A wonderful, priceless book, full of wit and philosophical musings and profound observations.
One morning at the small village of Glennkill, Ireland, a...moreA wonderful, priceless book, full of wit and philosophical musings and profound observations.
One morning at the small village of Glennkill, Ireland, a small flock of sheep wake up to find that their shepherd, George Glenn, has been murdered. With a spade through his guts. Miss Maple, the cleverest sheep in Glennkill, decides they should investigate and find his murderer, because even though George was a bit of a peculiar and irrascible bastard, he was still their shepherd, and who would read "Pamela novels" (romances) to them now?
So begins an interesting week of discoveries, where through the sheep's observations and investigations we learn about the townsfolk, and that some odd things were going on, and that there are mysteries beneath the mysteries. The sheep too have their own secrets, and fears, as well. Perceptions aren't static - as we learn more about George you can't help but become fond of the man, and I like his style of shepherding! Gabriel, another shepherd whom the sheep always admired, turns out to be less than worthy of their admiration. Bible-thumping Beth, as George always called her, isn't so straight-forward either.
The sheep themselves have delightful personalities, and although Swann's descriptions of raising sheep don't always coincide with my own knowledge from growing up on a sheep farm, a lot of the mannerisms and peculiarities were very familiar and often had me laughing out loud. There's Othello, a black ram with four horns who was once in a circus (part of a knife-throwing act that left him scarred); Maude and her incredible sense of smell; Sir Ritchfield, the lead ram, who's mostly deaf but still has good eyesight; Mopple the Whale, who can remember everything; Lane, the fastest sheep in the flock; and Zora, who has a ledge above the cliff from where she gazes out over the "abyss" and watches the cloud sheep.
Because the sheep have an almost childlike and very logical way of observing humans and their behaviour, it's often very humorous and also profound. The nice thing about this novel is that, aside from the sheep's ability to understand human speech and to ponder human matters, they haven't actually been anthropomorphised - they're still very much sheep, not sheep behaving like humans. Equally hilarious are the humans' perceptions of the sheep and their behaviour, which the story manages to convey with great comic timing. Using the sheep also enables clues to turn in on themselves, or be obscured until the sheep figure something out, and so on, which really keeps the detective side of the story humming along nicely.
I don't usually read crime novels of any kind, especially the generic kind, but this one I could happily re-read and notice more each time. Knowing the "whodunnit" side of things doesn't spoil it at all, because Three Bags Full is so much more than a detective story. (less)
Meyer Landsman is a homicide detective in the Jewish territory carved out of Alaska after WWII. They held Israel for only a short time before they were kicked out of there, and now it's happening again. Reversion - when the US is going to take the land back - is only a few months away and the Jews are once again finding themselves homeless. Landsman is a divorced alcoholic but a good detective; when a man in the hotel where he's been living is found dead, executed by a single bullet to the back of the head, he feels drawn to the dead man. They lived so close but never met, never saw each other. And certain things about the dead Yid - a junkie and a genius chess player who went by the name of Frank - lure Landsman in.
But changes due to the approaching Reversion mean that he and his partner and cousin, Berko Shemets, aren't allowed to touch the case. Obeying directives that stink isn't one of Landsman's talents, though, and he suspects a cover-up, especially when he discovers that the dead Yid was a Verbover - a tight-knit orthodox Jewish sect that have their own island. Even more suspicious, he turns out to have been the only son of the Verbover Rebbe - and quietly hailed as the Tzaddik Ha-Dor: a potential Messiah, the man who will lead the Jewish people back to the Holy Land and bring about a world of peace and prosperity.
So why was he killed? Why did he leave the Verbovers in the first place and become a heroin addict? Why aren't the Verbover's trying to get American Green Cards or emigrate to Canada or somewhere else; what are they waiting for? What does the incomplete chess game in "Frank's" hotel room mean, and could this whole mess possibly have something to do with Landsman's sister Naomi's earlier death?
This is a tightly structured novel, drawing you deep into the insular world of Sitka and its Jewish denizens. It had a depressing feel to it, did Sitka. I kept picturing communist-Romania concrete cities, only worse. Run-down, cheaply made, bare-boned, ugly buildings. Made more so by the pervasive depressive air of its inhabitants. Chabon excelled at atmosphere here!
I know very little about Jews and Judaism - we covered it in my Year 11 Religion class, but considering we spent an entire semester on the Australian Aborigines and then crammed Buddhism, Judaism and Islam into second semester (and got way behind because we were so confused by the structure of Buddhism), it's fair to say that I have a far from in-depth understanding of the religion. More than that, though, I've never really understood what "Yiddish" is. I had to look it up. Embarrassing I know. I don't think my state (Tasmania) has a large Jewish presence - it has a Synagogue or two, but no one really talked about being Jewish. If I had Jewish friends - and I very easily might have done - I didn't know it. We're all mongrels there anyway, so what does it matter?
But I do understand that the Jews were - are -homeless and persecuted no matter where they went, and I know enough about the Promised Land to understand the motivations behind the characters in The Yiddish Policeman's Union, and also to feel their incredible "adriftness", a weird blend of apathy and resignation and everlasting hope and expectation. That's how it came across, anyway.
Landsman was a character I instantly felt drawn to, and sympathetic for, even though he could be frustrating and made stupid decisions and his messes affected other people. He's so very real. I loved his ex too, Bina, his boss. She's a tough nut. And Berko, his cousin. I absolutely adored Inspector Dick - he was so alive I felt like I could reach out and touch him (though he'd have something very sharp and biting to say if I tried). Oh hell, I loved them all! Even the bad guys - and they were scary. Not overdone, but subtle and menacing. The Big Plot itself was scary. Especially because so many powerful people were involved, there was that sense of being squished hanging over Landsman.
I wasn't always able to follow the plot or keep up with the impressive cast of characters. That's mostly my own fault, because I was reading several other books at the same time. The language, now, that's something I will always love Chabon for. I did feel that he may have overdone it a bit and the entire book could have been shorter, but the language was consistent and suited the tone of the novel (it created the tone as well, I know, but they go hand-in-hand. It's "artistic expression"). His descriptions are simple, stark and effective, and also poetic and vibrant with metaphor:
Look at Landsman, one shirttail hanging out, snow-dusted porkpie knocked to the left, coat hooked to a thumb over his shoulder. Hanging on to a sky-blue cafeteria ticket as if it's the strap keeping him on his feet. His cheek needs the razor. His back is killing him. For reasons he doesn't understand - or maybe for no reason - he hasn't had a drink of alcohol since nine-thirty in the morning. Standing in the chrome-and-tile desolation of the Polar-Shtern Kafeteria at nine o'clock on a Friday night, in a snowstorm, he's the loneliest Jew in the Sitka District. He can feel the shifting of something dark and irresistible inside him, a hundred tons of black mud on a hillside, gathering its skirts to go sliding. The thought of food, even a golden ingot of the noodle pudding that is the crown jewel of the Polar-Shtern Kafeteria, makes him queasy. But he hasn't eaten all day. (p146)
The first half of the book is a bit slow, but the second half buzzes with action and suspense. You can read it as a superb mystery-detective story, or as speculative fiction pondering the Jewish Question and more. For me, I read it as a Chabon fan. I can appreciate the detective side, the speculative fiction side, but mostly I appreciate it for being a bloody good novel, even if I'm not gaga over it.(less)
It is 1985 and the world isn't quite as we know it. Nor is history the same. There's a lot of odd things going on, otherwordly creatures are real, som...moreIt is 1985 and the world isn't quite as we know it. Nor is history the same. There's a lot of odd things going on, otherwordly creatures are real, some people can go back and forth in time, literature is BIG, and the Crimean war has been going on since the 1800s. Thursday Next, a veteran of this war, now works for SpecOps (Special Operations) 27- the Literatec division. She's a kind of literature detective, and when the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit vanishes, she is brought into a much bigger case involving her old Uni professor, Acheron Hades, now a master-mind criminal.
