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review 2017-06-20 19:49
A symbiosis of the genres of the noir detective novel and science-fiction with a hero with a dark-sense of humour and a heart
The Last Detective - Brian Cohn

Thanks to Rosie Amber for organising Rosie’s Book Review Team and for providing this great opportunity for reviewers and authors to meet. If you’re an author, check here how to submit your books to the team.

I don’t read many purely science-fiction books (I’m not a big fan of lengthy descriptions, and world-building can take a fair amount of space while I generally care more for characters) but I’ve read a few recently that I’ve enjoyed, enough to make me pay more attention to sci-fi offerings. Some novels combine sci-fi with other genres and that usually brings them onto more familiar territories. This novel is one of those cases. It is a fairly classical (in style) noir detective novel:  you have the disenchanted detective who has left the police disappointed with the way things are done now (in his case, though, there was an alien invasion on Earth that all but destroyed Humanity’s achievements and progress over centuries [no electricity, limited access to fuel, no telephones, no TV, no democracy]… Humans have become prisoners, rationing of food has come back, and aliens control access to the few resources left, and they send humans to ‘labor camps’ somewhere outside of Earth with some cooperation from the human ‘authorities’) and who is called back because he’s the only one who can solve a murder. Now that the police have become no more than puppets of the aliens (also called ‘slicks’, because of the peculiar aspect of their skin), there is nobody else who still remembers how things were done. This is a DIY police procedural novel (no computers, no DNA analysis or blood tests, only very basic gathering of evidence and use of deductive powers, almost back to Conan Doyle or Christie) with a main characters, Adrian Grace (a very apt name, as we discover), who has probably lost everything and who describes himself as being ‘addicted’ to detective work. There might be other reasons (read excuses) why he chooses to accept the case of the murder of a Slick (they have somewhat of a herd mentality and do not hurt each other but it seems unthinkable that a human would dare to try and kill one of them) but the main one is because he misses being a detective.

The story is told in the first person, present tense, from Grace’s point of view, and it follows the chronological order, with the main action taking place over only a few days. Although he has fallen quite low, he hasn’t reached the level of others, and he is smart, witty, and has a rather black sense of humour that is what keeps him going.  Although he does not dwell for too long on his circumstances, or those of humanity (the novel starts with a brief chapter that takes place right at the moment when the aliens arrive, that allows us a glimpse into Grace’s work before normal life came to an end, and we get to meet his partner, Yuri, who is missing by the time the main action of the novel starts), he is harder in appearance than in reality. He trusts his instincts; he suspects everybody but is also quick to believe in first impressions and happily accepts as a partner a young female detective, whom he trusts from very early on (because he needs somebody to trust). Grace reminded me of many of the hard-boiled detectives of old, but he is not violent by nature and avoids guns if he can help it, and in contrast to more modern models, he is witty but not foul-mouthed. He drip-feeds us details about his life (he was brought up a Catholic, he was married with kids, he talks about his mother’s death when he explains his lack of faith…) and he still looks after his father. His relation with his father is heart-warming, despite the terrible situation, and it only reinforces the fact that we are dealing with a human being and not a collection of clichés. Although I’m very partial to unreliable narrators, Grace is not one of them, at least not by design. This being a mystery, we are not always given always given all the information, but if we are misguided, it is because Grace is mistaken or wrong-footed (by others or himself).

The book is not heavy on descriptions and the world the book describes is like a ghost of our world, like those empty and abandoned towns we sometimes see on TV that have fallen prey to disasters (economic, natural, or man-made). We have human beings that have lost their purpose, groups of religious extremists (the Abandoned, who sustain God has abandoned Humanity), resistance groups, and the aliens can also function as stand-ins for many dictatorial regimes bent on the destruction of all opposition (Nazi Germany comes to mind, but many other, recent and distant, would also fit the bill). Some of the humans are complicit with the regime whilst others are not what they seem to be. The book allows for reflections on the nature of society, politics, religion (there is a priest that plays an important part), family, betrayal, guilt, and ultimately hope. Grace is not always right, but he has not lost his humanity, and he is a realistic character we would all like to befriend.

This is a tremendous book, where the science-fiction and the detective genre work in symbiosis and create a novel that is more than the sum of its parts. Recommended to fans of both genres, especially those who don’t mind experimentation within the genre, and in general to people who enjoy fiction that pushes them to think whilst keeping them turning the pages.

