I was reading an article the other day about the TV show “House.” It seems the network was initially very leery about putting the show on the air. Why? Well, the protagonist is cranky, arrogant, sexist, rude…not, in other words, a very nice fella. And Americans, or so the thinking went, demand nice fellas.
Apparently, not so much. “House,” of course, went on to become hugely, insanely popular, both in America and around the world. It’s also very popular in my apartment, partly because I have a crush on Robert Sean Leonard, and partly because, at least when it comes to fiction, I rather like arrogant jerks.
Which brings me The Bad News Bible, the first in one of my very favorite series. As always, it was the writing that grabbed me first; I am such a sucker for a vivid narrative voice, one that rings in my head with the clarity of a church bell (though not, perhaps, at a church where I’d want to worship). But once that prose style had lured me in, I fell – hard – for Faith Zanetti, the woman your mother warned you about. Faith curses like a sailor, drinks like a Scotsman on a spree, and sleeps around like she was getting paid for it. She isn’t, but that’s among the few sins she doesn’t commit, since one of the big perks of her life as a war correspondent is that sniper fire has a nifty way of killing off minor moralities.
Remember Jane Tennison, the magnificently messed-up heroine of the “Prime Suspect” mini-series? Faith could be her younger, perhaps more damaged cousin. She also bears some comparison to Kay Scarpetta; she has similar “trust issues,” a similarly troubled history with men, similar inclinations perhaps – late at night, after a few way too many whiskeys – toward women. And like both Tennison and Scarpetta, Faith Zanetti is really good at her job.
Her job at this point has taken her to Jerusalem, and one of the surprising strengths of this novel is that it manages to avoid demonizing either the Palestinians or the Israelis. There’s plenty of villainy to go around, and plenty of ways for Faith to get into trouble while digging up the details for her newspaper back in London.
Israel doesn’t send you as a setting? Then I highly recommend the next in the series, the Moscow-set Vodka Neat– if only because it contains one of my all-time favorite lines of dialogue: “The dead twins stole my chicken!”
If you need more persuasion to check out Faith Zanetti, you might like to know that the author knows her stuff. She has worked extensively as a foreign correspondent (and is in fact the daughter of a famous journalist who was killed covering the war in El Salvador), and has lived all over the world, including Russia both before and after. Odds are, you wouldn’t really want Faith in your life. She’d suck down your stash of duty-free single-malt, let your dog out, scandalize your neighbors, and call you at 2 in the morning needing someone to post bail. But for a few hours, she is just terrific company.
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