Friday 26 March 2010

Falling in love with a detective

Have you ever fallen in love with a literary creation? Had a character who suddenly came to life in your mind, and you find yourself thinking about them long after you've finished the book?

I don't mean that I hold conversations with the character! I mean, more like, this character has come alive for me. He has come out of the story, and I see him in my mind's eye, and I want to know more about him. Has that ever happened to you?

He's Harry Hole, the detective featured in Jo Nesbo's Norwegian detective series beginning with The Redbreast, and continuing through Nemesis, The Devil's Star, and The Redeemer. The latest one, The Snowman, has just been released here in Canada.

First of all I must give a lovely thank you to Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise. It was her review she gave of The Redeemer that brought Jo Nesbo to my attention. She gives reviews for all four books, which is when I realized I was really interested in this series. Yes, it took me six months to find The Redbreast! And oh, I am so glad I did. Because Harry Hole is a detective that over the course of the first book, I found myself falling ever so slowly in love with. In the back of my mind I saw him as I saw John Rebus of the Ian Rankin mysteries, middle-aged, about to retire, trying to ignore authority and drinking when not on the job. I deeply admire John Rebus and secretly hope many of our police forces have detectives like him. Harry, though, Harry is in his mid-thirties. Blonde. And a drunk. He's also got very good instincts and like the best detective characters in fiction, is willing to go against his bosses to follow what only he thinks is a trail.

I know it's shallow of me, but when I saw that description of him as tall and blonde, I swear my heart went thump! and then a most terrible crime is committed in the middle of the book, that left me crying out, actually crying so hard that I had to put the book down. I can't tell you more as it's a key plot point for the series, but it broke my heart. And when I picked the book up again and saw that it broke Harry's heart too, that is when I fell completely in love with him. Yes, I love Harry Hole. And so, even though I am in the midst of the Once Upon a Time Challenge, I have bought The Devil's Star already and am panicking because I can't find Nemesis and I must return to Harry and his story quickly!

I know, I didn't think that as I approached middle age, I could still fall for a pair of blue eyes and a slightly morose character, but apparently I will never be immune to this habit. I hope it never fades! Long live my love affair with books!

Hmm, I can see the more serious mystery readers among you wondering when I'll get to the mystery: Yes, my dear Gentle Readers, The Redbreast rated 4/5 for me. I found the plot a little confusing, and sorting who the killer is and names of the characters had me flipping back to check different sections. It's not the writing, nor the translation. It's because the mystery itself is based on something that happened during WW2, that we also witness, that is having repercussions now, and Harry has to sort through other people's memories and stories to find the truth. It's a very good mystery, that is resolved very satisfyingly. It has a most chilling killer, a most awful betrayal, and the prettiest love interest in a while.......I really enjoyed the premise of this story, and the various characters, especially Harry's budding romance (and no, I don't hate her! I'm happy he's happy!). I love the set-up at his police station, the various officers he has to contend with, and I really enjoyed the history of WW 2 from a Norwegian perspective, which I have only a very rudimentary knowledge of. Most of all, this mystery is about people, and what they will do to survive in the most extreme of situations. What makes people go on?

At Detectives Beyond Borders book blog, Peter Rozovsky has a two part interview with Jo Nesbo about Harry and the books so far; Part one and Part two. It was here that I learned that it's Harry""Heuleh" not 'Hole' pronounciation, and that Harry is a mock term for country bumpkin. And lots of other things, including that Norway thinks of itself somewhat in the same terms with its neighbor Sweden as we do here in Canada with the US. By the way, the translation by Don Bartlett is so good that I forgot I was reading a translated book. It read like it had been written in English. It is excellent.

Just so you know how much I like *have a book crush* on Harry Hole, I much prefer him and this book to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I reviewed here last year. Hmm, I see even though I gave it 5/5 it didn't make it on my books of the year list!! How can I prefer a book I give 4/5 to one that's 5/5? Easy. The further I am away from The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, the more I am aware that it's a story written at a very fast pace, that allows us to miss certain plot holes that now that I'm farther away, I have more difficulties with. I can also barely remember Mikael the hero, whereas Harry - well, we all know about Harry now! I think the difference is that if I don't read the sequel to Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, I wouldn't be dreadfully upset - I want to read it, but it's not important that I do. Whereas it's really important for me to keep reading the Harry Hole series. I must know what happens next, and to him.

So my dear Gentle Readers, have you ever fallen in love with a character? who makes you read every book featuring them?

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Once Upon a Time 4 Challenge and a book review!!

