Trying to put all of my thoughts together about this book was like giving birth, I swear. It took me forever, even after having read this book twice.
WTrying to put all of my thoughts together about this book was like giving birth, I swear. It took me forever, even after having read this book twice.
When you begin reading C, you immediately discover that you’re in for something well off the beaten path. The book is divided into four parts: the first offers the main character’s (Serge Carrefax) birth and childhood. At the time of Serge’s birth, as we learn from Serge’s father, the inventor Marconi was out on Salisbury Plain, doing his final demonstrations of his new wireless radio (he would receive the patent from the British that same year). Marconi’s invention proved that radio waves could travel through air, rather than through wires – from a transmitter to a receiver and ushered in the birth of modern telecommunications. This theme of transmission and receiving becomes a solid core element of McCarthy’s novel.
Serge has a rather unconventional childhood, with a father who runs a school for the deaf (where he focuses on teaching them to speak) and is obsessed with communications and technology. The first time we meet Simeon, he’s in the midst of spooling copper wire all around the grounds of the family home, Versoie, experimenting with signal transmission. Simeon hopes to find “a patent way for using radio to sense the weather in advance.” His mother raises silkworms, processing their cocoons to produce silk that brings very high prices on the market. He also has an older sister, Sophie. As they grow up, they are great playmates and friends. They are both interested in codes and ciphers (unlike their father, who believes codes & encryption go “against the whole principle of communication”), combing through the Times personals to find secret messages; they become involved in a rather complicated game of Monopoly designed by their tutor on the Versoie grounds (where there is constant noise and humming, both natural and technological – so that the grounds of their home are literally alive) where they come to thrive on the competition; both enjoy experimenting with chemistry from the Boy’s Playbook of Science – in other words, they grow up with a close connection to each other, as close as two siblings can be – much like two complementary opposites of a whole.
Sophie has a love for the natural world, and when she’s older, chooses to study natural science. Serge is like his father, more on the scientific end. He spends a great deal of time listening to the wireless, picking up static (“like the sound of thinking….the sound of thought itself, its hum and rush”), and then silence, and finally the “first quiet clicks” where “words start forming…”. He starts out on the local frequencies, moving out farther and farther into the airwaves, to Paris, then on to even higher frequencies, and as the clock climbs to the top of the hour, there’s silence – then the clicks start up again. As he listens, he conjures up images local to where the transmissions are originating. And at some point, the clicks dissipate, and “wireless ghosts come and go, moving in arpeggios that loop, repeat, mutate, then disappear.” But then…trauma strikes in the form of Sophie's death and as a result, Serge ends up at a sanitorium, where his doctor notes the cause and the cure: “…Blockage. Jam, block, stuck. Instead of transformation, only repetition…Blockage must be broken, then body and soul will open up, like flowers…Out now…Go and start transforming.” So...it begins.
The second part finds Serge off to the first world war, to the British Air Force, working as an aerial observer, where he is able to see from above. Conversely, when taken prisoner, he finds solace in staying below in the tunnels. It is during his time as in the war that he also discovers the joy of cocaine, at first rubbing it in his eyes and then moving on to snorting it, offering him a heightened sense of awareness & perception. He continues his drug use once back in London where he hangs out with some very off-beat people living a rather Bohemian lifestyle as part three of the book begins, and in part four, Serge is off the Egypt, where it’s now 1922, and Egypt is celebrating its nominal independence from the once-great British Empire. He’s down in the crypts, exploring the history of the ancients, leading to an impressive and appropriate finish.
At first glance, this book seems to be a rather conventional novel. And in some sense it pretends to be: it’s a sort of coming-of-age story, told linearly, along the path of technological progress in the opening years of the 20th century. That’s what most conventional readers are used to. But when you start getting into it, McCarthy muddies those particular waters by adding in his theme of transmission and repetition throughout the novel, giving the reader pause for thought. You have to ask yourself: what is actually being transmitted here – what is being repeated?
