Okay, basic synopsis: Marine architect (one who designs underwater vehicles and the like) Hannah Bryson has been contracted to inspect and overhaul a...moreOkay, basic synopsis: Marine architect (one who designs underwater vehicles and the like) Hannah Bryson has been contracted to inspect and overhaul a decommissioned Russian nuclear sub, the Silent Thunder, for the U.S. Maritime Museum. Working with her brother, Connor, she begins the routine check of the sub's systems. During this process, an enigmatic set of metallic plates, inscribed with seemingly nonsensical symbols, is found. Tragedy strikes, however, and a mystery unfolds. Hannah, though warned by the U.S. government against involving herself any further in the situation, stubbornly searches out the truth behind Silent Thunder's history and how it pertains to the ruthless man masterminding all the recent death and destruction surrounding the sub. With the help of a enigmatic and charismatic mercenary, their search becomes a race to find the prize Silent Thunder's secrets leads to before anyone else dies.
Like any Iris Johansen book, this one is fast-paced, thrilling, and tautly told. The added bonus is NO SEX! Yes, that's right, no throbbing loins or hanky-panky between the sheets. Lots of sexual tension and hints of a budding romance, with some smoldering looks and innocent yet electrifying skin contact, but that's it. It was quite refreshing. Of course, the lack of sex may have been due to Iris's collaboration with her son, Roy; mother and son may be close, but not enough to write sex scenes with each other. Yuck! But I digress. Is this deep and lasting literature? No. Is it a quick and thrilling read, something to while away the hours with? For sure. Although, and it may only be me and my dirty mind, but does anyone else get the giggles when they read the title? Silent Thunder. *snicker* Sorry.(less)
**spoiler alert** Powerful, compelling, depressing, uplifting, enthralling. All-in-all a mesmerizing tale, full of creative and evocative imagery and...more**spoiler alert** Powerful, compelling, depressing, uplifting, enthralling. All-in-all a mesmerizing tale, full of creative and evocative imagery and written with a taut, masterful hand. And yet... Call me plebeian. Call me uncultured, shallow and frivolous, but high, modern literature just doesn't do it for me. To me, all authors of modern literature are either condescending and obnoxiously high-browed or waxing quasi-philosophical in a dreary and depressing manner. No thanks to either. I encounter enough darkness and exclusivity in the real world to last me a lifetime. That's why I read books and watch movies in the first place, to escape from all the dreary stuff and immerse myself in light and humor and fluff.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not particularly lumping Emma Donoghue into either of those two categories and I'm not slighting her writing in the least. I couldn't write half as well as she, were I to try very, very hard. I'm just not moved by it. Perhaps I should be. After all, at its core, the story is traumatic and vivid, concerning the abduction of a young woman who is then kept in a reinforced garden shed as a sex slave for the next nine years, who manages to escape with the help of her brave and precocious five-year-old son. The progression of the novel, detailing how the two deal with and adapt to their new surroundings is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Part of my issue comes from the way the story is told; it's narrated by that five-year-old, Jack, so we see all the drama through his eyes, naive eyes which don't always comprehend what's going on, having no reference to things outside of Room. Novel at first, this method of storytelling becomes less so as the story progresses, eventually becoming rather grating. Towards the end, I found myself wishing that Donoghue would've switched viewpoints at the halfway point of the book so I could see the story through the mother's eyes.
However, I want to stress again that all disappointment lies with me as the reader and not with Donoghue as the writer. For a "hot" book, of the type I normally avoid like the plague, it's actually worth all the hype being built around it. Even if this isn't the type of fiction you normally read, I highly suggest you give Room a try.(less)
Lucy Fisher is having a very bad day. She's just returned from her dream vacation in Hawai'i (which was actually more like the vacation from hell) and...moreLucy Fisher is having a very bad day. She's just returned from her dream vacation in Hawai'i (which was actually more like the vacation from hell) and finds her dog locked in the house and the locks to the house changed. Her fiancé isn't answering his phone and, oh yeah, the front lawn of her house is littered with every single one of her possessions. Including her wedding dress, which Lucy has to wrestle out of the grubby hands of a passing bag lady. Finding a temporary refuge at the home of her friend, Lucy turns to the only other constant in her life, her job as a dental hygienist, only to be fired, accused of stealing money and drugs from her employer. Confused, angry and despondent, Lucy moves in with her sister and nephew with hopes of starting her life over. Too bad for Lucy, she soon finds her life just plain over thanks to a fatal encounter with a bus, as in peel-off-the-pavement fatal. When Lucy "wakes," she finds herself back in school, ghost school, learning the lessons of proper 'ghosting' so that when Lucy returns to Earth, she can complete her mission and move on to "The State," a place of eternal bliss. With the help of her wickedly mischievous grandmother, Naunie, Lucy finally figures out how to have the time of her life, er, death.
