Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire: Jack and Jill’s Final (?) Showdown in the Moors

Come Tumbling Down

Come Tumbling Down

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #5

Hardcover, 206 pg.
Tor Books, 2020

Read: January 8-10, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children was an island of misfit toys, a place to put the unfinished stories and the broken wanderers who could butcher a deer and string a bow but no longer remembered what to do with indoor plumbing. It was also, more importantly, a holding pen for heroes. Whatever they might have become when they’d been cast out of their chosen homes, they’d been heroes once, each in their own ways. And they did not forget.

I wanted to do an Opening Lines post for this book, but I couldn’t decide where to stop—maybe around page 6 (which is a little too long for that kind of post). Seriously, it took less than a page for me to fall in love with this book.

It’s a typical day at Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children (assuming such a thing exists) when a door appears, but instead of someone getting to go to their “home,” two figures emerge. One is a complete stranger, the other is Jack. Well, sort of. Close enough for our purposes here.

Things on the Moors have gotten to a crisis point where only one of the Wolcott twins can survive—Jack or Jill. Jill has struck first and things are dire. Jack recruits a couple of her friends and classmates to return with her (she was relatively certain she could return them to the school) to aid her in confronting her sister. They used to be heroes, they will be heroes again—as often as needed—much to Eleanor’s chagrin.

Once in the Moors, a dark and nasty place to be sure, dangers that no one (save maybe Jack) could’ve predicted present themselves and threaten the lives of the students in horrible and chilling ways. Culminating in what appears to be a final encounter for the sisters.

I love the way that McGuire writes these books, and Come Tumbling Down is no exception. It is full of the typical whimsical, fantastic and nigh-poetic language and ideas. If you’ve read a Wayward Children book before, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t . . . it’s hard to tell you. Here’s a sample or two:

“This is terrible . . . I mean we knew it was going to be trouble . . . but this is bonus terrible. This is the awful sprinkles on the sundae of doom.”

“A little knowledge never hurt anybody,” said Sumi.

“Perhaps not. But a great deal of knowledge can do a great deal of harm, and I’m long past the point of having only a little knowledge.”

Sumi was Sumi. Spending time with her was like trying to form a close personal relationship with a cloud of butterflies. Pretty—dazzling, even—but not exactly companionable. And some of the butterflies had knives, and that was where the metaphor collapsed.

Jill had always been the more dangerous, less predictable Wolcott, for all that she was the one who dressed in pastel colors and lace and sometimes remembered that people like it when you smiled. Something about the way she’d wrapped her horror move heart in ribbons and bows had reminded him of a corpse that hadn’t been properly embalmed like she was pretty on the outside and rotten on the inside. Terrifying and subtly wrong.

“wrapped her horror movie heart in ribbons and bows” is pretty much worth the purchase price of the book.

I’m glad that I enjoy—relish, really—the language like I do, because there’s not a lot of plot or action here. There’s enough, but there’s an awful lot of talk both around and before the action really gets underway. That’s not a wholly bad thing, and I enjoyed all of it, it just seemed self-indulgent.

It felt to me that McGuire’s reached the point of diminishing returns with this one, it’s been one too many trips to the Moors and it’s time for other Wayward Children to get the focus. Thankfully, that seems to be the plan.

I don’t think this would be a great introduction to this series (but it would function okay that way) if you’re not going to read them all in order, I feel safe in saying that it needs to be read after Down Among the Sticks and Bones. This is a good way to return to the world and revisit some of these characters. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next volume.


4 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Not Dressed by Matthew Hanover: If this book doesn’t bring a smile to your face, something’s broken

Not Dressed

Not Dressed

by Matthew Hanover

eARC
2020

Read: January 3-6, 2019

“Hey there, Jake. This should be fun, right?”…

“I guess,” I say.

“You don’t sound too excited,” she says as she takes a hair tie off her wrist and pulls her disheveled hair back into a ponytail.

“Yeah, well. I’m not good at dancing.”

“Obviously! That’s why you’re here. Same as me. I’m probably just as bad as you. But we’ll learn together, okay?”

