As I like to do every year or two, I've gone back to Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories in my collection of the complete works; Volume 3 includes one collection of short stories and the final full-length novel: The Return of Sherlock Holmes starts with "The Adventure of the Empty House," which as the title of the collection suggests sees Holmes return from the "dead" in a typically low-key way, and explain how he faked his own death so he could get rid of Moriarty's crime ring while they thought he was safely out of the way. I do generally enjoy the short stories more than the novels, and this is quite a good little collection of them, with a couple of grisly cases and one or two I'm not sure I've actually read before. I did like moments in these like a client asking Holmes and Watson if he can have a glass of milk and a biscuit to calm his nerves, or the couple of times where Holmes to all intents and purposes tells Watson not to be so racist.
Holmes' supposed death must have got Conan Doyle's audience really interested in the
shady Professor Moriarty as well, because he crops up a lot more after his own death
than he ever did before it, so despite having revived Holmes a lot of stories go
back to before the Reichenbach Falls: The final novel The Valley of Fear
feels like an instance of Moriarty being crowbarred into an unrelated story, which
is enjoyable enough but does go back to the clunky storytelling device of A Study in Scarlet - Holmes solving the mystery in the first half of the novel with
information the reader doesn't have, then a second half flashing back to events in
America that led up to the crime. It's pulled off better here than in the debut
novel - the flashback itself is more cleverly constructed - but it still feels like
a bit of a cheat of a narrative device.
Monday, 25 July 2016
Wednesday, 29 June 2016
Sunday, 26 June 2016
The Boy From Reactor 4 enough to give Orest Stelmach's follow-up a chance - The Boy Who Stole From The Dead is the second of his Nadia Tesla series, in which the Ukrainian-American heroine is now the legal guardian of teenage hockey player Bobby, who's actually her illegal immigrant cousin from Chernobyl. This time Bobby is accused of murder, and her attempts to clear his name without revealing his true identity see Nadia returning to Ukraine again. The story's resolution takes a much more extreme turn than I was expecting but Stelmach just about pulls it off, while setting up an even bigger conspiracy for the third in what now seems to be a trilogy.
Monday, 6 June 2016
Thursday, 2 June 2016
Still, I enjoy Lukyanenko's supernatural thrillers about the Others, the sub-species of humans with magical abilities split into Dark and Light categories with an uneasy truce that states that each action made by one side means the other is allowed to do something of equal but opposite influence. In The New Watch, the Light magician Anton discovers a boy with prophetic powers, something which opens up a whole new (and at times, unnecessarily complicated) area of the books' mythology as there are unbreakable rules surrounding the first, biggest prophecy any Prophet makes, except it turns out nobody's actually sure what they are. It's a bit obviously milking a concept that was originally meant to run a lot shorter, but at the same time I still like the way the books have a three-act structure in which seemingly unrelated events build up to a sudden climax.
Sunday, 22 May 2016
I really enjoyed Haterz, which doesn't stick just to black comedy but also sees the narrator get more subtle in his revenge on characters who bear a certain resemblance to real people: A self-pitying columnist who lives in the country, slagging off her neighbours and ex-husband in her articles, gets her comeuppance when he turns her into a nice person, thereby ruining her career. It does look for a while as if the story's impetus is running out, but Goss salvages it with a couple of twists about who's been behind his mysterious funders.
Monday, 9 May 2016
Sunday, 17 April 2016
The other one is who the real killer is, because Thorne becomes convinced the police have the wrong man - as the title suggests, there's something about the Time of Death that bugs him. So we're back to a bit more of a conventional detective story although this time the police are far from welcoming Thorne's help. I like how we've now got to the stage where Billingham focuses almost as much on Helen - whom he introduced in her own story a few years ago before bringing her to the main series - as he does on Thorne, giving the story two different points of view. And this one has a clock-ticking dénouement that had me really anxious reading it.
Tuesday, 29 March 2016
There's also a little-known story of an alleged assassination of James I, a rumour that spread with amazing speed throughout the country and sounds uncannily like the many false celebrity death rumours that make the rounds nowadays. Overall I found much interesting stuff here, especially since, as Shapiro points out in the opening, people seem less interested in exploring Shakespeare as a Jacobean playwright despite the fact that his company had a much closer relationship with James than with his predecessor.