Although I can't say I laughed out loud, I did get several chuckles out of the book, which I found quite enjoyable. The characters were well-drawn and the story proceeded at a nice pace. Several concepts about the afterlife were cleverly explored, mostly revolving around the "white light" phenomenon and how haunting really works, putting a new spin on classic ghost lore. Most surprising of all, I actually liked the main character, Lucy. Ninety-nine percent of chick-lit heroines I can't stand; I usually spend most of my time alternately cursing, hating and wanting to throttle/slap/punch the bimbo. With Lucy, however, apart from a couple of head-shaking moments, I spent my time actually enjoying the story and Lucy's role in it. For that fact alone I mark Spooky Little Girl as a worthwhile read.(less)
The basis of the novel is rather interesting, but the writing is a bit awkward and stilted; there seemed to be a lot of "He did this. Then he...more2.5 stars
The basis of the novel is rather interesting, but the writing is a bit awkward and stilted; there seemed to be a lot of "He did this. Then he did this. He went here. They went there." Rather reminiscent of a Dick and Jane book, only with more grown up words. However, it doesn't surprise me that the book's been optioned for a television series; Hollywood seems to have a nose for mediocre works. I just hope it gets tweaked a bit more before it goes into production; the mystery was fairly well done, but the characters were blah and the story, beyond the initial Sherlock Holmes premise, wasn't that exciting. Speaking of a Sherlock Holmes premise, in that the story revolved around a letter sent to that famous detective which kicks off the action in the story, I was rather expecting the tale to take place somewhere in the UK, not in L.A. I guess having a stateside setting allowed Robertson to more easily take advantage of his lazy generalizations concerning the American characters in his book. Now, I'm not a flaming patriot; I get upset quite frequently with America's blunders and often wish our social and governmental systems were run more effectively and efficiently. However, Robertson paints all his American characters as selfish, suspicious, greedy and generally ignorant of anything outside their small sphere of influence. I might agree with that last generalization, which could apply to almost any human being regardless of country of origin; however, while we all suffer to some degree from one or all of the other traits, I find it hard to believe that Robertson's main character didn't run into at least one nice, helpful and generous individual, even in L.A. It seemed rather an amateurish writing error; if I wrote a novel set in England and portrayed all the characters within as upper-crust, white, tea-drinking, public school educated, Margaret Thatcher wannabes, there would certainly be some backlash over such stereotyping.
It's possible his second book is a vast improvement over his first; however, as of this moment, I really have very little interest in finding out if that's so.(less)
The zombie apocalypse genre is not typically imbued with a happy, shiny, 'with a Coke and a smile' kind of mentality. However, I'd have to say Afterti...moreThe zombie apocalypse genre is not typically imbued with a happy, shiny, 'with a Coke and a smile' kind of mentality. However, I'd have to say Aftertime is the most depressing novel in this genre I've read so far. It's gritty and unflinching. The protagonist, Cass, is a recovering alcoholic, a stressful position to be in in the best of times, let alone when you're fighting off hordes of diseased zombies. Most of the people met in this book are mercenary, suspicious, sly, bullying, when they're not frightened, insane or being oppressed. Those with the most power hold the weak under their thumbs. Bizarre and dangerous cults hold sway and everyone is looking for someone who might have the answers. Which makes the book difficult to read in some ways, as some scenes are quite literally gut-wrenching; yet it also makes the book the most realistic I've come across. However much we might hope that a disaster of this magnitude will bring out the best in people, deep down we know, or at least suspect, people being who and what they are, any kind of apocalypse will bring out our most base and venal instincts. Those with enough power (usually of the firearm kind) to do so will want to reshape the world in their image; since there will most likely be more than one group of this kind, you just know that many innocents will be cut down in the cross-fire as each group vies for supremacy. Pride is subsumed by the desire to simply survive.
