Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Bone Key: The Necromantic Mysteries of Kyle Murchison Booth by Sarah Monette

The Bone Key, a series of interconnected short stories, features Kyle Murchison Booth, a shy, introverted museum archivist, who seems to attract the supernatural. He is peculiar and socially inept. Booth’s family background is most unusual family. His parents died under unusual conditions and was reared by his father’s business partner, a cruel man with a cruel wife who treated with derision and abuse. He seems to finds himself regularly in the midst of the disturbing eerie experiences and strange necromantic mysteries. The stories had an Edwardian and Victorian feel; I was reminded of Lovecraft and M. R. James.

“Elegy for a Demon Lover” was the most affecting. Booth, lonely and solitary, meets his soul mate, Ivo. It seems that he has finally found love, a true companion. As time passes, thanks to his familiarity with necromancy, he realizes the truth: Ivo is an incubi, a demon in male form which takes the life from the human through sexual relations. Booth is able to recover from his addiction to Ivo who slowly fades away. It is heartbreaking, for Booth reflects that “he was the only one I have ever known who loved me for what I am.”

So, these stories are frightening, disquieting, and sad and very well written.

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The Memory of Blood by Christopher Fowler

Arthur Bryant and John May are delightful. I wish I had the pleasure of meeting them. Arthur Bryant – he defines the English eccentric. Set in London, most of the books’ locations are recognizable London landmarks such as St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Gallery and various theatres. One fascinating element was featured in The Water Room was the networks of tunnels and underground rivers underneath the city. One of the magnificent benefits of reading is the ability to visit places where you have never, and probably never, will be able to see.

Christopher Fowler weaves many factual layers of London’s history and society throughout the Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) series. Bryant and May have been a team since WWII, and we learn much about their history together. They are very different, but very complementary. We couldn’t have one without the other.

The Memory of Blood is the ninth and latest volume in the series. The action centers around an historical theater under renovation and the characters include many veteran actors. The key component is a life-size puppet of Mr. Punch of Punch and Judy tradition.

The series is intelligent, clever, funny, and unconventional. For some people it may take a bit to get into the books; they can be slow to begin with. However, you will be glad you made the effort.

I began reading the series with The Victoria Vanishes, the sixth book in the series, which takes inspiration from the classic novel,The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin. I suggest you begin with Full Dark House, the first in the series.

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Two and Twenty Dark Tales, ed by Georgia McBride and Michelle Zink

It’s a misconception that nursery rhymes and fairy tales are for the innocent. Nursery rhymes contain a good deal of violence and mayhem; the rhymes seem to have come from a variety of sources, including traditional riddles, proverbs, ballads, lines of medieval plays, drinking songs, historical events, and, possibly, ancient pagan rituals.

There have been numerous short story anthologies and novels based on fairy tales (which also can be very violent). This book, Two and Twenty Dark Tales, edited by Georgia McBride and Michelle Zink, presents short stories that are twists on familiar and some unfamiliar Mother Goose rhymes. The book is intended for young adults. I was taught, and in turn, taught that young adult fiction had, if not happy endings, at least hopeful endings. These stories don’t fit that criteria. These are horror stories with uncomfortable situations and disquieting endings.

In “Clockwork,” one of the more familiar rhymes, “Hickory, dickory, dock, The mouse ran up the clock,” includes the murders of the royal family, witchcraft, and betrayal. In the end, the princess turns herself back into a mouse and scampers off.

In “The Wish,” using “Star Light, Star bright,” the girl gets the wishes she wishes tonight: Death. “Tick Tock” is the old-fashioned babysitter’s nightmare; let’s just say that she doesn’t get paid.

All of these stories are well-written and disturbing. Some people may feel that they are too scary for young readers; however, as Francisco X. Stork writes in the preface, the book “is an attempt to respond to the more complex mind of the young adult person. Life gets messy in adolescence, and the simple answers of childhood are no longer sufficient.” Bruno Bettelheim held that fairy tales with the darkness of abandonment, death, witches, and injuries, allowed children to grapple with their fears in figurative and mythical terms. If they could read and interpret these fairy tales in their own way, he believed, they would get a greater sense of meaning and purpose.

