Archive for detective stories

strange loyalties [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2020 by xi'an

This book by William McIlvarnney is the third and last one in the Laidlaw investigation series and the most original of the three as far as I am concerned… For it is more an inner quest than a crime investigation, as the detective is seeking an explanation to the accidental death of his brother as well as the progressive deterioration of their relation, while trying to make sense of his own life and his relation to women. It is thus as far a crime novel as it is possible, although there are criminals involved. And Laidlaw cannot separate his “job” from his personal life, meaning he does investigate on his free time the death of his brother.  It is entirely written in a first-person perspective, which makes the reading harder and slower in my case. But an apt conclusion to the trilogy, rather than being pulled into finer and finer threads as other detective stories. Brilliant (like the light on Skye during the rain).

“Life was only in the living of it. How you act and what you are and what you do and how you be were the only substance. They didn’t last either. But while you were here, they made what light there was – the wick that threads the candle-grease of time. His light was out but here I felt I could almost smell the smoke still drifting from its snuffing.”

the ice princess [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on May 11, 2014 by xi'an

This week in Warwick, I read The Ice Princess, the first novel of Camilla Lackberg and a book I purchased in Toronto last Fall. I remember seeing the novel fairly frequently in the Paris métro a few years ago and, judging from the banner on top of my edition (“7 million books sold”), it was not only popular in Paris… I actually fail to understand why. Indeed, the plot sounds like a beginner level exercise in a creative writing class, with all possible memes of a detective story appearing together, from suicide, to adultery, to paedophilia, to rich inheritors, to domestic violence, to incompetent bosses, to small town gossip, etc., etc.  The hidden story that is central to explain the murder(s) is just unbelievable, as are some of the related subplots.  And the style is appalling: the two main protagonists are withholding clues and information from the reader, their love affair takes hundred of pages to unravel, the sentences are often unnatural,  or repetitive, some characters are so clichés as to be ultimately unbelievable. Negatives just pile up so high it is laughable. And unbelievable the book got so popular. Or received prizes. Like the 2008 Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for Best International Crime Novel…  (Prize which picked in other times major writers like Patricia Highsmith, Chester Himes, John Dickson Carr, Eric Ambler, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Tony Hillerman, P. D. James, Ian Rankin, and Arnaldur Indriðason.) Anyway, this was a very poor beginning to a highly succesfull series and I am glad I read The Hidden Child before The Ice Princess, as the former had more depth and a much better plot than this first novel.

The Chronicles of Matthew Bartholomew

Posted in Books with tags on December 14, 2008 by xi'an

I just finished reading To Kill or Cure, the 13th volume in the series of the Chronicles of Matthew Batholomew. This is an unusual series in that it takes place in 14th century Cambridge, with the two investigators being a monk and a physician from an earlier college called Michaelhouse. Part of the appeal of those books is that the colleges mentioned in the books are real and that the major events are also inspired from real facts… Most characters are also well-rendered, even though they may think and behave in too modern a fashion for that time: it is somehow too easy to make a physician offering “modern” medical theories about plague, diseases and anatomy when writing centuries later! But I did like the description of the Plague in the first book and the impact on the English society as described in the later volumes. Another part of the appeal is obviously the description of the working patterns of Cambridge colleges at that time, circa 1350, with the fights between scholars, colleges, as well as the rivalry with Oxford and the animosity between “town and gown”, the scholars being protected from trivial law by being granted a religious status. The descriptions of teaching, of student mentoring and of scholarly excellence are also central to most books and make for an interesting reading, even though I cannot judge how accurate they would be. In the 13th volume, one major thread is the recruiting of two new Fellows of the College, which is fairly entertaining for being in some aspects quite close to the current practice!

The criminal plots are not always excellent, though, and the current volume is certainly lacking in this respect. As in several previous volumes, the conclusion is very abrupt, rather unexpected, and the recovery of both main characters rather unrealistic. (The convenient demise of a central character in the Fens, as well as the sudden threat of the poisoned wine in the final pages is very reminiscent of earlier books, if a minor nuisance.) If you have already gone through the twelve previous volumes, you should find this one entertaining nonetheless!

Exit Music

Posted in Books with tags , , , on December 6, 2008 by xi'an

This is the seventeenth and final novel in the Rebus series. While the plot is not the most endearing of the series (check for instance Fleshmarket Close), it is certainly a fitting ending. As in most of the recent novels, there is a political undercurrent, connecting some cynical Scottish nationalists with Russian seedy entrepreneurs looking for oil deals. There are also the usual threads on Rebus’ musical tastes, on detectives more interested by career than by cases, on Edinburgh and Scotland, as well as the fairly recursive suspension of Rebus in the middle of the book for having overlooked the rules again once too many. Nonetheless, it is mostly about closing the case of Inspector Rebus himself. In a paradoxical twist, he ends up trying to protect his old nemesis Cafferty against a fellow policeman (and even to somehow resurrect him). The pressure to solve the crime that starts the novel by the end of his retirement week is well-set, even if the solution is rather predictable, and the corresponding tension in his ambiguous relation with his partner Siobhan is certainly as enjoyable as ever (and a wee more). It remains to be seen whether or not this is truly the announced retirement of Rebus or if Ian Rankin will keep capitalising on this most Edinburghian of cops: “He could not see himself ever leaving Edinburgh. It was the oxygen in his bloodstream, but still with mysteries to be explored. He’d lived there for as long as he’d been a cop, the two – job and city – becoming intertwined. Each new crime had added to his understanding, without that understanding ever coming near completion. Bloodstained past mingling with bloodstained present; Covenanters and commerce; a city of banking and brothels, virtue and vitriol…

Dance Hall of the Dead

Posted in Books with tags , , on October 28, 2008 by xi'an

Tony Hillerman, author of a series of detective novels centered at the Navajo nation, died on Sunday. The series is made of 18 novels that feature Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee from the Navajo Tribal Police and that give more insights in the Navajo culture than in police work. The set is to be read chronologically as the life and love story of the two main characters unfold along the way. One of my close friends finds the books too “New Age” but I think this truly reflects on the highly metaphysical Navajo perception of the World as well as the fragile preservation of this culture against exterior and devastating influences. While not all of the novels are of the same quality, the later ones being too centered on the main characters and somehow unrealistic in their conclusion, the early ones are truly terrific and I believe “A Thief of Time” to be Hillerman’s masterpiece.