25541152What’s it all about?

A bestselling and internationally acclaimed masterpiece of the locked-room mystery genre

Why did I want to read it?

I have read some Japanese crime fiction before (this, for example) but came to The Tokyo Zodiac Murders via my recent intense interest in the Golden Age of Crime Fiction.

Although the some would say that the GACF died out in the UK (not me, it seems alive and well) the traditional forms were preserved in Japan in the form of Honkaku mysteries, where old-fashioned plot devices etc. are used in a modern setting.

Specifically, these works are determined to play fair with the reader, giving all of the information necessary to solve the crime at the centre of each story.

Here endeth the lesson.

Thoughts?

It is a very strange but utterly convincing book. I actually went off and checked whether these murders were real because the first section sets out the details alongside some new evidence in a way which made me convinced that this was based on a real-life case (which it isn’t).

So we have the back story, and when new evidence comes to light our protagonists head off to investigate this series of grisly murders – one traditional locked room mystery, one bloody home invasion and then the murder and mutilation of six young women who will be found at various sites around Japan which seem to have some form of mystical solution. All of the victims are related, and all but one is a young woman.

At a couple of points in the book the author speaks directly to the reader, stating that all of the information that you would need to solve this mystery has been provided, so basically off you go and come up with a solution before you reach the conclusion.

I won’t go into the plot more than this, because half the fun is in trying to work out what on earth is going on. The answer to how the murders were carried out is ingenious but I think you would need to be Japanese to pick up on one of the clues presented.

I enjoyed reading this very much, and it is clearly an important work in the genre. It has reinforced my interest in Japanese crime fiction and a few more have found their way onto my TBR pile.

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My study is nowhere near as tidy as this room!

A quick round up of my reading and book buying for (most of) February 2018. I won’t return to those already covered in my Sunday Salon posts over on The Dowager, but that still leaves an embarrassing amount of new books to note.

Books read = 5. There are a couple I still have to review, but if you are interested in my thoughts on Phase One of #ReadingMuriel2018 then head over to this post.

Books bought since my last post = 11, making a total of 24 bought in February, almost all were Kindle purchases so at least they aren’t taking up valuable floor space. These are:

It is clear that a book buying embargo is probably required 🙂

Also, is anyone else as annoyed as I am by the tendency of Amazon to start putting a book’s description in the title? See the screenshot below. Most irritating.

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 21.12.22

Pretty pleased with my February haul, now onwards to March.

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As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Dame Muriel Spark has long been one of my favourite authors and I’m taking part in the commemoration of her centenary this year by reading All of the Things. If you’ve been here long enough you may remember that I tried this before and failed miserably around book 8 out of the 22 novels that she wrote. But I’m determined to finish the project this time around.

Phase 1 took place between 1 January and 28 February and covered the novels she published in the 1950s…..

The Comforters (1957)

My edition is the 1982 Penguin, and I first read this novel in 1984; this is the third time of reading.

Caroline Rose is afflicted by what she calls the Typing Ghost, hearing her thoughts being spoken back to her as if she was the main character in a novel. Is that the case or is she going mad?

I love the waspishness of this novel which basically sets the tone for all of Muriel Sparks books – there is a lot of humour and quite a bit of philosophy, especially here where the very nature of existence is in question. Interestingly, Muriel Spark experienced hallucinations herself at one point due to medication she was taking at the time, though hers manifested themselves as jumbled words on the page which, as she pointed out, would not translate well to a novel. Such a strong and refreshing first book.

Robinson (1958)

My edition is the 2003 New Directions, bought specifically to fill the gaps in my collection when I tried to read all the novels back in 2006; this is the second time of reading.

January Marlowe is writing a journal covering the events of the few months she finds herself stranded on the island of Robinson, owned by a man also known as Robinson. She is there with two other survivors of a plane crash; no-one knows they are alive and they are all awaiting the planned arrival of a ship to tell the world they are OK and help them get back to their lives. But then there appears to have been a murder, and tensions rise as they become suspicious of each other.

I vaguely remembered the plot of this one but for some reason it really resonated with me more the second time around. Even though this is a first person narrative which often screams “unreliable narrator” I really trusted January’s voice. All of the men were downright unpleasant in one way or another so I was rooting for January all the way through. The plot is nice and twisty, which I loved. Of the three, this is the one I can see myself reading again soonest.

Memento Mori (1959)

My edition is the 1979 Penguin, probably one of the first of her books I bought after leaving school (which is where I was introduced to Muriel Spark through the medium of a certain Jean Brodie).

This is the fourth time I have read Memento Mori.

