I really enjoyed the first couple of episodes of the TV adaptation of Amazon put together. A couple of episodes in they did some obligatory sex/nudityI really enjoyed the first couple of episodes of the TV adaptation of Amazon put together. A couple of episodes in they did some obligatory sex/nudity scenes, and I bailed out on the show (I miss a lot of otherwise good TV for that reason, but what can I say? I'm old fashioned.) But I was still interested in the story, so when Audible put the first one on sale I jumped on it.
It's good, but flawed.
Some of the flaws are personal preference: the noir-influenced protagonist is always kind of an anti-social jerk. Combine that with first-person or close-third person writing style of these kinds of books, and you can start to feel like you're spending a lot of time hanging out with a jerk. Even my very favorite incarnations of this hero (like Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe) can kind of depress me by the end of a book with their self-isolating, dark-edged stoicism. It's like, don't these guys have actual friends? People whose company they enjoy, as opposed to who are simply shackled with bonds debt for past, begrudging heroics?
That sort of comes with the genre, though, I guess.
Something else that comes with the genre, that I didn't really know about as far in advance, is the rule that the love interest is always the villain. If there is no love interest, then it's the woman with the most charm and the most appeal. At the end of the book: she's the mastermind behind it all. Well, when you read three books in a row with that schtick, it starts to wear thin. In this case, it was The Big Sleep, then The Long Goodbye and finally The Black Echo. Come on, people. Not only is that boring, but it starts to make you think that hardboiled authors have some real women-issues.
So here's the thing: the plot of this one is great. The psychological backstory for the protagonist (something that separate neo-noir from the originals) was pretty solid, even if a bit obvious and heavy-handed at times. The writing is fine.
But at the end of the day, there's just a major likeability issue. Could be totally personal preference on that. The thing is, one major reason I like Chandler so much is because of what he wrote outside of his books about the protagonist's character and motivation. It doesn't come through for me obviously in the writing itself.
You could blame that on Chandler, but I'm willing to give him a pass because he was writing from a different culture: America nearly a century ago. Before I was born. Before my parents were born. I don't always have the right assumptions in place to pick up on the cues. So when I read his quotes about what he was going for, I'm willing to give him benefit of the doubt and read those noble /idealistic motivations into his character. That makes me keep going.
I guess I can do that for Connelly, too, but I'm less apt to do that with a book written in the 1990s (which I know perfectly well) than from the 1940s. Worth noting: I don't really find a way to cut Dashiell Hammett that kind of slack. His main protagonist--Sam Spade--is unredeemable in my view.
So Connelly's Bosch falls between the two, between Phillip Marlow and Sam Spade.
I think I'll have to give the sequel a read.
In books like this, so much rests on what you think of the protagonist. It can really swing your perception of the whole body of work. And I'm curious enough to try again, but not so excited that I plan on reading the next one right away. It will keep until I get around to it....more
In a funny way, this book had me worried at first because of how good it is. I am a huge, huge fan of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and Midnight Riot waIn a funny way, this book had me worried at first because of how good it is. I am a huge, huge fan of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and Midnight Riot was both similar and incredible good, threatening my sentimental loyalties.
What is similar: urban fantasy + murder mystery set in a very, very distinctive city that is almost a character in and of itself. (The Dresden Files take place in and around Chicago, while Midnight Riot takes place in and around London.)
What is different: the Dresden Files is action / comedy with definite emphasis on the action. There's a really, really long plot arc. Midnight Riot, by contrast is more comedic (the first chapter had me laughing out loud multiple times) and more of a mystery / procedural. It also ends up (as far as I can tell) being far more episodic.
I was all set to give the book 5 stars based on the hilarious opening chapters, but the book trailed off a bit for me. Still 4 stars, so strong showing, but as the murders got gruesome and the jokes sparser it didn't hang together as well for me.
In the end I liked it enough that I will definitely keep an eye out for a sequel, but not enough that I feel any compulsion to run out and grab one right away. ...more
I can't remember where I heard about this book originally, but it was in my Audible wish list and then it went on sale for $7 so--even though I couldnI can't remember where I heard about this book originally, but it was in my Audible wish list and then it went on sale for $7 so--even though I couldn't remember a thing about it--I snagged it. This turned out to be a great decision. (Thank you, past version of me.)
14 starts out with a thriller / mystery vibe: Nate Tucker is working a dead-end temp position in LA and unsure of what to do with his life when he finds out about an unbelievably great deal on a studio apartment when he needs to move. Not long after moving in, however, he starts to realize there is something weird about his new home. Some of his fellow tenants are interested in solving the mystery, too. Others don't want to rock the boat, afraid that they'll lose their cheap rent.
