Archive for thriller

a journal of the plague year [are we there yet?!]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2021 by xi'an

Read the next volume of the Witcher series, Baptism of Fire, with even less enthusiasm than for the previous one, as the momentum of the series seems to have stalled… (Despite reading some highly positive reviews.) Some dialogues are funny enough, along with progressive views not particularly common in fantasy, like the support of reproductive rights, incl. abortion (and even less supported in the home country of the author, Andrzej Sapkowski!). But overall, not much happening and too much infodump!

Baked Ethiopian lentils & spinach mix, to get along with a slow cooking Ethiopian beef stew. And cooked more Venetian dishes. And had a great Korean streetfood dinner at (or from) MamiBaba by Quinsou, near Montparnasse, with pajeon (the cousin to okonomiyaki!) and kimchee. Accompanied by a first attempt at baking a chocolate pie.

Watched a few episodes of Alice in Borderland, vaguely suggested as hearsay by my daughter, but despite the fascinating scenes of an empty Tokyo, the plot is not particularly engaging, the tricks towards solving the game often lame, and the characters are not developed at all. Then watched Kurosawa’s Creepy, a gripping if not particularly realist psychological thriller that was premiered at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival. And reminded me of the much more disturbing Losey’s The Servant

Read two further volumes of John Harvey’s Charlie Resnick, in a random order, volumes that I found in and returned to the exchange section in front of our library as usual. And which I found almost as good as the first one, with its insistence on the humanity of each of the characters rather than indulging in manicheism. References to jazz pieces got a wee bit annoying by the third volume… And there is a maximal number of rye bread sandwiches with Polish pastrami I can swallow!

Watched also for the first time the fascinating The Wild Goose Lake (南方车站的聚会 which translates as A Rendez-Vous at a Station in the South), by Diao Yinan, a 2019 Cannes Festival selection, a psychological and violent noir film taking place in Wuhan among local gangs, when a gang boss kills by mistake a policeman after a very gory episode. The classical story line of the chase à la A bout de souffle is both tenuous and gripping, with an painful attention to colour and lightings, most scenes taking place at night with ghastly lights, with an intentional confusion between gangs of criminals and groups of cops, the final scene in full daylight making everything else sounding like a bad dream. The two main characters are striking, with an outlandish swan-like actress Gwei Lun-Mei. This also led me to watch the earlier Black Coal Thin Ice, which I also found impressive in terms of filming [that makes the cold and snow in this Northern city almost perceptible!] and definition of characters, once again involving Gwei Lun-Mei as the central, almost mute, and doomed, woman, but puzzling in terms of psychology and scenarios. (The shootout in the gallery is plain ridiculous imho.)


Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2021 by xi'an

Rogue Male [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on October 4, 2014 by xi'an

When I was about to leave a library in Birmingham, I spotted a “buy one get one half-price” book on a pile next to the cashier. Despite a rather weird title, Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male looked classic enough to rank with Graham Green’s Confidential Agent or Erskine Childers’ Riddle of the Sands or yet John Buchan’s 39 Steps… Not mentioning the early Eric Ambler novels. I mean, a classic British thriller with political ramifications and a central character exposed with shortcomings and doubts.  After reading the book last week, I am glad I impulsively bought it. Rogue Male is not a Greene’s novel and this for several reason: (a) it is much more nationalistic, to the point of refusing to contact English authorities for fear of exposing some official backup of the attempted assassination, while Greene seemed to lean more to the Left, (b) it is both less and more psychological, in that it (i) superbly describes the process of getting rogue, i.e. of being hunted and of cutting or trying to cut [some] human feelings to rely on animal instincts for survival but (ii) leaves the overall motivation for Hitler’s attempted assassination and for the hunt by Nazi secret agents mostly unspecified  (c) it involves a very limited number of characters, all of them men, (d) it leaves so much of the action at the periphery that this appears as a weakness of the book… Still, there are some features also found in Greene’s Confidential Agent like the character failing in his attempt and being nearly captured or killed in the ensuing hunt, or the inner doubts about the (un)ethical nature of the fight… (Actually, both Greene and Household worked for the British secret services.) The overall story behind Rogue Male is a wee bit shallow and often too allusive to make sense but the underground part with the final psychological battle is superb. Truly a classic!

