The Falls by Ian Rankin

The FallsThe Falls

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #12

Hardcover, 395 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2001

Read: January 15 – 16, 2018

If anyone can do it, John, you can. I’ve always had confidence in your sheer pig-headedness and inability to listen to your senior officers.

After the last few novels which were characterized by several interlocking stories, The Falls centers on the disappearance of a young woman — Philippa Balfour. Flip is the daughter of an important banker, a student of sorts, and frequently the girlfriend of one of the least appealing young men you’ve met lately. She never showed up for a night of drinking with friends and her father’s influence got the police involved much more quickly than they would have otherwise. There are few that hold out much hope for a happy resolution to this case, but until a body shows up, that’s how they have to proceed.

Now, just because I said there’s only one case at the core of this book, that doesn’t mean it’s just one story. There’s the typical investigation, undertaken by a large number of detectives and under media scrutiny. Then there’s something that catches Rebus’ eye, which leads him on one path. Siobhan Clarke finds another loose strand to pull at, and uses much of her off-the-clock time following that. The two are aware of what the other is doing, but neither is all that interested in it. Readers, of course, know that one or both of them are going to make more progress than the rest of the Force and can just enjoy watching them.

That’s the strength of this book — Rebus finds some evidence that might tie this crime to others throughout Scotland over the past few decades. He clearly specializes in historical investigations, and it’s clearly a good idea for him to go down that path. Siobhan’s got a more tech-savvy take on it (and she doesn’t have all the skills necessary for that kind of work, but she’s able to stumble along with some help. Watching both of these two mavericks at work was such a blast (Siobhan once again is confronted with her colleagues pointing out her methods and focus approximating Rebus’). The actual solution to the mystery of Flip’s appearance was very satisfying and well-executed.

I spent a good deal of time missing Brian Holmes during the early pages — the DS that Siobhan is partnered up with just stressed how much isn’t Brian. And it goes downhill from there. Brian might not have been my favorite supporting character, but wow — he’s so much better than everyone else Siobhan has worked with (other than DI Rebus, of course). Maybe it helps that he was involved with that librarian, so he wasn’t trying to start something with her (minor spoiler, sorry).

The book starts with Watson’s retirement (not the last we see of him, which is nice), and newly-minted DCS Gill Templar has her work cut out for her. Not only does she need to lead the search for the missing daughter of an important Edinburgh banker, but she has to establish her authority. The way she goes about it rubs some the wrong way, and you have to wonder how long she can maintain things. Siobhan’s take on her new boss shows a good amount of discernment. One thing’s for sure, Rebus is going to miss Farmer Watson (but not his coffee).

Speaking of Gill, Rebus has a new romantic interest in The Falls, Jean Burchill. I liked Jean more than I ever liked Gill, Patience (low bar, there) or any of the others that have graced these pages. Her husband had been an alcoholic (of a different sort than Rebus), and sees Rebus’ vices in a very different light than other have. She doesn’t approve, but she can approach them more realistically than Patience ever did. I fear she won’t be around long, but that’s hopefully just cynicism on my part. (feel free to leave me in the dark on that front down in the comment box, folks).

Not just Farmer’s retirement, but Rebus has to deal with loss and a greater sense of mortality at points here. He and his contemporaries can’t help but sense their own retirement days approaching/looming. Also, Rebus may not add to his enemies list within the Police, but he’s deepened the antagonism a few have toward him. At one point, he goes out of his way to cultivate that — for a good reason, in his mind at least. But I’m not sure if he’s ever come closer to losing his job. Who knows what’d happen to him if that day comes.

This is one of those covers that makes you wish cover designers had to read the book — an inconsequential point, but when Rebus actually got to the titular location, I had to shake my head. (Other cover images I’ve seen for this aren’t as misleading).

This might not be as powerfully told, or as sweeping as some of the recent books have been. But I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed reading a Rebus novel more than this one — and could’ve easily read it in one sitting. This will be sure to please Rebus fans and could easily make some, too.

—–

4 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

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Where Night Stops by Douglas Light

Where Night StopsWhere Night Stops

by Douglas Light

eARC, 252 pg.
Rare Bird/Vireo, 2018

Read: January 12 – 13, 2018

She smells of lemons and warm cinnamon and isn’t very pretty. Sliding onto the barstool next to me, she says, “Can I sit here?”

The bartender, the woman, and me — we’re the only people in the bar. She can sit anywhere. It’s not just a seat she wants.

I study her a moment then catch the bartender’s eye, the order is placed without a word. Whatever the woman wants. Alcohol, like long marriages, has a language of its own, one not composed of speech.

Now, that’s how you start a novel.

So, our narrator is orphaned the night after his high school graduation — however odd it may feel to call someone on the cusp of adulthood an orphan, he is one (and the back of the book says so). Suddenly his college dreams, plans for the future are gone, as is his past (other than memories). He finds his way from Iowa to Seattle and takes up residence in a homeless shelter. The closest thing he has to a friend there sets him up with a way to make some money — more than he’d been able to scrape together from an under-the-table gig at a gas station.

It’s obviously not above-board, but it’s good money. What else is a kid with no ties to society, no dreams, no means and nothing better to do? We bounce back and forth between the opening scene (and what follows) in the bar and his burgeoning criminal career. He bounces all of the globe playing small roles in what are likely significant crimes. The resulting story is a combination of tragedy, comedy of errors and Bildungsroman. All of which leads up to a concluding scene that is at once unexpected and the only appropriate thing that could’ve happened.

As a reader. you’re never impressed with our narrator’s choices. You may understand them, but it’s hard to be behind them. Especially because after a certain point, our young man makes a giant mistake. The reader knows this — and has to hope that whatever he does, he figures out his mistake or gets out of this life soon.

The plot’s decent and will carry you along well enough. But it’s not why you will stick with this book (at least not primarily), it’s Light’s writing. In the middle of all this, there are sentences like, “Walking the empty night street, my kidneys rattled with anxiety.” I’m pretty sure this is biologically nonsensical (I haven’t bothered to check with my son’s nephrologist, but I was tempted to), but that doesn’t stop it from being incredibly effective — you know precisely what Light’s going for there, and in the moment, your kidneys felts a little weird. There’s something to his writing that made me stop every so often to re-read a sentence or paragraph or passage — not because I missed something or didn’t understand what was happening, but because Light captured a moment, an idea, or phrase in such an engaging way that I didn’t want to move on.

I’m not sure if this is a very literary thriller, or a literary novel playing with thriller tropes. Nor am I sure that I care, but this is the kind of book that can appeal to both target audiences. It’s a good example of either genre, and a better example of why the distinctions are specious. There’s an interesting crime story here; a character study; a look at what happens to someone who has no connection to his future, society, or his past — oh, and it’s a good read, too.

Disclaimer: I received this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion about the novel, I appreciate the opportunity, but it didn’t influence the above.

—–

4 Stars

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

Beneath the Sugar SkyBeneath the Sugar Sky

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #3

Hardcover, 174 pg.
Tor Books, 2018

Read: January 11, 2018

Children have always tumbled down rabbit holes, fallen through mirrors, been swept away by unseasonal floods or carried off by tornadoes. Children have always traveled, and because they are young and bright and full of contradictions, they haven’t always restricted their travel to the possible. Adulthood brings limitations like gravity and linear space and the idea that bedtime is a real thing, and not an artificially imposed curfew. Adults can still tumble down rabbit holes and into enchanted wardrobes, but it happens less and less with every year they live. Maybe this is a natural consequence of living in a world where being careful is a necessary survival trait, where logic wears away the potential for something bigger and better than the obvious. Childhood melts, and flights of fancy are replaced by rules. Tornados kill people: they don’t carry them off to magical worlds. Talking foxes are a sign of fever, not guides sent to start some grand adventure.

