Somehow I've never got around to reading the Rebus books. partly as I owned a couple but wasn't sure which was the first. So I checked and, on my verySomehow I've never got around to reading the Rebus books. partly as I owned a couple but wasn't sure which was the first. So I checked and, on my very next charity shop crawl, found Knots and Crosses in the second shop for a quid. Result.
It's a recent edition so has a forword from the author explaining the times in which the book was written (no mobile phones, etc) and also excusing his youthful shortcomings. While there are issues with the novel, none of the things Rankin's more experienced critical eye were, for me, amkng them.
This is, at base, a fairly formulaic police detective novel - copper with a troubled past, drink problem, broken marriage and child maturing rapidly becomes embroiled in a murder case that takes on an unforeseeon personal aspect. But. The writing is very good indeed, especially the sense of place and characterisation via action and inner monologue. Okay, at this stage he's not the equal of Val McDermid or Chris Brookmyre, but neither were they so early in their careers. The psychological depth really doez set him apart from the mass ofcrkme writing (excepting the previously mentioned authors and a tiny handful of others). I would say that two areas that let him down are a certain naivity to the plotting (he states in the jntro that he wasn't interested in reading crime fiction) and the dialogue. While the inner thoughts of the characters are distinct, when it comes to their speech it is all but impossible to tell one from another.
All n all, this is a tightly written and gripping novel that makes me eager to raed the next. Hell, it's the first book I've read in24 hours in some time and, even taking into account I was travelling, that speaks volumes.
(please excuse the typos; this review written on my tablet screen)...more
Harry August, born in northern England in 1919 dies an old man only to be born again, in the precisely same time and place and circumstances, the fullHarry August, born in northern England in 1919 dies an old man only to be born again, in the precisely same time and place and circumstances, the full memories of his former life returning as his infant brain develops. And this happens again, and again, and again. But the events of his life are not set; he can use the knowledge and education and skills he has accumulated to advance himself and move on more quickly from the same humble beginnings, and he discovers that he is not alone. While rare, there are other individuals who in the same circular way - “ouroborans” - who often store knowledge and look to help those recently returned to youth. As his lives progress Harry becomes aware that something in the future is amiss, something that will lead to the end of the world and is getting closer with each incarnation.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been gripped so much by a book. It took hold of me from the start, a fine mix of a wit, humour, tense plotting, great characterisation, excellent writing and a superb central idea explored fully.
As do all very good books, this works on several levels. As the literary thriller with a twist it is on its face, as a philosophical discussion of the enduring momentum of events compared to mayfly flicker of individual lives, perhaps as an exploration of the stages each of us goes through in our normal span of life.
Of course, I have to address this book’s similar concept to Kate AtkinsonKate Atkinson’s Life After LifeLife After Life - both published very close together in early 2014. Yes, Claire North’s prose is not as good as Atkinson’s (hardly a criticism as the multi-award winning Atkinson has been in the game for a lot longer and is one hell of a writer). What is truly worth pointing out is how, from such a similar central idea (even happening to be set across a fairly similar historical stage) each writer has woven such an utterly distinct tapestry. Both books are literary, by turns funny and sobering, gripping and thoughtful and deep, but quite, quite different.
Sure, Harry August is not without flaws - there is the occasional clumsiness to the writing (massively overwhelmed by some very good writing and truly breathtaking plotting) and a the odd time where I had to actively suspend disbelief to do with the accelerating pace of technological advancement - but the sheer joy and wit and humanity and unashamed cleverness of this novel means anything less than five stars would be churlish....more
Helen MacDonald’s book is several things, all of them successful. It is a memoir of her training of a goshawk, which follows her father’s sudden deathHelen MacDonald’s book is several things, all of them successful. It is a memoir of her training of a goshawk, which follows her father’s sudden death and is also, therefore, about her relationship with her father and her coming to terms with this loss. It is concerns another relationship, one across time with T.H. White, best know as the author of the magnificent The Once and Future King. White was himself obsessed with hawking and wrote a book simply called Goshawk about his own experiences training this most difficult of birds.
This is a complex, deeply personal and often somber book. MacDonald is brutal at exposing her own pain and uncertainty and failings, often mirroring them against White’s. In the course of doing so she shows, of course, some of the history of falconry and ends by linking her exploration of her psychology for her attachment with a wider aspect of our relationship with the wild, and with the landscape. ...more
A lovely little short from Pullman. This is a gem of a story, wonderfully crafted and creepy, set in the same reality (I think 'universe' is the wrongA lovely little short from Pullman. This is a gem of a story, wonderfully crafted and creepy, set in the same reality (I think 'universe' is the wrong term, considering) as the wonderful His Dark Materials trilogy. An Oxford don and his visitor discuss a pair of works of art that always seem to end up together and may be connected to some deaths.
