The Queen’s Thief, Books 4-5 by Megan Whalen Turner

A new installment of The Queen’s Thief is here! That proved an excellent incentive to reread the first three books (which I deeply love) and finally tackle the fourth book as well as the handful of short stories that’ve appeared as paperback extras.

A Conspiracy of Kings
A Conspiracy of Kings is a coming-of-age story for Sophos, the sweet, scholarly boy we met in The Thief who also happens to be the heir to Sounis. Some of the barons are in revolt, and when the villa in which he’s staying is attacked, Sophos tries to save his mother and sisters but ends up captured himself. Although he’s resourceful enough to escape and hide out amongst enslaved field hands, he nonetheless is bitterly self-critical and sure his father is disappointed in him (as usual). And yet, throughout the course of the novel, he exhibits a great deal of courage, makes some hard choices, and—though still the sweet, scholarly boy underneath—ultimately becomes a worthy king.

A Conspiracy of Kings strikes me as a simpler book than The King of Attolia, probably because Sophos is earnest and idealistic rather than guarded and secretive, though that’s not to say that he’s incapable of carrying out a secret plan or clever strategy. The book does have an unusual narrative style, beginning in the third person with Sophos already in Attolia, switching to first person as he tells Eddis his story up to that point, going back into third while everyone’s together in Attolia, going back into first when he returns after claiming the throne and fills Eddis in again, and then back into third for the ending.

It occurs to me that as The Queen’s Thief series continues, the further we’re getting away from Eugenides. The Thief was first-person from his point of view, The Queen of Attolia was third-person, The King of Attolia viewed Gen and his relationship with the queen through the eyes of a palace guard, and now we have a story about Sophos in which Gen appears occasionally and spends some of that time behaving with icy formality. I appreciate the expanding world the characters inhabit and genuinely enjoy spending time with everyone, but I do love Gen best and hope the focus returns to him someday.

Thick as Thieves
After waiting so long for a new book in the series, learning that it would be about Kamet, the slave of the Mede ambassador Nahuseresh, was somewhat of a disappointment. Now, I feel compelled to apologize to the author because I really should’ve had more faith in her. Kamet is a smart, distrustful protagonist with somewhat of a superiority complex and his evolution throughout the novel is fascinating.

Thick as Thieves is most similar to the first book in the series, since it involves a road trip peppered with storytelling. An Attolian soldier has been dispatched by Eugenides to steal Kamet out of spite, and after initially planning to decline the offer of freedom (thinking of all the power he will one day wield after he is gifted to the next emperor), Kamet is forced to accept after learning that his master has been poisoned and that he must escape quickly or face torture and execution. A Goodreads reviewer describes what follows as “bloodshed, betrayal, and bromance,” and I really cannot improve on that description. Although he initially thinks the Attolian is an idiot and plans on ditching him at the earliest opportunity (rather than return to uncivilized Attolia) he comes to like and respect him very much. I also love how one little piece of information lets readers know exactly who this soldier is, although Kamet does not use his name until near the end.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but that’s the part of the book that really shines. (Alas, the road trip does drag a little in parts.) There are quite a few surprises—including one satisfying “I knew it!” moment—and the conclusion is both sniff-inducing and exciting, as conflict is still brewing between the Empire and the small countries on the peninsula, though the latter (thanks to Eugenides) appear to have acquired some powerful allies. This is such a great series and I hope we’ll see Kamet again in what follows.

The short stories:
“Thief!”, originally printed in Disney Adventures Magazine in 2000, is a prequel short story about Eugenides as a kid. There’s not much to it, but I liked seeing Gen interact with his older brother and favorite sibling, Stenides.

“Eddis” was included in the 2007 paperback edition of The King of Attolia. In it, nine-year-old Helen—wonderfully described as round, solid, sturdy, and not too bothered by the fact that she isn’t pretty—slips away from the palace to go exploring. Her destination is a desolate temple where she is visited in the night by a trio of gods, who refer to her as “the last Eddis.” It’s a neat story that not only fleshes out Helen’s background a little bit and explains why she uses the masculine “Eddis” rather than “Eddia,” but ties in nicely with her motivations in A Conspiracy of Kings.

“Destruction” was included in the 2011 paperback edition of A Conspiracy of Kings. In this brief story, we witness the ceremony to dispose of Hamiathes’s Gift in the fires of the Sacred Mountain in Eddis. Frustrated Sounis is in attendance as is Attolia, who never takes her eyes from Eugenides. Scant though it is, I find I appreciate having a mental image for this occasion, as well as the moment in which Eugenides achieves certainty that the stone is really gone.

“Knife Dance” is included in the new paperback edition of The Queen of Attolia. In it, a juggler named Druic is coerced by his jerk of a brother to perform a certain Eddisian knife dance—”one of the Mysteries of the Thieves”—for the court of Attolia. Both the king and his god have something to say about it. I liked this one, and the ending was very satisfying.

“Wineshop” is included in the new paperback edition of The King of Attolia. It’s extremely short and depicts Eugenides enjoying his final moment of anonymity before coins bearing his likeness enter circulation and how Teleus spoils it all. There’s one part of it that makes me wonder if Eugenides knew that was going to happen. It would not surprise me.

Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, Books 5-8 by Deborah Crombie

dreaming_of_bonesDreaming of the Bones
After making my way through the first four books in this series with reasonable alacrity, I really stalled out on Dreaming of the Bones at first. A large part of the problem for me was that it had to do with the death of a poet five years prior, and was thus strewn with quotations of both poetry and flowery letters.

Once I summoned the fortitude to continue, however, I ended up enjoying the book well enough. We are introduced to Victoria, Duncan’s ex-wife, and I appreciated that both of them are painted sympathetically. Their relationship falling apart was no one’s fault in particular, and both have the wisdom now to recognize that. Victoria is on the English faculty at Cambridge and is working on a book about poet Lydia Brooke, whose death was presumed to be suicide. Victoria suspects otherwise and Duncan (as usual) keeps an open mind about her instincts and agrees to look into things even though the local police are not exactly enthusiastic about him poking around.

Although I generally prefer stories where Duncan is assigned to the case of a stranger, Vic’s involvement did offer many emotional consequences for Duncan. Too bad there really weren’t any consequences for the rule-breaking and jurisdiction-trampling he engaged in throughout. Also, I really disliked that Gemma works out the big reveal through a spate of poetic interpretation. Ugh. At the same time, there’s a scene at the end that made me verklempt, so… not my favorite, but still definitely worth reading!

kissed_goodbyeKissed a Sad Goodbye
Duncan and Gemma are assigned to the case of a body found lovingly laid out in a park on the Isle of Dogs. They soon learn her identity—Annabelle Hammond, the beautiful and determined director of Hammond’s Fine Teas who has several lovers on the go. But is what happened to her the result of romantic jealousy, or could it be tied to something else entirely?

