A Book Review Blog

Category: Crime Page 1 of 3

Stalkers by Paul Finch

It’s been a while since I’ve read any police procedural novels, mostly because my tendency when buying is to drift towards cosy or historical mysteries first. My mum, on the other hand, is very much a fan of police procedurals, so I ended up stealing this book off of her once she’d finished reading it. Which raises the question, have I been missing much in the genre?

The last thing that Mark Heckenberg needs to hear from his superiors at work is that the case that he has spent years building is to be shut down. When said case could potentially find almost 40 missing women who had no reason to disappear, he is even more unwilling to just let this lie. So he ventures out on his own, soon attracting the attention of Lauren Wraxford, the ex-army sister of one of the missing women, who forces herself into his investigation. Unfortunately, his investigations also attract the attention of the dangerous group responsible for these disappearances.
Right, so I have some mixed feelings about this. On the surface, Stalkers is a very competent thriller. It has a tense premise, with some very intimidating villains and the tension is kept high throughout. I guess the thing that kind of bothers me about Stalkers is the way that the subject matter is handled. You find out pretty quickly that the women abducted by the main villains are targeted to be raped and murdered, after being picked out by a rich man close to them. Considering how sensitive a subject rape is, and how often it involves specifically female victims, it has a weirdly “she had it coming” vibe at times. While the rapists involved are rightfully depicted as the scum that they are, the victim that the narrative follows at first has a line of thought that is distinctly male. She’s going through her daily routine and thinking to herself how fortunate she is that she can rely on her looks to put her above women who are just as qualified as she is. Speaking from my experience, that does not sound believable. Women don’t really think in that way, and honestly, if a woman is attractive enough to garner sexual attentions from their boss or coworkers, that shit is often entirely unwelcome. For the victim to be portrayed even slightly okay with her male coworkers leering at her invites the reader to think that she unwittingly encouraged her attacker. That will never be an acceptable attitude for me. So while Stalkers does get a lot right, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, because it introduces an element of grey into rape, which should be as black and white as it gets.

While technically a good thriller, it portrays the victim as “encouraging” her attacker, and for me that just isn’t acceptable. Maybe you might be able to overlook that, but it just leaves a bitter taste in my mouth that ruins what would have been an otherwise tense thriller. 2.5/5

Next review: Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

Signing off,

The Benson Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

Having done a bit of research into the Golden Era of detective fiction, I primarily knew S. S. Van Dine from his article “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories”. Since the rules seemed sensible enough, when I came across some of his writing I thought that I’d check out how well he could put his teachings into practice.

When playboy stockbroker Alvin Benson is killed, his social circle are in a furore trying to figure out who could have murdered him. Enter art enthusiast and amateur detective Philo Vance, who immediately notices some interesting features of the crime scene that the police seem to be overlooking. But will he be able to convince the police of the right culprit before an innocent citizen is arrested first?
This could have been a decent enough detective story, if it weren’t for the detective. There is nothing even remotely likeable or interesting about Philo Vance. Admittedly, the fact that the first chapter does nothing but sing his praises and talk about his art collection didn’t incline me positively towards him, and I found that further reading only confirmed my worst fears. Philo Vance is the snob that is quite happy to watch you work through a problem slowly and steadily, only to trash your work and declare that they knew from the start what the solution was. He bases his workings entirely on psychological profiling, despite appearing to be entirely alien to actual human emotions and drives. His singular emotion appears to be smugness, perhaps cynicism if I’m generous. I couldn’t hate him more if I tried.
Additionally, the author-named character, Van Dine, is entirely pointless. He makes a big deal about his experience as a lawyer, and then does nothing with it. In fact, I forgot that he was even a character until right at the end, because he contributes absolutely nothing to the storyline. His entire purpose is to follow Vance around like an obedient puppy with a notebook and an obsession with noting down every possible detail about an encounter.

