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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-03-05 10:25
Das grobmaschige Netz von Hakan Nesser, Van Veeteren #1
Das grobmaschige Netz - Håkan Nesser

Nach einer durchzechten Nacht findet Janek Mitter seine Frau Eva ertränkt in der Badewanne. An die Ereignisse der Nacht kann er sich nicht erinnern, aber er weiß, dass er sie nicht umgebracht hat - aber ohne Beweise des Gegenteils wird er in eine psychiatrische Anstalt eingewiesen. Doch etwas irritiert Hauptkommissar Van Veeteren an diesem Fall - und das Gefühl wird bestärkt, als Mitter selbst umgebracht wird.

 

Dies ist ein ziemlich geradliniger Krimi, der ohne große Überraschungen auskommt, trotzdem aber recht spanned ist und letztlich die gewohnten familiären Untiefen aufweist. Nesser verwendet seine Zeit weniger, den Kommissar Van Veeteren direkt vorzustellen, als ihn tüfteln und Puzzlestückchen zusammensetzen zu lassen. Jedenfalls ist er mit Jagdinstinkt ausgestattet und lässt sich nicht abbringen, wenn er mal Lunte gerochen hat. Im Privatleben schaut's trister aus: Ehefrau Renate kommt immer wieder mal angekrochen, der Sohn sitzt im Gefängnis und der Tochter steht er auch nicht gerade nah (nur ihrem alten Hund, den er sitten darf).

 

Insgesamt ein interessanter Beginn, wenn auch nicht ganz so fesselnd wie der Anfang von Nessers späterer Barbarotti-Serie. Aber ich werde wohl zu Van Veeteren zurückkommen.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-03-03 17:16
The Fear Index by Robert Harris
The Fear Index - Robert Harris

The owner of a big hedgefund company, Alex Hoffman, physicist and inventor of an algorithm that could revolutionize trading, is attacked one evening in his home in Geneva. After getting checked at hospital which got him the recommendation to visit his neurologist with the headscans that were taken, he goes to work the next day because of a big investors' lunch. But strange things keep happening: the delivery of a book by Darwin, he finds that he apparently bought out his wife's art exhibition... and then the algorithm starts making risky trades...

 

This novel starts out pretty exciting, the break-in, a possible conspiracy, a computer algorithm running amok. But it all gets a bit confusing the longer the story runs: Hoffman's history of mental illness for one, his dabbling with artificial intelligence on the other side... but all this doesn't really explain what actually happened. Did Hoffman arrange for everything, including the break-in and his death, and just forget it in a psychotic break, as is suggested in the end? But what about the risk-advisor who falls into the open elevator shaft? He can't have foreseen that he would step into the lift at that moment - so, did he program the algorithm to kill any opponents? Or did he program some self-protective subroutines so that the algorithm decided for itself to kill him in self-defense in order to have no more master?

 

But in the end, it all gets wrapped up too easily, the company earns an enormous amount of money and all's swept under the rug, the algorithm lives on... and Hoffman disappears. Honestly, I would love to know what happens next and hate the way this novel keeps me hanging at this point of the story.

 

Still: a good read, albeit one that leaves me with more questions than it answers.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-02-16 14:43
The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Warrior's Apprentice - Lois McMaster Bujold

Never got around to do a review of this book, so I decided to re-read it and amend this oversight.

 

After failing his entrance exams into the military academy and the death of his grandfather, Miles Vorkosigan, 17 years old, handicapped by brittle bones, suffering from (more or less) latent depression, is sent to distant Beta Colony. There he stumbles upon a Barrayaran deserter, a jumpship pilot and a contract to ship cargo - erm, weapons - through a blockade.What follows is, as they say, history. Forward momentum anyone?

 

Coming back to the beginnings of this saga is kind of strange experience: Miles feeling like a failure (and having this feeling reenforced by his grandfather's death and some ill-thought through, and misunderstood, statements of his father's), being rather narrow-minded - well, like a normal 17 year old, I guess. His whole world exists of getting into the academy and impressing Elena, his childhood friend and daughter of his bodyguard Bothari. Stumbling his way through creating an army, dealing with history that's been kept hidden from him, and facing loss and pain broadens his horizons and defines who Miles's ultimately going to become.

 

In a sense this novel concludes the first part of the Vorkosigan series. It puts a preliminary ending to plotthreads set out in Cordelia's Honor, such as Bothari, Elena, Miles's grandfather, the Regency, Vorhalas's family's involvement with the soltoxin attack etc. The epilogue will be found in "The Vor Game" where Gregor'll have to come to terms with his family's past.

 

But the board is set for part two of the saga: Miles's time in the Imperial service - and with the Dendarii... and finding his way back to his roots in more figurative sense.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-01-20 13:01
Am Abend des Mordes von Hakan Nesser, Barbarotti #5
Am Abend des Mordes: Roman - Håkan Nesser

Dies ist der letzte Band der Barbarotti-Reihe.