Hades' plan is fairly simple: using Thursday's uncle's Prose Portal invention, he can kidnap characters from manuscripts and hold them to ransom. Literature being as important as it is in this world, you can bet he can demand millions. When his plan for Chuzzlewit doesn't go quite as planned, he steals the manuscript for Jane Eyre instead.
In this story, the plot of Jane Eyre is a bit different. Namely, she marries her cousin St John and goes to India with him. Or Africa, wherever it was. Everyone agrees it's a disappointing ending, not least of all Rochester himself, whom Thursday has a few run-ins with. It seems popping in and out of books isn't so hard as you might think. I do have to wonder, though, at Thursday's run-down of the plot for her colleague's benefit, because I have to disagree on a few points: firstly, Rochester fell in love with Jane pretty much straight away, he just didn't show it; secondly, he never intended to marry Blanche Inghram, that was just a ploy to get Jane jealous and make her love him back; and maybe it's naive of me, and maybe it's the opposite, but I don't know that there's much proof that Adele was Rochester's "love-child".
Anyway. The plot might seem a little confusing, because there's so much happening at once, but it's not. It's fast-paced and funny, and also highly original. I do have to question the curious use of a first-person omniscient narrator - though in this particular world, anything goes; it's just a bit odd to have scenes related in detail of which Thursday wasn't present for. Also, and this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, when someone is retelling a situation that includes a conversation, no one says things like "I stammered in reply" and "There was a pause. Acheron smiled." Seriously, this kind of thing is very distracting because it's so utterly implausible and unrealistic.
Also, I don't know how much of literature or anything else you could learn from a book like this, which is at its heart mocking, and full of deviances. I wouldn't take anything for fact. But I loved the joke names, especially the (rather obvious) Jack Schitt - oh loads of fun there! Thursday's uncle, Mycroft Next, the inventor, is a bit like Q from the James Bond movies, but much more vague; anyway, his inventions are quite funny. The side-plot of the Crimean war adds a serious bent to the novel, and is plenty pertinent.
In short, it wasn't quite what I was expecting but I enjoyed it immensely. I loved how the ending of Jane Eyre - one of my favourite books by the way - was changed to the one that we are familiar with sort-of by accident. And I loved the idea of the characters living the life of the story, over and over again, but able to do more or less as they liked when they weren't in the scene. Rochester was wonderful :)(less)
There's just something about Japan that produces the grittiest, darkest, scariest, most realistic horror, psychological thriller, and suspense. The se...moreThere's just something about Japan that produces the grittiest, darkest, scariest, most realistic horror, psychological thriller, and suspense. The seedy underbelly of Japanese society is perhaps so successfully portrayed because so little has been embellished. And with the dark, empty surburban streets, so much is possible, so much can go unnoticed. In Natsuo Kirino's wonderful crime novel, Out, a sharp social commentary on Japan's patriarchal society and the situation for women and foreigners is tangled up with loan sharks, gambling, the yakuza and murder.
Masako works in a bento (boxed-lunch) factory on the night shift with her workmates Yoshi, Kuniko and Yayoi. Together they make a team to get the best spots on the conveyor belt, and because they're housewives with responsibilities during the day, they're more or less each other's only friends. Each has problems: Masako and her husband barely interact anymore and her son hasn't spoken to her in a year; Yoshie is widowed and takes care of her daughter and her bed-ridden mother-in-law in a tiny house that's ready to be knocked down; Kuniko's husband has left her and taken all their money, and she's over her head in debt because she's constantly buying new clothes to impress people; and Yayoi's husband has spent all their savings on gambling and a beautiful Chinese hostess called Anna. Their lives are circumscribed and lonely, and there seems to be no way out for any of them.
Then one night Yayoi's husband Kenji comes home and in a fit of cold rage she strangles him. In desperation she calls cool, sharp Masako, who calmly handles the situation by enlisting Yoshi to help her cut up the body in her bathroom and then get rid of the bags of body parts in the rubbish collection sites around the area. Kuniko, always with an eye out for a way to make money, gets drawn into the mess as well - which turns out to be their downfall. Unreliable and delusional, Kuniko does a poor job of disposing of her bags and the body is soon discovered and identified.
Things seem to be working out though when the police arrest their main suspect, a casino owner and pimp with a scary past, Satake, who punched Kenji and threw him down the stairs after warning him to stay away from Anna, his number one girl. Satake, innocent of the murder, suspects Kenji's wife - and he isn't the only one who figures out what really happened. As things start to unravel, Masako becomes the focus, and the sense that someone is watching her, that a trap is tightening around her, threatens her calm composure and orderly existence.
This isn't a "whodunit" crime novel, nor a formulaic one. This is original literary crime that would not adapt well to any other setting but Japan - Tokyo in particular (where the novel is set). Having lived in the country for three years, I found myself living there again while reading this book: the descriptions, the characters, their reactions and motivations, it was all so very real, so believable. The weather for instance - hot and humid and wet in summer, the smell and the sweat, it all came back so clearly. The attitudes, too, and the urban landscape - rice fields in-between factories, run-down houses squished along allies, bicycles and umbrellas and the rubbish collection spots.
One of the wonderful things about this book is the way it is written. Despite one or two obvious metaphors, the prose has a tight, tense yet steady, patient rhythm, creating more suspense along the way by never hurrying. The chapters alternate in point-of-view narration between the main characters, with their personalities coming through strongly despite the fact that the tone doesn't change. I want to find an example, and really, I don't have to look far:
She could hear a horn tooting somewhere nearby, the sound tofu trucks use to advertise their wares, and, through the open windows around her, the sound of dishes rattling and televisions blaring. It was the hour when the women of the city bustled around their kitchens. Masako thought of her own neat, empty kitchen and her bathroom where the deed had been done. It occurred to her that lately she felt more at home in a dry, scoured bathroom than a busy, homey kitchen. (p.146)
He had been a model of self-control, had worked so hard to keep his dark side sealed away. But he knew that even a hint of what he'd done would terrify other people. Still, only he and the woman herself knew the truth about what had happened, and no one else could understand what he'd been up to. It had been Satake's misfortune to taste the forbidden fruit when he was twenty-six, and he'd been cut off from the normal world ever since. (p.179)
As far as the social commentary aspect goes, it's a biting, unglamorous look at Japanese society, and also a revealing study of the plight of the impoverished, exhausted women like Yoshi, the greedy, superficial consumers like Kuniko, the intelligent, hard-working but discriminated and underpaid "office girls" like Masako had been; and the victimised housewives like Yayoi. The lengths these women go to for some money, for escape, for freedom have devestating consequences for all of them.
The play between genders is also explored, or rather, held up for review - it may come across as old-hat, but don't forget this is Japan, which is still confined by many traditions that see women and foreigners subjugated and restricted to the role of second-class citizen. Despite the deeply flawed characters and the things they do, Masako emerges as a strong heroine, and even the male characters I felt some sympathy for. The blurb describes it as having a "pitch-black comedy of gender warfare", and that's definitely an intrinsic part of this novel. Sometimes, though, it was just too hard to find the irony amusing.
