Monday, August 30, 2010

Number 17 this year is a book (literally) tossed at my by one of my aunts. We don't really share the same tastes in reading material, but what the hell, I (used to) read fast enough that I'll try just about anything once. So, here we have an honest to goodness whodunnit in A Cure for All Diseases by Reginald Hill.

I don't read a lot of honest to goodness mysteries. I went through my Agatha Christie kick when I was 12 or 13. But I never progressed past that. A few years ago I tried some actual noir detective stories by reading some Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man) and I really enjoyed those, but that was it. And it's strange I don't read more of it, considering how much I love old 80s detective shows and police procedurals such as L&O. But anyway...

This book is obviously one of a series surrounding the adventures of Superintendent Andy Dalziel (aka The Fat Man) and DCI Peter Pascoe. Of course, having never read any of their books before, I had no idea they'd been around for so long. Seems in the previous book Dalziel had been shot and left for dead (or something), so this one starts with him convalesing at a private clinic in the picturesque town of Sandytown. Of course, not everything is so picturesque, and as we meet the town's residents, eventually there is a murder (of course) as the oft-married town matriarch, Lady Daphne Denham, turns up dead at her own hog roast.

Of course there's a plethora of suspects; Lady D's young relatives; her nephew and niece and a young distant cousin she has taken in. All three are vying for a place of honour in her will, and Lady D took great delight in making them dance for her favour. There are other relatives from her other marriages, including a very disgruntled former brother-in-law, plus business partners/rivals such as Tom Parker, who is working towards making Sandytown a well-known spa town, and then there are others whom Lady D has taken a uh... romantic interest in. Basically, everyone in the town has had some sort of relationship (familial, business, romantic) with Lady D, and many have some sort of motive to kill her.

The tale though is told for the most part from the perspective of two outsiders to the town, Dalziel himself and young Charlotte (Charley) Heywood, a psychologist in training who accidentally gets mixed up with Tom Parker's family and so comes to Sandytown to work on her thesis. We get Charley's impressions of the events through a series of one-sided emails to her sister. And we get Dalziel's impressions of events through a one-sided dictation into a dictaphone (or tape recorder or something).

All in all, I found those two methods of narration to be extremely annoying after awhile. It felt a little too gimicky. In fact, I was ready to give up the ghost when finally, after the murder, the book resorts to a normal narrative once Pascoe shows up with his team of investigators to ... well investigate.

The characters were fine. Dalziel is quite a character, a big, rolicking, VERY British fellow. But of course, his borgeouise bluster masks a very keen mind, which is kinda always the way, isn't it? Pascoe is of course the counterbalance, a by the books, smooth gentleman. I'm sure they make a good team, but they weren't really together for much of this book.

I think I found it the book a little too predictable. I figured out who did it pretty early on, even with all the red-herrings, there just didn't seem like any other likely suspects. There is a little bit of a twist at the end, but it didn't really change my feeling of the outcome. There's also an 'inappropriate' relationship I saw coming a mile away.

I felt it was a bit overlong, too much setting up of the setting and the characters and the cutesy narrative went on for WAAYYY too long. It picked up a bit after the murder (so the narrative gets back to normal), but it was an entertaining enough read. For once I mean, I doubt I'll be picking up any more in this series.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Number 16 this year is Elfland by Freda Warrington. I'd never heard of this author before, but as this book seems to be her first released in N.A (she's had a few others released over in Britian), guess that shouldn't be too surprising. I picked it up because well, I like elves :)

The book revolves around the relationships between the members of two families, the Wilder and the Fox families. They are neighbours in some pastoral-like part of England and are both rather well to do. The Wilder family, headed by Lawerence Wilder is the more mysterious of the two, living in a big, scary, gothic sounding mansion, isolated from the village and with the two boys Sam and Jon attending schools. The Fox family, headed by the genial Auberon, are open, warm, family orientated members of the community and their three children Rosie, Matthew and Lucas go to the local public schools.

But of course, there is more to both families than it seems, for they are the "elves" elves of the title, or rather Vaethyr, Earth dwelling Aetherials. Turns out there are several other Vaethyr families living nearby and there is a also a nearby Gate to Elfland of which Lawrence Wilders is the gate keeper.

