Wonderings: Re-Reading

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I’ve been dipping into the collected Tor.com essays of Jo Walton, What Makes This Book So Great and wondering why I don’t re-read more. When I had limited choice I used to do it quite a lot. In fact the ‘keeping rules’ for my shelves are that a book has to be unread (a lot shelf space), special (mostly signed, part of a  collection, favourite author or proofs) or I have to want to re-read them, which is why I still have The Great Game trilogy by Dave Duncan (as I want to re-read it) but not Lord of the Rings (I didn’t even finish the last book). I have re-read The Hobbit a few times though that went to charity not so recently.

A friend just re-read The Song of Achilles, which resulted in a flood of tears for the third time. Another finds comfort in the Harry Potter series and is on their 30th re-read.  For me re-reading Pratchett is always a pleasure.  I’ve re-read The Hogfather as a Christmas tradition for quite a few years  though I think I’ve re-read Sourcery the most out of the Discworld series.  I’ve been re-reading very very very slowly the City Watch thread but I think The Witches will always be my favourite. I’m need to crack on and read Jingo – goodness it’s been over a year since I read Feet of Clay!!

I’ve re-read The Old Kingdom books by Garth Nix and wanted to re-read them before reading Clariel.  I’d also love to re-read the Polity books by Neal Asher as the more I read the more I see how clever he is at using the universe he’s created. Then there is a duology by James Stoddard, called The High House and The False House, which I wish had chance to become a trilogy and  I’d love to be more widely read.

I guess what I’m convincing myself of is that I actually do enjoy re-reading. And I used to do it more but over the last several years I’ve not indulged – last year wasn’t a good reading year for me anyway.  As seen in my previous post I’ve got a pile of first reads that I want to explore. So why do I feel a big urge to re-read Harry Potter?

Jo Walton re-reads a lot but as she points out in her introduction  she needs to read forward so she has new things to re-read but I think for me I need to re-read more in order to enjoy reading more.

Looking Backwards and Forwards


Happy New Year everyone. I hope you ended the year as happy readers? As you can see from the tweet above I can’t say I’ve read everything I wanted to read in 2015, not by a long shot, but the more  I think about what I actually read the more I think I’ve read some great books though that was when I was actually reading.  From July, when I started one particular book by what used to be a favourite author (I don’t know how I feel about reading them again as the book  broke my trust – I know that sounds dramatic), towards November, when I devoured Fox Glove SummerI only read the books for Hear … Read This! I told a few people privately that my mojo had gone but I think it’s worth mentioning now as a counter to the ‘I’ve read 1 million book’ posts and tweets that have popping up all over the place. It’s also the reason that the blog is stripped back and it’s been extremely quiet.  Reading for me is escapism and I struggled to escape into reading due to the book who remain nameless. 

Oddly I did keep buying books in the hope the mojo would come back. And now that is has I’m hoping to gather up some speed again. But I’m going to be more willing to let authors go but not be scared to celebrate those books that made me happy – The Floating Admiral is a great example as the rest of the gang HATED it.

Actually have a list of memorable books I read in 2014:

  • Artful by Ali Smith
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
  • The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike
  • Under the Skin by Michel Faber
  • Dreams and Shadows by  C . Robert Cargill
  • A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr,
  • The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
  • Slow River by Nicola Griffith
  • The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan
  • Skin Game by Jim Butcher
  • The Cold Commands by Richard Morgan
  • The Line of Polity/Brass Man by Neal Asher
  • The Gospel of Loki  by Joanne M. Harris
  • Broken Homes/Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch
  • Brenda and Effie Forever by Paul Magrs
  • Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins
  • The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas
  • Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
  • Speedy Death/The Mystery of a Butchers Shop by Gladys Mitchell
  • Elric: Fortess of Pearl by Michel Moorecock

 I’m pretty proud of that.

Speaking of proud The Readers Podcast, which I started with Simon Savidge, had me back for a guest appearance to share books from the first six months of 2015 I’m looking forward to. I’m sharing a slightly tweaked list here:

Jan

Alice and the Fly by James Rice – Hodder

Miss Hayes has a new theory. She thinks my condition’s caused by some traumatic incident from my past I keep deep-rooted in my mind. As soon as I come clean I’ll flood out all these tears and it’ll all be ok and I won’t be scared of Them anymore. The truth is I can’t think of any single traumatic childhood incident to tell her. I mean, there are plenty of bad memories – Herb’s death, or the time I bit the hole in my tongue, or Finners Island, out on the boat with Sarah – but none of these are what caused the phobia. I’ve always had it. It’s Them. I’m just scared of Them. It’s that simple.

Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher – Tor

One Man will transcend death to seek vengeance. One woman will transform herself to gain power. And no one will emerge unscathed…

Thorvald Spear wakes in hospital, where he finds he’s been brought back from the dead. What’s more, he died in a human vs. alien war which ended a whole century ago. But when he relives his traumatic final moments, he finds the spark to keep on living. That spark is vengeance. Trapped and desperate on a world surrounded by alien Prador forces, Spear had seen a rescue ship arriving. But instead of providing backup, Penny Royal, the AI within the destroyer turned rogue. It annihilated friendly forces in a frenzy of destruction, and, years later, it’s still free. Spear vows to track it across worlds and do whatever it takes to bring it down.

Isobel Satomi ran a successful crime syndicate. But after competitors attacked, she needed more power. Yet she got more than she bargained for when she negotiated with Penny Royal. She paid it to turn her part-AI herself, but the upgrades hid a horrifying secret. The Dark AI had triggered a transformation in Isobel that would turn her into a monster, rapidly evolving into something far from human.

Spear hires Isobel to take him to the Penny Royal AI’s last known whereabouts. But he cheats her in the process and he becomes a target for her vengeance. And as she is evolves further into a monstrous predator, rage soon wins over reason. Will Spear finish his hunt, before he becomes the hunted?

Feb

Kim Kardashian’s Marriage by Sam Riviere  – Faber

The 72 poems in Kim Kardashian’s Marriage mark out equally sharpened lines of public and private engagement. Kim Kardashian’s 2011 marriage lasted for 72 days, and was seen by some as illustrative of celebrity life as a performance, as spectacle. Whatever the truth of this (and Kardashian’s own statements refute it), Sam Riviere has used the furor as a point of ignition, deploying terms from Kardashian’s make-up regimen to explore surfaces and self-consciousness, presentation and obfuscation. His pursuit is toward a form of zero-privacy akin, perhaps, to Kardashian’s own life, that eschews a dependence upon confessional modes of writing to explore what kind of meaning lies in impersonal methods of creation.

The poems have been produced by harvesting and manipulating the results of search engines to create a poetry of part-collage, part-improvisation. The effect is as refractive as it is reflective, and disturbs the slant on biography through a bricolage of recycled and cross-referenced language, until we are left with a pixellation of the first person.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman Headline

In this new volume, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction-stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013-as well as BLACK DOG, a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods.

Trigger Warning is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explores the realm of experience and emotion. In Adventure Story-a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane-Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience A Calendar of Tales are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year-stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale The Case of Death and Honey. And Click-Clack the Rattlebag explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

Autumn Republic by Brian McCleellan 

The capital has fallen . . .

Field Marshal Tamas has finally returned to Adopest, only to find the capital in the hands of a foreign power. With his son Taniel presumed dead, Tamas must gather his beleaguered forces and formulate a plan to defeat the Kez – no easy task when you’re outnumbered and can’t tell friend from foe.

The army is divided . . .

With their enemy bearing down on them, the Adran command is in disarray. Someone, it seems, is selling secrets to the Kez. Inspector Adamat is determined to flush out the traitor, but as the conspiracy unravels, he will learn a horrifying truth.

And all hope rests with one man . . .

Taniel Two-Shot, the powder mage who shot a god in the eye, is on the run. He possesses the sole means of defeating the Kez, but to do so he must evade treachery at every turn. If he fails, Adro will fall.

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough – Gollancz 

This is an exceptional, contemporary, heart-breaking novel.

Toby’s life was perfectly normal . . . until it was unravelled by something as simple as a blood test.

Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House; an out-of-time existence far from the modern world, where he, and the others who live there, are studied by Matron and her team of nurses. They’re looking for any sign of sickness. Any sign of their wards changing. Any sign that it’s time to take them to the sanatorium.

No one returns from the sanatorium.

Withdrawn from his house-mates and living in his memories of the past, Toby spends his days fighting his fear. But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes.

