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text 2018-09-18 14:51
Reading progress update: I've read 47%. - I can't continue with this at the moment
The Ice Beneath Her: A Novel - Elizabeth Clark Wessel,Camilla Grebe

I'm reading this for the Modern Noir square but even though I'm almost halfway through, I'm calling a halt and finding a substitute book.

 

There's nothing wrong with "The Ice Beneath Her". It's well written, has strong characters and a plot that is in no hurry to give up its secrets but it's BLEAK.

 

Unlike normal whodunnits, this one isn't really focusing much on solving a murder. Instead, it's using the discovery of a decapitated woman to take me on a journey about betrayal and abuse. The three characters from whose point of view the story is told are all broken. The men are almost all bullying predatory narcissists - including the good guys. And they all have either been betrayed or have betrayed others in unforgivable ways.

 

I will finish this book - but not now.

 

I've reached the point where I hesitate to listen to the audiobook as I make my way through my day because I know it will bring me down.

 

So I'm setting it aside.

 

Fortunately, the world is full of books I haven't read yet. I searched my TBR pile and came up with something hardboiled and American. It will still be noir, I'm sure, but the kind that entertains partly because it doesn't feel real. I want noir that I know will never happen to me. 

 

"The Ice Beneath Her" is like a hook in my flesh.

 

I'm hoping that "Huntress Moon", its replacement for the Modern Noir square, will be more like a double shot expresso on a sleepy morning.

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review 2018-09-09 14:53
Better with age
The Hound of the Baskervilles - Arthur Conan Doyle

I find that while still not my favourite Holmes, I liked it better this time around. I think I might have been too young, and found it too dreary and long for my age. Gothic is also an acquired taste that came with age for me, so that might have played a part.

 

The other thing that turned interesting, beyond finding the pace a lot more palatable, was that Holmes is a lot more present than I remembered. Part of it is knowing, and so catching, the hints of him all around of course, but I think the pages without his obvious person were too long for my kid self's perception.

 

And, well, the fabulous Stephen Fry's narration is a definitive plus.

 

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review 2018-09-01 13:27
Nightmare and Paranoia Fuel
The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman,Elaine Hedges

*whines* It's still miserable, windy winter here!! How do I combat the chills this induced? *shudder*

 

Whenever I read stories like this, I remember that quote "novels win by points, short stories by knock outs". I know I was already whimpering one page in. I finished with a wiki-walk and... How come every interpretation is so... mild? compassionate? forgiving?... of the husband?

 

I get time and society marching on, and symbolism, but how come picking the barred, dreary, ex-nursery with mismatched furniture and a purposely for that visit nailed down bed makes any but malicious sense?

 

No monster, no gore, but hell, psychological mind-fucks will forever get me shivering

 

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review 2018-08-01 13:23
Ways to Die in Glasgow - Jay Stringer
Ways to Die in Glasgow - Jay Stringer

I'm a bit lazy during this heat wave, so I'll give you the official synopsis:

 

A violent drunk with a broken heart, Mackie looks for love in all the wrong places. When two hit men catch him with his pants down, he barely makes it out alive. Worse still, his ex-gangster uncle, Rab, has vanished, leaving him an empty house and a dead dog.

 

Reluctant PI Sam Ireland is hired by hotshot lawyers to track Rab but is getting nothing except blank stares and slammed doors. As she scours the dive bars, the dregs of Glasgow start to take notice.

 

DI Andy Lambert is a cop in the middle of an endless shift. A body washes up, and the city seems to shiver in fear; looks like it’s up to Lambert to clean up after the lowlifes again.

 

As a rampaging Mackie hunts his uncle, the scum of the city come out to play. And they play dirty. It seems that everyone has either a dark secret or a death wish. In Mackie’s case, it might just be both.

 

Ways to Die in Glasgow hits fast, hits hart, and delivers its punch with pitch black humour. It's just my kind of pulp.

 

I discovered Jay Stringer through his Eoin Miller Mysteries, some of the very few stories with a Roma lead character (although not #ownvoice). Those were set in England's Black Country, Stringer's old home. He's since moved to Glasgow, and the city became the new setting for his stories as well. Just like the Black Country, Glasgow builds a lively background for our hapless protagonists. During the course of 24 hours, they have to face murder attempts, betrayal, secrets, and ever shifting alliances. You can never be too sure who's on your side and who's gonna shoot you in the back as soon you look the other way.

