I have been using Book Mooch to collect out of print books that I long-ago bookmarked from other people's recs-- especially [livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink.

I have often admired Peter Dickinson's writing, but it strikes me as distanced and cold. This is the first book of his that I've liked as well as admired, because the tone fits the subject matter.

Ispector Pibble has recently been forced to leave the police department. It's not explained why in this book, but as it's a series it probably was in the last one. He pays a courtesy call, a favor for his wife (who never appears onstage) to an institute for children with cathypnia. This is an extremely convincing fictional genetic disease, somewhat similar to narcolepsy, which makes the children fat, constantly sleepy, and doomed to die young. Also, perhaps, telepathic.

Pibble notices the possibly telepathy almost immediately-- one of the pleasures of the book is how quietly sharp he is-- and is easily drawn in to experiments going on at the institution, as one of the doctors thinks Pibble is a "sender" who can match with the kids, who are "receivers." The children are convincing and unsentimentalized-- as is Pibble.

This is a very difficult book to discuss without spoilers. It reads like a very atmospheric novel of low-key suspense, but there's a lot going on under the surface. It's very intelligent, very well-written, and, by the end, very disturbing, but probably not in the way one might expect from the set-up. Though there are elements of that, too. I recommend it.

Ginormous spoilers )
I have been using Book Mooch to collect out of print books that I long-ago bookmarked from other people's recs-- especially [livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink.

I have often admired Peter Dickinson's writing, but it strikes me as distanced and cold. This is the first book of his that I've liked as well as admired, because the tone fits the subject matter.

Ispector Pibble has recently been forced to leave the police department. It's not explained why in this book, but as it's a series it probably was in the last one. He pays a courtesy call, a favor for his wife (who never appears onstage) to an institute for children with cathypnia. This is an extremely convincing fictional genetic disease, somewhat similar to narcolepsy, which makes the children fat, constantly sleepy, and doomed to die young. Also, perhaps, telepathic.

Pibble notices the possibly telepathy almost immediately-- one of the pleasures of the book is how quietly sharp he is-- and is easily drawn in to experiments going on at the institution, as one of the doctors thinks Pibble is a "sender" who can match with the kids, who are "receivers." The children are convincing and unsentimentalized-- as is Pibble.

This is a very difficult book to discuss without spoilers. It reads like a very atmospheric novel of low-key suspense, but there's a lot going on under the surface. It's very intelligent, very well-written, and, by the end, very disturbing, but probably not in the way one might expect from the set-up. Though there are elements of that, too. I recommend it.

Ginormous spoilers )
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
( May. 12th, 2006 09:18 pm)
My, I am in a spammy mood! Perhaps I am wishing for human contact in a language I speak. I was so delighted when I went to a Japanese restaurant in Madrid with Sara and Lawrence, because I had been bummed about my Spanish being so horrible and I hoped for a chance to speak a foreign language I can actually kind of speak. Except the waitress we got was Korean and didn't even know the Japanese word for plum. (So comment away!)

Today I read C. J. Cherryh's Gate of Ivrel, an earlyish work, I suspect, in the drenchingly romatic style of Leigh Brackett or early George R R Martin, but in Cherryh's spare-formal prose style (she has others) and with her usual tendency to never let her heroes get a decent night's sleep or a bite of satisfying food.

Vanye is a... hmm, sort of a ronin, though the culture on his backward planet is not Japanese-ish.. he's an outlaw warrior who must swear himself to some lord for a year of duty. He's still unsworn when a deer he shoots staggers between the shimmering air of a magic cursed gate, and a tall pale woman rides out: Morgaine, last seen a hundred years ago and not aged a day, nor remembered fondly. The gates are the destructive remnants of an ancient dead civilization who used them to travel in space and time, she is on a mission to walk from world to world, closing each gate behind her lest they destroy the universe, until the end of time, or her death, or the last gate closes behind her.

She is cold and harsh and the last survivor of her mission party; he is brave, in the sense that he has fear and does the right thing anyway, and more gentle than is healthy; he can't understand exactly what she's doing and why, and he's going to follow her anyway, no matter what. I think Oyce would especially like this.

Victor Appleton: Tome Swift: The Astral Fortess. Pulp sf I enjoyed as a kid wand was delighted to find used. It's fun. You're all too old to read it. Here's a sample:

Benjamin Franklin Walking Eagle, Tom's co-pilot and best friend, was already checking the stratling information Aristotle had described by running it through the Exedra's main computer. Ben's face bore the same intense look of concentration that his Indian ancestors had worn while stalking buffalo so many generations before.

