The first of Connelly's Harry Bosch books has a lot going for it, most notably an excellent plot involving murder, banks heists, deception and the VieThe first of Connelly's Harry Bosch books has a lot going for it, most notably an excellent plot involving murder, banks heists, deception and the Vietnam war. Heironymous 'Harry' Bosch is a middle aged LA homicide detective whose career has gone from glittering to dismal - after being lauded by the press for his work solving high profile cases and having a TV character based on him he has been hounded from the prestigious Robbery Homicide Division to a lower ranking post in Hollywood Homicide by Internal Affairs, who are still looking to complete the job and chase him from the force. This is because he's the classic detective, brilliant but not seen as part of "the Family", something of a loose cannon (he even considers himself to be a bit of a cliché - he listens to jazz, drinks too much and is a loner who can't hold down a long term relationship).
Bosch is, however, an good character with a nice backstory and a decent amount of complexity. The same goes for some of the supporting cast, while others are cardboard cyphers (the two IAD officers, Lewis and Clark, for instance). The writing itself is ok - I do love the way the story unfolds, and the way that Connelly mixes Bosch's internal musings and memories into the narrative on occasion - but often the prose is downright clunky. In particular Connelly writes dialogue like a journalist (which he was); it is more about providing information than character. Indeed, there is hardly any character voice in the dialogues at all (with the possible exception, oddly, of Bosch's partner Jerry Edgar who is only a minor character, the voices are largely interchangeable; Bosch's narrative voice is strong but even that doesn't really carry over into his speech).
But a very strong, engaging thriller with some real substance, which I far prefer to the sort of page-turner thrillers that I finish and find I couldn't give a damn about any of events or characters I'd been reading about for the previous 400 pages (James Patterson and his ilk).
An odd side note. The cover photo on my edition seems to be of a rainy British motorway, which is a bit weird...
The first of Laurie King's Mary Russell mysteries, in which the young Russell encounters a semi-retired Sherlock Holmes and he, recognising a mind perThe first of Laurie King's Mary Russell mysteries, in which the young Russell encounters a semi-retired Sherlock Holmes and he, recognising a mind perhaps as sharp as his own, takes her as an apprentice in the trade of consulting detective.
This is extremely well written, catching some of the style of the Holmes stories without becoming pastiche, but also with a difference as it is from the perspective of Mary Russell, a 19 year old Anglo-American, half-Jewish girl studying maths and theology. I don't know if King has spent time in the UK, but I don't think I've ever come across an American writer whose grasp of British English (albeit the British English of the early 20th century) is better; usually, even with very good writers, there are little tells and mistakes that glare out, but I didn't catch a single one. (For the record, I'm sure British writers do that with Americanisms, although we have the advantage of being inundated with wall-to-wall American media. Score one for cultural imperialism ;) ).
The novel falls into several parts. It begins with Russell encountering Holmes observing bees on the Sussex downs and their building acquaintance. There is the first mystery - a robbery at a local inn, small fry that Holmes would not usually become involved in - and then they are asked to consult on the abduction of the young daughter of a US politician holidaying in Wales. This leads into the main event, a previously unknown criminal mastermind targeting Holmes and those close to him, obviously for reasons that are quite personal.
The mystery aspect is handled very well, although some of the surprises are a little telegraphed and obvious to anyone familiar with the Sherlock Holmes stories. Some if this, it may be argued, is down to Russell's youthful naivety. For instance, on at least three occasions she is surprised to find that a stranger she encounters is Holmes in disguise, despite his tutoring her in those very skills. Likewise the denouement is, perhaps, a little telegraphed, but not so much as to lose its effectiveness.
One thing I am not so sure how I feel about is only alluded to in this book, although likely to become more apparent in later volumes. The closeness between Russell and Holmes develops beyond an attraction of mind to friendship and affection, but there are hints that it will go further. There is a mention of the main character's name later being Mary Russell-Holmes. This is far enough away from my conception of Holmes to make me uncertain; I will not dismiss the idea of a romantic attachment for Holmes out of hand, but I admit I am a little leery of it. Or perhaps it is the 40 year age gap that makes me uncomfortable.
