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review 2020-04-21 12:50
"Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? - Shadow Police #3" by Paul Cornell
Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? - Paul Cornell,Damian Lynch

'The Shadow Police' series is a sort of grittier, more working-class, darker version of 'Rivers of London'. Here, magic comes from the weight of London's history, not from river goddesses. The posh folks of The Folly are replaced by a team of London coppers used to bringing down drug dealers and human traffickers and the magic keeps trying to kill them 


I found the second book "The Severed Streets" to be well-written but very depressing and soaked in sadness. The Shadow Police themselves are a major source of grief and depression. They deceive each other, distrust each other, despise themselves for the deceit and bemoan the distrust. They are reckless and desperate and well out of their depth.


I thought the third book might be more whimsical. After all, how serious can a book called 'Who Killed Sherlock Holmes' be?'.


There is a move from total despair towards hope in this book. The main characters are trying to find a way back from the damage that was done to them or that they did to themselves in the last book. I liked that Paul Cornell didn't just have everyone bounce back but recognised that actions have consequences and that dealing with evil always has a price. I also liked that he delivered on the story behind the senior police officer that the Shadow Police report in to. Her story humanised the big reveal and built her into a key character.


In 'The Severed Streets' we learned that something big had changed the way magic worked in Londo, letting loose bad things and tainting the magical community by allowing power to be paid for by money rather than personal sacrifice.


In 'Who Killed Sherlock Holmes' we learn that the change coincided with the destruction of the magical Establishment - the Continuous Projects Committee that imposes civilised control on magical forces. It's clear that, although The Establishment continued to use traditions that have kept London safe for centuries, they had forgotten why and how the protocols they use to do this operate. They'd become complacent and vulnerable to attack.


As a consequence of this::

'The real London was coming back, alongside poverty and tubercolosis and history. The civilised consensus was over.'

Suddenly, I was thinking of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, ripping apart all the shared assumptions and values that defined the England that the men and women who survived World War II had wanted to create. 


I checked the original publication date for this book. May 2016, one month before the Brexit Referendum.


It makes you wonder, If something evil broke into our world in 2016, wiping away civilised constraint, what would the world look like in 2020?


Actually, I think I know the answer to that question.


I enjoyed the book for the puzzle it solved, for the development of the story arc and for the evolution of the characters. The ending wasn't a cliff-hanger but it contained a solid hook that made me want to read book four.


Then I was told there is no book four. How can this happen? Ask the publishers.

Here's what Paul Cornell had to say about it in 2017: 'The Future Of The Shadow Police'


I hope the series comes back. I think we need a darker view of London and the people running it.

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review 2020-03-28 17:47
"Smoke Bitten - Mercy Thompson #12" by Patricia Briggs
Smoke Bitten - Patricia Briggs

I had the audiobook version of this on pre-order. I dived into it the morning it was released and, by the time I'd reached the end of the first chapter, I was already impressed. 


One of the challenges in a series like this is how you do the "previously on Mercy Thompson" bit to remind me of what happened in the last book, which I read almost a year ago, without making me want to go "I KNOW all this. Get on with it already." Patricia Briggs managed it expertly, weaving the references in to support the current story, making them an integral part of the telling rather than a preface or an interruption.


The other challenge in a book like this is to get the reader hooked in the first chapter. Patricia Briggs is good at this. She often starts by focusing in on the chaotic but happy domestic life of the pack, getting you comfortable, reminding you why you like these people, making you care again and then ends the chapter with the sudden emergence of something that puts Mercy and or the pack under threat. In "Smoke Bitten" she's given this formula a new twist. Within the first few minutes, you know that something is wrong in Mercy's marriage: something that's making her sad; something she doesn't understand. Then you get a demonstration of the problem and only when you're getting immersed in that does something truly weird happen that only Mercy sees.


I loved the elegance of this, the care that goes into the structure, the stumble-free prose. the fast, effective characterisation, the connection of these supernatural creatures to issues and emotions we can all relate to and an apparently endless ability to think up new bad guys.


"Smoke Bitten" lived up to the promise of the first chapter. The focus stayed firmly on the problem with Mercy's marriage but we still got a new, very scary, bad guy, the return of a well-known bad guy in full stalker mode, and the re-emergence of Underhill, who may or may not be a bad guy but is definitely scary, even when she's being friendly.


What I admired most was the way in which Mercy's marriage problems, even when manifesting in their supernatural mating bond and corrupting, nasty magic, remains something real about the nature of trust, in yourself and each other and the need constantly to renew and demonstrate the trust, even in times of trauma. 


Patricia Briggs manages to do that without it becoming corny or clichéd and while maintaining the pace of a pressure-filled plot. I really liked the way the magic was visualised this time. It reminded me a little of how Jane Yellowrock sees her soul home but Patricia Briggs gave the concept a twist that made it unique to Mercy. 



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review 2019-07-19 10:19
"Spirt Witch - Lazy Girl's Guide To Magic #3" by Helen Harper
Spirit Witch - Helen Harper,Tanya Eby

I needed something, light, unchallenging but with enough going for it to keep me interested to read, so I picked up the third book in "The Lazy Girl's Guide To Magic" and settled in to listen.


I've resigned myself to having Tanya Eby as the narrator. She does a good job but I can't understand why Tantor picked an American with a very limited range of Brit accents to read a series set in England and Scotland and with no American characters.


That rant aside, I slipped on the earphones and gave myself up to the reading equivalent of eating a tub of salted caramel ice cream on a hot day.


It was as much fun as I expected but I was surprised to find that it had some real sadness in it. As a result of her encounter with a megalomanic necromancer in "Star Witch", Ivy, our reluctant hero and proudly lazy witch, can now speak to the dead. Some of the people she's speaking to have recently been murdered and I found an unexpected level of empathy for their loss. 


By the end of the book, Ivy's "Lazy Witch" persona had effectively been set aside as she finds herself wanting to get involved in preventing bad things from happening.


This was a satisfying happy ever after ending to the trilogy and a relaxing way to spend the day.

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review 2019-06-18 17:27
"The October Man - Rivers of London #7.5" by Ben Aaronovich
The October Man - Ben Aaronovitch

"The October Man" is a fresh, fun novella that I hope is the start of a new series of German "Rivers" books.


"The October Man" novella breathes new life into the "Rivers Of London" universe by taking us to Trier in Germany where Tobias Winter, broadly the counterpart of Peter Grant is investigating the death of a man whose corpse has been found covered in a strange fungus. The fungus is strange enough to merit the involvement of the Abteilung KDA in which Tobias is an Investigator and one of only two licensed magical practitioners in Germany.


I enjoyed the way in which this book differed from "The Rivers Of London" series while inhabiting the same world. It seemed to me that Ben Aaronovitch succeeded in giving the book a plausible German feel, starting with the wonderful name of the organisation that Tobia works in: "The Department for Complex and Unspecific Matters". That's so different than just calling something "The Folly". It speaks to a need to classify by function rather than by history that I rather admire.


I was pleased to see that Tobias is not Peter with a German accent. He comes from a solidly middle-class background in the boring suburbs of Mannheim. His father is a high-ranking police officer. His mother is politically active and diametrically opposed to his father's politics. Tobias is urbane and calm. His wit is drier than Peter's. He comes across as more mature and more grounded. A professional policeman from a police family who just happens to be able to do magic.


The history of magic is different in Germany than in the UK, not just because of the Nazis and the conflict between the magic practitioners on both sides but because of the difference in gods and goddesses, as well as constant, tantalising, references to powerful werewolf groups and individual vampires.


It's also interesting to see the world from the point of view of those on the receiving end of the RAF bombings that reduced the city of Trier to rubble, including the notorious Christmas bombings on 19th, 22nd and 24th December 1944 and to see how splitting Germany into East and West affected the development of magic.


The plot centres around wine, of course, we are on the Mosel after all. Solving a mystery in a wine region gave the perfect pretext for involving Vanessa Sommer, one of the local police who is an expert in wine. The Winter / Sommer combination is irresistible. She is enthusiastic, optimistic and insatiably curious and not at all thrown to discover that magic is real.


The plot is slight and a little static but but we get river goddesses, an evil revenant and the weight of a lot of bitter history. We also get a whole section of Tobias' KDA that is really, really enjoys blowing stuff up. Still, this is a novella and so a little thinner than a full-length book would be.


"The October Man" felt like a pilot for a spin-off series. If it had been a pilot, I'd have bought the rest of Season One on the spot. I hope we will see more of Tobias and Vanessa soon.


I particularly liked the narrator of "The October Man". I think Sam Peter Jackson (who is German, despite his very English sounding name) brought just the right tone to the text and was able to do different German regional accents convincingly. Click on the SoundClound link below to hear a sample.

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review 2019-06-09 23:57
"Storm Cursed - Mercy Thompson #11" by Patricia Briggs
Storm Cursed (Mercy Thompson #11) - Patricia Briggs,Lorelei King

I came late to the Mercy Thompson series. I read the first book, "Moon Called"in January 2017, nearly eleven years after it was published and was hooked immediately. This was Urban Fantasy as I'd always hoped it would be. I've been playing catch up ever since and it's been tremendous fun.


"Storm Cursed", book eleven in the series, was the first one I'd had to pre-order (OK, was too impatient NOT to pre-order) so I'm finally up to date.


I did wonder how this book would go. Many series start to fade by the time they get to book eleven. Book ten, "Silence Fallen" had tried to stay fresh by moving the venue to Europe and telling some of the story from Adam's point of view. It was fun but I hoped for a return to a Mercy-centric story.


When "Storm Cursed" arrived, I pushed my current book aside and dived in.


It was wonderful: familiar but vibrant and with enough new things to keep it fresh. I love that feeling of coming home to a book.


The good things were:


  • "Storm Cursed" goes back to telling the story from Mercy's point of view. I like being inside her head. She's not quite the same Mercy. She's a little more cautious, a little cannier, a lot more powerful and very, very aware of her need for friends and allies.
  • The witchcraft-centred plot worked well for lining Mercy up to call on all of her allies, vampire, fae, goblin, even her half-brother, to win the day.
  • Mercy's snarky humour still works for me and the action scenes delivered.


The things that didn't work well:


  • Pack dynamics haven't moved on. I struggle to believe that Mercy is still getting hassle from the likes of Mary-Joe
  • Yet again, Adam, the Pack and Bran get sidelined. I see that this puts Mercy centre stage but it's wearing a little thin.
  • Yet again we have evil but incompetent government folks making a mess. I know that, given the current occupant of the White House, the government being evil and incompetent might be taken as a given but in Mercy's world I'd hoped for a little development.
  • The whole thing with the cutlas seemed odd. An M16 or even a Ka-Bar knife I could see coming in handy but a cutlas only works in video games.


I'm a fan, invested in the series and I had a good time but… I do wonder where we go from here.


Nevertheless, I'll pre-order book twelve when it becomes available. In the meantime, I'll catch up on the Alpha Omega books where I've only read book 0.5 and book 1.

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