Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Alan Garner, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen

Found this childrens' book and nicked it (back) from my father's the other day. Had completely forgotten about it - it might not even be mine actually. But it is now! Said she smugly.

I have a copy of Garner's Elidor in a Swedish translation somewhere. The story is similar in both books - ordinary children find/find out about another world, parallell to ours, peopled with goblins and wizards and where a battle of good vs evil is being fought.

This one uses a lot of old Norse mythology. Even though Garner writes very well - I can't fault his craftmanship really - the story itself is unsatisfactory and vaguely pointless. Maybe there is a part 2? Because the ending really isn't much good. The whole thing is just over. Meh.

Tack on a better ending and this could make an excellent film though.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Alexander McCall Smith: Morality for Beautiful Girls

Another lovely book about Precious Ramotswe's detective agency.

In this one Mr J.L.B. Maketoni suffers from depression, so Precious and her assistant have to run his business for him while he gets better. It refers a little more to the darker, sadder parts of Africa than the two previous ones I've read, but still remains firmly rooted in optimism and a belief in what is good and true.

Most memorable part: when Mma Ramotswe remembers how happy her maid was when she was told that she would get a job. She thinks "I am lucky that I can make somebody so happy just by saying something." The world would be a better place if more people thought of that as a sign of good fortune.

Deaver and Davis

Jeffery Deaver, The Devil's Teardrop: I'm on a bit of a Deaver-kick at the moment. Unfortunately I think the library may have run out of books now... Anyway, I merrily picked up two non-Rhyme/Sachs novels lately. I didn't really want to, because one gets very attached to an author's detectives you know, but I wasn't disappointed. Anyway, in this one Rhyme has a small cameo, which was nice.

Storyline: a man hides a silenced machine gun in a bag, and fires wildly in a crowd, killing several. The police get a note from someone else, wanting money to stop the shooter. The only lead is the note, so Parker Kincaid, former FBI document expert, is asked to come back to help find the man behind the scheme. Kincaid is a nice hero, I was pleased to make his acquaintance. He is a single father, who has promised to give up his police career in order to gain custody of his children and protect them from a selfish, alcoholic mother. However, he can't help but get involved in the case when the shooter kills children. Juxtaposed with him is Margaret Lukas, a tough-as-nails federal agent. They make a good pair.

The best thing with this book is that it really did fool me. There are several false leads, and I was sucked in and fooled, I admit it. Original yet credible plot, definitely well worth reading! Recommended!

Deaver, Garden of Beasts: For a change, this is an historical novel, set in Berlin during the Olympic games of -36. A New York professional killer (a button man), is covertly hired by the US government to kill the mastermind behind Germany's rearmament scheme. In exchange he's going to get a clean slate and a fresh start. Once in Berlin our hitman, Paul Schumann, can't help but get a little too personally involved as he discovers what fear and oppression people are living under.

I really wouldn't want to give away too much of the plot, because just as with The Devil's Teardrop it was pleasantly complicated and had me fooled. The ending is perhaps a little too sentimental, but I wouldn't want to let that colour my perception of the whole book. On the whole it's very enjoyable, and cleverly explores questions of good and evil, morality and immorality.

The book is marred a tiny bit by Deaver's over-eagerness in showing us that he's done his research well. There are a few too many explanations into German expressions and a few too many dropping of brand names of the times. In my opinion a lot of writers fall into this trap when they are writing about an era or a country not perfectly familiar to them - for example all these American writers who write detective novels set in England; on the whole people drink just a few too many cups of teas, and they're referred to as cuppas just a little too much. If you see what I mean.

Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised an impressed by this one. Obviously a story he was eager to tell. I'd have to say well done!

Lindsey Davis, See Delphi and Die: Another Falco novel! His wife's (Helena's) brother, Aulus, has beensent to Greece to study law. Almost immediately the family receives a letter from him, teling about a murder that has occurred within a group of tourists he came across. His mother becomes worried that her eldest son will be in danger, so sends Falco off to investigate.

