Pub Day Repost: Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne: A Comedic Fantasy Tells a Good Story While Playing with Too-Familiar Tropes

Kill the Farm BoyKill the Farm Boy

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Series: The Tales of Pell, Book #1
eARC, 384 pg.
Del Rey, 2018

Read: June 5 – 12, 2018
Ugh. I wish the eARC didn’t say I needed to hold off any quotations until I could compare it with the final copy — or maybe, I wish I had noticed that very tiny print before I got half a draft of this finished. On the other hand, I was having trouble narrowing down which of my lengthy options to use, because, if nothing else, this is one of the more quotable books I’ve read in the last couple of years.

Kill the Farm Boy is a comedic fantasy, a satirical look at fantasy and even a parody of the genre. But what makes it effective is that for all the comedy, there’s a decent story and some solid characters throughout. It’s be easy for it to be a collection of jokes, with no story; or a tale full of character types, not characters. But Dawson and Hearne avoid those pitfalls.

The titular farm boy, Worstley, is going about his typical day, full of drudgery when an inebriated pixie shows up to announce that he is a Chosen One — one who is destined to save, or at least change, the world. To demonstrate her power, the pixie gives one of his goats, Gustave, the power of speech. The goat isn’t too happy about being able to speak, but since he was destined to end up in a curry in a few days, decides to travel with the newly appointed Chosen One, his former Pooboy. The pixie, having Chosened Worstley, disappears. Worstley the Pooboy (hey, Taran, worse things to be called than Assistant Pig-Keeper, eh?) and Gustave head off on a quest for glory.

Despite the book’s title, we don’t spend that much time with Worstley — instead the focus shifts (for good reason) to a band of hero–well, a group of companions. There’s Fia — a fierce warrior from a distant land, who just wants to live a life of peace with some nice roses — and some armor that would actually protect her (not that there’s anyone who minds seeing here in her chain-mail bikini). Argabella, a struggling bard who is cursed to be covered in fur — she’s basically Fflewddur Fflam and Gurgi combined (last Prydian reference, probably). Every adventuring party needs a rogue/thief, this one has to settle for the klutzy and not necessarily bright, Poltro, and her guardian, the Dark Lord magician, Toby (though some would only consider him crepuscular), of dubious talents. I can’t forget Grinda the sand witch (no, really), Worstley’s aunt and a magic user of considerable talent.

There are no shortage of villains — and/or antagonists to this party. There are some pretty annoying elves; a hungry giant; Løcher, the King’s chamberlain and mortal enemy of Grinda; Staph, the pixie behind the Chosening; as well as several magical traps, Lastly, there’s Steve. We don’t meet him (I’m betting it’ll be in Book 3 when we do), but throughout these adventures we how much this world, and our heroes lives, have been turned upside down my the worst Steve since one (allegedly) unleashed the preposterous hypothesis that Jemaine was a large water-dwelling mammal. Steve . . .

The writing is just spot-on good. Dawson and Hearne have taken all these various and disparate themes, tropes, characters and surrounded them with a lot of laughs. There’s some pretty sophisticated humor, some stuff that’s pretty clever — but they also run the gamut to some pretty low-brow jokes as well. Really, these two are on a tight comedic budget, no joke is too cheap. The variation ensures there’s a little something for everyone — and that you can’t predict where the humor will come from. I will admit that early on I got annoyed with a few running jokes, but I eventually got to the point that I enjoyed them — not just in a “really? they’re trying it again?” sense, either.

For all the comedy — Kill the Farm Boy hits the emotional moments just right. There’s a depiction of grief towards the end (spoiler?) that I found incredibly affecting and effective. There are smaller moments — less extreme moments — too that are dealt with just right. Maybe even better than some of the bigger comedic moments. This is the reward of populating this book with fully-realized characters, not just joke vehicles.

