Thursday, January 31, 2013

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a bit of a peculiar child itself.  Riggs has taken a lot of "found" photographs and woven then into a novel, mostly seamlessly.  In that sense, this is a stand-out book; some of the photos are spooky, some arresting, and they add some flavor to the novel.

Unfortunately, if the photos are a tasty garnish, I found the main meal of the novel to be fairly standard stuff, in the plucky-kids-take-on-evil vein.  Briggs' prose is fine, and there's nothing really wrong with the novel (except for the ending, which is very much a let-down), but there's not much to make it stand out either.  (In some ways, it strikes me very much as YA novel)

I suppose I'd read a follow-up, if I heard that it got more interesting -- I can imagine Riggs writing a more interesting second novel.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Jewel in the Crown

Paul Scott's Jewel in the Crown, the first book of his Raj Quartet, is one of the best novels I've read in a long time.  The book circles around the rape of Daphne Manners in the Bibighar Gardens during anti-British rioting.  Through this lens Scott looks at India at the end of the British Raj period from a variety of perspectives -- Hindu activists, British policemen, military and civil leaders, etc.

Impressively, none of them comes across as a "type"; instead, each person springs to life as an individual caught up in the affairs of the time.  (The closest to an exception is the British military commander, who feels like a creation that Scott didn't have much empathy for -- he's a bit too close to the blustery stereotype we have of that sort of soldier.  But even he feels pretty realistic).

I'd go on, but there's no point to just piling on superlatives -- this was a fantastic book, and there isn't much else to say.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Blood Safari

Deon Meyers' Blood Safari is a very competent thriller set in the lowveld in South Africa.  I enjoyed it a lot; I think Meyers has a real gift for pacing -- there were only a small number of action scenes, so they were nailbiters when they showed up.  Not a whole lot else to say about it; maybe there'd be more to say if I lived in South Africa and had an opinion on the suspicious death of the president of Mozambique in an aviation accident, which I gather from wikipedia was a big deal at the time.  But I'm not...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Hugh Howey's Wool is something of a cause celebre among self-publishing enthusiasts.  It's garnered numbers of reviews and sales that many traditional-path authors would love.

The novel was originally published in 5 installments, and the first three stand pretty well as independent short stories.  I also felt that these three stories are stronger than the last two much longer stories, because they felt fresher.  I think the turning point for me is the end of the third story, the last line of which is the worst kind of action-movie cliche.

Not that stories 4 & 5 are bad, but they're somewhat predictable, compared to the first 3.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

House of Silk

House of Silk is the first official Sherlock Holmes novel approved by the Doyle estate (or the first in a long time, not sure which), and I was interested in tackling it.  But I think that Anthony Horowitz drops the ball in a couple of ways.

The hard thing about writing a Sherlock Holmes novel, I think, is that the detective is so brilliant that it's hard to keep him stumped for the length of a novel.  Horowitz solves this problem by intertwining two mysteries, "The man in the flat cap" and "The house of silk."  The first one (the flat cap mystery) starts off the novel, then Holmes is drawn into the house of silk story, and then there's a coda in which he solves the flat cap story.

Part of the problem here is that by the time we return to the first story, the stakes are so much lower than those of the main story, and we haven't seen the characters for so long, that the ending doesn't feel so interesting.  And this is unfortunate, because of the two stories, I felt like the flat cap story was much more authentic.  The resolution of that mystery felt like the sort of thing Conan Doyle would have written.

The house of silk mystery, on the other hand, is more problematic.  Part of the problem is that it's obvious from early on what the resolution is, because Horowitz tells us it's too shocking to be published during Watson's lifetime.  That doesn't leave too many options, and it was clear to me that Horowitz was going for the most obvious one.  In addition, I thought that his usage of Moriarty was gratuitous, as is giving Watson's wife a deadly disease just to show (I assume) that he knows that Doyle is contradictory about her, and that some fans speculate there was more than one wife.

Broken Harbor

Tana French  writes psychological studies that happen to be mystery novels.  Her novels are at least as much about the investigating officer as about the mystery of whodunit.  I thought that her best integration of plot and psychology was in Faithful Place, her third novel.  Sadly, I still think that's true after reading her fourth novel, Broken Harbor.

Not that Broken Harbor isn't good.  As a view into the mind of detective Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, the novel works very well; we see his journey from complete control over himself and his emotions into a man who can't keep it together.  His relationship with his sister gives an extra fillip to his story, and his fraying nerves are on display most when he's trying to deal with her.

But the story itself is overly complicated.  For the whole thing to work, French puts two borderline crazy people into the story, then adds in a third person who has a nervous breakdown.  Throw in Mick's schizophrenic sister and suicidal mother, and it feels like sane people are a small minority in French's Ireland. This novel is not so much as disappointing, particularly after the very successful Faithful Place.

The Complaints

After Exit Music, Ian Rankin rather boldly decided to end his long-running Inspector Rebus series and start a new, unconnected one.  I thought this was a really positive move; the Rebus novels hit their peak about five books before the end of the series, and I was happy to see something new out of Rankin.

Of course, it's hard to review a novel like this in a vacuum; the first question one has is whether Malcolm Fox is just Rebus redux or something new.  Fortunately, he's actually pretty different, but not just a photographic negative of Rebus, which would have felt about as pointless as an exact copy.

Suffice it to say that Fox has his own quirks, the team he works with is reasonably interesting, and the mystery itself isn't bad.  The only odd thing to me was that it seems like Rankin was ready to resolve the Breck sub-plot in a completely different direction, and it felt like that ending was just dropped on the cutting-room floor.  A lot of the minor bits with Breck don't quite make sense with the pat ending; I wonder whether Rankin will pick up those pieces in a later novel.

Ultimately, I felt like this was an improvement over the last couple of Rebus novels, even if it didn't quite reach the heights of the middle of the Rebus series.