As much as I wanted to like this (I do generally really like hard-boiled police and detective books), I finally could not stand what seemed like stupid and gratuitously graffic sex scenes. This is not a case of me being unwilling to hear bad news (that women have often been used just as props, objects of male sexual fantasy etc.) but...it just became unbelievable.
I bought this because I have loved Lindsey Davis's Falco books, narrated by Christian Rodska. A number of reviewers compared Ms Downie's writing to those books. Also, I find the, era, location and the state of medicine (for example) in first century Britton are very interesting. However, I was bored with this book. Some of the problem was Mr. Vance, the narrator. Normally, his voice and performances are compelling. In this case, the gravitas he brings to all of his narrations came off sounding stiff and stilted. I gave up after about 3 hours and it was a relief.
This not so much a criticism as personal preference.
I gave this book a try because a reviewer I like and follow, gave it high praise. At my first attempt to listen, I turn it off in resigned annoyance. Within the first 10 minutes we meet many men, soldiers all with various interesting magical powers, and 1 woman, again magical powers alluded to, who is mute. Also one other woman is mentioned as: "I found her in bed with another man." Really? The only two women are a *mute* and an *adulterer* (which is a more refined word than was implied).
When I was alerted to a new review by the above mentioned reviewer, it turned out to be for the 3rd book in this trilogy. OK. I'll try again, I said to myself. I made it a little further in the second listen but found myself bored.
I don't approach books from an ideological perspective. Sometimes, however, the misogyny (or racism, or anti-semitism, or homophobia, etc) is just too much - especially when there is no prominent character to counter the offensive commentary.
I hope I have learned my lesson about fantasy novels: they are primarily coming of age stories which tend to include a great deal of narcissism and little complexity of character.
I really expected to like, perhaps love, this book. Given that a favorite reviewer, whom I follow, gave it high praise. Add to that Bobby Cannavale and how could I miss? The writing is good but it is just too grim for me. Also, I had some of a hard time getting all the characters straight as the scenes switch back and forth between various settings, times, and people. You may not have that problem.
Bobby Cannavale ("Boardwalk Empire" and "Station Agent" to name just two amazing performances) was a disappointment as a narrator. He is simply a reader, in this format, not a performer. That only contributed to my difficulty distinguishing the various characters.
I really liked this book. I wasn't sure for the first chapter or so. But then Joey and Sandra move into the bungalow in a compound in Key West, Bert the Shirt and Don Giovanni are on the scene and it becomes delightful, interesting, and at times tense. Richard Ferrone is perfect for this book. I will certainly continue with the series.
One caveat: I fast forwarded through a verbally abusive rant that was over long in my opinion. This was directed at Joey by his older half-brother Gino. I also skipped through some of the graphic violence - I mean this is about a mafia family but I just didn't feel the need to hear every little detail. There is not a huge amount of this stuff and I am not really criticizing the book. Just saying....
I should have taken seriously a couple of reader comments but liking the era so much I thought surely it would work for me. It just did not. Some may be the narration which I found stolid and flat. Perhaps it was the pacing of the writing and story. What ever it was it just did not hold my interest. Also the time spent with the murder and his particular interests was just too grim for me.
While the performance and world building are good, the exuberant sexism finally wore me down. When our protagonist, the ghost of a car thief, asserts that prostitution will always be *necessary* "as long as women withhold sex" and the ghost of a nun who ran a shelter for battered sex-workers for 30 years, agrees with his analysis of *the* cause of prostitution, I ground my teeth, sighed and deleted the book.
It's one thing for our ignorant, young former car thief to hold, well, ignorant opinions. And he does. Hold many. However, often those same opinions are challenged by the behaviors or conversations of characters whom we respect and our young car thief thinks again. The crude sexist opinions he spouts about women, relationships with women, what women are good for, etc. seem to be impervious to other information. The lecture about prostitution was simply the last straw.
This is probably just about me - but after a few hours of listening to fabulous narration, I just could not *take* the aggressive and hate-filled interactions between characters or directed towards the protagonist. It simply was not worth it.
I think the writer holds some promise and others may find this grim world tolerable. Not for me.
This book rises well above the usual examples of the genre: historical fiction. The details of daily life in London have the feel of authenticity especially when delivered by the ever excellent Simon Vance. I did finally give up about 4 hours from the end because I just could not take any more "laying of pipe" - exposition - even when delivered by Vance. Should Mr. Holsinger continue to write fiction it is my hope his skills will grow beyond the traps of the neophyte.
I love Elmore Leonard. I've read most of his non-westerns. I also usually like George Guidall (He is excellent in the Walt Longmire books. Also liked his narration of the "hot kid" series from Leonard). However here he is just, well, boring and annoying. He is not, imho, the right narrator for Leonard's urban novels. If only with the incomparable Frank Muller had recorded *everything* Leonard wrote.
Martin Cruz Smith at the top of his game and the incomparable Frank Muller: what could be better. ( Muller is, IMHO, the greatest narrator. If you can find it listen to his performances of anything by le Carre', especially the "Smiley" cycle. And get his performance of "Motherless Brooklyn"; he is perfection.) The story of Renko, disgraced Moscow investigator working on the "slime line" of a Russian fish trawler is wonderfully claustrophobic and yet expansive. I can't recommend this book enough.
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