I found this little gem waiting for me at random on the New Book Shelf at the library. I am a sucker for the setting...a backwater English village in...moreI found this little gem waiting for me at random on the New Book Shelf at the library. I am a sucker for the setting...a backwater English village in 1881. The not-so-likeable protagonist is an arrogant city-trained architect full of himself and of the social conventions of Victorian England. He feels himself to be a cut above the inhabitants of the town in which he is temporarily working on a church restoration project.
The architect, Stannard, shows contempt for his laborers, his landlady and the curate of the church. However, he also becomes absorbed, much against his will, into the strangeness of the village. Stannard's interest is piqued by Ann...an attractive young local woman. As his attraction to Ann grows, the misfortunes that plague his work at the church continue to occur and the tone of the tale grows darker.
I am enjoying the style of the writing very much. The author successfully uses Stannard's repressive style of communication and his obsession with class distinction and propiety as a counterpoint to almost gothic scenes of fever dreams (suffered by Stannard during a period of illness). The story is restrained when it needs to be and foreboding when I want it to be.
Although I have never heard of the author before, I will look for future efforts.(less)
This is one of my favorite books in recent memory. What child of the 70s, such as myself, can resist an amazing vampire story...a sweeping adventure a...moreThis is one of my favorite books in recent memory. What child of the 70s, such as myself, can resist an amazing vampire story...a sweeping adventure across the capitals of Europe and as far away as Istambul? If you ever sat riveted to In Search Of as a child and dreamed of being an archaeologist or historian on the trail of mystery, intrigue and the supernatural then race to the library and grab this book.
Once inside the pages you will meet thoughtful characters and a compelling dual storyline of present and current events which intersect neatly to frame the action. Yes, it is a vampire story...but it is so much more. It is literary and evocative. You can smell the leather of the old tomes in the research libraries of various great cities...you can gaze at the views from the monastery in the Pyrennees...You can feel like you are a world traveler and a vampire hunter and that you have the mind of an Oxbridge don all at the same time.
Do not let the vampire dissuade you...even if nosferatu is not your usual thing. The Historian is a literary award winner that just happens to feature a vampire along with a cast of well drawn characters...and it is damn fun reading.(less)
Two Toledo area brothers with little in common and not much of a relationship find themselves entwined in a conspiracy of silence after they happen ac...moreTwo Toledo area brothers with little in common and not much of a relationship find themselves entwined in a conspiracy of silence after they happen across a fortune together, when they are the first to discover a downed private airplane filled with bags of cash.
The brothers enter into an agreement to keep a large chunk of the money for themselves and devise "a simple plan" to pull off the crime. However, things are never as simple as they seem. One event leads to the next and, before they know it, the two men are enveloped in murder, violence, secrets and lies. A simple plan to commit a "victimless crime" in order to take a chance of a lifetime to gain enormous wealth becomes a web of deception that leads "normal people" into acts they would never have imagined they could commit and decisions they never would have thought themselves capable of making.
This is a solid page-turner of a crime told through the perspective of the perpetrators, who are not so different from you and I.(less)
A well-crafted gothic...secrets abound, malice reaches across time and halfway around the world to ensnare the narrator, Gerald, into a web of suspens...moreA well-crafted gothic...secrets abound, malice reaches across time and halfway around the world to ensnare the narrator, Gerald, into a web of suspense, lies and terror.
I love a good ghost story with a haunting setting. Sadly, they are rare and most descend into carnivals of cheez. When an author can build the atmosphere, increase the tension with care, and make a chill go down my spine, it is a rare delight.
This is, I believe, Harwood's first novel. I enjoyed it enough to seek out The Seance. However, I have had no luck finding an American release yet. I am hopeful that his second book will eventually be available here.(less)
My first encounter with Laura Lippman was earlier this year when I read and enjoyed What the Dead Know. I was in the mood for an entertaining mystery...moreMy first encounter with Laura Lippman was earlier this year when I read and enjoyed What the Dead Know. I was in the mood for an entertaining mystery for the busy holiday season...something I can pick up and put back down again 15 times a day amidst all the holiday chaos. The choppy way in which I approached this title may have had something to do with my relative lack of enthusiasm. However, I also believe the pacing in this book was somewhat "off".
First, let me say that I will seek out more of Laura Lippman's work. I am getting to know the recurring police characters in her stand alone titles. And I believe she shows talent for presenting authentic characters. I prefer my stories to be character driven at least as strongly as they are plot driven. I was interested in the various characters portrayed in the universe of the crime -- in this case the kidnapping and subsequent murder of a child at the hands of two 11 year old girls -- but it got to the point where the plot seemed too crowded. Some pivotal characters made an appearance only in the last few chapters in the book.
