November 17th, 2013

  • cat63

Books 101-104 for 2013

101. Walking Home by Simon Armitage. 223 pages.

Poet Simon Armitage decides to walk the Pennine Way, in the opposite direction to usual and paying his way with poetry readings as he goes.

I have to admit, I was halfway through the book before I realised I had mixed up the author with Simon Amstell, former host of music quiz show Never Mind The Buzzcocks. I have no idea why. Probably because I'm an idiot.

Moderately entertaining at worst, this, but I couldn't muster any huge enthusiasm for it.

102. The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith. 248 pages.

I didn't enjoy this as much as the previous books in this series, but I suspect that might be more to do with me than with the book.

It was still nice to revisit all the characters in Smith's Botswana and to sympathise with their troubles and enjoy their triumphs.

103. 1984 by George Orwell. 265 pages.

This is definitely a classic. Many terms from it have passed into the language and culture and the society depicted in it is enduringly horrific.

It has its faults of course - there's a horrendously long info-dump towards the end of Part Two, which could easily have been shortened or even entirely dispensed with without lessening the impact of the book as a whole for one thing, and the behaviour of the Party is illogical and self-destructive even by the internal logic of the story, but it's still an enormously effective dystopian nightmare that stays with you long after you've read it.

103a. The Girl Who Was Infatuated With Death by Laurell K. Hamilton. 39 pages.

Short story set in the Anita Blake 'verse between the novels Blue Moon and Obsidian Butterfly.

This starts promisingly, with Anita called in to search for a missing girl, but degenerates into another Anita-angsts-over-her-relationships fest.

Slight and disappointing.

104. A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire. 307 pages.

Second in the October Daye series.

An intriguing and engaging mystery for changeling Toby to solve when she's sent to find out why her liege lord's niece isn't answering the phone - if she can survive long enough to get the answers she needs.

I enjoyed this book, although at times I was frustrated by Toby's utter inability to see things which were as plain as day to the reader.

Books 205-206: Natural Causes and The Stolen Ones

Book 205: Natural Causes (Inspector McLean #1).
Author: James Oswald, 2012.
Genre: Police Procedural. Serial Killer. Crime Thriller. Occult
Other Details: Paperback. 458 pages.

A young girl's mutilated body is discovered in a sealed room. Her remains are carefully arranged, in what seems to have been a cruel and macabre ritual, which appears to have taken place over 60 years ago. For newly appointed Edinburgh Detective Inspector Tony McLean this baffling cold case ought to be a low priority - but he is haunted by the young victim and her grisly death. Meanwhile, the city is horrified by a series of bloody killings. Deaths for which there appears to be neither rhyme nor reason, and which leave Edinburgh's police at a loss. McLean is convinced that these deaths are somehow connected to the terrible ceremonial killing of the girl, all those years ago. It is an irrational, almost supernatural theory. And one which will lead McLean closer to the heart of a terrifying and ancient evil . . . - synopsis from UK publisher's website

This novel was recommended by a member of one of my library reading groups who thought its occult aspect made it stand out from most in the police procedural sub-genre. It was this aspect that drew me to borrow it. The story did take a little while to find its feet though once it did I found it very hard to put down. I am unsure of Oswald's background but he seemed to have a good handle on occult lore and demonology, something not every writer who enters this field actually possesses.

This is another instance in which an author was unable to find a publisher and went the self-publishing route to then find when his novel proved successful that he was signed up by an established publishing firm (Penguin). From what I read about the process publishers were uncertain about his mixture of crime and the occult but readers felt otherwise. So now he has a contract for a bunch more in the McLean series as well as a new one for his dragon-themed fantasy series, The Ballad of Sir Benfro, which again was initially self-published.

The group member did caution that there was a high level of gore and violence in the novel and this proved so. So not one for the faint hearted as it is quite grizzly fare. The author did include a note about the novel's genesis and included the original prologue that Penguin felt was too graphic and sexually violent to be included at the start of the novel. Oswald prefaced its text with a warning.

Book 206: The Stolen Ones (Jessica Balzano and Kevin Byrne #7)..
Author: Richard Montanari, 2013.
Genre: Police Procedural. Serial Killer. Crime Thriller
Other Details: Hardback. 458 pages.

For one hundred years, the Delaware Valley State Hospital at Cold River was known as a warehouse for the criminally insane. Two decades ago, it closed its doors forever.  But a man named Luther never left. To this day he roams the catacombs beneath the abandoned hospital, waiting and watching. On a late winter day a businessman is found brutally murdered in a Philadelphia park. Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano get the case. They soon discover a two-year-old girl wandering the streets in the middle of the night, a little girl who does not speak.  In her hands -- a key piece of evidence that may be linked to a series of murders committed halfway around the world.  As the detectives investigate, and more bodies are found, they're drawn closer and closer to the doors of Luther's devious maze, to Die Traumkaufleute -- The Dream Merchants -- and the dark secrets of Cold River. - synopsis from author's website.

I have followed this series of gripping police procedurals since its beginning and have have enjoyed them all. They are intelligent and unrelentingly dark with many of the crimes focusing on the dark and hidden places to be found in the city of Philadelphia. Here the city's catacombs and the abandoned mental hospital provide chilling settings. This was quite a complex tale that featured some intriguing themes linked to dream research along with quite disturbing behaviours.

I had thought a couple of books ago that Montanari was drawing the series to a close and now with this volume certain changes occur that make me feel that he actually now has retired the series. However, I shall keep my eyes open for news just in case he does continue.