Mini-Reviews: Aunt, Farleigh, Likeness, Poldark

As you can tell, I’m not super motivated to blog at the moment, and I’m contemplating some possible changes to my process. Going forward, I’d like to absolve myself from trying to review every book I read, and maybe just focus on the best or most interesting books of each month. I’d also like to vary my content a little bit more, maybe by doing more discussion posts and memes à la Top Ten Tuesday. So I’m ruminating on that…but in the meantime, here are some more mini-reviews!

Death of My AuntIn Farleigh Field

C.H.B. Kitchin, Death of My Aunt — I love a good Golden Age mystery, but this one isn’t one of my favorites. I don’t remember it being particularly bad, but nothing stands out as particularly memorable either. It’s your standard “unpleasant family matriarch dies, the younger husband is the main suspect, but did he really do it?” plot. I did like the fact that the younger husband wasn’t an obvious slimeball, as they generally tend to be in these types of stories. But in the end, I think only diehard Golden Age fans will enjoy this one.

Rhys Bowen, In Farleigh Field — This book has a lot of my favorite things: historical fiction, World War II, spies, and a friends-to-lovers subplot. But while it was an enjoyable read, I didn’t fall in love with it. I think I wanted more from the espionage story, and the characters all seemed a little flat to me. Also, while the book can definitely be read as a standalone, I got the impression that it was setting up a sequel, and I’m not sure I care enough to continue with a (hypothetical) series.

Likeness, TheJeremy Poldark

Tana French, The Likeness — The modern crime thriller isn’t my preferred genre, but I made an exception for French’s In the Woods and completely devoured it. This is the second book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, and it focuses on Cassie, Ryan’s partner from the first book. The premise is somewhat outlandish, as Cassie must go undercover to investigate the murder of a young woman who looks just like her. But despite that, I found myself completely compelled by Cassie’s journey as she integrates herself into the dead woman’s life. I definitely plan to continue with this series — I’ve already bought book three!

Winston Graham, Jeremy Poldark — ***Warning: Spoilers for previous books in the Poldark series.***

Book three in the Poldark saga really amps up the drama, as it begins with Ross on trial for his life because of his role in the shipwreck and ensuing events at the end of Demelza. Of course, Ross is hellbent on making things as difficult as possible for himself, and George Warleggan is working behind the scenes to get Ross convicted. This is the book that really sold me on the series, although newcomers should start at the beginning with Ross Poldark.

Review: The Hunter

Hunter, TheRichard Stark, The Hunter

This book introduces Parker, a criminal whose combination of street smarts and brute force has enabled him to live comfortably on the proceeds from his thefts. But his life is fundamentally disrupted when a job goes awry and one of his partners double-crosses him. Now Parker is consumed with thoughts of revenge, and he’ll do anything to catch up with Mal Resnick, the man who stole both his money and his wife. Parker uses a variety of tactics, including intimidation and murder, to track Mal down; meanwhile, Mal learns that Parker is on his trail and tries desperately to escape his clutches. Parker’s task is made more complicated by the fact that Mal is a memeber of an extremely influential crime syndicate called the Outfit, and the Outfit isn’t inclined to let Parker have his way. In order to exact his revenge, Parker must eventually go up against the whole organization; but will killing Mal sign his own death warrant?

While I enjoy the occasional film noir or con movie, I don’t tend to like the noir genre in book form. I tend to prefer my mysteries a little less violent, with a more clearly defined moral code (i.e., the killer is the bad guy). This book has a very cynical tone and a protagonist with few, if any, redeeming qualities. Frankly, I found Parker horrifying, especially in his violent treatment of women and his casual approach to killing anyone who gets in his way. Yet I actually ended up enjoying this book! I liked the writing style, which doesn’t waste any words and gets straight to the point. I also really enjoyed watching the story unfold: the book alternates from Parker’s story in the present to the story of the job that went wrong. Additionally, it was fascinating to see how Parker’s situation changes throughout the novel, as his quest for vengeance against one man turns into a war against the entire Outfit. If I’m ever in the mood for a darker mystery, I may even continue with this series!

There are also two film adaptations of the book, “Point Blank” (1967, starring Lee Marvin) and “Payback” (1999, starring Mel Gibson). I haven’t seen either of them, but I think this story would translate really well to film! Has anyone seen either of these movies, and if so, would you recommend them?

Review: In the Woods

In the WoodsTana French, In the Woods

Detective Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, are two up-and-coming detectives on the Dublin Murder Squad. But Ryan is hiding a secret about his past: his real name is Adam Ryan, and when he was 12 years old, his two best friends vanished in the woods of Knocknaree without a trace. Ryan was even with them at the time, but he has no memory of what happened to them — or why they disappeared while he was found. Ryan has apparently done a good job of recovering from this trauma and moving on with his life, but he is deeply shaken when he and Cassie are assigned to another case in Knocknaree, where a young girl has been murdered. As Ryan returns to his hometown and is confronted with memories he didn’t even know he had, he wonders whether the girl’s murder is connected to his own past. Ultimately, Ryan knows that this case will have deep personal importance for him — but will it make his career or destroy it?

I’m having a hard time collecting my thoughts on this book. At first I thought I wasn’t going to like it at all — in fact, I almost gave up after the flowery prologue — but eventually I got completely sucked in. The strongest aspect of the book, for me, was the relationship between Ryan and Cassie. Ryan isn’t a particularly likable character, but the bond between him and Cassie is so strong that you can’t help feeling he must be a pretty good guy after all. The way this relationship evolves and changes throughout the book kept me riveted. The novel’s narrative structure also creates a lot of suspense: Ryan is the narrator, and he says right from the start that he tells lies. So I was constantly wondering whether he was lying about certain things, and I became really invested in both mysteries as a result. That said, the book’s ending drove me a little crazy: some things made me sad, others frustrated me, and others I actually liked a lot. So I’m still undecided about this book; but I am glad I read it, and I will certainly be reading The Likeness at some point as well!

Review: Lexicon

LexiconMax Barry, Lexicon

Emily Ruff is a teenager living on the streets of San Francisco, subsisting on the change she earns by fleecing people at cards. So when she is approached by a mysterious organization that wants to send her to a special boarding school, all expenses paid, she jumps at the chance without asking too many questions. When Emily arrives at the school, she learns that its purpose is to train poets, an elite group of individuals who can use words to “persuade” people to do anything. Emily learns that people can be divided into segments based on their personality type, and each segment responds to a unique set of words. The poets want Emily because they have ascertained that she is more than usually persuasive. Meanwhile, Wil Parte is on the run, accompanied by a renegade poet called Eliot — but he doesn’t know who he’s running from or why they’re looking for him. Both Emily and Wil must eventually face violence and impossible choices as the connection between their stories becomes evident.

I picked up this book because I loved the premise, which is essentially that words have power (something book lovers already know!). Max Barry has imagined a world in which the masses can be controlled by an elite few with words alone — a world that is frighteningly close to our own. For me, the book’s biggest strength is how plausible it is; with our private lives increasingly made public through the Internet, it’s very easy to imagine governments and other powerful groups using that private information for their own ends. The book also reads extremely quickly and is chock-full of action. However, the book was a little too graphic for me, in terms of both sex and violence. And more importantly, I feel like Barry missed a great opportunity to explore some interesting philosophical questions in the novel. Clearly the poets are to some extent sinister, and the villain of the book is quite obviously the villain; but even the so-called heroes do a lot of morally questionable things, and their behavior is never really called to account. The book has a happy(ish) ending, and I just don’t think it’s justified. Still, this is a fun read if you’re interested in the premise, but I’d recommend getting it from the library rather than buying.

Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian FlynnGillian Flynn, Gone Girl

Nick and Amy Dunne are attractive thirty-somethings living in a large house in Missouri, right by the Mississippi River. From the outside, they seem to have a charmed life, but in fact they’ve been having increasingly severe marital problems. Then, on their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. Suspicion naturally falls on Nick, since in these situations it’s usually the husband who is guilty. Did Nick kill Amy, and if not, what happened to her? As the narrative slowly unfolds, the truth becomes ever more complex and more elusive.

This is the kind of book that’s really hard to discuss without major spoilers, but I’ll do my best not to give anything away! For starters, this is not my usual genre; I hardly ever read thrillers, but this one is so popular that I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Overall I think I enjoyed the book, or at any rate I found it compelling. I got sucked into the story and had to keep turning the pages to find out what would happen next. Neither Nick nor Amy is entirely likable, and they both get more unpleasant as the book goes on. But it was fun to chase all the plot twists and try to stay one step ahead of the narrators. (Nick and Amy take turns narrating, him from the time of the disappearance and her from diary entries written beforehand.) I didn’t like the ending, though obviously I can’t be more specific. Still, this is a good read for what it is, and I’d recommend it for planes or beaches (but definitely not on your honeymoon!).