quinta-feira, outubro 31, 2013

"Closed For Winter" by Jorn Lier Horst

Closed for Winter - Jørn Lier Horst, Anne Bruce

For me the key to the appeal of Scandinavian is manyfold:

1 - The unemotional nature of the detectives and their peculiar close relationship with death;

2 - The long dark winters (and the hot summers too) incoporated into the narrative;

3 - Bleak Scandinavian landscape which serves to mirror the thoughts of the characters;

4 - Incorporation of larger social issues into the narrative of police work.

Kenneth Branagh's playing Henning Mankell's detective Kurt Wallander in the BBC series is a good example of what I mean. 

The Scandinavian Crime Fiction has consistently come up with great plotlines that are as cold and bleak as the locations in which they are set, but it's this sense of the other that sets them apart. 

Crime writers can come up with any number of serial killers and paedophiles with ever sicker twists, but as long as they are situated in the usual urban cities (NY, London, etc), there will inevitably be a sense of dejavu. 

The Scandinavian locations always takes me beyond plot and genre to the human condition. That's one of the main reasons for reading Scandinavian (Crime) Fiction.

"Closed For Winter" fails to deliver on this sense of dislocation. At times I felt I was reading another non-scandinavian novel...Talk about trade on their own stereotypes for one. 

This time some of the abovementioned characteristics are absent (I won't tell you which ones...Check them out for yourself).

The east-european connection for one, failed to ilicit any kind of emotional response from me. On top of that it was poorly written. No sense of place and character was conveyed by the interplay between Wisting and the east-european characters. They were mere ciphers and not Men...

"Closed For Winter" was quite different in tone and quality writing when compared with "Dregs" (see my review).

quinta-feira, outubro 24, 2013

"The Midnight Choir" by Gene Kerrigan

The Midnight Choir - Gene Kerrigan
Just for the character of Harry Synnott the book is worth reading. His recognition at the end regarding his failings comes dramatically and brutally, and I was left to ponder whether he would be able to deal with his self-realization. And then something happened. The story stopped suddenly so that I felt like I'd gone hurtling over a cliff. I had to check to make sure there weren't any pages missing in my tablet! 

But when I came to think about it, I think the way the story ended is much more effective, because I was left wondering possible life paths for the characters.

In this book even the most despicable characters can convince themselves they are somehow doing the right thing, even when we know that it isn't the case. 

This story is a good case to demonstrate what I’ve always felt. One of the distinctive pleasures of reading Crime Fiction or Speculative Fiction (or SF if you prefer) lies in its awareness of its own traditions and conventions. That's the beauty of it in my view. Is the best genre fiction intrinsically inferior to the so-called "literary" fiction? Not so. There's crap on both sides. A lazy writer can simply follow the genre conventions by the letter. The exceptional genre writers (SF or Crime Fiction) must be looking to subvert my expectations,ie, using the established frameworks to explore new territories or themes. Those are the writers I always look for (eg, Jo Nesbo comes to mind with his ability to constantly undermine my assumptions about characters and their motivations: he kills off central characters in the middle of his stories, for christ's sake).

This is my 2nd Kerrigan. He dolled out just the right amount of information to keep me hooked, but wasn't so stingy that I got to the end thinking he hadn't played me fair, which I was...

Gene Kerrigan is on the verge of becoming one of my favourite genre writers.

domingo, outubro 20, 2013

"Os Melhores Sketches dos Monty Python" by Monty Python, Nuno Markl

Os Melhores Sketches dos Monty Python - Nuno Markl, Monty Python
Took me around one hour to read it from beginning to end. I never saw the show that supported the book, and maybe I should have done so. I remember reading some comments about the show and they were not enthusistic. Maybe that was why I didn't see it. I don't quite rememeber the reason.

I know almost all the Monty Python sketches by heart (I also "saw the light" in the 80's on the RTP2 Channel as Nuno Markl did), and I was quite curious how Nuno had handled the tricky parts in translation. Quite good actually. He was able to avoid the usual pitfalls to make literal translations, which is always a temptation when translating humour.

As soon as opened the book I came across the "Sit On My face" translation into portuguese:

"Senta na cara e diz-me que me amas
E na tua cara, amor, eu sentarei
A prova oral vais tu fazer
E dou-te já vinte valores
Com todo o prazer!

Senta na cara e sente a minha boca
Provar como a paixão é verdadeira
O amor não desenvolve sem um bom 69
Estamos sentados nas caras alheias, sem cuecas, sem meias
Isto comove!"

Quite up to the mark, right? (if you can read portuguese, read the original and check for yourself).

Not an easy text to translate that's for sure. He was able to capture the gist of the original in its entirety.

With this translation Nuno Markl won me over. The rest was just a breeze to read... Fond memories...

"The Judas Goat" by Robert B. Parker

The Judas Goat - Robert B. Parker

Spenser and Hawk team up for the first time.

On the 5th stroke (aka, 5th book in the Spenser Series) the magic was broken...

This novel never really grabbed me like so many of the other Spenser novels. 

I think a lot of it comes from the terrorist setting, but I could never really put my finger on it. I’ve read and enjoyed the previous 4 Spenser novels but I wasn’t as keen on this one. It didn’t read like a gumshoe story so much as an international action thriller. Like the vacum abhors oxigen, I abhor cheap thrillers... 

The usual writing style is still present, but to a lesser extent. Some sentences are very economical in the way they pack the action and make me imagine what is happening the way I want. Every time I read some passages over I can imagine them differently and more exciting. 

The way the fighting scene is described at the end of the book is enough to justify reading it.

Another plus for me is the way Hawk starts taking centre-stage. It's quite noticeable that Hawk starts being written better. I'm thinking that he's possibly one of the greatest supporting characters in mystery fiction and is often imitated (Dennis Lehane comes to mind). Almost near every modern mystery writer from Denis Lehane to Harlan Coben has their version of Hawk, but the original stands alone. 

Two Spensers in a row. Saving the rest for later enjoyment.

sexta-feira, outubro 18, 2013

"Promised Land" by Robert B. Parker

Promised Land - Robert B. Parker

Right after reading "The Adjacent" by Christopher Priest, I was in need of another fix of one of my favourite gumshoes... Spenser!

Rationing the three series that's what it is (smile).

What can I say that hasn't been said already?
What I've always found fascinating is Parker's ability to write by the scene, instead of relying on far-fetched plots. And the dialog. Don't get me started on it. Dialog is the heart of Parker's novels without a doubt. There's not a "voice" like Spenser's. Spenser's book move forward by just the sheer force of the dialog!

In order not to lose momentum, I think I'll reader another one just after "The Promised Land": "The Judas Goat" (the 5th Spenser).

terça-feira, outubro 15, 2013

"The Adjacent" by Christopher Priest

The Adjacent - Christopher Priest

   (Spitfire Mark XI, one of the main "characters" in the book)

It does not look like it, but for me this is a love story at heart...

As usual in a novel by Priest, I had to keep my wits about me. (In)Sanity is the word of the day. The 400 pages of “The Adjacent” are dense with encrypted epiphanies, not all of them perceived at a first reading. So I advise you all to re-read it. You’ll get something more out of it on a second reading.

For me any book by Christopher Priest can be used as a good example for the difference between SF and Fantasy. Science Fiction at the end of the day is about human engagement, ie, actions that lead to reactions and the fiction itself describes, discusses and judges those reactions. Those actions can be immersed in reality or they can be interrogative in nature. In consequence we can refer to it as being a kind of moral fiction and, of course, the best works in Science Fiction can be considered literature (e.g., “The Dispossessed” by Ursula K .Le Guin, “The Stars My Destination” by Alfred Bester”, “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” by Philip K. Dick, to name just a few). Fantasy on the other hand is quite the opposite: it’s usually about The Irrational and sometimes about events out of control. As soon as fantasy attempts to tackle and deal with reality it stops being fantasy. That’s one of the reasons why I usually prefer SF over Fantasy (there are of course exceptions that confirm the rule).

Narrately speaking we have Priest in the best of form: unsentimental and in purposeful-prose-mode and in full command of language. The enchantment in Priest's prose lies in its cumulative increase of meaning, especially when the meaning of the implications and ramifications is not known, as it happens in all of Priest’s books. How many books could I read to the very end where I don't have the slightest idea what's actually going on? Not many I can assure you. For me, besides the need we all have to understand what’s going on, ie, grasping the inner workings of a novel, what’s more important and it’s quite paramount to everything I read (or I want to read), is the capability a novel has to make me enjoy reading it, as it’s the case here.

That’s the beauty of a Priest novel. Never fully understanding where I am, never fully knowing where I’m headed. Enjoyment by being trapped by sheer curiosity…

If I could I’d give this book 6 stars.

I’m saving “The Islanders” for next year. I don’t know when we’ll have another Priest out there…

quarta-feira, outubro 09, 2013

"Killer Instinct" by Zoë Sharp

Killer Instinct - Zoe Sharp

Good grief. What a boring book. Cliches, predictable plot, bad writing, pointless rambling, wasted words, lack of perception and insight, flat characters with nothing interesting to say and do and characters I don't care about. (Notice I didn't say 'characters I don't like', ie, I don't have to like characters to care about what happens to them).

On top of that, I hate it when a character in the begininng of a book is just the same at the end of it...