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The Shape Stealer by Lee Carroll

The Shape Stealer

There are times I wish I was an expert in everything. That way, when I come across something unexpected in a work of fiction, I would know just how fictional it is. In this case, I’m happily reading an uncomfortable blend of science fiction and fantasy, and come across a plan to destabilise the world’s economy by creating a bubble in the value of gold and then puncturing it. The book describes this as a pump and dump plan but, if my understanding is correct, it would be almost impossible to apply this to a commodity such as gold. In the real world, the early months of 2009 saw the price of gold at $800 per ounce, but once we came to the autumn of 2011, it had risen to more than $1,900. This was a bubble, i.e. the price did not reflect the economic law of supply and demand. Consequently, optimistic investors were saying there was no upward limit for the price. Trying to pump a commodity trending upward is never going to have a major effect. If there’s an unexpected spike, there will be a price correction and then the underlying trend will resume. Now we’re heading back down in value, i.e. the bubble is deflating and, so far, the world’s economy has not collapsed. So it seems to me that the plan to wreck the world being advocated by the forces of evil in this book is doomed to fail without any action being required from the forces of good. They could just sit back and laugh as evil’s plan failed.

All of which brings me to this quite extraordinary collision between science fiction and fantasy. The Shape Stealer by Lee Carroll (pseudonymous team of Carol Goodman and Lee Slonimsky) (Tor, 2013) is the third in the Black Swan Rising trilogy dealing with the “love” between Garet and Will. As in all books now posing under the urban fantasy label, this must be one of these agonising relationships. She’s one of these protector figures (save the Earth!) and he’s a vampire (save me from myself!). Obviously they are made for each other but, as is always the case, there are problems (no! really? well, do tell). This problem is certainly different.

Carol Goodman and Lee Slonimsky

Carol Goodman and Lee Slonimsky

In the last book, our happy couple travelled back in time and met up with his younger self (two vampires to love are better than one). When two returned to our time, she came back with the “young” version and not the “old” one she loves (Holy cow, Batman, that’s some mistake coming back with the lusty “young” one rather than the jaded tired “old” one). This left the “old” one the chance to carry on “living” so, for the second time of asking, he exists through the four-hundred plus years to the present so the two versions of himself can be together again with the woman they love. Notice the potential for paradox here. If the “young” one travels forward in time and so doesn’t do everything he previously did as he lived through time, that rather changes the past in a big way. Indeed, when reliving the four-hundred years, the old vampire in love dedicates his existence to good, avoiding the feasting on humans as much as possible, and generally being a nice guy (Garet has really been working her mojo on this vampire). This means absolutely everything about the past gets messed up by all that good.

Sitting in the middle of all this absurdity are different interested parties. There’s a group of temporal guardians whose job it is to keep the cause and effect sufficiently in check so that any changes to the past make only minor changes to the present (ignoring the butterfly effect for these purposes). To achieve this, they sit outside current time with exhaustive records of their “past”. Whenever anything changes, one of the ledgers drops off its shelf in the library and they can quickly see what’s changed and decide whether to fix it. This temporal limbo is also used by the fey as they pass through from Earth to their “home” land (and back which is why there’s a time loss when they take humans for a visit). There’s also a dissident group of time travellers who are called Malefactors (kinda mediaeval name for the bad guys) and generally make a nuisance of themselves by squeezing themselves through the dimensions into our time like toothpaste out of a tube. All these time guardians and warring Malefactors have some very nifty technology including some advanced weaponry (presumably brought back from the future). And, finally, there’s Dr John Dee and a shapeshifting “monster” from ancient Babylon who just want to take over the world and run it their way. So, summing this up, Dr Dee and the fairies (led by Oberon) travel through time by using magic. The chrononauts have time portals and can use clockwork devices built into watches (how original) to move through time and also space (TARDIS watches are cool).