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review 2017-06-15 21:06
Breakdown
Breakdown - Sara Paretsky

Not going to write a long review. This was not a good book. Seriously just skip it and if you really do want to read it, borrow it from the library.

 

Once again we have VI investigating something no one asked her to and I had a really hard time with most of the characters in this one. They all felt way too cartoonish to me.

And VI's love life is limping along with a guy who does not seem up to her level.

I should have put this down once I saw that Petra was littered all over this one.

 

Paretsky could have shined a light more on the problem with the 24 hour news cycle and some far left and far left personalities attacking each other via the media to score points with their followers. However, this book seemed to have everyone who did not agree with VI as the enemy. We eventually have people sitting around listening to a Holocaust victim's memories and the whole thing made me uncomfortable. Not because of the subject, but because we had VI demanding that she somehow be told about what was a painful period in his life. At that point, I was 100 percent done with this character. I will probably pick up the remaining books in this series some other time. But as of now, I need a break from VI.

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review 2017-06-15 20:57
Bodywork
Body Work - Sara Paretsky

This was terrible. I am so mad that I even wasted my time finishing this book. I really should have DNF it at 25 percent, but I am a perverse reader sometimes and finished the book.

 

Nothing makes sense.

 

Petra (VI's cousin from Hardball) is back in this one and still the most annoying character ever. She and Mr. Contreras are awful. I think at one point VI says that he (Mr. Contreras) is in his 90s and I hope we have a book soon with him dying. I am just over him. He's worthless.

 

And at this point, VI is 50 or almost 50 and her picking a fight with the police or anyone in authority is getting old. In fact, it is old at this point.

 

The main plot is convoluted and there's a whole lot of coincidences to even have things make sense. I think the worst part for me was the ending though. I just rolled my times about a million times. It was crap and I have to say it was really stupid how VI brings all the parties together a la Poirot to get someone to spontaneously confess. The next book does this mess too and it just seems a lazy way to end a book.

 

There is a lot of people telling VI things and her telling people things and I think a couple hundred pages could have been cut and it would not have affected this book one way or the other.

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review 2017-06-15 20:50
Hardball
Hardball - Sara Paretsky

This was a frustrating read to me. And honestly this and the next few books in the series started a slow slide of quality IMHO with this series. "Hardball" is way too unbelievable to be believed. And I really hated the introduction of VI's cousin Petra (called Petey) that everyone including Mr. Contreras is infatuated with. I had a hard time that VI's dogs would not have been impounded at this point with her dragging them along when she's investigating and or when people come to her apartment to be shouted at by her and her annoying downstairs neighbor. There were so many scenes like this in this book that took me entirely out of the book.

 

We have VI going asking questions that somehow according to her partially estranged Uncle Peter has caused her cousin Petra to be kidnapped. The book then jumps back in time to what exactly was VI up to that would have caused Petra to be kidnapped and what does it have to do with a murder that occurred during the Civil Rights Era.

 

I think the whole story was terrible. Not that I don't believe that something like this could have happened back then (hello look at news headlines now) but because I think VI tried to force fit too many things in this one dealing with her family, her dead parents, her investigation that turned into something else, that turned into something else. I mean at one point we have nuns in this one and there's a fire and someone is dead and VI who at this point should be in the hospital is still running around. It's just unbelievable at this point that she's not suffering from some long term medical issues due to her always being beat up, shot, or something is blowing up near her in every book.

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review 2017-06-15 20:44
Fire Sale
Fire Sale - Sara Paretsky

This one was pretty enjoyable.

 

We have VI dealing with being forced to volunteer (voluntold) as a basketball coach at her old high school.

 

Not only does she have to deal with girls who are in gangs and others who are trying to raise kids, she gets pulled into a family dispute among the rich when she goes looking for donations to help with equipment, uniforms, and other essentials for the team.

 

I also like how Paretsky works in VI's long term romance with her boyfriend Morello at this point. I liked we get to see VI making it work with someone and also becoming jealous when a colleague (female) from his times overseas comes to stay. We have a lot of interesting characters in this one and though I found some of the things that happened implausible (hence the 4 stars) I really did enjoy this one.

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