science fiction, new weird, old weird, very weird - and everything else. often, though not always, discussed in relation to gender identity and (a)sexuality.
So, riddle me this: How can the narrator tell this story in 1st person past tense(show spoiler)
That makes absolutely no fucking sense.
Well, this was a filler book if there ever was one. The story needed about half the book to get going and what little plot there was served only to set up one "twist" I already knew about, so it wasn't all that exciting. Once the investigation proper actually started, it got more interesting, I liked the architectural asides - not the least because they're inspired by Bruno Taut, who's left his ideas of how the working class should live all over Berlin - and the showdown was great even. But getting there was a chore.
So much this!
Jakob Nolte is a young German playwright and author. ALFF is his debut novel, published 2015. A hideous crime has been committed at the High & Low High School of Beetaville, New England: a student was found dead, sewn into a fence. Soon a second body follows. FBI agent Donna Jones is called to investigate. But the murderer is elusive, the investigation seems fruitless, and Donna reaches the edge of his sanity.
Put like this, the plot sounds clear-cut - but it isn't. With Nolte, form comes before function, and so he's less concerned with telling a crime-story, and much more with a danse macabre on the grave of US High School comedies from the 1990s. Nolte, who's born 1988 and has never been to the US, spins a post-modern, absurdist yarn with little regard for reality, but sometimes touching pretty close to the truth: the truth of being a teenager in the 1990s, the time of Grunge and Silence of the Lambs and S7ven, without ubiquitous mobile phones or even ubiquitous internet. It's a bit like Twin Peaks meets Heathers, but more, well, more 90s.
I didn't like ALFF as much as I liked Nolte's second novel, the German Book Award-nominated Schreckliche Gewalten, one of my favourite German novels of the last ten years. ALFF felt a bit too long and could've been more punchy. I still enjoyed it a lot. If you want to see somebody using the German language as a playing field, with a sense for style and little respect for convention, Nolte's your guy.
Fergus Fletcher is a hit man. For five thousand pounds, he’ll kill anyone you want. For seven, he’ll frame someone else. Pretending to kill someone is a first, but Alex Pennan has stolen from the mob and needs to fake his own death.
Fergus is looking for love. So is Sam Ireland, a private investigator and part-time bike messenger. But she’s got her hands on a very important package and is in a world of trouble with the mob. Joe Pepper, pillar of society and corrupt gangland fixer, will stop at nothing—nothing at all—to intercept the package and protect his reputation.
Can Alex stay dead while his widow dances on his grave? Can Joe save himself before his stomach ulcer explodes? Can Fergus and Sam make it to a second date before Joe hires him to kill her?
Welcome to Glasgow. It’s a love story.
Unfortunately, this one didn't work for me. I've enjoyed Stringer's previous books, including the first part of the Sam Ireland mysteries, but this was like re-heated coffee - more of the same, but worse.
Too much talking, jokes that weren't funny, and I don't think Stringer is particularly good at writing convincing romance subplots. And, for whatever reason, there's far less Joe Pepper than the blurb would let you believe.
This feels a lot slower than the first part. All the POV characters go on wild tangents, giving us their backstory, their friends' and family's backstory, the backstory of their fathers' goldfish... (Literally. Okay, it was a Koi, but that's just big goldfish.) I sometimes wish they would just stop talking and get the fuck on with the action.
Well, I'm not so sure about this claim - I know a few of you have at least read Mongrels.
I have read Repo Shark (yes, it's weird), five others are already on mount TBR: Mongrels, Embry, Destroy All Monsters, The Killings and I Miss the World.
Boystown: SVU edition
This one hits hard. Not so much because of the crimes being investigated, but because the Boystown series takes the reader back to 1980‘s gay Chicago – and that means, back to the advent of the AIDS crisis. A time of confusion and fear and so, so many people lost. I know that some people of my generation and younger think it‘s time to let the AIDS-stories rest, to give us queer stories with happier outcomes. I can only partly agree with that. Yes, we deserve happy stories with happy endings. But for many, the pain of the 1980‘s and 1990‘s is still fresh. And their stories deserve to be told, too.
Anyway, to the book: Grumpy PI Nick Nowak is even a bit more grumpy than usual; the last installment ended with him being shot and he‘s still recovering from a busted shoulder blade. Which also impairs his sex life. But he can‘t grumble like he‘d like to, because he still has to care about his best friend Ross, who‘s slowly dying of AIDS, and about Mrs. Harker, his late lover‘s mother, who‘s slowly dying of cancer. Although he should be resting, Nick takes a case helping a bipolar woman who‘s convinced she had witnessed a murder. No evidence of said murder can be found and Nick his hired by the woman‘s sister to either prove or disprove her claim. At the same time, Nick has to deal with a law suit concerning his ward Terry, a teenager who‘s supposed to testify against his abusive former deacon. The church wants to cover the abuse, and Nick wants to prevent that.