Now there are times when absurdity is a good thing, e.g. using reductio ad absurdum in a philosophical debate or as a form of mocking mirror to reality. In electing to write about time travel, authors should be applying the established rules so, through its failure, this book is what we must politely call a time fantasy where none of it makes any sense as mathematics, physics, philosophy or logic would require. This could have been a good mechanism for mocking the trope of time travel. Once you get into the question of paradox and then have to address the possibility of paraconsistency where a proposition may be simultaneously true and false, there’s great potential for humour. But this book is plodding and dull. It’s intended as a soppy romance where our heroine gets to love two versions of her imperfect man in a world dominated by magic, i.e. a world where events are completely arbitrary and fairies can teach the vampire how to rearrange his molecules in real time to avoid being injured when bullets pass through him (sorry, I mean the vampire can rearrange his molecules so that the bullets pass through him without injuring him). Instant self-repair would be absurd, right? Particularly if he was shot in the head and had to stop thinking for a moment.

So if you’re heavily into urban fantasy and have absolutely no interest in anything that makes any sense, The Shape Stealer is for you. But if, like me, you prefer there to be an underlying logic and order to a plot, you should wave your wand in a way that will send all the copies of this book back in time so it was never written and cannot now be purchased from secondhand book dealers around the world (paradoxes rule!).

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Saving Laura by Jim Satterfield

Saving-Laura-No-Background

If a reviewer is bold enough to describe a writing style as simple, this is often taken as a criticism. The reason, I suppose, is that children write short sentences, often avoiding the use of long words, and few would call their work “literature”. So, over the years, a pejorative meaning has come to be attached to the use of the word. Yet, of course, some writers are famous for the simplicity of their writing style, praised for what critics call minimalism in language, i.e. distilling everything down to the bare minimum required to say what you mean or avoiding the use of any words deemed unnecessary (or redundant) (sic). So in Saving Laura by Jim Satterfield (Oceanview Publishing, 2013) we go with a first-person narrative set in 1979 and written in a very simple style. Although we’re told at the end that this account of events was written much later in the author’s life, most of the time we’re left to believe this is a contemporaneous account of his “adventures” by Lee Shelby, a twenty-one year old English major with a liking for Ernest Hemingway. Now before you get your hopes up, this is not even remotely like the Hemingway style. But the approach is similar in spirit, i.e. the text is structured in short paragraphs and wherever possible, short sentences. The vocabulary is mostly simple but, because we’re often on the run and under pressure, the English is quite vigorous and forceful. So the result avoids being plain by virtue of its simplicity. The directness means the plot is moved quickly along and the thriller qualities are enhanced.

However, style on its own is never enough. There must be sufficient sustenance in the plot to satisfy the reader. The problem actually comes from the writing style. If you strip out all the superfluous, that means you’re leaving out all those interesting little details and asides that can add character to the book. Sometimes passages of description setting the scene or sketching the people involved add an extra dimension to the text by rounding it out. And, to my mind, that’s where this book is a little shaky. In essence what we have is a young man driven to rash acts out of love. Without thinking too clearly how this will all play out in the future, our heroic idiot robs a drug dealer as he’s buying 5 kilos of Peruvian flake, and makes off with both the drugs and the $75,000 purchase price. He’s thought far enough ahead to plan where to hide except nothing quite works out as he hopes. The accumulating problems force him back to the scene of the crime and we follow him as he tries to save himself (and Laura, the girl he loves).

