Posts Tagged With: Book Review

Seeking Whom He May Devour – a review

It’s thursday? Already? What? No. I’m not ready for the weekly mystery blog. Not ready. But i said i would be so here it is. The first of the book reviews. The idea is to talk about stuff you MIGHT not be into – yet. I mean, we’ve all heard of Tana French by now and so forth, so it’s only right to blerb about stuff you may not have. Of course i’m probably not that qualified at finding this stuff. I search for it blindly and am ALWAYS open to suggestions so if you’ve got anything that you think i might be interested in let me know and i’ll take a look. The same rules will apply. If i don’t like something or it’s a little too ‘normal’ chances are i won’t write about it. So please don’t recommend Patterson or Sanford and such.

Anyway. Today it’s Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas.

Fred is French. Just so you know. All of the books of the Commisaire Adamsberg series are translations. I’ve read two of them so far The Chalk Circle Man and this one and i have to say they are – weird. In other places at other times i’ve described them as “what if Amelie was a homicide detective?” and i think that still holds up. Adamsberg is a charming weirdo and he’s well insulated and surrounded by other intriguing weirdos, some of whom have murder on their minds.

In this one Adamsberg isn’t so much at the heart of the book, though. Here the central character is his enigmatic ex, Camille, who finds herself as a small town plumber in a mountain town full of mountain folk tending sheep. She’s surrounded by charming pastoral folk, a foul mouthed shepherdess and her adopted child whom she’s convinced is an African Prince, a grumpy superstitious shepherd with a passion for strong wine, a Canadian documentary filmmaker studying wild wolves. Drop in one werewolf terrorizing the neighborhood and a victim, stir, ferment, see what happens.

Of course this isn’t one of the glut of paranormal mysteries so we don’t believe for one second that there is, in fact, a real werewolf terrorizing the Mercantour. It’s a testament to the languid and dazzling flow of Vargas writing that she somehow convinces us that it just MIGHT be a lycanthrope, even as we laugh at ourselves for being so stupid. Of course it may  be that we’ve seen this sort of thing before, too, and have conditioned towards the spontaneous outbreak of lycanthropy in otherwise perfectly good mysteries.

In any case, Vargas keeps her main detective involved from afar, he’s a little busy trying to fend off the murderous attention of a woman so doesn’t quite have time to track down possible werewolves in another district. In stead, the wonderfully bizarre keeps us going down the road throughout most of it and she’s truly a gem to follow. Vargas clearly loves her being enigmatic and somehow, in spite of being central to the story, she manages to keep her distant and yet interesting. We never quite get familiar with her. You might think it would be difficult having a protagonist you’re never allowed to fully identify with but Vargas makes it all a pleasure – like spending time with a marvelous host at a party you know you’ll have to leave.

She is not, however, a detective. Her pursuit of the wolf through the countryside takes the whole thing into a road book – On The Road with idiots, werewolves and murder. Setting off with her two companions to find the murderer and (literally) eviscerate him they bumble amiably through the countryside collecting things they think are clues but aren’t and following leads that go no where.

It’s here that the story does become a little bit of a chore as we’re already aware that Adamsberg must show up at some point and Vargas makes us wait just a little too long. Oh it’s fun. Solimon and Watchee are excellent comic relief even though the reader never really needs relief from anything. They repeatedly deflate any latent idea of buried wisdom that we might feel about old shepherds and their proteges but at times it seemed that that was all their purpose was, to kill time while the reader waits for Adamsberg to get into position.

When he does show up i immediately felt how much i missed him. Maybe that was the point? To get the reader to the point where we’re as relieved to have him along as the characters themselves. Adamsberg is easily the ruling king of this motley band. His style of detection is as charismatic as it is bizarre – almost tranquil and nonchalant. There is literally no other detective in film or literature (that i can think of anyway) who would have been able to stick with the assorted ensemble effectively without losing their minds in the process, though i have to admit it is fun to think of Thomas Magnum trying.

In any case i don’t want to give too much away. Vargas is a fun and engaging writer and i’m always predisposed towards writers who can efficiently use vivid detail to elucidate the unique qualities of their characters. She’s quirky. I like that. And it’s not quirkiness for just the sake of itself – it shows tiny glimpses of deep characters who are comfortable with their own oddities. She uses enough of it to get you to want more. You want to hear the end of Soliman’s strange, rambling stories even if no one else does, you can’t wait for Camille to page through her big catalog of tools like it’s her personal bible.

I can’t say that the ending was any great surprise. It may be just a little overly elaborate for a story who’s greatest charm is it’s unique and unapologetic simplicity. Order is restored. That sort of thing. We’re rewarded with a killer. Yay. About what you’d expect really, but getting there is a lot of fun if you have a little bit of patience and like your characters vividly random.

If you’re a straight up whodunit procedural type and like your characters tough, straight faced (boring) then this probably isn’t for you. But if you have a ken for the weird, the daring, and the interesting then you probably couldn’t do much worse, though i still feel that the ending was a bit of a let down. It reached more than it needed to and you could see it a pretty long way off, but then again i can’t remember the last time the ending of a mystery actually surprised me.