As I think I've previously said, I love the characters and historical detail of these books, even though the writing style is really too choppy and disjointed to be perfect. They would have been so much better with better editing, in my opinion. Nevertheless it's charming how Davis manages to insert a modern phenomenon as tourism into Ancient Greece and get away with it. The ending of this one leaves a lot to be desired. It's very abrupt and it almost seems as though she were fed up with the story.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Airth, Crombie and McGown

Rennie Airth: The Blood-Dimmed Tide
I had read Airth's first novel featuring John Madden, River of Darkness. I enjoyed it very much, and it's probably the reason why I could side-tracked into reading Anne Perry, since I couldn't remember the author's name (this was before I started the blog), and had to search for WW1-themed books. I'm very bad with names.

In River of Darkness we were introduced to Madden, as he tried to solve a brutal series of murders and stop the serial killer from killing again. Madden realises that the murderer is drawing on his experience in the trenches of the war, and is motivated by nothing more than the wish to kill. In The Blood-Dimmed Tide Madden has left the police force and his happily tending his farm and his family, when a little girl is found dead and raped nearby. He naturally has to help the police track down the killer, as it is plain this is an exceptionally clever murderer who is likely to keep killing until he is forcibly stopped.

Like Caleb Carr, Airth writes about serial killers in an age before psychological profiling. Both writers manage this well. My only hesitation really is the fact that everyone is a little too open-minded and good. From my own experience I have to say that most people are eejits, and I don't think it was any different 100 years ago at all. But of course, we like the main characters more if they are lovable, and the cliché of the drunken, unpleasant PI or detective is overdone.

Deborah Crombie, Now May You Weep
Another Kincaid-James novel, once again with a supernatural twist. Deus ex machina, anyone? Gemma James goes on a cookery course to Scotland with her ex-neighbour and friend Hazel. Turns out Hazel has emotional ties to Scotland she never mentioned. The bits about whisky-making are quite interesting. On the whole not bad, but this isn't my favourite author. Too soft.

Jill McGown, Unlucky for Some
Now, this is an author I had forgotten. I have read one of her novels before (in the pre-blog era), and had gotten her confused with Crombie, as her main characters are also police-officers-who-are-lovers. These two are slightly more realistic in their human failings and emotions though.

In this one what appears to be serial killer murders, connected to gambling establishments and a successfull TV personality, baffle Hill and Lloyd. It's a very clever puzzle whodunnit with some twists. Plot is well crafted and keeps us all guessing. Must get some more of McGown's, I can see.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Jeffery Deaver: The Vanished Man

In this one an illusionist baffles Rhyme and Sachs (but not for long) by committing gruesome murders. A good plot, well paced on the whole, better than The Empty Chair I'd have to say. The magician theme was interesting since Carol O'Connell has done it too, also set in NY, in her series on Mallory the beautiful foundling cop. A series I kind of like, and then don't.

Not a book to waffle on about though.

Amos Oz: A Tale of Love and Darkness

Ironically I was (belatedly) given this book for my birthday while I was reading Eggers' memoirs. So, although I usually never read memoirs/biographies I've now read two, one right after the other.

I've never read anything by Oz before - I'd never even heard of him until recently, when I read a review of this very book in the paper (the Swedish translation just came out). He does seem an interesting author though, so I might look for his novels at the library some time. Although then I have the dilemma of choosing which language to read him in - English, like the first one I read, or Swedish, which is more likely to be available...

Just like Eggers, Oz writes about the death of a parent/his parents. But where Eggers immediately throws us into the room where his mother is watching TV while dying of cancer, Oz doesn't even mention the tragedy of his mother's death (suicide) until a good bit in. He writes about his childhood and the history of his family, about being Ashkenazi in Israel's childhood, about the insular community they were then. These are this book's strenghts, how he explains the birth of the Israeli state and the mindset of the Diaspora Jews compared to the New Hebrew. All the dreams and ideals. Having been to Palestine and Israel this summer it's also extremely interesting to read about the different opinions different groups of Israelis/Jews have... I can't concentrate enough at the moment to be more analytic, suffice it to say that reading this book it helped to have been there, to have experienced the dust, the heat, the smallness of the country, the suspicions, the fear, the food.

If I have to choose which book is better, I'd have to say Eggers'. Possibly because I can relate to it more. Possibly because he bares everything, gives us all his feelings and shortcomings, and only rarely goes on and on about his professional acheivements and so on. In my opinion Oz deos this a little too often... I get the feeling he could have used a better editor, someone to better balance the personal with the historical. Also, I would swear that Oz repeats himself quite often and tells us the same anecdotes more than once. This is even more ironic as hehas related how his father would do the same, and I can't believe that no-one picked up on it? Am I imagining it? I don't think so.

