Dorothy Dunnett and the exquisite villain

This year, as last time, I took a Dorothy Dunnett book on my hike. Somehow I can't read her in real life, but I find her compelling on the trail. Some books require being sent back to a previous era--I only read Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon because a dangerous storm at high altitude stranded me in a tent for twenty four hours. And I loved that too, once that was all I had to do.

Many people like the Crawford of Lymond books. I haven't tried them because I dislike dashing, devilishly charming heroes who women instantly fall in love with, which is how I imagine him to be.  Actually, the whole Scottish thing doesn't appeal to me. I don't even like Scotch--bourbon and Irish are my whiskeys. Not that I'm opposed to all things Scottish.  But I prefer David Hume and Groundskeeper Willy as representatives of the breed.  Nothing dashing there.

So I'm reading about an insanely intelligent, manipulative, and not quite sane Fleming named Claes. Of course he's great in the sack, but you can't really get away from that with your bestselling heroes, can you? The Niccolo series is a quick travelogue across the world of the late 15th century.

The best thing about the novels (at the least two I've read so far) are the villains. Both Simon (the big villain) and Doria (the smaller one in The Spring of the Lamb) are genuinely compelling. Doria was sly, manipulative, sexually voracious, vicious, charming, and dangerous. And the villains are assisted in their machinations by people emotionally close to Claes who don't actually care that he's the hero of the stories.

The least good thing is Claes's band of associates. They are described as having distinct personalities, weaknesses, and strengths, but I have a great deal of trouble detecting specific personalities.  The books would be much stronger if they were as specific as the villains.

I do hope I get to read another one before I'm on the trail again.