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review 2018-09-19 03:18
A Promising Introduction to a series about crime fighting in the Czech Republic
The Tainted Vintage - Clare Blanchard

In the first chapter, we're treated to a better synopsis than I could cook up, so let me just borrow it. One night in the little town of Vinice, in the Czech Republic, the mayor dies during his birthday party:

 

Dvorska was sure that she and Ivan had been sent there for the sake of appearances, because a dead mayor was by definition high profile, and of course because no-one else wanted to touch it. She wondered why they had been called out at all, so soon. The fat feminist and the misogynist - what a team. And of course Dambo, as the senior of the two, would call the shots, so her hands would be tied. Perfect. The sudden death of a rich and powerful local figure was hardly a magnet for rising-star detectives.


Dvorska picks up a clue or two that convinces her -- and then Dambersky -- that this death was not due to natural causes. The Powers That Be don't want to hear such a thing, and rule otherwise. So this very unlikely duo has to embark on an unauthorized investigation -- not just unauthorized, but prohibited -- into the murder.

 

Finding the murderer of a man who died of natural causes isn't the easiest thing to accomplish, obviously -- it's hard to ask too many questions without a "Hey, he wasn't murdered, why are you asking?" coming up. So the partners have to be wily -- not just with their superior officer, but with witnesses, possible suspects, and everyone else they encounter.

 

The investigation takes them to various cities, a variety of social classes, and even ends up giving them a few history lessons. The mayor's home has ties to significant (at least to Vinice) historical movements, going back to World War II, the Communist takeover, and then once the Republic took over. This really helps the reader -- particularly the reader who knows almost nothing about the Czech Republic -- find themselves, not only in the geography but the history (cultural and otherwise). obviously, I'm no expert on the Czech Republic,, but I can understand a little more than I used to. Just the first couple of usages of "Perv" to indicate an illegal drug threw me -- but between the narrator finally calling it Pervityn and a search engine, I got a little lesson in drugs during WWII.

 

It doesn't take long for the book to try to get the reader on the side of these two characters -- maybe there's more to them than the "fat feminist and the misogynist." I really found myself enjoying them as people, not just as detectives. We spend -- for reasons that will become clear when you read this -- more time with Dvorska than her partner, and she is a charming, dedicated detective, fully aware of her limitations and sure how to overcome them.

 

The writing was good but I thought it could be sharper -- there's an odd word choice or two (early on, the detectives start talking about the mayor's death being an execution, not a murder); there's a lot of recapping/rehashing something that was just done/considered/decided a page or two earlier -- the kind of thing that makes sense for serialized novels, but this doesn't appear to be on. Still, the voice is engaging, as is the story -- and you get caught up enough in it that you can easily ignore a few things that'd normally bug you.

 

I was caught totally off-guard by the ending. I didn't expect that to happen at all -- my notes toward the end feature short words like "what" and"why?" But primarily my notes consist of question marks, exclamation points, and combinations thereof. This is a great sign for mystery and thriller novels. Blanchard did a great job setting things up so that there's a dramatic reveal and one that isn't seen chapters away. I do think some more ground work could have been laid early on so that it didn't seem quite so out of nowhere. But it was effective enough, that I really don't want to complain about it.

 

This is a pleasant read -- it's close enough to being a cozy that I could recommend it to friends who predominately read those, and twisted enough that those with more grizzled tastes can sink their teeth into it, too. The characters are winning, charming and the kind that you want to spend time with. It's a good introduction to a series exotic enough for most English readers to feel "alien" and yet full of enough things so you don't feel cut off from what you know. There are obviously future cases for these two in the works, and I plan on getting my hands on them when I can.

Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2018/09/18/the-tainted-vintage-by-clare-blanchard
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review 2018-09-03 17:34
Access Denied Prototype: “Valis” by Philip K. Dick
VALIS - Philip K. Dick


Is Phil Dick talking about regressing back to former time periods, or the much more radical notion of previous structures existing in the sub-strata of reality and emanating forward, like the notion of ancient Rome, a proto-fascist state, The Black Iron Prison of VALIS, falling forward through history. I think for Phil Dick - sensing these things - was no mere matter of psychological themes. And in the exploration of these realities one thing is clear - the date doesn't matter. A smug talking refrigerator door is about everyday oppression. It is humorous but it represents the shadow. Have you heard the automated checkout robot at Woolworths? "Unexpected item in the bagging area." Combining elements of stern accusation and exasperation. So he had it right, now everyday objects talk to us, and form part of an oppressive regime who's intent is to shackle the soul.

 

 

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-09-03 15:36
Non-Predictive SF: “Clans of the Alphane Moon” by Philip K. Dick
Clans of the Alphane Moon - Philip K. Dick


The actual potential, some of it realized already, of science is mind boggling & dizzying, and SF and TF both provided dazzling and wondrous possibilities to people's minds, especially young people's minds. When Phil Dick was writing there was a great deal more wonderment, and a great deal less expectation, in TF. Although there is more wonderment now in one sense, in that science and technology are making the stuff of SF real almost as fast as SF or TF writers can imagine it.

