There's nothing glaringly wrong with this novel (as there was with The Dance of the Seagull), but there's also not much to recommend it. It feels like...moreThere's nothing glaringly wrong with this novel (as there was with The Dance of the Seagull), but there's also not much to recommend it. It feels like the life has gone out of this series, as if Camilleri is phoning it in. The story starts out pretty well, with a pair of elderly religious fanatics who have completely lost their minds and begin shooting at passersby under their window. But from there the novel goes downhill pretty quickly. Montalbano begins receiving anonymous letters leading him on a 'treasure hunt', and at the same time he's introduced by his friend Ingrid to a young man who wants to study Montalbano's methods. Hmmm, that's odd. Then there's the usual scenes where Montalbano dodges a meeting with his boss, and some of the not so very friendly banter with the pathologist. And of course the expected misunderstanding with Livia owing to a female guest picking up his phone when it rings.
All that wouldn't be so bad if there were at least one new aspect of Montalbano's character revealed in this novel; because that, after all, is what this series has been about. But all we see is a somewhat dreary continuation of the earlier themes: he's getting old and not liking it; he's ambivalent about his relationship with Livia; he wonders why he keeps on, but knows that solving crimes is the thing that keeps him going.
Even the food in this book is not up to par - it's basically leftovers from previous episodes.
It's pretty much the usual setup for this series: Adamsberg is under attack by an unknown assailant; a serial killer is on the loose; the story line s...moreIt's pretty much the usual setup for this series: Adamsberg is under attack by an unknown assailant; a serial killer is on the loose; the story line staggers towards supernatural thinking, but steps back just in time; there is a mole on the team working against them. Not a bad formula, all in all.
This time it's vampires; a centuries-old blood feud that, indirectly, involves Adamsberg; and blackmail from high up in the French security apparatus. Adamsberg, as usual, has good instincts and refuses the red herrings that are strewn on his path, going so far as to let a fake suspect get away. In the end, after a harrowing near-death experience, there is a showdown with the deranged criminal mastermind, and Adamsberg wins out (and I hope this isn't a spoiler: you rather know from the beginning in these novels that he will, in the end, win out).
Though I enjoy reading this series, I've never quite warmed up to it. The characters are interesting enough, but a bit overdrawn - slightly one dimensional. Danglard can be counted on to have deep knowledge of subjects large and small - about everything, in fact, except the intricacies of his boss' character. Froissy (sorry - don't have the book in front of me, so I may be misspelling her name) can be counted on to, well, be counted on: stout as an oak tree, loyal as a shepherd's dog, and infinitely resourceful. And Adamsberg is quirky, distracted, and relentlessly driven. With none of the characters do you get the idea that they have anything really resembling a life outside of their work, or that they have ordinary human foibles or contradictions. Unlike, say, Brunetti or Montalbano, you don't feel as if Adamsberg inhabits the same world that we do.
Or not. It might be that I'm simply distracted by the intrusion of supernatural beliefs in these novels. As I suggested above, the supernaturalness is always an illusion, a mere suggestion, but it permeates the stories until near the end when all is revealed. So with that distraction maybe I'm just not seeing the depth of character that I would like.
No matter: I'll keep reading these as long as Fred Vargas keeps writing them. (less)
1. Mystery authors should take their own work seriously. I don't mean they should avoid humor, but they should not mock their own creation.
2. If you're going to do the post-modernist self-referential thing, go all-in or forget about it.
Sadly, nobody told Camilleri about these two rules, and nobody needed to until this book. He makes reference to the TV series about inspector Montalbano (an excellent series, by the way), making a joke about Montalbano not wanting to go to a certain town because he might run into the actor who is playing him. This was just distracting. Later, Camilleri steps out of the omniscient observer role to make reference to himself, Camilleri, and his relationship to Montalbano. Distracting, again.
The translation this time was really not up to Stephen Sartarelli's usual high standards. It seemed rough in places (especially near the beginning), and never exhibited the brilliance of his earlier translations.
The story itself was fairly compelling - not every murder mystery features a cross-dressing gangster. And there was plenty of suspense when, early in the story, Montalbano figures out that his friend and assistant Fazio has been kidnapped and possibly murdered.
But overall this novel was a disappointment, at least by comparison to every other of the novels in this series. (less)
Commissario Bordelli is the sleepiest detective ever created. Insomnia every night, and barely able to keep his eyes open long enough to make an arres...moreCommissario Bordelli is the sleepiest detective ever created. Insomnia every night, and barely able to keep his eyes open long enough to make an arrest. Sleepy and melancholy. He's about fifty, unmarried, long in search of the perfect woman, and now knowing that it's probably too late. He's easily smitten. He's disturbed by dreams of the past - a lost love and the sight and memory of his friends blown up in WwII.
The novel is set in a hot muggy August in 1963 in Florence. The town is mostly deserted, sweltering, humid. A new officer has been assigned to the Florence questura, and turns out to be the son of a man whose life Bordelli saved during the war. Bordelli takes him under his wing as a protege and assistant. The kid is bright and energetic, and his presence seems to help Bordelli keep his focus.