“Okay.”

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra,” she says.

“I…have no idea what that means.”

“It’s from Star Trek…Actually, Star Trek: The Next Generation. It means we’ll work together to solve a common problem. In this case, the problem is learning how to dance.”

“I gotcha. So, you’re like…a Trekkie?”

“Was my sweatshirt not a big enough clue?”

“No, I just—”

“You’re not a Star Wars fan, are you? If you are, you’ll have to find a different partner.”

Jake Evans is our protagonist—he’s a decent enough guy, who could probably use some maturing (which means he’s like 90% of guys in their twenties). He’s got a great girlfriend (although the relationship seems a bit rocky when we meet him) and is second-guessing his chosen career (partially because he has a horrid employer, and partially because architecture isn’t the career he thought it would be). There are signs that he’d be a pretty fun guy to hang out with, but when the book opens he’s got a pretty good-sized cloud over his head between the girl and the gig.

Lindsay’s his long-time girlfriend. She works in radio and is very passionate about her job. She’s enjoying a little bit of success, and has a hard time relating to Jake’s struggles. She’s the producer and in-all-but-name on-air sidekick to a Boston-area conservative talk show host, who calls her “Lefty Lindsay.” (don’t worry, politics are absent from the book!) At least when the book opens, I really didn’t see why the two of them were a couple. There’s a good chance that neither of them rembered at that point, either, it had been so long.

Two things about their relationship provide most of the initial conflict for the plot. First, due to some financial hits they’ve taken recently, Lindsay has taken some modeling gigs to make some extra money. She did it back in college, which was recent enough that she still had connections. Why didn’t Jake do something to make extra money? He’s having a hard enough time finding a replacement full-time job that it didn’t seem like a good idea to try to add another job search to his plate. Besides, Lindsay’s moonlighting is profitable enough. What she neglects to mention to Jake is that this modeling is for art classes at a local college. And, well, none of these artists-in-training are working on fashion degrees—clothing gets in the way of what they’re learning to draw/paint/sculpt. Jake’s an open-minded kind of guy, except when it comes to this, it’s not pretty when he finds out (although it’s a pretty amusing scene for readers when he does).

Meanwhile, Jake’s sister’s wedding is coming up and Lindsay has decided the two of them need to learn to dance before it. Besides, it’s a fun activity for the two of them—they never go out mid-week anymore, and their relationship could use a boost. So she signs them up for a dance class, and then tells Jake about it after she paid for it, so he pretty much has to agree to it, but isn’t really that interested. So she basically promises him sex if he goes. Which pretty much seals the deal. But then Lindsay’s show gets moved to a new (and better) time slot. So, in addition to not being able to make the class, the couple will hardly see each other during the week. Her plan is that Jake will go, and then on the weekend, teach her the moves (he insists on getting his payment in advance for this).

Jake hates this new plan, and is convinced that he’s going to be stuck dancing with the instructor (after he and the reader meets this instructor, no one thinks this is going to be fun for him). Thankfully, just before class starts, Kaylee walks in. You read her opening dialogue up above. She’s a few years younger than Jake, taking some time out from college to figure out what she wants to do with her life, and is a major geek. She’s almost a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but doesn’t fit the category in a few ways (I’m only using that term because I’m afraid this post is getting too long and I want to pick up the pace). She’s also my favorite character of 2020 so far (granted, that would mean more if it wasn’t January 13th).

Kaylee and Jake strike up a nice little friendship during the class, and pretty soon, he’s going so he has an excuse to hang out with her. The two of them are fun together—she’s socially awkward and embarrassed to be herself, Jake tries to shake her out of that, and even encourages her to let her Geek-Flag fly (even if he doesn’t get any of it). Meanwhile, she’s encouraging about his job hunt (as opposed to Lindsay, who mostly nags or wants him to find a way to succeed where he is), and gets him to be a little less angst-y about his life. I like Jake more when he’s in friend with Kaylee-mode over guy with Lindsay-mode. But what do I know? I have a tendency to pick people the protagonists don’t in these situations (I won’t provide examples because I’d expose myself to too much ridicule).

