I think this is the first Alleyn mystery where I genuinely felt for the victim, which helped greatly in my enjoyment of the story. It’s the first one where you spend part of the book following the victim closely, too, and where Alleyn has personal feelings on the matter, both of which I think are relevant. I know that the trope of the personally involved detective can be exasperating — and Alleyn even refers to it, in one of those unsubtle bits of meta — but at least it’s another way for the reader to engage with the case.
The actual puzzle aspect of the story is more or less as usual: a character you wouldn’t normally suspect ends up in it up to the neck, where the guy who looks like a sure thing is actually innocent. Still, the reasoning does make sense, all the timings match up, etc, so it makes perfect sense, which Ngaio Marsh is admittedly good at (apart from the weird mix of opportunism and premeditation in the crime in the first Alleyn book).
As for Alleyn’s personal life, well. I still can’t help but feel he’s a cut rate Wimsey. His relationship with Troy has some similar ups and downs to Wimsey’s with Harriet, but we don’t get to see as much interaction, as much of the push-and-pull they feel, and so it feels less compelling. I know I’m biased as a major fan of Sayers already, but I can’t help the feeling.
As with the last couple of weeks, I’m using Throwback Thursday (hosted here) to highlight some books that’ve been knocking round on my to read shelves for a while (aka, too long). This week, I actually have a theme: vampires! Don’t ask me why I always pick three. Probably something OCD related. Or I just like the alliteration with Throwback Thursday.
Carpathia, Matt Forbeck
It’s Titanic meets 30 Days of Night. When the survivors of the Titanic are picked up by the passenger steamship Carpathia, they thought their problems were over.
But something’s sleeping in the darkest recesses of the ship. Something old. Something hungry.
I’ve had this since I visited Angry Robot HQ, so it’s high time I got round to it. I’ve enjoyed some of Matt Forbeck’s other work for them, so I’m hopeful about this, though some of the GR reviews aren’t so positive. Fingers crossed!
Blood Price, Tanya Huff
Vicki Nelson, formerly of Toronto’s homicide unit and now a private detective, witnesses the first of many vicious attacks that are now plaguing the city of Toronto. As death follows unspeakable death, Vicki is forced to renew her tempestuous relationship with her former partner, Mike Celluci, to stop these forces of dark magic—along with another, unexpected ally…
Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII, has learned over the course of his long life how to blend with humans, how to deny the call for blood in his veins. Without him, Vicki and Mike would not survive the ancient force of chaos that has been unleashed upon the world—but in doing so, his identity may be exposed, and his life forfeit.
I’ve actually read this one already, many moons ago, but I have the whole set to get round to; I only read this first one. Trivia: Vicki Nelson has retinitis pigmentosa, a common reason people come to the eye clinic I volunteer at. (Is this where I throw in a PSA about getting your eyes checked regularly? Because you should. There’s lots we can do if we only catch the problem early.)
Anyway, I like Tanya Huff in general. She has a handful of queer characters, and her writing’s always fun.
The Passage, Justin Cronin
An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy—abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.
I know I’m way behind the curve on this one, but a friend just posted an enthusiastic review, so I’m bringing it back up the list.
What have you recently finished reading?
Yesterday I finished Fortune’s Pawn (Rachel Bach) while I was at the clinic — man, I’m glad they let me read when it’s quiet now. It was a fun book, anyway: I loved the fighting scenes and the fact that the main character is a woman in an awesome mech. I was less fond of the heavy romance skew, partially because there were some tropes I’m less than fond of.
Today, I finished reading Death in a White Tie (Ngaio Marsh), which was the first of these mysteries that really got to me in terms of the feeling. In many ways it was typical, but I cared about the victim, genuinely felt he was a nice guy. I actually felt more about that than about Alleyn’s love affair. He hasn’t got a patch on Lord Peter, still, and ugh, that whole bit about women liking men who can bully them.
What are you reading now?
Lots and lots. But to highlight two, I’ve just started on Wen Spencer’s A Brother’s Price. It’s very interesting to read something that flips the gender roles like this, and I think I’m going to get along with the main character. I did read a review quite critical of it because it makes it seem like women are just as bad/worse than men, but I don’t see it that way. I mean, the situation as set up so far seems logical: men are scarce, and therefore precious and protected. Women are very defensive of them, and possessive too.
All of this makes sense for either gender, and here the women actually have a reason for it, unlike men IRL, because in our world, natural selection will always keep the number of babies of each gender born roughly equal. (It might dip to 49%-51% in a generation, or something like that, but it’s always going to self-correct.) I am wondering if it’s explained why men are rare and why natural selection isn’t fixing it. (I.e. if it’s something that can be adapted to, nature would quickly re-select for men who are fertile and have male children, because those male children will do well and go on to have more fertile male children. Eventually the balance would get to male 60-40 female or something, and then natural selection would select for women who bear more fertile female children, etc. I don’t know if I’m overthinking this for a speculative book that’s just reversing the genders, but this is the kind of thing I wonder.)
And of course, I’ve started on the next Alleyn book, Overture to Death, but I’m really not far into it.
What will you read next? Death at the Bar (Ngaio Marsh) is a reasonable bet. Other than that, I don’t know. I’ll probably read some of my ARCs, particularly the comics — Pretty Deadly (Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios) and Noir (Victor Gischler). Also, I have a handful of pages left of Seven Forges (James A. Moore), which I enjoyed greatly and yet somehow have not yet managed to finish. That might well be next, so I can read the sequel.
In many ways, this is awesome and completely up my street. Mysteries in space (not that it’s a detective story, but there are unexplained phenomena), kickass female lead in a mech suit who owns her sexuality and doesn’t take any crap from anyone. The problem for me is that alongside all of that, there’s a heaping of romance tropes, including “we shouldn’t be together because I have secrets and you might get hurt” and even “I might hurt you”, which sets us up for one of those horrid endings where the guy decides he knows what’s best for his partner without thinking about what she might prefer.
All in all, though, it is fun. The action scenes work well, and you never get the sense that Devi is somehow getting preferential treatment from the author. She can screw up, she can get her ass kicked, and it doesn’t just follow the dictates of the story. She feels real in that sense: she’s not just driven by the story.
It’s a quick read, and the sci-fi aspects are enough to keep me interested despite the romance not really being to my taste. The next book might change my mind, but for now I’m definitely along for the ride.
This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is “top ten books on my TBR list this summer”. I don’t pick them for any particular summeryness, so it’s not especially topical: this is just a bunch of the books I really hope to get through this summer. I’ve split it into two sets of five, too; five new books, five rereads.
The Burning Dark, by Adam Christopher. I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, it keeps catching my eye, so hey, why not. And since it’s supposed to be creepy, maybe reading it in the bright sunshine will help avoid me getting too twitchy…
Yendi,by Steven Brust. Because I’ve started it already and really should get on with it!
Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. I like her style, and this’ll give me something relatively breezy to read. I might end up reading it while I’m ‘on duty’ at the clinic, in the quiet moments: I think it might suit that sort of reading, for me.
Tam Lin, by Pamela Dean. I’ve had this on the in-progress pile for a little while now, to my shame. And I could do with the nostalgia for college right now.
The Islands of Chaldea, by Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula Jones. I’ve been saving this for a rainy day, and there are plenty of those in Wales.
The Fire’s Stone,by Tanya Huff. I’ve been meaning to reread this for a while, and Tanya Huff is always fun.
Sunshine, by Robin McKinley. This has been on my list of favourite books for quiiiite a long time, but I haven’t read it recently.
Lifelode, by Jo Walton. I’m rereading a lot of Jo’s work at the moment, and Lifelode is pretty special. I’m looking forward to reading it again.
Santa Olivia, by Jacqueline Carey. Because hey, werewolves! Sorta. And I still haven’t read the second book.
