That Ain’t Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire

Read May 2022
★   ★   ★   ★  

Surprisingly fun and a nice return to the attraction the series originally held for me. Snappy dialogue, a tone that nicely balances fun with consequences and an interesting storyline all make for a perfect early-summer read.

“The corn was still moving, shaking and rustling like an entire platoon of creepy kids was hiding on the other side.”

After having read the series on-and-off for most of the books over a number of years, I’d say the the strengths in this series are the incryptids, or the non-human species. Many benign, a few not, but all give McGuire a chance to exercise her imagination-brain and come up with scenarios that result in sentences like these:

“Oh, my sweet Lady Luck, can you people get a room?” asked Cylia. “Should you be making out with the monkey while you have your babysitter in your pocket? Because I’m not human, but that feels wrong to me.”

Weakness, at least series-wide, is a certain sameness in voice no matter which sibling is telling the story. In this case, it is Antimony, or Annie, the youngest of the three Price siblings, on the run from the Covenant with her boyfriend and two roller-derby friends, and occasionally guided by a ghost. They end up finding a place to hole up in Maine (home of the Stephen King novel, as is frequently pointed out).

There’s a novella from the middle male sibling at the end of this one and it was instrumental in sending my mind down this path. I’d also note that I think that while McGuire can occasionally dream up a twisty plot, she can’t always execute it as well particularly in sustaining action sequences, and the contrast between the novel–which was solidly done–and the novella–which was not–was stark.

“The Prices are what they are. They court danger like a lover, and seem surprised when their affections are returned.”

Many thanks to Vivian, whose review inspired me to take a second (okay, fourth) look at the series.

“She started the car, and we drove on toward the future, which looked like it might at least have better plumbing than the past.”

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Amongst Our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch. Or, Primary Weapon: Kobna

Read April 2022
★   ★   ★   ★    1/2

Here’s what you need to know: while I generally am unable to be an audio book listener, audio is absolutely the best way to consume the Peter Grant series. Although I haven’t encountered a story about how reader Kobna Holdbrook Smith was chosen, I can tell you that he and author Ben Aaronovitch have since formed a fantastic artistic collaboration. The series is set in London and fully embraces the regional and immigrant diversity with recurring characters from Scotland, early 20th century upper-class Brit, a Fula from Sierra Leone (Peter’s mum), a Somali (Guleed). Note I’m saying ‘recurring,’ and nothing about the regular but intermittent appearances from my own favorites, the sarcastic Welsh pathologist, the Cockney Zachary Palmer and the hail-from-working-class-Manchester, Seawoll.

This affiliation is evidenced even way back in 2012, when Ben writes on his blog:

“Kobna Holbrook-Smith, acting god, will be narrating the book again and because he did such a good job with the multitude of accents in the last book(1) I’ve thrown in a couple of new ones just to stretch him a bit.

(1) His rendition of the Irregulars out for a night on the tiles had me in stitches.”

It’s occurred to me that a strange sort of synergy can develop like this, perhaps much like the writers of a long-running television show and the equally long-running cast. At times, it can even a case of mutual craft, as Ben states during an interview promoting The Hanging Tree: “I like listening – his Nightingale’s very good, I’ve started to think, when I write Nightingale, I’ve started to think with Kobna’s version of Nightingale, which is quite funny.”

Thinking more about this relationship between author and the reader in this case has me considering Ben’s history as a writer in television seriels (Dr. Who and Jupiter Moon) and musing on the Peter Grant series as being perhaps more akin to television episodes than a traditional ‘book’ series. Perhaps that’s why it can be challenging for some readers who are looking for a consistant and overarcing plot that connects books together. It’s worth noting that Ben continues this thought further in the interview:

I: – and also what is the biggest change in the audio editions, since Kobna started?

KHS: Well, the audio editions is just the books, aren’t they?

BA: Yes, the audio editions is just the books. But, but, I do actually now write a little bit with one ear on the audio sometimes, you know, I think “How will this sound when Kobna reads it?”, and I think “It’ll sound even better with a really obscure accent from somewhere.” Or “How many alliterations can I get into one sentence?”