What could have been at least an average murder mystery is completely ruined by having the detective be an odious snob with no redeeming qualities, joined by a chronicler who might as well not be there. Don’t bother with it. 1/5

Next review: Weekend by Christopher Pike

Signing off,

Plugged by Eoin Colfer

I’ve been a fan of Eoin Colfer’s since I was around 9 years old, mainly for his Artemis Fowl series. But I was only really aware of him as an author of children and young adult books, so when I saw Plugged, a crime novel for adults, I was intrigued.

Daniel McAvoy’s life is decidedly on the discontent side. Working as a doorman at a seedy casino in New Jersey, he goes from dealing with sleazy customers at work to dealing with a psychotic neighbour and encroaching baldness at home. His life is about to become a whole lot worse, however, when his on-off girlfriend is found dead outside the casino and his best friend, a doctor practicing without a license and with a dubious grasp on both medical procedure and good business practices, goes missing. With conspiracies crowding in and making his life ever more hazardous, Dan must draw on his former army experiences in order to get out alive.
Normally I would shy away from a crime novel that was this blatantly aiming for humour, but because my experiences with Colfer’s work has been largely positive thus far, I decided that I’d give it a shot. It works really well, and for one reason that is normally absent in crime fiction. I think the reason that the comedy works in Plugged is because all the characters are kind of rubbish. Normally in crime fiction, the stakes are really high and every mistake is going to come back at some point to bite the characters where it hurts. In Plugged, everyone involved are ultimately small players in the wider scheme of things. They’re not in New York proper, they’re in some ratty small town in New Jersey. While the crime boss that Dan has to deal with is a threat, he’s only a big player on this small stage. It makes it feel kind of like a story that the Cohen brothers would direct, full of characters who are, to quote the game Fiasco, full of “powerful ambition and poor impulse control”. Mistakes happen almost constantly throughout the narrative, and it’s absolutely wonderful to see Dan just have to add that to the list of shit that he needs to deal with. It really makes the humour work, and I was already a big fan of Colfer’s sense of humour. I don’t think I’ve grinned so much at the bus stop in a long while.
In comparison to the comedy side of things, I think that the actual crime part could use some work. While I’m all for seeing more of Colfer writing about these small-time crooks, I think the tone maybe needs a bit of tightening. While I did like the humour, I thought that it was sprinkled perhaps too liberally during the scenes that should be really tense. Shootouts and standoffs feel like they should be handled more seriously, even if the people involved are nowhere near as important as they think they are. I mean, considering how high the body count gets, it doesn’t really feel all that shocking, even when it really should do. It’s not a huge problem for me, but if you like your murders with a bit more seriousness then this might be a bit blase for you.

A very funny novel about conspiracies and small-time crooks who want to be big-time crooks. The humour is absolutely stellar, though it does take away from the impact of some scenes that would otherwise be more shocking and impactful. 4/5

Next review: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis

Signing off,

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

I have been a fan of crime novels, especially the sub-genre of cozy mysteries for some time now. So it’s perhaps a bit remiss of me to have read almost nothing from Agatha Christie. Up until now, I had only really read the first novel and some short stories from her Hercule Poirot series. I remember liking the writing, but found Poirot and Hastings less than engaging as protagonists. So I just never got round to reading anything else of hers. But my mum has always recommended the Miss Marple series to me, so when I saw The Murder at the Vicarage, I figured that I had nothing to lose through trying it.