The novel concerns a group of elderly people, (almost) all known to each other and all experiencing the infirmities and complications of their advanced ages. A number of them receive mysterious phone calls where the caller simply states “Remember you must die.” Is this a hoax being carried out by someone they know? Or something more than that?

I first read this when I was 19 and I’m pretty sure that I was deeply impatient with the old folk, with their aches and pains and worries and constant tinkering with their wills and their habit of harking back to things long past. I’m 56 now and I find myself increasingly sympathetic to their plight and anxious for their continued well-being. And in Mrs Pettigrew we have one of Dame Muriel’s wonderfully monstrous women. Still a superb novel.

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So, very pleased to have successfully reached the end of Phase One; looking forward to starting the next group covering her novels from the 1960s. Some of my absolute favourites are in there!

 

 

fullsizeoutput_7b8Just a very quick post to brag, sorry, update everyone on the books I was given for my recent birthday, especially as I failed to do this with my more substantial Christmas haul; that moment has passed.

America’s Queen by Sarah Bradford – a biography of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; I’ve always been fascinated by Jackie K (and Eleanor Roosevelt but probably for different reasons). This is a chunkster.

Art in the Blood by Bonnie MacBird – a Sherlock Holmes adventure with a cool premise and even cooler cover. I cannot resist a good Holmesian tribute.

Flappers by Judith Mackrell – my fascination with aristocratic and/or glamorous women continues…..

The Golden Fleece by Muriel Spark – for the Centenary, a book of essays to add to the read along list

I’d Die for You & Other Lost Stories by F Scott Fitzgerald – because it’s Fitzgerald.

You will also see a couple of DVDs in the stack. I make no apologies for the presence of Tom Cruise.

pTodBdEncIt’s my blogiversary; Bride of the Book God is 11 years old today. Who would have thought it?

I was 11 in 1973.

Neil Patrick Harris, Adrien Brody & Pharell Williams were born. Noel Coward, Picasso, Bruce Lee & JRR Tolkien died, as did Roger Delgado (the very best Master in Dr Who). The Sting & The Exorcist were released.

Princess Anne got married for the first time and we were allowed to watch some of it at school. I started junior high school. The UK joined the EU; as a proud Remainer I’m still seething about Brexit but as this is usually a politics-free zone I won’t go on about it (but seething, really).

So as is customary please help yourself to the virtual cake at the top of this post and pour yourself a glass of Prosecco and toast Year 12!

I’m really keen to start 2018 with a clean slate and have decided that I don’t have time or inclination to review the books I read between May and November 2017 (at least up to finishing The Ritual which I reviewed here) before then of the year, which is tomorrow.

I mean this in the sense that I wouldn’t be able to review them in the detail they deserved and that would do the authors and the stories a disservice. I liked them all, some of my favourite authors are in here and I wanted to mark them in some way.

So here are some pretty covers and the statement of intent that I will do better in 2018. Honestly.

 

 

51mOgPy-TCLWhat’s it all about?

In Adam Nevill’s The Ritual, four old university friends reunite for a hiking trip in the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle. No longer young men, they have little left in common and tensions rise as they struggle to connect. Frustrated and tired they take a shortcut that turns their hike into a nightmare that could cost them their lives.

Why did I want to read it?

Amusingly, the Kindle edition of this book has as part of its title “Now A Major Film, The Most Thrilling Chiller You’ll Read This Year”, and to be fair that’s partly why I bought it. It also fitted in with some of my autumn reading which involved a mixture of Scandinavia, the supernatural, death and gore and appalling weather. You will see more of this as I catch up with my humongous backlog of posts.

What did I think of it?

I have several Adam Nevill books but haven’t got around to reading any of them until now, and as I said above this was triggered by the release of the film which, by the way, I haven’t seen.

So, these four guys are doing the male bonding thing and it isn’t going well so Hutch, the one who is leading their expedition, suggests a shortcut; this is a horror novel so of course this is not going to end well. They come across evidence of some very strange practices and there is definitely Something Out There and it is not friendly.  And when you think you know where this might be going it takes a weird turn.

And then it ends.

It’s a very blokey novel and I definitely felt that I was not the target audience, which is fine, but I was mildly annoyed that all of the women referenced in the story were so, well, unpleasant. The Big Nasty was creepy and horrible and well done, and the story definitely unsettling. Although it’s not written in the first person it becomes clear very early on that Luke is the guy we are supposed to be rooting for as we see everything from his perspective, but he really is a bit of a jerk. And the book ends just at the point where it got really interesting. How is Luke going to explain all of this? Sadly, we will never know.

So it’s fine as a novel. Will be fascinated to see how it works as a film, though not fascinated enough to spend any money seeing it. I will read the other works by Nevill that I already have, but won’t be rushing out to buy any more for now.

 

 

 

 

 

28225843What’s it all about?

A novel that is simultaneously harrowing, dark, dangerous, funny and uplifting from the author of the Southern Reach trilogy

“Am I a person?” Borne asks Rachel, in extremis.
“Yes, you are a person,” Rachel tells him. “But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”

Why did I want to read it?

I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s Southern Reach trilogy and have been very keen to read more of is work. I thought I’d start here.

What did I think of it?

I loved this book so much, I basically devoured it. It’s everything the blurb says it is, and much more too.

Our protagonist is Rachel, a scavenger in the remnants of a city ravaged by disaster (though we’re not entirely clear what that disaster may have been). She lives in a block of flats which is falling apart with her partner Wick, who knows stuff about biotech and deals in the things that Rachel finds for him.

When out scavenging she comes across Borne (as she names it), a form of biotech which she becomes attached to (not literally) and begins to nurture. It becomes clear that Borne is sentient and develops as a human child would, though with the ability  to change shape (the cover above is I guess a representation of it) and to learn about things by, well, absorbing them (ie eating them).

There is a mystery at the heart of Rachel’s story; she has memories of her past away from the city but her family is gone. There are rivalries between the various communities as they each seek dominance, and there is of course the Company that has created all of the biotech which is swarming around, including an enormous flying bear which I found hard to visualise at first but came to accept quite quickly.

Although there is a conclusion to the story (and a satisfying one at that) the plot is any many ways not the core of why this book is so good. It’s all about the characters and their relationships. This is especially the case with Rachel and Borne; the latter has a very distinctive voice which develops as he grows from toddler to teenager to young adult and learns to navigate the world.

Like I said, I loved this and can’t recommend it highly enough. Go read!

16046748What’s it all about?

Countdown City is the second volume of the Last Policeman Trilogy (read about volume one here), thusly:

There are just 77 days before a deadly asteroid collides with Earth, and Detective Palace is out of a job. With the Concord police force operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, Hank’s days of solving crimes are over…until a woman from his past begs for help finding her missing husband.

Why did I want to read it?

I really enjoyed the first novel and wanted to see how the story developed.

What did I think about it?

Countdown City continues to develop the story of Hank and his desire to help people and get to the truth of the puzzle he is presented with. On this occasion, the woman who used to babysit for him and his sister needs his help to find her husband who has basically disappeared. Of course, almost everyone assumes that like many other people he has just taken himself off to wait out the end of the world in his own way, but it isn’t as simple as that, and what Hank finds sets up some issues for the future, particularly in relation to the conduct of government agencies during this crisis. And behind all of that is the problem of his sister and her conspiracy theories.

What sets this series apart I think is the way the impending catastrophe is not at the forefront of the story. I mean, it’s obviously the reason for everything that’s happening, but the author concentrates on the human stories, how people are coping and how society is changing and what that means for Hank and his friends as they pass their last days. In a world where you would be forgiven for expecting everyone to be out for themselves, there are people who still care for wider society, and it’s clear that this is the theme that will run into the third and final volume. I’m looking forward to finding out how this all concludes.

15721904All the characters are real. All the events depicted are true.

HHhH (initials representing the German phrase which translates as  ‘Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich‘) is ostensibly about the plot to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in 1942, otherwise know as Operation Anthropoid. But it’s so much more than that….

when you are a novelist writing about real people how do you resist the temptation to make things up?

I resisted picking up this much praised book for a long time, put off by the notion that this was a novel that was too clever by half, being about the author as much as its subject. I tend to resist that sort of thing because it can be very superficial (to my mind at least) but on this occasion I was absolutely swept away.

Binet is trying to write the story of the two men – one Czech, the other Slovak – who flew from London to Prague to carry out the assassination, knowing that they would almost certainly not survive and that there would likely be significant reprisals against their fellow countrymen. But Binet gets drawn in to the life, career and just general horror of Heydrich that he spends a lot of the novel giving us this background and of course interjecting himself into the narrative.

I really did not think I was going to like this at all but whether it’s the author’s personality (whether real or artificial, because once you start thinking about making things up about real people you have to wonder whether what you are seeing of the author is accurate or not) or the structure of the novel with short punchy chapters, some only a paragraph long for effect, I was gripped and read the book very quickly.

A compelling story well told and one of my favourite reads of the year so far.

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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