Sophie Littlefield has taken these ideas and created a well-crafted, compelling, scarily realistic novel; she has done so skillfully and with a great amount of talent. That said, I doubt I will read her book more than the one time, just because it is so realistic and, thus, depressing. I also had a problem connecting with the protagonist, Cass. It's not that I didn't sympathize with her mission to find her daughter, I did, I just didn't like her most of the time, mainly because I couldn't identify with her, being neither a mother nor an addict. So while I occasionally wanted to make Cass snap out of her self-destructive, self-debasing spiral, I could also applaud Littlefield for centering her novel around such a flawed individual. I highly recommend Aftertime; just be aware, it's not a book to be read when you want to feel better about the world.(less)
I'm sorry, I really wanted to like this, I did. After all, even though the premise isn't exactly unique (the spirit of a dead man comes back to enlist...moreI'm sorry, I really wanted to like this, I did. After all, even though the premise isn't exactly unique (the spirit of a dead man comes back to enlist the help of someone who can see him in order to avenge his murder) the method in which this particular premise is told is. After all, the ghost is a petty thief and the man who helps him is a shy coroner who really only wants to do his job and be able to collect his antique city maps and be left alone. However, even five pages in I kept wondering why anyone was supposed to care who or why Pascha/Sascha Lerchenberg was murdered. At one hundred pages in, I was glad the annoying little oik had been bumped off. As a narrator/protagonist, Pascha is the most uncouth, disgusting, perverted, sexist pig of a man I've ever encountered. And we're supposed to care he's dead? Excuse me, but as a reader, we're supposed to be able to connect with the protagonist on some level, to have some sympathy for him. With Pascha I felt nothing but irritation that I had keep hearing his "voice." Martin, the coroner, is a much more sympathetic character and I kept wishing the book had been told from his P.O.V. I would much rather have seen the story unfold from his shy and hesitant perspective as he encountered all manner of thugs and ruffians and had only the patronizing promptings of a ghost, who was more interested in looking up nearby womens' skirts, to help him out of sticky situations. Martin's use of legal-ese and medical mumbo-jumbo to intimidate the men bullying him were the most funny and creative bits in the entire novel.
Then we come to the method of storytelling. I've already mentioned how annoying Pascha's voice is, but his many interjections interrupted the flow of the narrative rather than added to it. The overwhelming number of his snarky asides and inner monologues and puerile sniggerings were just downright distracting. There also seemed to be unnecessary pauses in the action. For instance, when Pascha's body is being autopsied and Pascha makes his ectoplasmic self known to Martin, instead of exclaiming over the fact that someone can hear him and badgering that living person to talk to him, Pascha instead shuts up and slips into the morgue drawer holding his physical remains, waiting until the next morning to begin conversing with Martin. Now, me personally, if I were a ghost and discovered that when I spoke, someone living heard me, I'd be all up in that person's face, immediately asking what's going on, hey can you help me, and other assorted questions to do with my current incorporeal state. It just didn't sit right with me.
I wanted to blame the translation. After all, sometimes things get lost when switching from one language to another. The original story is in German and the German people have words (like Schadenfreude, a gorgeous one) which just do not translate into English. However, the more I read, the more I could see that the translator actually did an excellent job and the problems I encountered with the story were in the actual source material. One hundred pages in, I just had to stop pretending; I no longer had the energy or desire to continue with the book. I flipped through the rest of it just to see how the mystery ended and gratefully put the book away, somewhere far out of my sight. I really hate giving up on novels, but I hate wasting my time and energy on losers even more. And believe me, I hate calling something a "loser"; after all, I'm a writer, I know how attached we writers become to our work and how difficult it is to hear criticism of said work. So my problems with this book may not be your problems. After all, Morgue Drawer Four was shortlisted for Germany's 2010 Friedrich Glauser Prize for best crime novel, so, hey, what the hell do I know?(less)
After a rather slow start, this became a truly well-done mystery novel. Featuring a disparate cast of characters and a series of gruesome murders, Mon...moreAfter a rather slow start, this became a truly well-done mystery novel. Featuring a disparate cast of characters and a series of gruesome murders, Monkeewrench will keep you on your toes until the very end.