The Drowning City, by Amanda Downum. I remember really liking this, and I first read it a few summers ago, so it seems like high time.
Had this from NetGalley aaaages ago, and finally got round to reading it now. It’s something very much in the vein of 1984, with some aspects clearly riffing on that, and it gives me really major déjà vu about something I’ve read before (but which I suspect was published since). It’s one of McDonald’s earliest novels, published in the year I was born, and yet I don’t think it’s gone out of date as speculative fiction so often can.
In a way, I found it predictable: once you know the roles of certain characters and how they fit into society, you can see how it’s going to end. That doesn’t diminish the fun of the ride, though: this is a quicksilver, frenetic book, a strange new world. I love the concepts here, filched from mythology and jumbled back up to make something new: Lares and Penates, household gods, mixed in with stuff straight out of 1984.
While I didn’t like this as much as I liked The Broken Land, and the writing style isn’t always entirely for me (too disconnected, jumbled, like an abstract painting), I think it’s worth a look, particularly if you enjoy dystopian stories. The last chapter or so is all a bit of a rush; a lot suddenly happens in a few words, and I could’ve enjoyed seeing it unfold more completely, but I like what’s sketched in for us as the result of the climax of the story.
As with the other books, this is a nice little mystery with a carefully set up puzzle. It relies on all sorts of coincidence and such, but at least we’re seeing more of Alleyn as a person, and the omnipresent Nigel Bathgate has not contrived to get himself into Alleyn’s pocket for his holiday.
From what I gather, the setting here is close to Marsh’s heart in two ways: it’s set in New Zealand, and in the context of a theatrical company. That gives it some good moments of description: there’s one interrogation with a lovely setting, and there are some characters who are very lovingly described. There’s a bit about Maori culture, too, but mostly that felt like a set piece tacked on for some exotic interest.
I think I can see a development here toward something I’m more interested in reading — Alleyn, Fox and Agatha Troy, introduced in the next book, might draw me in properly for good. We’ll see.
Artists in Crime, Ngaio Marsh
I was quite hopeful about Artists in Crime bringing Alleyn to life for me a bit more, since this is where he meets his love interest. In a way, the whole set-up of this relationship is reminding me a lot of Lord Peter, especially since Alleyn’s mother has a title and so on. It’s not exactly parallel, but close enough to annoy me a little.
Still, it does introduce a bit more of a human side to Alleyn. Bathgate’s role is thankfully reduced, though the annoying creature does contrive to be present. Inspector Fox and all the other steady, reliable characters who attend Alleyn’s crime scenes are present, and I am getting fond of them, especially since Fox is just different to Alleyn, not lesser in the way that, say, Watson is. Alleyn doesn’t condescend to him like Wimsey to Parker, too.
I’ll need a bit more time with Troy to decide what to think about her and the relationship with Alleyn, but at least she brings in more of a personal life for him.
The mystery in itself, in this book, is typically convoluted and puzzle-like. I did catch on to most of the clues now, because I’ve sort of got used to the shape of these mysteries.
Yep, it’s that time again. Time for Stacking the Shelves, as hosted by Tynga’s Reviews, that is. I didn’t think I’d been too acquisitive this week, but I have been tearing a streak through Ngaio Marsh’s novels, so… heh.
I already had Long Hidden as an ARC, but I figured I was taking too long to read it and I wanted to get a better look at the art anyway. So tahdah. Ngaio Marsh wise, well, I think I’m doomed to the whole series. Such a hardship…
A while back, Chris Holm pulled his crime fiction anthologies from Amazon (explanation here), and offered to send them out to anyone who got in touch to ask. I did, but forgot to load them on my Kobo at the time, so forgot to feature them here. Now I have!
Sadly, I was turned down for Garth Nix’s Clariel this week, despite the numbers of people who see my reviews across various sites. If you have it, believe me, I am burning with jealousy.