And, actually – sometimes I go back and I think – I can’t leave that in, Kobna won’t be able to say that. You see, Peter has this tendency to run sentences into sentences into sentences, with lots of subordinate clauses, and I just think – and every time I try and change it I drop out of Peter’s voice. As long as he – I just feel really sorry for Kobna sometimes, going “Is there a full stop in the house?”

I’m convinced this synergy and playfulness is all to the good for listeners. In fact, knowing how the two have worked together, I haven’t even read this book yet. Eventually, I will–I did, after all, order my signed Waterstones copy (one of my last remaining autobuy series). But I might just listen to Kobna again before then.

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Chasing Bats and Tracking Rats by Cylita Guy

Read April 2022
Recommended for junior high libraries
★   ★   ★  

Stellar, top notch idea that seems less than expertly executed to this adult reader. Written by Cylita Guy, illustrated by Cornelia Li, and apparently assembled by committee, Chasing Bats discusses eight different urban ecology studies for the middle to upper grade reader. A short indroduction is followed by four pages of ‘key terms,’ serving, I suppose, to help guide the novice science-minded kid through the next eight chapters (‘urban, experiment, data, bias, processing and results’are all among the terms). Each chapter covers a different study:

-Chasing Down Big Browns (bats in city green space)
-Ratmobile to the Rescue (rats and spatial distribution)
-Bees and a Bug Vacuum (why cities are a good place to study climate change and bees)
-Backyard Bear Buffet (bears and human conflict)
-Bold Coyote, Bashful Coyote (coyote and human conflict)
-Microplastics, Major Problems (pollution and city animals)
-Birdwatching Bias (citizen science reporters area bias)
-A Bike to Beat the Heat (greener cities and heat)

One thing that is odd about these chapters is the way it purports to be about a particular scientist’s work, but then focuses on something else instead. For instance, the ‘Ratmobile to the Rescue’ chapter is subtitled ‘How do animals in cities affect human health?‘ yet the first two pages cover an anectode about how one of the rats escaped and was living in the research van (also, kudos to the researcher for allowing her mobile lab to take center stage over her actual, you know, research). I’m a little fuzzy on the actual health connection to the rat DNA samples, as the biggest aspect of health discussed was mental impacts (and thus, whether or not rats were related by DNA and traveled really wouldn’t matter, would it?) So my own science brain was rather puzzled about what the exact study was, and how the conclusions were drawn.

Format is equally scattered. Each chapter is told in a piecemeal way with the study broken down into sections and interrupted by information boxes. Try picking out the thesis in this opening paragraph on bat research in city spaces:

“I bet the last time you played at the park, you saw some wildlife sharing it with you. Birds in trees. Squirrels running around. Turtles sunning themselves on rocks in a pond. Parks and green spaces are often the closest thing to the natural habitats of animals and plants in urban environments. So, we like to think of them as being good habitat for wildlife in the city. That’s what I thought when I set out to study city bats in High Park–a large green space in Toronto, Canada. It seemed like the perfect habitat for city bats. High Park is full of tall old trees that bats might like to sleep in. It also has a large pond that bats could forage–or hunt–for insects.”

It continues with a story about a police officer coming upon the scientist and her partner as they were researching, a section on why we should care about bats and how she figured out where they roost. Interestingly, there aren’t any numbers or proportions in the reported results, except for the word ‘most’ (“most of the bats I caught in High Park were males–not females.” and “And most of the bats I radio-tagged seemd to only feed in the park for part of the night before disappearing”) which again leaves me with more questions.

Just not well written. I pity the kid that has to pick their way through that. I’m told the text is 6th to 8th grade-ish (I’d guess sixth by more rigorous standards). There’s quite a few block-print/cartoon-style illustrations that accompany each section and mostly serve to highlight a particular issue in the story. The pictures are also used to illustrate the scientist in the scene, setting the story, if you will. In some cases, they take up an entire page, making the book skew younger.

Interestingly, the above scientist was stopped by a police officer demanding to know what they were doing in the park in the middle of the night (presumably, Researching While Black). The coyote and bird sampling ones have similar encounters with enforcement or the public, which brings attention to the supposedly ‘impartial’ issue of science and how bias can impact both how research is able to be done and who gets to carry it out. This is clearly one of the strengths of the book.

I’ve no doubt that the format is designed to appeal to those with short attention spans, with inset boxes about tools of research, insights about species, species diversity, how the reader can help and public perception. While I can understand the value of sidebars in giving inexperienced readers helpful or interesting background (“Sometimes when scientists trap wildlife, instead of catching the species they want [the target], they end up with non-target species in their traps…”), I feel like more thoughtful text could just have integrated that information. Surprisingly, the author has ‘science communicator’ listed on her jacket biography.

At any rate, I love the idea of both urban ecology and making scientific studies available to younger audiences. Personally, I checked it out because I’ve had my eye out for studies focusing on lives of urban wildlife–for instance, for all the neighbors complain about chipmunks, do we really have any idea how many live in an average yard? Or how big their burrows are?–so I got this hoping for more insight and maybe some studies I haven’t heard of. These were pretty routine for the environmental/ animal wildlife field, although the rat one was new to me.

It’s also worth noting the scientists involved in the studies are women and/or people of color and so can represent STEM to kids who may not see people who look like them in the sciences. With eight different studies, it also gives a wide perspective of what ‘science’ can look like, from animals to plastic to bike-riding. It also deserves kudos for being one of the first non-college books I’ve seen that actually describes both the research process and potential implications of the research. Because of that, and since I recognize I am absolutely not the target reading demographic, I’d recommend that all middle school librarians should absolutely buy this for their libraries. Adult learners who already know something about science? Just look through a recent copy of Nature.

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Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater

Read April 2022
Recommended for magical animal-lovers
★   ★   ★   ★   

In kindergarten, I wanted to be a veternarian. So I have some empathy for Pip, the main character in a series by Pearce and Stiefvater, who is fascinated by all creatures magical, especially because her unique–and unfortunately for her, unbeliveable–talent of being able to talk to magical creatures. In order to help her identify and memorize the wide variety of magical species, she carries a copy of the mostly-useful  Guide to Magical Creatures by Jeffrey Higgleston. Since Higgleston couldn’t talk to unicorns, her first encounter with a herd of them goes disasterously awry (“I hadn’t ever realized that show Unicorns were really show-off Unicorns”).

After that, she’s sent to visit her aunt in Cloverton. Since her aunt is a veterinarian for magical creatures, it isn’t exactly a punishment. It’s not all about the animals, however, when she’s expected to make friends with Tomas, a youngster who seems to have a lot of allergies, along with an anxiety disorder:

“Everything is too dangerous. All my brothers get to play football, and go to camp, and eat dairy products. I never get to do anything.”

But before you know it, Pip and Tomas are out in the dangerous world, motivated to overcome their fears (and allergies) in order to save some magical creatures.

Pip has an entertaining voice that’s mostly matter-of-fact but somehow still captures the sense of the absurd:

“We learned pretty early in the school year that life was easier if you were as orderly as possible, so we lined up as straight as his eyebrows.”

Every time a new creature is introduced into the text, there’s an illustration with notes, as if taken from Higgleston’s book. Too bad it is in black and white! But the story has a fun voice, nice characterization, a good message and an excellent amount of unique creatures. I definitely would have loved as a youth. As a grown-up, it was a pleasant, entertaining read. Except those unicorns. What a bunch of jerks.

Epilogue: Like Tomas, I suffered from profound allergies, although with not nearly as cute as manifestation as he has. So I switched to people, who are surprisingly a lot more like unicorns than I would have expected.

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You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo

Read March 2022
Recommended, I guess
★   ★    1/2

First of all, let me do the completely expected and take a moment out of my day and note how Goodreads has completely failed to live up to its function of tracking reads. I am 100% certain I have read something by Cat Rambo that I enjoyed a great deal, which is why her fabulous name stuck in my head as an author to read more of, and why I jumped on this book. But owing to the anti-novel prejudices of the Goodreads librarians, I am unable to locate what I read. So, past-carol, your judgement will remain questionable. Let this be some kind of statement as to why I don’t always pay attention to my mental notes.

