the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘mystery

borrowed-manA Borrowed Man, by Gene Wolfe

published in 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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  1. Protagonist and supporting characters who you’re pretty sure are lying to you and to each other?
  2. Dialog that can be inferred in multiple ways?
  3. Not much of a pay-off at the end?
  4. Feel like you need to read the whole book again to figure out what’s going on?

 

If you answered Yes to all those questions,  you might be reading a Gene Wolfe. In classic Wolfe  fashion A Borrowed Man answers all those questions with a resounding Yes, and I’m tempted to read the whole thing again, just to see what additional hints I can pull out.

 

In the far future, not only can you take discs out of the library, but you can take an entire person out the library. Famous authors, artists, and poets have been “re-cloned” – they talk like a person, act and walk like a person, need to eat and sleep like a person, are a person, but are owned by a library. Reclones are property.  When someone takes out author A.E. Smithe, he has no choice about what they do with him.  But if enough years go by with no checkouts? He might get sold at a library discards sale, or he might get tossed into the incinerator without a second though.

 

To Smithe, his life is normal. He lives on a shelf in the library, he gets up every day and washes his hair and has breakfast. He paces, he reads, he fights with his ex-wife. If no patrons come to consult you, life is easy but boring.  Smithe remembers everything (or nearly everything) his original remembers, but he also remembers everything he’s experienced since becoming a reclone. Many libraries have E.A. Smithes, all with the same core memories. Reclones are forbidden from writing or creating art, it would cheapen what their originals did.  Yet, A Borrowed Man is told in first person, so  . . .  is Smithe writing this story?

 

Regardless of who is writing this story,  Smithe gets taken out of the library by one Colette Coldbrook, who says she needs his help solving a mystery. Both her father and brother were recently killed, and the only thing found in her father’s safe was a copy of the book Murder on Mars written by E.A. Smithe, yet our Smithe has no memory of every writing it. Are his memories incomplete? Was the book actually written by someone else (a law-breaking reclone, maybe?)?

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purloined-poodle-hearneThe Purloined Poodle, by Kevin Hearne

published Sept 30, 2016

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Subterranean Press!)

 

 

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Swap out the recipe and/or knitting pattern for lots of butt sniffing, and The Purloined Poodle would make a perfect cozy mystery.

 

Told from the point of view of Oberon, Atticus’s wolfhound, this is a fun and fast paced mystery about doggies that have gone missing. And not just any doggies, but a prize winning poodle!  As Atticus chats up other dog owners at the dog park, Oberon gets to know the other dogs. By shaking hands and saying “Hi!” in the doggie way, which of course, as everyone knows, is sniffing the other dog’s butt and letting them sniff yours. But enough playing and getting to know each other, there’s a mystery to solve!  Atticus promises Oberon plenty of snacks, so Oberon is on the case! Just like that other mystery solving guy, you know, the one with the pipe!

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city of blades RJBCity of Blades, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Published January 2016

where I got it: Received ARC from the publisher (thanks Broadway Books!)

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Two asides, by method of introduction:

 

Robert Jackson Bennett knows how to make a damn good sandwich.

 

I find mythology tragic, yet addictive. It’s like a scab I can’t stop picking at, a trainwreck I can’t look away from. The more we tell these beloved and culturally powerful stories, the more we trap their inhabitants. One of my favorite examples of this is Loki (Fenrir is another).  He is trapped in his destiny, he can’t make other choices or do other things, even if he wanted to. And every time his story is told, the shackles get tighter. As storytellers, we need him to be a particular archetype, we need him to act a certain way, to be a certain lever of the world as we know it. Because otherwise, the myth wouldn’t have the desired effect.

Mythologies are cultural artifacts of incalculable value, and as we gain strength and inspiration from their telling  we enslave the characters within the myth, because we know how the story has to end.

 

Confused yet? Excellent. Let’s talk about City of Blades.

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City of Blades is both a very easy book to talk about, and yet a very difficult one.  It easily falls into my favorite category of books, those “that aren’t what they say they are about”, which makes it very easy to talk about without spoiling important plot bits. However, it is hard to talk about, because there are intimacies and honesties in this book that as a reader, I feel I have been trusted with. I do not want to betray that trust by mis-speaking about someone’s experiences.   I just realized I am treating Bennett’s characters as if they are real people. I talk about not wanting to betray someone’s trust, yet that someone is a fictional character, whose life and secrets are available to anyone who wishes to turn the pages of her life. You know what? I like thinking about Turyin Mulaghesh as a real person.  It’s a comfort, to give that kind of weight to her life, and to the lives of the other characters in the book.