The one last bit of Jake’s life we need to talk about is his job. It’s horrible. He has a nice group of work-friends who band together for mutual support (and complaints), but the atmosphere at work is toxic, and their superiors would be enough to turn anyone against their chosen field. For example, in the first chapter, Jake’s two-year anniversary with the company happens and he asks his boss about scheduling his annual review (which will hopefully involve a raise, which he could really use). His boss stammers and suggests an alternate date, nine months away. Yeah, Jake’s bad attitude toward work makes a little sense, doesn’t it?

I worked as a draftsman at an architecture firm some years ago, and while the atmosphere there wasn’t at all what Jake experienced, Hanover did do a great job of capturing the kind of work and personalities that I saw—which doesn’t really match the typical depiction of architects in fiction. I liked that bit of realism. (I asked Hanover about that in an upcoming Q&A, but I haven’t read his responses yet, looking forward to seeing where that authenticity came from).

Getting back to Jake’s life—what we have here is a stagnant (at best) relationship that’s got a couple of pretty big things to work through; a job situation that needs addressing; and a new friend that is really the only positive thing in his life. Jake’s life is basically begging to be shaken up, is Kaylee going to help instigate that?

There’s something about Hanover’s style that I can’t express, but I wish I could. This book (like last year’s Not Famous) is effortless to read. When I started this book, it was late in the day and I thought I’d just stick a toe in the water, maybe read about 10% of it. Before I knew it, I was about a third into the book (and were it not for the time of day, I’d have probably finished it in one sitting!). It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s infectious, it’s engaging as anything I can remember. I cared about these characters and got invested in their lives faster than I typically do.

Jonathan Tropper tends to have certain character types that show up in every novel—particularly the wise sister/friend-who-might-as-well-be-sister* (many authors do this kind of thing, I know, but Tropper is who I thought of when I was reading this book). Hanover shows signs of the same thing—sisters play a big role in both of his novels to date. He doesn’t use them the same way that Tropper does, don’t get me wrong, but his male protagonists are more honest and open about their emotional lives because of sisters. This is neither good or bad, it’s just a trait that he may have—it’s something I’ll be looking for next time. (again, see the Q&A for more on this topic). I like that there’s someone who can draw this out of a character without the need for alcohol, drugs or trauma—also, that he bares his soul first to someone who isn’t a love interest.

* There are other types that Tropper utilizes constantly, too, if I ever get around to my big re-read of his corpus, I’ll end up compiling a chart.

There’s a bit of conventional wisdom discussed here that I didn’t know before reading this book.

“You realize that dancing is basically foreplay, right?”

“So I’ve heard.” [Jake replies]

Four chapters later:

“Because dancing is, like, totally foreplay, you know.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” [Jake asks]

I counted someone telling that to Jake four times (with at least one more allusion). Is this really a thing that everyone thinks/says? I may need to cancel some of my daughter’s plans for the next 20 years…

I’d forgotten that Hanover had said there’d be a link between Not Famous and this book. It’s small, and if you haven’t read his other novel, you won’t miss anything. But if you have, you’ll enjoy the brief catch-up you get about the lives of the protagonists of that novel. It brought a big grin to my face.

There was a slight flavor of Nick Hornby wanna-be-ness to Not Famous that’s not present here. Instead, what Hanover has done is take that same voice and put it to use telling a story that’s all him (while being the kind of thing that Hornby readers will appreciate). I do think that Hanover could go a bit deeper in his characterizations (I have very little sense about Jake apart from work/Lindsay) and his plots could add a little more complexity. I’m looking for a few degrees of depth/complexity, not much. But that doesn’t stop me from loving this world and characters, and it doesn’t keep me from encouraging you all to grab this book when it releases next month.

This heart-warming tale about being who you are and finding acceptance for it is a real winner. Adorkable, irresistible, and just fun—Not Dressed is sure to please (if you are so led, book is available for pre-order). I don’t know what Not Description is next for Hanover, but I’m already eager to read it.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion and this post. I appreciate the book, but it didn’t sway what I had to say.


