Even though I am beyond schedule at several levels of reality, I took some time off during the X’mas break to read a few of the books from my to-read pile. The first one was The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams. While I read two fantasy series by Williams, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and Shadowmarch, which major drawback was that they both were unnecessarily long, this short novel is a mix of urban fantasy and of detective story, except that the detective working for Heaven in our current universe and fighting the “Opposition”, i.e. Hell, at every moment. This may sound quite a weird setting, but I nonetheless enjoyed the plot, the characters and the witty dialogues (as in “a man big enough to have his own zip code”). There were some lengthy parts, inevitably, but the whole scheme was addictive enough that I read it within two days. Now, there is a second (and then a third) volume in the series that does not sound up to par, judging from the amazon reviews. But this first volume got a very positive review from Patrick Rothfuss and it can be read on its own.
The second book I read over the vacations in Chamonix is Olen Steinhauer’s An American spy. This is the third instalment in the stories of Milo Weaver, the never-truly-retired Tourist. The volume is more into tying loose ends from previous books than into creating a new compelling story, even though it plays on the disappearance of loved ones and on a maze of double- and triple-agents. The fact that the story is told from many perspectives does not help (it is as if Weaver is now a secondary character) and the conclusion is fairly anticlimactic. A bit of nitpicking: a couple of spies (Tourists) travel to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on a tourist visa, but there is no such thing as a Saudi tourist visa. Plus, the behaviour of the characters there is incompatible with the strict laws of Saudi Arabia.
A third book completed during those vacations is Gutted, by Tony Black. (I had actually bought this book in Warwick for my son’ British studies project but he did not look further than the backcover.) The book is taking place in Edinburgh, starting on Corstorphine Hill with a dog beating, and continuing in the seediest estates of Edinburgh where dog fights are parts of the shadow economy. The main character of the novel is the anti-hero Gus Drury, who is engaged so thoroughly in self-destruction that he would make John Rebus sound like a teetotaller! Gus is an ex-journalist who lost his job and wife to scoosh, running a pub with the help of two friends. Why he gets involved in an investigation remains unclear to me for the whole book: While Black has been hailed as a beacon for Celtic Noir, and while the style is gritty and enjoyable, I find the plot a wee bit shallow, with an uncomfortable number of coincidences. While finding this book was like discovering a long lost sibling of Rankin’s Rebus, with a pleasurable stroll through Edinburgh (!), I am far from certain I can contemplate reading the whole series…
Lastly, I read (most of) Giant Thief, by David Tallerman. By bits. This may be the least convincing book in the list. The story is one of a thief who finds himself enrolled in an army he has no reason to support and steals an artefact which value he is unaware of when deserting, along with a giant. The pursuit drags on forever. There are many reasons I disliked the book: the plot is shallow, the main character is the ultimate cynic, with not enough depth to build upon. Definitely missing the sparkling charm of the Lies of Locke Lamorra.