In a careless comment over dinner, the parson of St Mary Mead expresses his frustration at one of his parishioners by stating that whoever murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world a service. So it is with more than a little chagrin when the Colonel is found dead in his study only a day later. While the parson works with the police to try and bring the murderer to justice, he finds that his elderly neighbour, Miss Jane Marple, may be a little sharper than the rest of them put together.
I feel a bit torn about The Murder at the Vicarage as a novel. On the one hand, the mystery has almost everything that I like about cozy mysteries present and accounted for. There’s the village setting that is just a little more unnerving than it is inviting, populated mostly by nosy, gossiping old women and the unfortunate people who must deal with them. There’s the victim who was more or less disliked by everyone who knew him, including his wife and daughter, though the reader doesn’t really see enough of him alive to make much of an impression of him. The mystery itself is engaging and much more devious and misleading than I initially gave it credit for. And the writing is wonderful, with some unexpected instances of humour. So far, so good.
On the other hand, it is the final element that I look for in a cozy mystery that was somewhat lacking, and the fact that it’s lacking at all confuses the hell out of me. Considering that it is the first in the Miss Marple series of mysteries, I was expecting Miss Marple to be there a lot more than she was. I mean, I liked what I saw of her very much: the kind of old lady that is perfectly pleasant and unassuming in manner, but who you cannot get anything past, much as you try and hide it. As such, I was rather disappointed that she didn’t appear for more than half of the actual novel itself. I mean, she does start to turn up more often towards the end, but until then it doesn’t really feel like she’s really playing a huge part in her own novel. I wouldn’t say it’s a complete dealbreaker, but if you don’t like the parson then you are really in for a bad time, seeing as he’s our narrator. I personally found him a bit colourless, but otherwise inoffensive. If it were any other genre, or if I weren’t aware that this is Miss Marple’s show, then I would have preferred a narrator with a bit more personality to him, but as it was I wasn’t overly concerned.

As a mystery novel, this is more than serviceable and will almost certainly have you guessing wrongly by the end. My only real issue with it is that for a Miss Marple mystery, I had expected her to actually be present and attended for in more than half the novel. While I would have liked to see more of her, The Murder at the Vicarage was written well enough that I still had a decent mystery to sink my teeth into. 4/5

Next review: Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis

Signing off,

Past Mortem by Ben Elton

Past Mortem was one of those books that I picked up on a whim, purely because I fancied a bit more crime fiction on my shelf. I guess the main draw for this in particular was the focus on Friends Reunited, a site that will soon be relegated to the dustiest corners of internet history. Having only just gotten to this three months after the site was shut down, I feel that this book may go down the same route in my memory.