When the novel starts several dramatic events happen: Lawrence refuses to continue opening the Gate due to unnamed dangerous things on the other side waiting to break onto Earth, while his wife Ginny seems to have a breakdown and later leaves him. Some years later, Lawrence returns with a new wife, Sapphire, a human this time and it seems that things will return to normal but Lawrence still refuses to open the gate and the Vaethyr villagers grow more and more impatient and angry with him, so only Auberon' trust and support keeps them from trying to "depose" him.

The book is mainly through Rosie Fox's POV, and as she starts out young but matures into a young woman, we learn much about Aetherial customs and their Otherworld as she does. She goes through the usual unrequited crush, but eventually falls in love with Sam Wilder, which you kinda saw coming considering how much she hated him for most of the novel.

I liked Elfland, it's well written and her characters are well done. She's done a good job of world building her fantasy world, but weirdly, it's the real world that seems to have suffered at the expense of her 'other' world. Warrington's Britain seems almost too pretty, too perfect, too... unreal. Perhaps that is the point though, that the Aetherials do unconsciously influence their world around them, and bring part of Elfland to the mundane (there is much talk of shifting into the layers of Elfland that inhabit the surface very near the mundane plane). I mean, the Aetherials definitely have an effect on the humans nearby them, often to the detriment of that human. So, a small quibble really, but had Britain felt more real, perhaps I would've understood why a whack of Aetherials chose to live there, unless it really was just because they enjoy the trappings of living extremely comfortably on good ol' materialistic Earth.

I'd be curious in checking out more of Warrington's stuff.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Number 15 this year is Atonement by Ian McEwan. Not really sure why I picked this novel up; the premise did sound kinda interesting, but I never wanted to see the movie as I felt it looked overblown and overwraught. But anyway, saw it in the library and figured what the heck.

The plot is simple enough; 13-year-old Briony is witness to a burgeoning affair between her elder sister Cecilia and Robbie Turner, their housekeeper's son. Briony first reads a letter meant for Cecilia only (a rather descriptive letter of what Robbie envisions doing to Cecilia, and one that was mistakingly sent), and then finds the two in the midst of an embrace in the library. But because of the words she has already read, Briony decides Robbie is a brute and his attentions towards Cecilia are unwelcome, so later, when Briony and Cecilia's cousin Lola is attacked, Briony is mistakenly, and yet totally convinced, that Robbie is the culprit. He is arrested, tried and sent to prison, later to join the army and be sent to serve in WWII in exchange for a lighter sentence. Cecilia, furious and completely convinced of Robbie's innocence, leaves her family to become a nurse and does not speak to them again for many years. Briony, as she gets older, realizes that she was wrong and wants to make atonement for her actions.

I started off liking the book. Even though Briony is an insufferable character (she's obviously supposed to be) and you know darn well who the actual culprit behind Lola's attack is right away, the characters are fine, the descriptions nice and there is a good flow to the novel. The narrative switches to Robbie's POV in France, fighting the war, and the horrors of the front line (and specifically the retreat and evacuation of Dunkirk). The narrative shifts again, and then we are with Briony, training to be a nurse, and witnessing the horrors of the front line in a different way. It is in this section that we find out Briony knows she was wrong, knows she destroyed Robbie's life and that she must make amends for this.

Which is all well and fine, but then... then we come to the part I hated.

People who know me know that I hate the movie Saving Private Ryan. I hate it for one particular reason; the story has been told (as the viewer watches it), from the POV of the men in the unit sent to retrieve Private Ryan. This was fine and dandy. What I hated was the end of that movie, where we find out that no, this is Private Ryan himself relating the tale. What??? He WASN'T THERE FOR MOST OF THE MOVIE!! This destroyed the narrative for me and stripped any reliability from the narration for me (an aside; I have nothing against unreliable narrators. I rather like them. But I don't want to be surprised by one. An unreliable narrator should still be present for the events, just putting their own, unreliable spin on them. Not someone who is now telling shit they heard about second or third hand.) Anyway, the end of Atonement for me, is another Saving Private Ryan. The narrative as we have become accustomed to is pulled out from under us and basically, (although we're told it is true), fictionalized. I'm not even entirely sure why I disliked it so much, but I did. I felt cheated I think.

Which is too bad, it wasn't a bad book overall.