Little known fact: Aside from being a prolific and critically acclaimed author (a recipient of the flippin' Genius Grant, no less) Jonathan Lethem isLittle known fact: Aside from being a prolific and critically acclaimed author (a recipient of the flippin' Genius Grant, no less) Jonathan Lethem is an unabashed kangaroo enthusiast. Seriously, the man loves marsupials. And this is where it all started....more
1. Has been disillusioned by past experiences in either the police force or the military (double points if he's been disillusioHallmarks of a good PI:
1. Has been disillusioned by past experiences in either the police force or the military (double points if he's been disillusioned by both).
2. Experiences hot flashes at the thought of meting out Justice (with a capital J), is wholly and unrepentently self-righteous, and yet can see more shades of gray than a color-blind sketch artist.
3. Speaks "Privatese," a language almost entirely composed of overblown similes and metaphors, and peppered with Class A reparte and banter. It's a fluke of the dialect--the more dangerous the situation, the snappier the speaker's dialog.
4. Has friends in very low *and* very high places.
5. Is a sucker for several classes of female: a woman in a tight dress and tall heels, a young girlchild who's hard up with no place to go, and someone's downtrodden mama.
6. But not such a sucker to forget that all women are the source of every good man's problems. Devious, lying, succubi--all of them.
7. Is equally equipped to take and give harsh beatings.
Arnaldur Indridason’s third ‘Icelandic Thriller’ finds his Inspector Erlendur in a plush Reykjavík hotel five days before Christmas trying to puzzle oArnaldur Indridason’s third ‘Icelandic Thriller’ finds his Inspector Erlendur in a plush Reykjavík hotel five days before Christmas trying to puzzle out yet another gruesome murder—the brutal stabbing of the hotel handyman cum Santa Claus—that seems to have its roots in the past. Indridason’s previous efforts (the multi-award winning Jar City and Silence of the Grave) practiced such hindsight to rather compelling effect: rather than celebrate in the killers’ capture, we empathize with their motives. In fact, we almost applaud them for enacting what feels like a sort of karmic justice. Some people, it turns out, just really deserve to die.
In Voices, however, Indridason’s sympathies cast too large a net for either himself or his stodgy Inspector to reel in. It takes up the familiar cause of the downtrodden—battered women, abused children, victims of rape, those suffering from substance additions—but clumsily adds to it, trying to evoke even more reader compassion for Indridason’s new cast of prostitutes, pedophiles, and homosexuals. Unfortunately, trying to empathize with so many different characters leaves us not feeling for many of them at all. Moreover, reading Indridason’s frequently clunky prose (no fault of the translator—a seasoned veteran with Old Norse sagas and a fistful of modern Icelandic literary translations to his credit) reveals a distinct lack of authorial understanding. He wants to empathize with the hardships of gay men coming of age in 1980s Iceland, but doesn’t quite know how to, or even why. The act of empathizing has then become a knee-jerk reaction, and virtually abandons true insight into the experiences of another person for the satisfaction of arelatively empty gesture.
It’s pity that defines Voices—and a shame, too. For as we had seen in Indridason’s previous work, Iceland may be a small country where the phone book is alphabetized by first name, but its problems are not so different from our own.
This slim collection, as a first real introduction to Sherlock Holmes and dear Watson, was necessarily both broad in scope and shallow in depth. EvenThis slim collection, as a first real introduction to Sherlock Holmes and dear Watson, was necessarily both broad in scope and shallow in depth. Even so, I think it serves as a useful introduction. You get a sense of the arc that these stories followed, both preceding the 'death' of Holmes and following his eventual resurrection. These stories are so satisfying and wonderful, in good part because Doyle was helping to create a recognizable template for all detective stories to come. We're given firstly, an eccentric detective who is dashing and clever and always ready with a witty observance and a trick up his sleeve. We're treated to the most convoluted intrigue, but always know that somehow everything will be wrapped up with a neat little bow at the end of ten pages. Then there are of course, the throwback charms of a time less sophisticated than ours--'foreigners,' for instance, are exoticized and fetishsized without even the slightest hint of irony.
