The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker

Read again March 2019
Recommended for fans of Spenser, really old school PI
 ★     ★     ★    

Ah, the first Spenser mystery, the one to start a series of almost forty books in forty years. Having started it somewhat in the middle, I went back to the beginning to see where it all began. I found writing that appealed even more than mid-series when Parker had distilled his writing down to the bare bones. Though I’m a fan for the art of minimizing in my physical life, there’s something to be said for richness in mood and setting, particularly in a mystery, and this supplies it in spades. It is also coarser, to be certain; late Spenser was sanitized and heroic, faithful to Susan. It’s clearly early Spenser, evidenced by a gratuitous torture-porn scene that literally did nothing for the plot, and Spenser’s general attitude of a swinging 70s ladies’ man.

There’s a bit of social commentary as well, which late Spenser also seems more comfortable avoiding. Spenser is consulted by a college dean who wants him to find a missing illuminated manuscript which is apparently being held for ransom. He has to spend his time hanging around radical, anti-establishment college students who are all about the dogma, man. It allows for some solid, world-weary reflections: “I felt the beer a little, and i felt the sadness of kids like that who weren’t buying it and weren’t quite sure what it was.” One of the radicals gets framed for murder, so the case rapidly shifts from a missing McGuffin to a Find the Real Killer.

It’s interesting, sometimes, to read these and feel the time period soaking through. This is a booze-soaked story, to the point of a cop offering Spenser a pint as he’s recovering in the hospital, and the cops are very period. I was kind of amused/fascinated to find an incident where the police officers transported a gunshot victim. They did that, you know, pre-ambulance days. Emergency medical services didn’t really get underway until 1970, and paramedics a bit later. I’ll be honest; the female characters are accessories, which would annoy me more if it had been long-standing through the series. No, some day, the psychologist Susan will come in and annoy us all with her anorexic eating habits, so I suspect my tolerance was indirectly the result of my irritation with future direction. Parker is also weirdly fascinated by clothes and describes what each character is wearing, even extraneous ones. Again, kind of fun in the retrospective sense.

 

“He looked like a zinnia. Tall and thin with an enormous corona of rust red hair flowing out around his pale, clean-shaven face. He wore a lavender undershirt and a pair of faded, flare-bottomed denim dungarees that were too long and dragged on the floor over his bare feet.”

Overall, a solid P.I. mystery, and a good start to a series.

 

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Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Read March 2019
Recommended for fans of Christie, Sayers
★    ★    ★    ★  

I didn’t know much about the Magpie Murders when Dan 2-Headphones suggested it as a buddy read. I read the description, and though it seemed suspiciously lit-fic–I was loathe to experience another Cloud Atlas–I gave it a try. The set-up is indeed a bit lit-fic: an editor sits down to read the first copy her author’s book, and then the story launches into a book-with-a-book format.

For a life-long fan of Christie-type mysteries, the first half is a beautiful, solid reproduction of an English manor mystery. Specific books came to mind, such as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and After the Funeral, but mostly it felt like a Christie theme park English village, complete with wealth landowner and wife, a doctor, a vicar and his wife, the person that runs the pub, a gardener, the ‘girl friday’ (or whatever decade the cleaning person is), a mechanic, a police officer, and shopkeepers of various sorts. There are people decrying the behavior of the young, and people resenting the new development/housing. Horowitz does update it nicely by giving us a female doctor, but he can’t resist giving us a Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings, although in a semi-hysterical move, he makes Poirot into the German Atticus Pünd (honestly, I’m surprised he didn’t go with a Frenchman, just for fun). Tell me this sentence doesn’t just scream Poirot:

“Of course I do not believe the things that you suggest and it gives me no pleasure to ask you these questions. But everything must be in its place. Every statement must be verified, every movement examined.”

Then we go back to the modern mystery. For the most part, the narrative does not jump back and forth between ‘book’ and modern time, which I appreciated. There are visual cues to make it clear: page numbers, typesetting, and chapter headings all aid in differentiating the two sections. Both ‘books’ are in limited third person perspective.

Horowitz is clearly a talented writer. The homage to the ladies of the Golden Age of Mysteries is solid, without feeling syrupy or arch. The modern section has an updated linguistic feel, more introspective and more philosophical about mystery books, murder, and puzzles. I did enjoy many of the musings/insights.

“It was as if my new life was an anagram of my old one and I would only learn what shape it had taken when I began to live it.”

It’s very good stuff, but I’d agree with lucky little cat’s assessment of two flaws: first, that it dragged a bit in the second half. I had thought that was me and my preference for the classic English manor mystery, but on further reflection, I’d say some of the sections could use cutting, particularly the relationship drama. Second, that the ‘puzzle’ at the very end seemed ill-fitting. I suppose it was about shock and coarseness, but it didn’t feel integrated with the tone of the remaining story.

There truly isn’t much more to be said without spoilers, but I’d say never fear, Horowitz will not disappoint. Give it a try.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch

Read March 2019
Recommended for fans of urban fantasy police procedural
★     ★    ★    ★  

You should always realize that my ratings for Ben Aaronovitch are relative to his own works; his Peter Grant series is generally five-star in comparison to any other urban fantasy. In this novella, he leaves Grant behind to follow Tobias Winter, a special agent in the special division for magical enforcement in Germany. Winter is relaxing at his parent’s house when he gets a call about “possible infraction in Trier,” which is official-speak for a potentially magic-related death. He is assigned a liaison officer, Frau Sommer, and together they work to solve the mystery.

It’s an interesting idea, to base the concept of a story on the idea of a world and the police procedural structure, but to leave out any characters from the last seven books. Tobias needs to explain the whole ‘magic’ thing to Sommer, so a reader joining the world at this particular point would not be left out. In a way, that’s a nice idea. For series fans, however, I’d say this will feel slightly disappointing, as there have been so many interesting characters throughout the seven books that I could name a handful that would be a lot of fun to explore. Kumar, from the Underground; the sword-wielding Li; Madame Tang; even, dare I say, more Abagail. I know he’s been doing some of the exploration with the graphic novels (Guhleed, Nightingale, the River Twins), but those prove less character-expanding and more about the adventure.

Tobias, unfortunately, felt largely like a watered-down Peter to me. Less funny, more methodical, prone to explaining but also still prone to methodological leaps. He gets a run and a cooking interlude to help distinguish himself. Sommer felt largely bland, with portentous hints.

There’s a bit of German language sprinkled in. To be honest, I’m not sure why. It doesn’t really give much of a sense of atmosphere, and since German isn’t really a common language, it’s largely incomprehensible. Here’s one bit:

“I joined the Bundeskriminalamt rather than the Polizei Baden-Württemberg so Papa wouldn’t be able to order me about at work.” 

or

“Trier is not famous as a policing hotspot, having been voted Germany’s Quaintest Town five years in a row in the poll of popular destinations conducted by the Deutsche Zentrale für Tourismus.”

Sigh. Ben, Ben, Ben. You’re missing the point of using non-English words in your writing when you are writing in English. You are supposed to be conveying the inexplicable, or a cultural signifier, n’est-ce pas?

This is going to sound grumpy, I suppose; but you should always assume that I like an Aaronovitch book and what I have to specify are the ways in which it wasn’t a five-star read. The writing is clear and sophisticated. There’s certainly weird bullocks, as Det. Seawoll would say, but it’s used to good effect. Violence and gore for the sake of being thrilling and titillating is generally avoided, although there’s certainly some more horrific elements here than what we’ve usually seen Peter deal with. A new kind of fae sneaks in, as well as more encounters with rivers. Plot moves reasonably fast, although typically twisty, once we get Tobias out to Trier. Setting is developed decently, and definitely feels different from London policing. 

That said, I’d really prefer Grant & Co. There were just a couple of points where I laughed, one early on: 

“Despite my admiration for Förstner’s ability to insult both of us at the same time, my brain still finally managed to flag a crucial piece of information.”

I was left feeling like I spent the day with Peter’s older, more serious brother. A decent story, but I missed the sense of fun.

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How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America

Read March 2019
Recommended for health care providers, patients
★     ★    ★    ★  

I don’t know that I’ve ever read anything that came so close to summing up my years in health care. That said, there’s one thing to get out of the way. The title is, as they routinely are, misleading. The appropriate title would be: Dr. Otis’ Thoughts on a Broken Health Care System and His Career in Medicine. Clearly, since Dr. Otis is African-American, male, from a prestigious family, trained as an epidemiologist as well as a medical doctor, and a national healthcare leader, we have different relationships to the system. But we’ve both spent years in oncology, done stints in the ER and have met many of the same types of patients and unfortunately, have noticed many of the same types of problems, so minus the Dr. Otis part, there’s a lot here that I will attest to as being absolutely, sadly, totally true.