Because everybody dies. It’s how you choose to live that counts.

March

 The Faces of God by Mallock – Europa Editions

Murder and depravity are Police Commissioner Amde Mallock’s daily bread. As far as he is concerned, mankind has been thoroughly abandoned by God, and the visions that haunt him do nothing to disabuse him of this notion. But nothing he has encountered has prepared him for the sudden appearance of a serial killer dubbed “”””The Makeup Artist.”””” The bodies of the killer’s first victims, found in four separate neighborhoods of Paris, are monstrous works of art, baroque masterpieces of depravity. As Mallock investigates, he is shocked by the level of devilish behaviour

 The Mirror of Melody Black by Gavin Extence – Hodder

Life has its ups and downs. From the author of The Universe Versus Alex Woods comes a dark, painful and witty novel about a woman whose life is spiralling out of control.

You’re going to find some of my actions frustrating. I’m hard to live with, maddening, uneven – I get that. But I can’t stand around listing my faults or we’ll be here for ever. All I ask right now is that you indulge me. For as long as it lasts, this is going to be one hell of a ride.

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link – Canongate

Fantastic, fantastical and utterly incomparable, Kelly Link’s new collection explores everything from the essence of ghosts to the nature of love. And hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers, Ouija boards, iguanas, The Wizard of Oz, superheroes, the pyramids . . .

With each story she weaves, Link takes readers deep into an unforgettable, brilliantly constructed universe. Strange, dark and wry, Get in Trouble reveals Kelly Link at the height of her creative powers and stretches the boundaries of what fiction can do.

 The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But at least the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased.

The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. They expect to face many hazards – some strange and other-worldly – but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another.

Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge and war.

May
 
Starborn: The Worldmaker Trilogy by Lucy Hounsom – Tor UK

When Kyndra accidentally breaks a sacred artefact at her village’s coming-of-age ceremony, she finds all hands turned against her. Then, following too swiftly for coincidence, a madness sweeps her home, along with unnatural storms. An angry mob blame her and she fears for her life – until two strangers, wielding a power not seen for centuries, take her to safety. They flee to the sunken citadel of Naris, but worse dangers will lie ahead, amongst the underground city’s politicians, fanatics and rebels. But in its subterranean chambers, she will find her true path – facing betrayal and madness to find it.

Kyndra, like every reluctant hero, has a choice: seize her destiny with both hands or walk away, perhaps dooming a whole world to fall. Starborn is about a girl coming of age, but it’s also about heroism. Its strengths, burdens, responsibilities and – not least – its consequences.

 The Case of the Hail Mary Celeste by Malcom Priyce – Bloomsbury

It was Tuesday the second of December 1947 when Jenny the Spiddler walked into my office: almost a month before they nationalised my mother.

Jack Wenlock is the last of the Railway Goslings: that fabled cadre of railway detectives created at the Weeping Cross Railway Servants’ Orphanage, who trod the corridors of the GWR trains in the years 1925 to 1947. Sworn to uphold the name of God’s Wonderful Railway and all that the good men of England fought for in two world wars, Jack keeps the trains free of fare dodgers and purse-stealers, bounders and confidence tricksters, German spies and ladies of the night.

But now, as the clock ticks down towards the nationalisation of the railways Jack finds himself investigating a case that begins with an abducted great aunt, but soon develops into something far darker and more dangerous. It reaches up to the corridors of power and into the labyrinth of the greatest mystery in all the annals of railway lore – the disappearance in 1915 of twenty-three nuns from the 7.25 Swindon to Bristol Temple Meads, or the case of the ‘Hail Mary’ Celeste.

Shady government agents, drunken riverboat captains, a bandaged bookseller, a missing manuscript, a melancholic gorilla and a 4070 Godstow Castle engine – the one with a sloping throatplate in the firebox and the characteristic double cough in the chuffs – all collide on a journey that will take your breath away.

 The Day Shift by Charlaine Harris – Gollancz

It’s a quiet little town, perched at the junction between Davy Road and Witch Light Road, and it’s easy to miss. With its boarded-up windows, single traffic light and sleepy air, there’s nothing special about Midnight . . . which is exactly how the residents like it.

So when the news comes that a new owner plans to renovate the run-down, abandoned old hotel in town, it’s not met with pleasure. Who would want to come to Midnight, with its handful of shops, the Home Cookin diner, and quiet residents – and why?

