Another fun Cormoran Strike mystery, slightly darker than The Cuckoo's Calling but anchored as before by the well-crafted main characters. My sister sAnother fun Cormoran Strike mystery, slightly darker than The Cuckoo's Calling but anchored as before by the well-crafted main characters. My sister says she envisions Cormoran Strike as Mad-Eye Moody transplanted into modern London, and once you think about it you won't be able to unsee it....more
My daughter has been tearing through these books at a pace of one a day (library e-books are awesome), so I thought I would read along with her. I enjMy daughter has been tearing through these books at a pace of one a day (library e-books are awesome), so I thought I would read along with her. I enjoyed the cleverness, the wordplay and gloomy aesthetic of the first 3 books, but the formula really wears thin in this one. You can really tell that even Handler is getting a bit bored with the repetition, although there are some nice moments here and there. However, the online consensus seems to be that the series really picks up somewhere around book 6 and develops into a much more interesting story arc from there on out. At least this one was short....more
The second book in the series that does what good second books do: continues the theme while deepening it. At times the parallelism with the first booThe second book in the series that does what good second books do: continues the theme while deepening it. At times the parallelism with the first book seems a little limiting, but Snicket also starts to reveal a little of the (more interesting) underlying mysteries, which promises the concluding volumes might be pretty cool. We'll see....more
The plot of this book revolves around one fact that is, frankly, not very realistic. The author does what she can to make it as plausible as possible,The plot of this book revolves around one fact that is, frankly, not very realistic. The author does what she can to make it as plausible as possible, but you really have to just hold your nose and accept it. What's remarkable about The Likeness is what the author does with the story, taking that one premise as a given. I suppose there's a logical reason mysteries don't typically have the detective impersonate the victim to solve the crime, but you have to admit it does ratchet up the suspense.
As with her debut In The Woods, Tana French writes wonderful characters. It's nice to see Cassie Maddox return, but the creation of the insular group of four co-dependent grad students is really her most impressive achievement and shows her considerable range as a writer. French also gets a lot of mileage out of the concept of undercover detective work, heaping a minor identity crisis on top of Cassie's precarious work situation. All told, I liked this one a bit better than In The Woods -- probably the best mystery novel I've read in a long time....more
This is book 1 of a new series from Lemony Snicket. I only ever read the first 3/13ths of A Series of Unfortunate Events, and I think I like this set-This is book 1 of a new series from Lemony Snicket. I only ever read the first 3/13ths of A Series of Unfortunate Events, and I think I like this set-up a bit better (although I understand that ASoUE gets better as it goes on). This time we get an origin story for teenage Lemony Snicket himself, as he travels to an amusingly gothic sea-less town to solve a mystery with his incompetent adult mentor. Much wordplay, punnage and witty banter ensues. The Snicket style is a good fit for mysteries, and it is clear that the author has honed his skills to a sharp point. Each character, each plot point, each line of dialogue feels eerily well-calibrated, like the whirring of some elaborate Rube Goldberg machine. It's a pretty entertaining start to the series, although it seems indulgent to divide one story into 4 short novellas. ...more
The Cuckoo's Calling is highly enjoyable, by-the-book murder mystery written by J.K. Rowling under a pseudonym. Apparently a stray comment followed byThe Cuckoo's Calling is highly enjoyable, by-the-book murder mystery written by J.K. Rowling under a pseudonym. Apparently a stray comment followed by some textual analysis outed her as the author, although it wasn't glaringly obvious to me from reading it that it was hers. In retrospect, her attention to emotional detail and the well-crafted characters certainly recall the Harry Potter books. Rowling also does an admirable job with the physics of murder mystery plotting, aiming for and hitting the sweet spot between Too Easy and Hopelessly Inscrutable. There are a couple of bread crumbs that she drops early on in the book that seem really cool once you reach the end. Hopefully she'll write more Cormoran Strike. I would definitely be psyched to read more in this vein....more
I'm not normally a murder mystery connoisseur but I found this book to be totally engrossing. While the mysteries themselves were reasonably interestiI'm not normally a murder mystery connoisseur but I found this book to be totally engrossing. While the mysteries themselves were reasonably interesting, in truth it was a the psychological journey of the protagonist that kept me up at night with the tale rattling around in my head. French is a beautiful writer with clear literary ambitions for this book. Her prose often works like the unsettling camera movements in a horror film, lending the story an undercurrent of darkness and impending doom that is always threatening to derail the logical murder mystery procedure.
First off, the principal mystery was interesting although very heavily foreshadowed. I fingered Rosalind as the culprit right after the scene where Maddox described her run-in with a psychopath during her time at university, and Ryan helpfully underlines that story as being crucial. It was already clear that Rosalind had been manipulating Ryan and that he couldn't see straight about her. The eventual resolution of that storyline was exciting and Rosalind makes a pretty good villain, although for my money the university psychopath was an even more unsettling character.