4 Stars

My Favorite 2019 Non-Fiction Reads

Like every single year, I didn’t read as much Non-Fiction as I meant to—but I did read a decent amount, more than I did in 2018 (by a whole percentage point, so…). These are the best of the bunch.

(alphabetical by author)

You Can Date Boys When You're FortyYou Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About

by Dave Barry

My original post
Barry at his near-best. This reminded me for the first time in a few years why I became a life-long devotee in high school. I could relate to a lot of it, and what I couldn’t was just funny. His reaction to Fifty Shades was a highlight—the chapter about his family’s trip to Israel was fantastic, funny and moving.

4 Stars

Have You Eaten Grandma?Have You Eaten Grandma?: Or, the Life-Saving Importance of Correct Punctuation, Grammar, and Good English

by Gyles Brandreth

My original post
I remembered rating this higher, but I’m not going to second-guess myself now. I’ll steal from my original conclusion for this: It’s the kind of thing that my college-bound daughter could use on her dorm bookshelf (and will probably find), and I know more than a few people who find themselves writing reports and the like for work who could use something like that. If you need help, might as well have a good time while you’re at it—and Have You Eaten Grandma is just the thing.

3.5 Stars

Dreyer’s EnglishDreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

by Benjamin Dreyer

I haven’t written a post about this yet, but it’s a great book. I can see why it was so popular this year—so much so that it got its own card game! The only more useful book I read in 2019 was the next one on the list. I’m not sure if I read something that made me laugh more. Fun, smart, incredibly quotable, and a resource you’ll return to time and time again.

5 Stars

How Not to DieHow Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease

by Michael Greger M.D. FACLM, Gene Stone

My original post
One of the doctors that I’m seeing this year recommended this book to me, and it’s literally been a life-changer. This is an information-packed resource. But it’s not dry—Greger tells this with humanity, wit and concern. It’s a great combination of theory and practice.

4 Stars

The Art of WarThe Art of War: A New Translation

by Sun Tzu, James Trapp (Translator)

My original post
The classic text about military strategy—a great combination of psychology and management. It’s simple and profound, and approachable enough that there’s no excuse for not reading it.

5 Stars

What the Dog Knows Young Readers EditionWhat the Dog Knows Young Readers Edition: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World

by Cat Warren, Patricia J. Wynne (Illustrator)

My original post
I loved the “adult” version of this a couple of years ago, and this is just as good—but edited so that middle-grade readers can tackle this exploration of the life of Working Dogs and their handlers.

4 Stars

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan (Audiobook): Gaffigan’s Tribute to the Topic that Defines his Comedy

Food: A Love Story

Food: A Love Story

by Jim Gaffigan

Unabridged Audiobook, 7 hrs., 17 min.
Random House Audio, 2014

Read: December 11-13, 2019


This is largely what I said about the book in 2015, but I have a few more thoughts about Gaffigan’s book on parenting, Jim Gaffigan offers a book on his true strength: food.

As with Dad is Fat, a lot of this is material I’ve seen/heard elsewhere, but most of it isn’t. There’s more than enough original material to satisfy even those who’re familiar with has specials. I think, so anyway—I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of Gaffigan’s material, as much as my children want me to (I wouldn’t mind it, either).

On the whole, this is about what foods, dishes, and practices he likes—but he breaks it up with things he can’t stomach or understand. Sometimes, like with the chapter on Reuben sandwiches, he handles both.

The chapters on Coffee, Steak, Doughnuts, Breakfast, Hot Dogs and Bacon stand out particularly for me. Although the pair “Nobody Really Likes Fruit” and “Even Fewer People Like Vegetables” really amused me, even beyond the great titles.

Actually, there’s really nothing that didn’t amuse me.

Naturally, there’s an entire chapter devoted to Hot Pockets. That’s all I’m going to say about that, it speaks for itself.

Because the book is pretty tightly focused, there are two ways I’d recommend to read this book: in one setting, or broken up into tiny chunks over several days. There’s a danger of things getting repetitive that either of those tacks reduces.