I found this book meets its goal and its purpose and would recommend it to the horror story fan, young adult or old adult.

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The Barcelona Brothers by Carlos Zanon

Spain is so much in the news now, with its economic problems, that it was a remarkable experience to read this account of the underbelly of Spanish culture. The society we are introduced to is multi-ethnic and only slightly prejudiced against foreigners. The Dalmau brothers are drug-abusers, Epi beats his ex-girlfriend, and he kills his rival, Tanveer, a Moroccan, with a hammer and gets away when the witnesses convince the police a Pakistani (who turns out to be a petty criminal) did it. One of the most harrowing scenes is Tanveer’s rape and beating of a prostitute in the bank of a van driven by Epi. The girlfriend, Tiffany, meanwhile, is a negligentful mother, insensitive to her shy, slow sister, and downright nasty to Epi who loves her beyond reason. Furthermore, the police are clueless about what is actually happening.

The murder takes place in the first few pages. The book gives us flashbacks to explain the whys and wherefores, but otherwise seems rather claustrophobic. The majority of the book takes place in Tanveer’s apartment in which Epi keeps Tiffany and her son, Percy, prisoner. It seems no one will ever leave that apartment. Thank heaven for cell phones; it seems little would have actually happened in this book.

I read the book until the end; what will happen in these characters’ lives next is anyone’s guess.

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Night Rounds by Helene Tursten

I was eagerly waiting for this fourth installment of Swedish Investigator Irene Huss. The first books, Detective Inspector Huss, Torso, and Glass Devil, had been so complex and intense that I had expected that level of page-turning compulsion from this book.

Truthfully, I had been a bit put off by the perversities of the other books (incest, sado-masochism, religious zeal), but I found that I missed that element in this book. This was a no-frills police procedural, well-written, but just not compelling.

Also, this book did not convey the sense of place, Sweden, as the first three books did. I missed the feeling of being in a different culture; this could have been American, unlike the other books which were very much Swedish.

One thing I do like about these books – her personal life is kept to a minimum. We see the stress a woman must manage with a family and a demanding job, but it doesn’t dominate the story. She has another family – her co-workers – and we see her interaction with them just as much as we do with her husband and daughters.

I understand that several films have been made based on her first books and that six new Swedish films are in production. Also, several more books are being translated into English and should be available in the States soon. I’m not giving up on Irene Huss; I like her and her Wheaten terrier and want to read more.

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The Forgotten Garden Kate Morton

While overall I enjoyed this book, I did find myself wishing that Kate had had an editor who used her red pen more often. When I read a good, satisfying novel, I want to know how it is all going to turn out. Although this book is described as a mystery, it is obvious early on who Nell’s parents were. The only mystery is whether Cassandra is going to discover the truth. As it is, she only learns part of it. 

The reader also learns only part of the story. Why do the men in the story behave as they do? What happened to Nell’s father? What what Linus’s feelings about his sister?

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden is an obvious influence, as are other Victorian novels. As an E. Nesbit follower and a Victorian and Edwardian literature adherent, I enjoyed the literary references and the fairy tale connections. I just wish it had been more concise.

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Death Comes to Pemberley, P. D. James

 

I was really looking forward to reading this book. Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen are my favorite reads (my dogs are Mr. Darcy and Emma), and I very much enjoy mysteries. P. D. James has written classics in that genre.

I was initially impressed by James’s feel for the Austen style. However, this book was a letdown. We learn much about Darcy and his family’s background, particularly the suicide of his great-grandfather. We see little of the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy. They have few scenes together and virtually no dialogue. There is little development of the other characters. 

The mystery lacks suspense, and there is little action.  At least there aren’t any zombies.

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