Since I love thrillers and mysteries, and I love history, I have always longed for a historical mystery that would give me a true sense of how thiWow!
Since I love thrillers and mysteries, and I love history, I have always longed for a historical mystery that would give me a true sense of how things were in Germany during the Nazi era. I've read several of the Philip Kerr series, and while they're entertaining, they're definitely comic books compared to this. In his books, you never really get a feeling of severe danger – Bernie Guenter turns everything away with a quip, even as he lies tied up on the train tracks with the train coming. In the case of this book, though, I was so saturated with the sense of daily terror people lived in under a Nazi dictatorship, I honestly didn't know whether the protagonists would survive. That's how real it felt.
Even though this isn't Nazi Germany 1939-1945, but a Nazi-fied England circa 1952, I got a real snapshot of what life would be like under those circumstances. Sansom was fantastic at creating the small, niggling, unending sense of dread that would sit in your gut day after day. The grayness, the smallness, the narrowness of fear experienced on an ongoing basis. And when the book goes into high gear in the last half, that was wonderfully rendered too. Though even then, Sansom is careful to show how life on the run must actually be like -- moments of throat closing danger, inter-sperced by long dragging periods of inaction where boredom fights with fear. Just like in real life.
Some readers – incomprehensibly for me – have spoken of wooden characters. I couldn't disagree more. Every single one of these people – including the really frightening villain – were rendered multi-dimensionality. That was why the villain was so effective, because he was a fully realized character and you couldn't blow him off as a cartoon. I also loved Frank Muncaster, the emotionally damaged scientist (abandoned by his mother and send to a Scottish boarding school where bullies almost killed him.) You understand why he is the way he is, but the real pleasure is seeing him grow and gain fortitude as the book moves forward. Another character I loved was Ben, the Scottish nurse/resistance agent who is tough, funny and profane, and turns out to have a surprising secret of his own. In a way, David Fitzgerald, the main character, didn't come to life quite so much, but he was still good and I think the portrayal of his wife, a pacifist whose views also evolve during the course of the book, was excellent.
The great thing is that these people aren't heroes. They are not cool, smooth, or fast-talking teflon people. They are ordinary individuals who are thrown into an untenable situation and do the best they can. The scene where there is an impromptu protest against the rounding up of the Jews was masterful. I won't say any more except that some of the things that happen take you completely by surprise but are so well rendered you feel it really could have happened that way.
In this Britain there are Resistance fighters who are prejudiced, a German who is a monster of fanaticism and yet genuinely loves his son and believes he is doing the right thing, every day people who turn out to be heroes, and every day people who are as deluded as the most deluded German under Hitler.
I was with it every step of the way and love that it was that long because I enjoyed being with these people and feeling the richness of their experience. I was not a great fan of the Shardlake series -- I prefer stand-alone books anyway, so it is a very unusual detective series that will get my nod – and was a little bored by "Winter In Madrid." So I wasn't expecting too much. This was a pleasurable surprise. ...more
Well written, if slow-paced, and seemingly as much of a societal description of the era as a mystery. I thought the language and the tone were very auWell written, if slow-paced, and seemingly as much of a societal description of the era as a mystery. I thought the language and the tone were very authentic – quite Austen like, but without the impish humor and with a lot more awareness of lower-class mores.
I liked the characters and was able to stay with the story; but I have to say that the denouement was disappointing, as there was absolutely no surprise or twist to it.
I might try another one, just for the heck of it; but the series apparently didn't fly, as there are no more books in it, and if they're all this obvious, I can see why....more
**spoiler alert** Loved reading this book, not so much because of the mystery (I guessed the outcome two thirds of the way in, because in my opinion R**spoiler alert** Loved reading this book, not so much because of the mystery (I guessed the outcome two thirds of the way in, because in my opinion Rowling handled a relevation in a clunky way that clearly pointed the finger at a certain individual) but because of the characters.
