It's been a long while since I posted for The Sunday Salon. It is one of those gloriously bright and sunny Sundays that makes all the concerns disappear. Today is a day for pleasure. So, in this spirit, I wanted to review some books I've read lately, and another short story for Mel's Irish Short Story week challenge.
The first two are for March Mystery Madness, hosted by Christina at Reading Thru the Night. They also qualify for Wendy's Merely Mystery Reading Challenge 2012
at Musings of a Literary Feline, to which I am finally adding some books to.
Collusion - Stuart Neville. The sequel to The Ghosts of Belfast, this continues the story of Gerry Fagan, the ex-soldier who was haunted by the 12 people he killed in his former life working for the IRA. (See my previous post this week for the link to my review of The Ghosts of Belfast). He is a killer, but it turns out he has a conscience. He also falls in love with Marie McKenna, and makes a connection with her little girl Ellen. To save them from the wrath of the survivors of the bloodbath that ends The Ghosts of Belfast, Marie and Ellen flee to England, and he flees to the US, where Collusion picks up. Unfortunately for him, he left alive Bull O'Kane, the mobster from The Ghosts of Belfast. Bull is now afraid of Gerry, and hires another hit man named the Traveller to kill Gerry. The action starts almost from the very beginning, and we get the point of view of Gerry as he is threatened in New York, and then The Traveller as he starts to pick off the remnants of the survivors of the bloodbath, because O'Kane is cleaning up anyone who could possibly know the truth of why a politician was killed by Fagan. The third point of view is Detective John Lennon, father of Ellen, who has never been permitted to know his daughter. In Ireland, to join the police when you are Catholic, is to risk censure, and then he falls in love with a Protestant - Marie - and loses her. Collusion is about him coming to terms with his own past, and realizing that since Marie has disappeared with Ellen, and people who were connected to the original killings are now dying, that Marie is at risk now. He is no saint, though he is a good detective, and he finally comes to understand himself enough to know that he needs to help save Marie and Ellen. This is a fabulous mystery novel, one that is difficult to put down, and even though the characters are conflicted, they are real and this makes this a gripping read. Will Marie and Ellen survive, once O'Kane uses them as bait to lure Gerry back to Ireland? Will anyone survive? Is anyone who they appear to be? Not in this book, not in this world. It comes from having such a deadly conflict that asked people to betray their family, to hate a neighbor because of their faith, or background. This is the new Ireland, still coming to terms with the fallout of the past 100 years. It's dark and violent, very noir and despite all that, love softens the edges, makes this the best kind of noir mystery, make this one of the best mystery series to come out of Ireland. 5/5
Hard-boiled Noir mystery for Merely Mystery Reading Challenge, and March Mystery Madness.
Ashes to Dust - Yrsa Sigurdardottir
This is the third in the Thora Gudmunsdottir mystery series set in Iceland. I have enjoyed this series very much so far. The last book, My Soul To Take, I reviewed here. One and a half years ago! I can't believe it's been that long since I read this series. Thora Gudmunsdottir is a lawyer who can't seem to help ending up investigating unsolved crimes and mysteries. These are often through clients calling up her small law firm, and for her, one thing leads to another. Thora is a mother, and now a grandmother, and it's good to see that she has to juggle raising her children with her work, as well as being a divorced parent. In Ashes to Dust, Thora is hired by Markus Magnusson when he tries to block archaeologists from going into the basement of his childhood home. It was buried under volcanic ash in an eruption in 1973, and most of that area was still uninhabitable. So Thora is there when 4 bodies, one of them headless, and a head in a box, are discovered in the cellar. How did Markus know something was there? He claims he was getting the box for a friend, Alda, a neighbor of his before the eruption. Before Alda can confirm his whereabouts on the night of the explosion, and if she knew the contents of the box, she dies and shortly after her death it is discovered through the autopsy report that she was murdered. So now Thora has to go back to the other neighbors who were there at the time, and evacuated with Markus, to confirm if they saw him or not. She also has to clear her client of suspicion of murder of the three men in the basement, because he knew something was down there. so she digs into Alda's life as well, to see if there is a missing link. She also has to find out who the men were, because for all this time,no one has reported four missing Icelandic men. At the time of the explosion, Iceland was at war with England, which I did not know - I had forgotten about. When it turns out the men are English, they have to discover who killed them, to avoid any political pressure. Mostly this is in the background of the mystery - the centerpiece is the volcanic eruption, and what it was like to live through, as Thora asks the villagers who knew the family and were part of the rescue mission, what happened that night in 1973. It's a very good mystery, with a shocking twist at the end that I didn't see coming. 4.7/5
Read for The Professional category of Wendy's Merely Mystery Challenge , and March Mystery Madness.
The Atrocity Files - Charles Stross
This was my introduction to Charles Stross, who I had never heard of until Bride of the Book God reviewed one of his books a few years ago. I finally picked up The Atrocity Files, and I have to say, it is good. It is a blend of science fiction and Lovecraft monsters, set in a bureaucracy and office setting that had me in stitches. Bob Howard is the main character, a guy who has an on/off girlfriend, found himself working for The Laundry, a hidden spy office that deals with the supernatural monsters from other realms. He accidentally brought himself to their attention when he solved a physics equation on the computer. This is the first novel in the series, and it is very enjoyable. It has monsters, a damsel in distress, soldiers, cool spy stuff, alternate portals to scary worlds, and an office boss from hell - really, Bridget and Harriet are evil paper pushers with forms in triplicate for everything, especially expenses. I enjoyed this, but compared to Moving Mars, it didn't have the emotional resonance that I wanted. Then again, it is a satire, so probably should be read when I am feeling sarcastic! It really is fun, and I will be continuing with this series. I really like how Stross blends real-life history with how the Laundry came to be in the shadows. Oh, and Hitler plays part, too, in the evil faced in The Atrocity Files. So it is a clever science fiction Lovecraft novel. 4.5/5
Mel's Irish Short Story Week - now continued until March 31/12
"The Sisters" - James Joyce
So, when Mel announced that he was continuing his Irish short story challenge until the end of March to give readers time to read some more, I was delighted. In my last post I read an Irish ghost story which was very good and moving. It is still resonating in my mind several days later. So I took the opportunity last night to pick up some James Joyce and try a short story from Dubliners. It must be me. I read "The Sisters", and when it finished, I kept looking to see if the story continued on. Not because it was good, but because I was confused - that was the story? What was the story? Even now, I'm hard pressed to say what exactly the story was. And yet I know I've enjoyed other things by Joyce. So I'm thinking it was the story. I'll try a few more, and see. For now, The Sisters is a short story about a reverend who has died, and the reactions of the main character and the reverend's sisters to the passing. The main character is a young man who studied informally under Reverend James Flynn, and has not been ordained yet. He has a mix of hope and bewilderment that Flynn is dead, though it is difficult to say why exactly, which even he doesn't understand, except that he feels freedom at Flynn's death. My interpretation is that the young man doesn't want to go into the priesthood, but doesn't know himself enough to know that yet. It's a story that I like despite not being clear about it, except that the ending is bothersome. It's like a moment in time, the full import which means rereading it (and I just did before writing this to be sure of how I think about it!) to try and get a feeling for what happened. It's like having an entry into a family conversation where you are the stranger - that's what this short story feels like. What I like best are the conversations, it feels like we are there in the room with the sisters, with the uncle, with all the different conversations that make up this story - it feels like we are in their sitting rooms, in Dublin, at the turn of the century. I will be reading more of these stories for the rest of Mel's challenge.
Happy Sunday reading, everyone!