Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tana French: Broken Harbour

I'm not going to be long-winded now. This one is about the self-absorbed, rule-following detective known as Scorcher, that Frankie Mackey spoke of with such contempt in Faithful Place.  Turns out of course that Scorcher, Mick Kennedy, is a real person too, with a history and feelings. He is called to a murder scene in one of those ghost estates that litter Ireland after the end of the Tiger era - badly built and badly planned to start with, with no proper town planning infrastructure in place at all. (As a municipal employee that makes me furious, the way they could just buy land and start building. What sort of a half-arsed way is that to build a society, eh?) This place goes by the awful name of Brianstown (COME ON), but once it was Broken Harbour and when Mick Kennedy was a boy his family came her every year for two weeks of caravan holidaying in the summers, something to keep them going for the whole rest of the year.

The basic set-up of the scene is grisly and suspenseful, but as I found with the other books it promises more than it delivers. I don't know why that is. Her writing is great and she crafts this mood around the place that makes me think that we're going to get the most un-thought of reveal EVER - it's just so weird. Two children dead in their beds, the father stabbed to bits in the kitchen, the mother next to him badly injured and just barely alive. Holes punched in the walls with cameras directed at them. No community around them, just the wind howling around mostly empty and falling-down houses. I was really intrigued. But then felt a bit flat at the end. What's that about?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book shopping!

Charity shop Saturday. :D I've read three out of the four, but I don't OWN them. So.

Also - I am the QUEEN of photography.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Cyril Hare: When The Wind Blows

I got this for myself when I bought a pair of shoes off Amazon (I know, I know, I hate Amazon as much as anyone, but they had the shoes and they had the book, so ....). Cyril Hare is delightful and I just CANNOT find any second-hand copies ever. My favourite approach to book-buying, browse and stumble upon, like. No luck whatsoever with Cyril Hare.

So I reminded myself of which ones I'd already read and bought this one. And you know what? I think I'm just going to buy myself the complete works of, in bits and pieces maybe but nonetheless. Cyril Hare is worth it.

One thing holding me back is that I don't fancy the covers much in these editions, and I am paying full price for them after all. Or what passes for full price on Amazon, I know, I know.

This one is about a small-town orchestra that happens to be fortunate enough to have a very skilled director of music to head it. Being almost blind he can't work professionally any more, but he can certainly lead this orchestra to hold a concert or two yearly and make it excellent. To do so, he hires in the extra musicians he might need from the side of the pros (because he will not settle for a half-arsed amateur), and they also hire the odd star to pull in the crowds. Unwillingly our hero, former barrister Francis Pettigrew, has been roped in to be the treasurer - a task he can't refuse since his wife plays the violin for it and he wouldn't want to seem unsupportive. Well, this concert the star performer is found murdered before her act, and of course Pettigrew can't help but detect. It's full of historical detail about rationings after the war and with such lovely little portraits of people - I really like it. I quote:
"My dear miss Carless!" Mrs. Basset planted herself firmly between them and took control of the situation. "This is delightful! We are all so looking forward to the Mendelssohn tomorrow. Good evening, Mr. Pettigrew. And Mrs. Pettigrew" [ ... ] "how well you are looking, dear! I had quite forgotten what a charming colour that dress was! It suits you so well!"

Before Eleanor had had time to recover from this body-blow Mrs. Basset had swept on, carrying with her Miss Carless and the rest of her attendants.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Charlaine Harris: Dead Ever After

The last of the Sookie Stackhouses, and talk about just wanting it to end. This is a terrible book.

Events are just piled on one another in a desperate attempt to get it over with so we can end the series. And the sex scene? THE sex scene between Sookie and Sam? Lolz. There is no heart in this book whatsoever.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Lookit lookit what I found! More Ursula Curtiss

So I'm was browsing the bookshelves in a charity shop I don't often go to (but when I do I ALWAYS find something), and lo:

Isn't it just a lovely paperback! The story was quite good too, but having now read two Curtisses I am starting to form the opinion that there is a little bit too much of the coincidence in the storyline. I'm not sure I buy the premises completely. Nonetheless, I liked this. Victoria Devlin has been asked by a friend to stay at her grand house for a weekend and pretend that the friend is there but very ill and can't receive visitors. In reality, the friend has gone away to sort out some sort of important business - Victoria doesn't know what. What is her friend afraid of? Then a murderer escapes from a nearby asylum, a murderer who kills his victims with a sickle ... DUN DUN DUUUHHHNN.