It’s an extremely readable book, especially considering it is about health care and non-fiction. Granted, I’ve been in the field, but compared to I Contain Multitudes, which was excellent but idea-dense, this flew by. I was halfway through the book in a day. No doubt, Brawley’s co-writer, Goldberg, gets much of the credit. As a journalist, he’s probably comfortable conveying his ideas at a generalist level.

Brawley works for much of his career at Grady, an Atlanta hospital known for providing care to the poor, and particularly the African-American population once desegregated really took off (there’s an interesting aside about the ‘H’ shape of the building and the blacks literally being at the back). The ‘Chief Complaint’ chapter discusses a working-class woman, Edna, who comes in with a significant case of advanced breast cancer so severe that her breast has actually fallen off (okay, this I have never heard of, being in a relatively high-healthcare-using population). He discusses the ins and outs of late stages versus early stage and points out that “Had she come early in the course of her disease, it would have cost about $30k to cure her. She could have remained a taxpayer. Her kids could have had a mother. Now, a cure is not an option. Still we’ll fight… give chemotherapy that will cost more than $150k, even though chances are that she will still die in less than two years. Brawley talks about some of the specifics of breast cancer and relates them to risk. Right now, statistics tell us that African-American women tend to get the more lethal form of breast cancer and therefore die younger, but he explains how some of that may be screening bias over potential genetic disease risk. If you haven’t heard it by now, 25% of Medicare costs are for people in their last year of life. (source), so this concept of preventative versus “heroic” care is hardly unique.

‘Brawleyism’ is a short chapter on Otis Brawley, the author, and his family history as rebels. He then discusses the overall economics of the American health care system, and the fact that we’re 50th in life expectancy. Again, this isn’t new, but what is interesting is that he states “A rational system of health care has to have the ability to say no, and to have it stick.” Very powerful stuff… but he doesn’t quite take it to the next step and say the woman in chapter one shouldn’t have had chemotherapy. He does talk about about how financial incentives are built in for doctors who own/profit-share in labs, pharmacies, and imaging centers. At the very least, many have a professional and implicit bias where they believe their profession can help, although evidence may be slight.

‘Cadillac Care’ discusses how even people who have access to advanced care can be steered wrong. He contrasts Edna with Helen. While both are African-American, Helen is a highly educated, financially secure breast cancer survivor/advocate who is treated with a mastectomy  and a bone marrow transplant, with the result of five months in a hospital and further time at a rehab center. Brawley spills the beans on how transplant programs were money-makers in the 1990s -20s for breast cancer. This treatment was based based on four randomized trials, with less than 1500 people, one of which was found later to be fraudulent. In this section, Otis also touches on his experience with black people being legitimately suspicious of the health-care system (particularly in the South!) and of black doctors.

People, this low-proof, expensive treatments are going on right now with CAR-T cell therapy, hailed as the next cure for ALL and B-cell lymphoma, only those studies are based on about 150 people. And roughly a third of the people died. But half of them were cured!

‘Red Juice’ talks about a drug called Procrit, another potential lifesaver on the cancer scene back in the 2000s. I started nursing when they were still pushing it as a way to recover blood counts that dropped as the result of chemotherapy, but it was only a couple of years later before they slapped the FDA’s strongest warning, a ‘Black Box warning’ on it. It turns out it led to a significant increase in strokes and heart attacks. Brawley shares a bit about a woman’s personal experience with it (I think she might have had 200 doses during her treatments) and how it was a money-maker, with $4.9 billion in sales in 2006 (so you can stop the bullshit about research costs, Amgen). He has insider info on how doctor practices that made ‘larger’ purchases could get back 21% in ‘rebates’ on their purchase, as well as discounts on their white blood cell stimulators.

Which are still on the market and making big, big dollars, as they’ve been proven to reduce length of neutropenic days (although I’m not sure if the data ever tied that into reduced death/infection rates).

So it feels a little like same snake oil, different decade. People wonder how I’m old and cynical. It’s because of this reading thing. I tell you, don’t do it.

A couple of chapters–and again, an unfortunately common refrain in my experience–was the story of Mr. Huzjak, a 78-year old who had stage 4 non-small-cell-cancer (with a 5 year survival rate of about 6% for distant mets). He was comatose when brought in, but his children wanted “everything” done. The family practice doctor couldn’t convince them. Otis couldn’t convince them. He finally died after enduring pain (the only thing he reacted to) of LPs, CTs, chest tubes, tube feedings, a MI and chest compressions. End result: same. Except it was traumatic for all concerned, particularly Mr. Huzjak. Oh, and expensive. I can’t even tell you how upset I get with Americans and their concepts about death (see Death Panel Discussions, Health Care Reform). Personal example: my own mom is 74 and won’t even talk about it like a reality, plan for it, whatever. Frigging baby boomers think they are going to live forever. Have you seen the obituaries where people say someone “unexpectedly” died at 80? Uh, no, people. That’s outliving our average lifespan right there; nothing unexpected about it.

Some of his story is more about himself, particularly towards Part III, and about population statistics, epidemiology and preventative medicine. He uses the example of poor Ralph, who stopped in for a “free PSA screening” at a local mall, had a high PSA, had surgery, then radiation, then medical complications. Screening for prostate cancer is even more complicated than screening for breast cancer, and what they’ve mostly found out is that it shouldn’t be done unless there is a reason to do it. Otis talks to a marketer who points out that the screening is good PR, brings people into the health care system (who are usually on Medicare), who might be candidates for drugs for incontinence and erectile dysfunction and implants. Otis also connects it to the rise of the DaVinci robotic surgery (which is an expensive device that came to my hospital shortly before I left) that has a $100k maintenance plan and requires 100 plus procedures for the practitioner to become proficient. It also tends to result in a small amount of biologically active prostate tissue being occasionally left behind, resulting in continued elevation in PSA.

TL; dr: The summation: use evidence-based medicine (not just from societies, who have a vested interest); don’t let your fears guide you into excessive treatment (as a patient or as a practitioner); preventative medicine costs less than curative; don’t be afraid of death. There’s many, many worse things than dying largely pain-free with people you love around you. Okay, I made that last part up. Otis didn’t explicitly say that. He calls his solutions “Rational Health Care.”

Overall, I’d highly recommend it for people in hospitals and clinics. It should make practitioners think about what we recommend and why, and what and who is behind our recommendations. Likewise, as a consumer, it might help us understand that asking questions is good. Not just “have you done this before,” or “what do other people do,” but, “what does the evidence say.” Yes, there’s an art to medicine, where careful assessment and questioning can get one far. A good practitioner should be able to couple that with cost-effectiveness and risk-analysis when it comes to exposure (if our cancer patients live, the odds of getting secondary cancers is quite high. We aren’t helping with all the radioactive scans to ‘reassure’ on progress).

Reasons against five stars: It really should have left out the beginning bits of Otis’ career, especially his training in epidemiology. I don’t know that it was germane. There’s a little tension in this story between the need to make it The Otis Story and the Breaks Ranks About Being Sick. I would have liked him to be bolder about calling the American Medical Association out for allowing bad doctors to practice, but we have to be realistic, I guess.

 

Organization:
Part I: Three From the Gradys. Divided into five short pieces, ‘Chief Complaint,’ ‘Brawleyism,’ ‘Cadillac Care,’ ‘Skepticism,’ and ‘Wallet Biopsy.’

Part II: Failure Is the System. ‘Red Juice,’ ‘Tumor Promotion,’ ‘Defibrillation,’ ‘Palpitation,’ ‘Saving Mr. Huzjak,’ ‘God is Calling’

Part III: More Is Better. ‘Ole Boys’ Club,’ ‘Snuffy’s War,’ ‘How Much Protection?’ ‘The Guillain-Barré Syndrome,’ ‘Saving Representative Silvio Conte,’ ‘The Quintessential American,’ and ‘Faith-Based Medicine.’

Part IV: Evidence-Based Medicine. ‘The Denominator,’ ‘From the Health Fair,’ ‘Behind the Blue Curtain,’ ‘False Guidelines,’ ‘Algorithms for Judgment,’ ‘Saying ‘Enough!” ‘Project LEAD,’ and ‘Epilogue.’

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A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead

Read February 2019
Recommended for older little people who like animals, sick days
★     ★    ★       

Zookeeper Amos is faithfully at the zoo every single day, taking care of the elephant, the tortoise, the penguin, the rhinoceros, and the owl.