Two months have passed since the events of Dreaming of the Bones, and Duncan is still struggling with (spoiler alert!) his newfound fatherhood. The perspective, however, is mostly on Gemma, who is having some trouble figuring out what she wants and who she wants to be. Initially this manifests in a decision to take piano lessons, but soon involves another man.

Honestly, I failed to be convinced by Gemma’s little side romance with Gordon the clarinet-playing busker, who showed up in some earlier book in a greatly diminished capacity. I recall in his earlier appearance that he was brusque and uninterested, but here we get a retcon about how he was secretly intrigued by Gemma all along. It’s played up to be this mutual attraction that she must decide whether to pursue, but he’s just not accessible enough as a character to really make this convincing.

That said, I liked the mystery itself. There were flashbacks throughout to the ’40s, when some of the characters were evacuated to the countryside as children, and they not only elucidate the present but reveal one particular character to be more sympathetic than one might ordinarily assume. On the whole, definitely worth reading, even if there were parts of it I didn’t especially like.

finer_endA Finer End
A Finer End is somewhat tough to review, because I did genuinely like some of the characters that Duncan and Gemma encounter in Glastonbury, where they’ve traveled as a favor to Duncan’s cousin, Jack, whose vicar girlfriend has been injured in a hit-and-run accident. The problem is that Jack has supposedly been receiving messages from a long-dead monk in the form of automatic writing, a claim that Duncan and Gemma accept without question. On top of this, there’s a painter who receives visions not only of one particular little girl but also the whereabouts of the thing that the monk is trying to lead Jack to find. And because the narrative confirms the verity of these paranormal happenings, other elements of the story are thrown into question. Did the “old gods” and the tribute they’re due actually play a part in what happened, for example?

It’s not that I dislike stories about the supernatural; it’s that it’s really bizarre when the supernatural suddenly shows up in the seventh book of a series about Scotland Yard detectives. It also bothered me that the one character who’s a skeptic about all of this is a flagrant asshole who eventually comes unhinged. In addition, I dearly hope that the paternity of a particular child was supposed to be glaringly obvious to the reader, because it sure was. Too, the conclusion is muddled, and the final line was so incredibly cheesy that I actually said, “Barf!” out loud.

All in all, this was profoundly disappointing and I hope it doesn’t signify a new trend for the series.

justice_noneAnd Justice There Is None
It is with profound relief that I proclaim that I really, really liked this one! There are absolutely no supernatural elements whatsoever, thankfully, and the investigation itself is a change of pace, too. Instead of being dispatched to some bucolic locale on Scotland Yard business, a murder is committed in Notting Hill, where Gemma is now assigned as a Detective Inspector. Moreover, she and Duncan and their respective sons move into a house nearby, which puts her family in proximity to the crime and, ultimately, the culprit.

The case involves the wife of a well-off antiques dealer who recently discovered she was pregnant by her lover. Duncan recalls a similar killing that took place a month prior, so he and Gemma work together on the case. Interspersed throughout is the story of “Angel,” a young woman who is orphaned in the mid-sixties and finds herself swept up in the London drug scene. All of the pieces eventually come together, and even though there’s one clue that lets readers know who the murderer is before Gemma has figured it out, she doesn’t end up seeming slow on the uptake. Rather, it adds an extra layer of menace when the perpetrator just happens to be strolling past their new house and has a chat with Kit (Duncan’s son).

And oh, what a house. I love that Gemma and Duncan are establishing their own family, especially given the new addition on the way. I love, too, that the pets are 100% accounted for, and that Gemma adopts a sweet new dog. Best of all, though, is that it’s Christmas. Duncan’s present to Gemma makes both her and me verklempt. I also liked seeing Gemma and Duncan working with other people, and hope that some of the nice people she encountered in the neighborhood make appearances in future books.

Random Reads #1

All hail the debut of a new recurring column of sorts, collecting reasonably short reviews of disparate books.

banquetA Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George
While A Banquet of Consequences is not the best Lynley and Havers mystery I have read, it’s still great heaping loads better than the last one (Just One Evil Act). In fact, in my review of the latter, I wrote “I wanted a book with Havers triumphant. A Havers showing that, despite her problems with professionalism and authority, she really has something amazing to offer.” And that’s pretty much what we did get this time around.

When Claire Abbott, respected feminist author, is found dead in a hotel room while on a book tour, her death is first ruled a heart attack. After her persistent friend and editor insists on a second opinion, a more thorough toxicology screening reveals the presence of poison. Having met the author and her truly odious personal assistant (and chief suspect), Caroline Goldacre, Havers begs Lynley to pull strings for her so that she can investigate, which doesn’t go over very well with Superintendent Ardery. Happily, Havers does do a competent job, though this doesn’t go very far in improving Ardery’s opinion of her.

Mystery-wise, there were elements that I guessed, but I did still enjoy the element of ambiguity that remained at the end. Too, I liked that in the next volume, the Italian detective from Just One Evil Act (probably the best thing about that dreadful book) is going to be visiting England. He was quite sweet on Havers, as I recall! My one real complaint is that Lynley had hardly anything to do, except intercede on Havers’ behalf, contemplate his relationship with Dairdre, and look after an admittedly adorable dog.

Still, it’s good to have my faith in this series somewhat restored!

endofeverythingThe End of Everything by Megan Abbott
Lizzie Hood and Evie Verver are thirteen years old and have been BFFs and next-door neighbors for as long as they can remember. Lately, though, Lizzie has begun to realize that Evie is no longer the open book she once was. (“I know her so well that I know when I no longer know everything.”) When Evie goes missing, Lizzie does all that she can to help bring her home, while being forced to acknowledge that maybe there had always been a darkness hidden within her dearest friend that she had never noticed.

In addition to the mystery of what’s happened to Evie, this book deals a lot with Lizzie’s burgeoning sexual feelings. Though she has some contact with boys near her age, she’s really smitten with Evie’s gregarious father. She longs to be close to him, to provide clues that give him hope, to take his mind off what’s happening. She exults in her ability to affect him. In the process, she somewhat usurps the place that his eldest daughter, Dusty, has filled. What I actually liked best about the book is that Abbott leaves it up to the reader to decide—is Mr. Verver’s relationship with these girls crossing a line? Perhaps his intentions are utterly pure (and, indeed, it seems like he might be crushed to hear someone thought otherwise), but there are some things he does and says that just seem so inappropriate.

