Tana French won my heart with this book. It's the first I've read of her work and it won't be the last.
I was well aware when I picked this novel up thTana French won my heart with this book. It's the first I've read of her work and it won't be the last.
I was well aware when I picked this novel up that it was Book #4 in the Dublin Murder Squad series. But from the description I figured it didn't matter. Luckily, I was right. If you're worried about spoilers, I am here to reassure you: don't worry about it.
The Breakdown: A family of four - Dad, Mom, Daughter, and Son - are attacked in their safe suburban home. Three of them have died, leaving Mom unconcious and struggling for her life. This kind of thing, unfortunately, could be found on the set of a Dr. Phil show or any newspaper around the world. The scenario's believability was what drew me to the story in the first place.
Enter Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy. He's a by-the-book detective with a decent solve rate. Let me tell you, he initially comes across as a total douchebag know-it-all and I had a hard time getting behind him. The good news is: his heart is in the right place. Eventually, you learn the hows and whys of him, and that's a good thing.
He's surrounded by some helpful folks that are genuinely easy to like - which gives Mick a certain likeability-by-contact. His partner, Richie, is all set to be a sharp-eyed detective. The crime scene techs and medical folks present technical material in a fun way. There's a lot of 'in' banter that makes you feel like you really are eavesdropping on crime scene discussions.
And, like all mysteries, these guys have to solve the crime. Hijinks ensue.
The Style: French's voice is undeniably artful. There are a lot of literary flourishes that make it pleasent to read, without ever turning 'purple.' Like this little sample from early on in the book, when Mick and his partner arrive at the crime scene:
"One of the uniforms was squatting awkwardly by his car, patting at someone in the back seat who was pretty clearly the source of the screaming. The other one was pacing in front of the gate, too fast, with his hands clasped behind his back. The air smelled fresh, sweet and salty: sea and fields. It was colder out there than it had been in Dublin. Wind whistled halfheartedly through scaffolding and exposed beams."
You get everything quickly, efficiently, and beautifully. You get the cops on the scene. You get a witness being handled. Plus you get the cold, and the wind, and the exposed bones of houses. It's like a graveyard. And French puts that thought in your head without having to do too many extras.
The Characters and Their Lines French also does a beautiful job of drawing her characters. Very early on she establishes line that these guys just won't cross. Not just one character. Every single character has a line that you don't think they're willing to crosse. It's the damndest, awesomest thing: every last one of them crosses the line that they set for themselves.
Don't think you could kill someone? If you're one of French's characters, you're going to. Don't think you could lie, cheat, or steal? French will find a way to make you do it. Don't think you could ever curse a family member or a friend? As one of French's creations, you'll be damning souls while shrieking down the street.
While it's not fun to watch people break down in real life, this book is almost a cathartic experience as you watch people struggle with social standing, money, family secrets, and that most catastrophic of events: death. Really, I don't know if it gets much better.
French's talent, I'm coming to think, is telling stories that feel as if they could not only happen - but be happening right now to a real person someFrench's talent, I'm coming to think, is telling stories that feel as if they could not only happen - but be happening right now to a real person somewhere in the world.
Years ago, Adam Ryan went missing for a day with his two best friends. The authorities found him, only him, covered in blood with no memory of what had happened. Flash forward a couple decades and Ryan is a cop with the Dublin Murder Squad who lands a child-murder in his old neighborhood.
Let the inner turmoil begin.
Ryan doesn't confess his past experience with the place to his superiors, he relies on his partner to keep his secret, and he tries to regain the memories that have been lost for so many years.
While all that is fascinating for its own sake, what's even better is how French delivers this mystery. I can't even begin to express how wonderfully written I felt this was. I could totally live in French's language - she manages to convey beauty and tragedy and heebie-jeebies all in one fell swoop.
When I put this book down, I was fully convinced not only that there were bad people in the world, but that there was something Dark living in the woods:
"These three children own the summer. They know the wood as surely as they know the microlandscapes of their own grazed knees; put them down blindfolded in any dell or clearing and they could find their way out without putting a foot wrong. This is their territory, and they rule it wild and lordly as young animals; they scramble through its trees and hide-and-seek in its hollows all the endless day long, and all night in their dreams...These children will not be coming of age, this or any other summer. This August will not ask them to find hidden reserves of strength and courage as they confront the complexity of the adult world and come away sadder and wiser and bonded for life. This summer has other requirements for them."
I can't even tell you how many goosebumps I got when I read that passage - and that's only on the second page. Seriously, I could pick up the book right now, flip open to any page, and find a passage or line that would be just as descriptive and creepy.
And if you love mysteries in general, I really think - just like in Broken Harbor - that you'll appreciate the procedural aspects of this mystery. It's the clues that get us from point A to point B, so there's a nice puzzle placed into the mix.