I supposed the only reason that I won't really be able to throw myself whole-heartedly into the great Sherlock Holmes is that despite the whole insomniac, cocaine-dabbling, 'bohemian' thing he's got going on, he's not really flawed in any major way. Even on the rare occasion that he's outsmarted, he seems to come out on top of things. I suppose I simply prefer my post-Sherlock detectives and PI's, those who are a bit more damaged--I love the Marlowes and the Archers, the Sejers and the Erlendurs...I mean, even Poirot had his flaws. ...more
**spoiler alert** My reactions to Already Dead varied significantly as I progressed through the book. Initially, I was simply flabbergasted by the pur**spoiler alert** My reactions to Already Dead varied significantly as I progressed through the book. Initially, I was simply flabbergasted by the pure awesomeness of a plot starring a rogue 'Vampyre' (Huston's spelling, not mine) Private Eye who exists in a world that simultaneously gives The Warriors a run for its costumed, turf-staking, New-York-as-Battleground title supremacy, while retaining the ultra-specific shout-outs to East Village landmarks (the community garden on Ave. B with the huge tower; Doc Holliday's bar).
Then, about mid-way through, I was wishing that I had read this novel prior to having read the first two books in Huston's Hank Thompson trilogy, because it seemed like he'd effectively just written the same book all over again...but now, with vampires. Which really seems to negate the point of the non-vamp precursors, right?
Not really. Because upon finishing Already Dead I'm fairly certain that Mr. Huston has some not-so-latent chauvinist and sadist tendencies that may have been given a bit too free a rein in this setting. It's true that noir and pulp and crime fictions have always been at their best when revealing the true debasement of such grand ideas as 'The Human Condition.' And fantasy/horror/alternate-reality novels maybe even more so. But that doesn't mean you have to revel in the slime.
The novel's protagonist here is Joe Pitt, a Vampyre whose been living under the influence of a blood-craving 'Vyrus' for about 30 years. Living in a Manhattan which is almost entirely controlled by a handful of Vampyre Clans, in which one's party alliance is paramount to remaining well-fed and protected, Pitt nevertheless 'goes rogue'--one lone cowboy roughing it in the wilds of Alphabet City. He lives by doing free-lance assignments for the various clans, but eventually finds himself at odds with two of the larger groups, who are both bent on destroying him. Slowly. And Painfully. For a little over 260 pages.
Huston loves the lone wolf. The man's man who doesn't need to integrate himself into a group for protection and doesn't abide by anyone's rule. Come to think of it, he'd probably have a pretty good time writing neo-Libertarian political thrillers (you know, like Point of Impact), but that wouldn't really give him the chance to run wild with his other great love: Witty Comebacks and Toughguy Oneliners. Banter of the "Fuck with me and I'll...stuff you in a cubbyhole and flush the card so no one can claim your ass..." variety.
Besides both having a penchant for rejoinders, both Hank Thompson and Joe Pitt are Dudes. Dudes who can take and dole out an unreasonable amount of pain. But where there is actually a limit to the damage that you can inflict on a human man, there is practically limitless potential for a Vampyre. As Pitt explains, "[the Vyrus:] clots [my blood:] in seconds and knits my flesh and if you want to kill me you will have to blow up my heart or head or cut me in half or otherwise annihilate my body in blow before it can heal." Huston seems to take this as a challenge. He starves his anti-hero into a mere shadow of himself, burns him, beats him, knifes him, shoots him, etc. etc. etc. before gifting him an uber-vampire strength that only the blood-deprived can attain.
But we already knew that Huston has a thing for abusing his protagonists. What kicks Already Dead into a higher sphere of sadism is its treatment of the book's women. Though tucked under the guise of vengeful empathy for the abused and downtrodden, Huston can't seem to help himself from peppering his novels with violated, abused women just waiting to be saved. In Caught Stealing Hank's girlfriend has her arms and legs strapped to the corners of a table before being beaten to death. In Six Bad Things, he adopts a drug- addled, abused stripper. Here, we have a whole cast: an HIV positive girlfriend; a teenage porn star who is raped while being infected with a Zombie-virus; a drunken mother whose husband seduced her when she was underage, only to toss her aside when she got too old; and her teenage daughter who runs away because, among other things, her father wants to have sex with her. And in our climactic scene? Pitt's great moment of victory? Check out the set-up: Father has his lackey not only inject mother with a zombie drug, but also one which causes limb paralysis. He then commands said lackey to rape the mother, while making sure that she watches as he strips his anesthetized daughter and rapes her at the same time.
