**spoiler alert** I picked this up on a whim at the library because I was in the mood for a quick crime read and all the jacket quotes about it having**spoiler alert** I picked this up on a whim at the library because I was in the mood for a quick crime read and all the jacket quotes about it having "one of the most stomach-churningly fatalistic noir endings of any crime novel published [in 2011]" etc. were rather compelling. In the end, I was a little less taken with the result, although I do have to admit that I read it through rather speedily—three or four sittings spread over a little over a week.
I suppose my main complaints are two-fold. Firstly, this book is the fifth in a series and feels distinctly transitional, as though it is kind of a road stop between other, more developed stories. It works fine as a standalone—all the back story that you need about the characters is woven through the narrative—and yet, it seems pretty clear that having prior context about Doctor Quirke's orphan past, his decision to pretend that his daughter had a different father, and his relationships with his assistant and Detective Hackett would probably make this particular story feel more significant. I've read crime novels where the plot of one is really contingent on the one before it (Louise Penny's Bury Your Dead, for instance), but those are rare. Typically with a series, you can expect to step into it pretty much anywhere and feel as though you're right in it, even if the secondary plot line about the detective has developed over the course of multiple books. But here, there are an awful lot of references to past cases, past circumstances, etc. and in many instances, those cases sound a more compelling. A Death in Summer hones in on the femme fatale element, but only seems to occasionally dip into the crime itself, most of which is resolved in one fell sweep at the end.
To that end, I might add that the conclusion (specifically the child abuse at the orphanage), though most certainly serious in its tone and subject matter, is one that has been telegraphed quite clearly from early on. Its final reveal is a little disappointing, however, because it feels pretty cursory. I would definitely not enjoy reading vivid descriptions of child abuse, but I do think the psychological fall-out, as you might call it, is pretty glossed over here. Sure, Francoise immediately shoots her husband in the face when she discovers that he has been abusing her daughter, but, for one example, the way that the child behaves throughout the book doesn't seem at all consistent with the idea that she's been repeatedly raped by her father. Neither does the idea that Richard Jewell could just up and "corrupt" a twenty year old man and convince him to repeatedly take part in the systematic sexual abuse of children really make any sense. I appreciate the delicacy that the author had in explaining the crimes themselves—the circumstances are horrific enough without having to go into visceral specifics—but the psychology of the victims could have been dealt with in a less vague manner. ...more
I read this book in about a week, in a couple rather long sittings. I enjoyed it—although I was, admittedly, a bit grossed out by the murder itself anI read this book in about a week, in a couple rather long sittings. I enjoyed it—although I was, admittedly, a bit grossed out by the murder itself and surprised at J.K.'s leaning to the grotesque in this instance—but I found myself a lot more aware of her writing in this book than I ever really have been. People are frequently giving Rowling grief for her awkward writing and her clunky phrasings. To me, this has never been so much of an issue: she's a great storyteller and an excellent plotter ('diligent' is the word that comes to mind first when thinking about her ability to plan ahead in a storyline) and I don't think that everyone needs to be able to write a Proustian sentence in order to be a worthwhile writer. But in The Silkworm it feels like Rowling is actively trying to overcome her critics and showcase a stylistic prowess that is ultimately more self-conscious than it is successful. And that kind of took away from the experience for me.
I can deal with the fact that she occasionally employs super awkward phrasings and the fact that she over-describes pretty much everyone's appearance, but other things caught me up short. For instance, throughout the book, she throws in these crazy vocab words—not the "25 cent" variety that my English teacher used to encourage us to use, but rather the $2 bill variety. That is to say, words that are special and unique, perhaps, but that no one anywhere really uses, let alone her characters. (That Strike is an Oxford man doesn't really change this, no.) I mean: "albescence" - 'The act of becoming white; whitishness.' Or "etiolated" - 'pale and drawn out due to a lack of light; Having lost vigour or substance; feeble.' There are times when a playful use of extensive vocabulary can work (I always used to enjoy the fact that I generally had to refer to a dictionary at least once when reading a Michael Chabon book), but here it feels forced and awkward and unnatural when compared with the rest of the text.