What I don't understand is why the Americans don't do more filming from the wealth of good suspense stories they have from the Golden Age of detective fiction. This stuff beats almost all of your modern scripts. A bit of retro flair, some Mad Men type styling - you could rake in the cash, surely. Instead we have the English filming Agatha Christie twenty million times. I call misogyny in the US to be honest. When we learn about American crime fiction from say the first half and a bit of the 20th century it's all men and Marlowe. The Story of Film (such a brilliant programme!!!) brought up and showed the huge part that women played in early cinema, something that isn't at all plain if you read about the history of films in the mainstream works on the subject. You'd be forgiven for starting to see conspiracies, a conscious wiping-out of female contributors. I call another one. :/Class, please discuss.

These pulp-type paperbacks also have those great ads at the back where you can send off for more of the same. There are ads for two Curtiss books that I'd quite like to read, then some others that meh, not so much. Knock 3-1-2 and The Lenient Beast sound like vile shite.

Just fantastic.

I fingered another pulpy novel when in the shop, but decided not to get it. I can't justify dragging home books just because the cover art appeals to my sense of nostalgia and my childhood memories... but look at this:


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tana French x 3

Sometime before the summer my friend E, E the editor ya know (the reason why I always yap on about how Important Editors Are, i.e. I'm sucking up to her) - anyway, E recommended Tana French, and said I might like her. I immediately borrowed all the books at the library, read them, felt they motivated a proper post with notes and stuff and never found the time. Now, looking over my drafts folder, I found a photograph of the novel In the Woods (her debut)

and a cryptic note about mattocks. The note reads as follows honesttogod:
Mattock I had never heard of the word, but last week I was reading articles about Phelps who abused his kids beating them with mattock and now the archaeologists in book are mattocking away
What in the name of the god (as my niece used to say) did I mean by that, you may ask. Well. I think I quickly jotted it down because it was one of those moments when something you've never heard of before suddenly pops up all over the place. I was reading articles about the young ones who've defected from Westboro Baptist Cult, went on to listen to parts of an interview with the Papa Phelps son who left a long time ago and is a very vocal criticiser, and he told about the abuse suffered by him and his siblings at the hands of this so-called minister. Among other things he beat them with a mattock, which I then had to look up because ignorant. The sick, twisted man that he was. So, like two days later I'm reading this book and hey, mattocks being used, as they were meant to be used.

Anyway, this has very little bearing on the book in question or indeed on the authorship of Tana French. Also, only found one picture, yous may make do.

I've read her three first novels, In The Woods, The Likeness and Faithful Place, and will probably read the next two if the library buys them (god I know I'm like a broken record with my library library library but hey, this is my life, I borrow more than I buy). They are all set in Dublin and center around different members of the Gardaí (Irish police). They get one book each, basically, which is good, coz then it's a series without it being a series (except it is, the Dublin Murder Squad series it's called I read somewhere), but at the same time if you're the kind of reader that wants one single hero detective to follow you'll be disappointed. In The Woods is about Rob Ryan, murder detective, who despite being Irish grew up in England and has the accent to prove it, to the delight of piss-takers everywhere. His accent camouflages his past - nobody knows that he is actually Adam Ryan,  the young boy who went into the woods behind their rural Dublin-ish estate one day with his two best friends and was found hours later, terrified and speechless, with his shoes full of blood and no memory of what happened to the other two. Now, adult detective Rob is called out to investigate the murder of a child, right next to the woods where something happened to himself twenty years ago. It's a really gripping murder mystery, although I think the reader is inevitably more interested in the mystery of Rob than the crime he and his partner Cassie are investigating. Perhaps that's the point? The murderer turns out to be rather obvious and the explanation is a bit heavy-handed in my opinion, so I wonder if plot suffered in favour of the inner workings of Ryan's mind. So the ending was a bit of a let-down to be honest.