I have a couple of quibbles, nothing major, but I’m not wholly over the moon with this (but I can probably hit sub-orbital status). There was a bit about a fairly articulate Troll being taken down by a female using (primarily) her wits that could’ve used a dollop or five of subtly. Clearly they weren’t going for subtle, or they’d have gotten a lot closer to it. But it bugged me a bit (while being funny and on point). Secondly, and this is going to be strange after the last 2 posts — but this seemed to be too long. Now, I can’t imagine cutting a single line, much less a scene or chapter from this, but it just felt a little long. I do worry that some of Poltro’s backstory is too tragic and upon reflection makes it in poor taste (at best) to laugh about her — which is a shame, because she was a pretty funny character until you learn about her.

This is probably the best comedic/parody/satire fantasy since Peter David’s Sir Apropos of Nothing — and this doesn’t have all the problematic passages. I’ve appreciated Dawson’s work in the past, and you have to spend 30 seconds here to know that I’m a huge Hearne fan, together they’ve created something unlike what they’ve done before. Well, except for their characteristic quality — that’s there. I cared about these characters — and they made me laugh, and giggle, and roll my eyes. This is the whole package, folks, you’ll be glad you gave it a chance.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 Stars

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The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin: Rebus and Clarke find themselves in (well, next to) the middle of Global Politics.

The Naming of the DeadThe Naming of the Dead

by Ian RankinSeries: John Rebus, #16

Hardcover, 464 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2006
Read: June 22 – 25, 2018

           “Know what I think? I think all of this is because there’s a bit of the anarchist in you. You’re on their side, and it annoys you that you’ve somehow ended up working for The Man.”

Rebus snorted a laugh. “Where did you get that from?”

She laughed with him. “I’m right though, aren’t I? You’ve always seen yourself as being on the outside–” She broke off as their coffees arrived, dug her spoon into her cappuccino and scooped foam into her mouth.

“I do my best work on the margins,” Rebus said thoughtfully.

Rebus is on the verge of retirement — really, he’s about to be forced out, he’s at the stage of his career where many detectives would be just coming into the office and doing nothing — if not outright retiring already. And, truth be told, that’s precisely what everyone in the force seems to want (except for a few allies/friends), particularly the top brass. None of which Rebus has an interest in. He’s going to have to be pulled out, kicking and screaming — probably with someone barring the door after he’s out.

So when the G8 comes to Edinburgh in 2005, the police have their hands full with security, protests, riot preparations, and whatnot. They’re importing help from all over Scotland and even England. Everyone has plenty of assignments to deal with, everyone but John Rebus, that is. So when a clue comes up that might turn into something interesting on months-old murder case, he’s ready and raring to go. That evidence seems to point at multiple victims, too — so Siobhan Clarke is put in charge of that investigation, just please keep it quiet until all the important people have gone home (and yes, everyone is fully aware of the insult of putting the DS in charge of the DI on this one). Thankfully, there’s a suspicious-looking suicide that’s related to the G8 for Rebus to focus on.

At least one of the victims in Clarke’s case has an obvious connection to Big Ger Cafferty, too. Because why not make this all interesting? Big Ger’s the target of a local politician who happens to be making a lot of waves thanks to being in all the right places during the G8 protests, sticking up for his constituents and the cause of civility in the face of civil unrest. Rebus and Cafferty do their usual thing — Cafferty wants information so he can get his form of justice taken out of the murderer, Rebus needs information from Cafferty so he can prevent that. But at the end of the day here, Siobhan spends more time with Cafferty, despite everything Rebus tries to do.

Which is the crux of this novel, really. Rebus is at his career’s end, he knows it. The closest thing he has to a legacy is DS Clarke — and he wants it to be a good legacy. He wants to keep her from Cafferty’s clutches, from the dirt that’s dogged him for years due to guilt-by-association — as well as his actual influence. At the same time, he wants her to maintain that “work on the margins” attitude, while staying in good graces with TPTB. He wants Clarke to be everything he is, just without all the bad that comes from it. (I think she wants that, too, actually). Bringing me back to the point that this novel features Rebus fighting all involved for Siobhan’s soul.