 

Gebeutelt vom plötzlichen, aber nicht gänzlich unerwarteten Tod seiner Frau (sie erlitt bereits in "Die Einsamen" ein geplatztes Aneurysma im Gehirn), tritt Barbarotti einen Monat später seinen Dienst wieder an. Allerdings verdonnert ihn sein Boss Asunander zur Ermittlung in einem alten Fall: das Verschwinden von Morinder vor 5 Jahren aufzuklären, dem Freund von Ellen Bjarnebo, die vor 20 Jahren wegen des Mordes (und der Zerstückelung der Leiche) an ihrem Ehemann verurteilt wurde. Barbarotti findet äußerst mangelhafte Ermittlungsakten von beiden Fällen vor, doch die Begegnung mit Ellen Bjarnebo gestaltet sich schwierig, denn sie ist scheinbar verschwunden.

 

Was folgt ist eine packende Auseinandersetzung mit Trauer, Opfer, Schuld & Sühne, Vorurteilen und dem In die Hand Nehmen des eigenen Schicksals. In immer wechselnden Blickpunkten werden die Ereignisse von vor 20 Jahren aufgearbeitet, genauso wie Barbarottis Weg aus dem Tunnel der Trauer zurück ins Leben. Die beiden Fälle (und der, den Backman untersucht, nämlich das Ableben eines Rechtspopulisten) treten in den Hintergrund in dieser zutiefst persönlichen Geschichte, die ihren Höhepunkt in der Einöde Lapplands findet, wenn Barbarotti schließlich doch auf Bjarnebo trifft.

 

Wie immer bei Nesser gibt's kleine Negativpunkte, die diesmal allerdings den Abgang der Geschichte nicht trüben:

 

* das offene, aber suggestive Ende zwischen Barbarotti und Backman... noch dazu durch einen posthumen Brief von Barbarottis Frau Marianne quasi gutgeheißen... das hätte nicht sein müssen.

 

* Was hat es mit den "Schwestern" auf sich, auf die Barbarotti in Lappland trifft und die scheinbar die erste Ermittlung im Fall Morinder schon beeinflusst haben?

 

Fazit: ein zutiefst menschlicher, psychologischer und... ja, spirtueller Roman, der ohne Action auskommt und einen trotzdem in den Bann zieht. Und einen auch nach der letzten Seite nicht los lässt. So soll's sein.

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review 2019-01-20 01:37
Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes
Watchmen - Alan Moore,Dave Gibbons

I gave this four stars, but my feelings about this book are difficult to coalesce down to a simple numeric rating. I read this with my Readings in the Graphic Novel course, and I agree that it is seminal graphic novel/comic reading. However, there are some things about this book that I didn't care for. Ultimately, I would say that like and dislike are not the best terms to apply to it.

"Watchmen" started a whole ripple through comic book/superhero fiction that is still profoundly influential in the many years since it was published. The dark and aheroic/antiheroic superhero/crimefighter motif that subsumed what we know about comic books in the 21st Century can largely be attributed to this book, although Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is also essential. I like darker superhero stories, but some aspects of this one made it hard to sympathize or care for many of the characters. I had to write essays for my class on our readings, and I have some longer opinions on this book that I intend to post on my Goodreads profile under my writings. 

This book is very thought-provoking and my class had some very interesting discussions on it. I have to also say that I thought about it for a long time after I finished it. My viewpoint evolved on a few of the characters as well. However, some, I hated to the very end. I could actually write about 20 pages about this book, but I won't. I'll try to coalesce it into a reasonably short review.

"Watchmen" is essentially a murder mystery with masked crimefighters/superheroes. The narrator is extremely atypical, the very questionable person of Rorschach, who is a violent vigilante that wears a hood that changes its expression, much like the Rorschach Test his mask resembles. He is determined to find out who killed Eddie Blake aka The Comedian, an original member of the Minutemen, who later became part of the Crimebusters. He goes to visit other former members: Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl II), Jonathan Osterman (Dr. Manhattan) and Laurie Juspescyk (Silk Spectre II), and Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) to warn them that they might be next. Along the way, the reader gets to experience how conflicted the life of a masked crimefighter and/or superhero/villain is. The story is set in an alternate history where Nixon was never caught in the Watergate scandal, the US won the Vietnam War, and in the 1980s, America and the Soviet Union are on the brink of war (the Doomsday Clock frighteningly close to midnight).

Each character has a slightly different perspective of how the passage of the Keene Act made their crimefighting work illegal. Dan and Laurie bond over missing the excitement of it all. Veidt has gone on to build an huge business empire and is a celebrity for his incredible level of fitness. Dr. Manhattan is mostly interested in his research and has become disconnected from human concerns, an issue in his relationship with Laurie, who has been his girlfriend for about twenty years (since she was sixteen).

