Friday, 23 March 2012

"The Hypnotist," by Lars Kepler

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

This was one of the books that broke my resolution to read from home and not borrow so many library books.  In my defence, I have wanted to read this for a while.  I've so far not read any Scandinavian crime fiction, nor, to my shame, have I yet watched "The Killing," so it is about time that I discovered what the fuss was about.

Lars Kepler's novel opens with the discovery of some particularly gruesome murders (so don't do what I did and start reading this book while having breakfast).  A father is brutally killed in the locker room at a sports centre and, at their home, his wife and daughter have also been murdered, and his son has been left for dead.  The investigating detective, Joona Linna, enlists the help of a medical specialist, Erik Maria Bark, and persuades him to hypnotise the badly injured young boy in order to find clues that might help them locate and save the life of another sister.  Erik had made a promise some years ago not to practice hypnotism following a scandal involving members of his therapy group, and his reluctant breaking of this promise has traumatic consequences for his family.

I've had this blog post in process for a couple of days now because I didn't know what to write about this book.  Today I had a brainwave.  I decided to just tell you all that I didn't know what to say about it.  I've felt a little bit stuck in a rut on my blog posts recently, and I'm not sure how to get out of it.  So, because I didn't know what to write, I made a fatal mistake: I googled the book and happened to see other people's reviews.  In the past couple of years I think my confidence has been a bit low, and books and my blog have been my refuge - but now reading what other people thought of the book has now made me doubt myself.  I thought that I liked the book with some reservations, but I read some bad reviews and now I'm not sure.

However, I'm going to assert with confidence my own opinion - which was that I kind of liked it.  It kept me reading and wanting to find out what happened, which I still think is the best measure of a psychological thriller (and I do think it comes down more on the thriller side of crime than it does the whodunnit side, although there is a modicum of mystery).  It interweaves a couple of different plotlines, and the main criticism of other reviews seemed to be that it doesn't manage to do so very effectively.  I can see their point - the false leads where the storylines elide are sometimes a bit obvious - but it didn't spoil my enjoyment. 

What I did find annoying was the occasionally stupid behaviour that had me wanting to slap some of the characters - particularly Erik and his wife.  I also had a moment of frustration with the detective, Joona, when he had a particularly slow uptake on a clue.  I was way ahead of him.  I'm starting to realise that this is a hazard of reading a lot of crime novels.  It's not the same thing as saying that I would make a good detective - I am spectacularly unobservant - but you do become more aware of stylistic tricks and devices used by the crime writer.  Perhaps I need a break from reading crime novels.

So, in conclusion, meh.  Well, maybe that's a bit unfair and perhaps I am still finding that my memory of the book has been tainted by other people's reviews.  I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but since finishing it I have started wondering if I did enjoy it that much - which is actually quite an odd feeling.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

My forthcoming project....

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

This pile of books is one of my upcoming projects.

Now that I have read the books that I have borrowed from people - shh, don't tell anyone I have got some books out from the library again - my next step in mastering my unread books is to work through books for review that publishers have kindly sent me.  This is my pile, courtesy of Simon and Schuster, Quercus Books and Waterstones (with the exception of the two paperback Philippa Gregorys - as I'm an obsessive person, I wanted to read them before the two hardbacks of hers that I got in the post).

I have a couple of books that I want to read first, and then I'm going to work my way through this pile.  Any suggestions from anyone as to which one from my pile I should read first?

Sunday, 11 March 2012

My tribute to Douglas Adams on (what would have been) his 60th birthday

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I have been on Twitter and Facebook today, and it is great to see so many people quoting and paying tribute to Douglas Adams.  I love his writing, and was saddened by his early death; it is sad when anyone dies so comparatively young and leaves behind a wife and child, but I was also selfishly sad in regretting the loss all the wonderful writing that we could have had if he had lived on.

So I just joined in the tributes on Twitter by quoting the first couple of lines of Vogon poetry.  When I was a teenager I decided to memorise Vogon poetry - I really can't remember why - and I was curious to see how much I could recall.  I put on the first couple of lines, and checked my accuracy only to find that I was just a bit out on the punctuation.  So, as my own slightly unusual tribute to the great Douglas Adams, I thought I would see how much more I can remember.  When I checked on the first couple of lines I did not look on further, so this is continued entirely from memory...

Oh freddled gruntbuggly thy micturations are to me
As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee
Oh Groop, I implore thee
My foonting turlingdromes
And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,
Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurdlecruncheon, see if I don't!

So how did I do?  I think I am probably still off with the punctuation, but hopefully I was pretty accurate.  I'm about to dig out my copy and check.

Thank you, DNA, for all the brilliant writing, the ideas and the laughs that you gave us.

Friday, 9 March 2012

"Explosive Eighteen,' by Janet Evanovich

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

It's no secret that I love Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series - I wrote about the previous one here - so it is unusual that, although I bought this book when it first came out, I hadn't got around to reading it yet.  Normally, when there is a new Stephanie Plum it jumps immediately to the top of my reading pile.  It's indicative of my spate of low library willpower that it has has taken me this long to get to it.

In the 18th in the series, Stephanie has returned early from a disastrous holiday in Hawaii that she doesn't want to talk about - and she especially doesn't want to talk about why she has a tan line on her ring finger.  Our hapless heroine finds a mysterious photo in her hand luggage, which some very dangerous people seem to want to get their hands on, and the man who sat next to her for part of the plane journey is found dead at LAX.  She also returns to work to find that one of the "skips" who she has to track down is her arch-nemesis Joyce Barnhardt, who she once discovered doing the nasty with her husband (now ex, understandably) on the dining table. 