But children, ah, children. Children follow the foxes, and open the wardrobes, and peek beneath the bridge. Children climb the walls and fall down the wells and run the razor’s edge of possibility until sometimes, just sometimes, the possible surrenders and shows them the way to go home.

So begins Beneath the Sugar Sky, the third installment of McGuire’s Wayward Children series. If you’d asked me why I was excited about this book before reading it, I could’ve given you a list of reasons — but I’d forgotten just how magical the books are. By the time I got to “ah, children” not only did I remember the magic, I was under its spell.

Sometime after the events of Every Heart a Doorway, two residents of Eleanor West’s Home are down at the pond (they returned from water-worlds, and this is the best they can get), when a naked girl lands in the pond (falling from apparently nowhere), demanding to see her mother, or at the very least, someone in charge. It turns out that this girl is Sumi’s daughter — the problem there is that Sumi died during Every Heart, so she didn’t get to mature a bit, go back to her world, defeat the evil Queen, get married and have Rini. Now, the Timeline is catching up to her, and faster than you can say Marty McFly, Rini is starting to disappear, finger by finger, limb by limb. This doesn’t sit well with her, as you can imagine.

I like existing. I’m not ready to unexist just because of stupid causality. I didn’t invite stupid causality to my birthday party, it doesn’t get to give me any presents.

So, four of the residents set off on a quest to bring Sumi back to life. This takes them across the U. S., into one of the worlds of the dead, and all around Sumi/Rini’s nonsense world. There’s heroism, mystery, sacrifice, triumph and cleverness all around, without which none of this would work, but with it all — and a healthy dose of magic — it’s a plan so crazy that it just might work.

I don’t want to talk too much about the characters apart from what I’ve already said (which is essentially nothing). In addition to Rini — we have a nice mix of new to us and returning friends — with one character that’s new to the Home as well as to us. I absolutely enjoyed getting the bonus time with the returning characters, the new (to us) characters were exactly the kind of kids you hope to find in these books. Also, some of the revelations about some secondary characters serve to explain a lot about the way this particular multiverse came to be and it’s pretty cool. So, basically, the character material in this novella is almost perfect.

I wasn’t as taken with Down Among the Sticks and Bones as I was with Every HeartEvery Heart was a wonderful mix of tragedy and violence with a sense of play (especially in the ideas and words) — there was hope throughout the book, even when it was dark for everyone and there was little reason for it. Down Among was about dashed hope and tragedy in a world of tragedy, dashed hopes and violence; yes, there as a little play with the language, and some moments of triumph, but they were all overshadowed. Which was fine, it was the story that needed to be told, and I’m not complaining, but Beneath the Sugar Sky was more of a return to the tone of Every Heart, so I liked it more than Down Among — I think it was a better book, too, but I could be wrong about it. I just know it was easier to like. There’s definitely tragedy, there are hard choices to be made — and I did say something about sacrifice — but there’s a strand of hope throughout that makes it so much easier to carry on.

One thing that has been on display throughout this series is a sense of play, a sense of fair tale worlds and logic reflected in the language McGuire uses — you’ve seen bits of it already above, just one more and I’ll call it good:

There was a door there, tall and imposing, the sort of door that belonged on a cathedral or a palace; the sort of door that said “keep out” far more loudly than it would ever dream of saying “come in.”

You know exactly what that door looks like, and you have a great sense of the environment around it, too. Just from that one sentence. McGuire has a great sense of style on display in the Toby Daye and InCryptid books, which is turned up in the Indexed serials, but is probably best seen in these books — capturing the feel of preternatural worlds has pushed her to unleash all of her pent-up linguistic magic. Even if I disliked the characters and stories she’s telling in this series, I think the language would bring me back.