Ultimately, I liked this book quite a lot (though I feel I should warn others that some parts are disturbing). Abbott offers several intriguing parallels between relationships to consider, and I think it’s a story I will ruminate over for a long time to come.

ex_burkeThe Ex by Alafair Burke
Twenty years ago, Olivia Randall sabotaged her relationship with her fiancé, Jack Harris. Now he’s the chief suspect in a triple homicide and Olivia, a defense attorney, is hired by his teenage daughter to represent him. Initially, Olivia has absolute faith in Jack’s innocence (and feels like she owes him because of how she treated him) but mounting evidence eventually makes her doubt whether she ever really knew him at all.

In synopsis form, The Ex sounds pretty interesting, but the reality is something different. Olivia herself is not particularly likeable. Setting aside how she treated Jack in the past, in the present she drinks too much and is having a casual relationship with a married man. I think we’re supposed to come away believing that this whole experience enables her to grow past some parental issues inhibiting her ability to find real love, but it’s glossed over in just about the most cursory way imaginable. And because the narration is in the first person, other characters who might have been interesting—namely a couple of other employees of the defense firm helping with the case—are exceedingly undeveloped.

The mystery plot itself is average. The final twist wasn’t something I predicted from the outset, but once a certain piece of evidence was revealed, it turned out to be very similar to another mystery I’d just read so it was a bit of a slow slog to the inevitable conclusion. The writing is also repetitive, with the significance of various clues being reiterated over and over. One genuinely unique aspect of the book is that because Olivia is a defense attorney and not law enforcement, she wasn’t overly concerned with actually solving the case, so much as finding plausible alternate suspects to establish reasonable doubt. Perhaps that is why some things the culprit did were left unexplained and some evidence unaccounted for, though it could have just been sloppy writing.

I don’t think I shall be reading anything else by this author.

girldarkGirl in the Dark by Marion Pauw
Set in The Netherlands, Girl in the Dark is told in alternating first-person chapters between Ray, a man with autism who has spent eight years in jail for the murders of his neighbor and her daughter, and Iris, a lawyer and single mother who discovers by chance that Ray is the elder brother she never knew she had. She is convinced of his innocence, despite evidence that he is capable of destructive rage, and begins investigating the case and pursuing an appeal, while trying to get her icy mother to talk about her past.

Although the book is advertised as a thriller, most of the time I was more infuriated than thrilled. Leaving aside the question of Ray’s guilt or innocence, the way he was/is treated by others—including Rosita, the opportunistic neighbor who used and then rejected him, as well as one of the employees of the institution he’s been transferred to, who seemingly frames Ray for smuggling drugs into the facility (there’s no resolution to this minor plot point)—generates a great deal of empathy. In particular, there is an especially cruel scene near the end of the book that made me literally exclaim, “Jesus Christ!” Although he occasionally exhibits frustrated fury, Ray is also shown to be sweet and thoughtful, at one time a skilled baker (thriving in an environment that prioritized both routine and precision) and obsessed with the welfare of his tropical fish (currently in his mother’s care).

I didn’t come away with as vivid a sense of Iris as I did Ray. The scenes involving her job and clients were, in a way, mental palate cleansers from the stress of Ray’s situation, largely bland and unmemorable. When she finally gets her hands on Ray’s case files, her end of the story improves, but there are aspects of the final resolution that are kind of ridiculous. That said, I thought the ultimate ending was satisfying and I doubt I’ll forget the book any time soon.

kiss_and_tellMr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Mr. Kiss and Tell came out in January 2015. I had pre-ordered it the previous May, but when it arrived I just couldn’t get into it, despite a few attempts. A couple of months later, iZombie debuted. It had all the hallmarks of a Rob Thomas show and, lo, I love it. So much so, in fact, that I started to feel like I’d be okay without further adventures in Veronica’s world. Mr. Kiss and Tell spent the next two years occupying various spots in my living room. Then, finally, I read it. And I remembered how deeply I love these characters and now I am totally sad that there aren’t any more books beyond this one. Yet.

I was somewhat disappointed that the first Veronica book, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, did not follow up on the movie storyline about police corruption ion Neptune. Happily, that plotline gets some attention in this book. Weevil is acquitted of the charges against him, but his reputation and business has taken a hit, so he agrees to a civil suit against the county. Keith works to find others who’ll testify about evidence-planting, and meanwhile a candidate enters the race against Lamb, who’d been running for reelection unopposed. There’s some closure on this by the end of the book, but still plenty of room for more going forward.

Veronica, meanwhile, is hired by the Neptune Grand to investigate a rape that took place in their hotel. The case has quite a few twists and turns, although it surprised me some by not twisting as much as I expected. (So is that, therefore, a twist?) By far, however, the best parts of the book are the conversations between the characters. Veronica and Logan, Veronica and Keith, Veronica and Weevil… I could vividly imagine each being performed by the cast, which is almost as good as not having to imagine. I especially liked that things still aren’t 100% perfect in Veronica’s world, and Logan is only home for a few months before the accidental death of one of his friends means that his shipmates are a man down. Veronica struggles to understand why he feels so strongly that he must return early, leading to my favorite scene, in which Logan reveals what his life was like in the years she was gone, and how he ended up in Officer Candidate School. It’s a bit implausible that they hadn’t had this conversation before, but it’s riveting nonetheless.

In fact, my only quibble is a bit of timeline fluffery near the beginning. On the whole, this was immensely satisfying and I will continue to hope for more books in the future. After all, never giving up hope has worked out for Veronica Mars fans in the past!

stylesThe Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
This was a reread for me, but one I hadn’t yet reviewed, since I read it shortly before creating this blog. (I did review Christie’s second and third books before getting sidetracked. This time I shall persevere and read them all!)

A soldier named Hastings, invalided home from the front, runs into John Cavendish, an acquaintance who invites him to recuperate at Styles Court, where Hastings had often visited as a boy. It is Hastings who narrates the story of what happens there. In brief, instead of John inheriting Styles Court upon the death of his father, the property was bequeathed to his stepmother, Emily, upon whom he is presently dependent for funds. When Emily is poisoned, suspicion initially turns to her strange (and substantially younger) new husband, Alfred Inglethorp, and then ultimately onto John himself. The cast of suspects is rounded out by siblings, spouses, friends, and servants. Hastings suggests bringing his old friend Hercule Poirot in to investigate.