This book isn't very user friendly, but in many ways, this stems from trying to unlock the keys to the puzzles here, of which there are many. I I think that part of what McCarthy is trying to show is the sense of loss, despair and a sense of alienation that began to make its way into the realms of literature & art and characterize this period of time in history -- all of these are reflected in Serge at the loss of his sister. Major dislocations across the world occurred during this time, not the least of which was a new web of "interconnectedness" (for lack of a better term) and "webs" across the globe. This was made possible by technology that furthered communication, transportation and, as the author notes toward the end, the beginnings of "Westernization" (and fyi, I hate that word) desired by many formerly-colonized countries as the power of the Empire began to wane across the globe. Societies that once were based on tradition now wanted what the "West" had -- and in some cases, this wasn't always a good thing. But I digress. Serge spends a great deal of his young life seeking to make connections that rationality (logic and reason) can't really explain -- and ultimately, it is not until he is down with the dead in Egypt and then on a boat home that things begin to converge for him. I think that my lack of familiarity with some of the art & literature referenced (and derived from) by the author put me at a definite disadvantage. But I've come to realize that it doesn't really matter.
After the second reading, I decided I liked the book, didn't love it, but I do recognize that McCarthy is an extremely talented writer. I want to try his book on Tintin next. I don't know if this is a book that the general public is going to embrace, but it's still very worth the time you spend reading it. ...more
I was expecting a lot more out of this one considering the teasing and tantalizing blurbs on the back of the book.
The story is told via the use of di I was expecting a lot more out of this one considering the teasing and tantalizing blurbs on the back of the book.
The story is told via the use of different narratives, one of them being from the point of view of Alice Fancourt, who has just come home with her new baby Florence. Alice and her husband David, Florence and David's young son from a previous marriage all live at the home of David's mother, Vivienne Fancourt, where Vivienne rules the roost in her lavish house called The Elms. As the story opens, Alice has left the house for a while for the first time since she delivered Florence via C-section. When she returns, she checks in on the baby and lo and behold, it's not Florence. Her husband, David, thinks that Alice is a bit disturbed and probably suffering from a case of postpartum depression, and swears that the baby is definitely Florence. But Alice thinks that a mother definitely knows her own baby -- and calls in the police. Enter Simon Waterhouse and his DS Charlie Zailer. There's absolutely no proof that Florence isn't Florence, so there's really no case, but things change when just a week later the baby and Alice go missing...and Waterhouse begins to take a second and more serious look at what's really going on here.
I was definitely quite hooked on the story up until the end when I thought it all fell apart. However, I can't explain without giving away the show so I'll let it go. Let's just say that I wasn't disappointed in the ending, as were many people for reasons I won't get into here, but the way it was just sort of thrust at me made it feel rushed and contrived. I think more of that particular plotline needed to be developed up to that point to have it all make more sense. It's also definitely a book demanding reader participation.
Overall, it's a decent read, and I would recommend it for people who like suspense novels. ...more
another review which suffers from the inability to make half a star. It's a 3.5, actually, rounding up to a 4 even though I don't think it's that goodanother review which suffers from the inability to make half a star. It's a 3.5, actually, rounding up to a 4 even though I don't think it's that good.
#2 in the series featuring Inspector John Rebus. In this installment, John Rebus is called in to investigate the death of a drug addict in a dilapidated flat in one of the worst parts of Edinburgh. He notices a lot of strange things right away, and shares his findings his fellow officers who do not seem to care. It's just another OD. The victim's girlfriend, however, says that the last thing he said was "Hide..." and that "they" murdered him. Rebus' investigation takes him into both the seamy side of Edinburgh as well as its social heights.
The mystery is solid, and the message the reader is left with is no surprise, but I'm still not sure that Rankin (at this juncture -- I haven't read any others but the first in the series) has a handle on exactly who he wants Rebus to become characterwise. His personal life is a bit of a mystery and he dislikes interacting with other policemen unless he feels an absolute need, And although this book is listed as a police procedural, I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. I also have to note that the ending was a bit rushed and a little unsatisfying.
Overall the book was good -- I love the way Rankin writes, and Rebus is so enigmatic that I have to keep reading the series to see what happens with his character. Definitely recommended for readers of UK crime fiction. ...more
The Red Widow Murders is book three in the series featuring Sir Henry Merrivale (HM to his friends). And this one is a doosie. It seems that a group oThe Red Widow Murders is book three in the series featuring Sir Henry Merrivale (HM to his friends). And this one is a doosie. It seems that a group of people have gathered at the home of Lord Mantling, where nine of them draw cards to see who will spend a few hours alone in the so-called Red Widow's room, the scene of unexplained deaths going back to 1803. The cards are revealed, and it is one Mr. Bender who goes off to spend the night alone. Every fifteen minutes someone asks if he's okay, and he always answers. When time's up the other 8 people open the door, and there lies Bender, dead. But there was no way in or out of that room, and he'd been answering their queries the entire time. So how could this happen? Sir Henry Merrivale to the rescue, to uncover the truth.