There's a lot more I could say about this book but really I just want to stress how much I loved it. I came across only one typo (an "is" instead of "it"), which is almost unheard of. And if you're put off by the Japanese names, here's a quick lesson: Japanese, when converted into Romaji (our alphabet), is very easy to pronounce. Each "letter" translates into five vowels, an "n" sound and consonant-vowel pairings. So "Masako" is pronounced "Ma-sa-ko". Easy. "Yayoi" is pronounced "Ya-yo-i" ("i" as in "easy", but a short sound). "Satake" is pronounced "Sa-ta-ke" ("ke" as in "kettle"). "Kazuo" is pronounce "Ka-zu-o" or "kaz-u-o". "Shinjuko" is pronounced "Shin-ju-ku". See: easy! There's a great rhythm to it, like those clapping games. Unless there's a double vowel, vowels and pairings are pronounced with short sounds, generally. There's no "r" or "v" in Japanese, so these letters are given an "l" and "b" pronounciation. "Tsu" is the most difficult sound for foreigners to make, and we don't have an equivalent.
While I'm at it, it may be helpful to get the money conversion: 1000 yen is roughly about $10, 10,000 yen is $100 and so on. Just imagine a decimile point, or remove a zero, something like that. So when Yayoi pays Yoshi and Kuniko 500,000 yen for their part in getting rid of her husband, that's about $5000, and when she talks about getting 50 million yen insurance money, she is getting about $500,000. (Hope my maths is holding up here!)(less)
This book was recommended to me by several friends on Goodreads, though an equal number weren't impressed by it. I would have to put myself in the lat...moreThis book was recommended to me by several friends on Goodreads, though an equal number weren't impressed by it. I would have to put myself in the latter group, if I had to.
Harry Dresden is a wizard. He has a small office in Chicago and helps people find lost things and investigates ghosts, that sort of thing. He also helps the police in investigations when a crime can't rationally be explained.
It is one such case that draws him into a race against time to save his own neck: someone in the city is powerful enough to make hearts explode from chests, killing a mobster's right-hand-man and an expensive prostitute. A separate missing person's case has him looking for a man dabbling in the arts. Dresden is already on a kind of probation with the White Council, and one wrong move will see him executed - but with demons after him, giant scorpions to kill, damsels to protect and a powerful wizard to bring down, he's certainly starting to wonder if he'll come out of this alive.
Of course, first person narrators never die, so that never feels as dire as it was meant to.
Harry's a tall, lanky fella, a bit of a dag really - often dishevelled, he ends up wearing sweat pants and cowboy boots. He has training and is quite strong in the arts, but isn't too quick, spending most of his time rehashing the situation and thinking over his options. The mystery and its outcome are fairly predictable, there are a few plot holes, and the tense use drove me up the wall. Debut authors have some excuse; proof-readers, none.
It took me forever to read this book, considering how short it is and that it's no great piece of literature. Could also be because mystery/crime books bore me when the characters aren't strong enough to add any kind of depth. Harry's an interesting enough character, with a few interesting quirks, but the others are all very two-dimensional and rather stereotypical. It tries to add humour to the mix, with mixed results: mostly it's just lame.
There's a noir atmosphere to the book which gives it some grit and supports the dark subject-matter, but can't save the prose. This being Butcher's first book, I don't expect an awful lot, but I often found myself replacing words with better ones, or rewriting sentences so that they were either grammatically correct or flowed better. The small plot holes were annoying, of course, but they wouldn't have mattered if I'd been more into the story. For as much extrapolation and introspection - and pondering - as Harry did, it was never very clear why he was doing this or that, and at the end of the day the book just wasn't as clever as it had set out to be - and set expectations for.(less)
I'm not a fan of this cover, I'll say that right off the bat. It's not too awful, but it's not great either. A bit tacky maybe? It doesn't do the book...moreI'm not a fan of this cover, I'll say that right off the bat. It's not too awful, but it's not great either. A bit tacky maybe? It doesn't do the book justice, anyway. The parallels to Shakespeare are too obvious, some excited editor's idea of a clever cover. The book doesn't deserve something so glaringly obvious.
Tobsha Learner is probably best well-known for her book of erotic short stories, Quiver, and her previous novel, The Witch of Cologne - neither of which I've read, but I'd sure like to. She comes from a background of screenplay writing, and I have to say this: she's meticulous in her research. There's even a bibliography at the back of Soul, not that you needed convincing of all the hard work she put into this book.
Soul is two parallel stories, linked by genetics and circumstance: that of Irishwoman Lavinia who married Englishman Colonel Huntington in 1859 at the age of eighteen, and murdered him in 1861; and her great-granddaughter Julia, an acclaimed geneticist reeling from the unexpected break-up of her decade-long marriage to Klaus, a struggling Hollywood scriptwriter who's been having an affair with her best friend Clara. Sounds torid and melodrammatic, I know, summed up like that. But - in flavour and style, not plot - it reminded me of a favourite book of mine, Beverley Swerling's City of Dreams: a novel of Nieuw Amsterdam that follows three generations of one family in the early years of a settlement now known as New York. Soul has the readability of general fiction and the epic scope of literature, along with a bit of psychological thriller and murder mystery.
Not that it's a mystery - you learn early on, through Julia, that Lavinia was tried and executed for the murder of her husband. What you don't know is the how and why's of it all. Why would she kill a man she loved and looked up to? A man she was dependent upon, having no home or wealth of her own, as well as being the father of her little boy? There's also the scientific angle: the Colonel is an intrepid explorer and anthropoligist, and Julia is working on genetic profiling for the Defense Force - a highly problematic but profitable venture, if she can find and map the gene that allows for a small percentage of soldiers to kill and not suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. The ethical implications are huge, and the jockeying for the knowledge (and profits) scary.
There's a lot going on in this book, but being carefully paced and plotted, you never get lost in the details. The emotions are intense and raw, and as much as I wanted Julia to stop pining for Klaus, the bastard, I could totally understand her feelings, actions and reactions. It felt horribly familiar. It's all so believable. Learner's portrayal of Victorian London is perhaps the scariest thing of all - honest, dark, somewhat cruel, definitely hypocritical. The period is extraordinarily fascinating - a period when advancing technology began to encroach on the natural world and the human body. The new sciences of phrenology (the study of the skull as a means for understanding and predicting human behaviour and character traits), for example, and the debates between the Church and Darwinists, the uproar at the suggestion that we might be related to apes - this is the background against which Lavinia struggles to be a proper wife and comes to understand that the expectations for men and women are vastly different.
Before writing this, I came across an old article in the Age from when this book first came out in Australia, which I found interesting. It certainly doesn't surprise me to learn she's a pretty intense woman. Divided into three parts reflecting Genesis: "The Apple", "The Serpent" and "The Fall", Soul is also an exploration of human behaviour, a beautifully written study of relationships and the difference between nurture and nature, and their impact on us. Can our environment, the way we were brought up, and our own free will trump our genetic predispositions? At times graphic, at times violent or sad, but always intense and determined, Soul is a gripping story of tragedy and love, anger and what drives us to commit crimes of passion, and what stops the majority of us from doing so.(less)
Dexter is a serial killer, a killer who just can't help himself. He doesn't even see himself as human. But he does have something of a conscience and...moreDexter is a serial killer, a killer who just can't help himself. He doesn't even see himself as human. But he does have something of a conscience and lives by the Code of Harry, his cop foster father, who understood his nature and sought to help Dexter control it somewhat when he was a teenager. Now a blood spatter analyst for Miami police, he's brought in on gruesome murder cases and a new serial killer in the city has Dexter feeling inspired, flattered and awestruck - and frightened that it's really him, doing the killings in his sleep.