The fact that the 1984 disappearance remains unresolved by book's end is, of course, maddening. But you can kind of see why she did it. Based on the clues in the book she seems to halfway imply that the children were abducted by the pooka or some Bronze Age celtic sprite erupting forth into the modern world. As she says in the first few pages:
And who is it waiting on the riverbank with his hands in the willow branches, whose laughter tumbles swaying from a branch high above, whose is the face in the undergrowth in the corner of your eye, built of light and leaf-shadow, there and gone in a blink?
It's difficult to reconcile such a fantastical suggestion with the novel's realistic setting, so it ends up functioning as a comment on modern Ireland and a reflection on Ryan's psyche. It's Ryan's character arc that's the real gut-punch. By the end of the book he's basically destroyed, mostly through his own mistakes (as he admits) but also due to a moment of spectacular bad luck (or a contrived set-up from a sadistic author, you choose). He's a guy who had put a traumatic past behind him and had a shot at a good career and a happy life. It's painful to see him miss that shot so completely, and to be self-aware enough to get why it happened. (An interesting echo to Ryan's story is Friedrich Dürrenmatt's novella The Pledge, which was made into a real downer of a movie starring Jack Nicholson.)
Looking ahead to her second novel, The Likeness, I am psyched to read more by her -- and oddly comforted to see who the protagonist is. Maybe French will someday revisit the woods to tell us what really happened. I would read it. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
We are reading these out loud to our 5 year old, and they're pretty fun. This first book does an efficient job setting up the premise and establishingWe are reading these out loud to our 5 year old, and they're pretty fun. This first book does an efficient job setting up the premise and establishing its pessimistic, mini-gothic tone. It'll be interesting to see if he can maintain the quality over 13 books....more
Clay Jannon gets laid off from web-designing and takes a job working the night shift at an unusual San Francisco bookstore. That's the set-up for RobiClay Jannon gets laid off from web-designing and takes a job working the night shift at an unusual San Francisco bookstore. That's the set-up for Robin Sloan's highly enjoyable intellectual scavenger hunt. Along the way we learn about fonts, 3D data viz, online marketing, the Cult of Google, and the Singularity. You can place this book somewhere in the middle of the Dan Brown-to-Umberto Eco continuum of crypto-mysteries -- neither insultingly flimsy nor intimidatingly dense.
Penumbra does deviate from the usual script a little bit. While most books of this sort play up the gothic romance of hidden knowledge and secret societies, Sloan's book is bathed in a particularly sunny brand of techno-optimism. The shadowy corridors here are all brightly illuminated. The book is also an engaging page turner. In fact, you could almost say it is a little too agreeable. The characters are interesting, the plot zips along, but the stakes just never seem very high. Maybe it's the California setting. It's hard to worry too much about the apocalypse when the weather is this nice.
But unfortunately I do have a major quibble. (SPOILERS ahead.) (view spoiler)[It turns out that the key to deciphering the Manutius codex vitae lies in the details of the font used to print it. This is a clever idea thematically, but a disaster from a mathematical perspective. It means that the encryption is a simple substitution cipher, easily cracked by the oldest of cryptanalytic techniques -- frequency analysis. In other words, there is no way that this code would have been strong enough to withstand 500 years of intense analysis by the Unbroken Spine, much less the full power of Google.
Now, it may seem like I'm just kicking puppies here. If the book is enjoyable and the nerdy details don't quite add up, who cares, right? Well... sure, up to a point. But the author explicitly invites questions about the usefulness of modern technology, as opposed to "Old Knowledge," so you would think he would work a little harder to get the central MacGuffin right. (hide spoiler)] Despite all that, definitely worth a read.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A thoughtful and even moving police procedural from one of the key writers for The Wire. If you're a fan of the TV show you'll find the same mix ofA thoughtful and even moving police procedural from one of the key writers for The Wire. If you're a fan of the TV show you'll find the same mix of socio-political observation and strong character building at play here. The story is set in the boundary between NE Washington DC and Prince Georges County and I admit I was at least a little bit jazzed to recognize some of the neighborhoods. Pelecanos is more interested in using the murder mystery to reflect on the changing face of the city than he is in crafting a fast-paced thriller. This is a slower, more contemplative mystery, but very satisfying in the end....more
Loved it. Inherent Vice is Thomas Pynchon at his most "groovy" and accessible. He has dialed back the abstract philosophizing and limited his obscureLoved it. Inherent Vice is Thomas Pynchon at his most "groovy" and accessible. He has dialed back the abstract philosophizing and limited his obscure cultural references to pop songs and films, and the result is a hilariously readable shaggy-dog LA crime story. In some circles silly-Pynchon is inherently less important or prestigious than serious-Pynchon, but I don't buy it. There is actually a lot of emotional and political weight behind this story, which only rises to the surface in the book's final chapters.
A companion piece to Pynchon's other "accessible" California novel The Crying of Lot 49, this one is also a warped take on the traditional mystery novel. Lot 49 was set at the beginning of the 1960s and directly inverted the form of the genre -- starting out in the clear certainty of mid-century American normality and adding sex, drugs, coincidences, conspiracies and paranoia with each chapter until by the end the protagonist is cut loose from everything she can trust. By contrast, Inherent Vice is about the closing of the 60s and the last gasps of that strand of idealism. The story involves hippie pothead PI Doc Sportello, investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend's billionaire lover. In the grand tradition of Chinatown, he digs up an ugly conspiracy that involves drug smuggling and the LAPD, prison gangs and right-wing politicians.
