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This - along with a number of solid history tomes and some Russian literature - was on the introductory reading list for a Masters module on Soviet anThis - along with a number of solid history tomes and some Russian literature - was on the introductory reading list for a Masters module on Soviet and recent Russian history. [Before friends ask, I'm not actually studying it, but I would if in more suitable circumstances and able to afford it comfortably.] With this provenance, the historical accuracy would probably be a cut above your average detective novel set in the past. I also got into reading Nordic thrillers the same way, beginning with some that were on an old UCL Scandinavian Studies reading list.
And everything about the general atmosphere and background behaviour of characters rings true with what I've read previously about Stalinist Russia. As in all but the most ploddingly realistic of procedurals, there are scenes that stretch credulity a bit, but having a main character with a history of dumb luck certainly helps. Besides it was often thanks to improbable luck that real people survived times like that. It does feature some scenes of torture, but, because they fit the setting completely, I find them less unpleasant and gratuitous than in a contemporary mystery about a serial killer written just for the hell of it. It's interesting to see how the traditional fictional detective template (Korolev is divorced, in his forties and doesn't mind a drink) is adjusted to the environment of Russia in 1936, because no one could really be too much of a maverick and get away with it, and it would be too ridiculous to pretend otherwise.
This is better written than the average procedural, though it's still not one for those who insist only on the very finest of writing. I thought the author struck the right balance in using his research without excess infodumping, interesting, a bit of exposition for the reader unfamiliar with some of the circumstances, but not overly forced, (and there's a great list of books in the back about daily life under Stalin). The main irritation was the amount of physical description of characters. New person appears, we get a paragraph on what they look like. It's not sexualised or overly idealised; there's just too great a quantity. But at least it doesn't use characters looking into mirrors as a device. Readers who get tired of sexism in historical mysteries may be pleasantly surprised that there's very little here, without its making a point of being overly modern. It also doesn't let the reader get too comfortable: the characters whom, in a contemporary procedural, you'd look forward to seeing in the next book... not all of them survive; they wouldn't have. It also manages to have more nuance than many would write in fiction about this era, as there are some more reasonable individuals among the police and Chekha; it's not as if everyone except the protagonist is evil, and some characters turn out to have dimensions you wouldn't expect. (Although the basics of one plotline proved guessable.)
Isaac Babel is a supporting character with a significant role. I have only read his Odessa Stories, so I'm not sure how much Ryan is paying tribute to Babel for having inspired some of The Holy Thief via later stories set in Moscow. If he was, I thought it was quite elegantly done. It's an affectionate and characterful portrayal of the writer, so I would think that as a fan one would have to be rather humourless to mind it, and also to have missed the point of a genre novel like this one.
Sometimes wondered if I ought to give it 3/3.5 because not everyone I know on GR would think it their cup of tea, but there are two people to whom I'd actively recommend it (for the combination of procedural and Russian history) - and I enjoyed it throughout, and was looking at others in the series before I was anywhere near finished....more
One of my favourite authors writes a modern retelling of my favourite Shakespeare play ('favourite' seems such a silly word to use of Lear), yet I canOne of my favourite authors writes a modern retelling of my favourite Shakespeare play ('favourite' seems such a silly word to use of Lear), yet I can't help be apprehensive about these projects....more
[3.5] This is pretty much spot on about the scale of the refugee crisis in real 2017 (esp if you also consider the hardline policies of Australia in t[3.5] This is pretty much spot on about the scale of the refugee crisis in real 2017 (esp if you also consider the hardline policies of Australia in the mix) - except that volunteers seeking to help refugees in Southern Europe aren't regarded as such a problem, and she missed the phenomenon of right wing groups trying to down refugee boats. And talking of the right wing, the sense of political polarisation isn't far wrong, though would have rang truer in 2016 before the backlash against UKIP started. Water wars, however, including Israel-Palestine and skirmishes in Western Europe and state-against-state standoffs in the US - those, well, the two latter anyway, probably have a few decades to go.
This is a tighter novel than The Carbon Diaries 2015, but there isn't anything like as much about the carbon rationing scheme here as in the first book. It's become a more normal part of life for the characters. The similarity of the refugee situation, the only-slightly-worse-than-last-year scenario for the rise of the far right in Britain, and accounts of demonstrators being kettled and beaten by police felt more like reading slight fictionalisations of news than anything novel and futuristic; they're like dystopia 2020 that someone might have written in 2016 just before the Brexit vote. (Carbon Diaries Britain is on a different, but not overtly described, timeline where Britain uses the Euro and kilometres, and where an unnamed bank was allowed to collapse in 2009.) The sense of verisimilitude was explained when I noticed in the author's bio that she, like the narrator, Laura, used to play in hardcore punk bands: there is a lot here about squat life and radical political meetings and collectives, and experience on demos that rings very true from what I've heard from people I know and have read online. The sense of threat and emergency is very much what the more anxious or traumatised people in these groups have always felt was the tenor of life and politics - but in the novel it's completely justified because the government is becoming increasingly totalitarian. Laura is a bit more self-aware than in the previous book (as she should be, being 19 now) but still cynical, unsure whether protest changes much but moved by her friends and sometimes policies and experiences she witnesses to do something after all.
This is basically a YA novel about being involved in punk, radical left politics and the squat scene, set against a realist-dystopian backdrop ["Naturalistic fiction written today is necessarily fairly pessimistic — otherwise, it wouldn’t be a realistic depiction of the present." - William Gibson - it's not really about carbon rationing as the previous one was. I don't really know much about contemporary YA, but I get the impression this portrays a way of life that isn't covered in a huge number of other novels, so is probably of interest to some readers for that regardless....more
[3.5] More camp, showbizzy, trashy fun with a dark edge and a bit of tongue in its cheek... i.e. enough similarities to Murder Most Fab that it should[3.5] More camp, showbizzy, trashy fun with a dark edge and a bit of tongue in its cheek... i.e. enough similarities to Murder Most Fab that it should satisfy most readers who liked Clary's first novel. The main characters are also a gay man and his fag hag best friend. However, it does have a stronger chicklit element than his earlier book, and I felt it was told in a more unsettling way, both meaning that I personally didn't enjoy it quite as much as the main story got going; it wasn't such optimal comfort reading for me, though I still raced through it, and it would surely be fine for many.
These two novels of Julian Clary's are the sort of genre mashup that publishers might say didn't fit their popular fiction marketing categories, if they were by an unknown author without a ready made fan base, (they're the sort of thing that doesn't get published too often) and I find them quite refreshing in the way they mess around with certain formulae whilst sticking to others. I particularly like the way they leave in the more explicit and dark details of gay male life - grubby casual sex, substance abuse, bitter loneliness - whilst maintaining the flippant tone (although as a lot of Devil in Disguise concentrates on Molly's story, there's less of this stuff than in Murder Most Fab). It's a shame there aren't more novels like these, as they would be a go-to subgenre of pop fiction for me....more