Thursday, 1 August 2013

2 mystery reviews, and and some book links

    This sounds so interesting: Over at BBC online site, Ann Morgan, a writer, set herself the challenge of reading a book from every UN-listed country, in a year.  196 books in 365 days.  Here is a link to the bbc article.  She talks about what she learned during her year of reading, and what it was like to read a book from each country.

   Over at Book Marks magazine online site, I found a link to some Great Mysteries vol 2, a selection of some of the very good mysteries, featuring international,  contemporary hardboiled and noir, and psychological authors and books. I am happy to see that I have read some of the authors featured, and several I have been meaning to start reading.
Two book reviews: 
   Now You See Me - S.J. Bolton - The first Lacey Flint mystery.  It is excellent. Lacey is a Detective Constable, who when the book opens is investigating an unrelated crime when a woman falls into her, stabbed and dying.  The crime is not in her district, but because she is an eyewitness and the only one, she is brought over to the other division, putting her right in the middle of the investigation.  She is an interesting character, smart and yet vulnerable and young, and makes mistakes during the progress of the investigation.  She is also a character who doesn't want to draw attention to herself, and during the book this is slowly revealed why.  Although I was ready for some of the ending, some it came as a huge shock, breathtakingly audacious of the author.  Brilliant.  Jack the Ripper also features, as does the faintest hint of a romance, sharp dialogue, and some of the best mystery plotting I've seen in a long time.  Suspenseful, a police procedural that has interesting secondary characters, and a real pleasure to read.  I will be looking for book 2, Dead Scared, this weekend.  Here is a review I did last fall about another of her books, Blood Harvest.  She is definitely a writer worth seeking out.

The Girl on the Stairs - Louise Welsh - This is one of  the books my husband brought back from England for me earlier this month.  I was anxious to read it, since some reviewers, like this one over at the Guardian site, links it to Daphne Du Maurier's Don't Look Now, a movie that I love (and am scared to watch), and a book I am looking for.  I read it once, and have seen the movie a few times.  Don't Look Now is a ghost story and a love story and a scary story, all at once.  Both are set in foreign countries - Don't Look Now in  Venice, The Girl on the Stairs in Berlin, and this atmosphere of not being able to communicate clearly, of being cut off from the main stream of life going on for other people, pervades both. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to live in a foreign country, and not feel like people are watching you for being different.   Both the main characters in each novel are in a numinous space - John Baxter has lost his young daughter before going to Venice to recover, and Jane Logan, whose last name we only are given later in the book, is heavily pregnant when she arrives in Berlin to start her new life with her partner.  This emotional instablility increases the unsettling space in each book, leaving the characters open to perceiving things that may or may not be there.

Would The Girl on the Stairs live up to its billing?  Oh yes, it did.  It is not like Don't Look Now in the psychic sense, which disappoints me - I am always on the look out for books like that.  It is  however a creepy book,with a modern gothic sensibility, and dark.  As the Guardian reviews says, the danger isn't just where Jane finds herself - it's what she could do to those around her. It is deeply unnerving, and I found myself yelling at Jane to not do what she does, at the end. " No Jane, don't go! " I said out loud. I was glad I wasn't on the bus at the time.  But Jane goes, and the ending is devastating.  And frightening.  It would be perfect for RIP.  There is real horror here, but you see it sideways, at a glance, and it's only later, after the book is done, that parts of it creep back and say, look.   Very good, and suspenseful.  Don't Look Now is the scarier book, by far, though.  Eerie, too.  The Girl on the Stairs is  psychologically dark.  Both are very good books.

I am beginning to wonder if there is such a thing as a modern Gothic atmosphere in literature. A kind of gothic sensibility in literature today.  It would feature weird and wonderful things, creepy things, like southern gothic films often do.   I think there is.  Movies like The Skeleton Key,  books by Karen Russell, Charlene Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series, Sharyn McCrumb's Nora  Bonsteel series (the ballad series), are just a few.  I enjoy these atmospheric books and movies.  Do you, Gentle Reader?  Do you have a favourite or new 'gothic' book or movie you love?  Flannery O'Connor was one of the first, and of course William Faulkner.  That's southern Gothic.  Is there a gothic author where you live?


JaneGS said...

I'm also a big fan of Don't Look Now, one of DDM's best efforts, in my opinion.

The Girl on the Stairs sounds really good--hope I'm not too scared to actually read it. I'm currently reading Beloved, which is also a ghost story and truly horrific, but not in a supernatural way.

I think you're on to something with the notion of a modern gothic sensibiility that is very appealing. I was discussing The White Queen the other day with my 18-year old son, and he really liked the addition of magic and witchcraft to the surprisingly historical accuracy of the series.

Susan said...

Jane: Ever since I wrote this post, I've been wondering if I should try to find the movie to watch again! And the book, of course :-)

I don't think The Girl on the Stairs is too scary to read. It was more gothic than anything, which I hope you will understand when you read it. It's very interesting to think about. Beloved - Toni Morrison's book? I think I heard there is a ghost in that book, or possibly several. Another one to read some day....are you enjoying it?

What is the White Queen? I know I haven't read the book, but of course you know you threw in the words magic and witchcraft to history and I'm interested! I'll go see what Amazon has. Guessing it's Philippa Gregory?

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