Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Box 9, Lost Girls

Jenna and I went on a trip this weekend, which, as always, means a chance to get in a lot of reading (and we listened to an audiobook on the drive, which was Slaughterhouse Five).

Two of the books were more than a bit hard to find, involving some haunting of used book stores -- Andrew Pyper's Lost Girls and Jack O'Connell's Box 9. Both are also somewhat cross-genre.

Lost Girls is a ghost story, although, for whatever reason, it's marketed as a mystery novel. Barth Crane is a very unsympathetic lawyer trying to defend a client accused of killing two girls and dumping their bodies in a lake. There's a mild twist in that, contrary to the usual way these books go, his client actually did it. More interesting is the suggestion that there's a vengeful spirit living in the lake who actually trapped the girls, and this spirit begins to haunt Barth as well. But Barth is also completely cracking up from his cocaine usage, lack of sleep, and so on -- maybe the spirit thing is supposed to be a hallucination. The book is a bit coy about it, but I think that, ultimately, Pyper comes down on the side of the ghost being real.

Box 9 is nominally a detective novel; aside from being published by a mystery publisher, and winning an award for best first mystery, it features detectives, drugs, gangs,and all the paraphenalia of an urban mystery. But it doesn't play out much like a mystery -- for one thing, there's no actual crime to solve, as such. Our detectives don't do a whole lot of detecting. Instead, O'Connell is writing about language and communication. It's no accident that the new drug that has swept into this urban environment acts on the language centers of the brain. It makes users understand faster and speak faster -- which, on the face of it would seem to ease communication. Instead, though, users become violent and try to kill each other. It seems that the drug is pointing out the limits of language as a means of communication -- even if time is not an issue, we just can't communicate everything with words.

I'm falling asleep as I write this, so I don't think I'll delve any further into Box 9, which certainly feels like it has a lot to say, more than I can write about here. Also, I'm hoping to tackle the other two books I finished over the weekend in my next post (note to self: that would be The Watchman and Slaughterhouse Five).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Poet, Child 44

I listened to Michael Connelly's The Poet, and just finished that the other day.

It was an interesting experience. The book was a pretty straightforward police procedural -- solid, but not something to blow me away. But the audio really added another dimension to the narrative. The narrator gave even the most minor walk-on characters a distinct voice, even when the actual text doesn't give them so much individuality.

I'm finding Child 44, which I'm also listening to, to be just about the opposite. I love the text, but I find the narrator grating, and I think that he distracts from the story by having all the characters sound almost the same.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I finished the Histories last night, and find I don't have much to say about them. Part of the problem is that they're just so broad and far-ranging. I almost feel like I write a few paragraphs about each book, but I frankly don't want to spend the time.

I think one thing that really struck me is how much Herodotus's personality and interests seem to come through the writing. He's very rationalistic in some ways -- he doesn't like legends very much, and tries to figure out a reasonable explanation for them. (The Trojan War happened because Helen was stuck in Egypt; Darius was raised by a woman named Kyno, not by a she-wolf; etc). Yet at the same time, he seems to believe in oracles and the gods implicitly -- disasters befall those who violate the gods' temples, and oracles always end up coming true (or the oracle was lying).

He's very inclusive. He'll tell you a story, even if he doesn't believe it. (Interestingly, some of those stories he doesn't believe are now thought to be true, because of archeological evidence unavailable to Herodotus.)

The other thing about Herodotus is that he's very lively -- I found that the characters seem to come alive more than they do in Thucidydes. I only remember a few impressions of the people in Thucidydes -- principally Cleon and Pericles. Whereas I feel like I'll remember Themistocles, Xerxes, Artambrazos, and others for a longer time. (OTOH, Thucidydes is much clearer about the over-all progress of his war -- it's much easier to see the big picture)