Winslow is trying to teach readers about the history of the drug war vis a vis Mexico. On the one hand, the story itself is often exciting, but the stretches of history and philosophizing could be a bit dull if you know about US involvement in El Salvador, Colombia, etc.
However, all credit to Ray Porter, the narrator, who manages to make each of these mini-history lessons sound different from each other, and to inject emotion into them. He also manages to make the occasionally purple prose go by smoothly, so that we can focus on the story, which is really worth hearing.
I'm fairly interested in Japanese culture and I enjoy mystery novels, so this book seemed like a good bet for me. Unfortunately, the story is weak, the novel is anachronistic, and the narrator is mediocre.
The story: The main story involves the disappearance of some tax convoys under mysterious circumstances. Unfortunately, the culprit isn't hard to guess, and Parker's attempt to throw a red herring in is pretty clunky, requiring characters to not talk to each other for no good reason (spoilers elided).
The setting: I suspect most people read this novel because the 10th century Japanese setting seems interesting. But the writing is really jarring, from calling women "skirts" to the easy familiarity between Tora (a peasant) and Akitada (a minor noble).
Narration: The narration is largely competent enough, but all minor characters get a bizarre faux Japanese accent. I know the book is set in Japan, but all of the major characters have an American accent, so the mix sounds very strange.
I've loved Jane Austen's novels for a long time, but I recently decided to go on a little audio-version kick. I'm not going to review the novel itself, but I will say that Juliet Stevenson's performance of this novel is outstanding. Her Harriet is just a bit ditzy, her Mrs. Elton is properly condescending, her Mr. Knightly stern and upright.
Whether you're already an Austen fan or you just want to know what the fuss is about, this is a great recording to go with.
I'll start with the positive -- on a sentence-by-sentence level, Atkinson is a solid writer. Nothing particularly spectacular, but nothing wince-worthy either.
Unfortunately, at any higher level than that, this book is awful.
* There are coincidences at a level to make Dickens blush.
* There are plot points that come out of nowhere (Brody's inheritance, for example).
* There are wild events that are more appropriate to a Tom Clancy novel or a Roadrunner cartoon (does anybody except Wile E. Coyote attempt to kill someone by dynamiting his house?)
* The detective does virtually no detecting -- probably just as well, because by the time the third case comes his way, we're almost 2/3 through the novel. One of the cases is solved by one phone-call.
* The stories are resolved with the kind of magical wand-waving that I associate with Victorian literature, not modern serious writing.
I was pre-disposed to give this novel a lot of leeway -- as I wrote above, Atkinson's writing is very solid, which is a nice thing. But I just don't even begin to understand the glowing reviews this book is getting.
"A Dance to the Music of Time" draws to a close with these three novels, and that's probably a good thing. I loved the first 9, and I even like number 10 (the first part of this installment). But 11 and 12 are not as fresh. It's probably silly to even review these, though -- if you've listened to the first three volumes, you're going to listen to this one, and, even if it's not as solid as the earlier ones, it's still very good.
Simon Vance's portrayals are, as always, excellent. With so many characters coming and going, his voicings often give me additional context to remember who some of the characters are.
If you've read "Across the Nightingale" floor, you know what to expect here: a thinly disguised fantastical Japan, lyrical descriptions, etc. I thought the first book was stronger, but it could be that it was just more fresh, whereas this is more of the same. I will say that her Japan feels very well-researched to me (a bit of a Japanophile myself). Her place-names feel real, "woman's writing" vs. "men's writing" was a real distinction, and so on.
But I had only read, not listened to the first volume. In this volume, the woman reader was sooooo slow. I ended up putting my iPod onto double speed just to make her sound normal. I think that I'd have preferred just reading the book to listening.
Adrian McKinty has always been a solid writer, and he continues to mature. For all it's pyrotechnics, "Cold, Cold Ground" feels more restrained that, say, "Dead I Well May Be." The violence is more restrained than in previous works, and so is the language (although the opening is as beautiful as anything he's written).
Gerard Doyle is a great narrator for McKinty. I haven't liked him as much reading other books, but in these novels he shines.
Night Watch is Terry Pratchett in top form. I'd stopped reading him for a while (years, actually), but this novel has me hooked on the series again. The humor is great, his characters are great, and it's not too preachy.
Unfortunately, the narration is terrible. It sounds like it was recorded at double speed. I can keep up with it, but my wife and kids were lost pretty quickly. In addition, the volume varied pretty dramatically.
The story is good enough to make it worth listening to, but reading this one is probably the way to go.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect of "North and South." I downloaded it on a bit of a whim, and I'm very glad I did.
Reviewers have compared Gaskell to Jan Austen, which seems very strange to me; they have very little in common. Gaskell is trying to explore the effects of industrialization and labor unrest through the eyes of her heroine, who has moved to industrial Northern England from the more bucolic South.
Gaskell has nice characters to represent the capitalist class, the workers, and others. If anything, they're a bit too good to be true, but it also lets her set out the conflicts without putting in straw men. Her workers and capitalists are at odds with each other, and Gaskell doesn't draw out an easy solution, which is probably just as well, since it would destroy any realism the novel has.
"The Warded Man" covers a lot of ground in its heroes' lives -- about 15 years or so. Unfortunately, author Brett seems to want to cover every minute of every year, and the novel really drags.
The eponymous Warded Man doesn't show up until the last third or so, by which time I was beyond caring what happens to everyone in the novel. His characters aren't compelling enough to carry a novel of this length.
I came to this book after listening to the Michael Forsyth trilogy (but not having read Fifty Grand). The first thing that struck me is how much the pyrotechnics (both plotwise and stylistically) are cooled down.
In the Forsyth books, there are multiple shootouts that can end up stretching credulity; here, we have a more cat-and-mouse plot, with a lot of energy going into characters hiding out from other characters. It's a nice refreshing change, as much as I loved the Forsyth books. Killian, the hero of the novel, is no superman, and so there's a constant knife-edge of tension, since odds are, if he gets in a fight he'll lose.
Verbally, the Forsyth books have poetic flights of fancy, which are fewer in this book. Although I missed them, they really stand out when they happen, since there are so few of them. Again, it's a refreshing change, and shows that McKinty can write in more than one voice, fitting his style to the more down-to-earth Killian.
Doyle, as always, seems perfectly suited to this material. It's hard to imagine another voice for these books (and, for that matter, I've heard Doyle on another author, and it felt lacking).
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