One day he doesn’t show up and the animals wonder and wonder where he is, until they decide to take the bus to his house and check on him. The story is very sweet.

 

 

The illustrations are a style that works less well for me. I think the younger eye is trained a little bit more towards brighter colors and contrasts, and this book feels a little pastel, a little faded.

 

I appreciate it now, but I don’t know about how it will translate to young eyes. We did read it to a visiting 5 year-old who, coincidentally, was coming down with a cold. I appreciated the mouse that made an appearance on most the pages, ala the Lowly the Worm in Richard Scarry’s books. Cute story and one I might have been tempted to add with a stronger palette.

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Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby by Ace Atkins

Read March 2019
Recommended for Spenser fans
★     ★    ★   

Robert Parker wrote a Spenser P.I. book almost every year since 1973 until his death in 2010. He was extremely influential on the P.I. genre, but in his later years his quality was sacrificed for cash cow possibilities (he suddenly started publishing two to three books a year after he turned 65). Ace Atkins was tapped by the family/estate to continue the Spenser series, and he succeeds fairly well.  I felt like Atkins achieved the Spenser feel, although he’s more of a golden retriever type writer and HE’S GONNA DO IT JUST LIKE PARKER ONLY MOOR BETTER!”

Ingredients to a Spenser novel:

  • appearance by bestie Hawk, workout buddy, kick-ass, deadly, sharp-dressing black dude. Please ignore the traditional stereotype role. 
  • Susan, Spenser’s Harvard-educated long-standing life-partner, except they never say, ‘life-partner,’ because that would be lame. Susan has an eating disorder (undiagnosed), occasionally worries about Spenser and enjoys sexy times.
  • Pearl the Wonder dog
  • doughnuts
  • cop friends. Atkins gives us all of them: Belson, Quirk, and FBI guy, Epstein
  • commentary on Boston. Here, Harvard area and Southie area
  • cooking episodes. I think there was something with sausage here
  • Boston Red Sox
  • random literature reference
  • bonus friends in this book: the smokin’hot Rita and Vinnie the shooter

Atkins gives many nods to prior incidents in the series, such as the time he and Susan separated, the time he shot Gerry Broz, the cases involving Joe Broz, the cases involving Vinnie, the mentions of his semi-adopted kid Paul. He also ‘updates’ the characters. Slightly. Susan actually eats! (Although it’s mostly egg whites, lettuce and a noodle).

I felt the 14 year-old Mattie, the girl who hires Spenser, was somewhat inappropriately characterized. I finally mentally rewrote her age to upper teens and tried my best to ignore it. Basically, she acts like a contemporary to Spenser and Hawk. Spenser also shows an amazing amount of bad judgement in this book in regards to her. I think Parker would have also given us a more heroic ending without the double climax. This feels movie-scriptish at the end. 

Overall, pretty fun. Definitely a step up from the 2000-era Spenser novels when he was clearly ghostwritten/phoning it in nearing the end of his career. Who knows? I may even pick up the next. I liked it better than Atkins own Colson series.

 

P.S. Richard D.: don’t read this because Spenser winks ALL THE TIME. To everyone: FBI, bartenders, 9 year olds and bad guys.

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The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem

Read February 2019
Recommended for fans of weird lit fic
★     1/2

Mostly, this book makes me sad.

Should you read it?

Only after you read all that other stuff.


 

I remember my last year in college, my last semester actually, when I was having a rather challenging time and wrote a short story about myself from my roommate’s point of view.

And that pretty much nails The Feral Detective, Lethem’s attempt to deal with Trump’s election by writing about himself a laconic man from a disillusioned city woman’s point of view.

Sadly, it’s a mess. The main character is Phoebe, a minor editor at the New Yorker who quit everything after Hilary’s loss. Her urge to flee coincided with a request by her mother-figure to look for her missing daughter, Arabella. Phoebe flies out to California, where Arabella was last seen heading towards a mountaintop retreat of Leonard Cohen’s. She hires a local detective, a rangy, somewhat musky, bohunk of a dude-man who collects animals and houses feral children in his office, in a completely non-creepy way.