The next book is The Likeness and now Rob's partner Cassie is our main character. She used to be an undercover police agent but gave it up when she got stabbed. One day her boyfriend, also a police detective on the murder squad, rings her and asks her to come out and look at a body. Turns out the corpse is the spit of Cassie, and not only that, has the identity that Cassie used when she worked undercover. What gives? Cassie heads undercover again, pretending to be the victim who has survived with memory loss, and infiltrates the group of friends our dead girl lived with in order to find the murderer. This one is absolutely well written and all but the characters of these students living together just don't really work for me. I get these Merchant and Ivory vibes that don't gel with Ireland at all. Granted, this is the point. But it doesn't gel. On the other hand, what do I know. French isn't Irish but has lived in Ireland permanently since 1990 after a globetrotter childhood, she studied at Trinity, she trained to be an actress there and surely should be more attuned to Irish society than I could ever claim to be. But still.

The next one then is Faithful Place and centers on Cassie's undercover agent police boss, Frankie Mackey. When Frank was 16 he was going to run away from home with his girlfriend Rosie, but she never showed up. After waiting, Frank left anyway and has never been back to Faithful Place. But then Rosie's suitcase is found in a derelict building on the street. Reluctantly Frank returns and makes contact with his family again, as Rosie's disappearance all those years ago, in Dublin of the 80s, becomes investigated as something suspicious instead of a voluntary escape to the freedom of - as everyone had assumed - London.

A lot of the interest for me in this is the description of what life was like for these very poor Dublin youths growing up well before any Tiger was seen in Ireland at all. The poverty, the religion, the feeling of being trapped, the abusive alcoholic father and no way out. It's not a bad family drama at all. All the same I'm not sure if the tone is altogether spot-on... I can't fault it really though. I liked it. I did like all three of the books, despite any quibbles, and I'd happily read more. Ken Bruen might feel more genuinely Irish in tone but Jesus he was an annoying writer so I'd rather have French any day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Curtiss, Reilly

I owe these next two "reads" (oh how Dorothy Sayers would spin in her grave) to the most excellent blog Pretty Sinister Books. It is devoted to little-known or forgotten genre fiction and a veritable treasure trove for the likes of myself. It's pretty much (no pun intended) what I'd like my own blog to be, had I but been more clever and/or dedicated beyond the stumble-upon approach to literature. I've only just discovered it and find myself bookmarking all the posts. Sadly haven't had a chance to read the whole blog though.

Anyway, blogger John wrote a post about Ursula Curtiss novel The Deadly Climate, a post which also touched on Curtiss' mother, also a well-known and popular Golden Age author, Helen Reilly. Go and read it.  I'd never heard of either, jumped on library website, discovered that both authors were represented in Swedish translation only and buried in the cellar storage to boot, so I ordered one from each immediately. Thanks to interwebz I found out the title of The Deadly Climate in Swedish (Mördande atmosfär), so I got that one. Now, just look at the retro folks (and at my fingers and feet and the tube of vaseline that needs to be put away in the bathroom):

I started with Helen Reilly's novel Mourned on a Sunday (Sörjd på en söndag), because logically one should start with the mother and not the daughter, right?

Once this belonged to Svinnegarns församlingsbibliotek (Svinnegarn parish library). I just love that. Svinnegarn is a little place not far from Enköping. The church is a dominant building dating from the 13th century, and Svinnegarn was an important place of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages with one of Sweden's most famous sacrificial wells. So there you go. Thank you Wikipedia. It's worth noting that the parish of Svinnegarn doesn't exist anymore, it's been merged with a bigger parish since 2006.

Erm, the plot then? Well, there is an excellent summary and review here on Beneath the Stains of Time - a blog I just googled myself to and think I'll really enjoy! Bookmarked! That's handy for me. I wasn't superkeen on the book, something about the tone of it just annoyed me a little. Too much of Nora (heroine) stepping "lightly" and being slim and gorgeous. Part of it was maybe a translation woe though. The translator was competent but got some things wrong (would you like an example? well tough, my note-taking days are over :((( ). What I do remember was how referring to someone's age as "in his sixties" is translated as "i sextiotalet". That is bizarre-sounding now. Did people really say that? Or is that one of the mis-translations?

Ok, so then I read The Deadly Climate, or Mördande atmosfär as it is in Swedish.

Such old! Ha, I only speak doge because it drives my eldest INSANE. Her eyes close and she makes an expression of genuine PAIN.
One of the covers featured in Pretty Sinister Books' post. Very pleased about that. Also, curves, what?

I enjoyed this one more. The atmosphere is dense and there is a feeling of suspense. If I'm perfectly honest I don't completely buy the basic storyline, and that they can find no safe place for the witness to murder apart from in a house that is apparently under siege - but no matter, it's still enjoyable.

Look, it was somebody's homework: