Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Night Watch, A Darkness on the Edge of Town

Two books about which I don't have much to say.

I used to be a big fan of Pratchett's Discworld novels, then lost interest.  Now, 15 years later, I decided to give the series another go with Night Watch.  I must admit, I really enjoyed it.  Pratchett is a funny guy.  My only qualms with the book are (a) there's an odd mix between the humor and a couple of the characters who are just casually brutal, and (b) I sometimes find the mix of humor and didacticism grating, even though I tend to agree with the POV presented.  Oddly enough, the second of these is the reason I stopped reading in the first place.  But maybe it's been long enough, because I'm ready to dive back into the series again -- but this time I'll take it slow...

J. Carson Black's On the Edge of Town introduces her detective Laura Cardinal.  I found Cardinal appealing, but I didn't like the book very much.  Yet another serial killer book, this one features two serial killers, maybe more.  The serial killer sub-genre is a more than a little over-crowded now, and so it takes more than this novel has to offer to stand out.  (John Connolly's Charlie Parker novels, for example, impressed me)

The Cold, Cold Ground

The Cold, Cold Ground is the nth book by Adrian Mckinty which I've ended up listening to in Gerard Doyle's narrative voice.  At such point as I end up reading Fifty Grand, I'll have to make the agonizing choice of print vs audio, since Doyle didn't narrate that one, and the two seem inseparable to me.

In this novel, McKinty puts Doyle to the test, setting the novel near Belfast during the Troubles, with different accents coming thick & fast.  I, of course, can't tell one Irish accent from another (although the Rhodesian one was quite good, I thought), but the sounds give one an idea of the ... I'm not sure what to call it ... ethnic mix isn't right, neither is tribal identities, but Belfast at the time was very divided, the accents are a sort of metonymy for the conflict.  (On a side note, I thought the Doctor's accent came & went a bit, but that's a minor point).

That aside...  how was the actual book?  I quite liked it, although I've got to admit that a priori it wouldn't normally be the sort of book I'd tend to read.  The Troubles aren't really a period that grabs me particularly (although I also liked Eoin McNamee's Resurrection Man).  But McKinty's been a writer I enjoy reading since Dead I Well May Be, so I decided to give this one a shot.  After a lyrical beginning, Cold, Cold Ground is stylistically fairly restrained, which lets you focus on the very colorful events going on around Sean Duffy, the protagonist.  A Catholic cop living in a Protestant neighborhood, Duffy is not exactly marked out for a quiet life.  Here, he ends up involved in two murder investigations, one official and one on his own time (more or less).

One thing I liked about Cold, Cold Ground is that the story is very tied to its time and place, but at the same time don't feel didactic.  The Troubles form a necessary backdrop, but somehow it doesn't feel like McKinty wants to lecture me about them.  I guess I'm mostly thinking of Stuart Neville's Ghosts of Belfast, which felt pretty uninteresting to me, because it did feel very moralistic.  Not that McKinty's world lacks a moral center; Sean Duffy is a man with a clear moral compass, even as it leaves him in the occasional quandary.

Two last points.  The amazon review mentions a serial killer.  At this point in my life, I'm heartily sick of serial killer novels, but this one is sufficiently different to be interesting .  Even in the early stages, where it seems more standard, there's enough other stuff going on to keep the story vibrant.  Second, Duffy goes through a bit of a sexual awakening that felt kind of tacked-on (sorry if you're reading this, Adrian).  I assume it'll play out in the later novels of the trilogy, but it just felt kind of extraneous here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Thicker Than Water

Thicker Than Water is the fourth novel in the Felix Castor series, which I've said before is the best of its little sub-genre of noir urban fantasy.  Actually, that strikes me as damning with faint praise, given the competition, so I should probably say that it's one of the strongest fantasy series going, as well as one of the strongest noir series going.

Carey has a mordant sense of style:
[I]t’s got a bit of class, as hospitals go. Tell me it wouldn’t lift your spirits to be wheeled out of an ambulance past that terrific eighteenth-century fa├žade. ‘Bloody hell,’ you’d think, ‘I’m going up in the world.’
As well as arresting images like "The next day dragged on like a wounded snake across a barbed wire entanglement."

The preceding is all common to every book in the series, but there isn't much to say specific to this one, except that Carey finally fires the Chekov's gun he's been showing since book 1.  I'm very much looking forward to the fifth novel.

Jewish Dog

Finally finished The Jewish Dog. It's a bit hard to write about it from a literary perspective, because, having poured so much time and effort into it, I want it to be excellent.  With that caveat out of the way...

For most of the book, Kravitz juggles the irony of the dog's perspective of the Holocaust compared to the theoretically more advanced humans'.  But, in the end, the dog comes to understand what's going on in the death camps, and I thought that this part wasn't so successful.  By the time he meets his former Jewish master, the story has turned into a fairly straight adventure story, without the levels of awareness that made up the previous sections of the novel.

And then, at the very end of the novel, Kravitz redeems it all in a master-stroke.  Dog and master die, go to heaven, and meet God.  Instead of a full-on discussion of theodicy (which I think wouldn't have worked anyway), Joshua (the dog's owner) argues with God about whether the dog is even allowed into the human heaven.  There's also some studied ambiguity about the Heavenly Dog who appears from time to time in the novel -- what connection does he have to God?

Overall, I think this was a book well worth the time it took to read, although I'd probably counsel slow Hebrew readers (like myself) to skim through the last few chapters until the epilog.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Robinson Crusoe

Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe is one of the earliest English novels, and in some ways it shows its age, particularly in the too-long denouement.  But overall, I found it pretty enthralling, and it often surprised me.

For example, in a bit of what we'd now call multi-culturalism, Crusoe decides that he shouldn't interfere in how the savages conduct themselves, since they have their own norms, which are not the same as his.  Of course, this is all over-laid with a dose of 17th century imperialism; the savages have their own norms, but the British norms are still better, and Crusoe knows that eventually they'll come over to Christianity.  But he feels that it's not his place to presume to correct them (except in the case of Friday, of course).

The novel is as much a story of Crusoe's spiritual odyssey as it is a story of his physical struggle to survive.  Crusoe attributes his success to Divine Providence, which constantly allows him little favors, like the survival of some amount of corn so that he can raise corn on his island.  It seems a little churlish to point out that, in order to teach Crusoe a lesson, God kills his 20-odd crewmates, but that thought kept running through my head.