Intertwined with the overarching story is a subplot about a kid reading a pirate comic. The adventures of the comic protagonist mirror the overall story themes. A huge part of this story is how heroism is not what its cracked up to be. Also, becoming strong enough to achieve a goal can be a path paved with destruction, and in some instances leading to the 'hero' becoming a 'villain'. And really, what is heroism? That's a question posed for every lead character. Since this is a dark, and in some ways, nihilistic-toned work, the answers aren't encouraging. The Comedian is one of the most wretched examples of someone having abilities and using them for bad purposes. The Comedian is an incredibly adept fighter and soldier, but is also very corrupt, acting as a bully, knowing right and wrong but not doing it. He makes excuses for the evil things he does because the world is bad and it's going to burn anyway, essentially. Dr. Manhattan, Jon Osterman is a physicist whose body was obliterated in an accident at the science testing facility where he worked in 1959. When he comes back, it is as a being with seemingly godlike powers that separates him from the rest of the humans he once interacted with, eventually leading to his breakup with his girlfriend. The US government exploits his powers to exercise dominance over other nations (in fact, he's part of the reason that Vietnam surrendered). He's seen and done some of the worst things to other humans, which doesn't help his cynicism about the better parts of humanity. At the point that this story begins, his only tendril of contact is through Laurie. Eventually, that's gone as well when Laurie breaks up with him. 
But when it's clear that the world is on the brink of obliteration, Laurie has to convince him to care again. 

The more I ruminated about this story, Osterman/Manhattan became more of a sympathetic character to me. He seems the less empathetic, but in some way, he strikes me as feeling more deeply than anyone else. I can completely understand his decision to retreat to a self-built crystal castle on Mars. Sometimes I wouldn't mind having me own, but probably in the mountains in some undiscovered cold part of the world with plenty of snow and ice. People are exhausting. It hurts to care, especially when others aren't all in with you. The circumstances of the accident that gave him his powers were heartbreaking, and he was abandoned to his fate. That's soul-destroying right there. Having said that, he's not off the hook for the questionable things he did and how he treats Laurie. 

Ugh, Rorschach. Where do I start? That dude is a bucket of crazy. I feel for what he went through as a child, but it twisted him until he was so broken. All of us are f*&%$! up, but there's no fixing him. He represents the worst of self-righteousness. He's so rigid in his sense of right and wrong that he won't compromise, but then he is bigoted, racist, has poor hygiene and litters in Antarctica. His contempt and mean treatment of his landlady because she has six kids by different men. And he's extremely violent. It's a huge Glass Houses kind of scenario. To me, he is not a hero. He is an antihero, and he's the narrator, but other than the horrors of his childhood, it's really hard to feel sympathetic. While there are parallels between him and other vigilante crimefighters I admire like Batman and Daredevil, his core feels rotten to me. I can't get past that.

Laurie is just plain underwritten. She is interpreted through her relations with the male characters. I am grateful that graphic novels have matured and evolved past this kind of writing, frankly. Laurie could have been a lot more interesting a character if deeper layers to her persona were made available. Just delving into how her stint as Silk Spectre differs from her mother's tenure. How interacting with and in a world of violence has changed from the 30s to the 60s and 70s. Maybe just not stopping at her relationships with men and why her mother and her don't get along.

Dan is honestly a bit on the underwritten side as well. He's written a good-natured guy with a facility with gadgets and a desire for action. His mid-life crisis has to do with missing that sense of purpose and it translates to feelings of inadequacy about not being Nite Owl anymore. Maybe because Moore didn't really know what to do with a guy who is more or less 'normal'.

Veidt is such a sneeringly superior person in his own mind. I can't say too much because I'd reveal some things better left to be read. Suffice it to say that he reminds me of the so-called polite white supremacy that is increasingly in vogue (especially since the 2016 presidential election).

Another issue is the treatment of the GLBTQ characters. Many meet unfortunate ends and their peccadillos are looked at as being unforgivable in a way that being a violent sociopath, bully or rapist are not. 

I think a psychology doctoral student could write a hell of a thesis on this book. 

There is so much cynicism in this book. It's hard to take in. Some ugliness not easily forgotten. I feel like the psychiatrist who interviews Rorschach in that sense. While I'm not necessarily into the sugary sweet kind of fiction writing, I think it can definitely go the wrong way with the dark and dreary. I'd be a hypocrite to disavow this book. I think it had some insights to give me, and something to offer as far as story and artwork. I gave it four stars because to give less didn't seem fair to me. I couldn't say it was life-changing or a graphic novel that would make the top of my list. I can understand why it would for some though.

So much for a concise review.

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