It's here, it's here, it's finally here: Carl's spring challenge, Once Upon a Time IV, is here. I was piling up the books I'd been gathering for the challenge, on Sunday, and one book just fell into my hands and I opened up the first page and started that's magic! So I've already finished a book for this challenge! Like Carl, I also have a large list of books that I want to read for this challenge. I plan to do Quest the Third : Quest 2 Read at least one book from each of the four categories. In this quest you will be reading 4 books total: one fantasy, one folklore, one fairy tale, and one mythology, combined with Read a Midsummer Nights' Dream in June.

The novels I plan to read: (or at least dream over)
Tooth and Claw - Jo Walton (fantasy)
Tam Lin - Pamela Dean (folktale)
Little, Big - John Crowley (fantasy)
The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly (fairy tales)
The Court of the Air - Stephen Hunt (fantasy)
The Sea of Trolls - Nancy Farmer (myth)
Lament - The Faerie Queen's Lament - Maggie Stiefvater (faerie)
Unshapely Things - Mark del Franco (fantasy)
First Among Sequels - Jasper Fforde (fantasy)
Forests of the Heart - Charles de Lint (myth, fantasy)
Bone Crossed - Patricia Briggs (faerie)
Urban Shaman - C.E. Murphy (fantasy)
GreyWalker - Kat Richardson (fantasy)
Jack the Giant Killer - Charles de Lint (folk and faerie) - DONE!!
Drawing Down the Moon - Charles de Lint (faerie)
Blood and Iron - Elizabeth Bear (faerie)
Fool Moon - Jim Butcher (fantasy)
The Time Travelers - Bk One of The Gideon Trilogy - Linda Buckley-Archer (fantasy)
Riddlemaster (Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy) - Patricia McKillip (fantasy)

Short Story Collections for the Short Story Weekends:
We Have Never Talked about My Brother - Peter S. Beagle
Black Heart, Ivory Bones - Datlow and Windling, eds.
Harrowing the Dragon - Patricia McKillip

Assorted others:
The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brother's Grimm ed by Jack Zipes
Transformations - Anne Sexton (collection of fairy tale poems)
A Midsummer Night's Dream - William Shakespeare + possibly viewing a movie or better yet, finding a BBC production of the play

I have to say a word about the artwork chosen to head the banner for this year's challenge. I love it. It's perfect, dark and scary and mythic, and fairy tale looking and just - everything.

So, on to my first review!!:
Jack the Giant Killer - Charles de Lint

This was one of the first books written in the Fairy Tale series edited by Terry Windling. They are comprised of fairy and folk tales rewritten by contemporary fantasy writers. Most of them are excellent. I had never read Jack the Giant Killer before, although I had owned a copy at one time. Sometime in the last year I have made the decision to read, and re-read, all of Charles de Lint's books again over the next several years. I had come across Jack the Giant Killer sometime the past year again and bought it. So when I was looking over my books and it fell into my hands, I opened it up, and immediately I was swept away and I knew it was time to read it.

What a wonderful folktale retelling!! Who doesn't know the story of Jack and the Beanstalk? Only this time, Jack is a girl (Jacky Rowan), and she is drawn into the world of faerie one night when she is out wandering in a park upset over being dumped by her boyfriend. She sees a small man getting hurt, and when she goes over to help him, she is too late, but she picks up his red cap without thinking. Red caps allow you to see the fairies around us, and into their world. She doesn't have much time, for by trying to help the little man, she has drawn the attention of the Hunt - wonderfully imagined as bikers!

I'll let you guess how she lives up to her name of giant killer, though I will say there are no magic beans, no cows or donkeys, no mad mother. I was caught up in this fairy tale retelling, delighting in the combining of modern Ottawa with the fairies living among us, just out of sight, in the world. Jacky is a fun and brave heroine, very charming and courageous, and in true fairy tale spirit, she gathers a small band of helpers as she seeks to rescue the faerie princess from sure death at the hands of the Unseelie Court. Jack the Giant Killer is delightful and a wild romp through faerie at a breathtaking speed - really, everything occurs over a matter of 4 days and nights, I think. And it's fun. I think it might be among the best of Charles' books, and I am so glad I finally discovered it. I can't recommend this highly enough. It has everything you want in a fairy tale. It was a real surprise also at how well it has held up - like the best fairy tales, this one is timeless. The book might be over 20 years old now, but the story - ageless.

A note on the edition I have - I have the paperback edition called Jack of Kinrowan, which combines in one volume Jack the Giant Killer and Drink Down the Moon, which were published separately. It features a lovely Thomas Canty cover.

I know some of you have noted that I picked this as both folktale and faerie tale. It has both elements, is based on a folktale, and definitely has faeries! Since I plan to read more for this challenge, I'm making this count for my folktale reading for the challenge. And as always, my list can change and be added to at any time!