Maybe this mimics the real world of police procedural...where crime and punishment is not written down in five perfect Shakespearian acts. In a work of fiction, however, pacing plays a major role in the reader's experience in savoring the plot...or in being swept away on a roller coaster ride, depending upon the author's style and intent.
Here, it felt like Lippman was given a page limit. There were more sub plots that needed development. But, the book was going to end up being too long if they were pursued in detail. The result is a book that takes its time setting up the characters and back story for the crime. (In my opinion, a positive. I like to get a feel for the motives and personalities on all sides of a crime story and the environment in which the action takes place.) ---Then, after a somewhat detailed roll out, turns into a story that is over eager to complete itself.
In my opinion, the author has the chops to do more. Let's see what she comes up with next time.(less)
I hope this author goes on to write more. I will be on the lookout for her in bookstores and online. The Thirteenth Tale is a novel for the reader in...moreI hope this author goes on to write more. I will be on the lookout for her in bookstores and online. The Thirteenth Tale is a novel for the reader in you. I love a good story featuring books and readers.
Perverse and twisting family lineage...settings of grandeur declining into decrepitude...a very quiet central character surrounded with tormented and memorable others...a fluent style...my superlatives go on and on.
I like a good gothic-infused read. But it must be a quiet gothic...no shreiking banshees or blood drinking covens or other plot lines that fall into the mass-merchandized "Hot Topic" style of off- the -rack gloom and doom.
The Thirteenth Tale offered me chills, atmosphere, torment and also resolution and dignity. Let's give Ms. Setterfield time enough to develop her next book -- but I'll be chomping at the bit to read it.(less)
In the Woods is a class post-modern detective story with pervasive psychological mind games underpinning the action. I was hungry to get back to the s...moreIn the Woods is a class post-modern detective story with pervasive psychological mind games underpinning the action. I was hungry to get back to the story each night and the narration kept me on edge throughout.
Any excuse to return to the long hot summer of 1984 is keenly taken up by this reader. That summer marked a turning point in my own life and I recall it with clarity and nostalgia. I was fortunate to spend that summer in Britain and was especially piqued when I discovered parts of this story are set in Ireland in 1984. The fact that this mystery coincidentally combines a favorite era with a favorite location probably helped me love it. However, I feel it would be fairly high on my list regardless of my idiosyncratic desire to return to the days of Wham! on the radio.
When a boy who witnessed the mysterious end/disappearance of his two best friends in a remote Irish wood in 1984 becomes a man who works as a murder detective 20 years later, his current case intersects with the tragedy of his youth. The fact that he can retain no memory of what actually transpired on that fateful summer day...except that he entered the wood a happy boy accompanied by friends and later exited alone and in profound shock...becomes a central psychological plot point.
In order to appreciate this brand of mystery, a reader should be comfortable with a narrator who is less than trustworthy and who carries his own aura of tragedy and even menace. The reader must also strive to remember that, often it is what remains unresolved that lies at the heart of terror...or at least unease. in the Woods belongs to that brand of mystery and suspense where things are not always neatly tied up in a package...where the detective is as flawed as his quarry. If you enjoy being off kilter and do not feel betrayed when a plot toys with your psyche...read and enjoy as I did. This story demands some of the work to be done by the reader...coming to his/her own conclusions about what remains unspoken.
I read this way...way...way back in high school (when it was a newly published title) and recall that I loved it. I don't know what I would make of it...moreI read this way...way...way back in high school (when it was a newly published title) and recall that I loved it. I don't know what I would make of it now...but it was atmospheric at the time.(less)
The Likeness should be read after Tana French's impressive debut, In the Woods. Although The Likeness could possibly stand alone, the strength of both...moreThe Likeness should be read after Tana French's impressive debut, In the Woods. Although The Likeness could possibly stand alone, the strength of both novels is in the psychological underpinnings of the characters and their relationships to one another. To get the full force of both stories they should be read in order.
The Likeness centers on the character of Detective Cassie Maddox whereas the first story was really her partner's story. I found In the Woods to be the more haunting of the two. The Likeness, however, was still an interesting read.
Once again, French writes a murder mystery that is mainly psychological. Readers who crave high body counts and wall to wall action of the violent kind will not get enough blood and guts in either title. Those who love to be thoroughly creeped out by characters who walk the fine line between sanity and an unraveling loss of control will savor the cast within these pages. Most of French's characters are ambiguous. The cops hover on the edge almost as much as the criminals they hunt just over that precipice. In the words of Frank Mackey: "There's a line, Cassie. You and me, we live on one side of it. Even when we fuck up and wander over to the other side, we've got that line to keep us from getting lost." Other characters take that extra step over the line...which is all anyone needs to do to become one of society's outlaws.
