Sunday, September 29, 2013

King's Ransom

A while back, amazon was offering a good deal on a large selection of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, about which I've heard many good things, so I decided to snap up the first bunch, up to King's Ransom, which I've been curious to read since seeing the Kurosawa movie based on it, High and Low.

As it turns out, I was both pleased and disappointed by this novel.  The first disappointment is that in just about every way, the movie is much stronger.  The kidnapping is simpler, the industrialist's character arc is better, and we don't actually meet the kidnapper until the end.

On the other hand, I've mostly been underwhelmed by the 87th Precinct novels so far, and this one finally turns the corner to be not too bad.  (Talk about damning with faint praise.  But it's the best I can do here).  But, having said that, my second disappointment is that the novel also wasn't really stand-out good either.  Maybe I can be convinced to try some later novels in the series, but for now I'm done with it.  I get that these books were written a long time ago, but Raymond Chandler's novels (for example) still leap off the page, and they're even older.

The Killing Kind

If the Felix Castor books are a mix of hard-boiled detective novels into the fantasy genre, The Killing Kind (and the rest of the Charlie Parker novels) are the flip side of the coin, putting some ghosts into a hard-boiled detective novel.  The ghosts don't really have a plot function as such (in fact, they're completely passive; they never even speak); instead, they're there to add another layer of dread and horror to this tale, already brimming with atmosphere.

I think the presence of ghosts in the novel also serves to give the human villains a sort of supernatural tinge, even though they're never explicitly presented as being anything other than human.  By allowing the possibility for one sort of supernatural occurrence, Connolly seems to leave the door open for others.  And, in a lot of ways, The Killing Kind could be read as a horror novel.  The main antagonist would work just fine in a horror novel, and he and his sister are very spooky when working in tandem.  They have an almost preternatural ability to appear in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I think it would bother me in a more realistic-seeming novel.

On the other hand, the detective elements are also well-done, and I find myself looking forward to more of Connolly's blend of horror and hard-boiled fiction.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is one of those novels where the main character is a child (in this case, 11 years old), yet is not at all written for children. The story opens on a gruesome note (yet a little darkly humorous, for all that) as young Pia Kolvinbach's grandmother lights herself on fire and burns to death.  The story becomes exaggerated, and Pia becomes known as the girl with the exploding grandmother.

Ostracized by the other children her age, Pia becomes friends with the other social outcast, Stefan, and the novel more-or-less chronicles their next year together.  Although the novel is ostensibly a mystery, about the titular vanishing, I didn't find the mystery to be the main attraction.  I'm not sure author Helen Grant did either; less than half of the novel is given over to it, and even there, we saw more of how the stress of a disappearing child plays out in the town, and not very much about solving the mystery.

Helen Grant weaves together legends from the town of BadMuensterEifel (where the novel is set); a good small-town setting; and the interesting characters of Pia herself, her family, and the town citizens into a compelling coming-of-age story.  Really, the coming-of-age story is not a genre that typically interests me; for me, the exceptions all have some other interesting facets to recommend them.  So it is here -- Grant is very good at placing Pia at a time when she still wants to believe in fairy stories, but is growing too old for them.