I loved Cormoran Strike, and Robin, while superficially too perfect, has enough surprising aspects that she felt like the ideal foil for the overweight, clumsy yet oddly attractive Cormoran. I also thought JKR did a great job of depicting faddy, high style London (I almost wrote "swinging London" before realize that would give away my age :-)) with its boozed out, pill-popping, air kissing celebs that she must be all too familiar with since her own rocket to fame.
My only complaint, as I said, was that she gave away the killer's identity in a too obvious way (Dame Agatha would have handled the revelation much more cannily) and why do authors always set things up so that their detectives meet their antagonists for the final confrontation in a lonely place, at night, and without protection? Nay, why do they have their detectives SET UP this confrontation without using any of the personal back-up you would have thought a half-wit would know to put in place?? Not only does Cormoran arrange the meeting with the killer without stowing a witness next door (preferably with a weapon), he takes off his prosthetic leg and falls asleep, naturally awaking too late to secure it back in place. I'm sorry; Rowling has made us respect Cormoran, and it is too obviously for the sake of drama that she has him behave so ineptly. The fact that every other mystery writer, for the sake of that drama, falls into the same pit, is no excuse.
Can't wait for the next Cormoran, though, I really like him! ...more
**spoiler alert** I loved this book, mostly because I really cared about the characters, even the unlikeable Jim. The only caveat was that there was a**spoiler alert** I loved this book, mostly because I really cared about the characters, even the unlikeable Jim. The only caveat was that there was a bit too much of a happy, pulled together ending, which made it unlike real life. However, she did make it somewhat believable (except for the miraculous transformation of the extremely disturbed Zach, which happens off stage, probably because it is so unlikely) and since I paradoxically love happy endings, I found this all in all a very enjoyable experience....more
**spoiler alert** Like many others, I could not wait to get my hands on the "Sea of Poppies" sequel, and was quite disappointed to meet up, not with t**spoiler alert** Like many others, I could not wait to get my hands on the "Sea of Poppies" sequel, and was quite disappointed to meet up, not with the familiar beloved characters of the first tome, but an almost entirely, and not as appealing, set. A couple of the characters from the first volume are present, but in very supporting roles. (I understand from the rumor mill that the original cast will be back in the third book, but perhaps that is only wishful thinking on the part of the fans.)
So, perhaps unfairly, I was disappointed. "Sea of Poppies" had so much movement and action, physical and emotional, that it swept me away. By contrast, "Smoke" takes place in one locale, Canton, and while the historical events (the lead up to the Opium war between the Chinese and the British) were interesting, it was a more static tale, with characters who were real but felt just slightly manufactured to illustrate the history and make moral points. I read it almost as non-fiction (wonder how accurate it actually is?) and enjoyed it, but it didn't have the same magic as Poppies.
And it was more depressing. It principally follows one opium trader, an Indian, who is caught between a newly conscious awareness of the evil his trade promotes, and a desire not to be ruined by doing the right thing. One feels compassion for him and his sad end is wrenching. But it is not uplifting stuff.
Don't get me wrong -- I find the topic of this trilogy fascinating, and don't recommend you skip Book II as it is an important part of the story. I own both Poppies and Smoke in hardback, and when Book III comes out it will join the other two on my shelves, something only reserved for favorites. Just be forewarned not to expect a reprise of Poppies. ...more
This is my kind of book -- a story in the present day that goes back into the past -- and "The Bone Garden" did not disappoint. The present day storyThis is my kind of book -- a story in the present day that goes back into the past -- and "The Bone Garden" did not disappoint. The present day story could have been a bit stronger, but the past one was gripping, filled with good characters, and incredibly real. (Too real, sometimes -- those descriptions of early medical practices were pretty stomach turning.) I won't talk plot, but I will say it revolves around medical students in Boston, one of whom is accused of being "The Reaper" -- a grim character who kills and defaces the bodies of his victims. There is a good love story and Oliver Wendell Holmes, father of the supreme court justice, is one of the characters.