An ongoing theme in this story is the temptation to sometimes cross that line or to break away clean and assume a new role for ourselves. One of Tana French's talents is to get the reader to sympathize with people who are damaged. Isn't is scarier to identify with a potential killer than to merely loathe them?
Interesting psychological suspense and the mix of verve and darkness will leave French's growing fan base ready for the next installment.(less)
Just as it appears Winter may be releasing the shores of Lake Erie from its death grip, I have found the perfect late autumn/winter read. In The Seanc...moreJust as it appears Winter may be releasing the shores of Lake Erie from its death grip, I have found the perfect late autumn/winter read. In The Seance, John Harwood has recreated the best aspects of gothic dread. As in Harwood's freshman novel, The Ghost Writer, a major character in this story is a place: the decrepit Wraxford Hall...permeated by the stain of a violent past and filled with ominous secrets.
The troubled young woman who inherits Wraxford Hall has also inherited abilities as a spiritual medium. Her homelife is unhappy in the extreme and, feeling quite alone in the world, she begins to immerse herself in the mysteries of the Hall and the tragic fate of Eleanor Wraxford, a woman she believes to be her real mother.
The author's strength is in the development of atmosphere and place. I found the "character" of Wraxford Hall more compelling than his cast of humans, just as the image of the haunted house in his first novel has stuck with me longer than the narrator of that tale. However, I found both of Harwood's novels to be compelling, written with style and genuinely spine tingling.
The next time you are in the mood for a suspenseful scare, curl up with this, or John Harwood's first novel. I am confident you will not be displeased. I hope this Australian author continues to write such quality suspense as there is a need for new life in this genre. And I hope he gains an audience stateside. I had to special request this book from our metropolitan library system and, fortunately, they did purchase it. Libraries...wonderful institutions!(less)
The alternative title for Ruth Rendell's latest could be Death Cab for Cutie. Suave Tory MP, Ivor Tesham is indulging in a steamy affair with the lith...moreThe alternative title for Ruth Rendell's latest could be Death Cab for Cutie. Suave Tory MP, Ivor Tesham is indulging in a steamy affair with the lithesome blond, Hebe Furnal, who is married to Gerry, an executive for a charity foundation. Tesham and Hebe enjoy kinky sex and role playing. Tesham plans a special birthday present for Hebe (who, amusingly for me, shares my birth date of May 17th.) This birthday 'gift' is a scenario where Ivor Tesham hires an fledgling actor/cab driver and another associate to "abduct" Hebe from the side of a road, pack her into a cab, bound and gagged, and take her to a house where he is waiting for her. Hebe will be aware that something will happen and that it will involve a game with Tesham, but the details will be a surprise. (Personally, I hope that next May my own spouse will stick with slightly more conventional plans....but that is an aside which is not helpful to other readers.)
Obviously, the mock abduction does not go well. En route to the home where Tesham is waiting, the driver, Dermot Lynch, goes through a red light and collides with a truck. Hebe Furnal is killed in the crash, as is the other man in the car, Lloyd Freeman. Lynch survives but barely. He remains in a coma with severe brain damage and an indefinite future.
Ivor Tesham's role in the scenario is, therefore, covered up for the time being. However, he lives under the constant cloud of apprehension. Who knows the various bits and pieces about his affair with Hebe? How much do they know? Can any one person connect the dots and draw a picture that will lead back to him? His promising political career is at stake and he becomes a haunted man.
Rendell can take characters who are almost uniformly unpleasant and make you want to know what happens to them. The victims in this story are not people I can sympathize with, but this is immaterial. I was interested in their motivations and the repercussions. This is what makes a psychological suspense story so satisfying -- plumbing the murky depths of human nature. The action in Rendell's plots is far more mental than physical (although acts of deadly violence do occur). Rendell also has the uniquely British talent for writing about distasteful subjects and despicable people in a tasteful and understated way. She refrains from going over the top and keeps her characters tightly drawn.
The legion of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine fans will enjoy The Birthday Present and new readers may want to give it a try as well.(less)
Fellow not-so-gentle readers ripped this book a new one. Why? Mainly because it was "long". This seems to be a very common complaint in our contempora...moreFellow not-so-gentle readers ripped this book a new one. Why? Mainly because it was "long". This seems to be a very common complaint in our contemporary culture. Everyone cries out for an editor. We seem to prefer our prose tight and terse and conveying "just enough".