In an interesting parallel, Siobhan’s actual parents are in town to take part in the G8 protests. There’s a young woman hanging out with them, almost like a temporary daughter (which really gets under her skin). She’s determined to spend some time with them, to show herself that she can have some sort of personal life — a family — and still be a good cop. To not be Rebus. At the same time, she so wants her parents to see her as a capable detective, not just someone in the midst of a defiant reaction to her parent’s lifestyle and beliefs.

Eric Bains shows up in a light I don’t think anyone expected, and I’m hoping that things turn around for him soon. I like the guy. He’s not Brian Holmes, but he’s a nice character to have around. There’s a reporter, Marie Henderson, involved in all of this, too (that’s her opining in the opening quotation) — I really liked her, and hope we see her again. Rebus seems to actually enjoy her company and intelligence — at the same time, as the co-writer of Cafferty’s biography, she represents everything that Rebus fears for Clarke.

I’ve not spent a lot of time talking about the cases — which are interesting enough, and watching Rebus not be careful around Very Important People from all over the world is fun. But on the whole, the cases felt familiar. Like we’ve been down these roads before — not exactly, and both held plenty of surprises, but they seemed like familiar Rebus/Clarke investigations. I might have been tempted to give his a 3-Star rating and move on.

BUT, Rankin won’t let me — because putting all of this right smack in the middle of the G8 conference — and the hullabaloo surrounding it (protests, concerts, marches) — the Bush bicycling incident, the London bombings, and the announcement of the Olympics coming to London — added so much to the novel. It grounded it in reality, it presented so many obstacles to the investigations (as well as distractions from the investigations) — as well as unexpected sources of help (police officers from other jurisdictions that had just the right kind of information). Plus all the “keep Siobhan from becoming Rebus” elements of the novel just captivated me.

Another winner. What else is there to say?

—–

4 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

Born to the Blade 1.11: All the Nations of the Sky by Michael Underwood: Season 1 Wraps Up in a Strong and Sufficient Manner — but will leave the audience wanting more

My post about 1.10 was supposed to run 6/22, but I apparently only saved it as “Draft,” so it went up late on 6/28 (so glad I pushed off sleep last week to get it done), and then my thoughts about episode 1.11 were delayed a couple of days by not being able to push off sleep, but assuming I clicked the right buttons you still will get to read them when they’re fairly fresh. In a day or two I’ll have some thoughts on Season 1 of Born to the Blade as a whole — which will include some interaction with comments Bookstooge left a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, on to All the Nations of the Sky, the season finale.

All the Nations of the SkyAll the Nations of the Sky

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.11

Kindle Edition.
Serial Box, 2018
Read: June 28, 2018
I’m going to try to keep my thoughts to this episode, but I won’t promise that I’ll succeed.

Somewhere between episodes 10 and 11 Michiko made a pretty big decision. Okay, she made a huge decision — and we only get to see the result, not the thought process — this is annoying, but I can live with it, if I have to (and, by the by, we know she found something in the paperwork that her predecessor left of interest to the current goings-on, but we’re not told what, this also is annoying). Part of the story-telling style that Born to the Blade is employing leaves us open to this kind of thing, so it’s to be expected — I’m just not crazy about it. Still, while I’m excited for what this means for Michiko, her nation, and the narrative opportunities for Season 2, I do regret what it means for some of the character interaction I’ve been enjoying all along. That’s all I’ll say about that now.

Also, I couldn’t help but feel that some of the progress made between Kris and Adechike last week has been walked back a bit — some of which I understand, most of which I want explained before I can get on board wholly. But I don’t see that happening. Still, I liked (both as a fan and as someone who’s trying to look at the series through an armchair-critical eye) what both Adechike and Kris did throughout this episode.

We got a long-awaited duel in this episode (like last episode), it didn’t end the way my fan-boy impulses wanted it to, but did end the way it needed to. It’s the kind of thing I think I expected the series to be built on — and if a certain little war hadn’t happened, probably would have.