Fun fun fun! There's something to be said about the pleasure of reading these old, vintage mystery novels, with their often elaborately-plotted crimes and solutions that even if you tried, you couldn't guess. Especially in this one, where there are a number of suspects, plenty of clues, and an equal number of red herrings left for the reader to sift through. The Red Widow Murders also offers its readers a great backstory which in and of itself is a bit chilling.
Unlike some of his other works, The Red Widow Murders isn't weighted down by a lot of archaisms, and it moves at a very nice pace. The characters are well drawn, the atmosphere is perfect, the story is a good one, and the mystery will leave you hanging until the very end. This one I can definitely recommend, especially to fans of golden-age mystery novels and of John Dickson Carr in particular. It's not a cozy novel by any stretch, and modern readers of mystery may find it a bit slow considering the fast pace of novels nowadays. However, if you are a dyed-in-the-wool fan of vintage crime, like me, it really is worth every minute you put into it. ...more
Having read somewhere that fans of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo would also like this book, I picked it up. It's nothing like Stieg Larsson's book at alHaving read somewhere that fans of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo would also like this book, I picked it up. It's nothing like Stieg Larsson's book at all. In his novel, there's a mystery to be had as well as a strong heroine who lives by her own inner sense of morality and never wavers. Here, what you've got is a police procedural, a story of revenge and betrayal, and at its heart, an ethical and moral dilemma. That's not to say that this isn't a good book (it is), but it's a different animal altogether than Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
The main focus of this novel centers around the sex-slave trade. Young girls Lydia Grajauskas and Alena Sljusareva lived in Lithuania until promises of good jobs in Sweden brought them there, only to realize the first night on the boat trip to their new home that they had been horribly misled. They find themselves locked in the rooms of a house, prisoners, kept there by a nasty piece of work named Dmitri, brutalized into submission and forced to perform twelve times a day for various regular clientele. Their situation has lasted three years and comes to a head one day, bringing the police into the situation, beginning a story that will absolutely make you cringe and want to look away as you read it. But you can't.
Aside from Lydia and Alena, the main characters in the novel are policemen, especially Ewert Grens, a detective who has been obsessively gunning for a criminal named Jochum Lang who years earlier, caused Grens' partner Anni to live in a permanent state of brain damage and to be confined to a wheelchair. Grens is a puzzle to his co-workers -- his crime-solving rate is high, and he's good at his job, but since Anni's accident, he's been a loner, spending his time as a chronic workaholic, finding some solace in the music of a pop singer from the 1960s. As Grens works the case involving Lydia and Alena, he comes into possession of some information that leads him to a critical juncture both in his life and in his career. His partner, Sundqvist, can't figure out what's going on until an order from above sends him off to find out the truth.
This is a dark book all the way through to the last page, which actually made my blood run cold. There are no feel-good or warm fuzzy moments here, no happy endings, and you will definitely have food for thought after you've finished. It's well written, the plotlines hang together well and all in all it is a great read. I'd recommend it to people who like Scandinavian crime fiction, or crime fiction in general on a somewhat more gritty and realistic level than the usual fare. ...more
At book three in this series it's getting harder to come up with new things to say about Chandler's Marlowe novels. Yes, I could offer up some of ChanAt book three in this series it's getting harder to come up with new things to say about Chandler's Marlowe novels. Yes, I could offer up some of Chandler's clever similes or metaphors which change with each book, but I'm not going to do that. These novels are, in a word, excellent. Whether you read them for the writing, the often-cumbersome plots or the unforgettable characters, especially that of Philip Marlowe, considering that they were written around 70 years ago, the high quality of these books has remained steady so far. If you want to know about plot,I'm not bringing it out here; you can see what the book's about elsewhere.