That said, it is made quite clear early on that Russell feels Holmes has been misrepresented by Doyle's stories, based on Watson's journals. He is not the cold, emotionless calculating machine sometimes shown. I thought the portrayal of Holmes was informed by some of the screen representations, where an actor has invested the character with more feeling than is sometimes shown in the books. Jeremy Brett's wonderful turn in the long-running British TV series from the 80s and 90s comes to mind.
I should say a word about the preface. King sets the whole thing up that she is merely the editor of a trunkload of manuscripts sent anonymously to her, along with some items that seem to be connected, much in the way of George MacDonald Fraser with the Flashman papers. Even thought she openly states that she makes no claims for the veracity of the documents and that they may well be a work of fiction, this does add a nice layer, a nod toward Sherlock Holmes being one of those characters from fiction who is so much a part of public consciousness he has almost become a historical person....more
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 transportedThe 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.
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 SecThe 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....more
I wasn't sure how much I was going to enjoy this, but thought i'd give it a try. I confess I'm a bit averse to the whole urban fantasy thing at the moI wasn't sure how much I was going to enjoy this, but thought i'd give it a try. I confess I'm a bit averse to the whole urban fantasy thing at the moment. Even where it isn't the dreaded 'dark romance' *shudder*, mainstream urban fantasy – as opposed to the Good Stuff like Charles de Lint, Jonathan Carroll, early Christopher Fowler – generally leaves me cold in its ubiquity and lack of originality. Yes, I know there's a whole girl-power vibe going on with a lot of it – the Kelley Armstrongs and Laurell Hamiltons – but this seems to have already been hijacked by the money making machine spotting a new segment of consumer and a lot of the female oriented urban fantasy seems to cater toward the erotica/S&M taste (which is fine if that's your thing) or the truly offensive willing victimhood of Twilight (which IS NOT ALL RIGHT).
Anyway, that's really nothing to do with Harry Dresden books, but a more general stain that contaminates, rightly or wrongly, my view of the genre. Another mental barrier I had was that I'd sat through a few episodes of the TV series, hoping it would stop being utterly banal. But you can't blame the shortcomings of a screen adaptation on the source material, as Johnny Mnemonic testifies among many others.
So, cut to the actual review. Modern day Chicago. Harry Dresden is wizard for hire; an honest to god wielder of magic who uses his talent and training as a private investigator, his speciality finding lost things. The writing flows nicely, a first person voice in the style of your classic PI novel. The set up is classic Philip Marlow; attractive woman turns up wanting Dresden to find her missing husband. Dresden is also on retainer Chicago PD, and gets a call to look into a gruesome double murder that could only have been committed by powerful magic. One of the victims works for a local mob boss, and on the way back to meet his client Dresden gets a warning to leave the case alone. Could all the threads be connected?
The writing flows well and the narrative voice is nicely laconic (I listened to the audiobook, and James Marsters does a excellent job, truly inhabiting the role in a way too few readers manage). Dresden is not a tough guy private dick in the Philip Marlowe / continental op mould; he is quite insular and self-dependent, as a good PI should be. The shadows in his past aren't the broken marriage and heavy drinking of most detectives, but centre around his magic. It is this that makes him a loner (or this is the excuse he gives, at any rate) and the shadow is that when he was young he used his magic to kill someone. Even though this was in self-defence, it means that he is being watched by the Council, a body of elders that governs the use of magic in the world, and there are some who believe he is a danger.
The world set up was one of the things that didn't quite work for me; sometimes the setting seemed to be our world, with magic existing alongside the mundane (a rare, hidden talent of which most people are unaware) but the differences jarred slightly. Dresden says he got annoyed with explaining to people that he was an actual wizard and didn't pull rabbits out of hats or perform at children's parties (I did like the humour, by the way), but the new street drug is one that gives mundanes the illusion of second sight and magical awareness; when magic gets flung around in public people flee in terror, but there are less consequences than in the aftermath of a gunfight. It seemed to me that Butcher was undecided, or possibly unclear in his own head, whether the magical world is hidden from the mundane or integrated into it – although this is the first book and perhaps the world will become more defined as the series continues.
Storm Front was a light, fun read, with decent writing and some nice, low key jokes. There were aspects of the story that could have been stronger – Butcher could easily have made more of the wider effects of the street drug which is part of the plot, and I think he needs to make more of a decision about how gritty or light the series is – but I'm definitely intrigued enough to continue with the series....more