This Month in Recreational Reading: Deanna Raybourn and Francesca Lia Block

Although I do sometimes make fun Cover illustration for The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybournof Deanna Raybourn’s over-the-top Gothic stylings, I freely admit that I snapped up her latest, The Dark Inquiry, the day it was released and finished the thing in about a day and a half.

The mystery portion of the plot is not quite so dark as in previous installments–no elicit sex, no incest or mummy babies–no tigers even. The solution is, however, a bit more difficult to predict, largely because the investigation remains unfocused for much of the book, leaving readers uncertain of what to watch for, and because the author withholds a key piece of information about one of the characters until the heroine’s own moment of realization.

Raybourn has a gift for continuing the romantic storyline even after her hero and heroine have moved past the tortuous and drawn out will-they-won’t-they phase of the relationship–a very rare trait among writers if any genre. Her characters are married and ostensibly living happily ever after–but they still fight. And they fight about real things. Then they make up again, without necessarily resolving the underlying issues–almost like a real relationship. This underlying honest streak counterbalances the more ridiculous aspects of her work to some extent, making for surprisingly touching and serious moments in the midst of what is at heart escapist fiction for English majors.

Cover illustration for Necklace of Kisses by Francesca Lia BlockIs there an arty chick under 40 who doesn’t have a certain soft spot in her heart for Francesca Lia Block–especially the Weetzie Bat books?

The first new addition to the Dangerous Angels series since 1995, Necklace of Kisses picks up with Weetzie at 40. After 20 years together, Weetzie and Max have somehow managed to loose each other in a haze of work and depression. So, Weetzie packs a bag full of her favorite clothes and goes to stay a pink hotel where she meets a spectrum of eccentric artists and struggles to heal and to find herself again.

This follow-up focuses on the relationship between Weetzie and her Secret Agent Lover Man, but readers will be glad to see all their old favorites–Coyote, Dirk and Duck, Ping and Valentine, Raphael and Cherokee, Witch Baby and Angel Juan (my personal favorites), and even the evil Jane Mansfield-style witch Vixanne.

The story isn’t as compelling and original–or as cohesive–as many of Block’s other books. Indeed, echos of Weetzie and Max’s separation in Weetzie Bat (1989), the first book in the series, may give long-time readers a slight feeling of de ja vu. However, there is enough new material here to keep readers interested and engaged, and the conclusion of the novel is, as always, enormously satisfying. It’s a comfort to know that, even twenty years later, love and art still save the day.

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