His sister Deborah is a cop trying to move her way up but reduced to posing as a hooker to catch curb crawlers, and what with Dexter's "hunches" about murderers, gets him to help her on the case. Yet he's ambivalent - he so admires this killer's work, does he really want to see it end? He'd rather play, and since the killer has been sending him messages through the way the dead bodies are displayed, he's drawn into a fascinating game with deadly consequences.
I have to say, Dexter is one of the most engaging and interesting - and understandable, perverse as it may be - anti-heroes I've ever read. He's not right in the head and he knows it, he spends a great deal of effort pretending to be human, and ordinary, yet because he only goes after sick bastards like child-molesting priests and the like, you can't help but appreciate his vigilante efforts - though what he does to his victims is far from a quick and easy death.
It's a combination of his macabre humour - this book is really quite funny - the characters and his observations of them, and his narrative voice: so effortless, so calm, seeing a perspective and an angle to people that non-sociopaths (is that the right word?) would not see so well. He thinks like a killer, yet still comes across as somewhat naive and innocent. He's not at all interested in sex or women, so his disguise as "boyfriend" shows this "innocence" well:
And if her uncertain, limping tone of voice, unlike any I had ever heard her use before, was a surprise, imagine how astonished I was by her costume. I believe the thing was called a peignoir; or possibly it was a negligee, since it certainly was negligible as far as the amount of fabric used in its construction was concerned. Whatever the correct name, she was certainly wearing it. And as bizarre as the idea was, I believe the costume was aimed at me. (p.154)
His childlike wonder and appreciation for the way the other killer is slicing up bodies and arranging them also gives him some kind of ... childlike quality. It's hard to find the right adjective for Dexter: he's a complicated character, because he's all grey, despite being very clearly a serial killer. There's no attempt to gloss over that, or excuse him. Yet was there ever a more fascinating and affable murderer? He's not even creepy - now that's an achievement! And because it's not in the least sexual, he's not creepy in that way either. On the contrary, even though you know he can't really function normally, you want him to be happy. He's a bit Batman-ish, in a nerdy way, the dark avenger or something silly like that. Regardless, he's likeable and even sympathetic; but more necessary to the reading experience: he's a wonderful narrator with a thing for alliteration - namely with the letter D; truly, he's very inventive.
I don't like mass market crime books, I loathe Patricia Cornwall, John Grisham is exceedingly dull, and I couldn't even finish P.D. James' The Lighthouse because I was so bored - the problem with your typical crime book is the lack of characterisation. There's plenty of that here, in fact, it's all about the characters. There's still plot, though, and a mystery, which you can figure out somewhat before Dexter does, but it all hinges on the characters. I thought the Epilogue was too rushed, and the relationship resolution between Dexter and Deborah too pat, but they're minor quibbles. I'm keen to read the next book, Dearly Devoted Dexter, and there's a third coming out in September.(less)
Stephanie Plum is fresh out of a job, out of money and out of options when her mother mentions that cousin Vinnie is looking for someone to do some fi...moreStephanie Plum is fresh out of a job, out of money and out of options when her mother mentions that cousin Vinnie is looking for someone to do some filing for him. Vinnie runs a bail bonds company, and since the filing has been filled, his friendly receptionist, Connie, suggests Stephanie do some "skip tracing" - finding people who'd skipped out on their bond (meaning, they hadn't shown up for their court date). She can earn 10% of the bail bond for bringing one in to the police station, and such a reward makes Stephanie feel a bit dizzy. Her car has been repossessed and her phone disconnected. She's already hawked all her furniture and appliances to make ends meet, so the lure of earning $10,000 from bringing someone in who's bond was a hundred grand makes her determined to take on the job, despite Vinnie's protests.
Only problem is, the skip is a cop called Joe Morelli, accused of murder. He's also a womaniser with a long history, including Stephanie herself as a teenager, behind the counter at the pastry shop where she worked. In the process of trying to find Morelli, Stephanie makes herself a target in an increasingly complex case of missing women, drugs and one very scary, unhinged boxer called Benito Ramirez. If it weren't for the money, or rather the promise of money, she'd leave the bounty hunting to the big boys, but when it becomes a matter of personal survival, she realises she has to learn some serious survival skills.
I can see why this series is so popular: it's fun, funny, exciting, a bit scary and balances the fun with some dark, psycho characters and real danger. It's the kind of book I'd think of if someone said they were looking for a beach read (the kind of book I think "beach read" means).
At the top of things to love would have to be Grannie Mazur, Stephanie's widowed maternal grandmother who lives with her parents. She comes out in spandex shorts because she likes the look on Stephanie, and she loads Stephanie's gun at the dinner table and shoots the roast chicken. She's so funny! And in the background is Stephanie's quiet, long-suffering father, rolling his eyes. Stephanie's from a Hungarian - or half-Hungarian? - background and the family dynamic is often hilarious and reminiscent of the stereotypical Greek or Italian family and community. One of the reasons why her new job as a bounty hunter in New Jersey is at all doable is that it's where she grew up and everyone knows everyone, sort of. Though I have to say, never having been to New Jersey or even seen pictures to get any kind of impression, that based on the descriptions (and there's a lot of driving), I kept picturing L.A.
The characters is where One for the Money really excels. Stephanie is plucky, determined, aware of her strengths and weaknesses, and not a complete push-over. Joe is a solid cliché that I've seen on many TV shows and movies, but his familiarity only means that you like him that much faster. Grannie Mazur I've already mentioned, but there are others who, while not terribly original, are done well, believable, and entertaining. The scariest is of course the unhinged psychopath, Benito Ramirez. On his way to being a champion boxer, his penchant for mutilating and raping women is kept hushed up by his manager, Jimmy Alpha. One of the other bounty hunters, Ranger, didn't come across as strongly in this book, but I think in books further down the line Stephanie has some kind of relationship with him, so I think he makes more of a presence in later books. I liked him though. The fact that he didn't ogle Stephanie or make chauvinistic or stupid jokes when he had to help free her from her shower rod made me like him more.
The story is rather predictable - there were elements, small details, that took more time to work out but overall it was pretty obvious who was behind the cover-up that framed Morelli. It was also pretty obvious that Sal's was the place to check, especially considering Stephanie conveniently forgot about it for so long. I was confused that Stephanie would be confused about who would want her dead, especially when the car is blown up - she does hit on the name but not very seriously. And when she decides Ramirez is the master-mind behind it all? I felt confused myself. She knows perfectly well he's no planner and is pretty stupid, so that was a bit glaring right there.
It was good to see Stephanie grow into the job - it makes sense that she is constantly asking for help here, mostly from Ranger but also Morelli; it was fun getting to see her in her inept stage, because all too often we get tough female characters who are already established sharp-shooters who know kung-fu and all the rest of it (yeah I am thinking of Kitty Katt a bit here). It'll be great to see her grow - because of course I want to keep reading. I loved the banter, which actually made me laugh aloud a few times (hard for books to do), and the pacing was great: great balance of uneventful, getting-my-bearings, time for things to sink in periods with fast-paced, high adrenaline scenes of pure danger.
Plot-wise, I love that she "borrows" Morelli's car, and his reaction to it. I love that you never quite know how a scene will go - it might start out like it's going to be comical and then turn out to be dangerous, or vice versa.