And finally, yep, it’s that time again — new Captain Marvel!
Enough to keep me busy, you think? What’s everyone else been stocking up on?
Since I liked doing this last week, here it is again — a little highlight of some books that have been lurking on my shelves for a while.
The Adamantine Palace, Stephen Deas
The Adamantine Palace lies at the centre of an empire that grew out of ashes. Once dragons ruled the world and man was little more than prey. Then a way of subduing the dragons alchemically was discovered and now the dragons are bred to be little more than mounts for knights and highly valued tokens in the diplomatic power-plays that underpin the rule of the competing aristocratic houses.
Dragons! Dangerous dragons! I’ve read some less than glowing reviews since I impulsively bought this book, but I’m still pretty hopeful. If nothing else, it’ll be interesting to see how this take on dragons works out.
Century Rain, Alastair Reynolds
Three hundred years from now, Earth has been rendered uninhabitable due to a technological catastrophe known as the Nanocaust. Archaeologist Verity Auger specializes in the exploration of its surviving landscape. Now, her expertise is required for a far greater purpose. Something astonishing has been discovered at the far end of a wormhole: mid-twentieth century Earth, preserved like a fly in amber. Somewhere on this alternate planet is a device capable of destroying both worlds at either end of the wormhole. And Verity must find the device, and the man who plans to activate it, before it is too late – for the past and the future of two worlds.
I’ve actually read this before, but something like eight years ago. Eep. Now I feel old. Anyway, I picked this up again when I went to a signing by Alastair Reynolds, and it’s high time I got round to rereading it. It is, after all, the book that got my sister back into reading.
A Sudden Wild Magic, Diana Wynne Jones
Our world has long been protected by “The Ring” – a benevolent secret society of witches and conjurers dedicated to the continuance and well-being of humankind. Now, in the face of impending climatic disaster, the Ring has uncovered a conspiracy potentially more destructive than any it has ever had to contend with. For eons, the mages of a neighboring universe have been looting the Earth of ideas, innovations and technologies – all the while manipulating events and creating devastating catastrophes for their own edification. And unless the brazen piracy is halted, our planet is certainly doomed.
It’s the words “kamikaze sex” later in the blurb that really get my attention. Diana Wynne Jones does a more adult novel, which sounds like a sexier version of her usual quirky worlds. It’s not gonna beat Fire and Hemlock, but it should be fun.
Running a little behind on answering email, returning comments, etc. Soon!
What have you recently finished reading? Artists in Crime (Ngaio Marsh). I’m really tearing through these books. I don’t think they’re as accomplished or interesting as Sayers’ Lord Peter books — not least because Alleyn is plainly reading from Wimsey’s crib sheet — but they’re just right to tuck myself up with and spend a few hours. I’m slowly getting fond of Alleyn, too.
What are you currently reading?
As usual, far too much, but only three things really actively. One is the current Ngaio Marsh I’m onto, of course, which is Death in a White Tie. Then I’m a chunk of the way into Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct, which is interesting. I don’t know enough about linguistics to really argue with Pinker, but I’m not completely convinced that language is genetically coded into us. Mind you, it shares some features with other things — in the same way as it becomes harder to learn a new language as you get older, it’s also hard to learn to use senses you didn’t have at a formative age. Still, that might be more to do with the way we learn and the plasticity of the brain… Anyway, the third book is Out on Blue Six (Ian McDonald). I feel quite deja vu-ish about this one, though. Or maybe it’s just that people have copied it since: it was originally published in the year I was born.
Oh, and I’m also dipping into Long Hidden (ed. Daniel José Older and Rose Fox). I actually got myself a print copy since I was taking so long to get to the ARC and felt guilty. Interesting that there’s a Welsh story in here.
What will you read next?
Well, it’s a reasonably good guess that Overture to Death (Ngaio Marsh) is coming up next. Other than that, there’s tons of stuff from previous weeks that I keep ignoring, so I probably should refrain from starting anything new.