MOVING ON. So, is this any good? Yes and no. It is wildly uneven, in both pace and tone, so your mileage will vary with tolerance. Let me be clear, lest you think I exaggerate (and at a slight risk of spoilers): in under seventy pages, we will see the introduction of a mysterious cryochamber with an unknown being, the ominous return of a military squad, the appearance of a potentially life-changing reviewer, the introduction of a rare sentient bioship, the lure of fat amounts of cash, and the destructive appearance of a galaxy-wide, unknown species, along with enough personal reminiscing to choke a cat. The second and third acts, each roughly a hundred pages, will fold out far more indulgently, backdrops BONDING! and SPACEPIRATES! and the final act will briefly wrap up a few personal threads. I call them ‘acts,’ because tone, plot and theme are very different from section to section, but Rambo is not kind enough to differentiate them as such. But acts they are, with according mental and tonal shifts, and beware if one expects a steady crescendo.

What troubled me most and is hardest to ‘splain, is the tone. It weaves from wildly irreverent, à la Restaurant at the End of the Universe, to truly serious themes of  friendship, coercion, and imprisonment. It veers from comradery to–cough–removal of those friends and leaving them behind like so much space dust. I can’t get exact in this without citing each bit that supports the relationship, than each subsequent sarcastic bit that tears it down, but trust me, it happens. Also very obvious in the beginning is the situations noting where someone is supposed to be part of a ‘team,’ then is dismissed (or their memory) relatively quickly. That’s a tricky emotional line to walk. Douglas Adams did it by avoiding the personal connection: the Earth he showed us before it’s untimely destruction was largely full of bureaucratic, drunk or self-interested assholes. It’s pretty hard to wrote both sarcasm, a reaction that is about emotional distancing, and caring, an emotion that’s about connection.

Something about this feels very kitchen-sink, along the lines of Ann Leckie, Tim Pratt and Suzanne Palmer’s The Finder, so if you like those, this might work as well. The bioship and AI are thrown in but not particularly well-explored. These concepts work best when they more singular focus, much like A Closed and Common Orbit or Murderbot. As it was, I felt like the AI/bioship mostly had a bunch of attributed emotions and was supposed to work them out. Sisters of the Vast Black did a better job with bioships, and The Finder series did more interesting things with AI.

Overall, it felt like a very mixed experienced to me, with parts I really wanted to like, parts that seemed a little too self-aware and broad, and a lot of parts that felt like they were pulled from books I liked better. I honestly meant to re-read, to give it more of a chance, but just couldn’t work the energy in. It just wasn’t fun enough to inspire a re-read during a couple weeks of very full real-life (other paper books that were more appealing were Vespertine and The Verifiers, while numerous ebooks competed for attention).

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False Value by Ben Aaronovitch. Audio version–not so much

Listened March to April 2022
★   ★   ★     1/2

The story definitely improved with Kobna’s reading. It took me a long, long time to get to the audio version, having bounced so hard off the hardcover.

The narrative time shifts that make up the first third of the book remain challenging in audio, but having read the book previously, I was prepared and this time, they made more sense. Still, it is worth noting that I found myself consulting Audible’s ‘chapters’ page more than ever before, double-checking the time period

In terms of audio quality, in parts Kobna’s normally smooth voice sounded a little rough and gravely. I think the timing on this one happened right after he was on stage as Ike Turner, and I wonder if he was suffering from vocal strain. It didn’t seem to impair his accent abilities, as I thought Reynold’s American had notably improved, and a couple of brief appearances by the Irish were delightful. Ben seems to be getting a little annoying, however–at one point, he says something about a ‘mid-Atlantic’ accent. Ben, I live in the States, and even I’m not sure how you would tell that one. Stop fucking with Kobna.

