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"Thieftaker" is not just a modern urban noir supernatural detective story dressed up in a period costume, it is driven by the events and the mindset of the period, which gives it a distinctive and intriguing flavour.
It is driven as much by character as by plot. Our hero is not an easy man but he is one you could learn to care about. The people who threaten or help him (sometimes the SAME people) have motives and emotions of their own that make them much more than plot devices.
The supernatural world is well thought through and skillfully revealed and the plot stands up as a detective/thriller story in it own right.
Jonathan Davis narrates the book with a steady voice that has exactly the right pitch and pace to get the most from this tale.
I've already ordered the next in the series and I have high hopes of it.
I downloaded the “Fire and Ice” the first book in Dana Stabenow’s Liam Campbell series, to help bridge the gap while I wait for the Brilliance Audio version of “Killing Grounds”, book 8 in the series Kate Shugak series, to come out in January 2014 to get another slice of Alaskan life.
What I got was something quite different from the Kate Shugak series, even down to the writing style but something that gave me another view on what Alaska can mean to people.
Liam Campbell is a newly-demoted State Trooper, who steps off the plane at the remote town he has been exiled to, and steps into a storm of violence, eccentricity, lust and death.
The story is well-plotted, seasoned with humor and chaos, stuffed with larger-than-life characters that we know will be in all the future books and it gives a vivid view of what it feels like to take on the potentially lethal task of “herring spotting” from a light plane in an overcrowded sky.
Stabenow’s books are never just about finding out who killed whom. They are an exploration of why people live the way they do and what it is about Alaska that drives particular behaviors.
In this book Alaska is being shown as a place where people go to make a new start. It’s also shown as place with all the usual problems of violence against women, alcohol addiction, child abuse and the pressures of a small town to make you behave “appropriately”.
I couldn’t quite bring myself to like Liam Campbell, the man with a tragic past and a grief-filled present. Then I realized that this was what Stabenow intended. I couldn’t like Liam because he doesn’t like himself. His distaste for himself at first appears to be a reaction to things he couldn’t control but feels accountable for: death’s on his watch, a tragedy in his family; things that would damage any man. As the book progresses we realize that the fundamental source of internal disgust is that he is a man who has betrayed himself and everyone he loves and he can’t forgive himself for that. The problem was, I couldn’t forgive him for it either.
There are some signs that Liam is on a journey of redemption. In future books, I hope to see something about him that will make me care. I’d like to see his self-pity and self-absorption replaced by some passion for making a difference by actually doing his job. Perhaps the reason Stabenow keeps Campbell out of his uniform for most of the book, is to signal his failure to engage and to become who he should be.
The sex scene at the beginning of the book caught me by surprise. It is graphic without being gratuitous but it goes way beyond anything you’d find in a Kate Shugak novel. The scene is actually well written – it describes arousal without being arousing. It is necessary because the sexual attraction between Campbell and the Wy is central to how Liam came to be where he is. I like the fact that Stabenow sets this up so that we understand that lust does not explain or excuse Liam’s actions any more than alcohol explains why someone is a drunk.
I enjoy Marguerite Gavin as the narrator of the Kate Shugak series. I wish someone else had been chosen to read the Liam Campbell series. I think a male reader would have been more appropriate and would have made a clearer separation between Liam and Kate. She didn’t distract me from the book, but she didn’t add to it either.
A friend recommended "The Coroner's Lunch" as the start of a series I might be interested in. I'm glad she did, otherwise the idea of a 72 year old coroner in Laos in 1975, immediately after the communist revolution, would not have struck me as my sort of thing and I would have missed out on meeting Dr. Siri Paibo, one of the most interesting characters I've encountered in crime fiction.
Siri is a reluctant, and initially not very competent, coroner; appointed as a "reward" for services to his country but feeling as if he is somehow being punished instead.
He becomes the centre of political intrigues, murders, and hauntings, which he approaches with a unique mix of scientific method and irrational (but compelling) superstition,
Siri is a man who has lost most things except his (sometimes wildly inappropriate) sense of humour and his desire to find the truth. He is a brave man who does not believe himself a hero. He inspires strong emotions in others (they either want to kill him, marry him, worship him or learn from him) because he sees beyond the idea to the person and within the person to their spirit.
