas.
Ruth Rendell’s latest suspense outing, Portobello, takes readers to Notting Hill and the famous Portobello Road street market, where you can buy everything — food, furniture, books, beddings, jewelry, junk –except live animals or birds. Stuffed ones? No problem. Thousands of visitors wander the stalls and shops on Saturdays, and I agree with Rendell that once you go, you want to go again. “Its thread attaches itself to you and a twitch on it summons you to return.”
The thread that ties together the disparate characters in Rendell’s twisty story is a money-filled envelope that sauve gallery owner Eugene Wren discovers on the street. Instead of turning it into the police, he posts a “Found” notice with his phone number. The consequences lead to a young layabout turning to a life of crime (it runs in the family), Eugene’s doctor fiance being drawn into the affairs of a mentally troubled man, a house fire, a sudden death, a falling-out among thieves, and another murder. Eccentricity is the order of the day, and Rendell briskly knots all plot points before neatly unraveling them. I could have done without Eugene’s boring addiction to a certain brand of sugarless candy, but at least it takes him to assorted colorful shops and take-aways on Portobello Road.
Readers move south toward the Thames to Pimlico for Alexander McCall Smith’s Corduroy Mansions, a whimsical on-line novel serialized for the London Telegraph. Smith, who had his first big success with the No. 1 Lady Detective Agency series set in Botswana has become quite prolific; he’s now juggling four series.
Corduroy Mansions, which takes its name from that of a shabby genteel mansion block in Pimlico, follows the intertwining lives of its residents. Of course, they are eccentrics to one degree or another, and their everyday comings-and-goings are often agreeably comical.
I suppose William French, a 50ish widower and wine merchant, is the central character. His efforts to dislodge his grown son Eddie from his flat include inviting a woman to live with him (he’s thinking platonic, she’s thinking maybe more), and acquiring a clever “Pimlico terrier,” Freddie de la Hay. Eddie claims to be allergic to dogs, but Freddie is as irresistible as another character, Oedipus Snark, is odious. One of the girls who shares the flat below William is secretary to Oedipus, whose girlfriend literary agent is about give up on him, and whose mother is writing his biography. There’s a bit of a mystery surrounding a possibly valuable painting, hints of romance, and much satirical drollery. I’m looking forward to the next entries in the series. So much so that I’m now following “freddiedelahay” on Twitter.
Open Book: You already know of my L&O addiction. I think Ruth Rendell, whom I’ve interviewed several times, writes masterful crime fiction, both as Rendell and Barbara Vine. I can’t believe Portobello (Scribner)was just waiting for me on the library shelf. I once sat next to Alexander McCall Smith at a book luncheon, and he told me his friends call him “Sandy.” He has a lovely Scots accent and was wearing a kilt. I downloaded the e-book version of Corduroy Mansions (Knopf Doubleday) to my nook because I like the title, the cover and Sandy.