All of this is supposed to be non-creepy, but of course, it is, complicated by the first-person voice of Phoebe. Lethem writes the most non-convincing female voice I’ve heard in awhile, kind of a teenage Bridget Jones. On the plus side, I don’t think she referred to her boobs. On the down side, she gives the feral detective a blow job the third time she meets him because she’s sad, drunk, and horny. It’s also a vaguely creepy scene in that his three dogs are totally voyeurs. Then, by page 90 or so, Phoebe is going through ALL THE EMOTIONS in one scene. Because that’s how we roll, ladies. The feral detective gets to be all stoic and laconic, but not our heroine.

Batch of text under sub-spoiler, just for length. Note the vascillation from screaming to tears–not unusual for Phoebe, the words describing their interaction (such as it is) and the general nonsensicalness of such words.

It gets progressively weirder when we meet some desert ‘tribes’ living off the land who are named after rabbits and bears (sadly, we don’t mean the hairy gay kind). At this point, it’s clear we aren’t dealing with a detective mystery at all but Sophisticated Literary Fiction With Deep Allegorical Meaning about politics and gender divides and whatever else that I can’t be bothered to understand in my tiny lady-brain.

loved Motherless Brooklyn. This? This bears no similarity in characterization, plot, setting, narrative, or subtlety. I suppose a disconnected sex/relationship scene is the same. But otherwise, no relationship. It’s littered with political references (I really don’t need anti-Trump references in my escapist fiction) that will make this feel dated by 2025, and cultural references that might not survive much longer (such as Phoebe’s own weak bear joke). Recommend a hard pass.

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Housetrap by R.J. Hore

Read February 2019
Recommended for fans of noir fantasy
★     ★    ★ 
 

Sometimes I find these little surprises on my Kindle. Call them gifts from carol.-past, or perhaps errant waves and electrons slipping through the ether. Or Amazon’s own little advertising efforts. Well, whatever. A novella that felt very much like Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I. series (first is Sweet Silver Blues), only with Even More Wisecracks! ™. I mean, if that isn’t an advert, it should be.

A P.I., a slummy bar (run by a family of grizzlies), an elven dame looking for her errant boyfriend and a family heirloom. It’s mostly what I’d expect, fully dabbling in the seedy P.I. noir tropes. The world sounds like a complete fantasy and sci-fi mash-up, with vampires, banshees, harpies and wizards sending ships to Mars.

It’s fun, albeit in that way that sugared-up, caffeinated-up fun movies can be, where suddenly it’s just exhausting, and could we just go back to being normal please? There’s a twist or two that I’m not quite sure sits with the tone. It’s a fine line and I’m not quite sure Hore got it here. The ending actually made me feel a little let down, which is actually extremely appropriate for the over-sugared analogy, now that I think about it. I’d think–but I’m hardly sure–that I might have gotten this for a dollar, in which case, worth it. But the other ones seem to have a $2.99 price, and that doesn’t seem worth it.

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Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys

Read February 2019
Recommended for people who enjoy quiet exploration
★     ★    ★    ★ 

The title captures it perfectly; quiet, deep, thoughtful. Well, yes, there are multiple dimensions and worlds, and horrors from the night, and a smattering of G-men who are paranoid the Russkies might get their hands on powerful weapons before the Americans do. There’s also questions of families, of bloodlines, of spiritualism and of living one’s own life. It is very much a timely and yet otherworldly book.

Narrative is primarily in first person, that of Aphra, one of the last remaining full-blooded people of the water. She and her brother, Caleb, are hoping to find other ‘mixed-blood’ relatives who might be persuaded to rejoin them at Innsmouth and rebuild their race, inasmuch as it is possible. However, there are short page or two interruptions that contain first person accounts from one of the other characters. They bring another perspective to the situation, and occasionally add a scene in which doesn’t have Aphra in it. In some cases this humanizes other characters; in others, it might cement the reader’s dislike of the character.

Setting is New York City, which was intriguing. I like Emry’s word-smithing. Focus-wise, it contains a nice balance of description, rumination and dialogue, although tilts perhaps slightly higher to the rumination side.

“Spector straightened, shook his head, and led us down to the subway station. Tiled walls created an echoing cave of footsteps and muddled conversation, but the crowd was sparser. I was relieved to see signs forbidding cigarettes and pipes; my throat still stung after the ride from Boston. Even so, the platform air was a stew: half-spoiled food, urine, sweat, faded perfumes and musks. It cloyed and teased, wavering curtains of rot blowing aside for a moment to reveal hints of lust and roses.”