I have to say, I had a little bit of trouble with this at first. Reading it was like looking at a completed jigsaw puzzle of, say, kittens playing with yarns balls. All of a sudden I'd run into a section which jarred me, like running into a section of the puzzle featuring robots boxing. Then the story would even out and pick up speed. A little later I'd run into another interruption, this one perhaps of hot air balloons. It wasn't until a little after the halfway point that the various threads of the story began coming together and I realized I wasn't looking at a picture of kittens and yarn balls at all. It was a actually a picture of a bathtub filled with rubber duckies, which you could only see if you crossed your eyes and squinted. Once I understood that, I began to enjoy the care which had been taken to build up the layers of this story into a cohesive and well-done mystery.(less)
This is not one of those adventures that plops you into a conspiracy or conundrum on the very first page, takes off at warp speed, and doesn'...more3.5 stars
This is not one of those adventures that plops you into a conspiracy or conundrum on the very first page, takes off at warp speed, and doesn't give you a moment's rest until the very last page. This is what is known as a 'slow-burner'. The plot gradually builds up, clues and hints are dropped at random points, and the picture develops chapter by chapter until we reach the final thrilling conclusion.
I've read a few of the Pendergast novels Lincoln Child has written with Douglas Preston and enjoyed them; however, this is the first of Child's solo novels I've read. As anyone who knows even the slightest bit about me could've guessed, the Egyptian setting of this novel was right up my alley due to the fact that I'm mad about Egypt and especially ancient Egypt. Not only do I love reading books set in ancient Egypt, I love reading about modern or near-modern individuals discovering that ancient country's hidden treasures, buried by time, sand, and memory. The Third Gate introduced me to a new aspect of that area's geography, being set in the Sudd, a vast swamp formed by the White Nile in southern Sudan and one of the largest wetlands in the world. Although the Sudd is quite treacherous, choked as it is with grasses, reeds, papyrus, water hyacinth, and other aquatic plants, forming mats of vegetation which can shift position and block waterways and are in various stages of decomposition, not to mention the ever-changing water levels as well as the dangerous animals, mosquitoes, and parasites, it's an important resource to the rural populations for whom it provides valuable grazing land for their livestock. However, the Sudd as pasture isn't what's presented in The Third Gate. The novel's Sudd is an almost living thing, dark, ominous, fetid, choked with a foul miasma which is nearly solid in its potency and pervasiveness. Add in the discovery of the tomb of Narmer, the first king to have unified Upper and Lower Egypt, a string of inexplicable accidents which some believe to be powered by the powerful curse attached to Narmer's tomb, and the enigmatic leader of the entire expedition, Porter Stone, and you've got a situation ripe for danger, discovery, and death.
Yet, despite all these intriguing ingredients, as a whole the book felt slightly lacking. As I said in the first paragraph, this is a slow-burner of a novel, which is fine; I like stories which build to a climax. Yet this was almost too much of a slow-burner. Though the expedition suffers from traumatic and horrific accidents through the first half of the book, to make the tension build and to lead to the biggest event which makes up the climax of the novel, the persons involved are minor characters, so we're not really invested in either the person or the horrible event happening to them. It's only toward the end that things ramp up and the characters around whom the story is revolving get mixed up in the disasters. There just doesn't seem to be enough thrills or action. I think part of that comes from the narrator, one Jeremy Logan, a professor of medieval history and a self-proclaimed “enigmalogist” (an expert in deciphering enigmas). (Well, he's not really the narrator as the novel is told through the 3rd person P.O.V., but his eyes are the ones through which the reader views the action.) Because he's hired as an observer to Stone's expedition and thus witnesses all these events as an observer, it creates a distance which sets the reader apart and diminishes the drama. However, what really torqued me off about this novel is what always sets me off when authors reference ancient Egypt: the use of Greco-Egyptian terms rather than the true Egyptian words. ***Slight spoiler alert*** One of the characters is supposedly channeling an ancient Egyptian. Yet, when that Egyptian speaks, does s/he speak of being “The Mouthpiece of Heru”? No, s/he says they're “The Mouthpiece of Horus,” Horus being the Greek interpretation of the Egyptian divinity. Argghh! That sort of thing annoys me to no end; it's not only one of my pet peeves, it's my main pet peeve, the one I dress up in little sweaters, take out for walkies, and feed only the best organic pet peeve food.
For all that, though, the history, the supernatural aspects, the Egyptological discoveries (even if they are fake) are quite entertaining; in fact, they're the strengths of the novel and are what make it work when other aspects fail. Not to mention the writing itself, the technical makeup of it, is strong: vivid descriptions, realistic dialogue, well-paced scenes. What does that add up to? A book that, though slowly-paced, compelled me to keep reading to discover how it all turned out.