Lindsey Davis, Silver Pigs. Mystery set in ancient Rome, in the wisecracking private eye style, about an 'informer'-- aka private eye-- Marcus Didius Falco. This works surprisingly well. The voice is great, the details seem authentic, and the relationships between the characters are wonderful.

Donna Leon, Blood from a Stone. Murder mystery set in contemporary Venice, starring a police commissioner. Very well-written and atmospheric, but suffers from an overdose of noir corruption and angst, so that the protagonist does not solve the mystery himself, but has the solution handed to him by a powerful figure in the know, and then can't do anything with the information. Also, the mystery concerns Senegalese immigrants, and everyone keeps bemoaning that they know nothing about them, but no one ever so much as gets online to google some basic info on their country of origin.
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
( May. 12th, 2006 09:18 pm)
My, I am in a spammy mood! Perhaps I am wishing for human contact in a language I speak. I was so delighted when I went to a Japanese restaurant in Madrid with Sara and Lawrence, because I had been bummed about my Spanish being so horrible and I hoped for a chance to speak a foreign language I can actually kind of speak. Except the waitress we got was Korean and didn't even know the Japanese word for plum. (So comment away!)

Today I read C. J. Cherryh's Gate of Ivrel, an earlyish work, I suspect, in the drenchingly romatic style of Leigh Brackett or early George R R Martin, but in Cherryh's spare-formal prose style (she has others) and with her usual tendency to never let her heroes get a decent night's sleep or a bite of satisfying food.

Vanye is a... hmm, sort of a ronin, though the culture on his backward planet is not Japanese-ish.. he's an outlaw warrior who must swear himself to some lord for a year of duty. He's still unsworn when a deer he shoots staggers between the shimmering air of a magic cursed gate, and a tall pale woman rides out: Morgaine, last seen a hundred years ago and not aged a day, nor remembered fondly. The gates are the destructive remnants of an ancient dead civilization who used them to travel in space and time, she is on a mission to walk from world to world, closing each gate behind her lest they destroy the universe, until the end of time, or her death, or the last gate closes behind her.

She is cold and harsh and the last survivor of her mission party; he is brave, in the sense that he has fear and does the right thing anyway, and more gentle than is healthy; he can't understand exactly what she's doing and why, and he's going to follow her anyway, no matter what. I think Oyce would especially like this.

Victor Appleton: Tome Swift: The Astral Fortess. Pulp sf I enjoyed as a kid wand was delighted to find used. It's fun. You're all too old to read it. Here's a sample:

Benjamin Franklin Walking Eagle, Tom's co-pilot and best friend, was already checking the stratling information Aristotle had described by running it through the Exedra's main computer. Ben's face bore the same intense look of concentration that his Indian ancestors had worn while stalking buffalo so many generations before.

Lindsey Davis, Silver Pigs. Mystery set in ancient Rome, in the wisecracking private eye style, about an 'informer'-- aka private eye-- Marcus Didius Falco. This works surprisingly well. The voice is great, the details seem authentic, and the relationships between the characters are wonderful.

Donna Leon, Blood from a Stone. Murder mystery set in contemporary Venice, starring a police commissioner. Very well-written and atmospheric, but suffers from an overdose of noir corruption and angst, so that the protagonist does not solve the mystery himself, but has the solution handed to him by a powerful figure in the know, and then can't do anything with the information. Also, the mystery concerns Senegalese immigrants, and everyone keeps bemoaning that they know nothing about them, but no one ever so much as gets online to google some basic info on their country of origin.
Three suspense novels, all of them entertaining reads, none of them in the first rank of those author's works. I'd recommend any of them as airplane reads, since they'd keep you glued to the pages, but could be abandoned without too much of a qualm when you're done. Well, personally, I wouldn't abandon the Holland, but that's because it's out of print and you'd never be able to find it again if you wanted to re-read it.

See my overview of Barbara Michaels for more details on her work. Be Buried in the Rain is mid-range Michaels, with some intriguing elements but somewhat awkward plotting and a less-than-compelling romantic subplot. Julie is a medical student who gets stuck spending her summer break caring for her grandmother Martha, who has had a stroke, on her picturesquely decaying Virginia mansion with attached Spooky Historic Graveyard (TM). When Julie was a child, her mother left her with the physically and emotionally abusive Martha for several years. At that time Martha managed to cripple Julie's self-esteem, and later destroyed her relationship with a guy named Alan. Alan, now an anthropologist, has returned to Virginia, intent on excavating the Spooky Historic Graveyard (TM); naturally, the romance rekindles, although the most compelling relationship in the book is between Julie and a stray dog she adopts.