Happy Challenge reading, my Gentle Readers! I hope you have lovely piles of fantasy and fairy tale books calling to you to read them now, too.

Friday 19 March 2010

3 Canadian Mysteries - Canadian 3 Eh! Challenge reviews

I have been busy reading mysteries for the past few weeks. With Carl's Once Upon a Time IV Challenge about to begin, I wanted to catch up a little on my planned 'read 50 mysteries this year', before plunging into fantasy for the next several weeks.

I didn't plan on reading 3 mysteries for the Canadian Challenge, though as this is my third year with the challenge, I am finding that reading spontaneously works best for me with this challenge. So, when I found myself dropping by the tiny used bookstore in my neighborhood two weeks ago and coming home with three books, one of which was Prized Possessions by LR Wright, I thought, right, time for more spontaneity.

Prized Possessions - L.R. Wright (#5 in the Karl Albright mystery series)
I first read an LR Wright mystery two years ago for the first Canadian Challenge, A Touch of Panic . I didn't know that Prized Possessions follows in the series, until just now when I went hunting for my review! So, with two years between books, how does Prized Possessions hold up? Very very well. Now that I've read two books in the series, I can say that Wright does a wonderful job of getting in the head of her criminals. Eddy, the criminal in this mystery, falls into crime almost by accident, but the set-up and why he does, is chilling. He is every innocent person's nightmare. He can't let go of a slight, and it snowballs into terrible crimes. As with A Touch of Panic, there are two main storylines that intersect, and while it could seem forced, it doesn't. Everything about the other person, Emma, and how she crosses paths with them, makes for a breathtaking ending. Emma is my personal nightmare of what I call the 'empty woman', someone who exists only for her man. Ugh! LR Wright makes her believable, and how she finds herself on a country road late at night with a gun in her pocket, sad. This is a mystery about choices, and how even those with no idea of crime, can find themselves contemplating breaking the law.

The detective in this series, RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg is on leave for this mystery, bereavement leave because his father has just passed away. As a favour, he investigates the disappearance of Emma's husband, who drives away one Saturday morning and never returns. Alberg has a girlfriend, Cassandra, who is facing her own mid-life crisis, and how they work through and resolve changes in their relationship, makes a lovely counterpoint to Emma and Charlie's marriage.

This is a satisfying mystery on its own, enhanced by its setting in the lovely BC Sunshine Coast. The Sunshine Coast really exists, as does the towns of Sechelt and Gibson's Landing, the two principal towns in this mystery. I've only ever seen Gibson's Landing through the lens of tv, as one of Canada's longest running series, The Beachcombers, was set there in the 1970's and '80s. The way Wright describes these towns reminds me of small-town BC, where I have lived before, and I get homesick for the mountains and forests, and especially, the Pacific Ocean. There is definitely a cosy mystery feel to this series, which makes a change for me from the police procedurals that I normally read. 4.7/5

The Red Fox - Anthony Hyde.

This mystery thriller first came out in 1985. It was Hyde's first novel, and received widespread acclaim, althougth I had it on my shelf for over 20 years to read because a friend's husband loved it. So, last month, I finally read it. The good thing about books is that they will wait until we are ready to read them. The bad thing is, occasionally, they become dated, and that is what has happened to The Red Fox. Most of the tension in the book is because of the Iron Curtain, because of the tight grip that Communism had over much of Eastern Europe at that time. I'm old enough to remember how hard it was to get any news out of the East, how restricted getting in even to visit was, and how dear everything from the west was to those who lived behind the Iron Curtain. So reading The Red Fox brought this all back to me. Now of course, there is no Soviet bloc, there is no blackout on news, there is no Us and Them, as there was while I was growing up. I'm glad, but this book shows just how much has changed since the Wall came down in Berlin. As a historical book, funnily enough, it is very well done - for anyone who wants to know how the Soviet bloc looked to us, in the 1980's, this book is one of the best for capturing the fascination and fear we had towards the east. As a mystery, it is also satisfying. The ending has a twist that is very much about the fascination we had in the 1970's and 1980's about the change of power at the turn of the century, when Russia went from a royal family to Trotsky and then Lenin and Stalin and communism. As a thriller, this is unputdownable. I found the middle of the book a bit slow, mostly because I didn't care for the character of May's father Harry, so I didn't care if he was alive or dead. There is a reason for this distance from the character, however, and by the ending, we know why idealism and politics always lead to disillusionment, and now secrets from the past always catch up, sooner or later. It's a well-done mystery, and I certainly enjoyed and liked Robert Thorne, who is clever and resourceful while not being a spy. This was also refreshing in a thriller!