I don't really want to give anything away, but I'll just say that before the book is over we've got Nikola Tesla, H. P. Lovecraft, and steampunk all happening in the same building. It's a great ride, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've already added another Peter Clines book to my wishlist....more
I'm not a huge mystery fan, but I like to pick things up that are outside my usual fare every now and then, and when I saw this pop up as an Audible DI'm not a huge mystery fan, but I like to pick things up that are outside my usual fare every now and then, and when I saw this pop up as an Audible Daily Deal I jumped at it. (A lot of my books come that way these days.) Like a lot of genre anthologies (Dangerous Women is the one I've read most recently) the quality varies greatly, and it's hard to remember when you're done exactly which stories were best and worst.
Some, like R. L. Stine's (who knew he was still writing!) "High Stakes" are memorable because they were well written even if, at the end, it turned out to be just a gimmick. The very unpleasant story about a child molester being a jerk to his neighbors so that he can get away with murdering a child (literally) was just that: very unpleasant. I cheered a little at the end of the story of the young boy standing up to his mom's abusive boyfriend (that doesn't actually give the ending away, btw) and a lot of the others were in between.
One other standout was Waco 1982, which I think definitely sticks with me as the most memorable of the stories even if it, too, stretched a little far at the end to try and make a clever ending. It was only a slight stretch, however, and the ending really was quite haunting.
Overall, this was a good look at mystery short stories, and that was fun for me since I've only ever read novel-length mysteries in the past (and not a ton of those, either.)...more
A few years ago I got interested in the hardboiled genre after hearing some of its authors lionized on NPR. It's not often that genre fiction--and theA few years ago I got interested in the hardboiled genre after hearing some of its authors lionized on NPR. It's not often that genre fiction--and these are works of genre fiction--manage to gain critical acclaim and social cache. So I wanted to learn more.
I started with The Big Sleep, which I absolutely loved. Philip Marlowe (the main character of Raymond Chandler's book) struck me as a real hardboiled hero. Next up, I read Promised Land. Promised Land, written by Robert B. Parker in the 1970s, isn't exactly hardboiled because it's more modern, but it definitely borrows from the same core sensibilities.
Compared to those books, The Maltese Falcon was a let down primarily because Sam Spade isn't--to my perhaps over-sensitive eyes--a hero. From having an affair with his partner's wife to taking advantage of a young client (even if she was also trying to use him), he just struck me as a somewhat detestable character. Sure: a lot of his actions were explained by his need to play along with the bad guys in order to get them to spill their secrets, but in the absence of warm, respectful friendships (he kind of has one of those with his secretary, but it's too infantalizing for my 21st century perceptions) I at least want to see a steal core of virtue and honor. Instead, Spade is just a cynic to the core, who's fundamental reasons for staying on the side of the law (in this book at least) come down to selfish pride instead of any kind of idealism, no matter how tarnished.
Just to see some of the contrast between Chandler's protagonist and Hammett's, let me quote Chandler himself on what makes up a hardboiled hero:
But down these mean streets must go a man who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it and certainly without saying it….I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would never spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing he is that in all things.
He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as a man of his age talks—that is, with rude with, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham. And a contempt for pettiness. The story is this man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure….If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.
That's from "The Simple Art of Murder," and here's a quote (from Marlowe, the protagonist of The Big Sleep, that I quoted in my review of that book):
I was looking down at the chessboard. The move with the knight was wrong. I put it back where I had moved it from. Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn’t a game for knights.
Chandler's hero is idealistic to the point of almost being corny, even if he does wrap himself in layers of cynicism. He cares about ideals, and he also cares about people. But Spade? His code is far less humane. He can't be bought off by crooks, sure, but only because he is contemptuous of any attempt to manipulate him.
It was still a fascinating book to read for the historical flavor, and there were definitely some really great moments and lines in it. It's not hard to see why books like these get so much respect from critics, even if they did start out as lurid magazine serials. They are philosophical and gritty at the same time, a kind of antithesis to stereotypical American optimism.
But a book like "The Big Sleep" is one I read with pleasure, delight, and wonder. A book like "The Maltese Falcon" is one I dissect with respect and dispassionate curiosity.
So, in case you haven't heard, this is actually J. K. Rowling. I don't think it's really meant to be a surprise because it's written in the "About theSo, in case you haven't heard, this is actually J. K. Rowling. I don't think it's really meant to be a surprise because it's written in the "About the Author" at the back of the book, and also on the back part of the dust jacket.
I haven't read The Casual Vacancy, but I haven't heard anything about it that would make me want to read it either.
This book, however? You should read it.
I don't think there's really any way I would have guessed that this writer was the same woman who had written Harry Potter because it's such a cynical take on humanity next to the idealism of the wizarding world. But it does seem like a lot of the writing might have been influenced by J.K. Rowling's life experiences because money is such a dominating aspect of the story, and especially the way differences between low and high class and the impact of suddenly coming into fame riches on your life and circle of friends. It seems like almost every character in this book is either rich and famous or poor and obscure, but somehow connected to the rich and famous. The perspective is, to say the least, quite jaded.