Perhaps that's what I'm enjoying most as I read through Tana French's work. She places broken characters in a personal situation - so you get to invest in the characters - but there's still all the gravity and fun of a regular mystery story - so you, as a reader, get to participate. Add to the formula that it's in Ireland and I'm over the moon. ...more
After The Night Season I was a little worried that we'd veered too far away from the evil incarnate that is Gretchen Lowell. But Cain brought it backAfter The Night Season I was a little worried that we'd veered too far away from the evil incarnate that is Gretchen Lowell. But Cain brought it back around beautifully and all the angst and personal interplay between Archie, Susan, and Gretchen is present and accounted for. And, again, I'm floored by how well the idea of a female serial killer works in these stories.
"Some professor wanted to look into the experience that time slows in life or death situations and he tied some graduate students to Bungee cords and pushed them off a ledge, and studied the results. His conclusion? In normal circumstances our brain culls details. In tense situations our mind stops culling – it notices everything – because you don’t know what detail is going to save your life. This is what creates the experience of time slowing—lots of details. The next time you’re writing a tension filled scene – maybe there’s a serial killer in it, maybe your character is asking someone out to prom – remember to stop culling. Notice everything. The acne on her forehead. The buttons on her shirt."
And that's how Cain pulls off making a believable woman serial killer. In the scenes where Gretchen Lowell makes an appearance, time seems to slow down. Archie - who is generally the POV character - sees every crease and pore in her face. He picks up the subtle nuances in her gestures and translates them for the reader. The details - and, in turn, Gretchen's darker motivations - come into stark relief. The result? The reader is totally invested in whether or not Gretchen has a razor blade or hypodermic needle hidden in her hand. Or is it just a hairbrush?
Cain takes the time to make Gretchen scary. And serial killers need to be scary. So, if you want to be scared - go read this book right now. ...more
"If there's a better book than this, I haven't written it." ~Stephen Colbert, quoted on the back of American Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never"If there's a better book than this, I haven't written it." ~Stephen Colbert, quoted on the back of American Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't
I think the first book review of the year should set the tone for the rest of the year. And what better way to start the year 2013 than reading and reviewing the book that has everything? In fact, it has so much of everything that I used every single one of my shelves to label it. I'm pretty sure that I'm still short a couple subjects.
Sure, I could've been reading Anna Karenina and learning about Imperial Russia with the rest of my book group instead of learning about the present American stuff I already know. But since my reading goal this year is 100 books - which is like reading everything - I should start my odyssey with the book that has everything. Everything American, that is. Anna Karenina just has affairs and trains and Keira Knightly and other stuff.
Tolstoy's book doesn't have anything that Colbert's book doesn't have.
Anna Karenina has extramarital affairs: America Again has illicit relations between politicians and food.
Anna Karenina has people who hate their jobs: America Again has resume how-tos.
Anna Karenina has 2-D: America Again has 3-D.
Anna Karenina has Siberia: America Again has North Dakota.
Anna Karenina was translated into English: America Again was written in American.
It's probably this last one where Tolstoy has managed to one-up Colbert. America Again has no, count them: none, award winning translators. We're just expected to understand paragraphs like: "But the Real Question is: are America's best days behind us? Of course they are, and always have been. We have the greatest history in the history of History. But never forget, our best days are also ahead of us, and always will be. Because America also has the Greatest Future in the history of the Future. It's our Present that's the problem...and always is be."
I mean, Colbert began two sentences in that paragraph with But. And fragments. You just don't do that. A good translator would've saved him some face-saving. ...more
I can't tell you how much I WANTED to LOVE this book. Everything about the premise was cool: a multi-media presentation, creepy isolated directors, cuI can't tell you how much I WANTED to LOVE this book. Everything about the premise was cool: a multi-media presentation, creepy isolated directors, cultish horror movies. There's nothing at all wrong with any of those things.
But about a third of the way in, I realized I was bored.
Here's McGrath, an investigative journalist who has had his life trashed because of his obsessive look into Stanislas Cordova -- a man who makes horror movies more legendary than anything Hitchcock or Wes Craven could dream of. McGrath believes Cordova does more than make cult-like films, he believes the director actually runs a cult of sorts. When Cordova's daughter, Ashley, kills herself, McGrath takes the opportunity to dig into Cordova once again -- this time determined to prove he was right about the reclusive genius once and for all.
McGrath suspects Cordova of everything under the sun: murder, mayhem, abuse, and witchcraft. He's running off an anonymous tip he got years ago, when a man named John called and warned, "There's something he does to the children."