But there are bigger problems in the air. When Manfred Bernado, the newest resident in town, is swept up in a deadly investigation suddenly the hotel and its residents are the least of the towns concern. The police, lawyers and journalists are all headed to Midnight, and it’s the worst possible moment . . .

June

 Stallo by Stephan Spjut – Faber

In the Summer of 1978, a young boy disappears without trace from a cabin in the Dalecarlian woods of Sweden. His mother claims he was abducted by a giant.

The previous year, in the Sarek National Park, Laponia, a wildlife photographer takes a strange picture from his small airplane, of a bear running over the marshes. On its back sits a creature. It looks like a small monkey, but the photographer claims he has taken his first picture of a troll.

Twenty-five years later, and back in Laponia, Susso runs a web page dedicated to searching for creatures whose existence have not yet been proven: the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot. But Susso’s true obsession is Trolls. When an old woman claims that a small furry animal has been standing outside her house, observing her and her five year old grandson for hours, Susso picks up her camera and leaves for what will become a terrifying adventure into the unknown.

Because what if there really are trolls out there, and they’re taking our children?

Any you like the look of? I’ve got a longer list. A much longer list. And I’ve got books that came out in 2014 that make 2015’s reading  a year to look forward to immediately:
 gavreads_2015-Jan-01
Have I got any resolutions? Only to have read a list of books I’ve enjoyed by the end of the year.

Audiobook Review: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

Foxglove_IconWhere do you go after the literally shocking ending of Broken Homes. PC Peter Grant, Britain’s only official apprentice Wizard, had been investigated events at architecturally curious high-rise estate called Skygarden before Ben Aaronovitch pulled a very large rabbit out the hat.

Well it seems that life, and crime, carry on. This time Peter is off to the Herefordshire countryside to see if anything supernatural is involved in the disappearance of two girls and his investigation starts with doing a routine elimination check on a wizard who has hung up his staff.

Aaronovitch keeps the format tightly woven in the police-procedural mode with Peter being the good copper he is and adhering to his training and the fundamentals of police work. One of the strengths of the series is that it reads like crime fiction with magic. To be honest I am surprised by how popular they are outside genre circles as magic and the supernatural play a major part of the plot. But through Peter’s eyes they always feel grounded and accessible.

Peter is also a good narrator of his own adventure though for me that narrative voice is synonymous with Kobna Holdbrook-Smith who reads the audio books and he is now my Peter. I mention this mostly as it took me a week to listen to the 10hrs and 45 minutes of audio. I can’t really multitask when listening to an audio book but luckily I had a a 5 hour round trip which topped up with snatches on my commute, and a bath or two to fed my addiction.

I really can’t say what one thing got me hooked. The setting reminds me of home. Getting away from London and into the countryside we’re introduced a wonderful cast of colourful characters. Ben drops some well waited hooks and teases with revelations about Nightingale, Beverly Brook and Molly. Plus Kobna as a wonderful way of saying latin phrases.

This is the first book in the series where Peter is kicked out of the nest of London and away from DCI Nightingale’s protective wing. Like the last book Aaronovitch keeps the plotting focused and narrow – and in a way simplex. You can summarise the who did what to whom and why quite easily at the end. It would it completely spoil your enjoyment if I did but it’s the investigation of the events which makes Foxglove Summer compelling. It’s who does what during an investigation, where the suspicions fall and how you keep a story hungry media fed without them getting a whiff of magic balanced that draws you in and keeps you on the hook.

I only have one small niggle and that’s the wizardly talents that PC Grant has. It’s hard with magic to keep it from being a deus ex machina to pull out and fix things. There is a a great one used here but not by Peter. He’s getting good at impelo to blow things up but I’m craving a little bit more variety in his bag of tricks.

I really can’t fault it. Foxglove Summer is a fun and well told police procedural which manages to keep the magic to investigable levels. Aaronovitch shows no signs he nor Peter is tiring, in fact, here he shows us that his apprentice wizarrd can coming out of his master’s shadow and shines I hope Nightingale keeps having a role as he’s so much fun to read and watch especially as he blows up a barn.

We leave with the story with new questions, which hopefully will result in teasing answers in the next book.