 

 

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-09-02 20:19
Good Back-in-the-Day-SF: "Telzey Amberdon" by James H. Schmitz
Telzey Amberdon - James H. Schmitz,Eric Flint


A lot of very readable and entertaining SF is grounded in Clarke's observation that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." A character who pops what looks like an aspirin tablet into what looks like a microwave and then retrieves and eats a vindaloo is behaving as realistically as I am when I order a pizza. If the character then steps into a time machine, he or she needn't know any more about how it works than I need to know what really happens when I turn on the lights. In fact, I'd worry about the success of a book that said "Gwen's knowledge of farming and baking enabled her to eat a pizza, and since she understood the principles of electrical transmission, she was able to eat it with the lights on." If anything, I think that too many SF books try to explain made up science that their characters, if real, would probably just take for granted.

 

 

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-08-31 09:47
Falling Out of Time by David Grossman
Falling Out of Time (Vintage International) - David Grossman

In Falling Out of Time, David Grossman has created a genre-defying drama––part play, part prose, pure poetry––to tell the story of bereaved parents setting out to reach their lost children. It begins in a small village, in a kitchen, where a man announces to his wife that he is leaving, embarking on a journey in search of their dead son. The man––called simply Walking Man––paces in ever-widening circles around the town. One after another, all manner of townsfolk fall into step with him (the Net-Mender, the Midwife, the Elderly Math Teacher, even the Duke), each enduring his or her own loss. The walkers raise questions of grief and bereavement: Can death be overcome by an intensity of speech or memory? Is it possible, even for a fleeting moment, to call to the dead and free them from their death? Grossman’s answer to such questions is a hymn to these characters, who ultimately find solace and hope in their communal act of breaching death’s hermetic separateness. For the reader, the solace is in their clamorous vitality, and in the gift of Grossman’s storytelling––a realm where loss is not merely an absence but a life force of its own.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Translated from the original Hebrew, Israeli author David Grossman's unique novel explores various aspects of the grieving process through a combination of prose, poetry, even presenting a bit of the story in play format. At its core, it is described as a "fable of parental grief".

 

Our main character, simply named "Walking Man", working through the grief of having recently lost a child, paces around the courtyard area in front of his home in ever-widening concentric circles. This pattern has him gradually moving throughout the village, talking with other townspeople on matters they are struggling with in their own lives. Others in town choose to fall in step with him, so through this, the reader comes to know Net Mender (mute himself, he lost a six year old child); Midwife (married to Town Cobbler, they also lost a child -- a son less than 2 years old); Math Teacher; and The Duke, each working through the stories of their individual losses or struggles. Over the course of the book, we come to see that this process carries on for about five years. Occasionally, a question on the themes of grief or death is posed, something for readers themselves to think on. 

 

There are additional characters with a little extra something interesting to their own stories, such as Town Chronicler and Town Centaur. The chronicler serves as an almost Shakespearean sort of narrator to the rest of the story, but he also has a place as character in the plot (such as it is) himself. Having lost a daughter himself, the chronicler -- as you may have guessed -- chronicles the town's activities -- especially this new fad of walking in circles everyone seems to have taken up -- in his journal, findings to be shared later with The Duke. The Duke has decreed that villagers are to share & explain their various grief stories to the Chronicler as truthfully as possible. Each person in town is asks, how would you describe the grief in your mind?

 

Then there's the Centaur, who is the story's placeholder for representing people that choose to try to heal or cover up emotional hurt through rabid consumerism, sometimes leading to compulsive hoarding. Centaur -- who lost a nearly 12 year old son -- most definitely uses his "collecting" as a coping mechanism, and he also seems the most vocal and cross or is it just brutal honesty? regarding the behaviors of his neighbors. Some could read it as him simply deflecting away from his own problems. As he cries out at one point, "Even the Inquisition's tax accessors didn't torture people like this!" (regarding the Chronicler's line of questioning). Near the end, Centaur actually takes over the narration of the book. 

 

Presented in an allegorical-like style similar to that of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the primary theme of this story does reflect on mourning the death of a child. One character's story even looks at losing a child to suicide. However, other emotional trials are explored as well. The way Grossman chooses to bring forth the story draws the reader toward their own quiet ponderings on the various stages of mourning -- you know: mourning, sadness, denial, anger, bartering, acceptance -- as well as the ways a grieving mind will tend to look for signs of faith or hope in nearly anything. 

 

So, yes, undeniably some heavy themes going on in this little book (less than 200 pages total) but the combination of the unique format presentation (which makes it an even quicker reader), the thoughts it provokes, and just the sheer word choice still make this a pleasure to read. I haven't read any of Grossman's other books but some of the lines in this one just stunned me in the stark, simple beauty of the phrasing. Lines like "we unspoke that night", "Why did you become dead? How could you be incautious?" or this image of a married couple trying to come back from nearly breaking apart: "I stood up. I wrapped you in a blanket, you gripped my hand, looked straight into my eyes: the man and woman we had been nodded farewell."

 

 

All universal ideas he incorporates here, but never before have I experienced them presented in quite this way. Just think on that one line:  "Why did you become dead? How could you be incautious?". It sounds odd at first, but when you pause and consider it, does it not just capture that early anger you sometimes feel at having lost someone too early in life... that sense of how DARE they leave me? Again, that choice of wording! Amazing! 

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