Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Couch, The Devil You Know

Still catching up a huge backlog of books...

Benjamin Parzybok's Couch starts out very strongly.  It's a novel about three roommates who, for various reasons, end up trying to carry a couch from Portland, OR to the Amazon jungle, and the novel starts out funny and surreal.  But it all ends up a bit too much of a shaggy dog story, and by the end of the novel the "funny" has dropped out of the running, and the surreality isn't quite enough to carry the story forward.

This was a book I really wanted to like -- Parzybok has aimed high with this novel, and noble failures can be more interesting to read than staid successes -- but just felt like it dragged on too long by the end.  As a side note, I felt that the final revelation of the couch's secret was not so interesting.  I think those kinds of dramatic reveal are hard to pull off successfully, though, so I don't hold it against the novel particularly, but I suppose a particularly strong ending might have revived my affection for it.l

Mike Carey's The Devil You Know is working in a similar space to the early books of Jim Butcher's "Harry Dresden" series -- a supernatural hard-boiled detective/wizard (wise-cracking of course) set in some approximation of the real world (as opposed to books like the "Lord Darcy" ones, in which the detective is in some fantasy world).  Butcher pretty quickly moved away from the sub-genre, which is probably just as well; Carey shows us here how it should be done.

Felix Castor is an exorcist, a professional ghost-dispeller, not a detective at all.  But when he's hired to dispel a ghost from a museum, he ends up getting sucked into the mystery of how the original person died.  Carey integrates the ghost story into the hard-boiled detective novel absolutely seamlessly.  Castor never seems to switch personas between sleuth and exorcist -- often the one activity leads straight into the other.  The detective bits are very solid, and some of the supernatural parts are as spooky as anything I've read in a while.

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