I did remember “whodunit,” along with the explanation for one perplexing aspect of the case, but otherwise, most of this felt new to me. In fact, I think I enjoyed it even more than the first time. Oh, I still find Hastings annoying, but Christie’s depiction of Poirot’s appearance and mannerisms struck me as especially vivid this time around, and I was left with a more distinct impression of him than I’d held previously. (I had somehow acquired a mental picture of Poirot that had him looking like Alfred Hitchcock!) Although some of the clues are a bit convoluted and/or improbable, the overall solution is satisfying and makes sense. What’s more, my enthusiasm for tackling the rest of Christie’s oeuvre has been rekindled!

outpostThe Outpost by Mike Resnick
In an effort to broaden my horizons and read more science fiction, I went looking for books that might appeal to fans of Firefly. In the course of that search, I came across The Outpost. The notion of a bunch of space-faring outlaw types gathering at a bar on the edge of the galaxy, swapping stories, then banding together to fight off some aliens sounded appealing. Don’t be fooled like I was.

While it is indeed true that a bunch of space-facing outlaw types do gather to swap their stories, these recitations are actually highly embellished tall tales, and they seem to go on for an interminable amount of time. Finally, during a brief middle section of the book, the bar’s patrons go off and fight some aliens, and getting a glimpse of reality, including several pointless and unheroic deaths, was the best part of the novel. All too soon, they’re back at the Outpost, telling their war adventures with varying degrees of embellishment. It’s at this point that several very boring arguments on the ethics of “improving” history ensue.

It’s true that sometimes, I did smile or laugh at something, but on the whole this book just riled me up. None of the characters has any depth whatsoever, and several are positively odious. Many of the stories told by the guys involve busty and lusty women, and it’s fine if the characters themselves are sexist (to be fair, one of the female characters does call them out on this eventually), but most of the female characters created by Resnick are also vampy vixens whose stories are sex-oriented and bodily proportions repeatedly emphasized.

I listened to the unabridged audio version read by Bob Dunsworth, and I cannot recommend it. He frequently misreads and mispronounces words, so that at one point someone is wearing “flowering” robes instead of “flowing” ones, “defenestrating” loses a syllable, “etiquette” gets a “kw” sound, et cetera. Making it through the book was a tremendous slog, and more than once I cursed my completist nature.

theseviciousmasksThese Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
I can’t for the life of me remember how I heard about this book. I immediately put in a materials request with my library, but when it arrived I didn’t remember it at all. It does have hallmarks of something that would appeal to me, though: a setting of England in 1882, superpowers, romance, one of the authors mentioning Buffy in the dedication… It boded well.

I found it a bit disappointing at first, however, despite an independent and snarky heroine (Evelyn Wyndham, and is that a Buffy/Angel reference?) and dialogue that made me snicker right from the start. It just seemed so like “Pride and Prejudice with superpowers” that I began to wonder who was meant to be who. (“That charming fellow Mr. Kent, set up as a romantic rival to surly and brooding Sebastian Braddock, must be the Wickham surrogate!”) Too, the constant bickering between Evelyn and Sebastian, as they work together to rescue her sister the healer from a scientist who wants to experiment on her, did grate after a while.

However, in the end the book surprised me. Not just by deviating from the Pride and Prejudice mold or by imbuing people with unsuspected powers, but by taking the plot in a direction that absolutely made sense and which I absolutely did not see coming. A sequel (These Ruthless Deeds) has just been released and verily, I shall read it.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Note: This is the rehearsal script edition. A definitive collectors’ edition will be released at a later date.

hp8Harry Potter and the Cursed Child joins Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight in the category of “ostensibly canon series continuations that I shall henceforth pretend do not exist.”

The play begins with an abbreviated version of the Deathly Hallows epilogue. Albus Potter, Rose Granger-Weasley, and Scorpius Malfoy head off for their first year at Hogwarts, where Albus and Scorpius are soon sorted into Slytherin. That’s an interesting development and I was still rather optimistic at this point, but sadly there’s hardly any exploration of this event before Albus is in his second year. Then third. Along the way there are brief episodes of scorn and failure and glimpses of his strong friendship with Scorpius—along with lines like “he’s all I need” that make me want to see them fall in love—but it’s all very cursory.

On the eve of his fourth year, Albus happens to overhear Cedric Diggory’s family asking Harry (now head of Magical Law Enforcement) to use a recently confiscated time-turner to go back and save Cedric. Harry declines, and Albus—who has become a surly teen full of angst and bitterness—decides that he and Scorpius are going to show up his uncaring father by saving the day themselves. Of course, they end up screwing up the timeline (though not before successfully accomplishing some things that really ought to have been made more difficult) and the adult characters must help them set things right. Meanwhile, Harry’s scar has started hurting again and he’s hearing whispers of parseltongue.

I would’ve liked this a lot more if it was a book about the boys and their time at school. As it is now, the plot’s too accelerated and simplistic, and there are some scenes with the adult characters that I really could have done without (though I did like seeing Harry and Draco work together to save their sons). That said, probably the best thing about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is its treatment of Slytherins. Not only does Draco show himself to be a decent, wounded person, but he’s raised a truly adorable, geeky son who has his share of heroic moments. Too, one of the timeline variants allows us another glimpse at Snape, still honoring Lily by fighting for the cause she believed in even when all seems lost.

Ultimately, I’m glad I read it, because I do really, truly love Scorpius. I’d love a whole book about Scorpius, in fact, provided it was a proper book written by Rowling and not more of this.

The GGK Project, Part 1: The Fionavar Tapestry

For over a decade, I would’ve named Guy Gavriel Kay as my favorite author. And yet, I have never reviewed any of his books here. Having failed to love The Last Light of the Sun when I read it back in 2004, I think my enthusiasm for him just waned, and though I bought his subsequent novels, I hadn’t felt particularly compelled to read them. Now, though, I am determined to tackle GGK’s full bibliography, from old favorites that I’ve reread before (like my most-beloved The Lions of Al-Rassan) to one that I somehow only read the once when it came out twenty-four years ago (A Song for Arbonne) to the newer books I haven’t yet read. But I will start, as is customary, with the very beginning.

When Jordan moved in across the street from me in the late ’80s, she really did influence my life in some significant ways, not the least of which was introducing me to “GGK” through his first series, The Fionavar Tapestry. My love was deep and abiding and, because of that, I definitely had some trepidation about revisiting the trilogy. My genre preferences have evolved over the years, for one thing, and I no longer read as much fantasy as I used to. More, though, I remember this as the first series to make me cry my eyes out. Would it still have the same effect on me after all this time? As it happens, I shouldn’t have worried, because now I apparently get verklempt at the drop of a hat.