And the time - this was first published in 1994 and the descriptions of clothing, in particular, give this a lovely daggy feeling. I mean, Stephanie is often wearing clothes you'd associate with the late-80s (including the spandex shorts), and it's a very daggy mental image, I love it. I am more used to British crime drama and police stories (I grew up watching The Bill), so when Eddie Gazarra said that PC stood for "plainclothesman" I was surprised - I'm more familiar with it standing for Police Constable, which made me wonder whether they use the term "constable" in America at all - I'm guessing not, now that I think of it. (It'd be the equivalent of Police Officer.)
All in all, this is a fun, quick read that keeps you turning the page, and I had no problem immersing myself in Stephanie's world (which is so different from my own). Its weak points are easily over-shadowed by its strengths, and the cast is memorable. Definitely happy to read more about Stephanie Plum. (less)
There's something decidedly off, combining erotic romance with a serial rapist-killer. Just putting those words in the same sentence together makes me...moreThere's something decidedly off, combining erotic romance with a serial rapist-killer. Just putting those words in the same sentence together makes me cringe. It seemed ... tasteless, to me.
It's a suspense-thriller with so-called erotic sex and it fails miserably. Nikki is a surgeon with a high-stress career and secretly wants to be dominated in bed; her search for fulfilment leads her to exchange emails with a man who likes to dominate, Richard. After a few weeks of exchanging emails that get more and more explicit, she agrees to meet him. There's something wrong though, and before anything happens she's rescued by Detective Thomas Cavanagh, who's after a serial killer who rapes and tortures women before removing their hearts.
Thomas has read all Nikki's correspondence with Richard and wants to be the man to dominate her - forced to live together for her protection at a safe house, he gets his wish but does she really mean it? And who is the Amy he talks to in his sleep, saying he loves her, that makes Nikki jealous? There's plenty of miscommunication or lack of entirely that strings out their relationship, but ultimately the juxtaposition of sexual play alongside grisly murders just turned me off. I confess I skimmed a lot of it, something I very rarely do. I've read one short story by Black and liked her style, and hoped this would be good. But I should have looked more closely into it before picking it up, because if I'd known it would have been about this I wouldn't have bothered.(less)
Chicago cop Ryan Daire is gifted an empty old mansion by his university professor under somewhat strange circumstances. Inspecting the house with his...moreChicago cop Ryan Daire is gifted an empty old mansion by his university professor under somewhat strange circumstances. Inspecting the house with his partner Ramirez one night, Ryan is startled to see a beautiful woman in the ballroom – who vanishes. Upstairs, in the bedroom which contains only the frame for a brass bed and an old wardrobe with a gilt mirror on the inside of the door, he sees her again, in the mirror, wearing a flimsy scrap of a see-through nightie. It’s clear she sees him as well, and is startled, but she’s definitely not there in the room with him. Ramirez thinks he’s seeing a ghost, but Ryan’s sure she’s not. What she is, he doesn’t know.
More encounters with the mysterious, beautiful young woman within the mansion lead to a startling discovery: Ryan is seeing Hope Stillwater, who lived in the house with her minister father, Jacob, in the 1900s. As a cop, he accesses the archives and learns that Hope disappeared in 1906 and her mutilated body was found three days later. He’s determined to breach the mirror and go back to 1906 to save her – and explore the exploding chemistry and passion that rises between them.
Beth Kery set a high standard with her excellent previous novel, Wicked Burn; with Daring Time, she’s proven she’s no one-hit wonder. If this is a taste of Kery to come, we’re in for a real treat. It’s a powerful, explosive novel of intensely erotic sexual hunger, cleverly constructed time travel, and two wonderfully developed and very real characters.
The city of Chicago in the 1900s came alive for me – I’ve never been, but I could feel and taste it even though Kery doesn’t overburden her prose with long descriptions. There’s a slightly gothic flavour to the story, especially the scenes within the mansion, as if the house is a character in and of itself.
Any book with time travel is prey to plot holes and loose threads when poorly handled. Beth Kery has deftly woven this tale with no holes in sight. It’s not a head-spinning read like The Time Traveler’s Wife, for example, so you don’t get lost in the shifts in time. Everything comes together at the end and the resolution is in perfect keeping with the characters and their time periods: a natural ending, not a forced one. Or should I say “beginning”, as it feels to me that Hope and Ryan are out there, living their life together and being true to themselves, at some point in time, so real did they seem to me.
Daring Time is a smooth blend of fantasy, crime and erotic romance that keeps you on your toes, breathless, with your heart in your mouth. Even though, as a romance, I’m confident it will have a happy ending, the suspense and tension and uncertainty is often so strong that suddenly nothing is obvious at all. A magical book. My only complaint is how long I’ll have to wait for Kery’s next book.
In 1966 sixteen-year-old Harriet Vanger, daughter of the CEO of the large family-run Vanger Corporation, goes missing from her family's island communi...moreIn 1966 sixteen-year-old Harriet Vanger, daughter of the CEO of the large family-run Vanger Corporation, goes missing from her family's island community and is never seen again. Not even a body is found, and her great uncle, Henrik Vanger, has explored every possible lead to discover what happened to his one and only favourite family member.
Over the last forty years her disappearance has become Henrik's obsession, and he's positive someone in the family murdered her - but they never found a motive, and without one he doesn't know who to suspect. Now, in 2005, Henrik has little time left as he grows old and plenty of money to indulge in his obsession one last time.
Mikael Blomkvist is a forty-something financial journalist and editor of Millennium magazine, a magazine he co-founded which prides itself on investigative journalism. But Blomkvist and the magazine have just suffered their first big blow: he's been convicted of libel against one of the biggest business entrepreneurs in Sweden, Hans-Erik Wennerström.
Wanting to keep a low profile and pretend he's been fired from the magazine in order to try and save it from further attack by Wennerström, Henrik Vanger's proposition comes at an ideal time. Mikael's father once worked for the Vanger Corporation, and Harriet herself had babysat little Mikael a few times. Henrik offers Blomkvist a year-long contract with the pretext of writing a history of the family - an autobiography of Henrik - while his real mission is to discover what happened to Harriet.
After some convincing, Blomkvist takes the job - but when he discovers the first new evidence since the tragedy occurred, he realises he needs help - and who better to go to than the private investigator who did such a good job on Blomkvist when Henrik hired her?
Lisbeth Salander is a quiet, secretive young woman who excels at what she does because she's also a genius hacker. With a troubled past and a dicey present, her trust in Blomkvist takes her by surprise. The two team up to discover the truth about Harriet, and to take Wennerström down.
Thanks to a friend of mine, who also recommended this to me, I knew the English translation of the original title before I started reading this, which is Men Who Hate Women. This is actually very interesting and worth mentioning. It's certainly an apt title; perhaps not obvious at first, after a while it becomes a very clear theme. It may also give it away a bit. But I can also understand why they went with a very different title for the English translation. Lisbeth is "the girl with the dragon tattoo" - among other tattoos and piercings - and she is one of two main characters. The second book's English title is "The girl who played with fire", so you can see they're going with their own theme here.
More importantly, though, such a title is more appealing to an English-language audience. Titles, like covers, that feature girls or women - or wives - are popular and sell well. This is an intriguing title, and doesn't give away the genre. When this book first came out, the hardcover was marketed to a literary crowd. This is the mass market paperback edition, and with a quote from Harlan Coben on the cover along with the style of cover itself (and the long, narrow format), it is more clearly pitched at the Mystery mob (hence why both my parents-in-law read this before I did).