Joined by Hopper, a street punk with a strange past, and Nora, a homeless girl with a strange past, McGrath digs into Ashley's death. Through the course of the investigation they break into all sorts of places (an asylum, a secret soiree, an antique store, and Cordova's compound residence). McGrath's apartment is broken into and all his research stolen. There are shadowy figures everywhere.
In spite of all this, however, I never felt a sense of threat.
Every situation that should be fraught with stress and danger just falls kinda flat. At one point, when the dynamic trio break onto Cordova's property, McGrath actually takes a nap after being chased by dogs. Admittedly, that's probably a result of the hypothermia he's suffering...but still, this is fiction. A nap? Really? The price of that real-life detail was tension. If a character can afford to fall asleep during his chase scene, there's not much for the reader to invest in.
And, unfortunately, one of the coolest conceits of the novel -- the multi-media excerpts from police reports, magazine articles, internet pieces, etc. -- flat-out stops a third of the way through. There are a couple articles at the end that read more like someone half-remembered to put it back in.
So, for me, it didn't ring the bells that I so wanted it to ring. I did enjoy the multi-media. I totally love the concept. The idea of evil overlord moviemaker is one of the coolest concepts on earth, with the possible exception of time-traveling Johnny Depp pirate overlords. In the end, I didn't fall in love with the characters and I really didn't feel they were ever in real danger -- which is one of the hardest blows to a mystery/horror novel. ...more
First, a brief low-down: A young man drives a Mercedes into crowd of job-seekers at a job fair. He kills eight people, wounds a bunch of others, and tFirst, a brief low-down: A young man drives a Mercedes into crowd of job-seekers at a job fair. He kills eight people, wounds a bunch of others, and then seems to drop off the face of the earth. Then we jump a year later and meet retired Detective Kermit William Hodges, a.k.a. Bill, who was the lead investigator on the case. Bill is depressed and considering suicide when the Mercedes Killer sends him a letter telling him to go ahead and off himself, unwittingly giving Bill a reason to live: namely, to hunt down the bastard who ran through a mass of people with a stolen Mercedes.
For those who may be looking for a horror fix...this isn't it. (Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.) Mr. Mercedes has more in common with Sue Grafton and J.K. Rowling's alter-ego Robert Galbraith than it does with The Shining or It. As a reader, I don't mind that at all. The bad guy is definitely bad and the good guy has enough questionable motives to make it a quick, interesting read.
There are definitely some plot holes and leaps of faith that the reader has to make, but if you read it quick enough (like I did) you won't think about the problems long enough to truly distract you.
My biggest issue (not counting plot holes and leaps of faith) with the novel related to a more basic issue -- it felt like the beginning of a series. I felt only marginally introduced to the main character (strange, right?) and his former partners. I was only gonna give this book two stars...then, lo, I arrive at Goodreads and find this is the first part of a trilogy? I have rounded my star rating up in hopes that the next couple novels will fix the distance-y issues I was experiencing.
An example of a 'distance-y' issue (a term I have coined my own self): The sidekicks. Jerome and Holly. First off, the sidekicks don't come into the story in any measurable way until almost the end, which was a bummer because they were great foils for Hodges that were massively under-utilized -- they could have presented the arguments and counter-arguments to Hodges thought process...rather than the reader going "What the hell, dude?" And considering the pivotal roles they play, it's kinda disappointing to not spend more time with them.
But, I mean, dudes, it's still King. Plenty of attitude and spark through the pages to keep 'em turning. I especially love the emails between hero and villain. Snarky. Good times. ...more
Now, I don't like to psychoanalyze writers based on their novels -- but this one strikes me as Galbraith/Rowling going "I'm gonna kill someone so violNow, I don't like to psychoanalyze writers based on their novels -- but this one strikes me as Galbraith/Rowling going "I'm gonna kill someone so violently that no one could possibly remember I wrote the bestsellingest children's series of all time."
Because the murder in this one -- it's gruesome. Wonderfully so. And grossly so.
There are only two things keeping me from rating this a full-out five stars:
1. I kept falling asleep. And it has nothing to do with anything being boring or off-pace. I think it has everything to do with Cormoran being so exhausted in the early chapters. He's barely slept. He talks about how achy he is and now he's got this gory murder to solve. He wants to sleep so badly that I think it made me tired. So I didn't read this as quickly as I've read the others.
2. For about the last eighth of the book, Cormoran knows whodunit -- he even tells his intrepid sidekick/assistant Robin who it is -- but not the reader. There's about twenty pages of obnoxious card-holding. And there aren't really any extra clues after that, so you kinda want to go back and re-read what you've read to see if you can make an educated guess before the big reveal -- which you know will be coming any minute because the narrative practically screams "You'll know who it is any minute now! Just not now! But in a minute!" Which is no fun.
But it's still awesome. There's a lot of novelist talk, which is fun coming from the bestsellingest novelist ever. ...more