Highly recommended.

Anne Rice Answers Three Questions

I’m so excited to be able to bring you this quick interview with the extraordinary Anne Rice. Queen of the Damned is one of my favourite ever novels and reading that Lestat has further adventures to share is truly exiting. Without further ado here is a brief but nevertheless exciting Q & A:

Prince Lestat

What inspired you to return to Lestat after more than a decade?

New ideas. New visions. New possibilities. At the time I retired from the Chronicles (2003) I really had no more to say with Lestat. I associated the Chronicles with some of the most painful parts of my life. But as the years passed, I kept thinking of Lestat, wondering what he would think about this or that cultural development, what he might have to say about this or that new film or book. He was alive for me, out there, in exile. Finally I went back and reread all of the books, and he was talking to me again, coming out of exile, out of his ‘depression’, wanting to live again. It was glorious.

Why do you think vampires continue to be such a popular phenomenon? What has changed in the genre while you’ve been writing?

I’m not surprised at all at the popularity of the vampire. The concept is so rich – the vampire is a metaphor for the outsider, the outcast, the artist, the addict, the alienated one. So of course writers would come along and do new and interesting things with such a rich concept. The vampire craze today is author driven. But the movement amongst some very popular authors is towards domesticating the vampire – the very opposite of my approach. We’re seeing the vampire as the boy next door, the guy next to you in biology class in high school, or the handsome man you meet at the nearby tavern or bar. It’s quite interesting. My vampires are mythic, tragic, larger than life. I’m kind of delighted by all the variations.

What do you think the new generation of vampire fans will find in your novels that they may not have come across before?

My emphasis has always been on the vampire as godlike, heroic, hugely powerful, facing the challenge of immortality as his physical and mental powers grow beyond his wildest dreams. If the new generation wants the vampire as mythic hero, I hope they will be drawn to Lestat. Also my beloved vampire heroes are international; they come from all parts of the globe and they roam the earth in their quest for love, and for meaning. I absolutely love exploring Lestat’s ties to Paris and the Auvergne where he was born; I enjoy describing the life of Armand and others today in New York; it was fun for me to explore what vampires all over the world were up to as they confront the problems of the modern age. If readers want a global vision of the tribe, if they enjoy my cosmology – how the vampires came into existence, what unites them, etc. – well, I think they might enjoy Prince Lestat. But what has always driven my work is character. I’m in love with Lestat, with Louis, with all of my vampires. And if readers share that intense love, well, the books will work for them. I’m an intensely romantic writer. But what I write is a romance of heroes, of those who are larger than life… because I believe truly that just about everybody is larger than life.

Are you, like me, looking forward to reading more from Lestat? Please let me know in the comments.

Prince Lestat by Anne Rice is out now.

SFR: Jack Shade in the Forest of Souls by Rachel Pollack

Fantasy&ScienceFiction-201207_thumb[7]Rachel Pollack presents a shamanic noir 14,447 word novelette and introduces us to the Traveller and private eye Jack Shade, who also appears in a more recent tale ‘The Queen of Eyes’ and at least one more to come. He’s also in a short (short) story on Rachel’s website.

I was going to pick up her new book The Child Eater but I got sidetracked (temporally) by hearing about this in a recent interview.

In ‘Forest of Souls’  Jack is called from a card game by a man who posses his business card and Jack goes to investigate how he obtained it.

I love a good ‘urban detective’ and was curious how shamanic noir would turn out. I loved it. This case involves a visit to the forest of souls through a very curious entrance and a mystery that isn’t what it first seems. It is relatively short so it can be read in one sitting andJack Shade has lots of curiosity to explore in future stories.

I was a little surprised that Rachel Pollack would write a classic-feeling noir but I wasn’t surprised that she’d write it well or inject a lot of mysticism into it as I’ve read a lot of her thoughtful non-fiction (mostly tarot-related). I have high hopes for The Child Eater and Jack’s next case.

Review: Elric: Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock (1989)

fortressofthepearl

According to its  original publication The Fortress of the Pearl is 8th in The Elric Saga but The Michael Moorcock Collection and Wikiedia places it chronologically second, after Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories, and if, like me, you are reading in chronological order this is Elric’s first big adventure.