Spoilers ahead.

summertreeThe Summer Tree
We begin with a conference at the University of Toronto where a group of five students is invited to meet afterwards with one of the lecturers. To their surprise, he reveals himself to be a mage named Loren Silvercloak from a world called Fionavar, sent to bring guests from our world to a festival for the High King of Brennin. What he doesn’t reveal, while feeling guilty for the deception, is the fact that Brennin is in turmoil (a punishing and unnatural drought, an ailing and elderly king, the return of some nasty creatures, an evil god imprisoned under a mountain…) and that he feels they are needed there somehow.

The five quickly decide to take Loren up on his offer and the story’s scope widens considerably once they arrive in Fionavar. In addition to meeting one of my favorite fictional characters ever, seemingly frivolous Prince Diarmuid (more on him later), the Canadians are swiftly swept up in events, changed by their experiences as they discover individual destinies even Loren had no inkling of.

Perceptive Kimberly Ford, for example, becomes the new Seer of Brennin, inheriting the knowledge of her predecessor and destined to be the one to call “The Warrior.” Witty Kevin Laine is accepted as part of Diarmuid’s band of men, though there is more to come for him down the road. Paul Schafer is grappling with tremendous guilt after surviving a car accident that killed the woman he loved, yet an experience in Fionavar allows him to finally see that it wasn’t his fault. Emotionally guarded Dave Martyniuk finds a place he belongs among the Dalrei, the nomadic hunters of the plains, and begins to open up to friendship. And Jennifer Lowell, proud and reserved, yet not unkind, is captured by the evil god (Rakoth Maugrim) and mentally and physically violated before Kimberly is able to rescue her.

I admit Jennifer’s fate does trouble me a little. Of the five, she probably receives the least attention in this first installment before undergoing a terrible ordeal at the end. Rakoth has already issued a dramatic proclamation of his freedom and war is at hand by the time her friends learn of her fate, so it’s not as though her rape is solely responsible for spurring them into action, but they are extra motivated because of it. I do still think, though, that this plotline is ultimately about Jennifer and the choices she will make going forward.

Lastly, I’ll note that Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing style might not be for everyone. Occasionally it can be portentous, namedropping legendary figures, and maybe a little too poetic at times, but overall I still love the wistful, languid, and bittersweet feeling of his prose. There’s so much emphasis on what events mean to the characters that I got sniffly over and over again. (I found Dave’s arc especially moving.) At this rate, I will be a puddle by the third book!

wandering_fireThe Wandering Fire
Although there are many important things that happen in The Wandering Fire, I think what I like best is the continuing character development for the five Canadians. This time, it’s Kim whom we don’t see very much of, and that’s honestly fine by me, since she had so much of the focus the first time around. We spend a lot of time with Paul, whose survival of the summer tree has given him the ability to compel the lesser gods of Fionavar, and with Dave and Jennifer, too. (And I am indeed happy to report that she ends the volume much stronger for having endured all that she has been through.) But shining above all of them is Kevin.

After Kim brought them home at the end of The Summer Tree and everyone saw what had been done to Jennifer, Kevin declared, “To this I will make reply, although he be a god and it mean my death.” When they returned to Fionavar, however, and he saw how effective Dave was in battle, how everyone else had something to contribute, he felt terribly useless and bitterly derided himself for his proclamation. And then he accompanies a group on a journey to the territory of Dana, the goddess, to try to discover how Rakoth Maugrim has caused the unnatural winter that plagues Fionavar. There, he awakens to his fate as Liadon, lover and sacrifice to the goddess. It is fitting that when Paul went willingly to the tree, he needed to properly grieve the loss of the woman he had loved, and thus brought rain, and now bright and warm Kevin is the one responsible for bringing spring. It’s not his death that makes me sniffle, but the fact that he found the thing he was meant to do, and struck an enormous blow against the dark in the process. He was very far from useless.

So, too, do I love the reactions of the others to what has happened to Kevin, especially Dave, who mourns Kevin, with whom he never got along in school, to a degree that surprises him. I like to think his grief was colored with regret for so much time wasted when they could’ve been friends. My one complaint, though, is that we never see inside Diarmuid’s head. He liked Kevin, and we can tell he is upset, but we are not privy to his thoughts, nor indeed to the love he evidently discovered he feels toward Sharra, to whom he proposes. Every time Diarmuid does something brilliant and brave, which is often, my heart swells a bit with love of him, but he still remains somewhat of an enigma. The same is true for his brother Aileron, actually. For the most part, we follow the points of view of outsiders.

There’s more sorrow yet to come in the final volume, and I must ready myself to face it.

darkest_roadThe Darkest Road
In this concluding volume of the trilogy, the armies of the Light and the Dark have their final confrontation. Our heroes taste defeat, bittersweet victory, loss, glory, and pain. I am pretty sure this was the first book to ever make me cry my eyes out over a beloved character’s death, and it did so again this time. Hiding his serious hatred of the Dark under a flippant facade, Diarmuid is the first of two characters to willingly sustain a killing blow in order to deliver one. The way Kay describes this scene playing out is so cinematic, I’m left desperately hoping this’ll be the next fantasy epic to be adapted for television.

Contrasting Diarmuid’s end, where he passes surrounded by loved ones and is given a proper farewell (another vivid image is Aileron, devasted by grief, cradling his brother’s body to his chest as he carries him from the field of battle), poor Darien dies alone and uncomforted in Maugrim’s crumbling fortress, never knowing whether anyone will know what he achieved. Thankfully, they do know and the bravery of his deeds and the choice he made is celebrated in song.

Revisiting this series as an older, more attentive, reader has been an interesting experience. Only at the very, very last do we get a glimpse inside Diarmuid’s head. I doubt younger me even noticed that. Nor, I think, did I notice that alongside the three central Arthurian figures reliving their fate, another takes the part of the Lady of Shalott. Lastly, and most significantly, I have a greater appreciation for the statement Kay is making about free will. Obviously, the roles some characters play are tied to destiny, but the importance of Darien’s freedom to choose between the Light and the Dark is repeatedly emphasized, Paul chose to take the king’s place on the summer tree, Jennifer chose to have Darien and refuses to attempt to influence his decision, Diarmuid chooses to take on an impossible foe, Kim chooses not to conscript an ancient power that would surely have been an advantage, and more. I hope that I will find more to love about Kay’s other works—maybe I’ll even like The Last Light of the Sun more next time!

Stay tuned.

