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
A lot of the office politics within the gallery setting were enjoyable, as were the passages where characters outline the ways in which they have deteA lot of the office politics within the gallery setting were enjoyable, as were the passages where characters outline the ways in which they have determined that a work of art might be a forgery (my favorite fun fact: no birch trees with straight trunks existed in Iceland in the middle of the last century). But while there is a lot that actually happens in this novel, it never really felt like it got off the ground. There is a lot of back story, and either it or any one of the many sub-plots, character relationships, etc. could really have used some more development.
It is definitely a novel in which the setting comes through, however. I very much enjoyed reading the descriptions of Reykjavík and the surrounding areas, and getting even a cursory feel for the art scene here. ...more
During the "Golden Age" of British crime fiction, Ronald Knox, a British clergyman, literary critic, and author of several crime novels himself, wroteDuring the "Golden Age" of British crime fiction, Ronald Knox, a British clergyman, literary critic, and author of several crime novels himself, wrote the "ten commandments" of crime fiction (see here: http://goo.gl/v1saO). These rules vary from "Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable" to "No Chinaman must figure in the story." (In his introduction, Škvorecký explains that despite the regrettable epitaph, the rule "was not a display of racism on the part of the good Father, but simply his reaction to what was one of the most hackneyed ploys of cheap detective stories.")
Since the writing of these "commandments," most have been broken in very good examples of crime fiction. Josef Škvorecký, a Czech author who emigrated to Canada following the Prague Spring, set out to break all of Father Knox's rules in this collection of short, linked crime stories. You, the reader, are charged with two tasks when reading: determining not only whodunnit in each story, but also which sin Škvorecký has committed against the commandments. (If you need some help working out the "who," the "what," and the "how" of each story, the "Ab-solutions" in the back will clear things up for you.)
Each of the ten stories find the gorgeous, clever, and world-weary Czech night-club singer Eve Adam unexpectedly playing detective in run-down bars and seedy districts all over the world. Having been cleared of a murder she was wrongly convicted of in the first story (with the help of Škvorecký's usual leading man, Detective Boruvka) Eve joins a traveling Czech performance group. But whether she's in Sweden, Italy, San Francisco, a cruise across the Atlantic, or Prague, certain things don't change for Eve--for all her cynicism, she's a romantic who can never stay away from smooth-talking men, and wherever she goes, someone seems to unexpectedly turn up dead.
Škvorecký taps into his inner Conan Doyle, and stresses logic and deduction in each tale, but honestly, sometimes the stories are convoluted enough (much like a Sherlock Holmes story) that it would prove a difficult thing to work out the answers. But while the stories occasionally feel a bit too clever, the surrounding characterizations are really rich and entertaining. Characters reoccur throughout the book and anecdotes told in one story pop up again and are put to good use in another. (You really have to read all of the stories in order--they build on one another in small, but meaningful ways. Also, it's best to read each story in one sitting--it's easy to forget little pertinent details and clues otherwise.) Eve is a sharp narrator, and a very funny observer of human folly--including her own--which really makes this a pleasure to read. ...more
I picked up Dorothy B. Hughes' The Expendable Man on a whim, forgetting, actually, that I had added one of her other books, Blackbirder to my 'to-readI picked up Dorothy B. Hughes' The Expendable Man on a whim, forgetting, actually, that I had added one of her other books, Blackbirder to my 'to-read' shelf some time ago. Primarily I was interested because it is a crime novel (by a woman) set in Arizona and from the cover description, it sounded like the main character was in some way dubious or not what he seemed--I love those unreliable narrators. About 60 pages into the book, however, my expectations were completely turned on their head in one of the cleverest narrative twists I've read in some time.
I'm often not too troubled by spoilers, but I'll not ruin this for anyone by going into the aforementioned twist in detail. Suffice to say that Hughes' revelation is partially a revelation because it shouldn't be one at all, and yet the dropping of one small fact changes everything you've read up to that point and contextualizes the rest of the novel in a far more meaningful way than your average 'wrong-man' scenario. She's a gifted writer--her prose is spare, but really descriptive when it needs to be, and she puts a great deal of empathy into her characterizations, which I think is pivotal in a good crime novel. Through her characters in The Expandable Man she not only effectively conveys a sort of looming paranoia and tension--and the agonizing feeling that the person one most needs to escape is, perhaps, oneself--but also ably places both herself and her readers in the same frame of mind, which makes for a rather jittery reading experience. (In a good way, of course.)
I'll also say that this is one of the best evocations I've read of Arizona since Betsy Thornton's High Lonesome Road (makes sense--Hughes lived in New Mexico), and it's particularly touching to read her descriptions of Phoenix on the verge of becoming the sprawling, overdeveloped, contentiously urban city that it is today. I loathe Phoenix as it is now--as it's been since my childhood--and in some ways, that's just the Tucsonan pride coming out. But in the 60s, when the book is set, Hughes describes a city which is not yet large enough that one can easily hide there, a city which is only just starting to raze the natural landscape for suburban housing developments and which still lays claim to meandering country roads winding next to canals shaded by mesquite trees.
I wasn't totally sold on the way the plot wrapped up--there's some last minute amateur sleuthing that is a little contrived--but this is beside the point. I will certainly be tracking down more of Hughes' books soon--maybe next In a Lonely Place, which was turned into a movie with Humphrey Bogart.
I was looking for a fast, fun read for a vacation that I took recently took and when The Expats (which, incidentally, was just listed as one of Bill OI was looking for a fast, fun read for a vacation that I took recently took and when The Expats (which, incidentally, was just listed as one of Bill Ott's 'Best Crime Novels: 2012' in Booklist) caught my eye, I thought it would easily fit the bill. But this book was pretty much a disappointment from start to finish. The set-up is promising, but the whole novel is sloppily structured and written and the conclusion is not only silly, it's also pretty lazy on the resolving details. (For instance, "I framed someone," is generally a fact that requires some explanation. Who did you frame? How did you frame him? You can't just leave it at "I set up a guy," and move on, particularly when the framing involves war criminals and international thievery.)
All in all, it felt like I was reading a treatment for a bad thriller film, and not one that made me care about any of the individuals involved--particularly the main character, who we're told is this super badass former spy, but constantly behaves like an amateur girl detective. ...more