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Friday, 26 February 2016

Ratking by Michael Dibdin

I honestly have no memory of why I picked up Ratking out of all the other crime novels available. I guess it might be that I had heard that crime novels based in Italy tend to have an interesting focus on corruption and wanted to see what that was like. Quite possibly it might just be that the cover featured an actor whose work I am rather fond of, and I wanted to read the book before potentially tackling a new series. What can I say, I'm fickle.

Ratking is the first book in a series following Italian police detective Aurelio Zen. After being unofficially demoted due to his actions on a past case, he finds himself being assigned to active duty again as part of a kidnapping case involving wealthy industrialist Ruggiero Miletti. What he arrives in Perugia to find is a fractured, unhappy family unwilling to cooperate with the police, a magistrate determined to find guilt for the kidnapping amongst the victim's family and a force unwilling to work for an outsider. All of this only makes the delicate situation with the kidnapping even more precarious, and Zen only has one chance at salvaging his career.
Having finished the novel now, I find myself a bit torn. On the one hand, it is a very competently written crime novel, with no real glaring faults for me to latch onto. I suppose the thing that gives me pause most of all is more that I don't think I've ever read a detective novel where the main investigator is quite so willing to be completely underhanded in his methods. While I'm sure there are points in any crime novel where the investigator has to confront the whole question of do the ends justify the means, Ratking takes things further than I'm used to. There is no other series where I look at how the investigation has proceeded and think to myself that the detective stealing a car and planting it somewhere suspicious just so that it can be brought in for forensic testing is a reasonable course of action. While I can appreciate that the nature of the difficulties that Inspector Zen deals with do sort of warrant the extreme lengths that he will go to, it is a bit disconcerting that he does it so blithely. It doesn't really detract from the quality of the story-telling, it just might be a point to take into consideration if you were thinking of picking up Ratking: Aurelio Zen very much proves that you don't have to be nice or play fair in order to be a good person, and if you like your detectives to be more noble and just in their actions this may be a serious issue.

Definitely an interesting and rather more sleazy take on the crime genre. The problems with bureaucracy and privilege are clearly spelled out, and the methods that the main character uses are underhanded enough to match. If you want a more traditional detective with an unspoken code of conduct, you may wish to look elsewhere, but if you're looking for something a little different, then this might be your answer. 4/5

Next review: De Sade's Valet by Nikolaj Frobenius

Signing off,

Monday, 22 February 2016

Aberystwyth Mon Amour by Malcolm Pryce

Okay, so this one I picked up more or less purely for the title. You can't deny that as a title Aberystwyth Mon Amour is memorable and more than a little silly, so why on earth wouldn't I pick it up? Besides, I'd been looking to read some a bit more noir, so this fit the bill in more than one way.

Aberystwyth Mon Amour follows a down-on-his-luck private investigator named Louie Knight after he is visited by notorious singer and bar wench, Myfenwy Montez. She asks him to search for her young cousin, an unpleasant youth known as Evans the Boot. What seems like a simple case soon turns strange, as he finds that Evans is not the first schoolboy to go missing, and that the case may involve the Grand Wizard of the Druids, head of the local school and leader of a seriously shady faux-Mafia group.
This book is the most surreal experiences I've had in a long while. Admittedly, when you go into a book knowing that it is Welsh Fantasy Noir, you have at least an inkling that you're in for a weird ride. But then details about the case start coming in and it goes onto a whole other level of strangeness: Druids running the town both legitimately and not, the local ice-cream vendor doubling as the local philosopher/informant, tea cosy shops being a cover for dodgy dealings, war veterans from Patagonia, and much, much more. Whenever I state some of the weird stuff that makes up the world-building in this book, I can't help but be surprised that it isn't more difficult to follow plot-wise. The story itself is remarkably easy to follow; daft as a brush, but surprisingly credible nonetheless. My only real issue with it really is that there are parts of the narrative, the ending in particular, where it feels a tad rushed and could have really used a bit more detail. As for the characters, I feel that some of them deserved more attention, in particular Calamity Jane, but overall they were nicely fleshed out. I'd be more than happy to read the next installment if I were to come across it.

