This first in a graphic novel series hits a bunch of notes that I typically enjoy: police procedural, near-future sci-fi, gritty urban setting, and grThis first in a graphic novel series hits a bunch of notes that I typically enjoy: police procedural, near-future sci-fi, gritty urban setting, and graphic storytelling. So why didn't I enjoy it more? The story more or less follows a German detective who's willingly transferred to an undesirable posting on The Fuse. Built as an orbiting energy platform, the five-mile long structure has somehow evolved into a city of half a million people. (I don't really get how energy is supposed to be transmitted between The Fuse and Earth, nor do I understand who would build such an expensive device so inefficiently that you could fit a major city inside it, but I'm more or less willing to suspend my disbelief on those points.)
The detective has a body literally fall at his feet on day one, and he's immediately thrust into a murder investigation with a foul-mouthed older female detective as his partner. The story then unfolds in a series of familiar plot beats and twists and turns, including mayoral politics, secret siblings, infidelity, homeless victims that no one cares about, and the like. It's not that it's bad, it's just far too familiar -- it's like the plot points were taken from a 1950s potboiler and tossed into space. Somewhat predictably, the story ends with a large twist that sets up the next in the series.
Unlike some reviewers -- I really liked the artwork, in fact, I'd say the artwork and coloring were my favorite element. On the whole though, I'm not sure it's one to rush out and pick up. By all means, check it out, just keep expectations in check....more
The modern conception of World War I is dominated by images of horrific trench warfare, poison gas, and swarms of men being mowed down by machine gunsThe modern conception of World War I is dominated by images of horrific trench warfare, poison gas, and swarms of men being mowed down by machine guns in the fields of France and Belgium. But it's always been the war's other arenas that grabbed hold of my imagination, especially the English and German skirmishes in East Africa (a good novel about the war there is William Boyd's An Ice-Cream War). About a decade ago, I read a highly autobiographical novel (The Sardinian Brigade, by Emilio Lusso) set in the lesser-known front of the Italian Alps.This graphic novel covers that same arena, where about a million soldiers died over the course of about three years of fighting.
Much as I was looking forward to this, I found it kind of muddled and hard to engage with. To be sure, there are some haunting panels of faces locked in horror and pain. But the book suffers from a lack of story, lack of context, and frankly, a cast of characters who are very hard to distinguish from one another. Admittedly, one of the themes of the book is how malleable nationality was in northeastern Italy, where territory shifted back and forth between Italy and Austria every few decades. But this is a more fundamental case of artwork and storytelling not communicating well. This becomes literal in one section where the lettering is done in a script in order to represent a letter, and its so tiny and hard to read that I almost stopped reading the whole book at that point. I kept going until the end, mainly because every few pages there was a striking image, but by the end I didn't feel like I read a story or been presented a message beyond a kind of "war is hell" cliche....more
Despite the urging of several people, I haven't checked out Nesbo's wildly popular Harry Hole series. I picked this one up partly because it's very shDespite the urging of several people, I haven't checked out Nesbo's wildly popular Harry Hole series. I picked this one up partly because it's very short (even though it's been padded out to hit 200 pages you could easily read it in about two hours), and partly because I had conflated it with another Scandinavian book with the same title that I had heard was good (that one is a true crime book about the assassination of Swedish Prime Minster Olof Palme in 1986).
In any event, this is a sparse story about a hit man working for Olso's leading heroin boss in the 1970s. As in almost every single book and film with a hit man as protagonist, the story sits lumpily in a broth of morality and existentialism. We get a backstory filled with predictable elements that "explain" how he became a hit man. And we get the story of the big job that forces him to confront what he's become, also full of predictable elements. There are some moments of comedy and some nice details sprinkled here and there that save the book from being a total loss. But it's also not one brimming with freshness and invention, and the ending is sure to confuse and/or annoy many readers. Totally skippable....more
The "Southie" Boston crime story has been told plenty of times, by big time authors like Dennis Lehane and George V. Higgins, and big time directors lThe "Southie" Boston crime story has been told plenty of times, by big time authors like Dennis Lehane and George V. Higgins, and big time directors like Martin Scorcese, not to mention lesser films like The Town (based on Chuck Hogan's Prince of Thieves). I was skeptical that this book would give me anything new on that world -- but it had been sitting on my bookshelf for almost ten years, so I figured I should finally either give it a shot or get rid of it. I'm glad I did, because it's a very keen and colorful example of the genre, likely to appeal to any fan of big-city crime fiction.