Two New Sherlock Holmes Mysteries from Anthony Horowitz

Officially sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate!

The_House_of_SilkThe House of Silk
I have read two other books featuring Holmes and/or Watson that were written by someone other than Arthur Conan Doyle, but I must say that The House of Silk surpasses them both.

Elderly Watson’s health is failing, and he is in a facility where the nurses think writing about his time with Holmes (who died the year before) will be therapeutic for him. As it happens, there is a “monstrous” and “shocking” affair which he had never previously recorded, so he makes plans to send the completed manuscript to a solicitor with the instruction that the package not be opened for 100 years. He then sets about recounting events which began in November 1890, when a man named Edmund Carstairs paid Holmes a visit.

Carstairs is a fine-art dealer who is apparently being menaced by the surviving member of a gang responsible for stealing some valuable paintings on their way to an American client. In the beginning, the book moves rather slowly and it doesn’t seem like there is enough about this case to fill a whole novel. But then one of the Baker Street irregulars that Holmes employs to keep watch over the culprit is brutally murdered, and the resulting investigation ultimately leads to a discovery that is, indeed, suitably shocking.

Horowitz has a good grasp on the characters, and though Holmes is somewhat more human here than elsewhere—castigating himself for the boy’s death, for example—it doesn’t seem out of character. Too, the various pieces of the puzzle fit together in ways that make absolute sense in retrospect but which I never could have guessed. I’m very much looking forward to the follow-up, Moriarty, though Holmes and Watson are apparently absent from that novel.

three_monarchs“The Three Monarchs”
One month before the release of Moriarty, the short story “The Three Monarchs” became available for the Kindle. (It also includes a preview chapter from Moriarty, but I never read those.)

It’s largely inconsequential—Holmes is consulted on a puzzling burglary in which the suspect (shot by an elderly homeowner) was attempting to abscond with three very common ceramic figurines celebrating Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee—and seemingly exists only to remind readers of the existence of Inspector Athelney Jones, first encountered in The Sign of Four, who will be playing a large role in Horowitz’s Moriarty. He vows to learn Holmes’ methods, but Watson notes that he soon grows ill and takes leave from the police.

moriarty-usMoriarty
Set just after Holmes and Moriarty’s meeting at Reichenbach Falls, after which both are presumed dead, Moriarty is the story of American criminal ringleader Clarence Devereux, who has come to England with the goal of taking over Moriarty’s organization, and Pinkerton detective Frederick Chase, who teams up with Scotland Yard’s Athelney Jones (back at work after a year-long convalescence) to stop him.

What I liked best was the dynamic established between Chase and Jones. As it turns out, “The Three Monarchs” was not so inconsequential after all, as the shame of having been wrong yet again spurred Jones into fanatical study of Holmes’ methods and treatises, to the point where he’s become quite good at deductions himself, while narration from Chase chronicles his exploits. Though Holmes and Watson technically are absent, their influence, therefore, is palpable.

Unfortunately, the book is rather lacking in the suspense department. That’s not to say I require suspense, but that several scenes that ought to have been suspenseful simply weren’t. For example, Chase and Jones unlawfully infiltrate the American legation and once they are caught, Jones’ career at Scotland Yard is in jeopardy, but it’s all very ho-hum, to the reader and to Jones. Moreover, a plot twist that Horowitz presumably hoped would elicit gasps of surprise instead only compelled me to triumphantly cry, “I knew it!”

I would still recommend these books to a rabid Holmes fan who has devoured everything else, and I’d still read another one if it is published, but I do hope it’s more fun than this one.

Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, Books 1-4 by Deborah Crombie

Like Elizabeth George, Deborah Crombie is an American writing about Scotland Yard detectives in England. Her works come recommended by a friend who knows and shares my taste in mysteries, and now that I’ve been overtaken by a powerful urge for a mystery binge, I am finally checking them out. There are presently sixteen books in the series; I plan to tackle them in four installments.

share_in_deathA Share in Death
Newly promoted Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid is in Yorkshire on holiday, taking his cousin’s place at a timeshare for a week. He intends to keep his profession a secret from his fellow guests, but when he discovers the body of an employee floating in the pool, he can no longer maintain his anonymity. And, despite his attempts to convince himself that it isn’t his case, he also cannot resist getting involved with the investigation.

In some ways, A Share in Death is a traditional British cozy mystery. Kincaid’s not an amateur, as many sleuths tend to be in those sorts of mysteries, but the action does take place in a small village and involves a finite cast of suspects, some of whom have preexisting relationships. Crombie has a way with physical descriptions that is admirable—she doesn’t expend excess words in the act, but yet I somehow came away with a distinct picture of each individual guest—and between this and the cozy feel, the experience of reading this book was rather like watching my own mental PBS mystery program!

It’s not a perfect book—one secret held by a guest was not difficult to work out, and I’m not entirely sure that everything about the resolution makes perfect sense—but it was still on the whole very enjoyable. Engaging and not intellectually demanding, it managed not to come across as fluffy or trivialize the act of murder. I very much look forward to continuing with this series, and especially hope to see more of Kincaid and his capable Sergeant, Gemma James, working together (as opposed to separated by distance, as they were here).

all_shall_be_wellAll Shall Be Well
Like the first book in the series, All Shall Be Well involves a murder that has taken place in close proximity to Duncan Kincaid. This time it’s his cancer-stricken friend and neighbor, Jasmine Dent, whose death might’ve been assumed to be natural had not Duncan been suspicious and ordered a postmortem, discovering that Jasmine died of an overdose of morphine. Suicide is a possibility, but certain details prevent Duncan from accepting that conclusion.

Again, there is a short list of suspects, with the strongest suspicion resting upon the douchebag boyfriend of the former coworker to whom Jasmine has left the bulk of her estate. And yet, the end result doesn’t feel as typically cozy as A Share in Death because Duncan’s investigation takes him far and wide in search of clues. Happily, there is also much more interaction with Gemma in this book. (I especially liked that Duncan made a point of comparing her to the aforementioned coworker and how the latter inspired parental feelings but the former certainly did not.) There is also a very positive outcome regarding Jasmine’s kitty about whom I worried for the entire book.

I am really enjoying this series so far, and looking forward to the third book, in which Duncan seems to shed his Jessica Fletcher murder-magnet ways and is actually assigned a case!

leave_grave_greenLeave the Grave Green
Okay, Leave the Grave Green is definitely my favorite of the series so far. Instead of a murder happening in Duncan’s vicinity, this time he and Gemma are assigned to the case of Connor Swan, an apparent drowning victim who also had handprints on his throat. He is the son-in-law of a famous and influential couple in the opera scene, thus Scotland Yard’s involvement.