It is a mystery, and a thriller at times, and a detective book - but it's also a political and economic commentary, has one of the more original and daring heroines of the genre, and is invigorating in its details. I don't read many mystery novels, because (ironically), I find them boring. Aside from a quiet patch at about the two-quarter mark, I never found this book boring, even though not a whole lot happens until the last third.
Both Blomkvist and Salander are engaging protagonists, for very different reasons. Things happen to them that will make you upset and angry, especially Salander, whose side story holds you enthralled and revolted at the same time, as does the truth about Harriet - but there's nothing gratuitous here, or unnecessarily included or described: it's all relevant.
The pacing is superb (yes, even with that "quiet patch"), and the plotting cleverly controlled. The cold of Sweden - at times down to -35F (which makes the 44F of Shiver seem somewhat laughable) - was vividly realised, as was the setting of Hedeby Island. I would have liked to "see" more of Sweden - everything was terribly familiar - but a mystery book isn't really the place for that.
This is a very mature book, with themes that make you despair yet are handled so compassionately that you are never alienated. I also enjoyed the economic side of the other plot line, and Blomkvist's words towards the end were very apt considering the recent problems with the American stock exchange and subsequent recession, when he's asked by a TV host about "the fact that Sweden's economy was now headed for a crash." He calls it nonsense, and goes on to explain something which I think we all tend to forget:
"You have to distinguish between two things - the Swedish economy and the Swedish stock market. The Swedish economy is the sum of all the goods and services that are produced in this country every day. There are telephones from Ericsson, cars from Volvo, chickens from Scan, and shipments from Kiruna to Skövde. That's the Swedish economy, and it's just as strong or weak today as it was a week ago. ... The Stock Exchange is something very different. There is no economy and no production of goods and services. There are only fantasies in which people from one hour to the next decide that this or that company is worth so many billions, more or less. It doesn't have a thing to do with reality or with the Swedish economy." (p819)
Sure that's a simplistic way of putting it, but his description of the Stock Exchange pretty neatly sums up the way I've always perceived it - and scorned it. So I enjoyed this exchange, and the whole Wennerström sub plot, as much as the mystery about Harriet itself.
The other side of the commentary that's strong and interesting is the issue of journalistic responsibility, and ethics. Decisions are made at the end that are highly questionable, but there are no easy answers - Blomkvist is the voice of our conscience here, and yet you can see the other side too. I don't envy him his position!
I have no complaints with this book, but I have one to the publisher: I really hate the new, narrow format of mass market paperbacks. (Thankfully, only a few books get printed like this.) They're just so tall and ... skinny. It certainly doesn't save any paper, and makes me feel like I'm falling off the edge of the page at the end of each line, which barely fits five words. I don't care for the larger typeface and roomy layout either - I like tighter lines and smaller fonts, personally. That would have saved paper!(less)
Nayir ash-Sharqi is a Palestinian desert guide living in Saudi Arabia who is often mistaken as a Bedouin. His best friend, Othman Shrawi, is the adopt...moreNayir ash-Sharqi is a Palestinian desert guide living in Saudi Arabia who is often mistaken as a Bedouin. His best friend, Othman Shrawi, is the adopted son of a wealthy and influential Saudi family. When Othman's sixteen-year-old sister Nouf goes missing, along with a camel and a ute, Nayir is called upon to help search for her in the desert.
Her body is found ten days later, in a wadi - a dry rivulet that floods when the rains come. Cause of death: drowning. But there are defensive wounds on her wrists and dirt that is not from the desert, and why did she run away when she was about to be married and was happy? Her family has kept the situation quiet and doesn't want a police investigation, but Othman asks Nayir to find out what happened. Nayir is equally troubled by the mystery of Nouf's disappearance and death, especially when he sees how she was buried: with her belly facing Meccah. Only when a woman is pregnant is she buried that way, but Nouf wasn't even married.
Assistance comes from an unlikely and, at first, unwanted source: Katya Hijazi, a medical examiner at the morgue and Othman's fiancee. A determined young woman, she makes the pious and very single Nayir uncomfortable with every glimpse of her face, but as the two uncover more about Nouf's secret life and draw closer to the truth, these two amateur detectives are drawn closer together in friendship, understanding and mutual respect - and something more hopeful and long-lasting.
Finding Nouf was a joy to read. Ferraris' debut novel successfully takes you into the inner world behind the veils and etiquette of Saudi society, dances tightly but gracefully around a sensitive mystery and the intricate workings of this deeply religious culture. I am always wary of western authors tackling a society and religion like Islam and the Middle East, especially from the perspective of a non-white non-Westerner. By making the main character a deeply religious Islamic man who is both shy and terrified around women, and balancing him with a woman who "merely" wants the freedom of choice - a sentiment that women everywhere can sympathise with and understand - Ferraris manages to present both the familiar and the new, treat her characters and their culture with deep respect, and touch upon the changing dynamics, needs and wants of the people there.
I learnt a lot about the inner workings of Saudi culture, especially the family unit. Explanations and insight were offered when needed without jarring the narrative or sounding at all patronising. While written with a non-Middle Eastern, non-Islamic audience in mind, I didn't find it laced with that condescending colonial voice that can undermine similar books, where a trace of smugness permeates. Ferraris lived in Saudi Arabia with her then-husband's extended Bedouin family, which explains her knowledge and first-hand experience - what I'm grateful for in particular is the way she has managed to let us foreign heathens into a very private realm without making us feel like interlopers, or feeding our superiority complex. I'd like to say Finding Nouf would be a great book for Muslim Westerners to read as well, but I can't assume. I think my Muslim friends would enjoy it though (although none of them are Saudi).
I rarely read mysteries, especially the pulp kind, mostly because I get bored, I find the writing to be pretty poor, the characters underdeveloped and the plots either confusing or predictable - but always plodding. This is technically a "literary detective novel" and is not as plot-dependent as the pulp kind. The setting is beautifully resurrected, the heat and the marble and the finer details, the countless bored men driving round and round the roundabout while thinking up names for the huge sculptures in the middle, the subtle little etiquette details. It'd be challenging, writing a mystery set in a land and culture largely unfamiliar to us - so many of the plot points would lose their significance and relevance because we don't get the context. Never once did I have a dumb moment, a moment of feeling excluded or that the characters were placing heavy emphasis on a point without explaining why it was important - Ferraris always managed to get across context and relevance without belabouring the point.
At first the mystery seemed obvious - I thought, oh it must be an honour-killing, the family probably drowned her in the swimming pool for dishonouring them. Well I was wrong, and I'm glad of it. It's much more complex than that. Elements of it I guessed early on, but there are still layers to it that aren't revealed until the end - that aren't pieced together until the end. The structure of the mystery and the piecing together of the puzzle was very well done. Another testament to Ferraris' writing is how Nouf comes alive as they piece together her secret life. She's a vivid character and it's important that we care about her, whether we like her or not, or there's no need to stick around to find out whodunnit.
The beginning was a tad slow, and I was unsure about it - especially as Nouf turns up dead early on and I thought her family had killed her. But it does pick up and the final chapters are engrossing, especially as by then you're comfortable in this world, you feel like you get it, and you care what happens. It's also promising that the ending seemed to set up or allow the possibility for a second novel featuring Nayir and Katya (Nayir, by the way, definitely needs to get laid). I'd love to read it. It was refreshing, to say the least, to have the opportunity to read such a delicate novel set in such a different (than usual) place, and I definitely want to revisit it.(less)
My friend Maria from Denmark got me onto these books and I'm so so glad she did. I read the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, last year,...moreMy friend Maria from Denmark got me onto these books and I'm so so glad she did. I read the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, last year, and as soon as book two came out in paperback a couple of months ago I grabbed a copy (I did pay for it). Then she told me it has a real cliffhanger ending, and that she'd send me book 3 (which wasn't even out here at the time). I waited till it arrived and then last weekend I took this one up to the cottage. It's perfect sunny day, waterside reading.