I liked this book, I really did. After all, the story is completely unique and one of the most ingenious I've read (and this is coming from someone wh...moreI liked this book, I really did. After all, the story is completely unique and one of the most ingenious I've read (and this is coming from someone who's stuffed herself with the likes of Christopher Moore, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, and Terry Pratchett). In fact, I'm sure O'Malley has probably stuffed himself with a couple of these authors as well judging by some of the humor and situations I encountered within the novel.
Myfanwy Thomas wakes up in a London garden in the pouring rain surrounded by a ring of unconscious bodies, all wearing latex gloves. Oh, and she has no memory. In her pocket is a letter from the body's previous occupant which begins with the words “Dear You, The body you are wearing used to be mine.” Guided by further letters written by the previous Myfanwy, Myfanwy #2 discovers she's an operative, a Rook, in a secret government agency dedicated to protecting the country from supernatural threats of all shapes and sizes, and that someone in that agency is trying to kill her (or, rather, Myfanwy #1). Seeing as every high-level operative possess a supernatural power and they along with all other members of the agency, known as the Checquey, are highly trained in methods of subterfuge and defensive arts, Myfanwy has her work cut out for her. Relying on the information provided by the first Myfanwy, Myfanwy #2 explores her new job and life, not to mention her own, very powerful supernatural power, and discovers there's more afoot than either Myfanwy could've imagined.
Yet with the many story elements in the novel and the undeniably creative plot, there's something which made the whole thing miss out on being a genius-level piece of work by a hair's breadth. Mostly because of Myfanwy #2. This may sound weird coming from an American, but Myfanwy did not strike me as being particularly British. She came off like an American ex-pat who was now working in London. Yes, Myfanwy the second's personality is different from Myfanwy the first's: Myfanway #1 was pathologically shy, a wallflower, deferential and demure in her uniform of black, white, and grey clothing which allowed her to disappear in a crowd. The new Myfanwy, though retaining many of her predecessors quirks, was a bit more brash and outspoken, a bit more assertive and willing to try new things. I get that. But she can still be those things within the framework of a British character, yet not once did I get a sense of "Stiff upper lip, mind the gap, keep calm and carry on" British-ness. Not to mention her behavior, her speech patterns, and occasionally her humor made her seem incredibly juvenile and underdeveloped at times. Not that there aren't Brits who behave in a juvenile manner (there are and I've met them), but for the character O'Malley was trying to create, those mannerisms were inconsistent. Honestly, the effect was rather jarring at times. Secondly, Myfanwy the first provided a purple binder filled with information about her life, the Checquey, the operatives, basically every single aspect of her universe to assist Myfanwy the second in adapting to her new life. Every time Myfanwy #2 runs into something, she pulls out that purple binder so she (and, by extension, the reader) can figure out exactly what she's dealing with. That's all well and good, and certainly prevents any missteps on Myfanwy's part, allowing her to pick up her predecessor's life with nary a stumble; not to mention the gimmick gives O'Malley an easy way to introduce back story. However, she often pulled out this binder in the company of others, which seemed extremely blatant; I kept waiting for someone to ask her why she had the binder, what was in it, why it engrossed her so much in the middle of a crisis. I can see close associates of Myfanwy's, who knew she was little more than a glorified accountant, ignoring the binder, likely assuming it to be part of whatever project she might've been working on at the time, but outsiders would be ignorant of her position and most likely, I'm sure, be curious as to why she kept pulling out that binder. The biggest peeve I had, though, is the humor. I don't know what it is, but British writers, even ordinary Brits, seem to have such an easy wit; they just open their mouths and gems just falls out. Even the most unimpressive of Brits come up with brilliant one-liners (Noel Gallagher about his brother, Liam: "He's like a guy with a fork in a world full of soup." Come on, that is freaking hilarious while being disparaging at the same time!) Yet the wit in The Rook never seemed easy; at times it felt a bit forced, as though O'Malley really wanted to be like Terry Pratchett, but struggled with it and so fell just short of the mark. That's not to say there aren't moments of outright humor in the novel, there are, just not as many as you would like. The one thing he does do well is explain exactly why using a chess analogy to run a super-secret government agency doesn't work, especially in a country with a monarchy. In fact, his little dissertation on the subject, in the voice of Myfanwy Thomas #1, is his most inspired piece in the novel.
It's funny. This book shouldn't work; it shouldn't be readable, it shouldn't be entertaining, and it certainly shouldn't be so successful. After all, the book suffers from info dumps galore (in the form of that purple binder, as well as the frequent letters from Myfanwy #1), which often delay and even derail the action. It features a main character who's often immature, obnoxious, and completely unprepared to deal with pretty much anything popping up in the story line. And the ending is, well, flat and awkward, not to mention misleading, appearing to set things up for a sequel only to tie up the story line a few pages later. Yet, I think the reason the book does work, despite these flaws, is because it doesn't take itself seriously. It's tongue-in-cheek, but it's self-aware: it winks at you to let you know it's tongue-in-cheek, but do try to take it seriously anyway, alright luv? It sounds too precious to work and logically it shouldn't work, but it does. Besides, who couldn't find a little love for a novel in which the main character owns a pet rabbit named Wolfgang?
This is one of those charming cozy mysteries, in the vein of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, portraying a quaint, quirky English village, of the type w...moreThis is one of those charming cozy mysteries, in the vein of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, portraying a quaint, quirky English village, of the type which probably only exists in fiction as it's so quaint and so quirky as to be unreal, and its quaint, quirky inhabitants. (And, yes, I'm going to use those two 'q' words throughout this review because I like them and they work so well.) It's the kind of book you read not so much for the mystery, which can be quite satisfying in its own way, as for the spectacle of watching the slightly less quaint and quirky sleuth or sleuths bumble, stumble, and fumble their way to a solution.
Carole Seddon has just moved to the seaside town of Fethering, a village which prides itself on its smug respectability and its residents ability to know exactly where they belong and how to behave properly within the confines of this “retirement” village. Riff-raff is confined to the undesirable council estates and even then, only within limits. Staid, reserved, uptight Carole fits in perfectly. She even has the requisite dog, a Labrador named Gulliver, whom she takes on regularly scheduled walks along the beach. Its on one of these walks that she discovers a body. Rather than becoming hysterical about the situation, she returns home and gives Gulliver a bath (as he's managed to roll in something rather nasty and pungent in a pile of seaweed, after having thoroughly soaked himself while trying to command the waves). After mopping up his dog prints from the kitchen floor, it seems only sensible to Carole that she clean the rest of the room, resulting in nearly two hours passing between her discovering the body and placing a phone call to the police notifying them of said body. Which explains why, when a Detective Inspector and WPC (Woman police constable) show up at her cottage, she's treated with condescension and pity. Because there's no body to be found.
Despite her better instincts, Carole involves her new neighbor, Jude, in the mystery. Jude, who's free-spirited ways stand in stark contrast to Carole's rigidity (and who constantly frustrates Carole with her aversion to giving out personal information, even down to her surname; seriously, Carole spends the entire book trying to find a way to get Jude to say her last name, but it never happens), seems an odd choice for a partner, but soon the two find themselves friends and, more importantly, equally determined to solve the mystery of the disappearing body. As neither of them have even been detectives, it takes them a while to figure out how to begin, but eventually the two find themselves sifting through the dark recesses of Fethering life and finding out that even nice, quite retirement villages hide dangerous secrets.
It takes a while to warm up to the book. Carole is so tightly wound, to put it vulgarly, if you shoved a piece of coal up her bum, she'd pass a diamond. However, once Jude is introduced, Carole finds that not only is loosening up not a crime, it can be actually quite pleasurable, and as the story progresses, Carole becomes more human thanks to Jude's influence. The character I feel the most for, though, is Gulliver; since Carole got him as a sort of check-list purchase (Cottage? Check. Raincoat and gumboots? Check. Dog to complete one's retired life? Check.) she doesn't particularly interact with him. In fact, the way Brett describes the absolute joy in Gulliver as Jude splashes around in the waves with him is almost heart breaking. The remaining characters are quaint and quirky enough to add color without becoming caricatures; it's easy to picture the proud yet obviously sad Vice-Commodore, the snobbish to the point of fascism mother-daughter duo of Winnie Norton and Barbara Turnbull, or hear the tired, retreaded jokes from the washed-up comic-turned-barkeep Ted.
