Tag: mystery


Review – Bookburners: Badge, Book and Candle

Posted 8 October, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of Badge, Book and Candle by Max GladstoneBookburners: Badge, Book and Candle, Max Gladstone
Received to review via Netgalley

I like the idea of this serialised novel business; I’ll be checking it out again when Ellen Kushner’s Tremontaine world gets a serialised outing. But Bookburners didn’t really grab me; it doesn’t help that the file that ended up on my Kindle was a mess, of course, with the formatting all over the place, but there was nothing special about the style or set-up, as far as I was concerned. It’s a fairly typical urban fantasy opening, and there’s just not enough to hook me and keep me following it through the serial format.

It’s cool that this isn’t a damsel in distress or ‘fridged’ woman plot, that the victim and motivating factor is in fact a female cop’s brother. And there were some pretty cool details about the world-building, like the idea that demons (essentially) can get into you through anything that links one person to another, like a book. But… not convinced to subscribe and follow this particular story.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Wildfire at Midnight

Posted 5 October, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Wildfire at Midnight by Mary StewartWildfire at Midnight, Mary Stewart

It was a grey and drizzly day, this morning — even if it brightened up later — so I felt like turning to one of my comfort reads. Wildfire at Midnight isn’t one of my favourite Stewart novels, and indeed the sense of dread and atmosphere in the book makes it perhaps a touch darker than the others, especially with the moral conflict in the last part where Gianetta thinks she knows who did the crime.

The crime itself is pretty chillingly awful; I can’t remember if any of Stewart’s other novels features a mentally ill antagonist, but that’s how it winds up in this one. And he is pretty unsettling, when you compare his later behaviour with all the rest of the book, and think about what lay under the surface… Not a comfortable thought, certainly. It’s also not the warmest in terms of romance, since that’s barely there — there’s one or two great scenes which establish something, but not enough to really make you root for the relationship to happen.

So overall, definitely still not my favourite. But it’s Mary Stewart: the writing is atmospheric, the heroine is self-sufficient, and the ending is, for the heroine at least, a happy one.

One thing I would like to know, from other readers — there’s a scene early on where Gianetta is talking to the actress, Marcia. They’re talking about the two schoolteachers who are there together: the rather sullen older one, Marion, and the younger one, Roberta. Marcia calls them “schwärmerinen”. That seems to mean something to Gianetta, and she treats it as something scandalous/libellous — what on earth’s the implication meant to be? I have the feeling I’m too young to know context.

Rating: 3/5

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The story behind The Killing Kind

Posted 1 October, 2015 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

You might know I’m a bit of a fan of Chris Holm’s work — you can find my reviews of his Collector trilogy here, and of his new book The Killing Kind here — and we’ve had some great interactions (including some signed bookmarks for the Collector series, featured in my review of that trilogy!), so I was excited to be contacted and asked if I wanted to feature a post from him about the journey behind writing The Killing Kind.

It’s a bit of a jump from publishing SF/F Chandler/Hammett pastiche with Angry Robot to writing a book set in reality (albeit the dark underside of reality I wouldn’t want to visit, unless guided by an author like Chris in a safely fictional vehicle)… but as you can see from Chris Holm’s post here, maybe it has something in common with the Collector trilogy after all.

It just wouldn’t die, you see.


The Story Behind THE KILLING KIND
Chris Holm

It began, as many criminal enterprises do, with a layoff—with a man, suddenly out of work, nearing the end of his rope.

Writers don’t often talk about their day jobs, but I’m a scientist by training. For a time, I thought I wanted to be one of those bug hunters the CDC dispatches whenever there’s an outbreak of something deadly and exotic. (My wife, as you might imagine, was thrilled.) I was serious enough that I enrolled in a microbiology PhD program at the University of Virginia—but ultimately, it didn’t stick. A field that challenging demands one’s full attention, and I couldn’t bring myself to shelve my dream of becoming a published author. So I dropped out of grad school, took a job as a researcher for a small biotech startup, and got writing.

Nine years, one unpublished novel, and a handful of short stories later, that startup folded—and for the first time since I was sixteen, I was jobless. So when my buddy Steve Weddle told me he was launching a new print magazine and asked if I’d like to contribute a story, I said sure. He couldn’t afford to pay me, but I didn’t care. I needed something to do to keep me from climbing the walls while waiting to hear back on all the resumes I sent out.

I pitched Steve couple story ideas. One was lean and mean at maybe 3,000 words—the sort of story I was known for (inasmuch as I was known at all). The other was a monster, a behemoth—an idea so ambitious that I worried it’d get away from me, and wind up too long to print. When I told Steve so, here’s what he replied:

“The problem with online writing (which I love and have nothing against and love and did I make it clear that I love online?) is that folks have a tough time scrolling through a 10k word blog post of a story. So if you have a piece that’s longer than 5k, being in print would be the way to go, I think. AHMM and EQMM and those folks have limits to size. I mean, they can’t just run 20k of something because it’s cool. Needle can. It’s what we were built for. Yeah, some quick punch is great. But something longer, developed, intricate, high-concept would be great to see in print.”

So, caution thrown, I sat down and wrote “The Hitter”—a hard-bitten tale of violence, loss, and redemption, featuring a hitman who only hits other hitmen. It came out fast. Crazy fast. And at 11,000 words, it wound up more novella than short story.

“The Hitter” appeared in Needle’s second issue. To my surprise and delight, people really responded to it. It was nominated for an Anthony Award, and selected to appear in THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011. I’m pretty sure that means I owe Steve a beer.

But for some reason, the story still nagged at me. Unlike all the other shorts I’d written, it felt unfinished—which was odd, since it was already longer than the lot of ’em. I told myself to leave it be. That I shouldn’t mess with a good thing. Then, one day, I woke up with an idea that changed everything. I could pull back the camera. Shift the narrative from claustrophobic first-person to sprawling third. Show not just the (hopefully redemptive) journey of the hitman protagonist, but also that of the antagonists who want him dead, and those who hope to bring him to justice. A few months later, I’d finished the first draft of THE KILLING KIND.

Whether the transition from short story to novel was successful isn’t for me to say—but so far, buzz has been good. THE KILLING KIND received the first starred review of my career, from Kirkus. I’ve gotten glowing blurbs from writers I admire. In one of the more surreal turns of my life, the legendary David Baldacci called it “a story of rare, compelling brilliance.”

I’m grateful, if a bit befuddled. All I was trying to do was make this story finally shut up. I’m nearly finished with book two, and it hasn’t yet. It’s almost enough to make me wish I’d been laid off ages ago.

Almost.

***

Chris Holm is an award-winning short-story writer whose work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011. His critically acclaimed Collector trilogy made over forty Year’s Best lists. His latest novel, THE KILLING KIND, is about a man who makes his living hitting hitmen, only to wind up a target himself. For links to Chris on Twitter and Facebook, visit www.chrisholmbooks.com.

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Review – Overture to Death

Posted 22 September, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Overture to Death by Ngaio MarshOverture to Death, Ngaio Marsh

It’s a solidly entertaining mystery, I suppose, aware of the genre and making sly little jokes at its expense. It doesn’t really sparkle, though; I felt that the culprit was made obvious by their behaviour, and not just because they acted guilty — also because they had that whole cliché Freudian repressed sexuality going on, which seems to crop up in crime fiction of that period far too much. Gaudy Night is another example, though it does sparkle, because of the character development that’s going on too. In this one, despite his engagement, and the appearance of some regular characters, it isn’t really about Alleyn or development of him or the minor characters. In fact, the POV characters are pretty much two young lovers who we may not even see again.