I've been thinking in the past few months that one of my failings as a reader is that I read too quickly, and don't read deeply enough.  However, reading "Edge" and now this has made me realise that perhaps some things are meant to be read quickly - thrillers should have pace, and make you want to read quickly to find out what will happen next.  If your reading experience of a thriller drags, then maybe the book isn't doing what it set out to do.

I've just checked and there doesn't seem to be a release date for number 19, but I'm sure there will be another in the series that just seems to keep on going.  In some ways that is a good thing because I look forward to the new Stephanie Plum - it's hard to beat the series for a fun, entertaining ride -  but I would like to see the triangle between Stephanie, Ranger and Morelli come to a resolution....

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

"Edge," by Jeffery Deaver

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

This is the second of the two books recently loaned me by Bill.  I happened to bump into him the other day, and he told me that he didn't finish reading it.  I got on a bit better with it than Bill did, although I wouldn't say that it is one of my favourite books by Jeffery Deaver.

The book centres on a world that I know little about and have read little fiction about - that of the protection officer.  Corte, the officer in question, is assigned to protect the Kessler family following intercepted information that a "lifter" (someone who is assigned to use whatever means necessary to obtain information) has been hired to target them.  This is also an important case for Corte as the lifter in question, Henry Loving, had tortured and killed his mentor.  Loving had been thought dead, and the discovery that this was a ruse re-awakens Corte's desire to get Loving.

This novel is essentially a protracted game of cat and mouse between Corte and Loving, with an element of mystery provided by the uncertainty of which member of the Kessler family is the target and why.  There are lots of twists in the narrative, as would be expected in a Deaver novel, and the figure of Corte as a narrator is occasionally unreliable.  There was one twist which I saw coming from way off, and found myself getting frustrated that Corte was taking so long to get there - but that turned out to be one of a few false leads in the plot.  I did find the ending rather unsatisfying, however, and felt that a couple of the red herrings would have been a more interesting resolution to the narrative than the one that Deaver chose to go with.

That's not to say that there weren't elements in the story that I liked.  I still think that Deaver is very good at constructing a thriller that wants you to keep reading and, despite my caveat in the paragraph above, I felt compelled to read on and find out what was coming next.  In addition to this, I liked the character of Corte and was kept reading by that as much as, maybe even more than, I was by the machinations of the narrative itself.  It's an entertaining read, but not one that I loved so much that I can see myself wanting to re-read it in the future as I would one of Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme series...

Monday, 5 March 2012

"The Coincidence Engine," by Sam Leith

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I've wanted to read this book for a while, having first heard of it via a review (I think in "SFX") that compared the central idea of a coincidence engine to Douglas Adams' Infinite Improbability Drive.  I love Douglas Adams' writing - although my husband and I disagree over whether the radio series of "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is better than the books (no prizes for guessing which way I lean) - so this comparison was enough to make me want to track down Sam Leith's novel. 

Alex Smart, a Cambridge postgraduate, is on an impulsive trip to America to surprise his girlfriend and propose to her.  He is being followed by Sherman and Davidoff, employed by MIC Industrial Futures, who believe that Alex is in possession of a coincidence engine that was created by an eccentric, reclusive mathematician Alex Banacharski.  He is also being pursued by Bree and Jones, agents of the Directorate of the Extremely Improbable (DEI), who are under the direction of Red Queen.  Sherman and Davidoff have no scruples about hurting or killing Alex to get the coincidence engine, but Bree and Jones want to get there first and protect Alex.

The DEI is a great creation, and Red Queen - who interestingly I believe remains ungendered through the whole narrative (if I'm wrong and I missed a gendered pronoun, please let me know) - is in very tenuous control of the operation.  The DEI is a large scale operation, and Red Queen lays out their remit:
Our job is to assess threats to national security that we don't know exist, using methods that we don't know work.  This produces results that we generally can't recognise as results, and when we can recognise them as results, we don't know how to interpret them.
The DEI deals in "unknown unknowns," a phrase which echoes a speech of former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who, in the world Sam Leith creates, has reinstated the DEI.  Its work is such a paradox that it is in danger of disappearing up its own USB port.  The office of the DEI under New York has a large staff of unconventional spooky employees such as tea-leaf readers and psychics, and it tunes into information from the mass media (which, brilliantly, doesn't mean what you think it does in the world of the DEI). 

If the DEI is a bit like a large scale "X-Files," then Bree and Jones are Sam Leith's off-kilter Scully and Mulder to the Skinner of Red Queen.  Bree is an overweight, recovering alcoholic with a predilection for Jolly Rancher candy; Jones is apsychotic (he has no imagination and no understanding of consequences), a chain smoker and has an eidetic memory (he remembers exactly everything that has ever happened to him).  Jones makes a nice opposite to the character of Alex: while Alex feels that he is always doing what is expected of him, Jones has no concept of expectations. In comparison with Jones, Fox Mulder is a well-adjusted and balanced individual.  Bree and Jones make a unique couple; I found the character of Jones particularly fascinating and sometimes poignant, and his eccentricities are balanced by the sympathetic and vulnerable character of Bree who is easier to relate to. 

Aside from comparing the coincidence engine with the Infinite Improbability Drive, Sam Leith also has an occasional Adams turn of phrase (a man has injuries consistent with "the rough prognosis for an eight-year-old child with rickets spending a half-hour in an industrial tumble dryer").  In its moments of darker absurdity I also thought of "Catch 22," which I have hazy memories of reading years ago. I enjoyed the flashes of absurd humour in the novel, and the coincidence engine is a wonderful out for an author to get away with any kind of unlikely plot twist (but that would never happen?  Well, yes, that's kind of the point). The novel is an interesting blend of mathematics and physics with a touch of philosophy and a dollop of humour, but I have to confess that at times my puny brain found it hard to get around some of its ideas - although it was no less entertaining for that.