 

Both this new novel, and it’s predecessor City of Stairs, reminded me a little of Cordwainer Smith – as in both Smith and Bennett flat out refuse to follow any of the expected and so-called “rules” of the genre in which they are writing. Both authors write as if there simply are no rules or conventions, as if no one ever took them aside and said “you know you’re not supposed to present this type of story this way, right?”. With City of Blades, Bennett takes it one step further and joins Seth Dickinson in dragging an eraser through the genre, erasing the so called rules and conventions.

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the ark tomlinsonThe Ark, by Patrick Tomlinson

published November 2015

where I got it: Netgalley

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The original fifty thousand residents of the generation ship, known as the Ark, were chosen for their intelligence and skills. These were the families we wanted to restart humanity with after we learned a black hole was headed straight for Earth. Eleven generations later, the total number of humans is still around fifty thousand, thanks to strict population controls. It’s a pretty boring journey for the most part, so everyone finds entertainment where they can. Watching Zero, a ballgame played in the low G of the center of the ship, is hugely popular. One of the game’s most famous players, Bryan Benson, grew up to become a detective. Fame has it’s bonuses – everyone is usually very happy to see Benson on their end of the ship, and he usually gets free drinks at the bar because his autographed photo is up on the wall.

 

Generally speaking, life on the Ark is pretty easy. Sure, there’s politics and gossip and sports and such, but in general very little changes. How much can life change, when you live in a tin can and families and child rearing are done only by approval? If you’ve seen the TV miniseries Ascension, the environs of The Ark feel similar.

 

Before I get into the plot of the novel, I want to tell you about the Ark ship, because it’s awesome. The propulsion system is basically Project Orion on crack. Nuclear bombs are detonated out the back end of the ship, and the force of the explosion pushes the ship forward. It sounds crazy, but it works. Tomlinson really did his research when it comes to both the design of the ship, astrophysics and how gravity changes in different areas of a rotating habitat. One of the opening scenes involves an EVA outside of the ship that could have easily been botched. But thanks to the author’s understanding of physics, the EVA scene firmly solidifies the legitimacy of the worldbuilding. I really loved the ship, how it works, and the other tech that the author dovetailed into our future society.

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Klaver HolmesSherlock Holmes and Count Dracula: The Adventure of the Solitary Grave (2009) and Sherlock Holmes and Watson: The Adventure of the Innsmouth Whaler (2010), by Christian Klaver

where I got them: received free copies from the author (thanks Christian!)

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I don’t often step outside my comfort zone. It might seem like I do, but I don’t. Sometimes I need a little nudge, and sometimes that nudge comes in the form of the right conversation at exactly the right moment.  I met author Christian Klaver at Confusion, and came home with a few of his books.  Two of them were skinny little novellas, I could read these in an afternoon, right?  One had Count Dracula on the cover, the other made reference to Lovecraft. Sounds right up my alley, right? Not Quite. These are Klaver’s Supernatural Sherlock Holmes mysteries. I’m all for a smart thriller, and I’m all for anything Innsmouth, but Sherlock Holmes?  Judge me as you will, I’ve never read any Sherlock Holmes. I couldn’t even get into the new TV show. Totally lame, right? Only way to fix it was to jump into some Holmes, and out of my comfort zone (why is this stuff outside my comfort zone? I actually have no idea).

 

Like many of the original Holmes novels (thanks Wikipedia!), The Adventure of the Solitary Grave and The Adventure of the Innsmouth Whaler are narrated by Dr.  Watson. He’s telling these stories late in his life, after the death of Holmes. The two of them had agreed that these supernatural stories were far too unbelievable, but that after the death of the famous detective, the stories should be told. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, stodgy dry prose? Over-ornamented and boring dialog? Like something out of a play? Whatever it was that I expected, I got something completely different. I imagine that Klaver is a huge Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle fan, and modeled his Watson and Holmes off the originals. What’s important here is that I quickly came to enjoy Watson’s voice and story telling style. These two stories were easy to get into, and highly enjoyable to read.

 

If you are going to read these, you need to read them in order. Read The Adventure of the Solitary Grave first (I just realized I photographed the books in the wrong order), because there are two events that take place that color the rest of Watson’s life and make permanent changes to his professional habits.  Of the two, my favorite was The Adventure of the Innsmouth Whaler. I’ve read my share of Lovecraft and Lovecraftian inspired fiction, and it was quite funny to hear Holmes guesses as to what was going on. He even tries to contact the authorities in Innsmouth and Arkham, and is puzzled by the useless responses.  Even with his powers of deduction he can’t quite fathom what’s happening.  Watson has the advantage here, as he’s more open to the idea of something beyond the understanding of man.

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Genius Unlimited by John T. Phillifent

published in  1972

where I got it: purchased used.

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Hitting up the used bookstores is much more fun with a friend in tow. Otherwise how would my friend have had the opportunity to recommend John T. Phillifent’s Genius Unlimited to me? A what a fun and entertaining book!

Interstellar Agents Rex Sixx and Roger Lowry always get the crap jobs, the gigs that no one else wants.  This new bodyguarding assignment seems like a cakewalk, so why did it fall in their laps? This should be as easy as the furlough they just came off of.  The secretive colony of Iskola has asked for assistance and consulting, and all  Sixx and Lowry need to do is get special agent investigator Louise Latham to Iskola on the planet Martas, make sure no harm comes to her while she is consulting with the Iskolans, and bring her home.  What could possibly go wrong?

To start with, Miss Latham isn’t your average investigator and Iskola isn’t your average colony. But at least Sixx and Lowry already know a little about Iskola. A private island colony, the only way to gain residency is to pass a battery of tests and prove you are a genius. Privacy is a very big deal there, and no one seems to be sure exactly what happens on the island other than genius residents solving problems and minding their own business.  Iskola brings in an income by consulting on large problems, such as the recent one of erosion and soil degradation on the mainland continent. That one in particular was a disaster, because the agricultural experts on the mainland weren’t interested in being told that their slash and burn methods of deforestation had destroyed the thin layer of topsoil. Even a genius can’t be telling an expert how to do their own job, now can they?

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rising stars novelRising Stars by Arthur Byron Cover (based on the graphic novel by J. Michael Straczyinski

published in 2002

where I got it: purchased used

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Every so often we all need a fluff read. You know, something that will entertain you without challenging you? Fluff reads for me are usually media tie-ins, and the best kind of fluff read is a direct novelization of a comic book or movie that I liked.

A few years ago I read J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars graphic novels, and loved them. I don’t usually go for superhero stories, but Straczynski is alittle like Whedon for me – if he writes it, I am probably going to like it no matter what the subject matter was.
The novelizations of the graphic novels are by Arthur Byron Cover, but like the artists of the graphic novels, Straczynski’s story and backstory are the star of the show. It’s a little sad, actually, that I had no idea from reading this if Cover is a good author or not. But again, that’s the nice thing about really fluff novelizations – I don’t need to worry about if the author is any good or not. Cover does flesh out the world building and a lot of the character background, which I appreciated. For example, we get much more information about the political situation of the country in the late 1960s, far more time is spent follow the children during the 1970s, and characters get more inner monologue and depth.

In the late 1960’s, a meteor crashed to earth, exploding over a small midwestern town. No one thought anything of it, until a few years later. You see, all the children who were in utero at the time of the meteor were imbued with special powers. Some kids could fly, some kids were invulnerable, some kids had telepathic powers. One hundred and thirteen Special children, all who could do something different. Or least, mostly. Some children who were born right on time never manifested anything. Who knows, maybe there wasn’t enough special powers to go around? The government descends on the town to study the children, and keeps them at a local summer camp turned boarding school.

I really liked the dynamic of that these children gained superpowers simply by being in the wrong place and the wrong time. None of them have any of the classic or expected comic book superhero youth stories. None of these kids are orphans, none of them are wealthy heirs, none of them are aliens or anything. Their parents and their older siblings and their neighborhood was completely normal. But these kids are Specials. As the kids manifest and develop their powers, the government needs to ensure the Specials use their powers for the good of the country. But who decides what’s good?

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.