The repressed sexuality stuff is worthy of an eyeroll, but the machinations of the murder set-up are quite interesting to follow. It gets a bit repetitive, and does that irritating holding-back-of-details that means you can’t solve the crime for yourself (or, in this case, be sure about it), but as a murder mystery it’s alright. I just hope somebody kicks Alleyn into a higher gear…

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Raven’s Head

Posted 25 July, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Raven's Head by Karen MaitlandThe Raven’s Head, Karen Maitland
Received to review via Netgalley & Bookbridgr

I forgot I’d requested this on Netgalley, and ended up getting it via Bookbridgr as well. Oops! Especially oops considering I wasn’t a big fan of Maitland’s last book, and I was starting to think her recipe was getting a little past its sell-by date. There were ways in which this book was just as predictable for Maitland if you’ve read her other books, but something about the writing/tone kept me going, and I did enjoy it.

It’s full of dastardly characters, of course, and if there’s a sordid torturous thing you can think of, one of the characters has probably done it. Even one of the most innocent characters has a downright chilling moment. But there are things which got my attention and evoked some pathos, too: the friendship of Felix and Regulus, Gisa’s care over Peter, Gaspard’s fear for Vincent.

I think Vincent’s voice was really well done — as long as Maitland was intending him to sound like a sociopath, anyway. The way he manipulated people, only saw his own gain, twisted every situation to be about himself… Well, there are people like that.

Overall, more enjoyable than I found the last couple of Maitland’s books, but the medieval historical fiction with touches of paranormal that might just barely be explained away, plus awful characters doing awful things, and dire secrets, etc, etc… It’s getting a little old.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

Posted 22 July, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan BradleyThe Dead in their Vaulted Arches, Alan Bradley
Received to review via Netgalley

Very late, I know; I have to be in the right mood to read this series, which is the only excuse I can think to offer. Unfortunately, with this book, I couldn’t even get into it when I was in the mood, because it feels like it’s well and truly jumped the shark. It’s always been a bit of a ridiculous series, and I accept that, but this one was just too much. The whole idea Flavia had about resurrecting her mother was just… Flavia is a precocious little thing with some very odd ideas, but it’s beyond believable even for this series that she would think she could bring back someone who was, what, ten years dead? With ATP and thiamine.

Add to that the whole pomposity of the de Luce family spy ring, and the sheer casual callousness of the murder in this book — a plot device, one which wasn’t even really investigated — and the fun has gone out of this for me. I’m not going to read the next book.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – The Killing Kind

Posted 16 July, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Killing Kind by Chris F HolmThe Killing Kind, Chris F. Holm
Received to review via Netgalley

I was excited to get this ARC. I loved Holm’s Collector series, and though this goes more into the detective line and away from the fantastical aspects that got me into it, I still love Holm’s writing, and I love the concept. I don’t know if this is meant to become a series or something — there’s room for it, given the ending, but it would be awkward to put the emotional punch into it. The main character is already a ghost, cut off from family and friends: there’s basically only two people he cares for, and by the end of this book, one of them is dead and the other is going into witness protection where she should, in theory, be safe.

Still, if Holm decides to write more, I trust him to do it well. There’s a redemption plot here, after all: Hendricks is killing hitmen with the eventual goal of redemption. When exactly he might reach that, I don’t think the character knows.

Anyway, this has slick writing, with just the right levels of detail. I love that it has some queer characters, too, just casually in with the rest because that’s how it works. I felt like I knew what was coming a little too often at the end, but maybe that’s just in comparison to mysteries where the end is deliberately from out of nowhere.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Supernatural Enhancements

Posted 15 June, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar CanteroThe Supernatural Enhancements, Edgar Cantero
Received to review via Netgalley

I don’t actually know why I requested this on Netgalley, but since I did, I presume something caught my interest. It didn’t display very well on my ereader, so I waited and grabbed the book when I saw it in the library. The format basically reminds me of House of Leaves, but it does end up making more sense. Some of the supernatural stuff is almost incidental to the plot; there is a supernatural thread in the story, but it’s not really based in the house. It’s not like Weird Fiction in that way where the setting is itself a character.

Overall, I’m not sure what to think. I’m not opposed to epistolary novels, found footage, etc, but it has to come together really well, and it didn’t always work here. Honestly, I found myself skimming some sections because there just wasn’t enough of significance to justify the inclusion of certain scenes. It might work well on the screen, to establish the format firmly, but here… it felt like a waste of space.