Aside from Chandler's witty metaphors, very cool prose and his take on the sprawl that is Los Angeles (which I am absolutely fascinated by, probably more than anything else in these books) what I am beginning to appreciate more about these novels is in the way Chandler explores people. Getting to the whodunit and most especially the why is really a vehicle for exploring individual psyches, especially Marlowe's. He becomes much more of a damsel-in-distress rescuer in this book, and continues his moral duty of keeping his client shielded from any possible fallout, even though it might mean that he soils his integrity in the bargain. He continues to hold onto his principled self -- his twenty-five dollars a day plus expenses is all he wants -- he can't be bought off, despite the expectations of clients and crooks alike. He works hard to get not only to the truth, but also to the heart of just what it is about people that makes them tick. But it's not just Marlowe -- pretty much anyone who takes any role in Marlowe's investigations gets even the tiniest bit of psychological air time from his or her creator. It's these individual stories when combined that showcase the people who exist in Marlowe's city; his interactions with these people who help to define who Marlowe is. And isn't.
The High Window didn't feel as clunky or convoluted plotwise as its predecessors -- I am having so much fun with these novels and this one did not disappoint. ...more
Absolutely recommended! Don't be put off by the structure of this book -- I think it's done very well... the first and last of the short stories proviAbsolutely recommended! Don't be put off by the structure of this book -- I think it's done very well... the first and last of the short stories provide a cover for the stories in between the two; you don't have to work really hard to make connections among the stories. The story of the dew breaker is found in interconnecting threads among these stories, and gives you maybe just a little glimpse (because, frankly, unless you lived it, I don't think anyone could fully understand the turmoil and upheavals in Haiti's history) of what people had to go through under the reign of one of Haiti's worst dictators in its history, and the people caught up in having some little semblance of power under his regime.
On page 117, the author notes of one of the characters, "Aline had never imagined that people like Beatrice existed, men and women whose tremendous agonies filled every blank space in their lives." This is true not only of the victims of the Macoutes (the militia that formed under the new dictatorship of Duvalier after his father), but of those who, like the main character of this novel, were a part of the regime's killing/torture machine and later lived to face their own kind of torture having to relive what they did. So in a sense, you might argue that these people did have face their own brand of justice: alienation from other Haitians in their new homes after they fled, having to hide their identities from everyone, including family members, from fear that they might be found out.
Haiti and its history has long held a fascination for me, and this book adds a little to my understanding of this country which seems to have always been in a state of upheaval. I highly recommend this book, and I have three others by this author sitting on my shelves waiting to be read....more
A fine history of a case I knew absolutely nothing about, but now am off in search of more info. I recommend it very highly, but keep in mind that thiA fine history of a case I knew absolutely nothing about, but now am off in search of more info. I recommend it very highly, but keep in mind that this is not a novel, but a history, and that as such, even though it moves quickly, there are times when the author doesn't go from point A to point B as in a novel but stops to present factors that led up to this period in time.
The case in question begins in 1925 in Detroit, when Dr. Ossian Sweet and his wife move into a house that is outside the boundaries of the "colored" area (I'm just using the terminology in the book here which was appropriate to the time period). Ossian, his wife Gladys, Ossian's brother Henry & some friends were over at the house all preparing to eat the first meal in their new house when a neighborhood mob moved in front of the house & began pelting the house with stones etc. They prepared themselves for the worst, but nothing more happened. On the second night, Ossian was ready. He had gathered the same people & a few more (at that time 11 total in the house), and when the mob gathered again and the rocks started flying and actually broke windows in the house, Henry & whoever was upstairs with him started firing into the crowd, killing one man & wounding another. The police took everyone in the house in custody, & eventually all 11 were charged with murder or conspiracy to commit murder. The state contended that there was no mob at all and that Ossian's brother & friends had fired into the crowd unprovoked, killing a man. Eventually the group was put into prison, awaiting trial, and were ultimately defended by Clarence Darrow.
That's the central case; what this book does is to examine the factors behind the allegations, and to examine the motivation of Ossian's neighbors as they worked themselves into mob frenzy. It also looks at racial attitudes on both sides of the coin prevalent at the time, politics both locally in Detroit and nationally, the use of this case by the NAACP, among other issues. In telling Ossian's story, the author also goes into Ossian's family history, as well as that of his wife Gladys from slavery onward, and the history of racial attitudes both North and South.