I’m going to limit myself to just a few highlights, there’s quotable material on almost every page:

A.1. was always on the table when my dad would grill steaks. It seems everyone I knew had that same thin bottle of A.1. It always felt like it was empty right before it flooded your steak. Ironically, the empty-feeling bottle never seemed to run out. I think most people still have the same bottle of A.1. that they had in 1989. Once I looked at the back of a bottle of A.1. and was not surprised to find that one of the ingredients was “magic.”

Of course I am aware that doughnuts are bad, horrible things to eat, and according to my health-nut wife, they are not appropriate for a trail mix. I’ve repeatedly tried to explain to Jeannie that I’m on a different trail. Mine leads to the emergency room. Trail mixes have nuts, and my favorite nut is most definitely a doughnut.

In my opinion, however, the line of the book has nothing to do with food:

Bill Shakespeare himself, another actor who did some writing…

Listening to Gaffigan added a little more to the experience—sure, it’s easy to imagine him saying the same things, it’s another one to hear him do it. It’s not a superior experience to reading the book, but it’s an added flavor that makes it fresh even on the second exposure.

I’ve spent the last few months trying to change my eating habits, which made enjoying this celebration of unhealthy eating a little personally ironic (particularly for the 35 minutes I spent on a treadmill), but it still made me laugh. If you’re the kind of person who eats food, has opinions on it, and likes to laugh, pick yourself up a copy.


4 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge<Humor Reading Challenge 2019

Leo & The Lightning Dragons by Gill White, Gilli B: An Adorable Book about a Very Brave Knight

Leo & The Lightning Dragons

Leo & The Lightning Dragons

by Gill White, Gilli B (Illustrator)

Kindle Edition, 36 pg.
Fledgling Press, 2019

Read: December 17, 2019


Leo is a very brave knight battling a different kind of dragon—his foes attack him from the inside where he cannot hide from them. He has a lot of people willing to help him, and several do their best, but this is a fight that Leo has to do on his own—so he musters up the courage and the confidence to get the job done with their support.

Gilli B is absolutely the right illustrator for this book! Her style brought it to life—I love her depiction of Lightning Dragons, I doubt that’s the approach many artists would’ve taken with them. Her chimerical pictures capture the spirit of the book beyond those, too. Delightful work.

If you’ve read anything about this book, you know how hard it would be to saying anything that’s not positive about the book. But I’m going to—it’s too short. I’m not looking for much, but we need a little more—just a couple of pages. There wouldn’t even need to be much text, some illustrations might do the trick. Leo’s got a tough battle to fight, and it’s over a bit too quickly, which makes it seem too easy. And there’s no way that Leo’s Lightning Dragons (fictional or not) are easily vanquished. How White can accomplish that without running afoul of the book’s overwhelming positivity, I’m not sure. I just think the subject deserves it.

Do the pluses outweigh my criticism? Oh yes. It’s a great book and I’m so glad I read it. The rhymes are cute, the story is very positive, great illustrations and the imagery of the Lightning Dragon fighting inside Leo is a great way to get the idea of epilepsy across to a picture book reader. A good story that should provide a springboard for a discussion with children about this condition and how hard it has to be for people to deal with. This is definitely one to pick up for your young reader.



My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

Love Books Group

What the Dog Knows Young Readers Edition By Cat Warren, Patricia J. Wynne: A MG Version of Great Book about Man’s Best Friend

What the Dog Knows Young Readers Edition

What the Dog Knows Young Readers Edition: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World

by Cat Warren, Patricia J. Wynne (Illustrator)

Hardcover, 325 pg.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019

Read: December 4-5, 2019

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!


I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Young Reader’s Edition of this book, was it going to be dumbed down? Was it going to be a soup-to-nuts rewrite of the book, telling the story in a cutsie fashion? Or . . . well, I don’t have a third idea, but you get my opinion. But what we got was the same book (as near as I can tell, it’s been 4+ years), just pared down—not dumbed-down or anything. But a lot of the detail has been removed, every chapter boiled down to its essence. Simplified, yes, more accessible for younger readers than the dense “adult” text, but it’s the same book at the end of the day.