Parts of the book are gruesome, in a non-exploitive way, and parts, like his conversation with some recently orphaned children are truly moving without being maudlin or melodramatic. What holds it together is Siri sense of honour and common humanity.
Of course, there are also some good puzzles. at least three of them in fact, that kept me wanting to know what was going to happen next but mostly I wanted to know more about Dr. Siri.
The denouement of one of the plots is explained in a slightly clumsy way by a conversation between two characters who have previously only appeared in conversation with Siri but that is a small fault.
Most of the time Gareth Armstrong did a superb job of creating Siri and the characters around him but there were occasional stumbles over stress and even meaning which the producer should have caught and fixed.
I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. "Bad Teeth" is already on my iPod.
I was twenty when I first read “Ender’s Game” back in 1987. I was completely absorbed in it, turning the pages eagerly to know what would happen next and being shocked, even outraged, when I understood the sustained deceit and betrayal on which the book was based.
Twenty-six years later, I decided to listen to the audio book version. It was a delight. The narrators give it the feel of a radio play without missing a word of the original prose.
Perhaps because I knew the ending or perhaps because I am older, this time my attention was caught by the sadness of the book. Ender is almost always alone, almost always being pushed into situations where none of his options are good, and always burdened by the knowledge the choices that he takes change who he is. I was also more sympathetic to the adults who do the terrible things that shape Ender’s fate; knowing that they are terrible, necessary and unforgiveable. Ender’s assailed innocence and the compromised integrity of the adults are a lesson it what it means to be “grown up” and why children deserve to have time to be children.
The book focuses relentlessly on the violence we are willing to commit and the “sins” we are willing to live with in order to survive. It doesn’t glorify these things but it doesn’t diminish them either. It tackles what it means to be different and how often an inability to communicate turns difference into conflict.
At its heart, “Ender’s Game” tells us that all games are real, all choices matter, everything that creates an enemy has a consequence. What makes the book remarkable is that it tackles all this while doing a good job of seeing the world through the eyes of a (very bright) vulnerable, lonely, child who is equally gifted with empathy and ruthlessness.
Re-reading the book more than twenty years on adds other points of interest: Card’s imagining of the role of the web, the “desks” the children work on and the concept of war executed by tele-presence are all pleasingly accurate. This time round I was very aware that the ending of the book felt like an add-on to set up “Speaker for the Dead” – which I also read twenty-six years ago.- whereas, on the first read, I saw it as a slightly clumsy effort at redemption. The audio book includes an interview with Card, where he explains that he did indeed rewrite the ending and how that came about. I now find Card’s politics a little thin and unconvincing – too American to be truly global- but I found the way he writes Ender’s sister much more moving than before.
The movie will be out soon. I don’t have high hopes of it, although I’ll watch it all the same. In my view, the most entertaining and engaging way to experience “Ender’ Game” is to listen to this audio version. I recommend it to you.
This is an excellent light read, guaranteed to bring a smile to the reader’s lips and perhaps even provoke the urge to shout “Hurrah” from time to time.
This was my first encounter with the redoubtable Amelia Peabody, an unmarried English gentlewoman who. having decided to use her recently inherited wealth to pursue her passion for Egyptology, finds herself adopting a young woman of damaged reputation , working alongside a fierce and focused archaeologist who has a will and a temper as strong as her own, and confronted with what appears to be a homicidal mummy.
The book is written in the form of a journal in which Amelia Peabody addresses the reader directly, showing us the world through her eyes. Amelia has a sharp wit, a strong will and absolutely no tolerance for people who flap about rather than getting on with what needs to be done.
Set in the 1880s, when Egypt was jointly ruled by the British and the French, Gordon was besieged at Khartoum and the British Empire was at its zenith, Elizabeth Peters brings to life the brio, pride and pragmatism that powered the empire. The language is authentic without being impenetrable and the plot has just enough twists to be interesting without having to venture into the implausibly Byzantine.
The book is carried by Amelia Peabody, you either like and admire her or you should be reading something else. I’m sure this is an opinion she would share.
Barbara Rosenblat gives Amelia the perfect accent for her class and period and does a creditable job of producing distinctive voices for the wide range of characters, male, female, English and Foreign that populate this tale.
I recommend this audio book to anyone who needs cheering up but cannot tolerate saccharine feel-good slush. This is more like a brisk walk and pleasurable cup of tea with a stimulating , if slightly overwhelming, companion.
In Walton’s alternate history , 1949 sees the ruling Conservative Party dominated by the “Farthing Set”, a clique of high Tories credited with negotiating “Peace with Honour” between the Third Reich and the British Empire in response to Hess’ overture on behalf of Hitler in 1941. On the eve of an important vote in Commons, the Farthing Set is gathered at the house after which it is named, the country seat of Viscount Eversley, when Sir James Thirkie, chief negotiator of the peace, is murdered.
From this premise Walton builds a story that uses the solidly-decent meme of an English Country House murder (à la Sayers or Christie) to expose the fascist underbelly of the British Empire, built on anti-Semitism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia and an entrenched class system that places the powerful above the law.
Walton tells the story through the eyes of two protagonists, Lucy Eversley Kahn, daughter of Viscount Eversley and Inspector Peter Carmichael of Scotland Yard. These characters are inspired choices that humanize what might have turned into a political rant, give an insight into the choices made by “decent” people confronted with Fascism at home, and make the world that Walton has drawn, much more chilling by being much more credible.
One cannot help but like Lucy. She is the acceptable face of the English aristocracy: a kind, intelligent, self-deprecating, independent woman, who loves her father and survived the disdain verging on hatred of her mother and who has sacrificed her privileged position in society to marry and English Jew. As the story unfolds and the true nature of the evil that is behind Thirkie’s death is understand, Lucy leads us from shock through revulsion and on to pragmatic action and a search for hope.
In another world, our world perhaps, Inspector Carmichael, with his sharp mind and his need to find the truth would be righting wrongs and improving the capabilities of the Metropolitan Police. In this world, it quickly becomes clear that he is more vulnerable than powerful and that “doing the right thing” may not be a choice that is available to him.
I admire Walton’s ability to show what Fascism really does to freedom by showing the damage it does to those who our laws and our democracy ought to make safe.
I find her alternate history very credible. In my view, modern Britain was fundamentally shaped by the decision of the British people in the “Khaki Election” of 1945, the first election in ten years, held on the heels of Victory in Europe Day, to put their trust in Labour Party, rather than the Conservatives, to rebuild Britain. By imagining a Britain in which this choice was never made and where Fascism in Europe was colluded with rather than challenged and defeated, Walton reminds us that the freedoms we enjoy today were hard-won and could be easily lost.
I listened to the audio version of this book. Bianca Amato, who reads the chapters written from Lucy’s point of view, does an excellent job. Her accent is perfect as is her finely nuanced use of emotion. John Keating reads the chapters written Peter Carmichael’s point of view. He does a fine job of the voices of most of the characters but I thought the voice he used for Peter was a little off. His accent was too working class for someone educated at a minor public school. Nevertheless he was easy to listen to and handled both emotion and factual exposition well.
I recommend this book both as a good read, it is an excellent murder mystery, and as a reminder of the sources of power Fascism draws upon.
Two things made this book fun:
1. The main character Gin is refreshingly amoral - no endless recriminations about "does being an assassin make me a bad person?" - no "only I can save the world" delusions - just a survivor doing the best she can and mostly putting herself first
2. The spirited reading by Lauren Fortgang that brings Gin to life. She did a great job of helping me get more out of the prose.
The book is firmly in the urban fantasy with a kick ass heroine territory but it has a few ideas that make it stand out and it's clearly built to be a series will a well thought out world.
I did find it odd that the most feared assassin the business manages to get through this novel without actually assassinating anyone.
The male love interest is not as interesting as he needs to be. Perhaps Gin will do better in the next book or he will do something that demonstrates why she finds him so attractive.
A good piece of genre fun that may build into a memorable series.
I've already downloaded the next book.
"Three Days to Dead" delivered more than I expected of it. The slightly clichéd title and garish cover set me up for a piece of supernatural light entertainment with a puzzle at its heart. A distraction. The book turned out to be much, much darker, more violent and more thoughtful than that.
The story centres around Evangeline Stone, a young killer in a death squad targeted at the non-human population (the Dregs) who having been robbed of her life and the memory of her death, is returned to a three day lifespan, in the body of a stranger, to solve a puzzle she does not have the pieces of.
The plot is set up to be provide a good action story: charismatic heroine, a race against time, a mysterious chain of events, laced with betrayal and mistrust and packed with fight sequences to keep the readers attention.
But Kelly Madding take everything further than. As Evangeline painfully recovers her memory and struggles to discover who she can trust, she confronts her former self and discovers a desire to change and a need to live that she lacked before her first death.
She reassesses herself, her allies, her enemies and discovers choices she was previously blind to. As she does so, we start to care about her and root for her, which brings this action-packed supernatural thriller to life and turns the gruesome memories and the endless violence from gratuitous window dressing into real character building.
Xe Sands does a great job as the narrator, able to deal with action and introspection equally well.
I have to start a series from book 1, which in this case was " A Cold Day for Murder" a competent whodunnit that introduced the Aleutian Native American who lives, with her half wolf half husky bitch, Mutt, on her homestead in an Alaskan National Park. It was fun but showing it's age a little.(it was published in 1992). Initially I found Marguerite Gavin's reading style a little distracting - great dialog but too sing song on the text.
I've now listened to the first six books in the series and my view on everything has changed. Kate is now a richly written character, set in the context of an Alaskan society and a family and cultural history that each book has done more to explain.
"Blood Will Tell" moves Kate's life forward in emotionally intense ways, draws on characters from previous books to add depth and continuity and still provides a satisfying mystery to be resolved.
I'm now in love with how Margurerite Gavin reads the books. She is the voice of Kate Shugak and I have finally understood that the slightly sing song style is an echo of a Native American story telling tradition
I strongly recommend this book to all readers looking for a "detective" that is also a human being they can care about and root for.
By now, Dana Stabenow has published twenty Kate Shugak novels. Books sixteen to twenty are available on audible.com. The earlier books are still being recorded. Brilliance Audio released book six, "Blood Will Tell" in June and Audible picked it up. Book seven "Break Up" is due to be released in September 2013. I'll be ordering it as soon as it's available on Audible.
"Reamde" is more than 34 hours long and I still regretted reaching the end.
Malcolm Hillgartner delivers a masterful performance that kept me engaged throughout.
The opening chapter of REAMDE reads like something from John Irving or Richard Russo. It establishes the Richard Forthrast, online war game billionaire and former smuggler, in the context of his Iowa farming clan family which covers the American spectrum from "American Taliban" Freemen, living off the grid, through Vietnam vets working the farms to Zula, Richard's adopted Eritrean niece.
The home team here is American in all its flavours, but the game is played, both online and in real life, on a global stage, stretching through Canada, China, and the Philippines, with characters from the Russian, the UK (a half-chinese British spy, a Scottish fraudster and a black Welsh Jihadist), Hungary, and China.
The plot is complex but clear but its twists and turns are driven as much by the characters as it is by the underlying situation.
The themes are rich and rewarding: the links between the cyberworld and real life, the nature of money and power, the clash of cultures between the West and the rest, the power of friendship, the limitations of money and the value of honour in uncertain times.
Richard Forthrast is in his 50's. He's lived long enough to make parts of the cyberpunk fantasy imagined in Stephenson's "Snow Crash" (published in 1992, two years before the World Wide Web was born) into a reality and is now living with the consequences. The book is named after a computer virus that preys on people in the real world and makes them pay up in Cyberspace (shades of BItcoin here), starting a real world hunt for the hackers that spirals out into ever increasing mayhem.
The actions scenes are crisp and focused. The sense of place is strong. The people are believeable.
In the end I wondered if the on line game was really so important to it all. Then I slapped my forehead, gave the obligatory Simpson's "Duh!" and realised that that was perhaps Stephenson's main message: of all the kinds of reality that are out there, the one that matters most is the one where you do anything you have to to make those you love safe.
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