For example, Boyle goes into great detail about the southern migration of blacks to the north and their attempts to escape Jim Crow only to find themselves victims of the same types of prejudices. Specifically discussing Detroit, the author goes into great detail explaining that the police department was filled with KKK members; he explains the economics behind why, beyond the simple reason of prejudice, white people did not want blacks in their neighborhoods and what happened to those African-Americans who moved into those neighborhoods; he also goes into the politics involved in organizing a defense for the 11 accused & battles fought based on this case against segregation in all aspects of life.
It is really a captivating story, backed up by personal interviews & other primary sources as well as other references. I definitely think if you are interested in the topics of segregation, civil rights, racial attitudes or the workings of the NAACP, you will not want to miss this book. ...more
Blood Done Sign My Name is a superb story by a superb author. I would most definitely recommend it to anyone seeking to further their knowledge of civBlood Done Sign My Name is a superb story by a superb author. I would most definitely recommend it to anyone seeking to further their knowledge of civil rights history; sadly (and as the author points out) just because back in the 50s & 60s Congress passed civil rights bills doesn't mean that these were ever fully implemented or accepted. In Tyson's book, he tells of an incident that took place in North Carolina as late as 1992, and I'm sure that the long-standing prejudices continue to foster ugly incidents into the present. So if you are interested in this topic, pick up this book.
brief synopsis; my impressions
"Blood Done Sign My Name," as the author notes on page 319 of this book, "started out as a slave spiritual. After the fall of the Confederacy it emerged as a paradoxical blues lament..." then "evolved into a gospel song," then in the 1940s sung by a group called The Radio Four, "elevates the transcendent spirit of gospel, but," notes the author, "listen closely and you can hear Chuck Berry down the line." Like the evolution of that song, the author's "hopes for this country have taken a similar trajectory," and his "ascendant spirits, like the future of our country, depend upon an honest confrontation with our own history." (319)
This book is not just another retelling of the stories of the civil rights movement ... it starts in 1970, actually, when two boys (one of them the author) are playing basketball and the other boy says to the author "Daddy and Roger and 'em shot a nigger." (1) Both boys were ten, living in Oxford NC; it was this incident which was the spark that set off the fire of unrest & violence in this small town; the book describes how the acts from both sides of the color line affected him, his family and the other members of this small town. While he keeps this story as the focal point of the book, he goes on to tell of his own roots, and his personal experiences during the volatile 70s -- during the time of Watergate, the Vietnam War -- up through the present when he took a group of students on a tour of the South. His story is fascinating & compelling; I couldn't put it down.
To be truthful, at first I wondered where all of this story about his family was going & why put it alongside a story about a terrible injustice. But eventually, it all ties together; the story could not have been done as well as it was without it.
I totally enjoyed the book and I'm going to get the author's other book now. Please do yourself a favor & read this book! ...more
Technically, this one I'd probably rate like a 3.5 or so (when are we going to get this option?)
I've read four books in this series now, and this oneTechnically, this one I'd probably rate like a 3.5 or so (when are we going to get this option?)
I've read four books in this series now, and this one wasn't my favorite, although it is still quite good. In this, the 3rd installment of the Bryant and May mysteries (of the Peculiar Crimes Unit), the two detectives and the others of the PCU are faced with the fact that someone is out to get the Whitstable family and is killing them off by incredibly deadly means, starting off with the death of Peter Whitstable, who, dressed in Edwardian clothing, decides to deface a painting on loan to the National Gallery. As more members of the family are murdered, the detectives realize that someone has a vendetta against the entire family -- and even the family's attorney, who becomes a victim of snakebite after a visit to the restroom of the Ritz. But when Bryant and May question the family as to what they know, or as to who might be wanting to take them out one by one, nobody is talking. What they are doing is screaming that the police are doing nothing, and they are threatening to sue unless they get some protection. But even then, Bryant and May find it incredibly difficult dealing with this very peculiar family. When they finally work out what's happening, the solution is probably one of the strangest they've ever encountered.
Once again, the writing is good, the characters are drawn really well (the Whitstables are so well done that you'll hate them all). Fowler's look at London's history is downright amazing (a lot of knowledge there) and as always, Bryant and May are their quirky selves. The problem here is that the solution is very clunky, complicated and difficult to understand ... I had to go back and reread it not just once but a couple of times until it made sense. But the getting there was most of the fun. Definitely recommended to people considering whether or not to continue in the series, and recommended to mystery readers who want something different. Don't start here, though... do begin with the first book. ...more