Ultimately, I found it very interesting and immersive. These were books I wanted to sit down and read without interruption, not because of the suspense, exactly, but because I wanted to fully sink into the world. I read when I had time and awakeness to pay attention.

Miscellaneous thoughts of advice:

No, it’s not a horror-thriller.

No, you don’t have to know Lovecraft, although you might appreciate some of the nods to the Lovecraftian worlds. As Emrys notes in her ‘thank you,’ a couple of her ideas capitalized on previous authors in the Lovecraft universe.

Yes, you really should have read Deep Tides before this one. It is very much a continuation. I’d say the two books together are a duology, and feel like the ending in this made for a satisfactory conclusion.

 

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The Dry by Jane Harper. Why, yes, a bit

Read February 2019
Recommended for fans of Australia
★     ★    1/2

I read it. 


Really, carol., you think you are going to get away with that shit? You’ll never remember this book. I can barely remember it now. I picked it up because a friends’ review got me interested in book 3, and I thought there may be some sort of personal arc happening in the main detective’s life. But I’d guess probably not, because this book resolved his distant past. Basically, he grew up in a small farming town. Had his high school group, particularly a friend, Tom, who was kind of a dick but usually not towards him, and two girls they hung with. Falk goes back for the funerals of Tom’s family, which is somewhat controversial as it appears Tom murdered his wife and son and then killed himself. Tom’s dad is wondering if something is off financially and maybe Tom owed someone money or something because of the drought (those farmer loan sharks are ruthless) and wants Falk to look at the farm’s finances. Falk shows, a little afraid he’s being blackmailed by the dad, because of a childhood incident with him and Tom. Turns out that that isn’t it at all; dad is also wondering if that streak of meanness he saw in his son meant he truly could have done the crime.

That’s the set-up, and it seems a decent one on the surface, except that I’m not quite sure how Falk could have misinterpreted the dad’s intentions so deeply, and, in retrospect, I think instead of getting a solid character picture of Tom, I might have been left with a confused character picture. At first he seems a golden child, everybody loves him and he can do no harm. Then he just looks like an average dude with a family, then as Falk remembers more history, he looks like an asshole. This may be my problem, however, as I’d rather people be consistent as well and not do all that changing around all the time.

So, Falk sticks around and makes friends with the town sheriff, and they unofficially work the case, because to officially do it means they’d have to let the other department that investigated the family’s deaths know. This seems weird to me as well, but I guess it is small town Australia? And Falk has a connection to the town, so it’s okay? The sheriff-person takes Falk on interviews and shares materials, and goes to the crimes scene, and all that sort of stuff, which seems quite dodgy, even for a land peopled by criminals.

And boy howdy, is it HOT in Australia right then. The longest drought in years and years, and Harper tries to make us understand it, but all she really does is talk about how people are going bankrupt and how some rosebushes died and how the A/C can never keep up and, once, how the showers were supposed to be three minutes long. Idk, I guess I felt it a little, but I didn’t really feel it. Part of it might have been Falk. It isn’t until at least half-way through the book when he visits a major river from his youth and discovers it is dried up that the impact of the drought really sinks in.

The other aspect–and I’m in a Wisconsin city, but I think I’ve met some of these people, and that’s why I’m having a hard time here–is that these rural, small-town farmers were fuck-all nasty to Falk after an incident as a teen, resulting in his dad and him leaving town, and they still seem to carry the memory 20 years later. And (view spoiler)I wasn’t impressed, as it felt too extreme. Twenty years later, his car (view spoiler) Extreme. Still harassing people that live in Falk’s former home? Extreme.

Narrative pops back and forth between the now and the time when Tom and Falk were teens, scenes that are cued by italicized writing. Usually the past sequences are witnessed by Falk, but not always, and at the end, they are omnipresent point of view.

So, the book. Setting decently done. Actual writing style/word choices, above average. Characters… only medium done. I felt like they were squished around to fit the story, especially in Tom’s case. Mystery… mixed. The plotline in the past I saw from a mile away, which was disappointing and boring and sad. The current one was a nice surprise, but the ending was ridiculous. And the actual reason for the murders extreme (view spoiler) And don’t forget during all this that Falk is basically a forensics detective. So, a little weird. I’d say all in all, it doesn’t bear looking too closely, but if you can manage to turn Logic Brain off, it’ll do.

 

Passed it to The Mom. We’ll see her verdict.

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