The first of Malcolm Pryce's Louie Knight Mysteries introduces us to a world where the language and mores of a Raymond Chandler novel are transported...moreThe first of Malcolm Pryce's Louie Knight Mysteries introduces us to a world where the language and mores of a Raymond Chandler novel are transported to the small Welsh seaside town of Aberystwyth. The local bars are replaced by an ice cream vendor and a 24 hour whelk stall, the girls at the strip club dress in flirtatious versions of Welsh national costume. As this suggests, the version of Wales Pryce presents is slightly surreal, with witchcraft and runes and a town council run by a mob of corrupt Druids. Wales is a former colonial power, a disastrous attempt to conquer Patagonia staining the national conscience (“the Welsh Vietnam”).
Louie Knight, the town's only private eye, is asked to look into the disappearance of a stripper's cousin, and becomes enmeshed in the murder of several schoolboys and, of course, a plot that threatens the town. He narrates the proceedings like Philip Marlowe, which nicely counterpoints the small town setting and the Welsh accents that come across in the dialogue.
Aberystwyth Mon Amour is an interesting, light read, but suffers from an unevenness of tone. While there are many witty, comic moments, Pryce doesn't quite seem to know how to tread the line between this and the darkness in the story – both the inherent darkness in the murders and the themes of loss and displacement that permeate the book. This uncertainty also seems to affect how distant from our reality this Aberystwyth is; for me he could have embraced the surreal aspects more, and indeed seems to do so toward the end of the book. It was somewhat reminiscent of the world of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next, a reality skewed from our own at a rakish angle, but I felt that Pryce's reality needs to be slightly better defined. I'm intrigued to see how his style develops; if the tone and setting can solidify then it may well a thoroughly enjoyable series.
Never judge a book by its cover, right? Does going on the title count?
We all do that, of course, and it was the title that first grabbed me, then the...moreNever judge a book by its cover, right? Does going on the title count?
We all do that, of course, and it was the title that first grabbed me, then the description made it a must read. Morrow is a writer that I was only vaguely aware of, but the reviews appealed to me immediately. So when the Atheist Book Club group were looking for fiction recommendations I just had to put it forward, and am very glad I did – although I was slightly worried that the book was perhaps less atheistic than I had anticipated.
The initial set up just sounds so inventive and funny: The archangels come to the Vatican to tell them that god has died and his two mile long corpse is floating in the mid Atlantic. They have hollowed out an iceberg off Svalbard and want it towing to this tomb before corruption sets in, so the Vatican hires a former super tanker Captain, disgraced since being in charge when his vessel caused the world's most damaging oil slick – along with his former ship – to do the job.
I confess that what I expected was fairly straightforward, irreverent humour and plenty of digs at the absurdities of religion, but I was somewhat wide of the mark. Don't get me wrong, it is a very funny book (although more in way of later Pratchett with the humour leavening more serious episodes than early, slapstick Pratchett) and I'm sure that many people would consider it irreverent simply because of the subject, but Morrow does much, much more than take the easy option. What he gives us is an incredibly smart book about how we define our beliefs as much as they define us, about the roots of morality (of course), about hypocrisy, about how people react when their most cherished beliefs are threatened and the ends that they'll go to to protect those beliefs and, most of all, about personal redemption in the face of an uncaring universe.
The author draws his cast of characters superbly well – all, arguably and to varying degrees, caricatures perhaps, but also with subtlety and humanity. And as often as not, any cartooning of characters or situations is there to wrongfoot us, to show up our own assumptions. For instance, when the crew of the tanker begin to lose all moral perspective I admit that I was initially disappointed that Morrow seemed to be showing the collapse of morality without an omnipresent god but, as at every turn of the novel, he had of course anticipated me and lead me down a path that would bring me to a far more thorough – and entertaining – discussion of the questions than I had given him credit for.
