Two young women, born hundreds of years apart, share a bond.
For such a massive tome, the time passes quickly on the read of LABYRINTH. Almost chatty in places for an historical drama, it manages to spin out its tale of holy secrets through the ages in a very comfortable, easy style that invites the kind of coffee and chat it generated during its creation (a six year process). The work in progress of author Kate Mosse on LABYRINTH was live on-line during the novel's creation and spurned a massive amount of interest from the snippets of plot details and historical data that were released en route. Similar has been done with SEPULCHRE, the second standalone work from this author.
The past mirroring the present premise never quite washed with this novel - the modern day scenes read something like a movie-of-the-week thriller and did little to enhance the read. The elusiveness of a plot driver in LABYRINTH was pure frustration - such a long wait for resolution, and when it supposedly came, could it be truly regarded as such? This is a book, perhaps mostly for the ladies, very much written in the melodramatic vein of "the young lady in jeopardy with only her fragile wits and sensibilities", who, of course, somehow manages to find her way through to the truth - delicious, if you are in the mood for such a thing. Those seeking some sort of immensely satisfying historical experience with gratifyingly plausible answers for the past deeds of those pursuing some kind of religious enlightenment - pass on this one.
LABYRINTH is though still an immensely entertaining read as you are caught up in the perils of Alais, her wisdom and bravery, her skills in medieval apothecary, tackling tasks that we assume were mostly foreign to women of her station, British author Kate Mosse shows great affection for her home of Carcassonne and brings the past of the town to bloody glory with her impassioned descriptive narrative. It is quite the love affair of a place, not so much of the story, that dominates this book.
WOLF OF THE PLAINS - Conn Iggulden
Temujin loses his beloved father at the age of eleven and is cast out from his tribe to die with the other remaining members of his family. This does not crush the second born son of the old Khan; instead it becomes the making of the man and so we see the rise of a legend. Gathering close to him other people of the plains who know no master or tribal protection, Temujin through battle and wits becomes a leader to the dispossessed.
WOLF OF THE PLAINS is the first novel in a series covering the life of the mighty Genghis Khan. Author Conn Iggulden deftly demonstrates his knack of producing stirring oratories for Khan without pontification, perfectly timing their inclusion into some truly thrilling battle scenes. Iggulden acknowledges in the back of his book that some facts had to be trimmed in order to make this work fit into the mold of popular fiction. Yes, this is an epic work covering the early years of a well-known historical figure but don't expect to find it pedantically correct on dates of invasions and major campaigns etc.
Slow in the first third or so, there's a lot of scenes of early childhood that were perhaps crafted to "humanize" a man historically referred to as a bloody warrior who killed thousands in his wake in the battle for possession of the Mongolian territories. The words are given just as much importance as the actions though this is in demonstration of Temujin's leadership and not his personal relationships - these are skimmed over and relegated to the background once he is established as a leader of men. There is a little time to draw breath and grieve with the horror of what happened to such a young boy, but not much.
The success of this book owes much to Iggulden stripping down an enormous tale for the masses. We can call it "dumbing of down" or we can call it making it a more marketable product, but it has been done so for the ease of its readership. WOLF OF THE PLAINS is a cracker of tale, told in such a manner that we readers are only given pause for thought on the conclusion. One can imagine this book being a worthwhile inclusion on the syllabus of high school students, making history more accessible and appealing to learn.
Conn Iggulden, along with his brother Hal, wrote the runaway UK best-seller THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR DOYS in 2007. Iggulden is also author to a number of books on Julius Cesar (the "Emperor" series) and other historical works. The second book in the "Conqueror" series was released as THE LORDS OF THE BOW and the author is currently working on the third book.
A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL - Christopher Brookmyre
DS Gillespie suspects they are not dealing with the sharpest pencils in the box when she's called to the discovery of two partially disfigured, roughly hidden bodies in the forest. The reputation of the killers is not enhanced greatly when they leave the receipts for all the gear they bought for disposing of the bodies behind, but the whole thing moves further into the surreal for Gillespie when she can identify both the victims as locals and people she knows all too well from her own school days.