I was going to say that this is a better start than Elric of Melniboné but I’m not sure it is. Elric of Melniboné is an exploration through several short stories (and a comic book script) of how Elric became who he is, but here a lot of it that background is implied or mentioned only in passing. I’m not sure it would have the same impact on the uninitiated. You’d still have fun reading it but some the weight would be removed.

Elric crawls towards the city of Quarzhasaat, after trekking the southern edge of the Sighing Desert, and having run out of herds that give him vitality he is near is near death. He is rescued by an entrepreneurial boy who sells his skills for a deadly price. One that can be paid by recovering the pearl of the title.

Moorcock makes it look easy. Elric’s task of finding the Fortress of the Pearl and then the precious pearl  sounds simple but Moorcock uses it to explore reality, dream, expectation, wish fulfilment amongst other things.

So far in his adventures’ Elric’s journey’s have had a strong spiritual element. This differs as he’s not travelling into some dream/reality past he’s going into another construction of a dream. Here he is without his usual knowledge and instead gains a guide, Alnac Kreb  whose philosophies revolve around Balance pulling Elric away from his usual Chaos though not completely towards its opposite Law.

There is a sword and sorcery element but it doesn’t revolve around his vampiric sword, the Stormbringer, but its influence can still be heavily felt, and Its addictive qualities are paralleled through Elric’s struggles with an elixir he is tricked into taking.

As he is guided towards the pearl he gets to see how an ancient city of an enemy has attempted to rewrite his race and their empire from history and at the same time building up the myth of the pearl into something which can bestow real political power.

For all this it feels very traditional though not overlay familiar and certainly not stale. It combines the right mix of thought and pure adventure though part of me wanted Moorcock to lose some more the traditional scaffolding and for Moorecock to risk freewheeling a little more..

It is a solid adventure for our hero, though as we see at the end, he’s a hero still that doesn’t hold back when embracing chaos.

I’m on a roll and ready to read The Sailor on the Seas of Fate

Review: Speedy Death by Gladys Mitchell (1929)

speedydeath Alastair Bing’s guests gather around his dining table at Chaynings, a charming country manor. But one seat, belonging to the legendary explorer Everard Mountjoy, remains empty. When the other guests search the house, a body is discovered in a bath, drowned. The body is that of a woman, but could the corpse in fact be Mountjoy? A peculiar and sinister sequence of events has only just begun…

Speedy Death is the first novel of sixty six to feature Gladys Mitchell’s detective Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, a polymathic psychoanalyst and author, and it sets the model for the all the other ones I’ve read so far. Though it also introduces an aspect of Mrs Bradley’s character that I didn’t (and probably wouldn’t) have known without reading this. I won’t spoil it but it definitely makes her stand out from the Miss Marples of this world.

The body in the bath is a unlocked door mystery where no-one seems to have a strong alibi. This really isn’t a spoiler as the body and the unlocked nature of the room are revealed by the end of the first chapter. What is clever is how Mitchell spends the next 322 pages rattling round the same country house with the same core characters without it feeling drawn out.

The strength of this book is how Mitchell keeps presenting each character for analysis, which giving us time to get to know them and to consider whether they are the murder. Mrs Bradley is, interestingly, placed off to the side though you’d think that being a guest she’d be in the perfect position to snoop and inform the readers in reader.

Instead, another guest instigates the investigation and draws Mrs Bradley into their confidences but having her become interested does draw her into the judgemental gaze of the police. You can see that Mitchell is challenging usual conventions of disbelief like the one where the police accept help without placing any suspicions on the helper.

What is particularly sweet is the other characters reactions to finding out that the male Mountjoy and the women in the bath could be the same person. Not one of them made that the issue, which is unexpected 1929. The setting makes a contemporary version of this novel unrealistic but I feel that today’s grittier writers would make it a source of conflict.

I love the unexpected nature of Mrs Bradley, she’s a bit of unwanted guest here, as it does make herself very useful and indispensable at key moments.

Honestly it ticks all the cosy crime boxes. If you’re a fan of cosy crime or clever mysteries please do give it a go.

Next up in the series for me: The Longer Bodies.

SFM Review: Slow River by Nicola Griffith (1995)

slow-river-coverI can’t shake the impression I have that science fiction is going to be dry (or that fantasy is going to be some pseudo-medieval Royalty with magic). I know better. I’ve read so many books that aren’t those things and I keep waiting to be proved right. I think you’ll agree this is madness.