Atmospheric, and somewhat bringing to mind a Tales of the Unexpected vibe....more
Kate Atkinson has long been one of my favourite authors, ever since I read her debut Behind the Scenes at the Museum. When she turned her talents to cKate Atkinson has long been one of my favourite authors, ever since I read her debut Behind the Scenes at the Museum. When she turned her talents to crime fiction with Case Histories she brought her wonderful skills to that genre, but it is with the third installment of the Jackson Brodie series that she’s really blown it out of the water.
The book opens with a prologue set 30 years ago, with Atkinson showcasing her complete mastery of character and the seemingly effortless way she builds a scene so real we are immersed in it. A woman takes her three young children for a walk in the Devon countryside. They are displaced from London due to her absent husband’s whim and she is at once trying to keep the children active and entertained, make the most of the situation and walk off her obvious frustration. As with the rest of the book, each piece of description and dialogue and inner monologue or realisation tells us all of this, every bit building and advancing the story (although you might not realise it for a long time) but utterly subtle and realistic. So beautifully and immersively is this scene constructed, the brutal denouement is like punch in the stomach.
The rest of the novel is in the present day and, while the first chapter features the titular main character of the series, Jackson Brodie himself is absent or, at most, on the periphery, throughout the great majority of the story. Instead, we see the tale unfold largely through the eyes of Brodie’s erstwhile colleague/sparring partner/potential love interest DCI Louise Monroe and sixteen-year-old Regina (Reggie) Chase. Reggie is a wonderful character, caught in between so many different worlds; looking younger than she is but wiser than her years, a working class girl who had received a scholarship to a posh school but had to drop out, her mother has recently - suddenly - died and Reggie lives in the unchanged flat with the ghosts of her memory and has a job as a babysitter and home help for Dr Joanna Hunter, who is posh and beautiful and capable and Reggie’s ideal mother figure.
This is a literary novel both in that it is in the literary genre and in the quality of the writing, but it is also definitely a mystery novel. The story unfolds like a puzzle-box, every part of the story intertwining (most often in entirely unexpected ways) and with clues laid out in full view that the reader only realises were clues when the subtle “TA-DA!” of revelation occurs. As well as enmeshing the stories of Louise, Reggie, Jackson and Joanna Hunter (along with Louise’s new, too-perfect husband, and her colleagues, Reggie’s millennialist classics tutor and her criminal, possibly sociopathic, brother, Joanna’s upwardly-mobile, wide-boy Glaswegian husband) she weaves them together thematically - motherhood and loss, partnership and the suitability or otherwise of our choices, the risks posed to women by strangers and those close to them.
This is a terrific book, up there with Behind the Scenes... and her more recent, much- and rightly-lauded Life After Life. Every character is built with depth and breadth (even Sadie, Dr Hunter’s German Shepherd) and the way every aspect interweaves - plot and character, motivation and theme, even location - is breathtaking, but done so well and so subtly that it is only breathtaking in retrospect. The resolution of the mystery is truly shocking at the same time as being utterly right and the bow on top is the final paragraph of the penultimate chapter which brings everything full circle and where you realise that Jackson Brodie is the central thread in the tapestry, after all.
Cornwell's retelling of the Arthur tales is, if the other two volumes match up to this, set to become one of my favourites. while he includes4.5 stars
Cornwell's retelling of the Arthur tales is, if the other two volumes match up to this, set to become one of my favourites. while he includes characters that are undoubtedly mythical and, as he admits in his afterword, continues to put together characters from different mythical or semi-historical heritages (such as Arthur and Merlin, only put together by Mallory but now indivisible), I would still class this work as a historical fiction, even a realistic historical fiction.
The author paints an incredibly vivid picture of Britain in the 6th century. A hundred years and more after the Romans have left, the island is awash with battle and intrigue as the ancient tribes seek to defend and expand their territory. The Eastern part of the land is under the control of the invading Saxons, the Irish raid from across the sea, and the efforts to reinstate worship of the Celtic gods clash with those religions brought by the Romans, especially the increasingly prominent and powerful Christianity.