Tuesday, 15 March 2016
As well as following a human life from a distance, The Bone Clocks also has a supernatural element that reveals itself more and more as the story goes on: Holly is caught in the middle of a centuries-old war between two species of immortals, one group nicknamed Carnivores, who kill to maintain their own eternal youth, and the other calling themselves Horologists, who are eternally reincarnated while remembering all their previous lives, and who are determined to wipe out the murderous Carnivores.
It may have taken me a while but this was probably my favourite Mitchell book since Cloud Atlas, and it also seems to take place in the same universe as all his other books, including his dire warnings about a post-industrial future (assuming the penultimate Cloud Atlas segment in a high-tech future could have been taking place only in China, while the rest of the world succumbed to the events of The Bone Clocks.) I think strict literary fiction fans might be a bit nonplussed at how the gentle suggestions of the supernatural turn into full-on fantasy for the 2020s part of the story, but for me the personal stories were interesting (even when some of the narrators are far from sympathetic) and the fantasy element effectively blended into the more naturalistic framework.
Monday, 8 February 2016
Monday, 25 January 2016
Here the team is a four-strong one that comes together largely by accident when a long-running undercover operation comes to an abrupt end, the crime boss they've spent years trying to take down dying suddenly in a supernatural (and very grisly) way. While investigating the death the head of the operation, two undercover officers and an intelligence analyst end up acquiring, for reasons they still haven't found out by the end of the first book, psychic powers that allow them to see into the supernatural underside of London.
It took me a while to get used to the way Cornell jumps between his four leads as point-of-view characters every couple of pages, but the story (featuring a curse on anyone who scores too many goals against West Ham) builds well, and kept me keen to go back to it. But it's probably the fact that Cornell manages at least two HUGE moments of pulling the rug out from under the reader that'll ensure me checking out the rest of the series.
Saturday, 9 January 2016
It's set in a New England town that's used to snowstorms every winter but two, twelve years apart, prove particularly deadly. The first few chapters take place during the first storm, which claims a couple of dozen lives. Most of the book takes place twelve years later though, when the approaching second storm also brings with it some of the people who died in the first. There's a traditional ghost but most of them possess the body of someone living, with a warning that the storm contains an evil supernatural force, the real reason for the high casualty rate.
I thought the book nicely set up the various groups of characters, each of whom loses someone in the first storm only to have them come back in the second, with not all the returnees necessarily being welcome visitors. So there's plenty of people to feel invested in as they try to stay safe from the ice creatures, and maybe even save their loved ones' ghosts from their limbo state.
Monday, 4 January 2016
"The Husbands of River Song" by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon.Spoilers after the cut.
Tuesday, 22 December 2015
Wednesday, 9 December 2015
The book opens with Strike's assistant Robin receiving a severed leg as a special delivery, but despite early word being that this was the goriest of the novels so far, I'm not sure it quite overtakes The Silkworm's ritual eviscerations. The creepiest element is probably Robin delving into the world of acrotomophilia, investigating people either attracted to amputees or, particularly in this case, people who want to have their own limbs amputated. Having lost a leg in the Middle East, Strike is unsurprisingly unsympathetic, particularly to a very odd couple they meet during their investigation. Despite a fairly small pool of suspects this is another good mystery with a few red herrings and perilous moments - this being someone happy to kill off dozens of characters in a children's series, you can certainly imagine Rowling wouldn't hesitate to get rid of one of her popular leads in a grisly adult series.
Monday, 7 December 2015
"Face the Raven" / "Heaven Sent" / "Hell Bent" by Sarah Dollard and Steven Moffat, directed by Justin Molotnikov and Rachel Talalay. Spoilers after the cut.
Tuesday, 17 November 2015
"Sleep No More" by Mark Gatiss, directed by Justin Molotnikov. Spoilers after the cut.
Monday, 16 November 2015
There's a number of story threads going on but the main one is based around a real-life book written by Queen Catherine Parr, The Lamentation of a Sinner, a proclamation of faith the like of which a lot of people wrote at the time. In reality it was published after Henry's death, in the novel the manuscript has been stolen at a time when its contents could have been used against her. The storyline is interesting but as usual what I most enjoy about the novels is the atmosphere of the time, which at this point has become even more threatening than before.
Monday, 9 November 2015
"The Zygon Invasion" / "The Zygon Inversion" by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat, directed by Daniel Nettheim. Spoilers after the cut.