Thirteen years ago, Harrison Harrison was out on a boat with his parents, and a tentacled monster attacked them, killing his father and ripping off HaThirteen years ago, Harrison Harrison was out on a boat with his parents, and a tentacled monster attacked them, killing his father and ripping off Harrison’s leg. He nearly died from an infection, and in the years that followed he covered up his memories with a more rational explanation than a Lovecraftian monster.
Now Harrison is sixteen and accompanying his mom on a scientific expedition to the little coastal town of Dunnsmouth. Rosa Harrison is a marine biologist who specialises in massive creatures like whale sharks and sperm whales, and her latest obsession is the colossal squid.
Harrison (H2 – Harrison Squared – to his mom; scientist humour) thought tagging along would be better than the alternatives, but Dunnsmouth is set to prove him wrong. The town takes the concept of “parochial” to new levels of creepy. There is no internet connection or cellphone reception (Harrison complains about being “involuntarily Amished”), so there’s no way of calling for help from the outside world. The school Harrison has to attend looks like a giant tomb, he sometimes hears chanting as he wanders through the labyrinthine hallways, and the swimming pool is in a subterranean cave. Some of the staff members look kind of… aquatic. The principal also happens to be the priest of the town’s arcane religion, and while Harrison is “used to being one of the few public atheists in school” he’s a lot less certain about being “an army of one against the One True Faith of Dunnsmouth”. Also, all the kids look weirdly similar, they’re unnervingly quiet, and they’re all white, which is worrying for a mixed-race kid like Harrison in a small town.
And what Harrison’s mom hasn’t told him is that this is the same town where he lost his leg and his father thirteen years ago, and that she’s returned to find the monster that attacked them. This is something that Harrison is forced to discover on his own when Rosa goes missing at sea on their second day. The townspeople don’t seem to think there’s much hope of finding her (or don’t want to), but Harrison is convinced that she’s still alive so he mounts his own investigation. No matter how distorted his memories of the attack thirteen years ago, he knows that his parents saved him, so he refuses to abandon his mother. Along the way, Harrison finds some unexpected allies, including a boy from a race of aquatic humanoids; encounters a terrifying murderer known as The Scrimshander; and finds out exactly how creepy Dunnsmouth’s weird religion is.
I jumped at the chance to read this after reading the novella We Are All Completely Fine, which features an adult Harrison in group therapy with several other people who’ve had to deal with monsters in their lives, including a woman who’d had images carved on her bones by the Scrimshander. That book had its flaws – most notably an unimpressive ending that didn’t do the rest of the book justice – but I was seriously impressed by the characters Gregory wrote, and that was more than enough to make me want to read this book.
It didn’t disappoint; Harrison Squared has a fantastic cast of characters and even the minor ones are well-written. Sixteen-year-old Harrison is an even more enjoyable character than the adult version, perhaps because he’s funnier and more optimistic. He’s got a great sense of sarcasm and is generally a nice, well-rounded kid. He’s so capable with his carbon-fibre prosthetic leg that his disability never seems like much of a disability, although it’s still very much a part of who he is and how he functions. He does, however, have two serious problems – he’s afraid of going in the water, and he has a “volcanic” temper in contrast to his otherwise “calm and analytical” nature. His water phobia has never been an issue in daily life, but of course he’s going to have to deal with it if he has any hope of saving his mom in a place like Dunnsmouth. His temper has been more problematic, and although he’s learned to handle it over the years, the current situation threatens to break his control.
I also loved Harrison’s Aunt Sel, who comes to stay with him after his mother disappears. Selena was initially dismissed as a potential caregiver for being a snooty urbanite with no interest in kids. When she turned up I was expecting her to be an uncaring bitch, but she was superb. She’s definitely not the mothering type, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about Harrison; it’s just that she doesn’t show it in any kind of conventional motherly way. She strides in, dramatic and impeccably dressed, effortlessly gets her way with almost everyone, and refuses to take shit from anyone. Harrison eats well if only because she’s used to having the best (lobster dinner?) and he’s warmly dressed on some of his later night-time excursions partly because she finds his one-hoodie style tiresome and is dying to buy him some new clothes.
Sel also doesn’t care if Harrison doesn’t go to Dunnsmouth’s weird school or that he sneaks around at night, which is perfect in these circumstances because it means Harrison is free to do whatever he needs to do to find his mother.