A TALE ETCHED moves between school days in the 1970's and the current events and investigation as more and more of Gillespie's old school pals are pulled in. The switching of perspective between the two timeframes slowly reveals the development of the core characters from who they became at school, to what they are in their adult lives.
In typical Brookmyre fashion this is at times absolutely hilarious and at times very painful. These stories bring back so many of the trials and tribulations of childhood - the desperate need to "fit in", the bullying, the cliques, the rises and falls from grace, sadistic teachers, ineffectual teachers, family dysfunction, deeply felt-friendship and always remembered embarrassments.
In the end, there is a mystery about who killed these two victims and why - the why having more twists and turns that are revealed as more and more of the growing years of the central characters are revealed.
Whilst it's typical of Brookmyre to mix utter side splitting hilarity with a serious message and undertone, there's something in A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL that made it compelling. Maybe you needed to go to a primary school for it to grab you, but boy did this grab.
FABULOUS NOBODIES - Lee Tulloch
Not a formal review, more a bit of a comment. I read this because I've been trying to make sure I plug some gaps in my Australian author reading.
Fabulous Nobodies isn't crime fiction, I think if I was trying to find a "category" it would be cringe fiction :)
Reality Nirvana Tuttle, known to her friends and fans as Really is a tad obsessed with fashion. Actually tad's probably not the word: utterly, completely, obsessively, dangerously, weirdly obsessive is probably better.
This is a book about one girls life in New York, working as a door bitch at a very "it" club, naming her dresses, obsessed with her clothes and the way that she and everyone around her looks. Fabulous Nobodies reads like absolute fluff, but under the fluff there's a biting critique of the narrow minded self-obsessed of our world. Sure the joke goes on just a bit too long and gets mind-boggling tedious in places, but maybe that's part of the joke - why are we still reading about such mindless people, why oh why.
THE 50/50 KILLER - Steve Mosby
The 50/50 killer, so tagged because of the choices he put to his victims, was almost the downfall of police homicide investigator John Mercer. The man still commands and investigates, but to new boy Mark Nelson, Mercer lacks the focus, with some part of the man having been forever broken. Mercer’s team welcome Nelson into their ranks and are candid with him about their boss, showing their loyalty at the same time while showing their concern. It turns out to be a hell of a first day on the job for the new homicide recruit.
Opening Sentence: "...BlackWidow has entered the room..."
PD Martin's second novel is simply amazing. It is so chillingly plausible it leaves you feeling very uncomfortable. Most internet users belong to some sort of online discussion group or forum. Many of these forums are for the use of its members only. THE MURDERERS&#
Now about author Steve Mosby (third novel in, more to come). It can be said with certainty, after reading THE 50/50 KILLER, that the man has a nice hand with the British police procedural and isn't too shabby at the finer points of characterization either. There is just enough of the peeking behind the parlour curtains, observing as we do here the private details of a marriage, which satisfies some voyeuristic urge to spy on the ripple effects with what might be imagined happens to the afterhours relationships of homicide detectives. The viewing and investigation of some seriously disturbed crimes - we expect that to have a kick-back into an officer's personal life. It all balances beautifully with the relentless drive forwards of the police investigation, though it can come across unexpectedly as a little prim and restrained in its execution (good and solid British reserve, even as things go to pieces). This is a finely worked novel, so the attention to order remains in keeping with how the many personal relationships are meticulously examined.
The line between gratuitous descriptions of the horrific acts man commits against fellow man, as opposed to more clinical observation is treaded with caution. Showing restraint here (considering his background in horror) Mosby includes just enough to have his reader squinting and wincing but reading on regardless. As we near the pointy end, as with all good crime/thriller novels, Mosby delivers his major plot twist beautifully.
Into British police procedurals? Can't stomach a crime novel that's all about the heinous act itself? Scratch your itch for both with THE 50/50 KILLER. This is smart and absorbing stuff that will have you flicking over to the author's website clickety-click to see what's next on Mosby's plate.
39; CLUB opens in one such forum - only this one consists of four members - and they are all established serial killers.
There's a slightly odd feeling about sitting down to read a book that if somebody asked you why you were reading it - the best explanation you could come up with was ... well ... "it sort of sounded slightly mad - and besides the central character wants to become part of a book.... ". You've got to be intrigued by that premise.