This is another reason why my tastes are so helplessly out of my time. I enjoy wallowing in description. I actually don't mind if the author runs on a bit (or even more than a bit) if the story grabs me. In the case of this title I also suspect the author chose to be more florid with the phrasing to convey the feel of a Victorian novel. The Victorians were not exactly minimalists...in anything.
Back before Youtube and IM and 4 minute microwave dinners people could stick with a longer story. The Victorians would certainly prefer a tale that was of robust length...there were not as many competitors for the reader's spare time. A book that would last awhile was probably considered an asset.
So, if you dislike the plot, (which is actually rather intriguing) or hate the characters (some are truly despicable people) or feel the style (faux Victorian wordiness) is not to your taste...go ahead and slam this book six ways to Sunday. But, if the main complaint is that it was "too long"...then choose a shorter book next time.
For anyone who is not automatically turned off by length and by the Victorian setting, I would recommend this as a good read. It would appeal to someone who enjoys rooting for the "bad guy" sometimes...and who is flexible in mind enough to accept gray areas in character development. Yes, good people can do inexcusable things...and people who the world sees as heroic can be shams and con men. If this sort of thing is not palatable to you, this is not the story you are seeking. (less)
Fellow readers, it is early November...the days when we celebrate the dead, the supernatural and the shadows that haunt us just out of view. The trees...moreFellow readers, it is early November...the days when we celebrate the dead, the supernatural and the shadows that haunt us just out of view. The trees are growing bare and showing ominous silhouettes against the darkening skies...the leaves crunch beneath our feet as we scurry home to the safety of our 21st century hearth. What better time on our calendar exists to savor a sinister story? Especially one that is as well crafted and replete with macabre description as Dan Simmon's Drood?
I urge readers who, like me, enjoy almost nothing more than cozying up against the oncoming chill with a dark and ominous tale of terror to go out and pick up a copy of this tour de force.
In all of fiction I wonder if any author has ever taken such pains with the naming of characters as Charles Dickens. His books are populated with people whose names cannot exist in reality -- yet they are clever and say much about the qualities of the men and women who bear them. And, among all of Dicken's nomenclature, i am most fond of "Edwin Drood".
Drood -- a name that combines 'dread' and 'brood'. How fitting for a tragic or villainous character.
Drood's story is told here by another author of note -- Wilkie Collins. Collins is probably the grandaddy of Goth. His "Moonstone" and "The Woman in White" are considered cornerstones of the mystery and gothic genres; a type of book known as "sensationalist' writing in Collin's day. Collins and Dickens were friends and collaborators in their day, as they are in this telling. The friendship, however, becomes strained over time as Dickens consistently outshines Collins in public reputation, literary lights and financial success.
As time passes, Collins grows ever more resentful of his friend. Collins opium habit and chronic pain from "rheumatical gout" do little to enhance his equanimity and grip on reality. Collins is plagued by visions of "the Other Wilkie", a doppelganger only he can see, but who he is certain is waiting in the wings to take over his writing and his very life.
Meanwhile, Dickens is written here as a force to be reckoned with: at times a whimsical man -- always an imaginative man, yet also cruel in his way. Collins chafes at his own lack of standing in polite society. Though a bachelor, Collins has set up household with Mrs. Caroline G, his lover, who is listed as his housekeeper in public records. His unorthodox (for its time) living arrangements are not accepted by staid Victorian society. At the same time, however, Dickens has successfully sent his wife into exile and carries on a relationship with a young actress named Ellen Ternan. The same Public who will not abide Collins personal life appears to hold nothing against their hero, Charles Dickens.
Against this backdrop, a great tragedy occurs. Dickens is involved in a harrowing railroad disaster where a great many passengers lose their lives. Miraculously Dicken's car (also carrying Ellen Ternan and her mother) is spared. However, as Dickens walks among the fiery wreckage of the train he encounters a being who will change his life. and eventually the life of Wilkie Collins forever. This is, of course, the diabolical Drood. Drood becomes a character...a force...a presence that will remain in my imagination for many brooding autumns to come.
I have never read The Mystery of Edwin Drood...Charles Dicken's last and unfinished book. I own copies of both the Moonstone and The Woman in White, but have not yet gotten around to reading them. After enjoying this vivid portrayal of the murky and terrifying depths of Victorian London...the teeming slums...the catacombs and sewers...the putrid miasma of human suffering and waste that populate Dicken's "Great Oven", I am recommitted to reading the original works that inspired this story.