Jim Satterfield

Jim Satterfield

As a plot idea, this is great for a back-of-the-envelope pitch to movie moguls. There are legends about people selling ideas but then failing to deliver in the detail. In this case, the hero’s inexperience means he’s completely at sea. The only way he can therefore get back to shore is by relying on other people to help him. Although the first person in this daisy chain is more or less in his plan from the outset, most everything else that happens is through coincidence or accident. People prove unexpectedly helpful and skillful, there are ferocious animals that (in)conveniently maim and kill (yes, there’s real drama), and the legal system ends up getting bent out of shape to accommodate what our hero and all his helpers did (and they broke a lot of laws). I’m not saying it’s all unrealistic. Taken as individual episodes, life can sometimes work out like this. But once it’s all accumulated into a single plot, the whole feels very contrived. Take the question of animals as a hypothetical example. If an author introduces a skunk, the odds are it will spray out noxious substances at some point. That’s what the stereotype does if it feels threatened. For me, this is a real problem. As a backstory, the author may legitimately feel obliged to explain why his fifty-year old protagonist is called Skunk Boy (it was an unfortunate incident on the way to school that blighted his life). But if the skunk befriends the boy and, when a school bully approaches, the skunk runs forward and sprays the bully, the response of the reader is rather different. Now how are we to react when, later in the same book, the author introduces a parrot that can make the noise of a gun being fired? This is not deus but animals ex machina. You’ll be relieved to know there are no skunks or noisy birds in this novel, but you get the idea.

If I can’t take pleasure in the prose, I look for satisfaction in seeing a good plot well executed. Sadly Saving Laura falls on the wrong side of the plot line. That said, you may well enjoy this simple and sometimes quite elegant prose enough to carry you through a slightly thin thriller plot. Your choice.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi by Mark Hodder

June 21, 2013 2 comments

Secret Abdu El Yezdi by Mark Hodder

There’s real skill required to write a series. Far more than most people realise. Let’s say the author has signed a three-book deal. That ties him or her to the agreed formula which, in most cases, will be both a group of characters and a particular setting. So, for example, Miss Marple lives in St Mary Mead and, although she’s wont to travel around a little, the basis of her investigative style is drawn from her observation of life in the village. That way, even when she’s on holiday in the West Indies, she can remember what the butcher did to the baker’s assistant that so upset the candlestick maker. In other words, there’s a core magic formula that, after the first few books, turned the remainder into must-haves for the loyal fans. To depart from this formula is to lose the fans. But to do nothing more than repeat the formula will also lose the fans through boredom. There has to be development to keep the core ideas interesting. Hence even Miss Marple must go on holiday.

So, after a highly successful opening set of three, we’re back with The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi by Mark Hodder (Pyr, 2013) which is the first in a new three-book deal featuring Sir Richard Burton and Algernon Charles Swinburne in a steampunk version of Victorian England which, appropriately enough, began with the assassination of Queen Victoria. If you’re proposing to derail readers into an alternate history, killing off the titular queen for the age is the best possible starting point. The magic of the first book lies in its exuberance. There’s not a page goes by without some new idea or sly joke. As debut novels go, The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is one of the best. However, in this moment of heady success, there’s a problem. Once you’ve described the setting and cracked all your best jokes, you have to find something new to write about. Fortunately, the plot of The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man is terrific and kept everything moving along nicely even though the repetition of some of the jokes was wearing very thin towards the end. This led us into Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon which opened the door into some very interesting and more serious possibilities. As I said during that review, “. . .an inventive mind could devise a way into a different future. It will be interesting to see whether Pyr offers us the chance to see it unfold.” So my thanks to Pyr for renewing the book deal. This proves to be a particularly ingenious way of developing the plot.

Mark Hodder anonymous in Spain

Mark Hodder anonymous in Spain

Notice my reference to the plot. All the humour that characterised the first in the series has gone. This is altogether darker with the death of an important character, albeit not one we see too often. We’re nevertheless aware of this individual’s significance throughout. The key to understanding just how ingenious the plot lies in the need for all time travel books to follow strict logic. With the death of Queen Victoria in the first novel being caused by a time traveller, we’ve been following the cause and effect of the different changes in history as they occur. At the end of the last book, the situation had grown more complex as a new player entered the game and tried to destabilise the new version of history. With that threat defeated, Burton was left. . . Well that always was the question. Just where was Burton left?

At this point, I’m going to get a little vague because I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of this book. I emphasise that this is a direct continuation of the last trilogy and, although you might enjoy this as a standalone, you will not appreciate just how good it is unless you’ve read the other three in order. This is a serial, not a series of standalones in the same place with the same characters. This time, we’re into Bram Stoker land (appropriately young Bram is a character) with the arrival of a vampire-like force by sea. This time, the ship crashes on to the rocks of Anglesey during a terrible storm with the captain lashed to the wheel and all the crew and passengers (bar one, of course) dead on arrival. This gives us a broad supernatural framework on which to build our multiverse plot. Yes, that’s right. All the messing around in time has been multiplying the branches except there’s one common feature. Sooner or later, there’s a major war. Those of you with some grasp of history will recall our First World War occupied the years 1914 to 1918. In different timelines, this conflict comes at different times but it always happens. However, in this timeline, under the guidance of Abdu El Yezdi, the British have been moving towards a political rapprochement with Germany, therefore making war less inevitable. So the big questions for Burton are to identify Abdu El Yezdi, to explain how he has been giving such good advice, and to find him — sadly this fount of wisdom has stopped transmitting thereby leaving the British government up a creek wondering where their paddle has gone.

We still have some of the steampunk but most of the more extravagant technological innovation has gone in this timeline. There’s also slightly less political discussion, leaving more time for this rather pleasing blend of Victorian/Edwardian style adventure to be updated for modern sensibilities. Putting all this together, The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi is a wonderful continuation of the earlier trilogy, i.e. you really should have read the others in order before coming to this.

Once again the jacket artwork by Jon Sullivan is magnificent.

For reviews of the other four books, see:
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
The Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon
The Return of the Discontinued Man
There are also two standalones called:
A Red Sun Also Rises
Sexton Blake and the Silent Thunder Caper.

And for those who enjoy a little nostalgia, the website run by Mark Hodder celebrating Sexton Blake is worth a visit.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

The Last Full Measure by Jack Campbell

June 20, 2013 1 comment

The Last Fll Meadure by Jack Campbell

The question this novelette from Subterranean Press raises is a simple one. By their nature, all creative works are “political” because the purpose is to interact with the people who experience them. For these purposes, it doesn’t matter what the format of the work is. It can be fiction or not, in written form or not. The means of delivery is irrelevant. The content is the essence and each format comes with its own set of rules. So, for example, the rules require a journalist to be truthful whereas, by definition, someone writing fiction is not constrained by reality but is expected to be original, i.e. plagiarism can be a more serious problem. So when a creative person chooses the medium, access to the target audience depends on meeting that audience’s expectations or not pushing the envelope beyond what the audience will accept. So back to the question of “politics”. Although it’s a naive reaction to a book, I found The Last Full Measure by Jack Campbell (the pen name of John G. Hemry) hard to read because the political point of view being expressed is so far removed from my own. I’m not using the word “politics” in its narrow sense of discourse for the purposes of an election or for debating public policy because we take that to mean something potentially divisive or partisan. Ironically, even that definition is probably misleading. Politics fixes the prices for staples like bread or petrol through taxation and the availability or denial of subsidies. As I write this, there are riots in Indonesia over government attempts to end fuel subsidies, Egypt may be about to repeat its bread riots, Zambia is struggling to end the subsidy of maize, America is debating whether to impose controls on the right to buy and carry guns, and so on.

All aspects of our lives are touched by politics in one way or another, and we make political decisions on how to live our lives, i.e. personal choices are self-governance. So when an author decides what to write about, he or she is expressing opinions about the content. In romantic fiction, for example, an author’s lead female character assesses the suitors. What jobs do they have? What possessions do they own? What are their prospects? Are they good breeding material? Are they the right race and religion? And so on. So this book is an exercise in storytelling. It’s an alternate history set in America where the victory against the British and the subsequent introduction of a democratic constitution under Washington have been lost. This describes the beginning of the second revolution and fires the first shots in what will become a civil war. It could have been written in a sly way, allowing issues to arise naturally. Sadly, it’s polemical and, at times, confrontational in asserting the correctness of the author’s point of view. While there’s no doubt we should all resist tyranny, we could have been given a fantasy or allegory to transform the battle against authoritarianism into art. Instead we get a jail break and a first set-piece battle to make it seem “real”. To my mind, this naturalism makes the book highly “political” and too overtly so. If the author is going to write about revolution, the least he could do is hold up a mirror and show us something more interesting about the process.

John Hemby aka Jack Campbell

John Hemby aka Jack Campbell

All alternate history depends on the quality of the “what if”. In this case, we go back to the Presidency under Thomas Jefferson and have Vice President Aaron Burr pack the senior ranks of the army with political appointees. Because the chain of command held up, this converted the army into a political tool and it became a force of repression as rich power-brokers took command in the White House. We then get the usual rewriting of history, military tribunals replacing conventional courts, slavery confirmed throughout America, indentured labour expanded in the North. It’s a classic model of ownership applied to a society. However, a few brave souls begin to organise and speak out. So here we have Abraham Lincoln a prisoner convicted of sedition and Joshua Chamberlain sent to work alongside the slaves on a plantation. Except an increasingly confident army faction takes action and rescues both men, hoping their academic and political expertise will enable them to run a more successful PR campaign to raise the people in support of armed insurrection. This leads us up to the Battle of Gettysburg where the more radical tactics of the New Republic defeat the traditional battle plans of the incumbent army, in part led by political hacks with little actual combat experience. For those of you not up on American history, the title of the book is a reference to the Gettysburg Address given by Abraham Lincoln in November, 1863. When talking about the sacrifices made in the battle as a contribution towards the birth of freedom, Lincoln praises those who fell and gave “the last full measure of devotion”.

In another context, the military fiction might have been entertaining but, in The Last Full Measure, the result is tedious and perfunctory, the sequence of events largely depending on coincidence and happenstance. So this is not recommended unless you want a book that panders to your specific “political”, in this case Republican, point of view, namely that the US Constitution as interpreted by Republicans must be upheld no matter what the cost.

For a review of novels by Jack Campbell, see:
The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught
The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Steadfast
The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Switch or 天机·富春山居图 (2013)

June 19, 2013 7 comments

Switch-Poster-1

In the days when children were more naive and trusting, the television series based on Superman and other comics used to begin with a warning that everything shown on the screen was pretend. Children cannot actually fly. The sad fact evidenced in hospitals around the country was that young optimists were climbing to the top of pianos or, worse, launching themselves out of windows, expecting that wearing underpants on the outside would enable them to soar. Well, they were wrong. Fast forward to a few years ago when a young Jay Sun was watching some Western films in his local cinema. Here were James Bond and Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible) doing exciting things in cars and aeroplanes. And this young man thought that when he grew up, he would make films just like them. After all, if Westerners could do it, how difficult could it be. All they did was take a few pictures, transfer them to film and then stick the bits of film together using tape. So now we get to see the fruits of his first labour. It’s called Switch or 天机·富春山居图 (2013) and it’s a disaster movie. Sorry. To resolve the ambiguity. The film is a disaster.

 

There are many reasons why a film may fail and, with one exception, you can see them all on display if you make the mistake of going to see this film. The exception is that much of the cinematography is stylish. This means you can at least find the odd visual treat to distract you from counting all the other ways in which the film is alternately annoying and depressing you. Let’s start with what’s presented to us as the plot. Centuries ago during the Yuan Dynasty, Huang Gongwang painted a scroll called “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains”. For reasons not explained, this masterpiece was later cut into two. At some point during the Japanese invasion, a general made a copy of the half he found but, at the end of the war, that’s all his family had left. The original was recovered and later put on display at the Taipei National Museum. The other half is in the Hangzhou Museum, China (or perhaps that’s a copy too). Anyway, the plan is to bring both halves together so, instead of allowing this to happen and providing a single location to attack, violently inclined thieves set out to steal both halves.

Andy Lau going undetected

Andy Lau going undetected

Enter secret agent Xiao Jinhan (Andy Lau). You know he’s a secret agent because he drives one of these large white Hummer-type trucks with a massive microwave transmitter/receiver on the roof so he need never be out of touch with his boss who’s called F (cunningly extracted from the acronym SNAFU). It would not be possible to give our spy a more unobtrusive mode of transport. He’s married to an insurance project director Lin Yuyan (Jingchu Zhang). Appropriately, she’s called in to advise on security for the Chinese end of the operation but her advice is ignored (or not — I’m not sure on the point). Anyway, there are two groups competing with each other to steal these halves. One is Japanese. Yamamoto (Tong Da Wei) is the son of the Japanese general who had the copy made. Watch out for the finger betting scene to see why we’re supposed to think him sadistic and depraved. He’s assisted by a cohort of female warriors led by Lisa (Chiling Lin). There’s also a group of British heavies based in Dubai where they seem to have negotiated carte blanche with the local authorities to do whatever they like with fast cars, helicopters and gun, lots of guns. There’s a third group led by Empress (Gaowa Siqin) but apart from offering smuggling services, their role is uncertain.

 

OK so here goes. Both halves of the painting are stolen but Super Agent X switches them for copies, or not. It doesn’t really matter because neither of the halves stolen are the originals. But no-one involved knows this apart from F and possibly X. But they switch them anyway because that makes all the bad guys uncertain as to whether they have the originals. I hope you’re clear so far. So the Japanese bad guy and his gals kidnap X’s son and demand X return the half he switched which he doesn’t mind doing because he’s just returning the copy they stole. So there’s a lot of not very convincing fighting and X, ably assisted by his wife, recovers their son and switches the paintings (again) (or not) (I was past caring at this point).

Tong Da Wei preparing X's son for lunch

Tong Da Wei preparing X’s son for lunch

 

To give you an idea of how inept the fighting is, Agent X and Yamamoto decide to fight to the death with swords so they very carefully put on all that padding you see in the Olympic games and those protective visors so we can’t see their faces, i.e. neither of the actors can fight using swords so the stuntmen have to be disguised for the fight. Even so, the action was filmed in slow-motion and then speeded up which makes it look like a comedy sequence. There’s only one stunt that’s impressive in the entire 120 minutes running tine. A helicopter appears to pick up a car using suction pads and flies across Dubai until it crashes the car into one of these upmarket hotels. Had Andy Lau not run along the beach, jumped into a speedboat, and driven a high-powered sportscar until he crashed through into the foyer of the hotel (and waited for the lift to take him up to where the car had been crashed by the helicopter) he would never have caught up with them and rescued his wife before she fell out of the car seconds before it plunged to the ground below. In other words, the film elevates absurdity into a new art form. As a final reason for not seeing this, the poster image tells you there’s a romantic entanglement to work through. Irresistible Andy Lau is married but has an on-off relationship with Lisa (Chiling Lin) who’s loved by Yamamoto because she looks just like his mother when he was young and fancied her, i.e. his mother (creepy or what?).

 

So Switch or 天机·富春山居图 (2013) has a largely incoherent and often incomprehensible plot featuring some useless action sequences and fight scenes (albeit that some of the cinematography is quite striking) with gaps between the scenes where the sticky tape holding the film together runs through the projector. Only film students wanting to catalogue all the mistakes as a class project should go to see this film.

 

Little Green by Walter Mosley

Little Green by Walter Mosley

A while ago, an author tired of a series character and decided to kill him off. Being of a flamboyant disposition, our jaded Arthur Conan Doyle threw Sherlock Holmes off the Reichenbach Falls. This caused shock and horror in the reading community and, given the upswelling of anger and resentment, Doyle finally relented and brought the hero back to life. It was as if the man had never been away. Sherlock strode back into Watson’s life as fit as the proverbial fiddle. With Easy Rawlins, a character created by Walter Mosley, the brush with death was rather more serious. At the end of Blonde Faith, Easy is drunk behind the wheel of his Pontiac. The sense of despair had been building throughout the book and he finally acts on it by driving off a cliff. Six years later in our time, he’s back in Little Green (Doubleday, 2013), the twelfth outing, except only two months have passed since his suicide attempt failed. Raymond Alexander aka Mouse searched the cliff on a tipoff from beyond, courtesy of Mama Jo. Under his guidance, Easy has been nursed back to consciousness. That was the body repair more or less complete. That still left the soul labouring in the shadow of death. In one of his infrequent moments of consciousness, Mouse asks Easy to look for Evander Noon aka Little Green. When Easy wakes up properly two days later, he remembers the request and, defying everyone, he rises from his bed and hits the streets in search of this young man who decided to visit with the hippies on Sunset Strip and hasn’t been seen since.

Walter Mosley pleased to be back with Easy on the streets of LA

Walter Mosley pleased to be back with Easy on the streets of LA

From this you’ll understand we’ve moved on to 1968 in Los Angeles but, in the real world on the streets, little has changed for the black man. That Easy happens to carry a PI badge only vaguely changes his status from a mere “nigger” in the eyes of white police officers to that rare bird, a “nigger” with a badge. This lack of change is somewhat ironic given the rise of the hippy counterculture. If ever there was going to be something to unite older people of different races, it was the emergence of this drug-fueled, free love generation. But Easy’s progress from death to some semblance of life represents a triumph of sorts. The fact he’s been in a coma for two months has not changed his situation. Yet when he sees what he would have lost, it does give him a reason for wanting to hang around for a little bit longer. We all have a burden of guilt to carry around. That he hurt his family and friends by his suicide attempt adds to that burden and forces him to seek a form of redemption in both his own and their eyes.

Which brings us to Evander. He’s had the worst possible experience with LSD. It took him out of his usual relationship with the world and tipped him into a very unfortunate place in which he briefly surfaced during his trip to find himself surrounded by bags of money covered in blood. Not really aware of his actions, he gathered up this money and hid it. Except, he finds it very difficult to remember what he did with it which is unfortunate when bad men start asking him. When Easy rescues him and Mama Jo patches him up, the time has finally come to do some serious remembering. That way, when the bad men continue their search for the money, Easy and Mouse will have the right answers for them. As with all the books by Walter Mosley, this plot just rolls off the page like a well-oiled machine, each step in the journey advancing us closer to the resolution of the problems, and illuminating our lives with insights into the lot of the African Americans in the Los Angeles of the 1960s. It was a tough time but, with the community pulling together, most manage to get through life with no more than a scratch or two. That’s not to say people don’t get beaten or shot. No matter what the historical period, there will always be a few dead bodies by the time the book is finished. The trick pulled off by Easy and Mouse is that they protect the people closest to them, plus those they take under their wing on a temporary basis. Except when you’re saving people, there’s no such thing as temporary. These people owe debts of gratitude and offer deep roots of support within the community if criminals or outsiders represent a threat. There’s strength in numbers so that even the police walk carefully if the crowds look threatening.

All of which confirms my immense satisfaction in seeing the return of Easy Rawlins. These slick PI investigations set in Watts give us the relatively rare opportunity to look at the African American experience in a recent historical context. These books speak with great authenticity and insight. Although it’s been good to spend time with Leonid McGill, it’s better to get back to the familiar Easy Rawlins. He’s the man I would want on my side if the going got tough. Little Green is Walter Mosley doing what he does best.

For reviews of other books by Walter Mosley, see:
All I Did Was Shoot My Man
Blonde Faith
The Gift of Fire and On the Head of the Pin
Jack Strong
Known To Evil
The Long Fall
Merge and Disciple
When the Thrill Is Gone

Blood Oranges by Caitlin R Kiernan

Blood Oranges by Caitlin R Kiernan

Blood Oranges is by Caitlin R Kiernan writing as Kathleen Tierney. Pausing there for a moment, you may wonder why Ms Kiernan should chose to publish the first in a new trilogy using the device of a disclosed pseudonym. The answer is she intends this project to be sufficiently different to the usual run of material that it must be presented to the world “differently”. So unlike the first Barbara Vine book which did not announce Ruth Rendell as the author on the jacket, this book uses both the author’s name and the pseudonym on the jacket. That way, random potential buyers are told it’s a Kiernan book but “different”. So those of you who enjoyed The Drowning Girl and are waiting for the next of Kiernan’s “real” books, can kill time by reading this trilogy by “Kathleen Tierney” which is “different”. My apologies for the repetitiveness of the explanation.

So exactly how is this book “different”? Well, you may think you know what urban fantasy or paranormal romance is, i.e. a largely anaemic, usually chaste, ramble round the supernatural sandbox with a female protagonist in danger but pulling through bravely and, depending on the publisher, sometimes bedding the romantic interest. But this book takes the anodyne formula and tramples all over it. I suppose the classification of the result depends on your own definitions. Some might call it a pastiche, others a parody or even satire. After a few drinks in a bar, its true nature as a general exercise in “taking the piss” would probably get the vote of approval (a British idiom meaning to ridicule or mock). As is required, we’ve got a woman as our protagonist. Except Siobhan Quinn is our unreliable narrator du jour. She’s an addict and all addicts lie about everything, including their addiction. Better still, she’s earned a reputation as a a killer of supernatural nasties except, in the classic tradition of a true klutz, the various nasties meeting their doom variously slipped or fell over with fatal consequences. It’s ever thus that legends are born. So, ironically, if she’s to live up to her own reputation, she’s actually got to learn how to kill something intentionally. Believe me when I tell you she’s not the fastest learner on the planet. As an example, take her approach to tracking down a werewolf. She goes into his kill zone and then shoot up with heroine. I mean, is she a fuck-up or what?

Caitlin R Kiernan pretending to be Kathleen Tierney

Caitlin R Kiernan pretending to be Kathleen Tierney

So here we go with a first-person narrative and metafictional commentary with the author cracking jokes to the reader: no really, I’m not making it up. I’m not the one being paid to make up shit like this, OK. It’s the author who’s playing with your head and generally pointing out the many absurdities in the subgenre out of which she’s taking the piss. But if that’s all the book was about, the joke would wear thin very rapidly. This forces the author to write a conventional story about a female Buffy-type screw-up who sequentially gets bitten by a werewolf and then bitten by a vampire. This makes her a werepire or vampwolf depending on your colloquial preferences. Now armed with a voracious appetite for human blood and an alarming tendency to turn into a wolf when she gets excited, she carves a dangerous furrow through Providence, doing slightly more than chewing on the furniture until she gets to the end of her adventure. Alarmingly, she fails to mate with anyone or thing during the contemporaneous action thereby holding true to the usual requirement for a chaste romance. This is probably due to her uncontrollable desire to exsanguinate or simply eat anyone or thing she encounters. The only one even vaguely approximating a mentor or sidekick spends most of the book hiding from her lest he too gets sucked into the action in the more fatal sense of the words. He’s very prudent.

Taken overall, I think the book a success in both its aims. As a narrative in the fantasy mould with supernatural creatures like vampires, werewolves, trolls, and so on, it satisfies all the basic requirement for adventure. As unreliable narrators go, Siobhan Quinn also proves credible. Although she starts off incredibly dim, you always feel there’s enough native wit inside that not so pretty head to enable her to join up all the dots to work out who’s pulling the strings. If I have a problem with the book, it’s in the second element of piss-taking which may go on slightly too long. There are some genuinely amusing monologuing debates about how characters are expected to act in books of this type. Indeed, I can understand why it’s taking so long to write the sequel. I think Ms Kiernan may have discovered she rather shot her bolt with Blood Oranges. Without repeating herself, it’s damn difficult to write two more in the same vein. The sequel, after some toing and froing, is called Red Delicious. I’m hopeful it will be worth reading.

For a review of other books by Caitlin R Kiernan, see Confessions of a Five Chambered Heart and The Ape’s Wife.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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