The other touchstone here is naturally The Big Lebowski. You can draw a lot of parallels between Sportello and The Dude. There are a lot of drug and stoner jokes here, most of them pretty funny. Many of the other Pynchon hallmarks are found too, like the bizarre names and goofy song lyrics, but unlike a lot of his other novels, the dialogue and character building are put in the foreground. (At times he even reads a bit like Elmore Leonard.) This time around he doesn't subvert the detective noir genre so much as revel in it, adding characters, plot twists and double crosses right and left.
Ultimately it becomes clear what he's getting at and it stands as his clearest statement of solidarity with the freaks and weirdos who build "temporary communes" to stand against the machinery of death and to "help each other home through the fog." As one minor character puts it, "what I am is, is like a small-diameter pearl of the Orient rolling around on the floor of late capitalism-- lowlifes of all income levels may step on me now and then but if they do it'll be them who slip and fall and on a good day break their ass, while the ol' pearl herself just goes a-rollin' on.” ...more
When I read the subtitle of this book -- A Sheep Detective Story -- I imagined an adorable, straightforward mystery novel. I mean, what a cute idea toWhen I read the subtitle of this book -- A Sheep Detective Story -- I imagined an adorable, straightforward mystery novel. I mean, what a cute idea to have a flock of sheep solve the murder of their shepherd, right? The smart sheep is even named Miss Maple. You want me to draw you a map?
And don't get me wrong, that adorable genre exercise can be found within these pages, and if you're one of those people who find sheep to be an inherently funny and/or cute animal, you'll be reliably entertained. But there's also a lot more going on here than that. Most interesting is that the the inability of the sheep to understand human actions, which starts out as a running joke, ends up as a commentary on our inability to step outside our own perspective and really understand other people (or sheep).
Ultimately, I enjoyed the added philosophical meanderings, although I felt like some of it was overly cryptic....more
Originally read this back in high school (1995?) and picked it up against recently... E.L. Doctorow's atmospheric take on Gilded Age New York City isOriginally read this back in high school (1995?) and picked it up against recently... E.L. Doctorow's atmospheric take on Gilded Age New York City is the real star of the show here, and his central mystery manages a good balance between intellectual questioning and Sherlock Holmes-style romance. But comparison to the famous detective highlights the book's biggest flaw: the total lack of interesting characters. Holmes is a charming and fascinating creation, but by contrast, Doctorow's heroes--McIlvaine and Donne--are pretty lifeless. Interesting things happen, the plot twists darkly, lovely images are painted with words, but there's no real beating heart to the story.
Still The Waterworks is almost always intriguing and well-written (ignoring for now his... puzzling... overuse of... ellipses). One passage that stuck in my head was this one (p.229):
"Ever since this day I have dreamt sometimes... I, a street rat in my soul, dream even now... that if it were possible to life this littered, paved Manhattan from the earth... and all its torn and dripping pipes and conduits and tunnels and tracks and cables--all of it, like a scab from new skin underneath--how seedlings would sprout and freshets bubble up, and brush and grasses would grow over the rolling hills..."...more
I found this book to be hugely entertaining. It is a classic gothic romance set in Civil War-era Barcelona and features every murky plot twist you couI found this book to be hugely entertaining. It is a classic gothic romance set in Civil War-era Barcelona and features every murky plot twist you could think of -- doomed lovers, revenge, mistaken identities, political intrigue and of course, tortured artists. Not the "deepest" book you'll ever read, but a lot of fun and very well-written....more
In some ways the detective genre has disciplined his writing. His canvas is much smaller here than with PSS, his socialist politics pushed to the background and his ornate prose streamlined. He has given himself another rich urban setting--two cities in fact, bizarrely intertwined, the setting for a murder.
And yet I am reminded of a review I once read of Jose Saramago's great novel, Blindness. The reviewer was puzzled as to what, exactly, the plague of blindness in that book represented. He concluded that Blindness was ultimately a novel about "not being able to see." I took that to mean that the book was powerfully resonant of all the horrors of the 20th century - war, genocide, etc. - but in the end abstracted beyond all specifics.
Something similar is happening with TC&TC. Mieville is careful not to make his allegory too ham-fisted. Instead he makes it a puzzle to solve - and a hook on which to hang our political obsessions. Certainly, it seems, he must be talking about the status of immigrants, or minorities, or the invisibility of the poor. Bilingual nations, multicultural cities. Or all of the above. Or something.
Like PSS, the ending is unsatisfying, but for the opposite reason. Here MIeville isn't stuck piling useless subplots atop one another, rather he has over-corrected and cuts his plot short with an ending that left me wanting more more, and not in a good way.
At any rate, I never got bored with this one, and I continue to be impressed with Mieville as a writer. I'm just waiting for him to hit one out of the park....more