Every jot and tittle about Ojo in this episode was perfect, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I can’t say any more, but this was spot-on.

I’m not sure what else to say at this point without venturing into spoiler territory, so I guess I’ll wrap it up.

Now, it’s easy — very easy — to forget about one nation of the seven — Tsukisen, and their warder, Hii no Taro. Yes, it’s explained a few times — but anytime Tsukisen is mentioned, it only seems to underline how often they aren’t. This can be improved — Underwood had a great opportunity here to fix that, and he passed. Which is okay, he’s not the only one who had the opportunity, and I can only assume that this means that there’s a plan behind it. I do hope that’s rectified quickly in Season 2. And this point probably belongs more to the season-long wrap up post I’m trying to do, but I wanted to get it down before I forgot.

This has been dubbed as “Season 1” since the beginning, so we knew everything wasn’t going to wrap up nicely. In fact, there’s a lot that’s left hanging. But we got enough resolution to leave readers satisfied with where things left off. I do hope that Serial Box gives this team another shot to tell their story because I’m very curious about a few things and characters. But for now, we’re left with an optimistic, but not a rose-colored glasses, ending — true to the vision of the initial episodes, but with a darker undercurrent than one might have guessed from the first couple of installments. I’m not wholly sold on everything that happened this season, but I’ve come to accept and appreciate 96% of it — and I will probably come around on the rest eventually.

A good story, a good cap to the season and a good launching point for a potential Season 2. I’m just going to stop before I say “good” again — pick up season 1 now, if you haven’t yet.

—–

4 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.10: Shattered Blades by Marie Brennan: An exciting penultimate episode that’s sure to please

ACK! I apparently never took this off of draft mode! I thought this ran last Friday! Whoops!!

Shattered BladesShattered Blades

by Marie Brennan
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.10

Kindle Edition, 58 pg.
Serial Box, 2018
Read: June 21, 2018

           The Warders’ Circle was supposed to prevent this kind of thing. It gave the nations a way to settle their disputes without warfare, with the limited and ritualized violence of a duel. But that only worked if people believed in it. It was a game, and everyone had agreed to play by its rules.

Until they didn’t.

Sure, there were still warders on Twaa-Fei. Juniors thrust into the role of seniors, unwilling and unprepared and, worst of all, unsupported. Their nations had abandoned them to play out what remained of this farce, while behind that disintegrating cover of civility they prepared for and carried out war.

Nations on the brink of war (well, just on the wrong side of the brink), almost everyone’s favorite diplomat the target of assassins (favorite of readers and almost every other diplomat), relationships torn apart — the home of the Warders, Twaa-Fei itself, is being ripped apart by violence. The stakes really couldn’t be much higher.

But this episode isn’t about the stakes for the nations (not that those are uninvolved — it’s just not the focus): it’s about Michiko making some important choices and acting on them, in ways that will leave her life (and potentially the lives of the people she represents) changed forever; it’s about Takeshi finding what’s been missing (I hope); it’s about Kris and Adechike getting all their priorities straight; and about a few other things that I can’t talk about.

In the midst of all this character growth, character development and conflict — we get two knockout duels. Not the civilized, controlled, formal duels of Kris’ trials, either — we’re talking two people who unleash everything they have — magic and swordcraft alike — at each other. Brennan absolutely sold this part.

This episode was everything I wanted — great character moments, better action sequences — and every character (finally) not worrying so much about playing politics, but about doing the right thing (even if it’s the wrong thing for someone else). My notes have me writing twice “this is the high point of the series (so far),” and there’s at least one other candidate for that moment in these pages. I’m hoping that the season finale continues the uptick we’ve been on for the last couple of weeks.

—–

4 Stars

The Wrong Side Of Goodbye by Michael Connelly: Bosch takes on a new role, and gives the same solidly entertaining result.