I thought it was interesting that there was essentially no physical evidence to consider, with the autopsy being inconclusive about what exactly happened, so the case was more-or-less solved by talking to the same half dozen or so characters, over and over, with each revealing things they had neglected to mention in previous conversations until finally, Duncan works out what must have happened. It’s not as tidy of a conclusion as they could wish from a prosecutorial standpoint, but it’s satisfying enough for readers.

There was one instance where a clue about a particular family link was a little too obvious, but ultimately, I did not peg the likely culprit. I also appreciated spending more time with Duncan and Gemma’s partnership, complete with a burgeoning physical attraction that culminates in something that they have fascinatingly contrary reactions to afterwards. And, lastly, I didn’t even dare to hope that we’d get a kitty update, but not only did we, but Crombie also kindly told us who was looking after him while Duncan was away on the case. This degree of solicitude made me suspect Crombie must have cats herself and, verily, her bio confirms it.

mourn_not_deadMourn Not Your Dead
I begin to wonder whether I will declare with each successive book, “Okay, this one is my favorite now.”

Mourn Not Your Dead picks up a few days after the conclusion of Leave the Grave Green. Gemma has been avoiding Duncan, but must come into work when they are assigned to the case of a high-ranking police officer found bludgeoned to death in his home. In retrospect, the case itself isn’t terribly fascinating or twisty, but there’s a remarkably solid and memorable cast of suspects and locals, and the undercurrents between Gemma and Duncan make this quite a riveting read.

They are envisioning wildly different outcomes, and Duncan is hurt and baffled when Gemma calls what happened between them “a dreadful mistake.” I loved that he hadn’t even considered how she might worry about and wish to prioritize her career, and I loved too that he told her she had no need to apologize for what she felt or didn’t feel. It was a nice way of showing that he’s got some flaws, but also deeply respects Gemma’s agency. I also really enjoyed the way they gradually regained some equilibrium and how the case helped put some things in perspective.

I love mysteries where the leads are just as interesting as the cases, and this is definitely such a series. Onward, ho!

Shades of London, Books 1-3 by Maureen Johnson

The actual title of this post should be “Books 1-3 plus that novella that came out in 2014,” but that was rather inelegant.

name-of-the-starThe Name of the Star
When Louisiana native Rory Deveaux’s professorial parents take a sabbatical in the UK, Rory jumps at the chance to attend boarding school in London. The early chapters of The Name of the Star depict her acclimation to life at Wexford, befriending her new roommate (Jazza) and developing a flirtation with one of the male prefects (Jerome). Because the phrase “boarding school in London” is totally my cup of tea (har har) and because Rory is amusingly snarky, I was already loving the book at this point, and that’s before I even got to the part with Jack the Ripper and ghosts!

A copycat of the notorious killer is on the loose, and since Wexford is located in Whitechapel, many of the crime scenes are nearby. After a near-death experience by choking grants Rory the ability to see ghosts, she actually witnesses the perpetrator (who has mysteriously failed to show up on any CCTV recordings of the murders) which brings her to the notice of a special secret police squad tasked with controlling any unruly members of the spectral population.

Several more fun characters are then introduced, and here I must compliment the narrator of the unabridged audiobook, Nicola Barber, whose facility in accents made me feel like I was listening to a BBC show. (I especially liked that Callum, a former football hopeful now dispatching meddlesome ghosts on the Underground, sounded rather like Lister from Red Dwarf!) In fact, I think this would make a pretty great BBC show, with its mildly diverse cast and the fact that the heroine is not merely brave (she eventually assists the squad in their ghosthunt), but funny, too. Admittedly, there were a couple of moments where Rory did some dumb things, but one could argue she didn’t really have better alternatives.

I haven’t loved a book this much in quite a long time, and I am both happy and bummed that there are two more (only two more!) in the series currently.

madness_underneathThe Madness Underneath
It is with true regret that I must report that The Madness Underneath suffers from an unfortunate case of Middle Book Syndrome. A crack created at the end of the first book seems to be providing a way for the buried dead of Bedlam to make it to the surface, and Rory’s newfound skills as a human “terminus” are effective in dispatching one murderous ghost, but this plotline fizzles out partway through. (Sidebar: it’s a crazy coincidence that this article comes out the very day I finish this book!) Then Rory falls in with a cult whose philosophy and goals don’t make a lot of sense, and shortly after her costly rescue, there’s suddenly a cliffhanger ending. If I had to wait for book three, I would probably be peeved that that’s all there was.

That is not to suggest that nothing of merit happens, however. I actually really liked how Rory’s return to Wexford was handled—how she was just simply incapable of caring about things she used to care about. So far behind in schoolwork that it’s overwhelming, she can’t muster the desire to try, and yet is blindsided when it is suggested that perhaps she ought to withdraw prior to exams. So caught up in the ghosthunting gig, boyfriend Jerome’s suspicions (and then guilt over same) become just another nagging problem, so she ends their relationship. I liked that Callum feels more antagonistically towards ghosts than the others do, and yet everyone seems to respect each other’s point of view. I liked the Marc Bolan reference. And, of course, before the more serious stuff starts to happen, there are at least a dozen lines of dialogue that made me laugh. (There’s also a dream featuring ham lunchmeat that I think might be an homage to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Restless.”)

Even though this particular installment was kind of disappointing, I continue to look forward to subsequent books just as much as before.

boy_in_smokeThe Boy in the Smoke
This short novella visits four defining moments in the life of Stephen Dene, leader of the ghost police, offering insight into the thoughts and background of a notably reticent character. Some of these incidents have been referred to in previous books, but not in this much detail.

“The Forgotten Boy” recounts a time when Stephen’s parents forget to fetch him from school at the end of term. (They’ve gone to Barbados instead.) His sister Regina comes to his rescue, determined to save him from a life doing what their parents expect, but she’s erratic and Stephen soon figures out that she’s using drugs. In “The Break in the Chain,” Stephen is attending Eton when he gets word of Regina’s death by overdose. (His parents “worked out their grief at a resort in Switzerland.”) He manages to carry on for several years, determined to fulfill his duty of succeeding at Eton and carrying on to Cambridge, until a visit from his unfeeling family leads him to commit suicide (in a scene that is absolutely riveting).

“The Specialist” find Stephen recovering at a psychiatric hospital and being recruited by Thorpe to lead the reformed team. And in “The Boy in the Smoke,” Stephen has finally achieved his dream of becoming a police officer. Practically the first thing he does is search for Regina’s ghost, only to find she did not return. Lastly, he fulfills his promise to come back to visit the ghost who saved his life and this slim little book comes to an end that left me rather verklempt.