THE END OF MR Y doesn't telegraph what sort of a book it is from the cover blurb - it sounds a bit like a mystery, it could be fantasy, there's even some elements that sound a bit like traditional science fiction. It's all of those things and a lot more because at the basis of everything else in this book there is the story of somebody's life that is fascinating, there are characters that you can care about. There's a story of disaffection and alternative ways of living your life that is intriguing. THE END OF MR Y is unpredictable, brash, exciting, slightly edgy and ever so slightly odd.
At the centre of the book is Ariel. Ariel's a great character and narrator - she's very much in control (sort of), she's very focused (sometimes) and she's somebody who knows where she's going (okay now I'm stretching...) Ariel's engaging, she's fascinating, she's also slightly crazy, but what she really has is acute self-awareness. She's an impoverished PhD student from a decidedly dodgy background, she's got a very active sex life - many might say it's a very dangerous and unorthodox sex life. Some people might find a building dropping into a hole in the ground a bit unexpected but Ariel can let that roll, just as she can discover a copy of a mythical long lost book and not question where it could have come from. She can find a way to handle her odd sex life with her married lover becoming increasingly risky. She can even develop an attraction to Adam, the ex-priest forced to share her University office because of the collapse of the other building. And finally she can enter the Troposphere and find it threatening and comforting all at the same time. But Ariel is used to the unexpected. In fact she really doesn't know what is supposed to be normal - life is just what happens. There's a great quote on the back of the book which explains her attitude perfectly:
"Real life is regularly running out of money, and then food. Real life is having no proper heating. Real life is physical. Give me books instead, give me the invisibility of the contents of books, the thoughts, the ideas, the images. Let me become part of a book".
It's impossible to read THE END OF MR Y and not consider the possibility of the Troposphere. And compare the possible absurdity of the idea of an alternative reality with a current day obsession like Second Life. Fantasy and science fiction blurring into reality in a very intriguing way?
Along the way Ariel must try to find out about the two strange men and their two childish offsiders pursuing her. She must find her PhD supervisor - Professor Burlem - because he alone also seems to understand the ramifications of the Troposphere. She must work out what she wants with the equally troubled Adam. She must also decide how or where she wants to live her life.
Australian FBI Profiler, Sophie Anderson, is taking a break in Arizona with a colleague and friend, Detective Darren Carter. He knows her secret. That she can mentally connect with the victims through visions and dreams, she actually sees them through the eyes of their murderer.
No sooner has Sophie arrived in Arizona than a body shows up at the University - followed by a second and a third. Darren is assigned the case and Sophie joins him in the investigation . Can her visions of a woman's horrific death help solve the crime and stop any more victims?
The story is propelled through two main points of view. The investigators and the murderers. The reader soon knows what is going on - there is a group of captives that are locked away in an underground bunker. They are being watched by the four members of the murderers' club as they vie for the chance to murder their favourite captive through an auction. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up as you read the lighthearted discussions between the criminals - the complete lack of compassion and guilt.
Sophie and Darren have to work out the secret behind their latest serial killer and then try and catch them and stop them. There are twists and turns right up to the very end.
ORPHEUS LOST - Janette Turner Hospital
ORPHEUS LOST is latest novel from Janette Turner Hospital, her last crime fiction novel being DUE PREPARATIONS FOR THE PLAGUE, which won the Davitt Award for the "Best Crime Novel by an Australian Woman in 2003".
ORPHEUS LOST is the story of 3 people. Leela is a mathematical genius from a small town American Southern state, studying in Boston. Cobb is her childhood friend, mathematically gifted as well, but he took a different path in life - into the Armed Services and ultimately Iraq. Mishka is a young Australian musician, grandson of refugee Jewish Hungarians, unknowingly the son of a Lebanese Muslim terrorism leader.
Leela and Mishka meet in Boston where they are both studying, the attraction between them is instantaneous. Cobb is drawn into the circle when Mishka is implicated in a terrorist attack on the Boston train network. Mishka has been seen meeting with the suicide bomber responsible for the attack and he's hanging around a notorious Mosque. That and the links to his father make Mishka instantly suspicious to American authorities. When Mishka suddenly disappears Leela is no more aware of Mishka's background than his current activities and it seems that Cobb, who she did not even know was watching them, knows more about Mishka than Leela ever did.