The Wrong Side Of GoodbyeThe Wrong Side Of Goodbye

by Michael Connelly
Series: Harry Bosch, #19

Paperback, 386 pg.
Grand Central Publishing, 2017
Read: June 20, 2018
Not shockingly at all, retirement doesn’t sit well for Harry Bosch. As we saw in The Crossing, neither does working for defense attorneys. So what’s a guy like Harry Bosch — with that strong sense of mission driving him for decades — to do with himself when the LAPD forces him to retire?

Naturally, he’s going to get a PI license and do what he can with. But there’s going to be a dearth of clients that want him to investigate the kind of crimes he’s driven to investigate. Thankfully, the San Fernando Police Department is suffering a horrible budget crises and can utilize him as a reserve police officer looking at cold cases (this is an actual thing that happens, and was suggested by a member of the SFPD to Connelly as something for Bosch). This is work for free, true, but anyone who thinks that Bosch is driven by money in any real sense hasn’t talked to him for five minutes.

Bosch is hired by an elderly billionaire (at least), to hunt down a potential heir to his empire — his family “forced” him to abandon a lower-class woman after he impregnated her in the 50’s, and now looking at his mortality rushing to meet him, he wants to pass things on to his heir. He doesn’t have much to give Harry to start from — a name, an employer, and a time frame. That’s it. He needs Harry to keep this to himself — and has him sign a very tight non-disclosure agreement — because he doesn’t trust anyone in the company he’s the head of. He’s right not to trust anyone, as Harry quickly learns, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

This case grabs Harry’s attention, particularly when he becomes convinced that he’s tracked down the heir — who served in Vietnam at the same time Harry did. In fact, Harry’s reasonably sure that they were briefly on the same ship at the same time. In addition to this being very interesting, watching Harry backtrack this man’s family — this focus on Vietnam gets Harry to reflect some on his time there, and even discuss a bit with Maddie. I think this is the most that Harry has talked about Vietnam since The Black Echo (feel free to correct me in the comments), and I appreciate reminding us where the character comes from.

As interesting as that is — both through the procedure Harry enacts, what’s revealed about the case and himself, plus the surprising amount of peril that beings to follow him — the other case that Harry’s looking into is more up his alley.

In the course of his duties as a reserve officer, he’s been looking through cases that haven’t been closed — the one he’s focused on now isn’t a murder (as you’d expect), but is a serial rapist. Between the way the cases were reported, the staffing problems SFPD has, some jurisdictional issues, and (most importantly) language barriers, it wasn’t until Harry started reading all the case files he could get his hands on that patterns started to emerge and a coherent picture of one criminal’s work became clear. The SFPD detective that Harry’s working with, Bella Lourdes, seems like a solid detective — probably not as obsessive as Harry, but a dedicated detective. She’s able to handle the interview side of things better than Harry, actually (see the language barrier, among other things). As things heat up with the other case, Harry can’t get away and Lourdes ends up carrying the water on vital aspects of this by herself. It’s one of the healthier partnerships Harry’s had, really. But don’t worry — at the end of the day, this is a Harry Bosch novel. Not a Harry and Bella. Harry’ll put all the pieces together — but not early enough to keep things from getting pretty harrowing for all involved.

MIckey Haller shows up briefly early on, and I thought “oh, that was a nice cameo.” But at some point, he becomes a strong supporting character — as important to the private client storyline as Lourdes was to the serial rapist. I appreciated the smooth way that Connelly merged Haller into this novel. But that’s not all — Harry spent a moment thinking about Jerry Edgar (is that the influence of the Amazon series, or just Harry getting retrospective?) and there was a completely unnecessary — but nice — little appearance by Det. Lucia Soto. Unnecessary to the plot, but it shows something about Harry, I think, that wouldn’t have described him a few books ago.

The mysteries themselves are a shade on the easy side for this series — but the fun in this comes from watching Bosch chip away, step by step, through the process. Sure, he cuts a corner or five, makes several lucky guesses — but we’re not looking for verisimilitude here, right?

