Thursday, 2 July 2015

All You Need is Kill

Keiji Kiriya is a young recruit in the United Defence Force. He's cannon fodder in a war against a merciless alien race of invaders. Over-matched and lacking combat experience he takes fatal damage and dies. And then he wakes two days earlier with full memory of his death.  
Hiroshi Sakurazaka's military sci-fi novel is translated from Japanese here. And it translates pretty well. I don't know if its big screen transformation (Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt) is as smooth because I haven't seen the movie yet but I'll definitely take a look now.
I had a fun time reading this one. You'd think a sci-f story about a soldier endlessly reliving a couple of days that ends in a big battle would get boring after a few spin-cycles. These sorts of stories with a groundhog day angle can be tricky. Hiroshi Sakurazaka keeps things fresh though, never forcing us to relive things in a repetitive way but skilfully follows our hero's attempts to break free of his situation. Although you'd expect the narrative to be chock full of bomb's and bullets the battle is sketched over with more focus on Keiji's personal development and his relationship with the only other looper Rita Vrataski, the Full Metal Bitch being the order of the day. It's a shame that Keiji and Rita are the only fully developed characters in the book though.

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Monogram Murders

I'm still a bit scarred from reading Anthony Horowitz's authorised but horrifically inept treatment of Sherlock Holmes in House of Silk. Would a similar exercise be any better with Sophie Hannah resurrecting Poirot? My mum adored Sophie Hannah so I was optimistic. I noticed a real rash of one star reviews that were pretty merciless in their hatred of this book. But I was still in Sophie's corner. It seemed they were unhappy that Christie's famous economy of writing was not something Sophie embraced. But Sophie can write it her way - it doesn't have to be a full on pastiche. You can evoke a character without the need to ape another writer's style. And the first scene/chapter when Poirot originally meets Jenny in the coffee shop is fine. It's amusing, intriguing and Poirot lives again. And then Scotland Yard in the shape of Catchpool turns up and it all goes to hell. Well to be fair it isn't Catchpool who heralds literary Armageddon it's the murder itself. The rest of the book is Poirot and the sceptical Scotland Yard man endlessly assembling their thoughts about the crime. It's incredibly over written. Hannah creates such a vast forest of deduction and explanation that getting lost and confused amongst the foliage is inevitable. She doesn't give any of the characters beyond Poirot any life so we inevitably don't really care who dies, why they die or whodunnit.I wonder whether a better fit would have been Sophie Hannah writing Holmes and Horowitz writing Poirot.
I listened to the audio for this one. Julian Rhind-Tutt is a big asset to the production and I love his David Suchet Poirot impersonation.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Code Three

Rick Raphael only wrote a handful of stories, mainly in the 60s. His speciality was writing about ordinary people doing a professional job coping with futuristic problems. In one of his other stories 'The Thirst Quenchers' his heroes are hydrologists working to conserve water for an overpopulated country. Code Three speculates what kind of job traffic cops will have to do to keep the super speed highways of the future safe. The story takes a ride with a three person team on a routine three week patrol aboard their state of the art cruiser. With vehicles routinely travelling at speeds four or five times the speeds of today the story goes into detail on how they deal with the consequences of accidents and law breaking. There's no world shattering crisis, just everyday problems on the highways dealt with by highly trained professional... oh and throw in a bit of almost romance that might or might not set off your cheese detectors dependant on your mood. A Hugo nomination had the bad fortune of having to compete with one of Poul Anderson's seven winners 'No Truce with Kings'.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Girl on a Train

I listened to the audiobook for this one. The narrative follows the inner voices of three women, Rachel (alcoholic with a life in ruins), Megan (soon to be missing presumed dead) and Anna (proud owner of Rachel's ex-spouse). Each one gets a different narrator which really helps keep them separate in your mind and they do a great job immersing themselves in the roles. India Fisher doesn't really have a lot to do as Anna and sounds a little more disconnected than the other two. The male characters are understandably two dimensional in comparison to the female trio as they are realised entirely by the women's view of them rather than their own inner perspective.
The murder mystery that binds the three women is always secondary to the psychological themes; how people make presumptive judgements on other people's lives which are usually quite wrong and how we lie and construct masking personae to fool ourselves as much as others. A bit like the title of the book really. 'The Woman on the Train,' just doesn't sound as cool does it. But if there's a moral in here somewhere, 'never judge a book by its cover,' is as good as any.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Bindlestiff

The tenth Nameless book starts out with our hero in a fair bit of financial difficulty himself. With no licence he has no income.His office is gone and worst of all he's had to fall back on his only way of making enough cash to feed himself, namely selling off some of his precious pulp collection starting with some of his less loved editions. But things are about to change. Ex-cop best friend Eberhardt has had a hand in getting Nameless' licence restored but not without asking for something in return. He wants to go into partnership. But Nameless is a lone-wolf.
His first case back involves tracking down a hobo (bindestiff) rider of the tracks. The trail leads to a town called Oroville in Butte County. It helps the book to be set in a real location, the local colour and history add a bit flavour to a fairly lifeless plot. The location moves on to the wine soaked Sonoma County, which Nameless cites as his ideal retirement location, though to my mind I doubt he'll ever have funds enough to finance such an end even if he was the retiring kind.
Not the strongest title in the series. Pronzini's plotting suffers from having to be played out by a small group of fairly two dimensional supporting characters.

Monday, 4 May 2015

The Case of the Gypsy Good-bye

Warning - this book contains a scene with cat-flinging.
Cat peril aside this was a pretty good sign off for the series. The six book series comes to an end. Although Enola will never push Flavia off her cosy perch there was plenty to enjoy following the young seeker of the lost. The books are short, cosy, amusing and lightly educational for young readers. Springer doesn't shy from disturbing the cosiness with darker edges from time to time and neither does she let Sherlock upstage Enola at any stage. Fans of Holmes would probably be sceptical about how easily he's outmanoeuvred or bested by his younger sister but I think it helps give the books an identity other than just another Sherlock Holmes pastiche. You could say that Enola is telling the story her way as maybe Flavia de Luce would have done but if you have read the series you'd know that Enola just isn't wired up that way.
All good things come to an end, Springer is on record saying that the series is definitely done, so so long and thanks for all the fun..

Friday, 24 April 2015

Woman in the Dark

 Claustrophobic ex-convict Brazil is on parole for a man slaughter sentence and is hoping never to go back behind bars again. All he has to do is stay out of trouble in his quiet cabin in the woods. Then a beautiful woman with a broken shoe stumbles through his door.
This was one of the last shorter stories that Hammett published before he walked away from crime writing. It's not his greatest bit of writing but still well worth a look. To be honest I much prefer the 1934 film version with Ralph Bellamy and Fay Wray in the lead roles.
 It's pretty faithful to Hammett's story though it does smooth off the rough edges, notably Hammett's insistence on having characters with accents and lisps all fully annotated. The romantic element is more developed and there's also a bit of humour along the way mainly from Roscoe Ates. And you get to see Fay Wray's ankles.. so no contest really.
An introduction by Robert B.Parker comments on Hammett's style and suggests the reasons for the story's level of romance.