But while this scenario sends Joe Pitt into crazed mind-karate antics, it seems to positively titillate Huston: "The goon...grabs a fistful of Marilee's hair and twists her face towards her husband. Horde is roped with lean muscle and pelted with graying hair. He squats next to Amanda, his penis sharply erect between his knees, and begins to undo the button and zipper of her jeans...He opens his daughter's fly slowly, then butterflies it and pauses, gazing at the triangle of white cotton beneath."
But consider that this setup is then paired with positively carnal violence. As the brawl heats up, Pitt narrates. "There is a tingling along my jaw and in my hand. I feel the flesh knitting, the Vyrus in overdrive, closing my wounds as they are inflicted...the stiletto enters my back, is plunged into my liver twice before I can seize his arm, hunch forward and toss the enforcer to a far corner of the room. The pain is more persistent this time. The healing tickle not such a balm. The Vyrus is fighting a losing battle against the damage I'm absorbing. I must feed."
Hmmm. A character remarks of evil-father Horde at the end of the novel that "his taste for youth seemed to have more to do with inflicting pain than receiving pleasure." Based on Already Dead, this seems a relatively apt assessment of Huston's own predilections. ...more
I came across this book as part of an assignment for my "Rare Books and Special Collections Librarianship" class. The idea was that we should just reaI came across this book as part of an assignment for my "Rare Books and Special Collections Librarianship" class. The idea was that we should just read something that would give us an idea of the 'tone' of the field--we could read anything that had to do with special collections, rare books, or the antiquarian book trade. Nonfiction, memoir, and...bibliomystery were suggested genres that we could look into when making our selection.
Bibliomystery, you say? Awesome.
A fast-paced and entirely pleasurable read, Booked to Die introduces Clifford Janeway, a hard-nosed, workaholic (ex-boxer) cop, who feels that he missed his real calling as a rare book store owner. Janeway gets the chance to wear the mantle of "Bookman" after the violent death of a luckless bookscout and escalating tensions with a sadistic thug lose our hero his badge.
Dunning (a former bookman himself) keeps its plot moving, while still taking a bit of time to introduce readers to the world of rare books and the people who dedicate their lives to it. With full passages dedicated to explanations of Modern Firsts (including rants on the craze for 1st edition Stephen King and Thomas Harris novels), theories of pricing, AB/Bookman’s Weekly, bookman vocab, and the sad lot of the book scout, Dunning is able to appeal to those familiar with the book world, while possibly creating some converts at the same time.
While Dunning's proficiency with noir tropes--the femme fatale, the cheesey one-liners, the vigilante's search for justice--is great fun, Booked to Die also emphasizes something that my professor has been valiantly trying to emphasize to myself and my classmates for two courses now: the profundity of books themselves as beautiful, valuable, and collectable objects. Janeway spends a great deal of time ogling dust jackets and marginalia (notably a Steinbeck doodle of a man with a huge penis inside Travels with Charley, entitled "Tom Joad on the Road"). One of the novel’s climactic moments culminates with the painful destruction of an 1843 edition of John Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in the Yucatán in its original boards. The novel takes very seriously the idea that there is still something inherently sacred about the tangible object of a book, something that people could potentially be driven to even kill for.
Great fun for all you crime-novel-loving-librarians. (There's even an ex-librarian in the mix: a sexy, whale-saving, Greenpeace-volunteering, isolationist, now-book-dealer librarian.)
After reading a review of this on the crime/mystery fiction review site Reviewing the Evidence, I decided to track down a British copy prior to the U.After reading a review of this on the crime/mystery fiction review site Reviewing the Evidence, I decided to track down a British copy prior to the U.S. release in late April. Why the rush? Well, because firstly, the prospect of a really delightful, sweet, and stylized tale (a quaint little British murder, if you will), narrated by a plucky eleven year old with a penchant for poisons sounded rather fabulous. And because--for reasons I'll enumerate below--I'm almost positive that this is going to be the big book of the spring/summer and wanted to see if I could call it ahead of time. So I want to go on record predicting that come beach season, every Joe Schmo on the train, in the park, and hanging out in the Barnes and Noble will be reading this.
Sweetness has the hallmarks of a smash success: a strong first person narrator, a quirky story line, a suspenseful premise without much in the way of blood and/or guts, pleasantly predictable--but not too predictable--plot twists, and, not for nothing, a good back story. (Bradley, is a seventy year old Canadian who had never been to England when he wrote the book, and won a two book deal when he submitted five pages of Sweetness in a publishing contest.)