There are several layers of story here, from the ex-girlfriend, May Brightman, of the hero, Robert Thorne, as he searches for the disappeared father of the ex-girlfriend, to how he ends up learning why his own father committed suicide. World War II, and some history of Communism in Canada as well as in Paris as the Germans marched on the city, are all entwined with present day Canadian settings as Robert looks for clues as to why his girlfriend's father has disappeared. Who was Harry Brightman? When he learns that May was adopted, this leads him to a discovery that changes everything and leads him on a path of death and destruction as a hidden group search for something Brightman has hidden, and will do anything to remove their traces, while Thorne races to uncover what might be threatening May.

This is a well-written novel, very enjoyable, and it is extra-delightful that it is written by a Canadian author! This is an intelligent thriller, along the lines of Le Carre, and nothing at all like Dan Brown. 4/5

Bones to Ashes - Kathy Reichs

I read this last summer, when the Canadian Challenge 3 had just started, and then lent the book to a friend because it was so good. I haven't received it back, so I will have to write my review from memory.

I had read the first three in the Temperance Brennan mystery series when they first came out - Deja Dead was published in 1997, and won the 1997 Ellis Award for Best First Novel. But I found the series got too bloody and brutal for me, and I put the series aside for a while. I kept hearing good things about the latest books in the series, and finally my friend at work who also reads mysteries (we are always giving each other books to read and talking about authors) said Bones to Ashes was very good, as was the next in line, Devil Bones, which she couldn't put down. so I picked Bones to Ashes first - it was in paperback, and I loved the cover with the tree, which kept catching my eye. It wasn't as gory as I remembered! In fact, this one had a sad air to it, as Temperance is handed a girl's skull that she wants to uncover the forensic secrets to as well as historical. She discovers many sad things about the Indians of New Brunswick and how they were treated historically, and how her childhood friend who has long since disappeared from her life, possibly suffered from the same disease that the girl whose skull she holds died from. How she finds her childhood friend, and what has happened to her, make for a very satisfying mystery. We also see the appearance of Temperance's sister, who is a breathe of Texas fresh air and pure feminine delight in this series! I like Temperance very much as a character, but I find her moody and too self-contained sometimes - broody almost, and her sister is a nice counterpoint to Tempe's seriousness. There is a very satisfying shoot-out at the end of the book, and resolution to both Tempe's childhood mystery, at the same time. I'm definitely continuing with this series.

I did find that her affair with Detectifve Andrew Ryan is one I want to continue, and was depressed that Tempe let herself get dragged back into her ex-husbands life so easily. I found myself saying no more than once to all three of these characters as they walk into and out of each other's lives - they were well-written scenes and the understanding that Reichs shows of the human heart in this love affair that has its up and downs makes this series richer and satisfying for me. 4.7/5

I am even more delighted that this series is doing so well. Though I do have a question: Kathy Reichs is not a native Canadian, she was born in Chicago, and works and lives in both Charlotte North Carolina and Montreal. Since the books are set in Montreal, where Temperance works out of the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale for the province of Québec, just as Kathy herself does, my question is, does this make this a Canadian book? I think it does, so I'm counting it towards Canadian books read for the Canadian Book Challenge 3. What do you think? Does it count as a Canadian mystery?

I also admit that I don't watch Bones, the Fox tv series based on these mysteries. Even though Reichs is now listed as one of the producers of the show, and this year has Booth and Bones drawing closer together, I like the books better. I have difficulty separating the tv characters from the books, which is why I'm picky about what I see. I loved Roy White as Dalgliesh, the portrayals of DCI Frost, Morse, Dalziel and Pascoe, to which I find the tv casting is perfect and enhances my reading of the mysteries. Who could forget Hamish McBeth as portrayed by the wonderful Robert Carlyle? I haven't seen enough of the Elizabeth George series on tv (they came over in a jumble, out of sequence, and so I like my mysteries shown properly!) to know how the actor did with the portrayals, although I like the lead actor very much anyway. So I'm not against mystery series being translated to the screen. I've just had a problem with David Boreanz replacing Andrew Ryan in my mind, because Andrew Ryan in my mind is slightly dangerous and intensely loyal, and no matter how I know Boreanz is a good actor, I always find him just a little boring. But that's just me, apparently 10 million plus people in the US disagree!! I'll stick to reading the series, though.

This brings my total to 8 books read for the Canadian Book Challenge 3. I'm delighted. Only 5 left to go, and I still have 3 months and some very good books on my list: Three Day Road, Monkey Beach, Moonheart, The Rez Sisters, The Murder Stone, Bluenose Ghosts, Late Nights on Air.......

Happy last day before Spring arrives!!