These conflicts form the backbone of the novel. We see the names familiar from our centuries-long love affair with the Arthurian tales - Arthur himself, Guinevere and Merlin, Lancelot, Galahad, Nimue, Mordred, Morgan, and mad king Pellinore - each recognisable from their mythic image and yet quite different. Partly it is the gritty, realistic brutality of the Dark Ages Britain they inhabit, a million miles away from the shining armour and courtly manners of so many classic representations. By the standards of the medieval romances, and the Roman world which they envy as a golden age at the same time as they despise it, the lives of these people are barbarous. And some of them know it, doing their best to live in the crumbling Roman ruins they no longer have the expertise to maintain. But Cornwell also plays with our expectations of the characters. Arthur, as in the original stories before Chretien de Troyes, is neither a king nor a Christian but a Briton warlord, a noble, charismatic leader with the mission of uniting the native tribes against the invading Saxons. Lancelot is a spoilt, foppish, arrogant coward who employs poets to write about his non-existent feats of valour, which soon outlive the reality.
In these events - narrated by Derfel, a Saxon-born captain of Arthur who is recounting events years later after he has converted and become a monk - we see a possible germ of the Arthurian mythology in the warring and politics of this time. As Derfel writes the tale for Queen Igraine (who is too young to have known the people and events first hand) she tries to push him to embellish the facts away from grime and reality toward chivalry and magic, giving an idea of how legends grow in the telling.
The myths we know are medieval tales, and have become heavy with the imagery of Christianity, although Merlin and Nimue of the Lake and the Green Knight usually remain as a connection with the pagan past. I have read version which over-emphasise the Christian aspects or try to reclaim the tales for their pagan origins. In Cornwell's version belief and superstition permeates every page as belief in the 'native' gods of the Celtic Britons vies for dominance with more recent arrivals brought by the Saxons and, especially, the Romans; the cults of Isis, Mithras and of course Christ. This world is uncertain and brutal and so much is dark and unknowable. It is all but impossible to imagine not sharing the faith in supernatural beings having a direct and often malicious effect on every day life in such a condition. Omens and curses threaten to bring down the wrath of the gods, and to deny their existence is unthinkable. Cornwell does not gloss over the brutality of the slavery, human sacrifices and rapes that are prevalent amongst many holding pagan beliefs at the time, but neither does he avoid the hypocrisy and dishonesty in some of those of the early Christian church. Galahad, a Christian, is perhaps the most honest and noble character in the book, yet the self-sainted Bishop Sansum is utterly without merit. The pagan Arthur is heroic, though flawed, yet some of the other pagans are vicious in the extreme. Derfel often writes such things as "I know there is no greater joy than to serve Christ, but sometimes when I think of the times shoulder to shoulder before a battle, I miss my shield brothers", suggesting both an old man's regret at his passed youth and also a religious conversion that is perhaps more judicious than heartfelt.
The Winter King is brutal, noble, thrilling and thoughtful. The vividness of the scene setting is superb and the characters fully fleshed. I would highly recommend this to anyone with the slightest interest in Arthur, or the Dark Ages, or good books in general....more
In this book Mieville returns physically to London, although the city infuses most of his fictions in whatever worlds they are set. Kraken be4.5 stars
In this book Mieville returns physically to London, although the city infuses most of his fictions in whatever worlds they are set. Kraken begins with the disappearance of a specimen of architeuthis - a giant squid - from the Natural History Museum, and its curator becoming involved in a seething underworld of religious cults that permeate the city, often working magics ('knackery') and predicting - or, indeed, working toward - some apocalypse or another. The inclusion of an arm of the Metropolitan police tasked with monitoring these cults and their magical activity initially makes this feel as though it is going to be along the lines of Ben Aaronvitch's or Paul Cornell's magical police procedurals but, of course, being China Mieville this quickly gets a whole lot weirder than even those.
Mieville's writing is, as always, superb and the book bursts wit ideas both profound and playful (the novel is infused with a level of humour you might not expect from him, sometimes bringing a wry smile and, occasionally, a belly laugh; PC Collingswood's inventive profanity caused this more than once). Building up to a potential apocalypse, the plot moves at breakneck speed throughout, but I found it a strangely heavy read despite the humour and the pace, in part perhaps due to the density of allusions in the writing. Along with the deluge of ideas the prose is piled with references to politics and mythology, to pop culture and science, but it is almost too much. The mix of supersonic plot with the torrent of ideas were reminiscent of Shea and Wilson's Iluminatus! trilogy but here there was somehow a tension between those two things; whilst part of my mind was trying to race ahead with the plot another was held up considering the ideas - although perhaps this says more about the way my mind works now than the book itself.