Happily, the book lives up to expectations. It's a cotton candy, share-with-your-mom, read on a rainy day sort of book. Which we all need now and again.
A few notes on Flavia:
While our wunderkind heroine is a delight*, as far as I'm concerned, Bradley only wrote her as an eleven-year-old for two reasons: A) the enjoyable prospect of really indulging in fictional creation and writing a pigtailed chemistry whiz who outwits her elders while tooling around on a bicycle named "Gladys," and B) to avoid some of the sexual tension that might arise if Flavia was any older. There are at least a few scenes in which Flavia uses her girlish charm to convince adults (particularly men) to give her information or let her have her way. If she was even marginally over the age of puberty, this type of pandering and strategizing would take on an entirely different tone.
For the most part, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief and go along with her memorizing the periodic table, quoting from Dickens, adoring the Sonata Toccata by Pietro Paradis, and whistling the theme song from The Third Man. So what if some of it seems beyond her age? It makes her a more interesting character. However, there are moments when this goes a little too far--no eleven year old compares themselves with Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man when climbing up on a windowsill.
(*A subnote to Flavia's delightfulness: as she is written, Flavia possesses a bit of a British colonialist attitude that I could have done without. Yes, it's the 1950s, but I'm not sure there was any reason to write in bits with her mentioning how the Brits 'civilized' people in India...)
My first P.D. James novel (and also the first book I finished in our bright and shiny new decade), An Unsuitable Job for a Woman is precisely the typeMy first P.D. James novel (and also the first book I finished in our bright and shiny new decade), An Unsuitable Job for a Woman is precisely the type of crime novel that I can really get behind: ample backstory and character development, rich setting, sordid--but not gratuitously violent--circumstances, surprising secrets revealed (but no silly plot twists with new evil villains), and a general sense that solving the case and finding out 'what really happened' may not actually make things any better in the end. (That's a lot of key requirements to have for a novel, I know, but every so often, they are all incorporated together and the result is deeply satisfying.)
Cordelia Gray is a fully realized character, with James perhaps providing a fair amount of information about her past--that her father was "an itinerant Marxist poet and amateur revolutionary"; that she spent six years being educated in convent school by accident--which is not entirely relevant to the plot (or, actually, to our understanding of how Cordelia reacts in particular situations), but interesting and well wrought all the same. Cordelia is "a survivor" in her own words, a young woman isolated from her peers without confidants, susceptible to fear and unease and self-consciousness, but still resourceful and resilient when forced into tough situations.
She's is also ethical, but not prigish or overly moralistic, a quality which becomes vital to the plot, but is also--I think--vital to the character of a novice private eye. I personally tire equally of honor-bound vigilantes operating above the law on their righteous missions and of staunchly by-the-book police officers with a sense of obligation to the service of wholly legal justice. (Characters of the latter style, are, of course, not really in vogue these days, but are no less tiresome when they do shamble along.) At any rate, Cordelia fits somewhere in the middle of these stereotypes, and is rather fresh, fallible, and very likable for it.
Cordelia's character (and her commie background, for that matter) are part and parcel of the time and world that James has set her story in. The novel takes place in Cambridge, England in the seventies. There is a feeling in the story that a very recent sense of idealism and change has given way to a more cynical decadence. And although this cynicism is expressed in response to a variety of ideals and circumstances--justice, truthfulness, morality--this comes across particularly in Cordelia and other character's discussions of sexual relationships. Characters--particularly female characters--are sexually frank and unabashed, but overtly skeptical and not a little derisive about their experiences. We're told that Cordelia "...had never thought of virginity as other than a temporary and inconvenient state, part of the general insecurity and vulnerability of being young." Having discovered her son in a surprising sexual situation, one woman sardonically comments, "We're all sexually sophisticated these days." We're also told that Cordelia grew up with a band of hodge-podge 'comrades' for whom "sexual activities were...more a weapon of revolution or a gesture against the bourgeois mores they despised than a response to human need." This pervading sense of unromantic realism provides a useful background for the circumstances of Mark Callender's death, particularly as we learn more about his own idealism and the progressively complicated circumstances of his suicide.