Near the end of the book, I started to alternate again between book and audio. I can see again why the book was such a struggle: even in the ending chapters, there are long passages of description about computer rooms, or warehouse districts, and I find myself wondering, where’s the dialogue? The actual battle is over in three, four pages. Where’s the editing? Honestly, someone needs to keep Ben in check on description, because this story had a lot of false value. Still, utterly redeemed with Kobna.

Whispers UndergroundThe Hanging Tree) > Broken Homes > Rivers of London > Lies Sleeping > False Value > Foxglove Summer >> Moon Over Soho

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Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson

Read March 2022
★   ★   ★   ★   1/2

Continuing my streak in above-average teen-adult books, I’m going to have to relax my genre prejudices. Really, I shouldn’t have them; I grew up female, after all, and found a great deal of solace in books with female-centered characters. But the ones I remember were about identity and self-power, and not all wrapped up in which boy was the better love interest (The Hunger Games has a lot to answer for).

I found Vespertine by way of Jennifer’s fun review that noted similarities to a certain misanthropic A.I. Indeed, the lead character Artemisia is very much at odds with most people, but like ‘Bot, she has good reasons to be the way she is. Artemisia was found by the Grey Sisters, a devotional order that serves the Grey Lady by ‘tending to the dead’ so that their spirits don’t rise and corrupt the living in both mental and physical ways. It occurred to me at some point or another, that this could be of Joan of Arc re-telling. I mean, I have no idea if this is true or not; I avoid historical fiction like the—ahem–plague. Artemisia transforms in a way that was unexpected, perhaps largely because of the large gulf that separates her from other people during so much of the story.

“Gritting my teeth, I forced my clumsy fingers to open the tiny hatch and fumble with flint and incense. The scars were the worst on my left hand, where the shiny red tissue that roped my palm had contracted over time and pulled my fingers into permanent claws.”

So though a lot of it feels like a pastiche–‘Bot comparisons noted, there’s also very strong similarities to Novik’s Scholomance series and Muir’s Locked Tomb series–it is well written, with occasional passages that made me stop occasionally in admiration. Towards the last third of the book, it loses the bitter edge and sense of danger in favor of mutualism and seemingly inevitable self-sacrifice (which it also has in common with the aforementioned books. Honestly, I don’t remember my childhood books hitting this theme so hard either. Only the dogs died [Kali Wallace notes this as well in her discussion of childhood books], which speaks to my next point.) ‘carol,’ I hear you saying, ‘surely the threat of self-death is biting and dangerous?’ Actually, my friend, and I say this with the perspective of fifty years of life, no, particularly when it is in service to a greater good. No, and a thousand times more, no.

“It wasn’t a visiting pilgrim; it was Mother Katherine, her downy white head bent in prayer. She looked frail. The observation swooped down on me without warning. Somehow, I hadn’t noticed how old she’d gotten–it was as though I had wiped the dust from a painting and seen it clearly for the first time in years, after ages of simply forgetting to look.”

It got a little long at the end, mostly because, well, I’m apparently old and thought we were just drawing out the drama at a certain point. However, it deserves accolades for having believable character growth and for–gasp–passing the Bechdel test. In a young adult book, no less (which, incidentally, my books rarely had. The friends were always books or dragons). This book stands alone just fine (the author says it is the first in a series), but I’ll be looking out for the sequel.

Many thanks to Jennifer!

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Crowbones by Anne Bishop

Read April 2022
Recommended for fans. Very ardent ones.
★   ★

And so continues my love-hate relationship with Anne Bishop’s The Others series. Although, to be honest, it’s really more of a guilty pleasure-outright disgust hookup, but that’s always more complicated to explain. Mimi gets it. And I’ve expounded before on the reasons why the series can be so satisfying, but also why it can fill me with self-loathing for once again giving in.