Is this book essential to understanding the Shades of London series? No, but I’d say it’s essential to understanding Stephen, and very definitely worth the time.

shadcabThe Shadow Cabinet
What do you get when you take a series that first beguiled me with London, boarding school, Jack the Ripper and ghosts, and then remove half of those things? A book that is reasonably good but which I just cannot love with anything approaching the ardor I originally felt.

The Shadow Cabinet offers a lot more information about the cult and their goals, introduces the concept of powerful stones that prevent London from being overrun by spirits as well as a secret society tasked with protecting them, and unleashes creepy, evil siblings Sid and Sadie upon the world. More attention, though, is devoted to Rory’s personal plight. Now in hiding from family and friends after running away from Wexford, she and the team are searching everywhere for one of their own who they believe has become a ghost.

The resolution to book two’s cliffhanger is pretty satisfying, I must admit, and I found that I did care a lot about whether certain characters made it out of Sid and Sadie’s proximity unscathed. I also really liked getting to know more about Thorpe, the group’s MI-5 overseer, and that Rory apparently receives permission to tell her two closest friends from Wexford what’s really been going on. And then there’s also the part where Stephen asks the bad guys, “Do you want to test that theory?” which surely must be another Buffy reference, right?

I’m still looking forward to the fourth book, which I believe is going to be the last in the series, but I must admit that my expectations are lower now than they once were.

Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

uninvitedbook description:
When Davy tests positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome, aka “the kill gene,” she loses everything. Once the perfect high school senior, she is uninvited from her prep school and abandoned by her friends and boyfriend. Even her parents are now afraid of her—although she’s never hurt a fly. Davy doesn’t feel any differently, but genes don’t lie. One day she will kill someone.

Without any say in the matter, Davy is thrown into a special class for HTS carriers. She has no doubt the predictions are right about them, especially Sean, who already bears the “H” tattoo as proof of his violence. Yet when the world turns on the carriers, Sean is the only one she can trust. Maybe he’s not as dangerous as he seems. Or maybe Davy is just as deadly.

Review:
We meet Davina (Davy) Hamilton in March 2021, when she is about to graduate from her prestigious prep school and proceed on to Juilliard. Davy is a special snowflake musical prodigy who is also gorgeous, with a studly boyfriend many other girls covet. She’s also not shy about congratulating herself for these things.

Her privileged existence comes to an end when routine screening reveals that she carries the gene for HTS—Homicidal Tendency Syndrome. She is promptly uninvited from her swanky school and sent to a class for “carriers” at the local public school, where some of the kids are obviously creeps but others seem as normal and harmless as Davy insists she is. Carriers are treated poorly by society, and when an angry group of them perpetrates a mass shooting, all carriers are rounded up and sent to detention camps. Davy and a couple of classmates, however, are diverted into a program where they train to kill on government command.

While there were a few things I liked about Uninvited, I must admit that it was not especially good. Original-flavor Davy is not a sympathetic character, but she does eventually realize that she used to be a pretty crappy person and that her friends and boyfriend never truly cared about her. I also found the repeated references to music in her head puzzling—as a musician myself, it’s true that I usually have a song (or at least unformed noodling) in my head, but I thought this was normal for everyone, and not a sign of genius as we are evidently supposed to believe here.

Too, the writing is sometimes weirdly choppy, and I’m not sure what the point of that was. Is it simply bad writing or is it an attempt to convey how grim the situation is? If that’s the case, why use it during a scene where Davy’s boyfriend seems to accept her, kill gene and all?

“I need this. So much. His arms. His love.”

That’s just one example. I confess that I eventually started internally reading these in a flat robot voice to amuse myself. Jordan sometimes seems to mix up musical terms, too, like when Davy refers to the “pitch” of an aria, or that her body sways to the “harmony.” Plus, there were two instances of “y’all” being spelled “ya’ll.” Can you become an editor without understanding how contractions are formed? Apparently, at Harper Teen you can!

So, irritating main character, bizarre writing style… what is there to like? Well, the concept itself is kind of interesting, and because I didn’t particularly care about anyone, their misfortunes didn’t cause me any anxiety. The portion of the novel set in the training program is the strongest, with Davy becoming determined not only to become strong in her own right, but buying into the claim that if she does well enough, the government will have the neck tattoo proclaiming her as a violet carrier removed.

In the end, I find myself interested enough to read the sequel, Unleashed, though I am very grateful that this series is not a trilogy.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

gone-girl-book-cover-medDescription:
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

Review:
I am one of those people who hears about a new movie generating some buzz and, instead of going to see it, thinks, “I should read the book that is based on.” And so it was that I came to read Gone Girl without actually knowing much about it. To sum up: Nick and Amy Dunne have been married for five years. They were happy at first, but things have not been going well recently. On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears and suspicion quickly settles on Nick.

For the first half of the book, narration alternates between Nick in the present and Amy in the past (courtesy of her diary). While Nick deals with the police investigation, a steady stream of unsavory discoveries about him ensues. He has also seemingly inherited his father’s misogynist rage, even if he is better at not speaking those thoughts out loud. Amy, meanwhile, recounts how they met and the early, halcyon days of their relationship before recent entries depict her as afraid that her husband might do her harm. This segment of the novel is perhaps the strongest, as it forces readers to question whether they ought to have sympathy for Nick or not. Dislikable though he may be, some apparently damning incidents are really just due to (occasionally excruciating) ineptitude.

And then there is a big twist, which I shan’t spoil. Alas, rather than making things more interesting, it ushers in a period of boring interludes and exposes even more character flaws, of the “crass and profane” or “snivelly and petulant” varieties. Granted, no one enjoys reading about perfect people, but I usually prefer there to be at least one character to legitimately care about. Still, I carried on, but was beginning to look forward to the book simply being over already. And yet it seemingly refused to end. Something would happen and you’d think, “Okay, that’s the revelation that wraps everything up.” But then it wouldn’t be! It would just keep going.

True, the final twist was something that, although the clues were there, I failed to see coming. So kudos for that. And yet, I find I can’t really recommend the book. I suspect that the movie is much better, because the story is condensed into 149 minutes, and presumably omits Nick’s often odious inner thoughts, but I doubt I’ll ever feel the urge to watch it. I must, however, award some points for the reference to the classic Pace Picante Sauce commercial, as my involuntary reaction to anyone mentioning New York City is to think, “New York City?!?!”