Set in what appears to be the mid-1990s, the story revolves around "Wacko" Curran, the elder of two brothers who wholesale coke on behalf of local mob boss Marty Fallon. Wacko has his eyes on replacing Fallon in order to take a big step up the food chain, but to do this, he's going to need a war chest to pay off the right people when the time comes. Fortunately he's picked out a nice armored car to rob. Unfortunately, the police are clamping down on gang activity, and the Italians are causing trouble.
What makes all this familiar territory fresh is the writing -- which comes from a guy from South Boston who went to prison for a decade for armed robbery. This keeps the story from being soupy and sentimental, or faux tough. The dialogue is real and the rhythms of daily life as a "boyo" are well-captured. One thing that's striking -- and true to life, from what I understand -- is how little money these guys actually make dealing drugs. For a crime novel grounded in reality, and not romance or pulp conventions, look no further....more
I picked this up on an impulse, intrigued by some of the elements in the description: phosphorescent mushrooms, twins, runaway Russian au pair, contamI picked this up on an impulse, intrigued by some of the elements in the description: phosphorescent mushrooms, twins, runaway Russian au pair, contamination, zany actress, etc... These certainly sounded like the right building blocks for what the publisher describes as "part screwball comedy" (the other part being "horror story"). But the author simply doesn't have the ear for screwball dialogue, nor the ability to capture the zest and pace of the genre. Instead, the book is far more modern-day horror -- not in the sense of spores from outer space. But rather the kind of horror that comes from unexplained events derailing one's comfortable existence, and the complete lack of recourse, and, to get really simple, lack of "fairness" in life. Hence the title of the book, which refers to both the insurance clause that negates any possibility of restitution for the victims of the glowing 'shroom infestation, and the general theme of the book that any of us can fall prey to the whims of fate. The execution of the story is really just kind of plodding and gloomy, in prose that entirely unmemorable. The book is set in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and I suppose those who enjoy books set in the NYC area might enjoy some of the New Yorkishness of some of the characters. Personally, I found nothing compelling in any of it, and would be hard-pressed to recommend that anyone try it....more
This Vietnam war novel comes from the pen of a former Special Forces soldier who apparently spent part of the war working with US-allied hill tribes tThis Vietnam war novel comes from the pen of a former Special Forces soldier who apparently spent part of the war working with US-allied hill tribes to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The protagonist of the book has a similar task, leading elite long-range units in murky operations directed by shadowy men in Saigon. And when one of these shadowy men recalls "Wingo" to Saigon to assassinate a suspected northern Vietnamese spy, things start to go sideways for the special ops soldier.
Without giving too much away, the plot drifts a little too deeply into sensationalism as it tries to pack too many themes and threads into the story. Wingo grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation (of Wounded Knee Massacre infamy), allowing for lots of too on-the-nose parallels to be drawn about colonial oppressors, as well as explaining his skills in the field. There's also a running bit about a vision he had a youth that comes and goes throughout the story. The plot takes Wingo from jungle warfare, to urban murder mystery in Saigon, to prison escape from Poulo Condore island, to political thriller, and back to the jungle -- oh, and there's a romance thrown in.
All of this is tossed together with attempts to underline the moral vacantness of the Vietnam war, resulting in a book that's trying to do way too much. When it sticks to the jungle scenes, the writing is pretty amazing. It's also quite good when in the back alleys and slums of wartime Saigon, areas not typically shown in the movies, as well as the scenes on the prison island. But on the whole, it's all a little too potboilerish to work for me....more
This Italian novella has the aspect of a thought experiment or writing exercise, more so than a traditional story with an arc, and as such, readers seThis Italian novella has the aspect of a thought experiment or writing exercise, more so than a traditional story with an arc, and as such, readers seeking a tidy progression to resolution will be frustrated. It reads almost as if a professor in a graduate creative writing or child psychology seminar had given the assignment to consider what might happen if a child raised by a single mother discovered his mother dead in bed one day -- and the result is this lengthy story by a gifted student.