I also found there to be a strange insistence on what amounted to a rather boring interpretation of the relationships between men and women, and also a rather simplified, kind of dull perspective of gender. I've generally felt that Rowling's treatment of male and female characters, as well as their interactions with one another in her books, haven't been bound by particularly stodgy gender boundaries or dichotomies. But here, there's a rather lot of disparaging essentialism regarding women. For instance, "Women, in his experience, often expected you to understand that it was a measure of how much they loved you that they tried their damnedest to change you." Or, when explaining to Robin the possibility that a woman could have perpetrated such a grim murder (she doesn't think a woman would have), Strike remarks, "Look it up on the net. When women turn, they really turn." And it goes both ways, albeit to a lesser extent. Robin "knew something about male pride; quite apart from Matthew, she had three brothers," and also had "an unusual and accurate insight into the frequently contrary reaction of males to female concern." Perhaps Rowling is trying to get inside of her male protagonist's perspective and thinks that his digressions on femaleness and women are just authentic representations of his character. But it's a bit boring and simple and frankly, I think she can do better.
This isn't to say that I won't keep reading the series—I think there's still enough here to be interested in and I'm enjoying her foray into the crime genre. But again, I think she can do better. ...more
This was my first foray into the Rebus series, one which I had been eying for a long time—not least due to its Edinburgh setting. Funny then that theThis was my first foray into the Rebus series, one which I had been eying for a long time—not least due to its Edinburgh setting. Funny then that the one I picked to start with didn't actually take place in Edinburgh at all. No matter, though: A Question of Blood was a nice introduction to the character and his backstory, I think, even though it is a rather late entry as far as I can tell.
I finished the novel pretty snappily, without finding myself bored or distracted and wanting to jump over to other plots and books (a common problem for me). The interwoven plotting and snappy pacing are both work well, the characters and relationships clearly drawn, and the various intrigues all reasonably twisty. Good news all around. Personally, I thought the main subplot related to Rebus' suspicious injury (suspicious because his hands have been severely burned and a man he'd had altercations with died in an arson fire) was resolved a bit too easily, as was the internal inquiry into his possible role in a murder. Additionally, while it does draw out the suspense and the reader's uncertainty, the fact that he knows whether or not he's telling the truth about his involvement in the event but *we* don't know is kind of a cheat. It feels artificial, given that we are inside his thoughts for much of the rest of the book, but it's not written first person so I suppose Rankin can get away with it.
There were also times throughout the novel that I found Rebus' outsider status as your prototypical "loose canon" cop—complete with the wise-cracking, the disregarding authority, the inadvisable outbursts, etc.—a little forced. We get it already—he's a lone wolf (except he's not). No need to overdo it.
As a last side note, I loved the author intro on the book—the stories about the characters that Rankin wrote in after auctioning character rights and the anecdote about being pranked by a member of Belle and Sebastian. Good way to get a feel for Rankin's sense of humor and also nice to see how he incorporated a character that he didn't himself dream up from scratch, but rather had to work in as a sort of exercise. ...more
I loved the first Lovesey I read (Cop to Corpse, one of his Peter Diamond police procedurals), but this standalone just wasn't capturing me. The wrongI loved the first Lovesey I read (Cop to Corpse, one of his Peter Diamond police procedurals), but this standalone just wasn't capturing me. The wrong place/wrong time conceit can be compelling, but it felt like a lot of red herrings beuilding up and I wasn't that thrilled with the main characters, so I decided to set this one aside for now......more
I'm not, as a rule, a big fan of procedurals, but I received this book for Christmas with an enthusiastic recommendation and so went in with an open mI'm not, as a rule, a big fan of procedurals, but I received this book for Christmas with an enthusiastic recommendation and so went in with an open mind. Very glad that I did—it was fast-paced, decently twisty, well-plotted with well-drawn characters and just generally a whole lot of a fun. Painted a nice portrait of Bath, as well, which up until this point, I was only familiar with from Jane Austen novels. I had no problem jumping into the series from this point, and would recommend it as an entry point into the Diamond novels. I'll definitely return to this series, and very soon.
(Those of you who are fans of the series: any recommendations for which Diamond novel I should read next?)...more
My first John Dickson Carr novel—a Christmas gift bought for the express purpose of being fitting reading for a few days in a country cabin, which itMy first John Dickson Carr novel—a Christmas gift bought for the express purpose of being fitting reading for a few days in a country cabin, which it very much was. Loads of melodrama (gasping, running toward one's lover just to touch hands before turning and running back in the other direction, be-veiled ghosts, passionate embraces, needlessly complicated back story...), and lots of exposition and character explanation delivered through feverish dialog. Take for example, the introduction that the the hefty, enigmatic Dr. Gideon Fell receives, upon his arrival half way through the book:
'For the ordinary case,' interrupted Nick Barclay with an air of dazzling inspiration, 'he'd be no earthly good at all. It's the hundredth instance where he scores. I never met him until tonight, but I've heard all about him. He's the cross-eyed marksman who hits the game without aiming at it; he's the scatterbrained diver you send into murky waters. His special talent is useful only in a case so crazy that nobody else can understand it.'