It is kind of mesmerising, though. I read it pretty much in one go, and I wasn’t bored while reading it — sometimes confused, a little unsatisfied, but not bored. In the end, I was curious enough to flip back through to look back at hints and see how things came together. It’s not really my thing, and nor would I know who to recommend it for, but there’s a lot of interest here for the right person.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Splendour Falls

Posted 24 May, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Splendour Falls by Susanna KearsleyThe Splendour Falls, Susanna Kearsley

Looking at the reviews for this book, I had to laugh at how many people compared Kearsley’s work to Mary Stewart’s. Including myself, I’m afraid, which leaves me wondering if Kearsley embraces that or is rather sick of it by now. But truly, some of the plot things here are right up Stewart’s street, too: the moment where the villain kisses the heroine, that charged moment between them. Except that there’s something more subtle here: the villain isn’t purely villainous, but motivated by love as well. There seems something genuine in his attraction to the heroine, his interest in her.

And Kearsley is much harder on my heart. As with Season of Storms, I found myself falling for a character who didn’t make it to the end of the book. Kearsley did a great job with character, much more so than Stewart: I can believe in what happens between the protagonists, I adore a lot of the characters, and all of them have an inner life. There is something dreamlike about the whole book, with these moments of clarity where you really get to know characters and see what makes them tick, even less significant ones.

The plot itself is a bit convoluted, and I could perhaps have done without the drama of Hans and Isabelle’s story, the convenient way everything comes back together at just the right time… but then, it was exactly what I expected from the genre, and worked out with sympathetic characters and a sense of place, it doesn’t come off too badly.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Man in the Queue

Posted 4 May, 2015 by in Reviews / 9 Comments

Cover of The Man in the Queue by Josephine TeyThe Man in the Queue, Josephine Tey

I expected to like this a lot. Golden Age crime fiction, I’m pretty sure my mother mentioned liking it, etc, etc. But I couldn’t get past the endless racism, and the general feeling that Josephine Tey would be a men’s rights activist now. I mean, a woman on the stage overshadows her male co-stars, and yet the whole tone is not, wow, her skill and grace and so on, but that she is secretly a conniving bitch. The whole story serves to hammer home that she’s a woman who only cares about herself — with very little actual evidence, which is funny coming from a detective story. Someone else summarised it really well, and I can only quote (warning, spoilers):

So, someone who wants to kill a woman because he can’t have her is sane. Someone who wants to kill a man to save her daughter’s life is crazy. Very, very interesting, Tey. And at the end we’re asked teasingly whether there’s a villain in the story. I strongly suspect the villain we’re meant to think of is the woman the murder victim was going to kill. If she’d been nicer, she’d have appreciated that nice young man, you see, and none of this trouble would have happened.
(From Leonie’s review on Goodreads)

The description and so on can be as clever as it likes, but I couldn’t stand one more slighting reference to “the Dago”, or commentary about the “un-English crime”, or any of that. And the mystery itself… it’s obvious from the length of the book that the inspector is after the wrong man. It’s obvious from the way the man and the people around him act, too. The only excuse for going along with the thin, motiveless explanation Grant dredges up is if you’ve got a prejudice to begin with and you’re going to stick to your theory no matter what — no matter how Tey makes a song and dance about Grant being bothered by the case.

The reason Grant is wrong, well, at least you can’t blame him there. There’s virtually no clue, and nothing tied specifically to any suspect other than the red herring one. You can’t guess it directly from the information given — not a hope.

I sound really scathing, but that’s in part because I hoped I’d really enjoy this. I read it pretty much in one go: the narration is pretty compulsive, and the narrative voice is an interesting choice too. But the pretty sentences didn’t save it from how bothered I was with the outdated stuff (reliance on reading people’s faces, reliance on “national characters”, etc). Now I’ve gone looking at reviews, I can see other people who didn’t think much of this one did like her later work, so I might still be along for the ride there if I can get it from the library.

Rating: 2/5

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