The only reason I mention it is because Slow River is anything but dry and dusty. It’s complex, emotive, and daring. It leaves a mark, which is one that I want from the SF Masterworks collection. I do want them to leave a lasting impression after I’ve read them as much as I’d like them to be worthy of being put on a pedestal. Obviously, the reasons for elevation vary, historical importance being one, but impact for me is the thing that keeps me exploring and Griffith definitely has that.

Lore’s troubled life is presented through three different timelines: childhood, recent past and present. The present is told in the first person and the flashbacks are told in the third. Actually, it’s unfair to call them flashbacks as they are threads that weave to let the reader know how Lore Van Oesterling, daughter of one of the world’s most powerful families, ends up with a thief and predator like Spanner.

It raises one big question: What would you do to survive? Lore’s new life with Spanner does make for uncomfortable reading. The depths that Lore descents to in order to pay off the debts owed to Spanner, who rescued her when she was dropped naked and injured in the street after her kidnaping, is a long way to fall.

Lore’s first meeting with Spanner is described in the recent past thread and in the present she starts a job, which is several levels below her knowledge and skill, but is also safe from scrutiny, that is until she has to out herself to her suspicious boss or risk the lives of her co-workers.

Getting to know Lore at these differing points, her childhood being probably the saddest, makes for a powerful exploration of who she was and who she has to potential to be. The ease in which Griffith presents the rightful normality of the same-sex relationship that Lore and Spanner share is to be commended, though if it wasn’t as self-destructive then there would be no drama. It’s the dynamic of their relationship, rather than the sexuality of it, which makes it dangerous.

There is a under-representation LGBT characters in speculative fiction in general and having Slow River as a SF Masterworks is a confidence boost especially as Griffith doesn’t shy away from the the darkness which Spanner subjects Lore to, there is romantic sex and depraved acts (due to their impact on Lore rather than the acts themselves), but all are shown with the same respect to the characters and the story that Griffith has set out to tell.

Part of me is jaded by stories of impossibly rich people because it removes layers of reality and replaces them with an easy fantasy but this story used that difference to good effect as even in those scenes where the ‘reality’ of wealth is too distorting Griffith keeps it raw. She shows the ways  Lore’s parents use their children as pawns and how naivety can obscure the reality of the situation. If you’re wondering why doesn’t Lore just leave or go back to her family? Well that gets explained and, as in this life, going back isn’t that simple.

Griffith leaves the ‘best’ revelation until last and makes it the most gut-wrenching moment though that’s not the only one you’ll have. This story has several moments where facts shift your understanding. I’m tiptoeing around so much of what makes it a powerful and essential read but I really don’t want to say to much more.

Slow River deserves its place on the SF Masterworks and needs a slightly higher pedestal just to make sure it’s not overlooked.

Read it.

Review: The Crimson Campaign by Brian McCellan (2014)

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Just to get this out of the way, Brian is a client of mine and I’ve been typesetting/ebooking the  novellas and short stories he’s written in the same Powder Mage universe so this review has some bias. Saying that though, this is still an honest review otherwise there would be little point in writing it. Luckily I really liked it.

Speaking of being honest, military fantasy is not my go-to genre, and traditional medieval-eurocentric fantasy is something I can take or leave (shock horror), which makes me a hard sell. The first book in this series, Promise of Blood, was one of the most enjoyable books I read last year but it also left me the most conflicted because of its ‘conventional’ use of female characters.

At the end of the first book I wasn’t sure the direction this series was headed but now it’s obvious that this is a full-on war story, if Promise of Blood laid down the battle lines, The Crimson Campaign digs the trenches and sets the stage for the bigger battle to come in The Autumn Republic.

McClellan has carved his niche in this saturated market by focusing in gunpowder. He has Powder Mages, military men and women, who use gunpowder to give themselves superhuman strength and speed. They can also control bullets and explode gunpowder at will.

There are other magics like those with a  ‘knack’  like never needing sleep or a photographic memory, though these are minor compared with Privileged who can destroy a building with a wave of a hand. Power Mages fall somewhere in middle of that scale. And then there is also Ka-poel, with her ‘savage’ magics.

By the opening of the first book Field Marshal Tamas killed almost the entire of the Royal Cabal of Privileged. This is important because there is an incident early on here which isolates Tamas and his Powder Mages from the rest of his army, and in doing so losing Adro the tactical advantage with their war with the Kez.

And here is where my stamina for military fiction shows. There was a point about a third in were we keep going from Tamas marching through enemy lands to his son, Taniel Two-Shots, who is trying to keep the battle lines form falling back  as the Kez press forward. I honestly thought of putting it down. There is only so much marching and fighting I can take.

And to be honest as I saw this was turning into big battle war story I imagined it was going to continue with an unending descriptions of fighting and marching but as we (Tamas, Taniel and I) push past that section it turns again and from then on I was again hooked.

There are three threads here. In addition to the two already mentioned Inspector Adamat is focused on saving his wife but to do so he has to investigate the mysterious Lord Vetus. These threads are picked up from the first book but unlike the first one, where all three really had the same goal, here we see them separate into their own stories.

McCellan keeps his chapters short and tightly focused so it’s not long before you’re catching up with what each of the three is doing and apart from that one section the pace keeps moving at good speed. Our author likes to keep the reader on their toes with twists and turns and revelations. He likes surprises as well and the build-up towards the end has an enjoyable reveal, which also sets a different the scene for the last book. And I like the main characters hadn’t seen it coming.

There are a couple odd moments where my enjoyment of the main characters overrode a nagging disbelief in the scenario but I was having too much fun to let that spoil anything. And without spoiling things for you the part I felt it the most is an escape scene where the lack of people being around is too odd not feel strange. But that’s a minor niggle.

As I said at the beginning I enjoyed The Crimson Campaign. Brian seems to have tried to address the issues with the female characters within the boundaries of his world and, as the middle book of a tilogy, it’s made me eager to find out what he has planned for his characters.

Bring on The Autumn Republic!

Review: The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas (2013)

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In Commissaire Adamsberg Fred Vargas has created one of my favourite detectives. There is something about his unorthodox methods and his obsessions which makes him endearing. It helps that Vargas has injected his squad with plenty of their own idiosyncrasies such as having an unending stock of food hidden away, being an unstoppable impossible force (you’ll have to read to find out what this means) and a detective who often speaks in verse. You also get to see the bonds strengthen with his newly discovered teenage son – who has changed a lot since we first met him.

But it’s Adamsberg who everything centres around which makes it a wonderful, if sometimes confusing, read.

This time his reputation attracts a mother from Normandy, well away from his jurisdiction, whose child has seen a vision of the ghost riders and since the middle ages their appearance has signalled a grisly end to murderers, rapists and those with serious crimes on their conscious. The mother is worried that people will die and impresses how much she needs the help that only  Adamsberg can provide.

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec marks Adamsberg’s seventh appearance and there is no sign that Vargas is tiring. She gives three cases for her detective to solve; the affect of the rider’s  appearance; a lad who may have falsely accused of torching a car with the driver still inside; and  the cruelty to a pigeon. Through these cases you see Adamsberg’s methods and his team in different lights. Most strongly felt is the camaraderie and loyalty he brings out in all those involved.

Vargas is one of those writers you need to trust and as mentioned in my review of An Uncertain Place I went through the same feelings with that one as I did with this.  Vargas is very skilled at placing obscure and seemingly unrelated details down in the first section of her novels though this does make it feel very foggy and slippery. The problem with this technique is that if it wasn’t for Adamsberg (or from reading her previous work) you might not feel you have a guide you can trust.

But then suddenly the fog clears and you can see the path and know that Vargas has been you leading you quite a merry dance. That’s not to say that you’re being tricked because Adamsberg is as much in the dark as you are as a reader and it feels that you are both finding out together. Though Adamsberg’s clockwork is hidden so you don’t known everything he does but you can still hear the explanatory ticks.

Siân Reynolds deserves a special mention for doing the translation work and making the whole thing flow. I always used to worry that that a translation would mean clunky and second-rate prose but Reynolds (as have other translators of other works) has made it feel seamless.

In conclusion, unlike many other detectives, Adamsberg’s compassion for those involved makes this serious alone a good read but when you see how clever Vargas is of putting unseen information in plain sight it becomes compelling. I’m yet to come away from her novels without feeling I’ve ‘won’ something. I  really hope you we get another.