The first third of the book sets up the life of 10-year-old Luca, who lives up seven flights of stairs in an unnamed Italian city, with his depressive mother (his father was never in the picture). The other two-thirds detail his realization one morning that she died in her sleep, and the two weeks that follow, as he attempts to hide the fact that he is now an orphan. The book is concerned less with what he does, than what he thinks -- and in that sense, is a swirling piece of psychological horror.
Since I was drawn to the book wondering more about "what he does", this left me a little disconnected. I've never been able to fully buy into fiction that is as interior as this is. There are basically a hundred pages where he gets up each morning, goes to school, comes home, potters around the apartment, plays with the cat, and has wild daydreams. I suppose to a certain extent, the book is going to fail or succeed with most readers based on how believable they find Luca's thoughts and reactions to be, as he rapid-cycles through denial, rage, hopelessness, and all the other stages, all while dreading the social stigma and practical discomforts of becoming an orphan. Personally, I needed more plot and story to draw me into Luca's plight....more
I read one of Link's collections years ago and really enjoyed it, so thought I'd give this new one a whirl. She's got a distinct voice and sensibilityI read one of Link's collections years ago and really enjoyed it, so thought I'd give this new one a whirl. She's got a distinct voice and sensibility, but for some reason, the mix of nine stories didn't work as well for me as I recall with the earlier book. The sense of inventiveness and wit is there, along with plenty of interesting characters, but the execution is turgid and flat.
It probably didn't help that my favorite story in the collection is the first one, "The Summer People." Its heroine is a contemporary teenage girl living mostly on her own in the countryside near a summer resort. Ever since her mother ran away, she's had to be the caretaker of a nearby home that is the lair for a tribe of capricious fairies. When the girl falls ill and is being nursed by a new friend from school, she realizes that she might be a able to take a break from fairy-caretaking... The other strong story is "The New Boyfriend", in which the friendships of teen girls is dissected as one gets a kind of animatronic gift that another had craved. Jealousy kicks in plays out in cunning and unsettling ways.
In "I Can See Right Through You", an actor whose entire career rests on his appearance in a famous '80s vampire film goes to meet up with his old flame, who is shooting a ghost-chaser documentary series at an abandoned nudist colony. Weird, but not necessarily interesting stuff happens. "Secret Identity" recounts a teenager's trip to New York to meet up with a fellow online gamer -- again, not interesting enough to sustain the fifty or so pages it takes up. "Valley of the Girls" has a good premise, mashing up the Ancient Egyptian elite with Gossip Girl-like teens. Some fun stuff there, but the ending has the wrong feel, too much of a classic Twilight Zone vibe. "Two Houses" is a riff on classic ghost stories set on a drifting spacecraft, but is lacking in any kind of spark.
"Light" has a lot of potential, its protagonist works at a Florida warehouse full of people who have fallen into a coma-like slumber of unknown origin. It's a recognizable present, but one in which alternate "pocket" universes have been discovered, and are travel to them is commonplace. Again, some interesting possibilities that never cohere over the 40+ pages. If you're a big fan of strange short fiction, you could definitely do worse than dip into this book -- but you might do better trying one of her earlier ones. ...more
Heard good things about this author's spy novels, so I picked this one up. Wish I'd done a little research first, as it builds upon an earlier book (AHeard good things about this author's spy novels, so I picked this one up. Wish I'd done a little research first, as it builds upon an earlier book (A Foreign Country), set about two years previously. That book introduces the protagonist and a number of the relationships that prove pivotal in this one. It's not that you have to have read the other book first, but this one would have been much richer had I had the earlier experience with the characters.
The story involves the death of an MI6 agent based in Turkey, and the subsequent investigation. It's a little soap-operaish, as the dead spy had a long-term affair with the woman now running MI6. Since she doesn't want that relationship dredged up, she turns to a sidelined disgraced agent whom she is friends with, trusting him to keep mum on that aspect of the dead man's life.
What follows is a plot that's quite heavy on the tradecraft of investigating, tailing, and uncovering a traitor, woven in with the redemption of the disgraced agent and his falling in love with a beautiful younger woman. It's a kind of uneasy mix -- not quite as deep as the classics of Le Carré, but not as fun as the entertainments of Fleming and the like. Smoking and drinking seem to serve as substitutes for character development, with the exotic backdrops as window dressing. It's not a bad book, but it's not particularly good either. Maybe if I'd read A Foreign Affair first, I would have been more invested in all the goings-on....more