John Banville is one of my favorite modern authors, and I was tremendously excited when I learned he'd written noir mysteries under the pen name of BeJohn Banville is one of my favorite modern authors, and I was tremendously excited when I learned he'd written noir mysteries under the pen name of Benjamin Black. The first of these Christine Falls grabbed me from page one, and never let go. For that reason I was a bit worried when I started this one; it was so bleak and depressing at the outset that it put me off, and I nearly set it aside. By a couple chapters in, however, I was hooked, although it does remain pretty grim.
If you aren't familiar with the series, the books focus on Dublin in the 1950s, which provides a neat substitute for the more familiar Los Angeles of Chandler or Ellroy. The main character is Quirke (does he have a first name? Presumably, but no one ever uses it), a Dublin pathologist who falls into solving a crime in the first book. At the start of this one, some time has passed since the end of Christine Falls, and a number of circumstances have changed. These have left Quirke, his friends, and his family, in a rather different state than that in which we'd last seen them. Despite many changes, Quirke finds himself again driven, reluctantly but uncontrollably, to get at the truth behind the death of a young woman, even while concealing the fact that it was murder from the courts and the police.
The structure of the book is unusual, in that the chapters alternate between a present that begins shortly after the victim's body is discovered, and a past that follows the life of the victim through the events leading to her death. As always in Banville, the language is beautiful, and masterfully wielded, to the point that I find myself stopping now and again to re-read a sentence, just to hear it once more.
I'll certainly continue to read whatever Banville writes. ...more
This first novel is a charming young adult story that takes place in the shared-universe setting of Cobalt City. Cobalt City, somewhere vaguely on theThis first novel is a charming young adult story that takes place in the shared-universe setting of Cobalt City. Cobalt City, somewhere vaguely on the northeast coast of the US, and previously detained in a number of short story collections, is the thriving home of many superheroes. In this novel, though, some recent events have caused many of the town's resident heroes to flee.
Enter the main character, Jamie Hattori, a half black, half Japanese, teen superhero, who defends her neighborhood from various threats with her father's samurai sword, plus her ability to see and talk with ghosts. This is not an origin story, though; it begins several years after Jamie's power began to manifest, and some indefinite time -- it seems like a few months -- after she took on her superhero guise, Kensei.
Jamie is a wonderfully different hero. In addition to her racial background, she's a nerd (although not a bookworm or computer geek), a lesbian, and a roller derby fan, none of which hits the traditional fantasy mainstream. I imagine that this must be tremendously exciting to read for people who are not straight white men, and who from what I've read don't get a lot of representation in the genre.
It's not much of a spoiler to say that there's more to Kensei and her powers than she realizes at first. And she is somewhat reluctant to embrace what she learns, and has to be figuratively dragged screaming into recognizing, then learning to embrace, her additional abilities. I found it a little disappointing that Jamie doesn't discover her other powers on her own, but needs to have them explained, and trained, by another hero. But that's a pretty minor quibble.
As the finale of the book approaches, it becomes very clear that there's a lot more going on than was initially apparent, and that there is a bigger picture yet unseen. Some questions are raised by the last couple chapters that do not get answered, so I'm really expecting that a sequel will appear one of these days; I'd love to read it, and learn more about all these characters and what the hell is going on in the larger world.
There are a few infelicitous phrases scattered around, which read awkwardly enough that they pulled me out of the story to wonder how the author could have said them better. But otherwise, this is a solid first novel, and I hope only the first of many. ...more