The murder mystery is pretty much only background to show how events in Nick‘s life enfold. And look at Nick: He‘s all grown-up now! Past grief, present fear and anger, but also his commitment to his relationship with Joseph, have changed him a lot. But at the core he stays the gruff guy with a big heart, a rock for his circle of friends and found family, someone people can rely on, although he probably doesn‘t see himself that way.
In my review for the last installment, I have complained about too little Joseph and Ross. Both get considerable more on-page time here, and it‘s for the better. Joseph‘s allowed to show his sweet, helpful character again, and his psychological knowledge and good-people-skills come in handy in Nick‘s latest employment. Spending more time with Ross is bittersweet: it‘s painful to watch him slowly fade away. On the other hand his interactions with Nick are just so lovely to read. Those two just click naturally.
Although the subject matter is rather grim, Thornton has given Nick enough sense of irony and sarcasm to put a smile onto the readers face every once in a while. This won‘t be the last we see of Nick Nowak. There are some tearful Goodbyes to come, but I hope there will also be some happiness in Nick‘s life.
Something's really bugging me here: Nick's got shot in the shoulder in the last installment. His shoulderblade is still healing, so he's carrying his right arm in a sling. And he's driving all around Chicago like that, with only his left arm free. I mean, that could actually work with an automatic? Never driven an automatic in my life. Never seen one from the inside, come to think of it. But it still seems rather unsafe.
Then nothing happened for five weeks.
That‘s how reading this book felt like; except that actually a lot of things happen, but they just go on and on and on…
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was confined to English offices and the British soil. In The Honourable Schoolboy, le Carré sends his readers and the „schoolboy“ in question, fieldman Jerry Westerby, on a tour de force through Southeast Asia. A mysterious trail of money leads from Hong Kong back to Smiley‘s nemesis Karla, and to another of his moles somewhere in mainland China. It‘s Jerry‘s task to shake the tree, cause some panic, and draw out the mole. At least I think that’s what happens, because the plot fades into the background here, building the mere canvas on which le Carré paints his picture of the British colonies during the Empire's dying breath, during the last days of the Vietnam war.
That‘s all very interesting and riveting, but goes on for about 200 pages too long, and is spoiled by two of the Most Insufferable Protagonists of Spy Fiction Ever: Peter Guillam and the Honourable Gerald Westerby. Guillam, the 40-year-old man showing all the maturity of a 20-year-old boy, with his fawning over Smiley and his spurned-lover‘s act when George doesn‘t let him in on his secrets, quickly got on my nerves. And Jerry Westerby – well, le Carré‘s characters share a certain pathetic quality, but Westerby sure wins the coconut. Right at the beginning of the book we meet him when he contemplates having sex with a woman because she reminds him of his estranged daughter. Err – yeah, not exactly the kind of guy I want to spend 600 pages with. This Jerry Westerby, this failure on all levels, this dilapidated fieldman, a newshound who owes his job to his influential father, a guy who can‘t keep a marriage running for more than a few month, this absolute Loser with a capital L – is actually a fitting character to carry the second half of the book. Because he‘s an idiot. A smart man would have done the job and gone home, leaving us with only half the story. Unfortunately, le Carré seems so in love with his creation that he keeps Westerby bumbling around for much longer than necessary. Nevertheless, and although the ending was quite inevitable, I felt a bit sorry for him at long least. Well plaid, le Carré, well plaid.
Although being spy-fiction, not noir, this was quite a fitting start for Noirvember; Jerry's fate carries a certain noir-quality, femme fatale and all. It also contains one of my favourite character descriptions: a tweedy and opinionated Scot.
"It's the Cousins," Guillam said gently. "About Brother Ricardo, your favourite pilot. They want to meet with you at the Annexe as soon as possible. I'm to ring back by yesterday."
"They want what?"
"To meet you. But they use the preposition."
"Do they? Do they really? Good Lord. I suppose it's the German influence. Or it is old English? Meet with. Well I must say." And he lumbered off to his bathroom to shave.
Muse - Pressure
"Simulation Theory" is out today, making Muse the third of my three favourite bands to publish an album this year, after the Editors and Get Well Soon. I didn't yet have the time to watch all eleven (!) music videos they put out for this, but here's one of them - an uncharacteristically uplifting tune.
Holy fuck, I'm finished!
And now I'm even feeling sad for a character I spent about 6.000 pages detesting.
This book is doomed. I read and read and read and still it feels like I'm not making any progress... It's supposed to be ~600 pages, but it feels much longer.