The main events are set about a year after the end of the first book, and aren't directly related to the mystery of that book. Lisbeth Salander, twenty-five, less than five feet tall and a skilled computer hacker, has broken off all communication with Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist she helped and had a relationship with in the first book. She has her stolen billions from the corporate criminal Wennerström and takes a year off, travelling around the world. When she returns to Stockholm, she makes some changes in her life. She buys an expensive condo and a car, reconnects with her friend Mimmi, and checks up on her state-appointed guardian, Bjurman.
She can't resist hacking into Blomkvist's computers and seeing what's he's working on: a feature and a book written by another journalist, Dag Svensson, on sex trafficking. Dag's partner, Mia Johansson, is doing her PhD on the same topic, though from a different angle. It's an absorbing project that Mikael is editing, and Salander doesn't become really interested until a name turns up in the research: Zala.
On the same night Lisbeth visits Dag and Mia to find out what they know about Zala, the couple are murdered. The murder weapon is a gun owned by Bjurman with Lisbeth's fingerprints on it.
Suddenly Salander is a fugitive, wanted for mass murders. Her history - or choice parts of it - are splashed across the papers and embellished. Only Blomkvist is sure of her innocence - and he intends to prove it. Of course Salander has her own plans, and everything centres on the mysterious unknown figure of Zala.
This is one very tight novel. While book 1 started off slow and had some even slower patches to get through, this second book is fast-paced and never dull. I was deeply engrossed and read most of the hefty book in one day (it helped to be lazing around at the cottage with few distractions!). From the beginning it held my absolute attention. The characters, established in the first book, become so much real here. Lisbeth in particular becomes the main attraction, and even reading about what she buys from IKEA for her new apartment engrossed me. (For readers who complain about "irrelevant" details in books, they'll no doubt hate this. Larsson's style is very detail-oriented at times.)
We learn about Lisbeth's past, and get her side of the story - as well as the psychiatrist's. Continuing the theme from book one of "men who hate women", The Girl Who Played With Fire has several note-worthy bigots, chauvinists, misogynists and downright arrogant bastards (the original Swedish title of book 1, Maria told me, translates directly into English as "men who hate women". But I can see why they changed it and went with "the girl who..."). It's interesting, men like these populate a lot of fiction, TV shows and movies, and we just accept them. They tend to be clichés, true to type, and familiar. But we never really see the damage they do, the bigger context such attitudes creates, how they really affect women - as a gender. That's what's really highlighted in The Girl Who Played With Fire. It threads its way through the entire novel, not front-and-centre but consistently present. And it helps you see just how far we haven't come.
The maths references were beyond me, and I could only vaguely get the metaphors at the beginning of each part. Frankly it was like reading another language. I was still interested in Salander's mathematical hobby, but at the end where she suddenly figures out Fermat's equation, I'm impressed at her skill but have no idea if it was meant to be clear to me as well. I don't even understand what the puzzle was! (and please don't bother trying to explain it to me. I just don't have a mathematical background to follow.)
I was glued to this book - for someone who doesn't read and doesn't care for crime fiction, detective stories etc (unless they're literary, which sounds so snobby, but just means that I need better character development and greater detail than you get from the actual genre), it seems like a big deal to me. This isn't just a crime to be solved, a mystery to puzzle out, a whodunnit. It touches on deeper social issues, is dark and gritty and unabashedly violent but never, I think, gratuitous; and every character is one that becomes tangible. It's like those rare TV shows where the characters become so familiar they're like an extended family - which is what every network hopes to achieve with every show, don't they? I'd say Larsson succeeded exceptionally well with the Millennium books. As soon as I'd finished this one, I picked up the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Let's just say that my challenge-required reading has been, ah, delayed!(less)
I have to thank my friend Maria (of Bogormen) again for sending me the UK edition of the third book, which arri...moreContains spoilers for the end of book 2
I have to thank my friend Maria (of Bogormen) again for sending me the UK edition of the third book, which arrived on about the same day as it was released in hefty and expensive hardcover here - I love the book-blogging community; we're all so keen for each other to read our favourite books we'll happily supply the drugs books for each others' habit! This edition doesn't match the elongated mass market paperbacks of the previous two that I have, but that's okay. One detail I noticed just yesterday though: the UK edition uses hornets', while the US uses hornet's. Since the direct English translation of the original Swedish title is The Castle in the Cloud that got Blown Up (thanks again, Maria!), it must come down to a simple preference on the part of the publishers. Still, I can't help but be interested in these little details.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest picks up exactly where The Girl Who Played With Fire left us, with Lisbeth Salander riddled with bullets, Zalachenko the ex-Russian spy with half his face hacked off, the blonde giant Niedermann on the run, and Mikael Blomkvist, journalist and co-ownder of Millennium magazine, trying to explain to the police the true story of Lisbeth's past.
With a bullet in her brain, Lisbeth and Zalachenko are both taken to the same hospital. The secret select club within the Security Police - Säpo - that ran the whole Zala operation and saw to it that Lisbeth was locked up in a mental institution, will do everything they can to make sure the truth doesn't come to light, and that Lisbeth gets up away for good this time. Their old leader, Evan Gullberg, comes out of retirement to sort things out. But Mikael starts his own investigation and begins spying on the spies, creating a head-to-head race to save or damn Lisbeth Salander.
This one started out rather slowly, like the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did, and I stuttered in my reading of it after the first 100 pages because by the end of book 2 we know who did it and why, so it's like there's no mystery anymore and hence no motivation to keep reading. After a while, though, the pace picked up and it got interesting again. Yes, we know they what and the why and the who, but not how Lisbeth is going to win her court case, or oust the Section (the group within Säpo that wants her locked up), and there's a few little side-plots to flesh things out further, like Erika Berger's new job.
You might not like Larsson's penchant for details, or for detailing people's movements (I do), but you've gotta hand it to him: he's consistent. Or was. The poor bloke died of a heart attack in 2004, at only fifty years old, before being able to complete the fourth book. Turns out he had plans for a 10 book series. Either way, at least this trilogy is complete in itself - not to mention a publishing boon. I also read that in 2008 he was the second-biggest selling author in the world, behind Khaled Hosseini (I didn't know that about Hosseini either). But I digress.
There's not as much of Salander in this third outing, but there's more Blomkvist than in book 2. The characters don't particularly grow any further than they did by the end of the last book, but by now we know them, are familiar with their habits and feel comfortable with them - and sympathy for them. There are new characters, lots of them, and I find that Larsson's repetition of key little facts here and there really helps you keep up with them all. Especially considering the size of these books. I think book 2 is still my favourite, but I really enjoyed them all - not just for the personal stories, the stories of the characters, but for what the novels say about politics, corruption, freedom of the press and other relevant issues.(less)
When I was at uni I took a course called Film Noir, in which we studied the film noir genre of films - from The Maltese Falcon to Vertigo. One of the...moreWhen I was at uni I took a course called Film Noir, in which we studied the film noir genre of films - from The Maltese Falcon to Vertigo. One of the movies we watched was Double Indemnity (from 1944 with Barbara Stanwyck), hard to get at the time (our lecturer had to get the VHS from the States - we're talking the year 2000 here). It was a great film that stuck in my head, so I was thrilled to find the book.