Unfortunately, Crowbones is in the same setting as Lake Silence, leading Bishop to include the terribly squicky and immature child-like voice of that main character, Vicki, among her ensemble cast of narrators [Feminist carol: you ever notice how her mcs are these developmentally impaired, male-abused women with a touch of the magical who are  rescued and subsequently monitored by physically big, strong and wild men? The epitome of romance distress-damsel tropes.] It’s slightly better this time around, since Vicki is not nearly as focused on potential romantic feelings with Julian (aside from overly cutesy discussions about cold feet) as she is about feeding her hostile guests and selling books to The Very Scary Others.

Seriously, why is Bishop so plot-impaired? I should give her credit: this time we switch out greed as motivation and take on Emotional Manipulators and Bullies (look at Bishop join the #movement!) The good guys remain incredibly stupid, but it’s all really okay, because we know that the Super-Scary Others are lurking in the background, ready to pounce. There will literally be no escape. Which is, after all, the satisfaction of the series: there’s something out there, and it will protect us.

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Silent Parade by Keigo Higashino

Read March 2022
Recommended for fans. Very ardent ones.
★   ★    

I loved Higashino’s  Salvation of a Saint and The Devotion of Suspect XMalice and A Midsummer’s Equation were enjoyable, but not nearly as remarkable. This, though: this was something else, written by someone else. Much like the book’s cover–terribly apropos–it suffered from vague character outlines, wildly specific details of inanities, and a general lack of attention to the (normal) scenic clarity that elevates Higashino above the ordinary.

This story begins shortly after the third anniversary of Saori Namiki’s disappearance when she was nineteen. A decrepit house has burned down in Tokyo and her remains were identified in the rubble. Chief Inspector Kusanagi and his team are assigned the case because of a curious connection they have to the chief suspect. Most unusually, they had a disastrous encounter with him almost two decades earlier when a young child went missing. Higashino almost always (at least, that I recall) has truly terrible people as murder victims, which builds in reader sympathy for the killer. With that knowledge, I had a feeling I knew where the story was going, but it wasn’t until Part Two, at page 87, that we finally reached the main course.

Oh, how I was looking forward to this story, but the pace! The pacing was terrible. We spend pages with the grieving family as the police revisit the missing-persons case (we also get a plethora of details about said house). It’s terribly slow, and it turns out to be somewhat of a useless preface; the book isn’t about Saori’s death as much as it’s about her killer’s eventual death, and that’s a very odd thing indeed. Once we reach Part Two, Saori and the family almost disappear from the pages.

Part Two transforms into obsessive Sherlockian details, with timing, placement and clues being examined in minute detail. It’s extremely fussy, and while I tried to follow along at first, after the first double-back, I gave up. The locked room is an insanely complicated (but naturally, diabolically clever) murder route. This is the overly-fussy detailed section of the story, where physics and volume come into heavy discussion. I kid you not. Higashino must have been reading some Andy Weir. At one point, I was so disinterested in finishing that I peeked at other reviews who promised a twist ending. This does indeed happen, but the contrast to the beginning of the book is startling.

Higashino’s particular specialty seems to be turning the traditional questions of where-when-why-how and looking at them from unusual angles. This one feels a little like Salvation of a Saint in that much of it is a locked-room sort of mystery. I was also getting a strong feel of Murder on the Orient Express vibes as I read (for those worried about spoilers, I wrote this before finishing). Perhaps also giving me a Christie vibe was the cast list at the front of the book. Regardless, nothing here really stands up to the emotional or intellectual puzzle of Salvation and Suspect X.

The most enjoyable sections were scenes at the Namiki family restuarant/bar where it all began. I got the feel for the cultural of the local establishment, the way people would drop in for a meal on the way home or for a weekly night out with friends. Yet much like watching people come and go from the corner booth, we never get too close to their lives, only their expressions and thoughts of the moment. And seriously, who passes up the chance to go into loving detail about foods and drinks? And allows one of their detectives to order a virgin Moscow Mule? Oh, the literary horror.

Speaking of literary horror, I can’t help but notice that my two favorites of his were translated by Alexander O. Smith, while this one, and unfortunately an upcoming release, are translated by Giles Murray. (There’s a online interview of the two that’s an interesting read). Is it Higashino aging? Translator skill? Or both? I can’t help but think how much I enjoyed Robert Parker’s Spencer books at the beginning, but found them to be lightweight copies by the end of his career. Perhaps there is a similar phenomenon happening.