After the end of the text, there’s a section directing the readers to some more information and a Young Readers Info section of Warren’s website.

As it’s so similar, I’m just going to use a lot of what I wrote back in 2015 to talk about the book, sorry for the re-run (I’ll focus on this edition in a few paragraphs).

Warren was a journalist, is now a professor, and knows her way around a sentence. She clearly cares about the subject and has invested a lot of time and effort into getting to know it, her style is engaging and charming (I was chuckling within a couple of pages), and she doesn’t mind showing her own failings and weaknesses.

Warren basically covers three topics: there’s the science and history of using working dogs (of all sorts of breeds, not to mention pigs(!), birds, and even cats) to find cadavers, drugs, bombs, etc.; there’s the memoir of her involvement with cadaver dogs via her German Shepherd, Solo; and anecdotes of other cadaver dogs and trainers that she’s encountered/learned from/watched in action.

The history and science of dogs/other animals being used for their sense of smell, is probably the most fascinating part of this book, but it’d be really easy for the material to be too dry to bother with—Warren’s voice keeps that from happening. I think it’s terrific that at the end of the day, no one knows what it is about the smell of the human body that dogs sense—she’ll explain it better than me, but that’s the kernel the story. I just really enjoy it when the best and the brightest have to shrug and say, “I don’t know.” The chapter she spends on the future of dogs and/or digital replacements is good for similar reasons. Actually, I could just keep listing little facts/factoids/ideas here, but I don’t want to steal Warren’s thunder.

The best part of the book—the part that I found most interesting, and most frustratingly small—is the Warren’s story about getting Solo, discovering he had just too much energy and personality, and needing to find an outlet for it all. Which is followed by the trials and tribulations of a newbie cadaver dog handler and her pup-in-training, growing into a capable working dog. Anyone who has a dog lover as a Facebook friend knows just how easy it is for someone’s stories about their dog to get to the point where you can’t stand to hear another*. Somehow, Warren avoids this totally—not an easy feat. It probably helps that dog does far more fascinating things than just hiking through the woods or chasing a ball.

* Of course, your friends don’t have dogs as cool as mine. Let me tell you a little bit about her . . .

The stories about the others—her friends, colleagues, teachers, etc.—round out the book. It’s not just about Warren and Solo, it’s not just about the military/police efforts with training animals—it’s about dedicated volunteers, K-9 officers and dogs all over the country (and the world) making a difference. In places and ways you wouldn’t expect. Really? Sending in one guy and his dogs into Vietnam decades later to search for POW/MIA? Also, seeing how different dogs act differently, yet get the same job done was mind-boggling. Especially for dogs trained together/by the same person, you’d think they’d act similarly.

I imagine it’s to spotlight the work of others, to not brag about Solo too much, to talk about things that she and her dog haven’t done/seen/smelled—or whatever reason there is, I wanted more Solo. A lot more. I have no problem with the rest of the book, it’s just that there’s not enough Solo (or Coda, her younger dog).

This new edition features some illustrations and instructional graphics. There were a couple that I wondered about the placement of, but they were all helpful, eye-catching and attractive. They added to, instead of distracting from, the text. Good stuff.

A fascinating, entertaining, and educational book—can’t ask for much more than that.


4 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge

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An Accidental Death (Audiobook) by Peter Grainger, Gildart Jackson: A Bit of Routine Paperwork with Anything but Routine Results

An Accidental Death

An Accidental Death

by Peter Grainger, Gildart Jackson (Narrator)
Series: A DC Smith Investigation, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 6 hrs., 52 min.
Tantor Audio, 2016

Read: November 18-19, 2019

‘When you’re in front of a promotion board, one of the favourite questions is ‘So what motivates you in your daily work, Chris?’

‘Promotion? I’ll be relieved if I get through my six months. So what’s the correct answer?’

‘Oh, there are lots, you can buy them in books. But you could think about this,’ and Smith nodded towards the little group still standing at the graveside. ‘I’m just not sure how you put it into words.’