I’m obviously a pretty big Seanan McGuire fan — just a quick glance at the archives will tell you that. But I’m willing to bet that even if I wasn’t predisposed to like her work, this series would’ve made me one — Beneath the Sugar Sky is a slice of literary perfection and I can’t encourage you enough to try it.

—–

5 Stars

Saturday Miscellany — 1/12/18

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week had just one New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon, but it’s a good one:

  • Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire — the third volume of McGuire’s Wayward Children series is out and is fantastic. The only reason I haven’t posted about it was that I wrote so much that it didn’t make much sense and needed to get trimmed down significantly. It’s just wonderful.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to 500words, Ethan Bayes and Haden Clark for following the blog this week.

Laughing Eyes by Haya Magner, Miri Leshem Peli

Laughing EyesLaughing Eyes

by Haya Magner, Miri Leshem-Peli (Illustrator)
Kindle Edition, 27 pg.
Tzameret Books Ltd, 2017

Read: January 8, 2018

I . . . I don’t know what to say here. This is a collection of poems for young children — they are clearly earnest, carefully composed, and intended to uplift the spirits of young readers.

And I just didn’t get it, at least most of it. Seriously, I don’t know why, but I didn’t understand most of these poems. As this is a book intended for 2-7 year olds, that bothers me. I’m hoping, hoping it’s a cultural thing and that readers from Israel get what she’s saying.

The illustrations, though? Leshem Peli’s artwork is warm, inviting and eye-catching. It’s exactly what these kind of books should be full of.

I feel pretty bad about this, but I just didn’t like the book. Hopefully most of Magner’s audience are smarter than me.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

—–

2 Stars

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's FaultAll Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault

by James Alan Gardner
Series: The Dark and the Spark, #1

Paperback, 382 pg.
Tor Books, 2017

Read: January 9 – 10, 2017

…paranoia is our friend. Paranoia is our sunscreen, our condom, our duct tape. Paranoia tells the truth nine times out of ten, and the tenth time is when you weren’t paranoid enough. We will never correctly anticipate what flavor of shit will hit the fan, but we can calculate the trajectory and attempt to avoid the splatter.

Let’s start with the title, shall we? Straight off you know this book is going to be action-oriented, heavy on the explosions and most likely offbeat in style.

This is one of those books that it almost doesn’t matter how good the novel itself is, because the set-up is so good. Thankfully, let me hasten to say, the book lives up to the setup. So here’s the setup: it’s a parallel universe to ours, exactly like it (down to the certainty of the existence of Elton John), but in the 1980s Vampires, Werewolves, etc. admit their existence and sell their services — what services? Being turned, in exchange for exorbitant rates, so that the newly supernatural could enjoy their riches and powers for extended lifespans. Before long, the 1% are essentially all monsters in some way (literally so, not just depicted as monsters in print, on film or in song). The haves are supernatural, the have-nots are human — literally, these groups are two different species.

Yeah, the imagery isn’t subtle. It’s not supposed to be.

A couple of decades later, Sparks show up — Sparks are, for lack of a better term super heroes. They battle the forces of Darkness, so are obviously called Light (both groups have a tendency to be a little on the nose). There’s a pseudo-scientific explanation/excuse fr the way their powers work (contrasted to the magic of the other side). Fast-forward to the present, four college students/housemates are in an almost-deserted engineering lab building on campus when one of the labs blows up. This results in these four being turned into Sparks and they are immediately compelled to defend their city and combat a scheme launched and directed by Darks.

While doing this, they need to come to grips with this new reality for them, their news powers, their new identities, and so on — not to mention coming up with costumes.

This book features THE (triple underscore) best explanation of/justification for simple masks being an adequate disguise and/or the efficacy of removing a pair of eyeglasses to hide a superheroes identity.

The writing is crisp, the characters are fully fleshed out and the kind of people you want to spend more time with. I’m not going to get more into it than that, because you really need to experience the relationships (and many other things) by yourself.