Walter Neff is an insurance salesman in Los Angeles - a very good salesman. When he goes to the home of Mr Nirdlinger to renew his automobile insurance, he meets instead the man's second wife, Phyllis. Phyllis is a sexy woman who plays it almost innocent, drawing Walter in without him realising how he's being played. She wants to take out accident insurance on her husband without him knowing about it - which is a big no-no, for obvious reasons. But Walter sees a way of doing it, and he willingly offers to help her off her husband for fifty thousand dollars (which would probably be about five hundred thousand these days). The fifty thou is "double indemnity" on the usual twenty-five, and you can only get double indemnity on train accidents. That is, death by train is worth fifty thousand dollars.
Together, they carry it off. It's flawless. But by then, Walter is repulsed by Phyllis, and the insurance company he works for has no intention of paying out the money - his bosses are sure the accident was either suicide or very clever murder. And as Walter gets to know Mr Nirdlinger's daughter Lola, guilt crushes him. He sees only one way out: to kill Phyllis. But he's not the only one with nefarious intentions, and he's up against a woman with a dark and bloody past.
This is a tight, intense crime drama, narrated by Walter with an economy of words and a fast, clipped pace that creates suspense and tension.
She made another bunch of pleats. Then, after a long time, here it came. "Mr Huff, would it be possible for me to take out a policy for him, without bothering him about it at all? I have a little allowance of my own. I could pay you for it, and he wouldn't know, but just the same all the worry would be over."
I couldn't be mistaken about what she meant, not after fifteen years in the insurance business. I mashed out my cigarette, so I could get up and go. I was going to get out of there, and drop those renewals and everything else about her like a red-hot poker. But I didn't do it. She looked at me, a little surprised, and her face was about six inches away. What I did do was put my arm around her, pull her face up against mine, and kiss her on the mouth, hard. I was trembling like a leaf. She gave it a cold stare, and then she closed her eyes, pulled me to her, and kissed back. (pp. 12-13)
For the entire novel, I felt like I was there in the dark streets (it always felt like night-time, even when it wasn't). It was a tangible, visceral thing, conjured by such a superb and precise use of words. There's no filler, no padding; at only 115 pages you get a tight, tense, suspenseful story.
I raised up, put my hand over his mouth, and pulled his head back. He grabbed my hand in both of his. The cigar was still in his fingers. I took it with my free hand and handed it to her. She took it. I took one of the crutches and hooked it under his chin. I won't tell you what I did then. But in two seconds he was curled down on the seat with a broken neck, and not a mark on him except a crease right over his nose, from the crosspiece of the crutch.
We were right up with it, the moment of audacity that has to be part of any successful murder. For the next twenty minutes, we were in the jaws of death, not for what would happen now, but for how it would go together later. (pp. 44-45)
I have a vague memory of how the movie ended, which was rather different from how it ends in the book. The ending in the novel was bleak, almost gothic, yet just. It was a nice surprise - although "nice" isn't the word for it. The book and the film both offer the story in their own ways, making each a great story in its own right.(less)
I had initially picked this up to read because of the 1930s Mini-Challenge a few months back, but didn't get around to it at the time. It's the first...moreI had initially picked this up to read because of the 1930s Mini-Challenge a few months back, but didn't get around to it at the time. It's the first Hammett book I've read, though I did watch (and study) The Maltese Falcon for a course on Film Noir at uni. With that story and main character in mind, The Thin Man was both what I expected, and quite different.
The blurb describes the set-up thusly: "Nick and Nora Charles are Dashiell Hammett's most enchanting creations, a rich, glamorous couple who solve homicides in between wisecracks and martinis." How could you resist that? And how different a set-up is that from the classic noir detective of The Maltese Falcon? Not only is Nick affable, but he's married! To a beautiful young woman who's smart and elegant and behaves sensibly. Though, Nora isn't very involved in the investigation: Nick tells her everything, and she notices things and passes them on to him, but the spotlight is Nick's alone.
In this story, he comes into contact with a family he used to know, the Wynants: old Clyde Wynant is a reclusive, paranoid inventor, divorced from the mother of his two children, Mimi, a rather violent woman who thinks she's clever and who has married a beautiful younger man, Christian Jorgensen. The two children, now grown into young adults, are Dorothy and Gilbert. None of the people in this family are at all likeable, and they're all rather off. So when Clyde's secretary is murdered just when Mimi happens to be visiting (to see if she can get more money out of her ex), the whole family begins to look suspect.
However, the chief suspect is Clyde himself. Because Nick was a former detective and everyone involved knows him, he becomes involved in the case despite wanting nothing to do with it. The biggest hurdle is trying to work his way through all the lies - it seems like no one can say an honest thing, especially Mimi, who is always trying to work every situation to her advantage.
It's not often - in fact, I can't think of another example quite like this - that I read a book that's almost wholly dialogue-driven. It's rather like a play, or a screenplay perhaps, but definitely like a play. Every scene is an interaction between key players, with very little fleshing out beyond what comes across in speech. I actually found it harder to read, or I should say slow-going. It took me about two months to read this because it couldn't hold my attention for very long at any one time -which made it hard to keep track of who they were talking about, or the point of a conversation.
When it's not dialogue, it's pure narrative, or description: I went here, I did this, I got in the taxi, she poured the drinks etc. No embellishment. No adjectives. If I was more into the story, I would have appreciated it more I'm sure (I'm pointing this out because it's interesting to me, not because it's a negative). It's been years since I read an older detective story - like Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler, for example - so I'm not sure if it's common to the noir genre or not; but it is a style well suited to it. I tried to read a PD James novel a few years ago that a friend leant me, and I couldn't get into it at all. It was the same kind of thing, just introducing characters without embellishment, dry conversations which you presume will have import later on, a mapping out of people's movements ... I find it very boring. So yes, this is definitely not the genre of story I read, though I have enjoyed the older ones before.
I want to reiterate: this isn't a bad book, it isn't badly written, there's honestly nothing wrong with it - I just didn't enjoy it much. I couldn't get into the story or the characters or their conversations, which left me nothing to go with. I was bored. I didn't care very much who killed Julia Wolf, and it was such a close-mouthed case that very little in terms of revelations happen until close to the end (and they're all irrelevant in the end anyway). I don't make any effort to predict a "whodunnit", so I was nicely surprised by the real crime and the perpetrator. At the end, it's pretty impressive just how turned around Hammett made me, by throwing the Wynant family in my face (and boy, are they an hysterical handful!).
Nick Charles is a funny sort, quite the alcoholic - Nora too probably. My reading of the novel was too disjointed to get a very clear idea of them; but then again, I'm not sure that if I'd read it in one sitting I'd have got a better feel for them. I also didn't find them as clever as I felt I should, though there were some nice nuances going on beneath things - like when Dorothy Wynant was always throwing herself at Nick - as was her mother Mimi - and Nora is rather bemused by it all. I liked Nora quite a bit, and was disappointed she wasn't in it more (and when she was, she was always pouring Nick a drink or taking Dorothy into a bedroom - nothing kinky of course; Dorothy was always distraught, drunk, weepy or psychotic. The entire family was weird, which was rather fun).
Overall I'd say, if you like detective fiction and especially the older sort, you'll probably enjoy this. As for me, it didn't encourage me to read more Hammett, though I'm glad I read one to get a taste of his work. (less)