Past Mortem follows Detective Inspector Edward Newson, a mild-mannered policeman whose life, both personal and professional, could do with a bit of a pick-me-up. In his personal life, he finds himself signing up to Friends Reunited and trying to track down the objects of desire from his teenage years in an attempt to smother his current infatuation with his very much spoken for coworker, Natasha. At work, he is presented with a series of strange and gruesome murders, each incredibly distinct in method of execution but all sharing the same acute attention to detail and an odd series of music choices used to cover the screams. As he gets roped into a school reunion, he finds his personal and professional lives clashing in spectacular fashion.
I find myself less than impressed with Past Mortem as a novel. While the mystery itself, which (as you’ve probably guessed) is linked with people on the Friends Reunited website, did have an interesting premise and a few good twists and turns, it was let down by some characters that were at best lacklustre and at worst either totally unsympathetic or so poorly written that they ceased to make sense, as well as an ending that flailed because of an obviously flagged murderer and poor pacing.
So, to the characters first. When it comes to a crime novel’s main detectives, I think it is reasonable for them to be sympathetic to the audience, otherwise you get the readers rooting for the murderer, a situation that I think most of us are okay avoiding. In the case of Past Mortem, you have Ed Newson and his coworker/object of affection Natasha Wilkie. Or rather an annoying Nice Guy with an obsessive crush on Blandy McNiceLegs. Honestly, I got to the end of the book and still have very little idea what kind of personality Natasha is supposed to have, but gosh the text wants everything to come across as cheery and perky. But at least with Natasha she’s just boring. With Newson, there seems to be an assumption that because he isn’t a blokey-bloke like most police officers apparently are, and is instead mild-mannered and self-deprecating, that the audience should automatically like him. While I can see the overall concept working, it tends to be more successful when the tone is less whining along the lines of “Why does my coworker like her boyfriend more than me?! I mean, look at me, I’m treating her with a modicum of respect, doesn’t that count for something?” or “Oh no, I stuck my dick in crazy, and now she’s stabbing herself in my bathroom, however will I cope?” He comes across like a petulant child, and it is really not a flattering quality to have. Additionally, his behaviour towards one of the women he sleeps with in the book is really quite callous, and the author doesn’t seem to understand that fact. The first woman he sleeps with reveals how severely she was bullied while they were in secondary school, as an explanation for some of her wilder, more self-destructive behaviour. Reading it as a woman, it is a recollection that comes across as very real and definitely humiliating enough that I can understand it really leaving a mark. His reaction is essentially “Well, your bully was never mean to me, so you must be exaggerating.” It’s just so telling that he doesn’t care about her in the slightest, though I’m sure that Elton would try and argue otherwise. As for the bad guys of the piece, their characterisation is messed up through a complete lack of balance. The red herring has a weird about-face, going from someone genuinely looking to repent for being a little shit when he was a teenager, to someone actively taunting the police and acting so smug that I almost thought the genre had shifted to that of children’s action-adventure cartoon, something in the vein of Inspector Gadget in terms of subtlety. It’s made all the more irritating by the fact that it’s obvious that he’s a red herring and stealing time away from the actual murderer. The real culprit goes through the novel with so few scenes that I could probably count them all on one hand. By the end, it means that he’s caught, but there’s no satisfaction from it because you don’t really know anything about him apart from the basics. The motive is gestured at broadly, but not in any real depth because the book just isn’t interested in it, which is a shame.
As for the ending, it just falls flat entirely. I mentioned above that the red herring was annoying because it’s so obvious that he’s a red herring. Well, that could be said for most of the last quarter of the book, where (at least for me) it became obvious who the murderer was, only for the plot itself to focus on everyone but the murderer. Then after whole chapters of flailing around pretending to be busy, they catch the killer in the act and there are 4 and a half pages wrapping things up. I can’t help but wonder whether Elton just lost interest after the killer was caught and twatted round the head with a truncheon. Murderer’s caught, everybody go home, but not until after you’ve caught the end of the romantic subplot tumour that was the real reason you stayed to the end. That’s not a resolution, that’s the evidence of a man with a rapidly approaching deadline or rapidly diminishing levels of interest.

What could have been at least an average crime novel manages to fail on almost every level. The characterisation is poor at best and the pacing is almost criminally awful in the last quarter or so of the book. The crimes themselves are interesting and satisfyingly gruesome, but they’re not enough to save Past Mortem from its own huge failings. 2/5

Next review: Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King

Signing off,

Nobody True by James Herbert

Sometimes I pick up books because I read the premise and I just know instinctively that I need to read the book proper to find out what the author has done with that scenario. Nobody True was one of those books. Considering that my last encounter with James Herbert was mixed at best though, I was somewhat wary going into this, regardless of my enthusiasm for the premise. 

Nobody True follows Jim True, a man who is ordinary in all but one way: he has had incredibly vivid out-of-body experiences ever since he was a young boy. While he is on one of these out-of-body experiences, he returns to his body to find that he has been murdered and his body horribly mutilated while his spirit was away. He finds himself searching for his killer, but first he must figure out whether he was the victim of a serial killer who had similarly mutilated their victims, or whether his murderer was someone he knew and was close to. But even if he can figure that out, is there anything that he can actually do in his now-permanent incorporeal state if he does discover the culprit. 
I really wanted to like Nobody True, but I knew that it was a dud when the first seven chapters or so focused on his childhood from the age of 3 onwards and his career in advertising. If anything was an example of the importance of judicious cutting when writing a second draft, then this is it. I did not pick up a horror novel because I wanted to find out how the everyman protagonist started up his advertising business in excruciating detail. I want to see the everyman protagonist struggle with their own impotence and lack of importance within the universe. That fact that Herbert then proceeds to add footnotes that are both long-winded and almost wholly unnecessary to the actual plot only makes the proceedings all that more infuriating. 
I could have coped with that if the characters were half interesting. They really weren’t. I mean, your main protagonist is a guy who actively wanted to be in advertising. There isn’t really much you can do to save that character. Honestly, this is the most boring, white-bread character I’ve seen in a long, long time. I really couldn’t care less who actually killed him. The fact that the serial killer that I mentioned previously is only evil because they have a physical disability is also really intensely uncomfortable and not in the manner that I had willingly signed up for. 
Having read Nobody True, I have come to the conclusion that James Herbert was an author that had a great eye for a book premise, but didn’t seem to understand that the reader doesn’t need to know everything about the main character’s backstory. The whole book feels in need of a brutal but necessary trip to an editor, and the main character couldn’t be more boring if he tried. A swing and a miss on pretty much every count, which is a shame because I really wanted this to be good. 1.5/5 
Next review: The Fire Thief by Terry Deary 
Signing off, 