As far as the plot is concerned, Gregory does a better job than in We Are All Completely Fine. Harrison Squared reads like the best kind of YA adventure horror, which is to say that it’s wonderfully fun and creepy, thanks in part to the immense pleasure of being able to root for a character like Harrison. The climax felt a bit abrupt, but no matter; I had a great time with this and I want more books like it. The ending provides the setup for a possible sequel, so I can only hope that there will be one....more
Not particularly funny, but the story is enjoyable. One of the more memorable books I've read by Tom Holt, as his others have tended to be more chaotiNot particularly funny, but the story is enjoyable. One of the more memorable books I've read by Tom Holt, as his others have tended to be more chaotic....more
The blurb about Jesus and his brother Colin on the Goodreads page for this book has to be the most misleading blurb I've ever read. It's all mostly trThe blurb about Jesus and his brother Colin on the Goodreads page for this book has to be the most misleading blurb I've ever read. It's all mostly true, but it has a much, much smaller role to play in the novel than you would expect. Colin has about five lines and Jesus only comes in at the end.
What this book is actually about it the mystery of who killed God and why, and it all plays out on earth. The famous genre detective Lazlo Woodbine (who some call Laz) is on the case. It's a briefcase this time, at least until he's forced to drop it when Eartha, God's wife, hires Lazlo to find her husband. The briefcase has been picked up by Icarus Smith, a young 'relocator' whose dream it is to relocate things until the world has been put right. Inside the case are some devastating secrets and the means to change the way people see the world.
It's all thoroughly ridiculous, which of course is what you're looking for (or should expect) when you pick up a Robert Rankin novel. It didn't work for me in this case though. It was funny at first, then degenerated into "Ok enough now" and finally "Jesus Christ, just get on with it". The gags are repeated way too often and it's all a bit boring. It's not dreadful, but if you're thinking of reading it, keep browsing....more
Good words for describing this book include “whacky”, “zany” and “preposterous”. It’s a totally tongue-in-cheek sci-fi caper, composed of equal partsGood words for describing this book include “whacky”, “zany” and “preposterous”. It’s a totally tongue-in-cheek sci-fi caper, composed of equal parts action, humour and ridiculousness. It’s full of kooky sci fi tropes like death rays, giant bugs, and evil geniuses. The characters have names like “Blug”, “Kreegah” and “Snarg”.
It’s also intentionally, amusingly narrow-minded. Pretty much all the aliens come from the moons or planets in our solar system, and can speak English. They might look outlandish, but they’re still mostly based on stuff you could find on Earth – Mollusk is an octopus, the Saturnites are some kind of rock-people, the Venusians are reptiles with feathers.
His Grace, the Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, is being dragged against his will, at the demand of his wife aHis Grace, the Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, is being dragged against his will, at the demand of his wife and to the great amusement of his colleagues, on a lovely country holiday at Lady Sybil’s family estate, Ramkin Hall. Actually, it’s now Vimes’s estate -Sybil “had transferred all the holdings of her family [...] to him in the old fashioned but endearing belief that a husband should be the one doing the owning”. Poor Vimes, however, can’t quite settle into his position as a member of the aristrocracy, as he demonstrates by trying to treat the servants as equals, to their complete and utter horror.
And of course he can never stop working. Whatever Sybil’s hopes for her holiday with her husband and young son, you couldn’t beat the copper out of Vimes with a truncheon. From the moment he arrives he can’t help but look for something amiss. And of course he finds it. And a hell of a lot of trouble. But Sam Vimes wouldn’t be Sam Vimes if he wasn’t pissing someone off in the quest for justice. In Snuff he boots the aristocrats off their comfy cushions by investigating their suspected involvement in slavery, smuggling, drug trafficking, kidnapping, and murder, (especially after they try to frame him for the latter).
Pratchett’s Discworld novels typically feature some kind of social commentary and with issues like those it’s particularly heavy here. Vimes has always fought against discrimination, particularly between classes and species, and thanks to him the Watch includes dwarves, trolls, vampires, werewolves, an Igor and a Nac Mac Feegle.
In Snuff it’s the goblins’ turn to get the equal rights treatment.
Georgie Allen, “Cape Town’s worst-dressed lawyer” and owner of what might be Cape Town’s worThis review was also published on my blog Violin in a Void
Georgie Allen, “Cape Town’s worst-dressed lawyer” and owner of what might be Cape Town’s worst car, can’t afford to add a pro bono case to his long list of troubles. But among those troubles is the fact that his love life has been reduced to giving Love24.com another shot, so when the gorgeous Rachel asks him to help her sister Nina, Georgie doesn’t even bother to discuss his fee. Nina was raped by a cop in a police cell in Barryville, “one of those tiny South African towns that’s stuck in a time warp and is dripping with small-town prejudice and incipient racist values” (6). As expected, the police didn’t bother opening an investigation when Nina laid a charge, so without Georgie’s help, the rapist will get away without so much as a rap on the knuckles.
Georgie leaves immediately for Barryville, stopping only to pick up his friend Advocate Patrick McLennan (aka “the Poison Dwarf”). Patrick brings along a cute but filthy mongrel that’s currently the key witness in a burglary and who Georgie aptly names Exhibit A. The dog promptly makes a bed out of Georgie’s jacket and begins the first of many ball-licking sessions.