And even better is the abundance of amazing exclamations from the good doctor, my favorite being, "O Lord! O Bacchus! O my ancient hat!"...more
With the Iceland Noir conference coming up in November, now seemed as good a time as any to read another Erlendur novel, the first I've picked up sincWith the Iceland Noir conference coming up in November, now seemed as good a time as any to read another Erlendur novel, the first I've picked up since Voices, maybe six years ago. I wasn't overwhelmed by Voices, I will admit, but I really liked Erlendur as a detective, so such a long pause in the series does feel a bit strange to me. And for reasons I really can't remember, if I had them in the first place, I skipped over the next title in the series, The Draining Lake and went for this one instead. So, starting it, I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't remember enough of the detective's back story to follow that continuing plot line. As it turns out, I needn't have worried on the latter point, as the back story plot picks up in a new spot, but with plenty of reminders to help old readers remember, and new readers catch up.
There are an enjoyable number of intertwining circumstances and stories in this installment: Erlendur's ordeal losing his brother in a snowstorm when he was a child dovetails with the murder of a Thai child whose older brother then feels responsible for not protecting him better. Additionally, there is an ongoing missing persons case and a possible child abuse case which loom on the sidelines, effecting Erlendur's general mood and response to the case as it unfolds. Not to mention other painful life-filler, such as Sigurður Olí's ambivalence about adopting a child now that it has been determined that he and his partner can't have their own child, and Marion Briem's death.
This is also the first crime novel set in Iceland that I have read after moving here, and it is certainly interesting to read about Reykjavík and know the streets which are being mentioned, the shops, and the statues. It adds one more layer of verisimilitude.
The racial tension in the novel is presented with nuance and accuracy, I think, although I did find myself bristling at the regular use of the word "colored" to refer to Icelanders of non-white ethnicities, specifically Thai people. I have been asking around, but still am not totally sure if this is just a direct translation of a regularly used Icelandic term, or a bit of an anachronism in the English. I'm interested enough that I just might try and pick up the Icelandic version for comparison.
Although I'm sorry that Rowling's cover has been blown, I'm still a bit glad that it was, because I'm not sure that I would have encountered this bookAlthough I'm sorry that Rowling's cover has been blown, I'm still a bit glad that it was, because I'm not sure that I would have encountered this book otherwise. I wasn't as taken with the concept of her other post-Potter novel and haven't read it, but I was interested in her take on a crime novel. It seemed like a genre that she would excel in, given her knack for twisty, well-planned plots and strongly-drawn, mildly eccentric characters.
Happily, I wasn't wrong on any of the above counts. The Cuckoo's Calling gets a little bit Christiesque in the end, with a sort of drawing room (detective office) reveal of the crime's solution all in one go after several chapters' secretiveness, but that has a sort of classic appeal for me-- particularly when there is that last, ah-ha reveal of you-thought-you-guessed-who-but-you-didn't.
I hope that Rowling keeps at the Strike books--she's an empathetic observer and has drawn some really enjoyable, unique characters here that I would be very happy to read again in the future. ...more
My first Elmore Leonard book, and great fun. I knew going in that Leonard has an ear for dialog, but that didn't make it any less of a delight. And itMy first Elmore Leonard book, and great fun. I knew going in that Leonard has an ear for dialog, but that didn't make it any less of a delight. And it's not even that he has an ear for New York mobster dialog, or Hollywood schmuck dialog, although he certainly does. But I would say more that Leonard creates his own internal speech patterns--characters throughout the book drop verbs in much the same way, elide their sentences in a way that flows nicely together and works naturally for spoken dialog. It's fast to read, and fun to read, and pretty much everyone is very clever. You want to read it out loud, because it just sounds great in your head.
There are some really nice plot digressions and complications which make the story nice and twisty (I love the backstory with Chili's leather jacket and standing grudge with Ray Bones), but all ends are tied very satisfactorily by the end. And not in a way that feels cheap, either--just a way that makes you a bit giggly for how darn clever it was.
Leonard makes this kind of writing seem effortless, but it isn't easy to write a book like this: smart dialog, humor, plot thickenings, well-developed characters, and irony that never feels cheap. The only thing I might say that I thought was a bit forced was foreshadowing the climax on the balcony. But this is small stuff. ...more