Blood Work by Michael Connelly

I think that Blood Work was probably one of several crime novels that I have picked up during my trawls of the second-hand book stalls while staying with my grandparents. As such, this was probably more or less a whim purchase, picked up for a striking blurb.

Blood Work follows Terry McCaleb, a retired FBI agent who is taking time out to renovate his late father’s boat whilst he recovers from a heart transplant. The last thing he is looking for is someone knocking at his door asking him for help. But when the sister of his new heart’s donor comes by, he finds out that he is only alive as a result of a murder and he cannot bring himself to refuse the woman’s request for help in finding the killer.
I wanted to like Blood Work more than I did. At its core, there is a solid enough mystery with some interesting turns and some genuine surprises worked into the mix. My main problem with it is that there are some pretty big departures from reality that are difficult to ignore, for me at least. You see, in my day job I work as hospital administration. So when the book makes all these errors about how hospital systems and security works, it makes me more than a little antsy. Firstly, there’s the fact that Graciela, the victim’s sister, meets up with McCaleb a mere two months after he’s had his transplant, but only a couple of days since she actually started looking for him. Considering how much emphasis healthcare systems put on keeping donations private, you would think that it would take her years if she could figure it out at all. But nope. One article and the knowledge that he got a heart transplant right around the time that her sister was murdered and she rushes out to meet this guy on a hunch and just completely bypasses a system of anonymity set up in order to protect patient confidentiality. Later on, there’s a particular system at the hospital that McCaleb needs to take a look at, and since he can’t get an official warrant due to being retired, he manages to persuade two separate healthcare professionals to completely ignore their duty to protect their patients’ confidential information and gets them to pull both patient and donor records. I’m sorry, but I call so much bullshit here. It’s quite funny really, because mere paragraphs later he feels guilty for committing a crime by briefly impersonating a police officer, when he’s already made his friends do far worse. I read this and had to conclude that Connelly either didn’t know much about how hospitals work or just didn’t care to be accurate, because I can’t think of a single consultant or nurse who would risk being struck off or be stuck with a civil/criminal lawsuit all on the word of one civilian working on their own with no court order. He’d be kicked out before he could even finish introducing the idea. Considering that the law enforcement bit seems to ring more or less true, it disappoints me that the healthcare system is written so poorly. I appreciate that this may be a minor thing to most readers, but after two years in the NHS this stood out like a sore thumb and it just pissed me off to no end.
My other issue with Blood Work is that the ending seemed a bit clunky compared to the rest of the novel. For the majority of the book, there’s a nice consistent pace that’s fast enough to be gripping, but not so fast that it becomes exhausting. Then with about 40 pages to go, it has a moment where everything screeches to a halt, lull you into thinking that it’s ending, then start up again. The last 30 pages didn’t fit right because the pace seemed so uneven compared to what had gone before. More of a minor quibble for me, but for people not pissed off by basic misunderstandings of how hospitals work, I would imagine that this is the more pressing issue.

Really, I think I would have enjoyed this a hell of a lot more if Connelly had put the same effort that he puts into depicting law enforcement into his depiction of healthcare systems. As someone who works in a hospital, the liberties that he takes with patient confidentiality and the consequences of breaching it are glaring enough to completely distract me from the narrative itself. Not a bad crime thriller, but it has a lot of creative liberties taken that don’t pay off. 3/5

Next review: I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan

Signing off,

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M. C. Beaton

I had a lot of high hopes going into Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death. Firstly, that title. It couldn’t be more ridiculously British, could it? Secondly, a blog that I used to follow raved about this series. Thirdly, after the utter disappointment of De Sade’s Valet, I was really hoping for something good to make up for it.

Our protagonist, the eponymous Agatha Raisin, is a middle-aged public relations guru who decides that it is time for her to take an early retirement and settle down in her dream cottage in the Cotswolds. Finding that her entrance to the village hasn’t made as big of a splash as she would have hoped, she decides that the easiest way to make an impression would be to win the local quiche-making competition. Not being the baking type, she enters a quiche that she brought at a London deli. Unfortunately, the competition judge is found dead from poison after eating said quiche, giving her an instant reputation as both a cheat and a possible poisoner. She takes matters into her own hands in order to salvage what is left of her pride.
The Quiche of Death was exactly what I needed after my last disappointing read. I make no secret of the fact that I am enormously fond of cosy mysteries, and this first entry to the Agatha Raisin series ticks pretty much all of the boxes for qualities that I look for in that genre. First, there is an engaging main character/detective. Part of me feels that I may like Agatha because she embodies what I imagine that I will be like in my middle age: childless, lacking in both patience and social skills, and more than a little snobby, but with good intentions nonetheless. It is quite refreshing to have a protagonist who manages to rub everyone up the wrong way almost by accident. While her detective work wasn’t as focused as I’m used to, it managed to blend into her general attempts to fit into village life rather well and didn’t seem so out of place.
Second, the setting is pretty much perfectly depicted. In describing Carsely, Beaton manages to tread the fine line between twee and unnerving that is essential when depicting English villages. On the one hand, it is pretty and twee enough that it feels understandable why Agatha would settle there, being quiet and very traditional, contrasting nicely with her old life in London. On the other hand, it has to have that weirdly insular and unnerving feeling that I can only describe as “localness”, the knowledge that you will pretty much be forever an outsider and the shockingly short amount of time that it takes for gossip to spread. There’s a great line where Agatha’s awful neighbour is being discussed, and within the same statement she’s described both as an incomer and having lived in the village for over 20 years. It’s that duality that makes Carsely seem believable.
I would say that the actual mystery part was a bit weaker, but not enough that it started affecting the quality of the novel itself. I suppose my main issue with it was that there didn’t really seem to be much in the way of suspects or the kinds of big reveals. While it fit with the slower, more tentative pace set by Agatha learning her way around a new home, I don’t think the mystery itself could have stood up as well by itself. I wouldn’t say that it’s a particularly big issue though.

A thoroughly enjoyable first installment to a detective series and I shall certainly be looking out for further entries to the series. Definitely recommended to fans of cosy mysteries and books about village life. The mystery itself is kind of weaker than your classic mystery plots, but I don’t think the plot suffers hugely for it. Maybe one to pick up when you’re in the mood for something a bit gentler. 4/5

Next review: Envy by Sandra Brown

Signing off,

Ratking by Michael Dibdin

I honestly have no memory of why I picked up Ratking out of all the other crime novels available. I guess it might be that I had heard that crime novels based in Italy tend to have an interesting focus on corruption and wanted to see what that was like. Quite possibly it might just be that the cover featured an actor whose work I am rather fond of, and I wanted to read the book before potentially tackling a new series. What can I say, I’m fickle.

Ratking is the first book in a series following Italian police detective Aurelio Zen. After being unofficially demoted due to his actions on a past case, he finds himself being assigned to active duty again as part of a kidnapping case involving wealthy industrialist Ruggiero Miletti. What he arrives in Perugia to find is a fractured, unhappy family unwilling to cooperate with the police, a magistrate determined to find guilt for the kidnapping amongst the victim’s family and a force unwilling to work for an outsider. All of this only makes the delicate situation with the kidnapping even more precarious, and Zen only has one chance at salvaging his career.
Having finished the novel now, I find myself a bit torn. On the one hand, it is a very competently written crime novel, with no real glaring faults for me to latch onto. I suppose the thing that gives me pause most of all is more that I don’t think I’ve ever read a detective novel where the main investigator is quite so willing to be completely underhanded in his methods. While I’m sure there are points in any crime novel where the investigator has to confront the whole question of do the ends justify the means, Ratking takes things further than I’m used to. There is no other series where I look at how the investigation has proceeded and think to myself that the detective stealing a car and planting it somewhere suspicious just so that it can be brought in for forensic testing is a reasonable course of action. While I can appreciate that the nature of the difficulties that Inspector Zen deals with do sort of warrant the extreme lengths that he will go to, it is a bit disconcerting that he does it so blithely. It doesn’t really detract from the quality of the story-telling, it just might be a point to take into consideration if you were thinking of picking up Ratking: Aurelio Zen very much proves that you don’t have to be nice or play fair in order to be a good person, and if you like your detectives to be more noble and just in their actions this may be a serious issue.

Definitely an interesting and rather more sleazy take on the crime genre. The problems with bureaucracy and privilege are clearly spelled out, and the methods that the main character uses are underhanded enough to match. If you want a more traditional detective with an unspoken code of conduct, you may wish to look elsewhere, but if you’re looking for something a little different, then this might be your answer. 4/5

Next review: De Sade’s Valet by Nikolaj Frobenius

Signing off,

Aberystwyth Mon Amour by Malcolm Pryce

Okay, so this one I picked up more or less purely for the title. You can’t deny that as a title Aberystwyth Mon Amour is memorable and more than a little silly, so why on earth wouldn’t I pick it up? Besides, I’d been looking to read some a bit more noir, so this fit the bill in more than one way.

Aberystwyth Mon Amour follows a down-on-his-luck private investigator named Louie Knight after he is visited by notorious singer and bar wench, Myfenwy Montez. She asks him to search for her young cousin, an unpleasant youth known as Evans the Boot. What seems like a simple case soon turns strange, as he finds that Evans is not the first schoolboy to go missing, and that the case may involve the Grand Wizard of the Druids, head of the local school and leader of a seriously shady faux-Mafia group.
This book is the most surreal experiences I’ve had in a long while. Admittedly, when you go into a book knowing that it is Welsh Fantasy Noir, you have at least an inkling that you’re in for a weird ride. But then details about the case start coming in and it goes onto a whole other level of strangeness: Druids running the town both legitimately and not, the local ice-cream vendor doubling as the local philosopher/informant, tea cosy shops being a cover for dodgy dealings, war veterans from Patagonia, and much, much more. Whenever I state some of the weird stuff that makes up the world-building in this book, I can’t help but be surprised that it isn’t more difficult to follow plot-wise. The story itself is remarkably easy to follow; daft as a brush, but surprisingly credible nonetheless. My only real issue with it really is that there are parts of the narrative, the ending in particular, where it feels a tad rushed and could have really used a bit more detail. As for the characters, I feel that some of them deserved more attention, in particular Calamity Jane, but overall they were nicely fleshed out. I’d be more than happy to read the next installment if I were to come across it.

A solid and thoroughly weird Fantasy Noir book. If you fancy a Detective Noir book that is willing to poke fun at itself, then you’re in luck. At times it feels like all the surreal elements shouldn’t work together so well, but somehow it gets the tone just right. The only main issue is a rushed ending. 4/5

Next review: Ratking by Michael Dibdin

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