If I had to pick just one reason that I’m glad I read this book, it would be learning the word “scrolfing” – Sarah Lotz’s term for the noise Exhbit A makes when he’s “been attacking [his] bollocks… with a dedication that would have been admirable, had it been doing anything else.” (1) Scrolfing is a “combination of grunts and the same liquid smacking noises my granddad used to make whenever he ate a chop without his dentures in” (1). It’s a very useful and oddly endearing term, specifically because I also have a loveable mongrel who makes the exact same disgusting noise despite the fact that she doesn’t have any bollocks to attack.
As it stands though, “scrolfing” is hardly the only thing that makes Exhibit A a good read. It also has amazing characters, a good plot, and it’s incredibly funny. Most of the humour comes from Georgie’s narration – a mixture of witty observations, mild self-deprecation and sarcasm. Just as funny is Patrick, a diminutive, junk-food scoffing Scottish lawyer who makes up for his small stature by being “total and utter bastard” (2) whether in the court-room, passing the bill in a restaurant, or arguing with his long-suffering wife with whom he has somehow conceived five children despite almost never seeing her because he’s always working. Whatever the weather Patrick wears a 3-piece wool suit, he has a strange talent for never spilling anything, even when eating Frosties with milk in Georgie's lurching car, and he can be fantastically tactless.
Patrick asks Georgie to look after Exhibit A and Georgie grudgingly agrees, thereby turning his terrible car into a terribly smelly car and getting his awful clothes covered in a layer of white fur. The little dog doesn’t play much of a role in the main plot, but he’s a constant presence in the story and becomes an integral part of Georgie’s life and character; there’s a reason why his name is also the title of this book.
Georgie, Patrick and Exhibit A give heart and comic relief to a novel that might otherwise be painful to read. Unlike most crime or legal dramas, Exhibit A doesn’t deal with criminal masterminds or glamorous court cases. Instead its subject matter is something disturbingly common in South Africa – rape and police corruption. The perpetrator isn’t especially smart – he’s just a small-minded bastard who took advantage of his power to force himself on an easy target who probably wouldn’t stand up for her rights and couldn’t afford to seek justice.
On the downside (depending on how you see it), this means that Exhibit A lacks the thrills you might expect from John Grisham or similar. With grim dedication to a realistic depiction of crime in South Africa, the triumphs are mostly small and the frustrations many, and there are no heart-stopping moments when a shocking twist or major new clue is uncovered.
However, the kind of crime Exhibit A tackles gives the novel class. Not for a moment do you get the sense that the crimes committed here are somehow intended to be entertaining – an inescapable feeling in a lot of crime fiction where the crimes and criminals are so fascinating that the victims are only so many broken eggs needed to cook up a riveting story.
Exhibit A doesn’t sacrifice Nina that way. Nor does it have to. The story is compelling without being sensational, the humour is fresh and sharp, and the characters are so memorable you could feel that you've met them personally.
Reading over this review, it almost seems like I’ve written about two different books – a comedy about a pair of oddball lawyers and a scruffy mongrel on the one hand, and on the other a serious legal drama about two noble lawyers fighting for the rights of a woman who’s been abused by a corrupt police system. But somehow Sarah Lotz has sewn it all together without any of the elements ever clashing. Highly recommended....more
Candide has the fastest moving plot of any book I have ever read. The story told in this slim novel could easily be expanded into an 800-page epic, buCandide has the fastest moving plot of any book I have ever read. The story told in this slim novel could easily be expanded into an 800-page epic, but then it would lose its vicious satirical bite. I enjoyed Candide for its relentless, humorous criticism of the philosophy that everything is as it should and everything is for the best, as illustrated by Pangloss’s notion that “the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles”. It’s the same philosophy commonly espoused in religious contexts – that the world is as [insert deity of choice] wills it and thus everything is good and right(regardless of insurmountable evidence to the contrary).
Young Candide is Pangloss’s ever-faithful student, and clings to this quite stupid optimism despite being the constant victim of human greed and malice. His beliefs do falter as his fortunes fail, but the moment anything even moderately good happens to him he rationalises his way back to optimism. With the rapid pace of the plot however, and Volatire’s droll satire, we can see this philosophy for the delusion it is.
This is completely nuts and totally unpredictable. To give you the pleasure of enjoying the whiplash of plot twists for yourself, I’m not describe theThis is completely nuts and totally unpredictable. To give you the pleasure of enjoying the whiplash of plot twists for yourself, I’m not describe the storyline, but I will say that you’ll find zombies, postmodern jokes, literary and pop culture references, a bizarre mix of sci fi and fantasy, and crazy conspiracy theories.
The downside is that it’s not nearly as funny as I’d hoped. It’s amusing most of the time, but it never got an actual laugh out of me. However, I’ve heard that it’s not one of Rankin’s best. Nevertheless, the general weirdness of his writing is very enjoyable and more than enough reason to try another of his books.