‘Revenge? Justice?’

‘For the victim – for Wayne Fletcher? Not how I see it, he’s beyond all that. Death’s the end of all. But look at the misery we’ve seen today. And it’s endless, it goes on rippling back and forwards through all these lives forever. I don’t know about justice. I’ve never seen myself on a white charger, righting wrongs – but we have to catch people so that they can’t create all this again. And so that other people get the message – you will be caught, you will pay. We never know how many selfish acts we prevent when we show people the consequences, but we have to keep showing them the consequences. These are the consequences.’

Smith had raised a hand, palm open towards the new grave.

Here we meet Detective Sergeant D. C. Smith—which isn’t At. All. confusing when listening to an audiobook, “I thought he was a DS, why is everyone calling him DC?” (thankfully, Grainger explains it after a bit). He’s a still-grieving widower, a long-serving detective, who has some sort of Intelligence experience in his past, has been of a higher rank, and has broken at least one near-legendary case years before. You wouldn’t think this résumé would be a type, but I’ve read about three Detective Sergeants this year that fit that description. That’s not a criticism, it’s just odd. DC Smith is my favorite exemplar of this type.

DC Smith is fresh off a brief leave in the aftermath of some case that was clearly divisive in the detective squad—and we never learn the details about it (which is frustrating, yet oddly compelling, and I almost hope we never learn the details about it), and is assigned to a new DI. Alison Reeve used to be a protégé of Smith’s, making things a bit awkward, but she also trusts him a lot more than other superiors seem to. He doesn’t have a team at the moment but gets to train a fresh DC, Chris Waters. Waters is an excellent device to get readers to see how Smith thinks/acts, because he has to keep explaining to Waters why he’s doing what he does.

For his first few days back, Reeve hands Smith some busy work including an anti-drugs presentation at some schools (quick aside—I loved his presentation, reminiscent of Bill Hick’s bit about the “this is your brain on drugs”) and a final sign-off on the paperwork about an accidental death. There’s a note on the autopsy that niggles at Smith and he starts looking into the accident. The initial investigation and paperwork were done just right, but . . .

Smith remembers a former colleague saying:

If you’re going to start turning over stones, you’ve got to turn them all over, every bloody one, even the littlest pebble…

Nevertheless, Smith starts turning over stones. And then more stones and more. Before he knows it, Smith and Waters find themselves mixed up in something nobody could’ve predicted—international intrigue, military secrets, family secrets, political pressure, and so on.

All leading to a great conclusion/face-off that will show off new sides of Smith (and show Waters’ mettle), with a postscript that seems predictable (but I’m not sure it was supposed to be)—but ties off the novel so nicely that I don’t care.

I’ve listened to one other book narrated by Gildart Jackson (Fated by Benedict Jacka), and while I thought he did fine with that one, he really seemed to connect with the character and the way he handled the narration and character voice seemed to fit the words/tone perfectly. I almost think I couldn’t read a future book in this series in print, I might have to come back for more.

There’s something about this one that got under my skin more than a typical procedural does—it’s maybe DC Smith, it’s maybe Grainger’s style (there’s a lot of subtle humor in a dark text)—it’s a Gestalt thing, I think. I really dug it.

Early on, Smith tells a couple of Fletcher’s friends:

‘As much as we might like this just to be about the facts, it never is. It never can be because people are always more complicated than facts.

Not only is that a catchy little bon mot, having a character who bases his work on it is about as good as “Everyone Counts or Nobody Counts” for his readers. An Accidental Death is a compelling read exploring an event that is more complicated than just facts and that’ll leave you wanting to come back for more.

This is checking off the “A book recommended by someone you trust.” box from the While I Was Reading Challenge, so I should probably mention that my friend, Micah, has been telling me to read these books (he additionally recommended the audiobooks, which is why I went audio with this one) since December 2017 (according to Goodreads). I really should’ve listened to him long before this. Not only does he have great taste, he’s a great photographer, take a moment to stop by his spiffy website and see.


4 Stars

✔ A book recommended by someone you trust.

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