Categories: Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

All Hail Emperor Zhark!: Something Rotten Book review

Three days ago, sunday, i went to the not really local but still independent bookstore in the neighborhood and picked up three books. One of these books was the fourth of the Thursday Next series of books which my few minions will recognize that i’m totally addicted to. I finished it last night.

Generally i don’t read that fast. I don’t want to read that fast. I’m one of those ‘savor the book in a slow feast’ type guys, having a little morsel here and there, tearing off a chunk to chew on my way to work, etc. But Fforde lays a table of candy coated feasty goodness and i turn into a kid in a candy shop – i know, unforgivable use of cliche. The strange thing about Fforde’s writing is it doesn’t leave me full – in fact it’s like a delicious feast that leaves you wanting more, and luckily for all inquisitive readers the books are like launch pads to explore other writers, other books.

Book four finds our Plucky Heroine finally reappearing out of Bookworld to do dubious battle with the great and all too powerful Goliath Corporation (now trying to convert themselves into the most popular religion), and the fictional (fictional, of course taking on an entirely different significance here) English Chancellor Yorrick Kaine. She brings with her a new son, Friday, a juvenile delinquent Dodo Bird, Alan (son of the wonderful Pickwick) a morose Danish Prince who is worried about his penchant for equivocating, and the memories of a husband who never existed.

If you are familiar at all with the style of these books you’ll soak it in quick – that feeling of a great big plot stew, everything thrown in (including bits you think probably shouldn’t) add a dash of extreme weirdness and voila – a wonderfully strange novel you think can’t possibly work but somehow does. I honestly don’t know how Fforde manages to hold the whole thing – and his head – together while writing these gleeful hodgepodges. I know, for myself, i would probably send for the guys in white coats after finishing every novel, but somehow he manages to pull it off, leaving the reader just a little dizzy.

Well last night the novel left me with a serious case of the sniffles which is a first in the series. A beloved character, whose arc i managed to figure out a while back, finally revealed herself and expired and, well, in the middle of six foot hedgehogs, talking gorillas, a displaced Dane with an affection for Mel Gibson films, and plot devices so convoluted and twisted that the forest of them is opaque with baroque twists, there i was dazzled by a moment of honest tenderness.

the down side to attempting to write a review of such a thing is that it’s basically impossible to show the moments that produced the excitement and happiness without totally revealing the plot and ruining the experience for others. I mentioned this sensation before, but i reiterate the fact that i can only say the book is a whole lot of fun, and Fforde – though reigning in the dazzling cleverness of the last two novels – still retains a panache for the absurd that is not simply praiseworthy but should be lauded across the land – particularly in a world that seems to grow increasingly dire with each passing minute.

So maybe this isn’t the book you’ll be discussing with your literary friends trying to convince them that you’re a brilliant post avant critique, but it is one that you’ll tell your other friends about – the one’s who still stand slack jawed and marvel at words, and plots and characters. The one’s who might still read Hamlet for fun will get it, and if you know of any people who have privately whispered their admiration for Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams they will thank you for the suggestion.

And of course, Emperor Zhark – bloodthirsty interstellar tyrant that he is, is a wonderful character. Just sayin.

Categories: Book reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde A Review

I just finished the third book in the Thursday Next series of books. You may note, if you pay any attention to this blog at all that there is no review for the second book. That’s my mistake. It’s not that i didn’t like it. Not at all. It’s just that i am a little behind on my blogging. As in a lot behind. By which i mean to say ridiculously behind – as in i have been struggling mightily against equipment and general frustrations and therefore by the time i get to the point of actually writing anything i just don’t feel like it. That kind of behind.

Well all is well now. Everything has been fixed at not a little expense to myself. Nothing to worry about. Just a little hemorrhage of the pocket book and i’m right as rain.

But you don’t care about that at all and i don’t blame you. You’re here, i presume, for the review of The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde. Well, if you’re here for that i will happily presume that you have read the other books in that series and i have no need to recap thereby causing some bit of a fiction infraction in BookWorld. I would hate to invoke the ire of the Jurisfiction agents, because – frankly – i enjoy reading very much and The Well of Lost Plots is VERY enjoyable to read.

Fforde just keeps getting better. Just when you think there is no way he can sustain the dazzling light show of his imagination, when you think this will be the last hurrah, there is another and another. I hate to say it but, honestly, there is little i can say about this that won’t in some way diminish it. Fforde and his brilliant crew have so carefully monopolized all of the decent adjectives, culled them for his own use and there are none to lend to average reviewers like myself.

I am not at all saddened by this except to say that you will have to read it for yourself because there isn’t much i am permitted to say. I think it is clear to say that i loved it. And boy i wish, i really do wish, i could tell you how it ended but i can’t. I mean – from a writers perspective, rattling down the lists of do’s and don’ts in writing, what he did was almost unconscionable but perfectly wonderful. I’m sure there will be astute snobby readers who will groan when they get to the end. There was even a part of me that groaned but then it started to smile and smirk and feel awfully smarmy in the great inside joke.

Unfortunately, as i mentioned, there is very little else i can say about this wonderful and brilliantly fun book. When you read it, and i highly recommend that you do at some point, you will understand my hesitation much better.

Anyway. I’ve got to run. Literarily. There’s a minotaur at the door. I think he wants some spare plot points.

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