ORPHEUS LOST is categorised as Fiction - not Crime Fiction or a Thriller and the author is quoted as saying that she's "always been interested in examining ordinary human beings, people without political agendas, who are suddenly caught up in the fist of history and crisis." Certainly ORPHEUS LOST explores the accidental acts of history - familial and current affairs - that place people in extraordinary circumstances. Each of the 3 main characters in this book have their own backstory which has elements of sadness, eccentricity, secrets, extreme stress and loving care. Leela and Cobb experienced childhoods in the same town, with fathers with different but equally damaging behaviour for their children. Mishka's family background is disconnected, private, intensely damaged by the Second World War - his unknown father only becoming somebody when he's an adult, seeking his own identity. When these 3 people come back together again, the results are quite complicated and very intricate.
Where ORPHEUS LOST becomes less of an interesting book is in a device that the author uses a lot - where characters move rapidly from real life events into dreams / dream sequences / imaginings of events. There is certainly a lyrical flavour to these sequences but they also jar within the pace of the general book - driving the reader out of the story. This is likely to make the book less appealing for many readers, and it's a pity because the basic premise is very clever and extremely well executed, the 3 main characters very sympathetic and interesting and the supporting cast well drawn and involving.
MANIC STREETS OF PERTH - Dave Franklin
Dave Franklin's anthology follows the darkly comic fortunes of three journalists.
Manic Streets of Perth is an anthology made up of 3 distinct novellas - Manic Streets of Perth, Looking for Sarah Jane Smith and To Dare A Future.
Each novella is a separate story in its own right, so I've commented on all 3 individually.
Manic Streets of Perth features intrepid, and idiot reporter Paul Lewis, but more importantly, Kim Jones, animal activist, some-time petrol station attendant, daughter, fighter and survivor. When a snake wielding bandit robs her father's petrol station, when Kim is working the till, her life starts to spiral just a little bit more out of control than it already was. It's not helped by reporter Paul Lewis who, even when he thinks he is helping, just digs a bigger and deeper hole for both of them. Fortunately Kim is equipped with her own personal rock climbing gear (figuratively not literally) and she triumphs, leaving Paul wallowing around in his own self-pity in Perth.
I loved Manic Streets - there was a great story underlying a slightly madcap series of events and characters that really pulled the reader through the novella. There are some great characters in this story - the self-pitying, slightly idiotic journalist Paul, Kim's father (sans both legs), the support group for people with very unfortunate names, and Kim herself. Kim's just fabulous - real - strong - vivid.
Looking for Sarah Jane Smith (From the book blurb): Marty's living in a Welsh town that he hates, doing a job he's lost interest in and so bored he can't be bothered with sex. But a new life beckons in Australia.
This is probably my least favourite of the 3 novellas, simply because it has a tendency to ramble a lot without a lot necessarily happening. That or a lot of machinations to meet the girl of his dreams (Sarah Jane Smith from Doctor Who like) is probably carrying's on that I don't quite get :> Despite that, Looking for Sarah Jane Smith again shows a great depth of characterisation and these blokes really stand out.
To Dare a Future (From the book blurb): A van driver with abduction and murder on his mind. An eleven year old girl snatched on her way home from ballet. A tortured reporter, happy to use her death and the terrifying reign of a child killer to help make his name.
I'm not too sure I agree with the idea that this reporter - Eddie is all that happy using this girls death. This is one bloke that doesn't seem to like himself all that much. This novella is not really about any investigation into the girls death - that's almost a sidebar, but it is a ramble through Eddie's mind, his life and his thoughts. Why he is what he is, why he does what he does. There's some fascinating insights into the male, repressed, unhappy mind in this novella and whilst it again, is much slower and more rambling than the first novella, it was interesting.
Manic Streets of Perth is probably not strictly Crime Fiction, although there is a strong element of that in it. Each novella is really only barely connected to the other because of the sorts of people that are characterised - there's no cutesy theme (thank goodness) that connects them. What it seems to be, more than anything else, is a bit of an insight into blokes of a certain type, behaving like blokes do.
The author calls this his ramblings. If he rambles on like this, then buy him a beer or three and read his book.