A solid and thoroughly weird Fantasy Noir book. If you fancy a Detective Noir book that is willing to poke fun at itself, then you're in luck. At times it feels like all the surreal elements shouldn't work together so well, but somehow it gets the tone just right. The only main issue is a rushed ending. 4/5

Next review: Ratking by Michael Dibdin

Signing off,

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

So, here I am, going back to the roaring twenties again. I know, you're probably all sick of it by now, but there's something about the time period that I am inexorably drawn to.

Bright Young Things follows three young women trying to find their way in New York in 1929. There's Letty Larkspur, fresh off the train from Ohio and desperate to leave her old life behind by chasing her dream of being a famous singer. Cordelia Grey, who travelled down from Ohio with Letty, is looking for her long-lost bootlegger father and finds herself falling for the one boy he wants her to stay away from. And finally, there's Astrid Donal, a young flapper trying to navigate high society and her complicated feelings for her boyfriend, Charlie Grey.
After Das Boot, I needed something lighter and this may have been just about the perfect choice. Bright Young Things encapsulates just about everything that I want when I pick up a novel about 1920s America. There's a nice balance between the hard graft and sleaziness of your average working girl, and the backstabbing glamour of the upper classes. The emphasis on the bootlegging is a nice touch, as the presence of alcohol despite Prohibition is generally glossed over in novels that I've picked up previously. I also like that not all of the main girls want to be famous in some capacity. It's frustrating, I want to be more specific, but I like the book too much for my thoughts to coalesce right. I'm just really glad that I picked up Bright Young Things and I would be more than happy to pick up the next installment of the series.

Pretty much a perfect 1920s novel, with a nice blend of rich and poor, criminal and legitimate elements. Definitely one to pick up if you're interested in this period of history. 5/5

Next review: Aberystwyth Mon Amour by Malcolm Pryce

Signing off,

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Das Boot by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim

A few years back, my parents showed me the film Das Boot, and it absolutely blew me away. So when I found out that it was based off of a book after coming across it at a secondhand bookstall, I couldn't really resist seeing how it compared to the film adaptation.

Das Boot is a novel closely based off of the experiences of the author's time as a naval correspondent aboard a German submarine. The U-Boat that the narrator finds himself on is set to make a patrol around the Atlantic, with the aim to destroy enemy supply convoys. It soon becomes clear why the return rate for sailors on German submarines was only 25%.
So, good parts first. If you're interested in military history, this is fantastically detailed account of life aboard a German U-Boat. There isn't an area of life on the boat that isn't touched upon, from daily routine, to the mechanics of the submarine itself, to the dangers of naval combat. I wasn't aware that this would be such a plus point for me, but I personally found the sections about how the submarine actually worked to be utterly fascinating. Additionally, this attention to detail makes the sections where they have to dive to avoid enemy fire all the more claustrophobic and harrowing.
Unfortunately, the bad parts of Das Boot also stem from this attention to detail. The book is separated into 11 chapters, with each focusing on one particular set piece, as it were. That in and of itself isn't an issue for me. The issue I have is that the chapters, and by extension each set piece, go on for too long. For example, one of the chapters recounts a storm that the U-Boat gets caught in, and it spans a grand total of 66 pages. I don't know about you, but there are only so many ways that you can describe terrible weather conditions and the sheer violence of the turbulence inside the submarine, before it starts to get repetitive. Unfortunately, this happens more or less every chapter. No matter how interesting the subject matter, it just feels like it's been stretched out far beyond what the material can actually provide. And because the style is so detailed, the reader is treated to this repetition with intense detail. Whether that is intentional or not, it wasn't to my taste.

My main impression was one of admiration for the sheer detail and atmosphere that is created, especially since it really comes across as something that the author had direct experience of. My main issue with Das Boot is that it has a tendency to drag after a while, so you may need a large measure of patience in order to soldier through it. I'd definitely still recommend it if you are at all interested by military history. 3/5

Next review: Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

Signing off,