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Bookends: What if the old souls come back? November 5, 2015

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Bookends: What if the old souls come back?

By Dan Davidson

May 30, 2015

– 822 words –

 

The IntrudersThe Intruders

By Michael Marshall Smith

HarperCollins e-books

394 pages

$9.99

The novel begins with the murder of a mother and son, on a night when they actually seem to be communicating for a change. The man at the door said he was from the FBI, but the gun, the lighter fluid and the flame said something else. “Where is it?” he kept asking, and poor Gina had no idea what he was talking about, other than that it must be connected to her husband, Bill, and he was not home.

The man who said he was from the FBI went by the name of Richard Shepherd, but his last name was really more of a job description. It defined his role within the organization known as Qui Revert. He was ruthless because it was his job, and if he did it well his superiors might, some day, reward him with the immortality they enjoyed.

About half of this story is told by Jack Whalen, an ex-cop from LA, who has become a successful writer following the events (which are never quite clear) that caused him to resign from the LAPD. He now lives nearer to Seattle, with his wife, Amy, who works in advertising and sometimes has to travel.

When Jack was in high school he knew a girl named Donna, a girl who killed herself and left behind a smudged note, a girl who never quite fit in, a girl who had desperately wanted to connect with Gary Fisher, the school’s alpha male.

Twenty years after that event and two weeks after Gina’s bad night, Gary turns up on Jack’s doorstep with a really weird story, and an assignment he wants Jack to take on.

Jack’s reluctant. The truth is the next book just isn’t coming along, and his wife has been acting strange lately, as if she’s not quite herself sometimes. When did she start secretly smoking and listening to big band jazz?

While Jack’s trying to decide what to do, a little girl named Madison goes missing not too far away. It happens after she meets Shepherd on the beach, but he doesn’t take her. He starts a process that takes her over, and she becomes the walking puppet for another consciousness, that of a very bad man named Marcus, a serial killer who vanished some years ago, just as the police were about to catch up with him. The book follows Madison/Marcus as she leaves home and runs off to the city, there to meet with other members of Qui Revert, who would much rather she/he didn’t still exist.

Well before the end of the book, we find we are dealing with a kind of reincarnation. The essence of a person, whatever you call it, is recycled into a new being, but sometimes, in some special places, like the old brownstone in the city that was built on what used to be a sacred place for the local natives, the walls between the here and the hereafter are thin, and the personality that used to own the essence survives and can be coaxed forth by certain talismans.

The Shepherds are in charge of this process. Madison is being shepherded to become Marcus, though the process has begun a decade too soon. Amy was approached when she was 18, and someone named Rose is taking up more and more of her mental and emotional space.

Some people can’t deal with the mental and emotional dissonance, and end up like Donna. Some people, like Amy, chose this kind of personality suicide because of some event in their present life that they can’t handle. Rose just has a stronger will than Amy, and is determined to bring back the essence of the jazz musician she loved in that earlier life.

Gary and Jack investigate on their separate tracks and eventually come together in a way that surprises Jack more than Gary. Jack actually stumbles onto much of what Gary has reasoned out when he goes looking for Amy, who has gone missing after a trip to Seattle that was only supposed to be a brief one.

I’m not going to say more than that. I picked this up because of the BBC America mini-series that ran last fall in eight episodes. I had a feeling there was more to the story. The Internet information on the series says it was cancelled after one season, but in truth it was simply a video novel in eight chapters and there was no reason for it to be continued beyond that somewhat open ending. There were a lot of changes between the book and the series, and the book has a lot more detail, but I would have to say that the series was quite faithful to the main plot lines and characters. I enjoyed both versions.

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Bookends: A Lost Mine holds many deadly secrets November 5, 2015

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Bookends: A Lost Mine holds many deadly secrets

By Dan Davidson

May 26, 2015

– 898 words –

 

The Lost Mine Murders: A Klondike Era MysteryLost Mine Murders

by Sharon Rowse

Three Cedars Press

293 pages

Kindle Edition

$5.99

Sharon Rowse’s “Klondike Era Mystery” series is just a tad deceptive in terms of its marketing strategy. John Lansdowne Granville and his partner, Sam Scott, actually live in Goldrush era Vancouver, having settled there after their adventures in the Klondike. In the first book, The Silk Train Murders, Granville rescued himself from the down at the heels life he had fallen into after his time in the Yukon when Scott was falsely arrested for murder and nearly hung.

Granville, ne’er do well son of the British aristocracy, transformed himself into a private detective in order to save his former mining partner, and that led the pair into the new partnership which is well established by the time this story occurs.

It’s December 30, 1899, when the pair sit down with Marty Cole, a grimy old miner who spins them the tale of a lost mine in the southern BC wilderness, near a place called Pitt Lake. His claim is that he wants to find the mine and turn it over to a descendant of the man who made the partial map he shows the partners. He promises them a share of the profit from the working mine if they will help him find it.

Granville and Scott are still on the trail of a missing infant, but that trail has gone cold while they wait for more information from the USA, so they decide to take this on while they wait.

It’s not a job that’s supposed to take very long. They decide to take Trent Davis, their young apprentice, with them. It’s a good choice, as it turns out, for while the pair are experienced in the wilderness, Trent actually grew up in the bush, and turns out to be even more of an asset than they would have thought.

Side plots abound. In the first book Granville became acquainted with a young woman named Emily Turner, who turned out to be a fountain of information on that first case. Emily’s family is as Victorian upper middle class as can be, and the only way the pair of them can manage to consult with each other is for them to pretend to be engaged. This is actually a condition which would please them both if it were real, but they spend much of their time dancing around the potential relationship, both pretending it’s all very much business-like.

Emily has, in fact, enrolled in a business school, to learn typewriting, the very sort of school my mother and her sisters would sign up for in the late 1930s, when computers were still a glimmer in Alan Turing’s eye. Her family is not happy with such a working class decision, but Emily plugs away at it, even though she really has to struggle with the machine.

The other thing impeding her progress is that she keeps getting involved in both of Granville’s cases, snooping around the city with her friend, Clara, whose interest is certainly enhanced by the involvement of the young reporter, Tim O’Hearn.

While they pursue their line of investigation, Granville’s party is ambushed in the woods and their client is killed, while Scott is badly injured. They are assisted in nursing him back to health by an Indian (this is 1899 after all) healer of the Katzie (Salish) tribe, and in the process meet an amateur anthropologist who is studying the local customs and is a fount of knowledge.

In due time Granville and his team make their way to Denver, still searching for the missing child. They are ambushed there as well, though they come out of it without being injured at all. In the end they break up a baby farm and find Sarah, the missing child.

Back home, there is still a lot of tidying up to do. Mostly it’s a question of locating Mary Pearson, who seems to be the rightful heir of Cole’s map. Emily’s work on this side of the story is crucial to their success. Wrapping up this mystery and the murders associated with it move the story along to a rather surprising conclusion..

I found this second book an improvement on the first, with more development of the two central characters, Granville and Emily. The narrative follows their points of view, which does end to make the supporting cast seem a bit like set decoration, but that’s not uncommon in this type of mystery.

Rowse has recently released a third volume in this series, The Missing Heir Murders, and seems to be alternating these books with a series set in modern times and featuring a female sleuth named Barbara O’Grady.

I’ve been reading Rowse’s mysteries in e-book form and I do hope the next one is converted a bit better. It’s disconcerting to see a word printed in italics and then find (italics) right after it as if someone messed up the formatting.

In terms of historical accuracy, I haven’t really noticed any howlers in these books, but Rowse’s website (http://www.sharonrowse.com/historical-research/) invites you to check, with a listing of books she consulted in order to create her settings, as well as references about the Salish people and their healing practices.

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Bookends: What happens when the dead keep coming back November 5, 2015

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Bookends: What happens when the dead keep coming back

By Dan Davidson

May 20, 2015

– 812 words –

 

Dead Men’s BootsDead Men's Boots

by Mike Carey

Grand Central Publishing

527 pages

Kindle Edition

$6.99

 

Mike Carey has carved out a considerable career in comic books, writing everything from superheroes to sword & sorcery fantasy. He served a stint on the John Constantine (Hellblazer) series and picked up the character of Lucifer where Neil Gaiman left him after the Sandman series ended. Both runs are generally considered to be of high quality.

On his own, with artistic partner Peter Gross, he has created the very impressive Unwritten series, which will soon be wrapping up in its eleventh volume of collected issues.

Moving sideways from comics a few years ago, Carey created the Felix Castor series of supernatural mystery/thrillers, making some use of the Constantine template that has served a number of authors in the genre, inspiring both male and female protagonists, so well.

In Castor’s world the dead have all come back. No one knows why, whether it’s an escape or whether they are running from something nasty that lurks on the other side of life, but what used to be an occasional occurrence has become the norm.

The manifestations are different depending on what means the spirits use. Some are disembodied phantoms and show up as poltergeists. Some inhabit their former bodies and are zombies, slowly decaying walking corpses, unless they find some means of arresting the natural processes. There are ways to maintain the physical and mental capacities, as we learn from one of Castor’s friends, Nicky Heath.

Some inhabit the bodies of animals and, by some means, compel the bodies they hijack to take on human characteristics. These are were-creatures: cats, dogs, larger and smaller animals. Some even colonize groups of creatures and form them into a singular horrific being.

Castor is one of the gifted humans who has the power to control and expel such creatures. He uses tunes on a pennywhistle. Other people sing or chant or do math – it varies.

We begin at a funeral. One of Castor’s fellow exorcists has died under strange circumstances and his spirit is very restless. Felix feels responsible. John Gittings had called him for help, but there was bad blood between them, and Castor had refused the call. Now he feels like he has to find out what it was all about.

At the same time, he has another case to handle. A construction worker has gone mad, apparently, and has committed a dreadful murder, but it is odd that the crime duplicates exactly the serial killings of an Chicago based hit woman named Myriam Kale who has been dead, and supposedly inactive, for forty years.

Off to one side of all this, Castor has to protect the person of his former colleague, Raffi, who was possessed by the demon Asmodeus some years earlier, and lives, guarded, in a padded cell at an institution that would like to get rid of him and hand the problem over to a research facility run by the devious Professor Mulbridge.

There are more creatures than the dead roaming about in this world, though we have met only two of them: demons by nature. One is Castor’s ally, a succubus who has taken the name of Juliet and, after originally having been summoned up to murder him, has instead become a private eye and settled into domestic bliss with a woman. She has a rather devastating effect on men, and this often provides a bit of comic relief, but in this, the third book in the series, she is becoming more of a character and less of a plot device.

The other demon that we know of goes by the more Biblical name of Moloch, and he has his own game to play in this installment. While Juliet dines on sexual energy, Moloch devours tainted spirits.

There are a lot of tainted spirits, a veritable consortium of them, and they have figured out a way to inhabit healthy, living human bodies, displacing or subjugating the still living spirits within them. By this means the crafty dead have achieved a form of virtual immortality, jumping to a new body as the process they use hastens the aging of the one they are using.

I haven’t told you enough to spoil the surprises. This one takes Castor all over London and even on a trans-Atlantic hop to the USA, where things get even more complex than he had believed them to be before he decided to make that trip.

There are several story arcs that are making their way through this series, so it does help to read them in publication order. You can find this on Carey’s Wikipedia page. So far there are five books and a sixth has been promised. I look forward to it.

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Bookends: Introducing the Buckshaw Chronicles November 5, 2015

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Bookends: Introducing the Buckshaw Chronicles

By Dan Davidson

May 12, 2015

– 860 words –

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

By Alan BradleySweetness

Anchor Canada

373 pages

$19.95

The very first of the Flavia de Luce mysteries, otherwise known as the Buckshaw Chronicles, begins with our 11 year old heroine in the sort situation that will be echoed later on in the book when things get serious.

“It was black in the closet as old blood. They had shoved me in and locked the door. I breathed heavily through my nose, fighting desperately to remain calm.”

Flavia then explains to us in some detail what she has to do to get free of the place where her older sisters have left her. Just why they tied and gagged her in there is never quite made clear, but I expect she had provoked them in some fashion. Just her use of pet names for Daphne (Daffy) and Ophelia (Feely), combined with her undisputed assumption that she is worth more than both of them put together, might be enough to inspire them.

Later on, when the thief and murderer also ties and gags her in a small, dark space, she does not find it so easy to get free.

The series takes its name from the fictional village region in which it is set, an interestingly rural British setting for a Canadian writer who was living in Kelowna when he submitted the first chapter of the book to the British Debut Dagger Competition back in 2007. He not only won the contest but was approached by two of the judges, who offered to buy the rest of the book, if he should finish it.

Seven months later, after a bidding war, and after picking up his award in London, he did so. The original book resulted in a three book contract (those books now being marketed In an omnibus volume under the series title), which was extended to six books, and then to ten. There are currently eight books in print.

Flavia is eccentrically bright, obsessed with chemistry, and possessed of a curious mind, so when she trips over a dying stranger just outside the kitchen door of the mansion around four o’clock one morning, nothing will do but that she inject herself into the investigation in every way she can think of.

What has dying man, who exhales “vale” (farewell) with his last breath got to do with the dead bird that was left on their doorstep with a stamp impaled on its beak the day before? Why was her father, an obsessive philatelist (everyone in the family has some kind of obsession) so upset by the latter event? Why does Inspector Hewitt take her father into custody? Who is her father protecting when he confesses to murdering the stranger?

The story is set in the summer of 1950, yet it has a sort of timeless cozy mystery flavour to it that tends to disregard decades. Flavia, as written, is punching above her age in terms of expression, but still naïve enough to be an 11 year old. She carries the first person narration well.

The book has some interesting supporting characters. We don’t get a lot of information about her father. He seems to be in financial difficulties, but we don’t get details. We learn more about his youth at a boarding school than we learn about his present day self.

The sisters are older that our heroine. They have their own obsessions: Feely with her looks and Daffy with books. The housekeeper, Mrs. Mullet, is a good deal shrewder than Flavia thinks she is. And then there’s the faithful man servant/gardener/chauffer Dogger (which brings the title of dogsbody to mind), whose mysterious ailment has yet to be explained in the first book.

Inspector Hewitt sounds like he might be a continuing character. He’s not at all slow on the uptake, but Flavia manages to throw him a few curves as the case progresses. Chapter 27 has what looks to be the makings of a beautiful friendship or at least a working relationship.

Buckshaw and its environs seem likely to have a lot of room for development. Certain areas are sketched out nicely. Flavia needs to do research so there’s a very eccentric local library where it seems that she might be able to find just about anything in future books.

In terms of flavour, I’m reminded somewhat of Eoin Colfer’s Artimis Fowl series, though Colfer’s character is a teenage criminal mastermind. Flavia might go either way, as long as she was enabled to work her love of chemistry into the scheme. Solving the crime, in this first case, has more to do with exonerating her father and enjoying the puzzle, than with any absolute desire to see justice done.

After all, when she discovers the body in chapter two, her first impulse is not to be filled with a need to bring anyone to justice.

“I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

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Bookends: Adventures in the spy trade and in a bookstore November 5, 2015

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Bookends: Adventures in the spy trade and in a bookstore

By Dan DavidsonMorgue

May 6, 2015

– 792 words –

The Jennifer Morgue

By Charles Stross

Ace Books

401 pages

$9.99

Once there was a writer from Texas named Robert E. Howard. He specialized in a form of fantasy called sword and sorcery and, though he was far from the only writer in the genre, his tales of Conan the barbarian have probably rendered him the best known name of the tribe.

He was an associate of another genre writer named H.P. Lovecraft, whose tales of eldritch monsters from other dimensions, that used to rule the Earth, have inspired many a horror fantasy writer.

Then there was Ian Fleming, a one time spy, stockbroker, banker and foreign correspondent, who turned his wish-fulfillment dreams into James Bond and left that mark on the world. You can read more about him and his creation in the afterword to this novel, “The Golden Age of Spying.”

The book at hand is the second in Charles Stross’s tales of the Laundry, which is what he’s calling his magic driven version of the British secret service. Magic is a form of applied mathematics in this world, a compendium of useful spells at stored on PDAs for easy retrieval.

Bob Howard (the reference should be obvious from how I started this column) is a top agent of the Laundry, and his business is keeping mystical mishaps and alien incursions from happening.

In this reality we are sharing the planet with some rather nasty creatures, and there are various protocols in place that allow us to coexist without being wiped out by them. Some live deep in the Earth, so we must not tunnel too deeply. Fracking would be a no-no. others are in the deepest reaches of the oceans and so there are other boundaries we must observe.

Some of them are at war with each other and would be creating planetary havoc if not for certain fail safes that have been put in place.

A billionaire named Ellis Billington believes that by commandeering one of these, code named the Jennifer Morgue, he can achieve ultimate power in the human world. In order to do this he needs some unwitting agents to act out the basic patterns that can be found in the works of Ian Fleming. He arranges to impose a geas (compulsion spell) on Bob to cause him to assume the role of Bond, and lines up a suitable woman (sort of – it’s complicated) to play the part of the somewhat dubious female lead. Bound by this spell, and linked psychically in ways no Fleming couple ever could have been, they are to become the unwitting agents of his success.

It might have all worked as planned if Bob and Ramona hadn’t managed to work out just what was going on and managed to jam a few sticks through the bicycle wheels of his plot.

This is the second Laundry Files book, the first having been a collection of stories called The Atrocity Archives. The present book actually contains the mystical Fleming homage I’ve been describing, which is a full novel on its own. Then there is a short story that is more the usual sort of Laundry adventure, something involving computer role playing games. Finally there is the informative and entertaining essay about Fleming and his hero to which I referred you back in paragraph 3.

The whole package is full of adventure and no small amount of humour. Give it a try.

Curious George Goes to a BookstoreGeorge

Story by Julie M. Bartynski

Illustrations by Mary O’Keefe Young

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

32 pages

$17.95

Margret and H.A. Rey are no longer with us, but Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat live on. I don’t think the original books ever got quite the posh treatment that this one has received: hardcover, full colour, slick paper, end papers. This is a far cry from those Scholastic Press paperbacks that have filled the children’s sections of so many libraries.

This follows the standard outline. The Man (no longer capitalized for some reason) takes George somewhere. George wanders off and gets into a bit of mischief that doesn’t actually hurt anyone and is rescued from the situation by the man.

George meets his favourite author, had some banana bread, finds boxes full of the newest book in his favourite series of books, sets up an unauthorized but very inventive book display that everyone likes, and gets to meet his favourite author.

There’s a nice touch at the end, a page that gives a brief section on how to write a story and three story starters, which it invites young readers to try for themselves.

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