Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Book review: The Basic Eight

Daniel Handler is better known as children's author Lemony Snicket, but has also published a few books under his own name. Before the Series of Unfortunate Events came his 1995 debut novel The Basic Eight, whose story is a bit of a high school transposition of The Secret History and Fight Club. It takes the form of a journal by San Francisco high school senior Flannery Culp, who's gone back to re-edit it for publication from the prison cell or mental hospital room she's ended up in a year or so later. So it's made clear from the start that she and the other members of the Basic Eight, a pretentious clique, will end the story with murder, and she even lets us know in advance who the victim will be. The unlikeable, delusional narrator device extends to Flannery pointing out to the reader when she's using literary devices like foreshadowing, dramatic irony and pathetic fallacy, and ending each chapter with a list of discussion topics and useful vocabulary. I found it generally enjoyable, although the plot feels well-trodden and Handler's use of barely-disguised real names for public figures (post-notoriety, Flannery's nemesis is talk show host Winnie Moprah, and she'll be played by actress Rinona Wider in the TV movie) was a bit twee for me.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Book review: Career of Evil

Writing under a pseudonym must do wonders for J.K. Rowling's writer's block, because unlike the big gaps we used to get between Harry Potter books, the Cormoran Strike crime novels she writes as Robert Galbraith have been coming out pretty regularly. The series is in part Rowling's way of talking about the weirdness of fame, and where the first two books saw the private detective solve cases involving famous people, in Career of Evil it's his own fame thanks to those cases that kicks everything off: A serial killer with a Blue Öyster Cult fixation has made it very clear he or she has a particular beef with Strike, who thinks his recent appearances in the papers have stirred up someone from his past with a grudge. And since his past was in the military police, he can come up with a decent shortlist of suspects just off the top off his head.

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

Raven? See, moan.

So after Doctor Who Series 9's only single-part story we go into a concluding three-parter, but a stealth one, a bit like "Utopia" was a stealth way to reintroduce the Master. In this case it's the Time Lords who are reintroduced, and they're grumpy about... something, because the Time Lords are always grumpy about something.

"Face the Raven" / "Heaven Sent" / "Hell Bent" by Sarah Dollard and Steven Moffat, directed by Justin Molotnikov and Rachel Talalay. Spoilers after the cut.