the devotion of suspect X

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on April 13, 2013 by xi'an

“Ah, an adherent of Erdös, I see”

I read this book (I bought along with the House of Silk in Oxford) over a wee more than a day: it reads fast and it reads well! Really really well. The devotion of suspect X is a Japanese detective story where the reader knows the true murder story from the start and waits for the police to uncover the culprits, except there is a twist in the story. And another twist in the twist. And yet another one…

“That guy might be a genius mathematician, but he’s certainly a novice murderer.”
“They are the same thing,” Yokawa stated simply. “Murder probably comes even easier to him.”

The main characters are three graduates from the Imperial University in Tokyo: one in sociology (who acknowledged only visiting the library twice), one in physics who is still working as a researcher there and one in mathematics, who left the academic system to teach bored high school students—while still working on his free time on the Riemann conjecture. The X in the title is actually related with the mathematician, who handle the murder as a maths equation and the murderer as an unknown X.

“For instance, I give them a question that looks like a geometry problem, but is in fact an algebra problem.”

The book starts somehow sedately but, as the personalities of the mathematician and the physician unfold, it gets more and more gripping, to the point I could not let go (and was glad of my battery giving up during the flight to Montpellier so that I could keep reading!). I also appreciated very much the depiction of the Japanese society in the novel and found myself visualising the characters in some parts of Kyoto I visited last year (although the story takes place in Tokyo). The harsh condition of single women in this society is also well-exposed and central to the story.

“He had calculated that it would take him roughly another twenty years to complete his work on this particular theory. Possibly even longer. It was the kind of insurmountable problem worthy of an entire lifetime’s devotion. And of all the mathematicians in the world, he was in the best position to crack it.”

There are a few imperfections, of course, like the final scene which is both “necessary” and clumsy. Or the uncovering of the (brilliant) last twist by the physicist. But the plot holds solidly as a whole and makes me want tore-read the book again, to reanalyse every situation with the knowledge of the “full” truth. (I also disliked the connection with Stieg Larsson made on the front cover:  it differs very very much from Millenium in that the central female character Yasuko remains a victim throughout the book without ever taking over. There is no political perspective to be found in The devotion of suspect X.) The book was adopted into a movie, I wonder how well it translates…

A Quiet Belief in Angels [not a self-promotion]

Posted in Books, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2012 by xi'an

Interesting, most interesting! As I was thinking about writing a post on this book, Andrew pointed out the author, R.J. Ellory, had been caught red-handed, writing a highly positive review on his own book and criticising other authors on Amazon… Given that reviews on Amazon are not edited, I am not surprised at authors hitting back at anonymous reviewers (and noticed the same for this book I severely criticized a few months ago! Five glowing five-star reviews from the author and relatives…), even though they sound rather silly when being exposed. As Andrew points out, this disguised self-promotion is still a far cry from plagiarism and is just a wee…silly. (Even the French public radio mentioned the thing on the evening news. Maybe in connection with the high popularity of Ellory in France.)

For the life of me I did not know who they were talking about, and for some reason it did not matter.A Quiet Belief in Angels

Anyway, this is another of those books I bought in Bristol last Spring for two pounds, mostly at random (and also by being confused between Ellory and Elroy!). The book is quite special, as far away as one can think from an usual thriller or detective story (which may explain the author’s scathing criticism of “the seemingly endless parade of same-old-same-old police procedurals that seem to abound in the UK”). Actually, as the action is taking place in Georgia, I thought the author was American, rather than English. In short, I found the book fascinating, moving, highly disturbing, imperfect, unrealistic, often if not always well-written, original, and incomplete. With a final chapter that is completely unnecessary. The book relates very much to (and borrows from) the older realistic literature of the 40’s and 50’s, from Steinbeck to Capote, to Dos Passos, of course, but the underlying horrific murders make the book indeed quite an original read. Having started at random, I am rather interested in reading other books from this author, self-promotion or not! (I can guarantee that Xi’an is not a fake pseudo used by R.J. Ellory!!!)  Reading from his auto-bio-sketch, I can also see some links between the main character of A Quiet Belief in Angels and its author. I just hope the other books get away from this autobiographical source…