If you like this sort of book, I highly recommend it....more
While this wasn't my very favorite of Mark Mills's books, it was very enjoyable. As I surfed through other Goodreads comments, I came across many compWhile this wasn't my very favorite of Mark Mills's books, it was very enjoyable. As I surfed through other Goodreads comments, I came across many complaints of the story being too slow, which lowered its overall ratings. But the fact is that Mark Mills is not a pure action adventure writer, although there is both action and adventure in his stories; he is a creator of character, of personal growth, of mood, of texture and history, and that is why I will read one of his books anywhere, any time. Even the least of them appeals to me more than a "DaVinci Code" with its sensational goings-on but wooden characters. (Full disclosure: I couldn't get through DVC.)
I loved this story of Tom Nash, who thinks he has left his checkered past behind, and discovers it is still on his tail. I loved the depiction of an era between the two wars, and how Mills brings the old Riviera to life. I enjoyed the cast of characters, particularly Lucy, Tom's goddaughter. It kept me reading and engrossed from start to finish, and I felt I was among these characters in a very immediate way, which is the highest possible praise I can give a book.
I didn't mind the slower parts, because I was enjoying being there, and that's how life is – it's not all car chases and sex scenes. I can't wait for Mark Mills' next book....more
**spoiler alert** Michael Koryta is one of my favorite all time authors. I think what I like best about him is that not only does he come up with susp**spoiler alert** Michael Koryta is one of my favorite all time authors. I think what I like best about him is that not only does he come up with suspenseful, surprising plots, but his characters are marvelous and his sense of place unmatched. Did I mention his prose soars, and not in a fake noticeable way but just enough to transport and carry along in a marvelous roller coaster ride?
I particularly liked this novel, a standalone about a young man scarred by his relationship with his father – a powerful, loving "hit man" who rationalized his work as a necessity in a treacherous world. Frank Temple III was inducted early into the world of "do it to him before he does it to you," even though his father's actual work was kept from him until after his father's suicide. The news of his beloved father's profession came as a shock and made Frank determined never to go down the same path. But the tentacles of the past are strong and when the hitman who gave his father up in order to save himself comes back into his life, he is confronted by a temptation almost too strong to bear.
Michael Koryta always makes you care as much about the emotional outcome as you do about the physical one. There are questions, red herrings, twists and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat, but the main question is always: can this young man save himself?
There's also a very nice love story. Five stars....more
The first half was a bit slow, mostly concerned with Lysander Rief's dalliances in pre- World War I Vienna, but the second half really picked up the pThe first half was a bit slow, mostly concerned with Lysander Rief's dalliances in pre- World War I Vienna, but the second half really picked up the pace and was entertaining to the end. Furthermore, in part two you realize that all the previous events, which seemed a bit frivolous at the time, are in fact part of a carefully assembled spiderweb which will diabolically close in on the main character once the action really starts.
As for characters: sometimes I found Lysander a bit puzzling, a bit cold, and yet, -- such is the talent of William Boyd -- I always felt WITH him. He was a character whose company I enjoyed. Often, I think of reading books as going on a journey with an assemblage of strangers -- if, once you get to know them, you can relate to them and grow to care about them, the journey is enjoyable. If the characters are wooden or inconsistent (the mark of a bad psychologist author) you simply stop believing in their reality and the whole journey/story, even if clever or action packed, becomes a bore.
I really enjoyed "Restless", the William Boyd novel that is about spying in World War II, so when I saw he had written another historical spy novel I bought it in hardback immediately. And I'm glad I did. Liked it even more than "Restless".
Part of the theme is the mystical, magical, diaphanous, confusing nature of life -- see "A Midsummer's Night's Dream" -- where what is reality and what is falsity sometimes collide in an imbroglio of mistakes, deceptions and random coincidences. So I wish I could finish this review with some pithy excerpt from said play -- but alas, that will have to wait til I reread it....more
I enjoyed this a lot. The period atmosphere and details felt right, I liked the main character and related to him and his situation. The mystery keptI enjoyed this a lot. The period atmosphere and details felt right, I liked the main character and related to him and his situation. The mystery kept me reading and the ending was satisfactory. There were a few details about the ending that didn't fully “gell” in my estimation, but on the whole the book worked, was well written, and I would read this author again....more