This is a little difficult to describe without spoilers, but my problem with the main plot, which involves a mysterious female skeleton found holding a baby's skeleton (Aieeee!), is that it trundles along without much input from Julie, so that her story doesn't seem very integrated with the suspense plot until near the end. If you read this book, I recommend not doing so as bedtime reading. I finished it in bed, and the fucking creepy final paragraph terrorized me not only that night, but for about the next three nights.

Isabelle Holland's Bump in the Night is a non-Gothic suspense novel about Martha (yes, another Martha), an alcoholic divorced mother whose son is kidnapped by a pedophile. It sets up that in order to save him, she must remain sober, but actually the fact that she remains sober throughout the book turns out to be more of a personal victory than the means to saving her son. The son has a more active role than one might expect, which I kind of liked but which also, rather like the Michaels book, made Martha a marginalized player in her own story. This is one of those books which would have had to be substantially rewritten if cell phones had existed at that time, as interminable amounts of verbiage concern people waiting for phone calls and trying in vain to call each other. There are animals in this one too-- the son's cat and a neighborhood cat lady's cats have minor but significant roles.

The hero of Dick Francis' Second Wind is a weather forecaster whose decision to accompany a friend who wants to fly his private plane into the eye of a hurricane sucks him into an elaborate suspense plot. The plot in question doesn't really hang together for-- I swear I really did read all three of these books in quick succession-- the same reason as the two above: the plot would have worked out in pretty much the same way if the protagonist hadn't existed. Also, the romance is perfuctory. There's a great shipwrecked on a deserted island sequence, though. This one doesn't have any characters named Martha, but a filly and a herd of cows play supporting but crucial roles.
Three suspense novels, all of them entertaining reads, none of them in the first rank of those author's works. I'd recommend any of them as airplane reads, since they'd keep you glued to the pages, but could be abandoned without too much of a qualm when you're done. Well, personally, I wouldn't abandon the Holland, but that's because it's out of print and you'd never be able to find it again if you wanted to re-read it.

See my overview of Barbara Michaels for more details on her work. Be Buried in the Rain is mid-range Michaels, with some intriguing elements but somewhat awkward plotting and a less-than-compelling romantic subplot. Julie is a medical student who gets stuck spending her summer break caring for her grandmother Martha, who has had a stroke, on her picturesquely decaying Virginia mansion with attached Spooky Historic Graveyard (TM). When Julie was a child, her mother left her with the physically and emotionally abusive Martha for several years. At that time Martha managed to cripple Julie's self-esteem, and later destroyed her relationship with a guy named Alan. Alan, now an anthropologist, has returned to Virginia, intent on excavating the Spooky Historic Graveyard (TM); naturally, the romance rekindles, although the most compelling relationship in the book is between Julie and a stray dog she adopts.

This is a little difficult to describe without spoilers, but my problem with the main plot, which involves a mysterious female skeleton found holding a baby's skeleton (Aieeee!), is that it trundles along without much input from Julie, so that her story doesn't seem very integrated with the suspense plot until near the end. If you read this book, I recommend not doing so as bedtime reading. I finished it in bed, and the fucking creepy final paragraph terrorized me not only that night, but for about the next three nights.

Isabelle Holland's Bump in the Night is a non-Gothic suspense novel about Martha (yes, another Martha), an alcoholic divorced mother whose son is kidnapped by a pedophile. It sets up that in order to save him, she must remain sober, but actually the fact that she remains sober throughout the book turns out to be more of a personal victory than the means to saving her son. The son has a more active role than one might expect, which I kind of liked but which also, rather like the Michaels book, made Martha a marginalized player in her own story. This is one of those books which would have had to be substantially rewritten if cell phones had existed at that time, as interminable amounts of verbiage concern people waiting for phone calls and trying in vain to call each other. There are animals in this one too-- the son's cat and a neighborhood cat lady's cats have minor but significant roles.

The hero of Dick Francis' Second Wind is a weather forecaster whose decision to accompany a friend who wants to fly his private plane into the eye of a hurricane sucks him into an elaborate suspense plot. The plot in question doesn't really hang together for-- I swear I really did read all three of these books in quick succession-- the same reason as the two above: the plot would have worked out in pretty much the same way if the protagonist hadn't existed. Also, the romance is perfuctory. There's a great shipwrecked on a deserted island sequence, though. This one doesn't have any characters named Martha, but a filly and a herd of cows play supporting but crucial roles.
I bought this at a library sale after making this comment on minnow1212's journal, regarding her post about a Tey mystery which I hadn't read, To Love and Be Wise, starring her usual detective Alan Grant:

"I also love The Daughter of Time. It begins with Grant flat on his back on a hospital, glumly staring at a stack of horrid books left by well-wishers. He proceeds to mentally demolish each one-- the depressing farm epic, the overly arch comedy of manners, the fluffy romance-- to pass the time.

