Monday, June 30, 2008

The Hunting Wind

This weekend I finished the third Alex McKnight book, The Hunting Wind (See my comments on the second one here.) Hamilton has been breaking the "rules" through the series (climax in the middle of the novel, climactic moments off-screen, etc), and keeps it up here. The book starts without much a mystery (an old friend of Alex's wants to track down an old girlfriend), and the stakes don't really go up toward near the end. And, at the end, we're left with no resolution of one of the central pieces of the book -- why does Alex's friend want to track her down?

In some novels, this would be a weakness -- after all, we're talking about the motivations of a central character. But here, Hamilton has made the friend both very appealing (we want to think he's a good guy), and at the same time seemingly amoral. I think that the answer to the motivation question depends on the reader's view of human nature -- how cynically we view these characters. And, to me, that's a real achievement that mysteries don't often have -- making central characters so ambiguous, but strongly drawn at the same time.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The White Tyger

The 3rd novel in Park's Roumania tetralogy is The White Tyger, a bit of an odd name, actually. We've known that Miranda Popescu is Roumania's white tyger since the first book, even though we don't really know exactly what that means, and neither does she. This novel doesn't answer that question, which is too bad. Instead, it meanders around, not really pushing the plot forward in any meaningful way.

To be sure, a lot happens, but it doesn't feel like the story is moving toward a resolution. I'll finish the tetralogy, having coming this far, but it feels rather more like duty than pleasure. Which is a pity, because Park's writing is gorgeous, when it's in the service of a good story.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Private Wars, Lord Vishnu's Love Handles, Clubbable Woman, Windu-up Bird Chronicle, Fleshmarket Alley

A lot of books again! This time because we visited Israel and Jordan recently, and I always get in a lot of reading while the rest of the family sleeps.

I started vol. 1 of Murakami's Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and so far I'm enjoying it immensely, much more than Out. Murakami deals with serious themes (and, from what I've read, Wind-up Bird is one of the most serious), but always in a playful way. His protagonists sort of wander through the world, letting others take the lead -- in this case, his cat has disappeared, and his wife is asking him to look for it. The search takes him to two psychic sisters, a girl who seems to have dropped out of school, and so on.

I also started The Brothers Karamazov on the plane, but the down side of these trips is that I'm so jet-lagged that serious reading gets difficult, so I'll have to try it again some other time.

Instead, I jumped in Greg Rucka's second Queen and Country novel. I wasn't so thrilled with the first one (see this post), feeling that he over-stretched the narrative to make it into a novel, instead of the shorter comic books. In Private Wars, though, he really pulls things together more solidly. He starts off in a very LeCarre-type key, where our government is supporting an evil dictator in the interest of realpolitik. However, in some ways he simplifies things in a way LeCarre wouldn't do -- the dictator herself is evil, but a lot of the worst torture is carried out by a sidekick, which gives Tara someone to beat up on, giving the audience a feeling that at least some justice was done. But then he pulls a big twist out of his sleeve at the end, and we realize that Tara's world is just as nihilistic as any of LeCarre's stories.

Lord Vishnu's Love Handles is a bit of an odd-ball book, though not as much as it could have been. The hero of the story is a psychic who is kinda-sorta recruited by the CIA, and taught how to hone his skills through meditation and giving up meat. This bare-bones description doesn't really do the premise justice, though. Travis, the reluctant hero, is teetering on the edge of financial ruin and insanity; his psychic gifts tell him that his wife is cheating on him, that his son is about to be eaten by an alligator during swimming lessons, that his wife's genes can talk to him, and all sorts of other crazy things, only half of which are true. While Travis attempts to make sense of all this craziness, he realizes that he's an alcoholic on top of it all. This early part of the novel is the best, where we're never sure which of Travis's visions are real (it's clear that some of them are just his over-active paranoia). At some point, though, Travis starts to straighten out his life, and the novel just settles down, and loses a lot of its fun.

I also read A Clubbable Woman, the first Dalziel and Pascoe novel. It turns out that Reginald Hill wasn't actually planning to write a series with them, and so there's no attempt to introduce them as long-running characters; indeed, the novel doesn't focus on them very much at all. Still, I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Lastly for tonight, I finished Rankin's Fleshmarket Alley over the weekend. This was, sadly, the weakest Inspector Rebus book in a long time (probably in the last 6 novels). The novel really focuses on Scotland's immigration issues, but there's no nuance at all. Rankin obviously feels the current way Scotland handles its immigrants is unjust, and I suppose I'd agree, but if I'd wanted to read a pamphlet by amnesty international, I would've bought one. In the past, Rankin has dealt with some very complex issues in a far more novelistic way, not such a didactic one.