As I mentioned above, the mystery is almost incidental. It's entertaining in and of itself, even if I did manage to figure out the set-up a third of the way in and saw what was coming from a mile away. (The only shock came when the identity of the culprit's partner was revealed—now that I was not expecting!) But what really makes the mystery intriguing and brings it life is watching how the characters deal with events and go about solving the crime, especially in this story/series. With two sleuths on the case, invariably they each discover important pieces of the puzzle along the way, but can't discuss their findings with one another properly until it's too late. Or nearly too late—after all, we want Jude and Carole to live another day, so they may solve yet another mystery in a way which will disrupt the rigid sensibilities of the residents of Fethering. Not to mention allow Carole to perchance discover what the hell Jude's last name is!(less)
Harper Curtis is a killer. He's also an opportunist. On the run from a bunch of thug vigilantes in Depression-era Chicago, he stumbles across a blind...moreHarper Curtis is a killer. He's also an opportunist. On the run from a bunch of thug vigilantes in Depression-era Chicago, he stumbles across a blind woman with a nice coat. Harper wants the coat, but it's what the woman says that sticks in his mind. “Are you Bartek?” As the woman becomes hysterical at his refusal, Harper kills her. And takes the coat as he planned. And finds the key. The key which leads him to the House. Where he finds his Shining Girls and realizes he's been a serial killer all along. You might think this would be the beginning of a rather standard serial killer thriller, if it weren't for the fact that the House also travels through time. It can't go further back in the past beyond the day Harper finds it, nor further into the future beyond 1993, and to no other place but that neighborhood in Chicago, but beyond those limitations, the House can take Harper to any day in any year he desires.
And then there's Kirby, Kirby Mazrachi. One of Harper's victims whom he attacked in 1989 after visiting her in 1974. Who survives and starts hunting him... in 1992. Fun, right? And that's just the beginning of the chase through time for these two. As Harper and Kirby play cat and mouse with each through the years, we see the story play out through various P.O.V.s., and not just those of the main characters. The use of differing P.O.V.s might be off-putting to some, seen as either a too-clever move or a distraction from the story. Instead, these shifting views allow us to get to know these characters intimately, even the one-offs (aka the victims), so that we can see their pain, their desires, their motivations (yes, even for the villain, Harper, despite what some reviewers have said; we get flashbacks to his youth, and we see how he became the monster we see in the novel). In this way, the story unfolds like a budding flower, exquisitely layered while remaining action-packed and swiftly-moving.
Beukes touches on several important moments and issues thanks to the time travel aspect. From issues like the Depression and “Hoovervilles,” to abortions and the Jane Collective (the underground abortion service); from moments in time such as the Radium Girls, the riots of the 1968 Democratic Convention, to the “Rosie the Riveters” of WWII, Beukes brings each of these to life through her character sketches, showing us the living, breathing side of these moments in history, not just what we've seen in books and film strips. And it is that characters that make the novel sing. Even the one-offs, the single-chapter sketches, illuminate living, breathing people. People with flaws and quirks, with dreams and aspirations. People with personalities from every slice of the spectrum. (The character of Alice is simply heart-breaking.) Even the main “heroic” characters of Kirby and Dan (Velasquez, the ex-homicide detective turned sports reporter who Kirby interns for) transcend their potentially cliched roles – plucky ex-victim, world-weary older man/father figure – to become actual human beings. Kirby is plucky, yes, but she's also a pain in the ass: prickly, difficult to deal with, snarky, with a drive that belies her punk exterior and a soft heart. I think what most awes me about Beukes's writing, though, is how utterly despicable she's made Harper. He is the epitome of evil, yet he's no black hat-wearing caricature of a villain. He has dimension. At times in the story, you get the feeling he knows what he's doing is wrong, that perhaps he wants to stop, and is willing to try. But something always pulls him back to murder. Maybe it's the House, maybe it's his inner demons. And the flashback scenes to his childhood are nicely ambiguous. His actions as a child raise questions. Was Harper born evil? Was he destined to become a serial killer? It would've been so easy for Beukes to take the easy way out and write Harper as a simple bad guy. Instead, she makes him just as human as Kirby and the other characters in the book. And that's the mark of a very talented writer.
I've never before read anything written by Lauren Beukes. I've read a sample of one of her previous books, Zoo City, and found it interesting enough to put on my Wish List, but that's it. Now, though, I'll be buying Zoo City ASAP as well as a copy of Moxyland and would suggest that anyone reading this review do the same. Not to sound like some sort of NY Times book review wannabe, but Beukes is most definitely an author to watch.
On a side note: Leonardo DiCaprio's production company, Appian Way, has optioned The Shining Girls and is developing it for television. Now that I've read the book, there's no way they'll ever be able to do the story justice. Nope, sorry, uh-uh, it can't be done. And now I'm sad.(less)