Thomas Olde Heuvelt: You Know How the Story Goes - **
It’s the same old story. Take a chance and pick up a hitchhiker. But only after midnight and only when you need some company. Of course, the hitchhiker will disappear. That’s the way the story goes, right? But this time you are the hitchhiker. And there’s a tunnel up ahead.
Heuvelt tries to put a modern spin to a classic urban legend. It works quite well, but goes on a bit too long to be effective. And, okay, that's my personal quirk, but I really prefer my stories without gratuitous violence against animals. Even my horror stories.
Stephen Graham Jones: Chapter Six - ****
“Chapter Six,” by Stephen Graham Jones, is an anthropological zombie story about Crain, a grad student, who has a theory of mankind’s evolution. As he and his former professor scavenge on bone marrow left behind by the local zombie horde, he makes his well-reasoned argument.
Evil genius SGJ strikes again and follows two anthropologists trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. Needless to say, you'd probably be better off with the zombies than with the academics.
Shirley Jackson - The Lottery - ****
You know this one, don't you? If you haven't read it, you've certainly heard about it. I'd heard lots about it, heard it told even, but never actually read it for myself. And yes, it's effective. Knowing the ending doesn't release any of the tension. Quite the opposite in fact.
Jackson clearly served as inspiration for Stefan Kisbye and his Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone, my first book this month. And with that, the circle's closed.
Though no horror story beats starting your Halloween day with having to tear down half the kitchen to clean out mill moths. They'd build their nest behind one cupboard, getting to it was a real pain. Thankfully it was mostly eggs, not many maggots yet, but still - ugh!
I don't know why they chose my kitchen, I hardly keep any food around. Poor fuckers started to chew holes in the cupboard for lack of anything else to eat. (No, I actually know how they got in - with a package of nuts and raisins. Ugh, again.)
Anyway, happy Halloween!
A priest, a mage, a knight, a warrior, a thief, and a giant spider walk into a bar…
Tchaikovsky‘s Clarke Award-winning novel Children of Time (2015) already offered a fascinating glimpse into the arachnid mind – and went a long way to turn me from total arachnophobe into someone who still not really likes, but can at least appreciate spiders from afar. In Spiderlight (2016), the rare beast of a fantasy stand-alone novel, Tchaikovsky returns to eight-legged goodness. Not quite coincidentally, I read it in the same week Doctor Who brought us Spiders in the UK. I mean, what’s more fitting for Halloween than big, hairy, awfully fast spiders?
On first glance, Spiderlight is your typical D&D quest: the aforementioned assembly of rogues, warriors of the Light, follow a prophecy to bring down a Dark Lord. The prophecy leads them to Nth, the giant spider in question, who becomes their unwilling scout. Forcefully turned into a man, or at least into something vaguely resembling a man, he has to learn what it means to be human. The little band is guided by the Light of Armes, some bloke who went to become a god, dividing creation into creatures of the Light – humans – and creatures of the Dark – everyone else - with the Dark’s sole purpose being to be slain by the Light, because Light is better than Dark. Lovely fellow, this Armes, eh?
Tchaikovsky uses this set-up to thoroughly examine and subvert some of the more questionable fantasy tropes. On their journey into the Heart of Darkness our heroes reveal their motives and ever more of their personality - and don't appear all that heroic all of a sudden. Heart and soul of the narrative is Nth, whose abominable treatment poses a few uncomfortable questions about consent, about the means justifying an end, and puts a taint on all that Light.
Of course, subverting tropes has become a trope in itself by now, so the story’s not entirely new. But Tchaikovsky plays it well, tongue firmly in cheek, and with a palpable love for RPG. He manages to hold a fine balance between hilarious and gut-wrenchingly sad, light-hearted and heavy, Light and Dark… (sorry, couldn’t resist). The book’s a real page-turner, to boot. I finished it in just three days.
Recommended, even for people like me, who never quite got the fascination of D&D.
Folks, I need a break from book-related social media.
Booklikes is pleasantly free from authors being assholes. Other media unfortunately isn't. I'm seeing authors directing so much scorn, so much vitriol against readers - against the very people who pay them, against people who passionately talk about their works, who take the time and effort to think about books, engage with them and write reviews, and yes, who sometimes passionately hate books, but even that helps with creating interest - so much vitriol, it's putting a real damper in my mood. I'm simply not inclined to review anything at the moment.
I need to disengage myself for a while. (I also need to go through my TBR, weed out the assholes and keep the ones worth reading.)
Short update: As I just learned, apparently publishers still have a business sense and lashing out at consumers can actually get you fired. And yes, it's peak petty, but I can't deny I'm laughing. Nice to see that "Don't bite the hand that feeds you" still applies.