And yet, despite using words like "cynical" and "jaded", the two protagonists are actually very compelling and quite sympathetic. Comoran Strike is the private eye at the heart of the story. He's an ex-soldier who lost 1/2 of one leg in Afghanistan, and he's the bastard son of an aging rockstar faither who, through surrogates, spends most of the book trying to strong arm his son into paying back a small loan that he used to launch his business. (See what I mean about the jaded view of riches and fame?) His temporary secretary--who realistically morphs into more of a partner--is Robin Ellacott. Like Comoroan, Robin is a fundamentally good and decent person and together the two form a sympathetic duo that form the heart of the story.
But, unlike in Harry Potter, nothing about their relationship is simple or easy. They are attracted to each other, or at least Comoran is attracted to Robin, but Robin gets engaged in her first scene (to Michael) and navigating the excitement she feels for her new job with Michael's latent jealousy is an minor, ongoing tension in the background.
I'll also say that the book is surprisingly deep for a mystery novel. I still haven't thought my way through all the implications of the title (the central murder victim had a nicknam "cuckoo" and was adopted), but even setting that aside the 5 sections of the book are introduced with quotations from sources like Boethius's de Consolatione Philosophiae: Opuscula Theologica, and there are additional classical quotes within the book itself. It's not just literary depth, either, as issues of race vie with class and celebrity for central attention in the book.
But it's a mystery novel. How does it work there?
Admirably well. I was very, very impressed at three key ingredients.
1. There were enough clues that you felt like you were putting the mystery together. (This was the weakest link, because a lot of them didn't come into rather late in the book.) 2. The actual ending was still a surprise. (It was to me, at least, and I'm relatively hard to surprise.) 3. Despite the surprising ending and the clues, the solution to the murder mystery actually fit with the events.
It's really hard to pull all three of these off, but Rowling did. And she did it with sympathetic new characters in a murder mystery that had some real depth to it.
So why just 4 stars? Some of it might just be that murder-mysteries are not my favorite genre, and at times the book felt a bit overly long.
I will say this, however: in The Cuckoo's Calling I think Rowling has proved that she was no 1-trick pony. I don't think she's going to redefine the murder-mystery genre the way she redefined young adult fantasy with Harry Potter, but I do think that if she feels like coming back and writing from Strike/Robin stories she could easily create a lasting new detective series that rivals the best that I've read. Given how quickly this book seems to have followed The Casual Vacacny, I expect and hope that there's more to come.
The Big Sleep--written by Raymond Chandler in 1939--is the first genuine hardboiled detective novel I've ever read, and it was quite experience. I couThe Big Sleep--written by Raymond Chandler in 1939--is the first genuine hardboiled detective novel I've ever read, and it was quite experience. I couldn't shake this strange sense of vertigo throughout the book. All the stereotypes of noir fiction have been so faithfully preserved throughout the decades in popular culture that those aspects of the book felt completely familiar, and yet a lot of the period references to pre-World War 2 cars, furniture, and culture were completely alien to me.
The writing was odd, but also incredible. It was odd that the book is narrated from first-person perspective, but that there is almost no direct insight into the mind and motivations of the protagonist. Despite the first-person perspective, we learn about Phillip Marlowe only through observing his actions after the fact, and then have to infer his character and personality back from that. The only exception to this is a short, reflective passage at the close of the final chapter that self-consciously reflects on the theme of the book. Rather than come across as trite or moralistic, it casts the entire work in a deeper and more substantial tone. I was surprised that--for supposedly light, genre fiction--The Big Sleep is a work that sticks with you well after you close the cover.
Rather than trade in the standard tools of literary heft--such as symbolism and lots of authorial revelation via meandering, loaded dialogue or inner monologue--the thing that grabs my attention most about The Big Sleep is the way the sparse action embodies a very existentialist philosophy. Phillip Marlowe is just as real and vital as any fictional protagonist, but the sparse presentation make you search for deeper meaning in the same way that life--with its random happenstance--requires you to dig for and perhaps even create your own meaning.
But, as I said, the writing truly was incredible. Here are some passages that I loved in particular :
“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.” (spoken by protagonist, Phillip Marlowe)
"A guy’s there and you see him and then he ain’t there and you don’t not see him until something makes you think of it." (spoken by a minor character)
"Blood began to move in me, like a prospective tenant looking over a house." (spoken by protagonist, Phillip Marlowe, after he had been tied up for several hours)
"I was looking down at the chessboard. The move with the knight was wrong. I put it back where I had moved it from. Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn’t a game for knights." (spoken by protagonist, Phillip Marlowe in reference to an actual chess game, but in a context where the symbolism was clear and powerful)
NOTE: I upped my review from 4-stars to 5-stars in July 2014 after reading The Maltese Falcon, partially because The Big Sleep is so much better by comparison and partially just because it had stuck with me so much more than two years down the road. ...more