I should also note that James is really a lovely prose writer--descriptive without staid embellishment, observant and lyrical while still getting to the point. Consider a passage where Cordelia is attacked later in the book (no worries--I won't say by who or why):
"She wasn't expecting trouble outside the cottage and the attack took her by surprise. There was the half-second of pre-knowledge before the blanket fell but that was too late...The movement of liberation was a miracle and a horror. The blanket was whipped off. She never saw her assailant. There was a second of sweet reviving air, a glimpse, so brief that it was barely comprehended, of blinding sky seen through greenness and then she felt herself falling, falling in helpless astonishment into cold darkness. The fall was a confusion of old nightmares, unbelievable seconds of childhood terrors recalled. Then her body hit the water. Ice-cold hands dragged her into a vortex of horror...She shook her head, and, through her stinging eyes, she looked up. The black tunnel that stretched above her ended in a moon of blue light. Even as she looked, the well lid was dragged slowly back like the shutter of a camera. The moon became a half moon; then a crescent. At last there was nothing but eight thin slits of light."
All said, this was a nice start to the year's reading, and I'll certainly pick up another James book soon. ...more
This is my second Baantjer book, especially selected not only for its splendidly abstruse title (although not nearly as excellent as another one, whicThis is my second Baantjer book, especially selected not only for its splendidly abstruse title (although not nearly as excellent as another one, which I was unable to locate: DeKok and the Geese of Death), and also for the fact that I was about to hop on a plane to Amsterdam. Having read two short novellas by Baantjer previously, I was looking forward to a little local color, a grim, but not overly vicious crime, and the off-balance detective team of the weathered, bemused, and surprisingly wise DeKok (a sort of Colombo figure), and his excitable, whipper-snapper of a partner. I wasn't disappointed.
As ever, the plot here hinges on locating motivations and rationales, uncovering secret spite and festering jealousies rather than any really dynamic police work. (If you can call the active investigating in most procedurals "dynamic," which I admit, I don't usually.) Anyhow, figuring out everyone's secrets is the main aim of our intrepid detectives, not really sussing out facts and reviewing hard evidence. I'm sure that Baantjer could have provided such plodding details should he have wanted to--he was a former policeman in Amsterdam--but it really isn't necessary in this sort of novel.
I had a few qualms, some of which were more pressing than others. As with the last Baantjer book I read in this series, I had the niggling feeling all the way through that the translation was not so sharp. The wording in places is strangely clunky and things like prepositions and conjunctions get mixed up in such a way that suggests a very little Babelfish-style translation. For the most part, this doesn't get in the way--it's my perception thus far that Baantjer was not perhaps much of a prose stylist. But it does get annoying and I wonder if the newer English editions (with much less fun pulpy covers than these lovely yellow ones, unfortunately) have improved upon the translation at all.
On the other hand, I think we can hold Baantjer responsible for his incorrigible repetitions. When he stumbles on to a characterization he likes, boy howdy, does he love to repeat it. He must mention DeKok's eyebrows (which move independently from the rest of his face in a comic fashion) and his winning smile (which is "his best characteristic") about a hundred times throughout the book. They are lovely observations to be sure--and ones which Baantjer could get away with mentioning in each different book--but certainly we don't need to be reminded of these qualities once every chapter or two.
As a tangential side note, however, i will say I got a huge kick when I read a passage explaining that a character was incredibly suspicious because he kept all the windows in his apartment closed--something which any self-respecting Amsterdammer, being 'excessively fond of interiors,' would never do. Walking around the streets of Amsterdam, we had noticed that hardly anyone ever closed their windows. In a flagrant invitation to Peeping Toms, ground floor apartments would have windows wide open, so that passersby could stop and watch the inhabitants watch TV, eat toast, sit at the computer, etc. It had seemed so strange to us, being edgy New Yorkers, that reading about this habit in the book really gave me a kick.
Sorry to say, but I'm giving up on this one. I've heard good things about Fred Vargas (and love that Fred is a female author who has also made a careeSorry to say, but I'm giving up on this one. I've heard good things about Fred Vargas (and love that Fred is a female author who has also made a career in archeology and as a historian), but the characters in this book, though eccentric and drawn in detail, did not engage me enough to distract from the fact that the investigation is really rather stagnant. The comissaire's investigation into the so-called "Chalk Circle Man" is preemptive, and then a series of coincidences put him in close contact with someone who may or may not have met the man (and also is the mother of his long-lost lover?).
Perhaps I'll try another Vargas in the future (this is the first in the series), and perhaps the plot all comes together dramatically at the end, but I was about half way through and just not getting anything out of the book. So another one for the incomplete pile...I do try to avoid not finishing as much as possible, but sometimes, I just have to call it early. ...more