That said, there were several moments in the latter third or so that I assumed I had everything worked out — and I was right as much as I was wrong. Connelly didn’t cheat, but he zagged a lot when I was sure he was going to zig. At this stage of the game, for Connelly to be able to fool me that often, that says plenty about his skill.*

A good ride for old fans — a decent (not excellent, but acceptable) place for a new reader to jump on — The Wrong Side of Goodbye capably demonstrates why Michael Connelly in general, and Harry Bosch in particular, has been at the top of the American Crime Fiction scene — and likely will stay there for quite some time.

*Sure, it could say something about me, and what kind of reader I am, but let’s give credit ot Connelly’s craft and not my gullibility, shall we?

—–

4 Stars

The Last Cleric by Layton Green: The Blackwood brothers are on their own in their new world and the danger is getting real

The Last ClericThe Last Cleric

by Layton Green
Series: The Blackwood Saga, #3

Kindle Edition, 374 pg.
Cloaked Traveler Press, 2018
Read: June 18 – 19, 2018

Urfe sometimes felt like a waking dream, the realization of both his wildest fantasies and darkest nightmares.

That’s fairly early in the book, too — I’m sure by the end of this, Will will be thinking less of his wildest fantasies, focusing on the nightmares instead. Which isn’t that surprising, it’s book three of a quintet — things aren’t supposed to be sunshine and rainbows (although things are going to get worse).

Will and some others are off on a quest to recover the Coffer of Devla — an Ark of the Covenant-esque religious relic and object of prophecy. The Revolution would profit greatly from taking it into battle with them — for psychological/propaganda’s sake, if nothing else. This quest takes Will, Yasmina, Mala, and a few others to the jungles of Mexico to find a mythic pyramid that may house the Coffer. We’re treated to an annoying amount of Will pining after Mala, Mala taking advantage of that a few times, and Will not learning anything. I do find his hangup over her annoying, but it’s about the only thing about Will’s character that is that flawed, so it’s good to stress his imperfection and naiveté, I guess. This storyline frequently felt like it escaped from a Rick Riordan Book (one scene in particular) — a series of tests, and narrow escapes leading to other tests. That said, when Percy or his friends fail and/or don’t succeed fast enough, the consequences aren’t as bad as they are for Will and his companions, which makes them far more entertaining to read than the most recent Riordans.

Caleb stays behind and fills his days with doing small acts around the city to help people, and his nights with getting as drunk as is humanly possible. He may not have had tremendous success on Earth, but he had his niche and he did okay with it. On Urfe, he didn’t even have that, so he turned to drink. Until the only person in two worlds who could possibly get him to stop — or at least consider moderation — shows up and does just that. Caleb soon goes on a mission to warn those living in the Blackwood Forrest about the danger coming from Lord Alistair and try to recruit them to the Revolution. On the whole, this story goes exactly like you expect it to — but it was probably the most effective of the three brothers’ arcs in this book. There were parts of this story you couldn’t see coming — at all — but once those events were introduced, it quickly became inevitable to see how those would flow into the overall storyline. Predictable isn’t bad — I’ve said it before, I’ll keep saying it — it really doesn’t matter how surprising or unexpected your story is, what matters is how you tell it. And Green tells this one just right.

Which leaves us with Val — things were looking pretty bad for him when we saw him last, and in the few days that have passed between then and this novel’s kick-off, things have continued in that vein. He does some pretty clever and daring things to try help his situation, and then finds an opportunity he can’t turn down. He essentially has to try to carry off a suicide mission for the Queen. If he succeeds, he’ll be set free. If not . . . well, the Queen or Congregation still won’t execute him, because he’ll be dead. He assembles a team — including faces you wouldn’t expect — and sets off. This storyline is the most inventive, least predictable and most harrowing of the three (which at times is saying something). Somehow, in the middle, it’s also the most dull. But never for long, I want to stress. The people that Val is surrounded by, their perspectives and what Val goes through are all shaping him — for the one who had the hardest time coming to terms with the world he found himself in, Val’s really taken to it in a way his brothers haven’t quite. Without noticing it, Val’s become a different person than he was when he first came to Urfe — and I’m not sure any Blackwood is going to be happy with the differences once they’re seen in light of day. I’m not saying he’s been seduced by the Dark Side or anything — bu he definitely approaches things from a different angle.