The other aspect I enjoyed were the snippets into Japanese life. In this case, the criminal system was highlighted. Apparently the police–and the public–place a great deal of value on confessions. Also interesting was the small bit of detail about the local parade. Hiashino doesn’t include much however; most of it I found on my own. Japan is known for matsuri, community celebrations, often religious or seasonally connected, but occasionally just reflecting the local people’s tastes. It doesn’t seem like The Silent Parade is based on a particular matsuri, although interestingly, there is one that became a ‘silent’ dance festival after there were too many noise complaints.

Well, rather than read the next, I really should give my two favorites a re-read. After all, I’ve only read them once.

A moment of silence seems appropriate, does it not?


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Dead Man’s Sins by Caimh McDonnell

Read March 2022
Recommended for mild mystery laughs
★   ★   ★   1/2

Really best if one just sits back and enjoys the ride. Relax into the exaggerated writing that is McDonnell, because some of the rat-a-tat-tat is sure to land. Not gonna lie, though: there’s an extended bit at the beginning with my new favorite character Deccie, a twelve year-old with a gift of gab and debatable ethics:

“’We are not having a vote,’” said Bunny, before turning to Deccie. ‘And didn’t you say to me last week that you’d no faith in democracy? That voters were a bunch of sheep too easily fooled’
‘I did,’ said Deccie with a firm nod, ‘but I’ve never been the shepherd before.’”

The beginning conflict elicited a smile and ended with out-loud laughter at Deccie’s description of a brawl to an investigating Guarda. But now that I pause a moment, I’m also quite fond of Butch (the name supposedly joins her last, Cassidy, very well, but she also happens to be a lesbian). She’s the department martial arts expert and has a knack for the one liners, particularly when she’s maintaining her composure:

“She had tried not to form an opinion when she’d picked him up from the train station and, after a grunt of acknowledgement, he’d handed her his suitcase to carry back to the car.”

or trying to get Bunny to focus:

“’Why didn’t you say something when you walked in?’
Bunny shrugged. ‘I thought you were going for a sort of Bond-villain vibe.’
‘Why would I … Never mind. Forget about the cat,’ she said, while stroking the cat. ‘What are we going to do?'”

Anyway, it’s a decent enough mystery. It apparently has its roots in another story about Bunny’s former partner but is  explained well enough here. I didn’t read it, but wasn’t bothered by any missing details. In fact, it ended up annoying me just a touch because of the amount of times it is stressed that Bunny is protecting his former partner’s reputation or dear ol’ ma. Or maybe that’s because Bunny’s a simple man, and that really is all he comes back to at the end of the day.

“Bunny awoke to a pounding noise. No, that wasn’t right – two pounding noises. One appeared to be in his head, but the other was coming from an external source. They were infuriatingly out of sync with each other, as if the outside world and his hangover were conspiring against him.”

It is always challenging for an author to find that delicate balance between humor and violence, particularly when you want to include issues like domestic abuse, economic crimes and murder. McDonnell mostly succeeds here. What begins as rather jokey and extreme gradually strips much of the silliness away into some core issues of family and community.

“It was always the way with places like this – you spend ages raising funds to get them built, and then, as soon as they’re finished, the thing starts slowly falling down.”

McDonnell also does a decent job of maintaining tension, but because Bunny is one of those character that no one wants to take on directly, it means we hop into the viewpoints of the aforementioned Butch, as well the wife of the deceased, Angela. There’s also a side road into a domestic abuse issue that may result in some catharsis (and again provided an opportunity for outlier humor) but probably could have been trimmed, particularly a random viewpoint from a hanger-on.

Now that I’m writing this all up, I’m feeling like this is definitely a book I want to re-read. Or at least through Deccie’s bit.

“’Will do. So, what’s this information worth?’
‘Excuse me?’
‘I’m a busy man.’
‘You are, in fact, neither of those things.’
Deccie ploughed on. ‘Fifty quid?’”

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