This looked like a fun read, and it is a blast (no pun intended, but fully embraced), but it’s more — there’s heart, humor, some meta-narrative, and strong super-heroic and magical action. I really liked this one — it’s one of the best super-hero novels I’ve read in the last few years and the sequel can’t get here fast enough. Grab a copy today and thank me tomorrow.

—–

4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham

Love Story, With MurdersLove Story, With Murders

by Harry Bingham
Series: Fiona Griffiths, #2

Kindle Edition, 449 pg.
Sheep Street Books, 2016

Read: January 4 – 8, 2018

For me, these things aren’t only about finding the killers, but about giving peace to the dead. It’s not primarily a question of justice. The dead don’t care about that. The murder investigation, arrest and conviction are just part of the funeral rite, the final acts of completion. Gifts I bring the dead in exchange for the peace they bring me.

The peace of the dead, which passeth all understanding.

DC Fiona Griffiths continues her efforts to act normal, maybe even feel normal, getting along with her boyfriend and staying out of trouble with her superiors. Basically, things are going as well as they possibly can following the events of Talking to the Dead. But we know that’s going to come to an end, otherwise, this would be a really dull series. It comes to an end when Fiona and a colleague stop off on their way home to look at a case of illegal rubbish. In this particular case, the rubbish is a body part in a chest freezer. It’s a significant enough body part to make the detectives sure they’re looking for something more serious than illegal rubbish.

Over the next few days, the police are able to find some more of the woman, as well as start to understand how long ago she was killed and dismembered — which leads to an identification. Shortly thereafter, the police find pieces of a fresher corpse in the same area. While most detectives look for connections between the victims and hunt for clues to identify the killer, Fi begins learning more about the victims as individuals (not that she’s alone in this, it’s just she’s alone in her approach), what their lives were like, and what would lead someone to kill them. Fi investigates things in a way no other fictional detective — private or police — does. I’m not sure I can express it clearly, but when you read it, you’ll notice. When she starts to put the pieces together about what was going on the whole time, I was flummoxed — it’s nothing like where I expected things to go.

Aside from that are the relationships with her boyfriend, family and fellow police officers. The romance between Buzz and Fi is very strange, but sweet. She’s dealing with a different superior for these investigations. It’s not just Fi up to the same antics with a different boss — similar antics, yes, but Fi understands herself better now, and is able to do what she does in a way that her superiors are able to accept and use. As for her family? I’m not even going to try to talk about it.

Some people are better as corpses. They’re easier to like.

On the one hand, I really like watching Fi’s subconscious at work, making the connections, deductions, and guesses she needs to be making to solve the crime/find what she’s looking for, while she interprets it as “the dead” talking to her. Well, that’s one way to read it, anyway. It really could be that there’s something on the verge of supernatural going on. I like the hint of ambiguity that Bingham has given this world and Fi’s understanding of what’s going on.

I was, I don’t want to say surprised, but it was something like it by the ending. Maybe I’ve just been reading too many Mysteries lately with pretty ambiguous endings, but this one had a very satisfying ending with most of the loose ends tied up. This doesn’t mean that everything ended happily (for want of a better term), but that Fi’s fully able to satisfy her curiosity and need to know (at least about those things that came up in her professional life — her personal life is only slightly more settled by the book’s end than it was when it started).

A murder mystery — with, yes, a love story — that had some fantastic character moments, a really strong puzzle, all very well told. Fiona Griffiths impresses again. This is the best kind of sequel — the same kind of things that filled the first book in the series, but seen differently by everyone (including the protagonist) and with different results — Fi’s grown a bit (I want to stress “a bit,” she’s still basically the same person, which is good, I don’t want everything to be “normal” for this character), and is building on the events from the previous novel, not just repeating them. I’m truly annoyed with myself for waiting so long to get back to this series, and will not make the same mistake.

—–

4 Stars