Meanwhile, Lord Alistair continues his bloodthirsty and power-hungry machinations at the top of the Congregation.

We meet a lot of new characters in each of the storylines (especially Will’s and Val’s) — there’s not a one of them that I wouldn’t want to spend more time with. Several of them we won’t see again, alas, but…the others? I hope we get a lot of. While I enjoyed it, I know that I came across as ambivalent towards Will’s quest — but the people he travels with are welcome additions to this cast and I didn’t get enough time with them for my taste. The other new characters were about as good, but I thought we got as much time and use from them as we needed.

The first book kept the brothers together — on the whole, there were times the group was split. In The Spirit Mage, Green split them up so we had Will and Caleb running around Urfe trying to stay out of trouble (and failing miserably); while Val took awhile to return and then was in a completely different kind of story. This time, Will and Caleb are split up so we get each brother doing something on his own. I get the desire for that move, and the narrative need — or usefulness, depending how you look at it — for that move, I really do. But man, I didn’t like it. I expected it was too much to ask to see the three Blackwoods reunited early in the novel, but (incredibly minor spoiler) now whenever they do reunite, I’m afraid what they’ve gone through will make it unlikely to be co-belligerents, much less allies. Again, I get why it was done, and will probably appreciate it by the end of the series — but in the moment, I don’t like it. it. The Brothers Three presented them as an interesting, if very flawed, team. Which was one of the things I appreciated most about the characters — keeping them from interacting takes a little of that away.

That said, Green did a great job balancing the various stories — watching each brother get a little closer to their goal, and then slipping in a reminder of what Alistair’s up to. Almost as if he’s saying, it really doesn’t matter how the Blackwoods do against these tasks, the Big Bad is out there waiting, and they’re not reading for him. There’s good character development, some good plot progression — and you can feel things going worse for the brothers, and that it’ll continue in that fashion for a while — until sometime in book 5, is my guess. Now it’s just a matter of hoping that the three of them — and as many of their friends as possible – make it through to the finale.

I had a blast reading this — there’s really little about this series that I don’t enjoy (and those aspects are all just matters of taste, really). Volume 4 is on the top of my “Waiting impatiently for” list — just under Jim Butcher and Patrick Rothfuss. It’s a great series and The Last Cleric just served as another piece of evidence for that. I really recommend all of them.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this novel by the author — which I greatly appreciate, even if it took me a few months to get to it. This gift did not influence my opinion beyond giving me something to have an opinion on.

—–

4 Stars

This Thing of Darkness by Harry Bingham: DC Fiona Griffiths solves a impossible crime or two in this compelling read

I didn’t do justice to my notes below — just took too many of them –but I’m hoping I did justice to the book. If there’s something you think needs expanding — well, that’s just one reason for the comment section…

This Thing of DarknessThis Thing of Darkness

by Harry Bingham
Series: Fiona Griffiths, #4

Kindle Edition, 576 pg.
Orion, 2015
Read: June 13 – 16, 2018

I think police rules matter and I’ll try to abide by them. But the dead matter more. Their rules are sacred and they last for ever.

For a change, Fiona Griffiths is making a serious, concerted effort to act the way that a Detective Constable is supposed to — crossing Ts, dotting Is, using warrants, court orders, rules of evidence, and so on — I’m not saying she’s successful at it, but she made an effort. Sure, she had to set the rules to the side in the beginning, and the had to put them in the dustbin towards the end — but during that middle part? She came awfully close to being a proper DC from Planet Normal.