 

Stringer chose a different narrative style for each of his three POV characters: 1st person past tense for Sam, close 3rd person past tense for Lambert, and the ever irritating 1st person present tense for Mackie. It's a bit gimmicky and not strictly necessary, as all three characters already have a distinct voice, but it doesn't get too annoying. Mackie's chapter are the most entertaining by far – he's not exactly sharp, but a force of nature. And he's got his priorities straight:

 

Now I'm fucked off.

Shoot me? Aye, I'm and annoying shite – I get that.

Shoot Jenny T to get to me? Well, she chose to be with me, I guess; she took her chances.

Grab my Uncle Rab? Well, Rab's pissed of a lot of people.

But shoot a dog?

I'm going to fuck them up big.

 

Mackie sets to his task with all the detective skills he's learned from watching hours of Columbo. Of course, that doesn't go well.

 

This is also one of the rare cases where the dreadful 1st person present tense not only works out, but is actually the best choice.

 

Ways to Die in Glasgow is not the most realistic story, but a fun romp, a bit like the early Guy Ritchie films. Also very brutal. Don't get too attached to the characters, they might not be around for long.

 

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review 2018-07-21 14:39
An unsettling page turner recommended to lovers of first-person narratives.
The Party - Lisa Hall

Thanks to NetGalley and to HQ for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is an unsettling novel. It starts with a woman, Rachel, who wakes up after a New Year’s Eve party not remembering what has happened and feeling quite vulnerable, and as she tries to get her bearings and find out what went on, while keeping face (as she’s in one of her neighbours’ houses and feels more than a little embarrassed), she comes to realise that something horrible has taken place. The author’s use of first-person narration immerses the readers in Rachel’s mind and makes us share in her fear, confusion, and contradictory feelings. There is physical evidence that something has happened to her, but she cannot recall what, or who might have done the deed.

The story moves between the immediate aftermath of the story, in chronological order, and interspersed chapters that share the events prior to the party, always from the protagonist’s point of view, but they don’t reach into the faraway past and only takes us a few months back, giving us some background that helps us understand why the people closest to Rachel (especially her husband, Gareth) react as they do to the events.

In the present time, somebody starts playing with the protagonist, in a game of cat-and-mouse (which sometimes takes on gaslighting characteristics) and manages to make her doubt herself and everybody around her, from mere acquaintances to those closest and dearest to her.  The first-person point of view works well at making readers feel the claustrophobia, paranoia, anxiety, and sheer terror of not knowing who to trust and seeing your whole life crumble around you.

The book, which fits into the domestic noir category, uses well some of the tropes of the genre, including the protagonist who feels trapped and not taken seriously by the police and therefore has to do her own investigating. There are also plenty of red herrings and a number of credible suspects that make us keep turning the pages to see what will happen next, although readers of thrillers will probably guess who the culprit is (I did).

On the negative side, personally, I did not feel a connection to the characters, particularly Rachel. I empathised with her circumstances, and with the terrible crime she has survived, but I did not feel there is enough information provided about her to create a credible individual. One of the other characters at some point talks about her belief that she is a strong woman, and I wondered what that was based on, as we are only given snippets of her current life and her recent past, and nothing that makes her come alive (What does she like? What did she do before she got married? Does she have any passions, apart from her relationships? She has a friend but other than calling her for support, there is no indication of what that friendship is based on). She does things that are morally questionable, but that was not my issue (I have long defended unlikable main characters, but I still need to feel that they are real, somehow). I wondered if this was intentional, trying to make sure that everybody would be able to identify with Rachel and her plight, rather than making her too distinctive and individual, but, for me at least, the opposite is the truth, and we know enough about her to make her different from us, but not perhaps to make us feel as if we know who she is. This would not bother me so much in a standard plot-driven thriller, but when the book depends so closely on the protagonist’s voice and on her sense of identity, it didn’t gel for me. There were also some things that I thought readers who are not fond of first-person narratives might find annoying (like the character looking at herself in the mirror as a way of providing us a description, something that is frown upon in general writing advice, and a leaning towards telling rather than showing in the bulk of the writing).

The novel moves at a good pace, it creates doubt and hesitation in the readers’ minds, and it has a good sense of timing. And the ending will probably satisfy most fans of the genre. It also touches on an important and, sadly, topical subject, although it does not cover new ground. It brought to my mind C.L.Taylor’s The Fear and I noticed the author, Lisa Hall, had reviewed that novel. I have not read the author’s previous books, but I am curious to see how this compares to her other novels.

A page-turner I recommend to lovers of domestic noir, particularly those who enjoy claustrophobic and unsettling first-person narratives.

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