Another editing issue: there are many cases where Polish names are misspelled and Russian words used by his relatives mis-transcribed and translated. I thought I was going slightly cracked when he referred to the Polish "3d of May Street" as "Ulica Czecziego Maya". I had to ask my husband to help me confirm that I wasn't mad, it should be Trzeciego Maja. This is just such a stupid mistake. Czecziego is a word you can't even pronounce in Polish. And then I was reminded that another Polish name had been mangled repeatedly in McCall Smith's 2½ Pillars of Wisdom - he meets a Polish boy called Tadeusz. For the whole chapter he's written (or some idiot has "corrected" his writing) Tadseuz. Why? Why do people not check these things before they send books off to the printers? *sigh*

Ranting aside, it's a good book and well worth the read. My favourite bits are when his Aunt Sonia talks about their growing up in Rovno, those chapters are well crafted and flow nicely. It's also very moving to read about his mother's illness, but he does seem afraid to delve too deeply into the pain, and the ending feels almost rushed.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Jeffery Deaver: The Empty Chair

In this one Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs go to North Carolina, because Rhyme is booked in for some experimental surgery that may make him more mobile (or less). Once there they get asked for help from the local police. A local teen has kidnapped two girls, and nobody knows where he's keeping them.

This book is just too much. Starts off fine, plot tootles along no problem. It's quite exciting, well-paced, not badly written. But then 2/3 through it's becoming time to tie the bag together, and then it all just starts happening. Conspiracies galore, the usual Southern clichés seem to abound, everybody who's "kin" is in on it together. There are about five "false endings" - and it's not even a film! Yet. They might not get Denzel and Angelina for this one, but I'm sure that won't be for want of trying.

If these conspiracies and plot twists were properly hinted at throughout the book, thus giving us the readers a fair chance of working it out - actually, even as I'm typing this I'm starting to think that maybe they are, and I have myself to blame for not seeing them, so maybe the problem is rather that there are too many instances of Rhyme pulling a conclusion out of his hat in a Deus ex machina way.

Anyway - it was good enough and not a complete waste of time. I'm going to borrow some more of Deaver's.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and Booked for Murder

Two very different books today.

Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: We've had this book at home for quite a while. My husband started reading it, and went on and on about how good it was, but then he put it aside and never finished it, and I never "took over". But at long last I did, and finished it too, which is more than he did - and it's fantastic. You get thrown straight in, into the pain of watching a parent die. No time to get used to what's going to happen, to distance yourself. I can completely relate to so many of Eggers' feelings, and even to the experience of being responsible for a younger sibling (although I never did as well as he seems to have done). It is heartbreaking. (I keep typing heartbraking, which is funny and I wonder if it's a Freudian slip of some kind.) It's rare to read books where you can feel such affinity with the author. This is funny, tragic and never dull. What more could I want. I cried buckets, and laughed a lot. If my blog had actual readers I'd quote the funniest passages but as it is I can't be arsed - just trust me, zero readers, when I say this is a must-read.

About Dave Eggers from the McSweeney's website: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/authorpages/eggers/eggers.html

Val McDermid, Booked for Murder: Yay! A Lindsay Gordon mystery! I loves me some Lindsay. An American writer friend of Lindsay's is murdered in a manner she just described in her latest manuscript. Lindsay returns to the UK to investigate.

I have such a soft spot for the LG books, even though I suppose they're her weakest. A little too boxily written and focused on the gay aspect really, but hey, remember what Amanda Cross wrote? About how important it is to love the main characters? Well, I'm with Lindsay all the way. She's feminist, she's Scottish, she's a pain in the arse.

This book also features some nice digs at Sara Paretsky's mistake of selling the Warshawski film rights. It's even funnier when Paretsky praising McDermid is quoted on the cover, and when we know that Val's later books, the more serial killery/profily/gory Hill_Jordan series has been sold and televised. But Val McDermid deserves every penny she makes. Cheers to ya, Val.

Her website: http://www.valmcdermid.com/