The murder victim in this story is an elderly woman, found dead in her bed apparently of an asthma attack. But there are signs that it wasn't an accidental death, and so Bordelli launches an investigation. The likely suspects all have alibis, but Bordelli presses on.
In the course of his investigation, Bordelli is told by Dante, the eccentric brother of the murder victim, that DDT is poisonous (who knew?), and so, unlike all his neighbors, he is not wafting DDT through his bedroom, and as a consequence has no defenses against the swarms of mosquitoes.
He arrives at the truth in the end, and along the way we meet an interesting cast of characters, mostly petty criminals that Bordelli has befriended. In all, a good read. (less)
This is among the best in this very long running series of Brunetti novels. It is very unusual for a series to get better in the later stages, and in...moreThis is among the best in this very long running series of Brunetti novels. It is very unusual for a series to get better in the later stages, and in fact some of the previous novels were showing a few signs of wear, but this novel seemed to me to be almost a reinvention of the series. The dialogue is crisp, the narrative is engaging and seamless, and the characters are very well drawn.
There are two closely related themes here: the first has to do with the profound ways in which our language determines our relationship with the world and with each other: jokes, conversation, playing with words, using words to express our needs or our sympathy. The second is the ease with which deception can be used to manipulate others.
But above all this is a novel about the terrible effects of stupidity and greed. Greed, of course, is a constant theme in this series, but usually it is greed as practiced by successful fraudsters and criminals. This time the practitioner is simply a very stupid avaricious superstitious person - a person described as a 'viper' by an otherwise mild mannered witness.
I hope this novel is an indication that more Brunetti novels will come our way. I've been enjoying them for many years, and look forward to many more.(less)
The usual setup: a brilliant but eccentric detective, the smart but lumbering sidekick, the ambitious, duplicitous, and profoundly stupid boss, a murd...moreThe usual setup: a brilliant but eccentric detective, the smart but lumbering sidekick, the ambitious, duplicitous, and profoundly stupid boss, a murder victim who was easy to hate, lots of obvious suspects, and a murder timeline just complicated enough to make the mystery hard to solve.
The twist here, and it's one I do not like, is that the detective has a sort of second sight that allows him to hear the last thoughts of the murder victim, and to see the ghosts of victims long afterward. Fortunately this ability was not really key to solving the mystery, but introducing the supernatural intp what could be, and ought to be, a scientific investigation.
Nevertheless, the character of the detective is interesting, in a melancholy sort of way, and there's much else to like here, so I probably oughtn't to dwell on the one feature that bothered me.(less)
I'm not quite sure why I like this series, but I do. The Gabriel Du Pre character is the main reason, I guess. He's basically a redneck luddite who do...moreI'm not quite sure why I like this series, but I do. The Gabriel Du Pre character is the main reason, I guess. He's basically a redneck luddite who doesn't much like the 20th century (when this novel was written) and who could possibly benefit from a little anger management training. He is also introspective, insightful, and perceptive. Oh, and he likes whiskey and guns. So overall not a bad sort.
The other characters are interesting in their own ways. His ... what? Lover, girlfriend, companion? Madeleine is no shrinking violet, not just an adornment, but someone with good judgment and a strong will. His daughter Maria is a smart, motivated girl with a pretty strong ability to know what needs doing, and damn the consequences. His new friend Bart, the wealthy recovering alcoholic has just enough quirks and enough humility to be more than tolerable.
My biggest objection to this series is the Benetsee character, a sort of wine guzzling walk-about shaman with a supernatural ability to know things that he absolutely could not know. I'm not a fan of belief in the supernatural; I find such beliefs to be annoying and contemptible. So for this novel to rely on Benetsee to move the plot forward was disappointing.
But the other characters and the sense of place in Montana and Quebec make up for the book's other flaws.(less)
This is a book about character and place. The murder mystery moves the story forward, but is used mostly to tell us about the character of Gabriel DuP...moreThis is a book about character and place. The murder mystery moves the story forward, but is used mostly to tell us about the character of Gabriel DuPre. In fact, it doesn't really work well as a murder mystery because its solution comes mostly from a deus ex machina in the form of a local quasi-shaman / full time drunkard named Benetsee. DuPre solves the mystery, but only after getting not so subtle hints from Benetsee. Even then it wasn't clear (to me) how DuPre made the logical leap that led him to the solution.
No matter. What counts most in this story is the character of DuPre and "his women": his daughters and his woman friend, Madeleine. DuPre is basically an angry redneck living amongst angry ignorant rednecks. Not a promising start, but DuPre stands above the rest by being smarter and more self-aware and by having the kind of personal code and integrity that you might expect of a John Wayne or Clint Eastwood character. Much is made in the book blurbs and reviews of the novel that DuPre is mixed French-Indian, and it's certainly true that Bowen goes to lengths to make sure we don't forget that: DuPre thinks and talks with a kind of French-Creole rhythm and is constantly musing on the history of both the French voyageurs and the defeats and massacres inflicted on native Americans. Nonetheless, he's basically a shit-kicker like the rest of the people in Toussaint Montana and not a person you'd like to spend any time with; not, that is, if you are the sort of urban college-educated person most likely to have read this book. But his self awareness and intelligence make him an almost likable character.
His younger daughter, Maria, is a 14 year old faux-rebellious honor student who seems to be left home by herself a lot while DuPre spends his nights with Madeleine. Maria is one of the more interesting characters in the novel, but is not a very believable character. I think Bowen tried too hard (or maybe not hard enough) to have her be a smart and basically 'good' girl, but the result is that she's just a little too good to be true.
The story seemed pretty contrived, as though Bowen had made a plot outline, carefully highlighting the main points, and didn't have the time or the energy to fill in the details that would have made it seem like something other than a made-up tale. The elements are: rich decacent family with pseudo-ranch, old plane wreck with one skull too many, useless brain-dead sheriff, local drunkard with supernatural insights, cattle-brand inspector with a fiddle and a creole accent and an attitude. Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
Still, despite its flaws I liked this book a lot. The DuPre character is pretty interesting, as long as you don't have to be in the same room with him.(less)
These are the movie stories (not quite scripts, but close) written by Hammett for the 2nd and 3rd Nick and Nora Charles Thin Man movies. They were rew...moreThese are the movie stories (not quite scripts, but close) written by Hammett for the 2nd and 3rd Nick and Nora Charles Thin Man movies. They were reworked by studio script writers, but if you've seen the movies you'll recognize almost everything in these 2 stories (with just one or two exceptions).
The stories themselves are pretty entertaining, but the main interest comes from the quality of Hammett's writing and the way he portrays the characters via their dialogue. He was really, really good. It's incidentally interesting to see his notes to the director about how certain scenes should be done, and occasional instructions to fill in certain details.
If you enjoy Hammett's novels or if you enjoyed the first 3 Thin Man movies (and nobody enjpyed the next 3) you'll like these stories.(less)
This was a more satisfying novel than some of the previous in the series, mostly because of some of the minor characters, such as the murder victim's...moreThis was a more satisfying novel than some of the previous in the series, mostly because of some of the minor characters, such as the murder victim's aunt, Mrs. Samoukashian. As in the earlier books, though, it is annoying that the LeDuc character seems more interested in dressing stylishly than is strictly necessary, often with disastrous consequences. And as before, the technology references are way off the mark - see the conversation about the encrypted document as a glaring example.(less)
I was disappointed by this novel. Having read and enjoyed all of Leon's Brunetti novels, I had hoped that this would be a nice change. Sadly, it fails...moreI was disappointed by this novel. Having read and enjoyed all of Leon's Brunetti novels, I had hoped that this would be a nice change. Sadly, it fails in several ways and offers little in compensation for its failures.
A musicologist originally from Venice is working as a researcher in Manchester when she hears about a temporary research job in Venice. She applies for the job and is accepted, and gladly abandons her job in England to return to her birthplace. Her task is to analyze the contents of 2 trunks containing papers and perhaps personal belongings of an 18th century priest and composer named Steffani. Two descendants of Steffani, two unsavory cousins living in Venice, are convinced that Steffani had treasure, and the cousins want it, and hope that the trunks contain a will that will entitle them to recover the treasure.
From this premise Leon attempts to write a novel with historical depth, suspense, and intrigue, with modern Venice as the setting, and to create a new character, the researcher, that will engage and interest us. But the only success she achieves in this novel is to convey her love of the beauty of Venice. The historical aspects of the novel seem shallow or truncated. The suspense and intrigue are not fully developed. The character seems rough-edged rather than complex and fully defined, as though Leon were unable to find the right ways to have the character act.
If you are a fan of the Brunetti series, nothing I say here will dissuade you from reading Jewels of Paradise - and, by all means, read it. But if you have never read any Donna Leon, please, please!, read the Brunetti novels before you read this.(less)
Two stories in one: diagnosing a sudden onset drinking problem, and tracking down vicious sex traffickers. It's all fairly low key, even the scenes of...moreTwo stories in one: diagnosing a sudden onset drinking problem, and tracking down vicious sex traffickers. It's all fairly low key, even the scenes of great tension and violence.(less)
I don't need to tell you that if you like Hiaasen's other work you'll like this one as well. A nice blend of absurdity, slapstick, danger, sex, and en...moreI don't need to tell you that if you like Hiaasen's other work you'll like this one as well. A nice blend of absurdity, slapstick, danger, sex, and environmentalism. As always. And of course plenty of redneck charlatans and nitwits. What's not to like?(less)
This episode offers up a nice tour of Olympia, Delphi, and Athens. Sketchy tour guides, sketchier meals and lodging, rough seas and roads, murder, sex...moreThis episode offers up a nice tour of Olympia, Delphi, and Athens. Sketchy tour guides, sketchier meals and lodging, rough seas and roads, murder, sexual assault - you know, the usual.
The Falco character seems to have lost a lot of his edge - understandable at this point in a long-running series. Married bliss is not actually very interesting from the outside. Still, there's always a lot to like in these books.(less)