This is one of those rare books that not only kept me gripped and entertained from cover to cover, but kept me thinking more profoundly than I could have before I read it for long after. An instant favourite, and I think I will be spending quite some time in Mr Morrow's company. (less)
The RPG I am currently running with my group, in which the players take the parts of British civil servants working for a secret department of the Sec...moreThe RPG I am currently running with my group, in which the players take the parts of British civil servants working for a secret department of the Security Services which is tasked with protecting Her Britannic Majesties Domains and Protectorates - and, incidentally the world - from all manner of unspeakable, tentacled monstrosities from beyond space and time. HP Lovecraft called them The Old Gods, others have called them the Many-Angled Ones, but they are multitudinous and ever hungry for human souls (or quantum thought patterns, as modern terminology has it), and almost always possessed of some deranged cult that feels summoning them to our world is a good idea. Add to this the aspects of the espionage genre that Charles Stross has woven into the novels on which the game is based and the authors make full use of here, and you have a fun game that can be played as any mix of Lovecraft and le Carre that you wish.
The characters are not superheroes, or even necessarily heroes, just ordinary people who have been inducted (often forcefully after being involved in an Incident) into the dark secrets that hide behind our modern, wipe-clean world. Magic has always existed, of course, but the utterance of complex grammatical and mathematical summoning structures (or spells and incantations, if you prefer) was always hit and miss until Alan Turing developed both the computer and the algorithms that made the process a little safer. Hence there is a substantial emphasis on IT and CD (Information Technology and Computational Demonology), with gadgets like the specially adapted Apple product (nicknamed the NecronomiPhone) being a must have for any smart Laundry operative.
The system used is the classic BRPS (Basic Role-Playing System, usually pronounced 'burps'), a nice simple metric that leaves most of the emphasis on role playing rather than dice but offers a good solid backbone for the mechanical aspects of the game. It is also a natural fit for this setting; having been developed from the original Call of Cthulhu RPG system the players should feel right at home as their characters' sanity begins to ebb away when they encounter all manner of squamous, cyclopean terrors.(less)
I'd been in the mood to read a fast, fun thriller for awhile, and as I had several unread Brookmyre novels on my shelf...moreA carefully spoiler-free review.
I'd been in the mood to read a fast, fun thriller for awhile, and as I had several unread Brookmyre novels on my shelf I was definitely gravitating in that direction. When I found the audiobook of Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks I was sold – even though it's the fifth of the Jack Parlabane adventures and I haven't read all the previous ones yet, I didn't expect it to be a big obstacle as they are, like most crime series', not direct follow ons in anything other than events in the main characters' lives.
I must confess that as the story opened I felt slightly disappointed. The extract from a book by fictional Mail journalist Jillian Noble about an encounter with the supernatural seemed to be somewhat heavy-handed in signposting the direction the novel might take. Noble is smug, snotty, overly credulous and sneeringly dismissive of sceptical rationalism – so strongly antithetical to both Brookmyre and Parlabane that the set up for a fall seemed sadly obvious. Ironically, I should have had more faith in the author, because while it is indeed a set up, it is the reader who is being set up for a sudden, unexpected curve ball coming out of left field that whips any assumptions out from under you like a deftly pulled tablecloth. This is a trick Brookmyre pulls again and again throughout this superbly constructed, extremely well written book. He leads your expectations from one point of view before bringing in another angle to make you realise that you are balancing precariously on a crumbling ledge of unfounded assumption rather than the firm, flat bedrock of facts. There are also dawning moments of realisation that made me laugh out loud, to add to the many trademark chuckles you'd expect from a writer who has been called 'the Scottish Carl Hiaasen'. The twists and changes of perspective kept me guessing right up to the joyous payoff (although I had worked out a couple of the facts I wasn't certain of them, and doubt it was my own Holmsian deductive abilities that allowed me to work them out so much as cunning winks from the author to make me feel better about being duped!)
I realise I've said nothing about the plot – deliberately, as this would be an easy book to give spoilers on. Suffice to say it is a book about belief, deception and assumptions. If you like your thrillers clever, thoughtful and laugh-out-loud funny (not to mention quite sweary and not infrequently violent, although in this case less violent than usual), I highly recommend you acquaint yourself with Christopher Brookmyre (less)