So, Fiona is assigned to help out in Evidence Collection — going through all the gathered evidence, cataloging, tracking, documenting the chain of custody, etc. for a major sexual assault case. She has no use for the lead investigator — and the feeling is mutual — but she’s quite skilled at this sort of thing, so she has to stay on the case. Meanwhile, she’s also studying for the Detective Sergeant’s exam (or she’s supposed to be) — her superiors have very high expectations for her. Oh, and she’s been given a stack of cold cases to leaf through to keep her mind engaged. Two of this stack of cases catch her eye — and because she’s Fiona Griffiths, it turns out that her curiosity was piqued by cases that turn out to be more than anyone expected.

In one case, some very valuable art was stolen from the second floor of a home — all the security was located on the first floor, and there’s absolutely no indication that the first floor was accessed at all. Yet (with no obvious sign of break in), the second floor was picked pretty clean. There’s also an accidental death as the result of a fall from a rocky path near a cliff where a man who’d been drinking was walking at night. It’s not long before she’s able to demonstrate one solid explanation for the break-in, why it happened the way it did; she’s able to demonstrate that the accidental death wasn’t one, and is able to identify similar crimes. From there…well, things get complicated.

On the one hand, what Fiona and her colleagues uncovers is one of the most outlandish, hard to believe schemes I can remember in crime fiction. On the other hand, I just know that there are probably actual crimes that make this look pedestrian, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are real life analogues to the crimes in this book. Also, when Fiona starts putting pieces together and explaining things to her superiors, it all makes sense in a way that you can’t believe you didn’t figure it out a dozen pages before her.

Naturally, this book puts Fiona in a couple of very difficult situations — and both make what she’s gone through before seem somewhat tame. Part of this takes place on a fishing boat in the Atlantic — I make no bones about it, I need to be on land. I cannot handle being on anything in the ocean for longer than…4 minutes. Reading those portions of this book were pure horror for me. I’m not going to slap a Trigger Warning on this or anything, but you might want to consider popping a Dramamine. Watching Fiona endure these extremes, while keeping her wits (mostly?) about her, planning her way out of them, and dealing with her mental health issues — it makes for great reading. Pure and simple.

Meanwhile, Fiona is making strides in her personal life, growing as a person — finding her relationships with her exes evolve and mature. Forging new relationships, realizing how to recognize attraction to someone, forging friendships, etc. She is getting closer to her goal (whether or not she’ll ever reach it, I don’t know, but she’s closer) of a “normal” life. Also, thanks to the mentorship and guidance (frequently firm) of her superiors, she’s advancing at work. Sure, she spends a lot of time stuck processing evidence — but that just adds fuel to her creative fire when she is investigating and coming up against brick walls. Also, the last chapter features some of the most overtly “fun” writing in the series — and that’s due to the relationships with her superiors developing the way they do.

It would’ve been very easy for Bingham to crank out a few books about the quirky and charmingly unbalanced Fiona acting like a maverick cop, investigating on her own and finding ways to justify everything for the brass. Instead, we see Fiona wrestling with her condition, making progress (and then regressing) with it — yet finding ways to integrate professionally and personally with others.

Not only that, but Fiona makes significant progress on the two ongoing investigations she’s been handling on her own since the first book — there’s been some incremental progress when it comes to tracing her personal history, and her campaign to learn more about those who were tied to the ringleader in Talking to the Dead in the last couple of books — but she makes strides greater than I really ever wondered if she would in this book — and I know she’s not done yet.

That reminds me — this novel revisits (in at least some small way) the victims and perpetrators of the cases in the firs three books in the series. Not many mysteries do that, but Bingham makes sure that Fiona can’t shake the ghosts of the cases she’s worked — no matter how they resolved.

There’s really very little that Bingham and Fiona don’t do well in this layered novel — whether we’re dealing with one of the many criminal investigations, her personal grown, or just understanding herself better, this book does a great job with everything. I am always forgetting how much I like these books, and just how good Bingham is — I’m not sure why it’s something I need reminding of. The balance of mystery, thriller, and character study is really outstanding. Obviously, if you watch Fiona’s growth from the get go, you will appreciate what happens in these pages better. But this would work as a jumping on point, too.
Definitely recommended.

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4 Stars