I also like another Grant mystery, The Singing Sands. The mystery itself is forgettable, but the atmosphere is haunting."

The Daughter of Time is a classic, by the way: a mystery in which, like Rear Window, the detective is immobolized by an injury and must do all his detecting mentally and with the help of assistants. Moreover, the mystery which Grant is investigating is whether Richard III really murdered the princes in the tower. I've read it at least ten times despite not caring in the slightest whether or not he did.

Brat Farrar is not exactly a mystery, although my edition is packaged as one and it does involve an amateur detective investigating a murder. But it's really more of a straight novel with suspense elements, and the sort of plot which any writer would give a body part to write for the first time.

Brat Farrar grew up a foundling in an English orphanage. He ran away when he was young, stowed-away to America, broke horses, broke his leg and ended up lame, and drifted back to England. There a man he never met before called him by another man's name, then invited him out for lunch and a proposition. It seems that Brat is a dead ringer for Simon Ashby, a young man who is about to come of age and into his inheritance: a nice chunk of money and property, including a thriving stable.

Simon once had an older twin, Patrick, who would have inherited the lot if he hadn't jumped off a cliff and into the ocean in despair at their parents' sudden death. But Patrick's body was never found. Now a family friend wants Brat to impersonate Patrick, claim the estate, and provide the friend with a percentage of its revenues.

Lured by the promise of the horses which he loves and which his lame leg, lack of papers, and lack of money would otherwise cut him off from, Brat accepts. But his impersonation almost immediately becomes more than just a con game for money: Brat finds the family he never had, begins falling for a woman who thinks he's her long-lost brother, and begins to suspect that Patrick was murdered-- but can't do anything about it, even when he's certain who did it and why, without revealing his deception. Most intriguingly, Brat's personality begins to merge with that of the long-dead Patrick, as if Brat has spiritually as well as physically taken Patrick's place.

The end, alas, is rather too cheerful and also too bound by mystery conventions to encompass the deeper issues raised by the story. But it's a good read, even if it never quite lives up to its own premise.
It may seem odd to call an internationally bestselling author underrated, so I won't. I'll call him underdiscussed.

Dick Francis is a former jockey and author of about forty books, all but two mystery/thrillers which involve horse racing. Like Barbara Michaels, his books mostly have different protagonists, though he wrote a few about an ex-jockey named Sid Halley. Though Francis is a better and more ambitious writer than Michaels, other traits he shares with her are a compulsive page-turning style and a tendency to make some form of specialized knowledge, history or craft a central part of the narrative. (They overlap with two books, Michaels' INTO THE DARKNESS and Francis' STRAIGHT, which both involve fine jewelry.)

These points which I mention are probably what anyone would think of if they've read a few of his books; also that he writes extremely well and convincingly about pain, primarily physical but also emotional; and that although one would think thrillers involving horse racing is a limited field, his books are often quite inventive and different from each other.

Something that I don't think gets noticed as much are the roles of women. His protagonists, who all narrate in the first person, are all men of more-or-less similar types: tough, manly without being obsessed with proving it, concerned with old-fashined values like courage and honor, stoic, intelligent but not intellectual. So the female characters will always be in supporting roles, and are often but not always the love interest.

They are often instrumental in assisting the hero as he solves the mystery or defeats the villain, but generally not by using physical force. As often, their role is more crucial in helping the hero with his psychological or emotional issues: sometimes by providing a good or bad example of how to live, sometimes in the more traditional role of providing a shoulder to lean on and a relationship which expands his emotional world. But though women are not usually central to the plot, they're often shown in far more interesting and unstereotyped roles than one would expect from a writer of male-centered semi-macho thrillers.

Dick Francis's wife died within the last year or so, and I don't think he's written anything since. It turns out that she did a lot of research which went into his books, from learning to fly to learning to paint, and was his collaborator to an unspecified extent; he said that her name could have appeared on the books as a co-writer, if she'd wanted it there. This seems a fairly common pattern, and I wish women were more willing in general to take credit for their work, but now that I know, I'll always think of her as the silent partner when I read the books.

I'll post on individual books later tonight, as I'd like to do a career overview for anyone who's never picked anything up by him.
.

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags