Archive for May, 2014

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

May 31, 2014 4 comments

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

As I mentioned in an earlier review, I’ve decided to have a proper look at Seanan McGuire (and that was before one of the latest books was shortlisted for a major award). At the urging of one of my readers, I’m going back to Discount Armageddon (DAW, 2012) and this first in the InCryptid series proves to be a good steer. At this point I need to wander slightly off the beaten track to think about why I tend to find urban fantasy such an unsatisfying subgenre. The answer, in part, is that the balance of the books tends to blur between conventional fantasy and romance. In itself, this is not a problem. I have no sensibilities to offend when it comes to different races or genders engaging in all the usual sexual activities and then some I might not have thought of (although there are few of those left after a long lifetime). Characters in books are free to do many of the things we might balk at, or find physically impossible, in the real world. That’s part of the fun of being a creative writer. But this subgenre has been tinged by the brush of romance so, to pander to a niche in the market not used to full-bore fantasy, particularly of the darker variety, the standard fantasy tropes are rather defanged and encouraged into the appropriate gender roles as the love interests. While this pandering may encourage sales to younger readers and women coming from the pure romance sector, it does nothing for older males like myself.

Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire

So as you start off in this series, we take as read there are lots of real animals out there that we foolish humans think are pure mythology. Yes, there really are dragons and unicorns (well, maybe). The problem is the religiously fanatical Covenant of St George. The mission they have chosen to accept is the extermination of all the animals that God neglected to save on the Ark. So if anything survived the flood, that was against God’s wishes and the Covenant could go round the countryside slaying dragons for all they were worth because that was doing God’s work. One small group splintered from the Covenant and they have set themselves up as protectors of all the strange creatures that don’t disrupt the ecosystem, i.e. start killing humans. After several generations, we now come to modern times with the young Verity Price making a name for herself as protector of Manhattan, put-upon waitress at a fairly seedy strip joint, and professional ballroom champion wannabe. Everything is going along moderately peacefully until the required sex interest from the Covenant arrives to do a survey. If he finds an infestation of mythological creatures, he’s required to call in the troops for a purge.

Why then am I more positively inclined to this book? Surely I’ve just described a set-up for the usual dismal swamp of urban fantasies. Well, we have to start with the book having a sense of humour. The majority of these books take themselves so seriously, they sag under the portentous certainty something terrible is likely to happen (leaving us deeply disappointed when we turn the pages). But this book is ultimately about sex, and the natural drive to get some and enjoy it. How can a reader not be beguiled by the idea of a group of mice announcing a religious festival which requires Verity to kiss the next man to walk through the door. Perhaps more importantly, when we do get some sex scenes, they are proper sex and not some chaste peck on the cheek. Yes, there are the usual complications of a couple with completely different approaches to the world who must find sufficient mutual tolerance to allow the coupling to occur. But this is just good fun. He’s just so straight-laced and she so, well, different. It’s all rather unlikely in an enjoyable way. For all we are thrust deep into a covert world of different beasties and bogeys, all the characters and “animals” emerge as strangely plausible. Even when we get into telepathy, the explanation for the evolution of the ability actually makes sense. So this is weird in every sense of the word. Discount Armageddon proves to have an exuberance which converted me to the cause. Indeed, that’s what makes the climax rather more exciting than usual. The bad guys are actually a real threat and are on the verge of triggering what might be a fairly devastating event. So the book nicely does go quite dark with many characters dying or suffering quite serious injury. This is not to say the book has any claim to greatness. It has flaws, e.g. it seems there are multiple dimensions including a literal version of Hell in which one of the family may be trapped (this seems counter to the general scientific approach to classifying the different species albeit not inconsistent with a “fantasy” world in which magic works). But for the most part, this is an unpretentious book that’s great fun to read and will not offend those of a male persuasion who like their fantasy relatively undiluted.

For reviews of the books written as Mira Grant, see:
and written by Seanan McGuire:
Chimes at Midnight
Half-off Ragnarok.

Marked by Alex Hughes


Marked by Alex Hughes (Roc, 2014) is the third Mindspace Investigation and the intention is to broaden, if not deepen, our understanding of the society in which the action occurs. In the first two books, we’ve been swept along by the plots with less attention given to the history of this future world and the practical mechanics of its current administration. So our hero works for the DeKalb County PD but we’ve never once had confirmation the political system remains the same after the Tech Wars. I’m not saying a change would have been necessary or even desirable after the wars, but when technology has begun to run out of control and the world has been saved when one section of the population begins to demonstrate “mutant powers”, it would not be surprising to see some changes in government. Then there’s the Tech Wars themselves. We know they happened but, so far, there’s been very little explanation of how they were started nor what led to this current resolution.

All we can say is there’s a lot of technology which very specifically supports and/or targets people with these abilities. For example, there’s screening which blanks the thoughts outside and allows the telepath enough peace to sleep. How such technology came to be developed and who paid for it to be installed in some buildings would be interesting. As it is, we get obscure glimpses of the work currently going on in a research lab which, inter alia, does work for the military. One of the police officers has a high-powered computer interface installed in his brain. Another has body technology to warn him if he’s being surveilled by a telepath. In themselves, these are interesting ideas but without a more formalised context, it’s a slightly incoherent piece of world building. Even after finishing three books, I still don’t understand exactly how Adam came to be given the drug to which he’s now addicted. If it was a part of a clinical trial run by the Guild, surely they should be supporting his efforts to stay clean? Throwing him out of the Guild rather than helping seems more a plot prerequisite than a logical development.

Alex Hughes

Alex Hughes

This time around, we have Adam and Cherabino sent to yet another murder scene. The brutality of the death is surprising and some of the skull is missing. The mindlink between this pair is still holding up and she’s able to act as his anchor in mindspace. More generally, their relationship is still mutual respect rather than acting on their obvious sexual attraction. We get the reason for this reticence later in the book and its logic is undeniable. Anyway, Adam gets a telephone call from his ex-fiancée. Kara’s uncle has been murdered inside Guild headquarters and a major political storm is brewing. She wants Adam to come in as a neutral investigator. Since he’s not aligned with any of the factions, he’s less likely to be biased and, more importantly, not know what results he might be expected to produce.

The story therefore uncomfortably balances an exploration of the new environment and a rerun of the murder in the world of the normals. There is a link between the two murders but it’s very, very indirect to the point of irrelevance. So we get two different results and everything else left to continue into a fourth book. Some aspects of the world inside the Guild are definitely a big step forward. For example, we get a better view of the way in which individual and group telepaths relate to each other. A considerable amount of etiquette and protocols are required to maintain public interfaces and have the capacity to chat with relative privacy. The ethics among telepaths is also explored given that, once people have established a line in their minds, others are expected to respect it and not intrude uninvited. Of course, their system of justice permits an involuntary reading of the accused’s mind. In such circumstances, there’s little need for a trial. Once guilt is established by the “court” appointed telepath, the only question is sentencing.

So the news about this book is both good and bad. Under the “good” heading, we have the same crisp prose and a good plot dynamic to keep us reading. The slightly noirish world of the normals and their culture feels reasonably plausible but, I remain deeply frustrated that the world building has not been set up to allow us a better understanding of both parts of the rump left after the Tech Wars were ended. This leads me into the bad side because the lack of a convincing context for the action is beginning to grate. Essentially, the world of the normals is our contemporary world. The usual stock characters populate the police department, constantly worrying about budgets and meeting targets. They are the usual overworked and underpaid peacekeepers. All the crimes they seem to investigate show very little of the future world or its technology. It’s just murder with a blunt instrument, in these cases a household iron and an axe. This is not a request for infodumps to clarify what happened. It’s a criticism of how all three books have been written. From the outset, characters could have been including odd historical comments in their conversations, or the crimes committed could have required explanation in terms of the history or current society. All we can say is there have been wars and, presumably, a lot of physical damage. Some technology is still allowed (not modern smartphones, just old landline installations). Worse, because we’re following two crimes, there’s little room for setting up an interesting mystery. In both cases, it’s obvious whodunnit. This seriously detracts from the quality of the book, and leaves me thinking Marked is quite good, but nowhere near as good as the first two.

For a review of the other books in the series, see:

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

I Can Hear Your Voice or Neoui Moksoriga Deulleo or 너의 목소리가 들려 (2013) episodes 5 to 8

I Can Hear Your Voice or Neoui Moksoriga Deulleo or 너의 목소리가 들려

This review discusses the plot so, if you have not already watched these episodes, you may wish to delay reading this.

In I Can Hear Your Voice or Neoui Moksoriga Deulleo or 너의 목소리가 들려 (2013) the second case for us to enjoy is the classic involving identical twins. One stabs the owner of a shop during the robbery despite the efforts of the other to stop him. In the West, it doesn’t matter which twin actually held the knife, the law charges both as joint principals. In Korea, the judges have a discretion to invite the prosecutor to choose which one to charge as the principal, the other then being charged as the accessory. Since they both say they were holding the knife and there’s no way to tell them apart despite the video evidence from the store camera, this is a challenge for Prosecutor Seo Do-Yeon (Lee Da-Hee). Park Soo-Ha (Lee Jong-Suk) sits in court and hears both the accused thinking through the plan. The killing was, of course, premeditated, and they are running this defence because they think they can both get acquitted. Once she realizes the plan, Jang Hye-Sung (Lee Bo-Young) decides to co-operate with her enemy prosecutor to get justice for the victim’s wife. This is, of course, highly unethical and could get her struck off but there’s no obvious evidence of collusion in court so it’s difficult for Shin Sang-Duk (Yun Ju-Sang), the senior public defender, to do anything.

Shin Sang-Duk (Yun Ju-Sang) exchanges opinions with  Jang Hye-Sung (Lee Bo-Young) as Park Soo-Ha (Lee Jong-Suk) listens in

Shin Sang-Duk (Yun Ju-Sang) exchanges opinions with Jang Hye-Sung (Lee Bo-Young) as Park Soo-Ha (Lee Jong-Suk) listens in

Min Joon-Kook (Jung Woong-In) identifies Eo Choon-Sim (Kim Hae-Sook) as his victim’s mother and gets a job in her food shop. He’s completely cold-hearted and despite Eo Choon-Sim’s kindness, determines to kill her. Meanwhile Park Soo-Ha finds a private inquiry agent prepared to use smartphone technology to track down Min Joon-Kook. He does so but it’s too late to prevent the death of Eo Choon-Sim. There’s further development on the crime scene with Jang Hye-Sung allocated a case involving an elderly, slightly deaf man who’s accused of stealing free newspapers. Because the defendant insults Jang, the case is transferred to Cha Kwan-Woo (Yoon Sang_Hyun) who works to so impress the old guy he will see the benefit of Public Defenders and apologise to Jang. In the end, Park yet again acts as Jang’s conscience and persuades her to save the old man. The mechanism ultimately depends on Park’s ability to read minds and produces the right result for the old man but embarrasses Jang because Cha gives her a hug of thanks in open court and later asks her for a date.

Min Joon-Kook (Jung Woong-In) tells Cha Kwan-Woo (Yoon Sang_Hyun) how he failed to rescue his victim

Min Joon-Kook (Jung Woong-In) tells Cha Kwan-Woo (Yoon Sang_Hyun) how he failed to rescue his victim

At this point, the series moves into the darker territory we’ve been expecting as Min Joon-Kook first gently inserts himself into the shop and the life of Eo Choon-Sim, extracting every last piece of gossip and information he can about Jang. One feature of this is Eo’s continuing attempts to foster a relationship between Jang and Cha. This leads to the ultimately cruel way of manipulating the murder. He disables the camera outside the food shop and, when night falls, begins the slow process of killing Eo. During this, Jang telephones. It may sound corny to write it here, but this conversation between mother and daughter, and the subsequent exchange of view with Min Joon-Kook is very powerful. Anyway, everything is staged as an accident in a fire. He staggers out of the shop with the dead body over his shoulder, sustaining non-fatal burns on the way. Naturally, he asks for Cha to represent him. The way in which he manipulates Cha is delightfully devious and, of course, Cha secures an acquittal. Interestingly, Seo Do-Yeon breaks cover and, with the connivance of Judge Seo Dae-Seok (Jeong Dong-Hwan), they try to fix the trial. Unfortunately, Cha is equal to the task. This leaves Seo Do-Yeon exposed as having been the other witness to the original murder. More importantly, Cha finally receives the transcripts of the original trial and realises he’s been played for a sucker. He quits the job as Public Defender and goes to help his father run his food stall. This leaves Jang and Park in the direct firing line. So as the date of Min Joon-Kook’s release approaches, Park sets in motion a plan to kill Min Joon-Kook. This leaves everything set up with Jang apparently left on her own and the killer on the loose coming to get her.

Taking one step back, this is a wonderful series. Given the primary character interaction is between Jang and Park, we have the irony he’s the young and experienced man who can hear both what she says and thinks, while nominally she’s the worldly experienced woman who can only hear his voice. Yet despite her growing up with high ideals about justice, she’s actually lost the spark and it’s only when Park talks with her that she’s reminded what made her want to become a lawyer in the first place. She’s a better person than she thinks she is, and it takes the naive youngster’s criticism and help to force her to see something of the truth about herself. Lee Bo-Young’s performance as Jang Hye-Sung is particularly pleasing as we veer arbitrarily between the self-absorbed kid going through the motions as a lawyer and the intelligent woman who can produce a fine legal argument if she puts her mind to it and gains a little more self-confidence.

For the reviews of the other episodes, see:
I Can Hear Your Voice or Neoui Moksoriga Deulleo or 너의 목소리가 들려 (2013) episodes 1 to 4
I Can Hear Your Voice or Neoui Moksoriga Deulleo or 너의 목소리가 들려 (2013) episodes 9 to 12
I Can Hear Your Voice or Neoui Moksoriga Deulleo or 너의 목소리가 들려 (2013) episodes 13 to end.

The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill

May 26, 2014 2 comments


The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill, translated from the Spanish by Laura McGloughlin (Crown, 2014) might be labelled as a police procedural. After all, it features Inspector Héctor Salgado, originally from Argentina but now working in Barcelona. As in the first book to feature this detective, he’s caught up in the investigation of a complex case that challenges his intellect as those involved refuse to co-operate in an open way. At face value, their resistance is understandable. The first two incidents are four months apart. Gaspar Ródenas, an employee of Alemany Cosmetics, appears to have killed his wife and child, then turned the gun on himself. Then Sara Mahler, a secretary at Alemany, throws herself in front of a subway train — a gruesome photograph of dead dogs captioned “Never Forget” was sent to Sara’s mobile phone just before her death. Two suicides — these unfortunately events happen and, for those who work at Alemany Cosmetics, the coincidence just makes their feelings of distress at losing two colleague all the more acute.

Salgado is the officer called to the subway to consider the death of Sara Mahler. Had it not been for the photograph sent to her phone, this would have been treated as yet another suicide. But for Salgado, this anomaly indicates the need to move slowly before confirming the nature of the event. The dividing line between homicide and suicide proves difficult to distinguish because the one surveillance camera showing her “fall” is partially obscured, and the gang of boys also on the platform are less than helpful. So to resolve the question, Salgado embarks on an investigation, first, into the life of Sarah Mahler and, after he realises there had been an earlier event, then into the lives of all those connected with Alemany Cosmetics. When he finds a photograph showing a group of employees on a team-building exercise, he wonders whether something happened to put these particular individuals at risk.

Antonio Hill

Antonio Hill

Meanwhile, Leire Castro, Salgado’s usual colleague, has taken maternity leave. To distract herself while waiting for the baby to arrive, she decides to investigate the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Salgado’s estranged wife, Ruth Valldaura. This plot element depends on the reader understanding what happened in the first book in the series. The political forces within the police force in Barcelona combined with the social dynamics of the wider network of family, friends and colleague are all intrinsic to this separate investigation. Indeed, it’s this investigation that leaves us with the delightfully surprising cliffhanger ending. Salgado may get the the truth of the “suicides”, but Leire merely raises a provocative piece of historical information and a curious new fact about who might have been in the house around the same time Ruth went missing.

No matter what the country, some elements of life and the relationships people make achieve universality. These truths about people apply no matter what the place or time. In these two books which one should see as an interlinked pair, Antonio Hill has created a genuinely tangled web in which the detective and those immediately around him are caught. Because he’s too emotionally involved, the detective cannot investigate his ex-wife’s disappearance. Fortunately, his colleague can use her own time to move the case forward before it goes totally cold. Similarly, the question of the suicides depends on a clear understanding of who everyone is as a person and what forces might be at work to persuade some or all of them into a conspiracy of silence. Perhaps I should explain the point of the book’s title. In deciding to end their lives, some people intend to hurt others, to make them feel guilty for real or imagined wrongs. Such people tend to leave notes explaining their motives for self-destruction. But there are good suicides in which, for example, people with a terminal disease kill themselves intending to reduce the suffering of those around them. If we focus on Sarah Mahler who jumps in front of a train without leaving a note, her motives become the critical feature. Where had she been? What had she been doing? What was her physical and emotional health? Only when the detective has a complete view of the person and the context in which she acted can a proper determination be made. In The Good Suicides, the answer to the entire case involving Alemany Cosmetics is as neat a piece of deduction as you could hope to find as all the possible solutions are eliminated to leave only one answer standing. It’s very elegant! As a final thought, this is not only a far better book than the first in the series but, in retrospect, this second round of investigation into Ruth’s disappearance makes the first novel seem rather better.

For a review of the first book in the series, see The Summer of Dead Toys.

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

Traitor’s Storm by M J Trow

May 24, 2014 2 comments

Traitor’s Storm by M J Trow


Traitor’s Storm by M J Trow (Severn House, 2014) continues the series of historical mysteries and espionage thrillers featuring Christopher Marlowe. This time, we’ve arrived at the month of May, 1588. In terms of productions at the Rose, we’re up to the Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd which is rather convenient given that King Philip of Spain is now more seriously planning an attack on Britain even though we have a rather good navy and well-trained gunners (if the reports from their spies are to be believed). On the other side of the Channel, Sir Francis Walsingham is worried he’s not had word from Harry Hasler, one of his spies, who had been sent to the Isle of Wight — one of the more likely places upon which an invading Spanish fleet might disembark its beachhead troops. So he decides to send Marlowe to find out what’s what. After minor diversions to find a suitable conveyance to the island, Marlowe is welcomed by the discovery of a body. Instead of the missing spy, the deceased proves to be a local landowner or gentleman farmer. He’s been found dead, lying head-first in a culvert. After dancing the night away, our heroic scribbler does his CSI thing on the body and concludes the victim was out to meet a lady and was murdered for giving attention to the wrong place (husbands having a tendency to kill off anyone who engages in a criminal conversation with their wives).


There’s not a little humour in the description of England’s state of readiness to repel the predicted invasion force. This is the Tudor version of Dad’s Army with few locals having any interest in developing military skills, and the usual petty divisions and jealousies among the senior officers of the Crown actually charged with the task of mounting a defence. At the heart of the book, therefore, we have Spain with ambition and a fleet, but no patience to wait for the weather to calm down. While Britain is following the model laid down by Ethelred who wasn’t quite ready to be King at the first time of asking so had two goes at the job. All of this leads people in the know to focus on the Isle of Wight because, if taken by the Spanish, it would make a very good base from which to disrupt British naval dominance of the Channel and a logistics hub from which to invade the mainland. In theory the Crown has done the right thing by putting a relative of the Queen in command of the local garrison. Unfortunately, the locals are more interested in maintaining good communication with the continent for smuggling in all the good food and wine they have come to enjoy. So patriotism be damned when money’s at stake.

M J Trow

M J Trow


So if it’s to be war, we’ve already lost which leaves Marlowe with the tasks of finding the missing spy (whose loss may be due to action by Spanish agents) and solving the murder of this landowning Lothario. When a second body appears, there may be a hint of a motive but, without more evidence, it’s rather difficult to say. So, to pass the time, our scribbler is prevailed on to write a short masque. This will take everyone’s mind off the threat. He therefore summons his trusty stage manager from London and this sparks the smugglers into life. They fear an investigation of their activities is underway and kidnap the incoming stage hand to determine if Marlowe is a threat.


So there you have it. The Armada is just over the horizon where the wind is getting up. Drake is stuck in port. There may be a Spanish cuckoo in the Isle of Wight nest. And the smugglers are up in arms against the British no matter what the Spanish may be doing. Against this background, Marlowe works his way steadily around the Island, exchanging gossip with locals as to who is sleeping with whom (which ironically includes Hasler who’s know for sowing a few oats, wild and otherwise) and, dashing off the odd speech which might even sound good on the lips of the Queen. The resolution of the historical events is well-known (my Spanish accent does not show through the written form of English) and the solution of the criminal and espionage matters proves reasonably engaging. For those who prefer their historical mysteries to err on the slightly more humorous than gritty side of the line, Traitor’s Storm is just the teacup in which to arrange a storm of enjoyment.


For a review of another book by M J Trow, see Crimson Rose


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


Shockwave by Andrew Vachss

May 23, 2014 3 comments


Shockwave by Andrew Vachss (Pantheon Books, 2014) is another of these books that challenges the reader to decide why we read books. One possible explanation is the naive hope they will somehow produce a sense of enjoyment. A good author is one who will transport the reader to another place where interesting, morally instructive and inspiring things will happen. Or we may expect laughs sufficient to help us temporarily forget the misery in our lives. This list is as long as those preaching escapism will know. So what do we make of books that show us a darker side of life? Let’s take vigilanteism as an example. The protagonist in these books is an individual who ignores the current social systems and laws. Whereas ordinary citizens must wait for the police to act and courts to adjudicate, favoring always the presumption of innocence and the right to due process, the vigilante becomes judge and executioner, arbitrarily short-circuiting all the safeguards society has put in place, and dispatching all those deemed unworthy to continue living. So our protagonist identifies a rapist, kidnaps him and, in a quiet place where no-one can hear him scream, cuts off his testicles and allows him to bleed to death. Is this entertainment? Well no. The author does not intend to describe such a scene to make us laugh. The author is offering us a alternative social model in which individuals with strength and determination flout the law and impose their own punishments on those felt deserving.

This is a first-person narrative about the life and times of a young man who had the “good” fortune to be rescued from a life of misery by an older man who worked for the resistance during World War II. Knowing the world is dog-eat-dog, this man teaches the boy how to survive. As soon as he appears old enough, the boy enrolls in the French Foreign Legion and learns more skills. More importantly, he gains a new identity and French nationality. There’s no longer any link to his past. When he has served his time, he continues to work as a mercenary, amassing wealth and giving himself the chance to make a clean break and live a life of peace should be opportunity arise. When he’s seriously wounded, the first stage of his physical recovery is managed by a nurse working for Médecins Sans Frontières. Some years later, he meets her and discovers she has burned out. What used to be self-sacrifice in a noble cause has become an unendurable burden as the mountain of bodies resulting from man’s inhumanity to man is finally too much. They bond and move to what’s intended to be a quiet haven where both can recover from their past life experiences. Except people like that can never really switch off their moral compasses. Wherever they are, they find themselves unable to look away when they see injustices that will not be remedied by the local law enforcement systems. In such situations, is not triage not justified?

Andrew Vachss

Andrew Vachss

It may be a girl who has been raped but, when our couple look further into the situation, they discover there’s a small group of young men who target young women and, for various reasons, the law enforcement officers will not take action. How many victims would you tolerate if you had the will and the skills to remedy the situation in a permanent fashion? Or suppose you became aware that a down-and-out schizophrenic had been charged with a murder he almost certainly could not have committed. Indeed, the more you looked into the situation of this body washed up on the shore, the more convinced you became this was a professional hit. Yet the local DA has the simple political drive to reassure his neighbours they are safe from the homeless that live in the nooks and crannies of the town and countryside around them. This defendant is a convenient scapegoat to close a case and secure re-election. There’s no personal malice involved. It’s just a simple political expediency in operation. For our protagonist, there’s just one problem. The usual clandestine extermination of the wrongdoers will achieve nothing. Without positive evidence exonerating the schizophrenic, he will go either to jail or a mental hospital. So either the DA must agree to withdraw charges or a court must formally acquit of all charges. This is a challenge and, in a sense, the only thing that saves the book from wallowing in amorality. In a sense, this is a situation that can only be resolved by someone altruistic helping in the defence of an indigent defendant. A rich defendant could use his or her wealth to buy the services of private inquiry agents to ferret out the truth. A poor man with mental disabilities has nothing given the public defence attorney has no budget with which to buy in expensive services.

On balance, there’s just enough in the book to leave us on the right side of the moral line although there are an alarming number of bodies that are left at the end. It’s not always easy to extract information without breaking a few eggs. Allowing for the ease with which the right information comes into our hero’s possession once he starts looking, this is a smoothly constructed plot about an interesting character. Even though I may not sympathise with his methods, I can at least understand why he is what he is. To that extent, Shockwave is a success.

For the review of another book by Andrew Vachss, see Urban Renewal.

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

I Can Hear Your Voice or Neoui Moksoriga Deulleo or 너의 목소리가 들려 (2013) episodes 1 to 4

I Can Hear Your Voice or Neoui Moksoriga Deulleo or 너의 목소리가 들려

This review discusses the plot so, if you have not already watched these episodes, you may wish to delay reading this.

In I Can Hear Your Voice or Neoui Moksoriga Deulleo or 너의 목소리가 들려 (2013) Jang Hye-Sung (Lee Bo-Young) is an underperforming young lawyer who can’t find work with a major firm so she applies for a job as a public defender. To get the job, she hypnotises the interview panel led by Kim Kong-Sook (Kim Kwang-Kyu) with an allegedly true story from her youth. Ten years earlier, she claims she was expelled from her school after being wrongly accused by Seo Do-Yeon (Lee Da-Hee), the daughter of Judge Seo Dae-Seok (Jeong Dong-Hwan). This also led to Eo Choon-Sim (Kim Hae-Sook) being fired from her job as the judge’s housekeeper. When there’s a confrontation between the two girls, they witness what first seems to be an accident but then turns into murder. Min Joon-Kook (Jung Woong-In) kills the driver and is about to kill the young nin-year-old boy Park Soo-Ha (Lee Jong-Suk) when Jang Hye-Sung takes a picture of him. The girls run away but, later, Jang Hye-Sung appears in court and gives evidence sufficient to send the driver to jail for ten years. Seo Do-Yeon was also supposed to give evidence, but she lost her nerve and did not go into the courtroom.

Eo Choon-Sim (Kim Hae-Sook)  and Jang Hye-Sung

Eo Choon-Sim (Kim Hae-Sook) and Jang Hye-Sung

On the day of the interview, Jang Hye-Sung meets Cha Kwan-Woo (Yoon Sang_Hyun). He started off as a policeman but has now qualified as a lawyer. Needless to say, they both get jobs. When a picture of Jang Hye-Sung appears in the newspaper, this reinforces Min Joon-Kook’s desire for revenge, and also shows Park Soo-Ha what his savior looks like. This may sound standard fare, but it’s made very entertaining because the now grown-up Park Soo-Ha is telepathic (probably brought on by the head injury in the crash when his father was killed). There’s a delightful sequence of him interrupting a school prank on a new girl joining their class. Anyway, to complete the set-up, Jang Hye-Sung’s first case is against Ko Sung-Bin (Kim Ga-Eun) one of the girls in Park Soo-Ha’s school.

There are strong parallels between this accusation and the one faced by our heroine at about the same age. Unfortunately, there’s no strong evidence the girl is innocent and our heroine takes the standard line which is strongly to advise her to plead guilty. However when Park Soo-Ha convinces our heroine not only that he can read thoughts, but also that his friend is innocent, she’s tempted to fight the case. What tips the balance is the appearance of Seo Do-Yeon as the prosecutor. The hostility between them crackles off the screen so battle is joined on what appears to be a perfectly circumstantial case. In this and the majority of other cases in this series, the panel of three judges is led by Kim Kong-Sook who heard the intial story about the two girls and the failure of one to give evidence against the killer. Unfortunately, when the “victim” is called to give evidence, she says she was pushed by the defendant. This demonstrates the rule a good lawyer never agrees to an unlisted witness unless she’s absolutely sure what the witness will say. It does no good that Park Soo-Ha knows the girl is lying. He can’t take the stand to prove he can hear the thoughts of those around him. Without evidence, there can be no rebuttal of the victim’s testimony.

Park Soo-Ha (Lee Jong-Suk) and Jang Hye-Sung (Lee Bo-Young)

Park Soo-Ha (Lee Jong-Suk) and Jang Hye-Sung (Lee Bo-Young)

This leads to a rather pleasing meeting between the two girls where the accused admits she was jealous of the younger girl’s success and apologises for bullying her. However, rather than allow the victim to change her testimony, Seo Do-Yeon threatens to prosecute for perjury. The first evidence was given under oath. If the victim recants, she’s admitting to lying under oath. Fortunately the senior defence lawyer is watching from the public seats and texts the authority for rebutting the threat. After the case is dismissed, Park Soo-Ha accuses Seo Do-Yeon of putting the desire to win above the desire to see justice done. The subtext is the competition between the two women also influenced the threat to invoke perjury even though the prosecutor should have known (probably did know) she had no grounds for doing so.

Cha Kwan-Woo (Yoon Sang_Hyun)

Cha Kwan-Woo (Yoon Sang_Hyun)

Meanwhile Min Joon-Kook has established himself as the model released prisoner. He’s volunteering at local church and charitable outlets to show he’s sincerely repented his past wrongdoings. And then he begins psychological warfare against Jang Hye-Sung, sending her enigmatic text messages. When she realises the messages are not from either Park Soo-Ha or Cha Kwan-Woo, she calls the number and is frightened when the phone rings in her apartment. The police are, of course, deeply sceptical that there’s anything to worry about. Even when they realise the relationship between the three, they are satisfied by the front presented by Min Joon-Kook, and take no action. This leads Park Soo-Ha to track down and attack him. Finally realising who Park Soo-Ha is (it was all ten years ago, after all), Jang Hye-Sung agrees to take legal responsibility for Park and they begin a more honest basis for their friendship. The problem now is how to get evidence of Min Joon-Kook’s real intentions.

So this gives us the basic relationship mess. For all her current faults, Park Soo-Ha and Cha Kwan-Woo both like Jang Hye-Sung. Obviously there’s a significant age gap between Jang and Park but that’s not stopping Park from jealousy and some level of despondency when he sees what might be a more natural fit between Jang and Cha. There’s also a love interest for Park from Ko Sung-Bin. the girl in his class at school. This romance is embedded in a case involving a vicious murderer who killed ten years ago and promised revenge when he was released. Except the whole series also has terrific moments of humour. The script and the quality of the acting sells laughter at unexpected moments. In short, this is a terrific opening set of episodes.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
I Can Hear Your Voice or Neoui Moksoriga Deulleo or 너의 목소리가 들려 (2013) episodes 5 to 8
I Can Hear Your Voice or Neoui Moksoriga Deulleo or 너의 목소리가 들려 (2013) episodes 9 to 12
I Can Hear Your Voice or Neoui Moksoriga Deulleo or 너의 목소리가 들려 (2013) episodes 13 to end.

Crown of Renewal by Elizabeth Moon

May 21, 2014 4 comments

Crown of Renewal by Elizabeth Moon

Crown of Renewal by Elizabeth Moon has an interesting moment. One character is approached with the question, “Are you the One?” Her reply is equivocal but she asks who’s asking. The reply is revealing. “I’m one of the ones waiting for the One.” So get your pills ready because this is not at all the book I was expecting which, if you think about it, is either high praise or flat condemnation for failing to provide the expected content (with not much room left in the middle for any other view). This is the fifth and final volume in the Paladin’s Legacy sequence. The chronology is somewhat confusing because the narrative arcs start some three months before the end of Limits of Power. This allows readers to catch up with what was happening to other characters out of sight when the last book was ending. From a strictly technical point of view, this highlights the problems of maintaining continuity with multiple character arcs in a long series. It also emphasises the need for people to have read the earlier books in this series otherwise you stand little chance of understanding what’s going on.

In Lyonya, Kieri and Arian have produced twins which, if nothing else, gives them a family to protect. In Tsaia, Mikeli Mahieran is still trying to decide what to do about the regalia sitting in his treasury, while Camwyn Mahieran worries how he will fit into the scheme of things now that Dorrin Verrakai has taken his brother Beclan off to safety. Arvid Semminson is developing both academically and in magic power. Arcolin is also settling into his new role with the gnomes. So we have the continuing political questions between the elves, the gnomes and the humans, and the emerging problem of how the humans should react to more of their children showing up with mage powers. Up to this point, the largely unseen catalyst for much of the military manoeuvring has been the threat of the forces gathering in the south under the leadership of Alured. So I confess to being all fired up for war. I expected Alured to lead his land and naval groups in a combined assault. The interaction between practical logistics and tactics on one side, and mage powers of varying degrees on the other is always fascinating. Except this is not the primary focus. Indeed, because of an overreach I need not discuss here, Alured unexpectedly finds himself sidelined. Although there is some fighting, it’s very much not the point of the exercise.

Elizabeth Moon

Elizabeth Moon

I suppose the best way to capture the spirit of this book as the final contribution to this particular plot sequence, is that it’s about the characters first, and the situations second. This is not to say the plot dynamics are not exciting or somehow unimportant. Rather it’s about how the individuals react in each situation. So, for example, we do get to see some of the action from Alured’s point of view and, in a sense, he emerges as rather a victim with delusions of grandeur he’s never going to realise. Although he starts off quite dominant in the first major military engagement, that’s only because he has no way of knowing how his most recent misdeed has been repaid. Similarly, Camwyn is seriously injured early on and our time with him is very low key as he slowly heals. This should tell you there’s a rather meditative quality to this book. There are deaths, some more deserved than others. But for all the major plot lines reach points of resolution, this is not the final book that could be written about these characters in this world. In that sense, this is more a historical series which slowly tracks the shifting political situations and relationships between different groups of people. This may be a convenient place to pause for now, but Elizabeth Moon could easily move forward if she wished.

This makes Crown of Renewal slightly difficult to value. It’s clearly high fantasy with epic pretensions but everything is scaled down to a human, elf or gnome level for them to agree or disagree, fight or resolve their problems peacefully. So don’t pick this up if you have not read the preceding books, and don’t expect battles with mages mixing into the combat scenes. The fact many humans have suddenly begun to manifest some powers is relevant to the plot, but not for the purposes of fighting set-piece battles. That’s still done in the tried and trusted way of hacking at each other with swords and anything else to hand. I’m therefore in the positive camp. There’s a real sense of weight to some of the characters. Even those who go through transformative journeys develop or evolve along different but equally important lines. Indeed, the one character who formally identifies himself as an agent of transformation is very discriminating in whom he agrees to help and the ways in which he helps them.

This means Paladin’s Legacy is a series in which people get their just deserts. By this, I’m not suggesting a crude morality tale where the good get better and are rewarded. Rather people are given the chance to make decisions and live with the consequences. Fortunately even those who make mistakes can still advance so long as their motives are reasonable. Complexity and shades of grey are therefore the bones of the plot. Those in leadership roles struggle to fulfill their duties. Leaders must protect those who give their personal loyalty and follow them. Equally they have personal feelings and a natural desire to protect their own families. These duties can sometimes conflict. Those at the bottom of the social heap also survive as best they can, trying to stay neutral in the often chaotic situations around them. If neutrality is impossible, they pick whichever side looks likely to win or try to run away. Curiously even those who run can be shown wise and find their own rewards. Heroism and dependence can be compatible. It can also be right to be compassionate to those felt to be in need yet be unforgiving in punishment if those helped later prove undeserving. No one can know the future and each individual must make the best decisions in the light of information available. So for those who have read the earlier books, Crown of Renewal is understated and, because of that, a rather impressive contribution to the fantasy canon.

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

For a review of an excellent collection by Elizabeth Moon, see Moon Flights. The others in this series are Kings of the North and Limits of Power.

A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton

May 20, 2014 3 comments

A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton

A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton (Minotaur Books, 2014) is the fourth in the series featuring Lacey Flint and, from my point of view, presents the usual problem of having to tune into a new set of characters with already established relationships. Although it’s always necessary to start somewhere, this may be a series that it’s genuinely better to start at the beginning. Put another way, reading is very much a matter of mood and, for a while, I was seriously considering giving up. Let’s take a quick look at the set-up. For reasons not made clear, our detective has voluntarily reverted to the uniform branch of the River Police and, when not swimming in the Thames for fun, she’s cruising up and down the river, always alert for folk doing things they didn’t oughta. To complete this redirection in her life, she’s also running a fake identity. This sometimes gets her caught out in mistakes about where and when she was born, learned to swim, and so on. Don’t ask. I have no idea why she’s in hiding in plain sight on her boat moored on the river, nor why she makes a regular 450 mile roundtrip to a prison to visit a woman she arrested (in the last book?). She has a lover called Mark Joesbury, but he’s an undercover officer currently infiltrating a criminal or fringe terrorist organisation and, for obvious reasons, is uncontactable. This leaves us with a senior police officer and her lover deciding to go down the IVF route to have a child together, the usual colleagues (some more wise than others), the crusty pathologist, and the caring neighbours who look out for her and her boat.

Sharon Bolton

Sharon Bolton

Anyway, our heroine is out swimming in the Thames and finds a body. This is not in itself unusual. There are lots of the things floating around waiting to be found. Except this particular body may just have been left for her to find. Ah ha! So someone is watching her, knows where she swims, knows where there’s a body or two, and decides to leave one for our heroine to find. Now both in fiction and real life, people do things for a range of different motives. Body drops like this can be a kind of vigilanteeism where an altruistic member of the public decides the police need a helping hand, or the reasons can be more complex or even absurd, e.g. the killer behaves like a cat and leaves the latest body on the middle of the bed for the owner to admire. In this case, having arrived at the end of the book, I still think the motive is strongly tending to the absurd but, for once, I’m going to accept it. Even though the basis of the dump and subsequent visits to our heroine’s boat is not very rational and, indeed, may have serious consequences, there’s just enough in the characterisation to convince me this might happen. In the real world, people do absurd things without actively assessing what the outcomes might be. They fly by the seat of their pants. Sometimes the pants catch fire. That’s life.

So I arrive at the middle section of the book and begin to find events more interesting. Although some of the intercut scenes feel more like background filler to make the required word count, the broader features of the plot come into view, and then we switch up from police procedural into more positively thriller mode. Our heroine is one of these people who runs into burning buildings shouting, “Follow me!” to the other more reluctant rescuers. This inevitably propels her into some dangerous situations. However, at some point coming into the final third, the book does get exciting. From a purely technical point of view, the plot brings everything together as our heroine gets closer to identifying the killer(s) and finds herself at risk. So long as you accept the thriller premise that the major protagonist will confront the killer(s) at some point and end up facing death, this ticks all the right boxes and creates the expected thrills. Looking back, what makes the plot work is the law of unintended consequences. It all starts years ago and the effects ripple through time as cultures change, knowledge advances, and people adapt. Some adapt more successfully than others, accepting the new culture and the benefits it provides. Others feel the need to intervene, to try to improve the lot of those who may be suffering. In this book, for example, a gay couple can decide to change their relationship by producing a child or a police officer may try to maintain a more objective view of the world by having a murderer as a close friend. There are a number of interesting ideas explored in A Dark and Twisted Tide and, despite the slight predictability about some plot elements, the end result is a real thriller. Hopefully, you will have read the preceding three books before you come to this. It will presumably make the earlier stages of the story more accessible and generate tension from an earlier point in the novel.

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

Prince of Tennis or Tenisu no Ōjisama or テニスの王子様 (2006)

May 19, 2014 4 comments

Prince of Tennis

When growing up, I played what approximated to tennis. Even with a tall wooden fence built around two sides of the court, the effects of the prevailing winds were sufficiently strong and inconsistent that players needed supernatural abilities to predict where balls in flight would land. These were the days before climate change. The wind blew from the North Pole keeping us cool during the summer and under six feet of snow during the winters. This means a special place in my heart for the anime series Prince of Tennis or Tenisu no Ōjisama or テニスの王子様. I think I managed to sit through all the episodes up to Seishun Academy winning the National Middle School Tennis Championship. I showed such fortitude not because I’m a fairweather fan of tennis as a game, but because I find the fusion of fantasy and sport fascinating. The manga and subsequent anime adaptation were written in the days before Kei Nishikori managed to get into the top ten of the world ranking. Were people sitting down to write a tennis-based story today, there would be no need to show players developing and relying on supernatural abilities to win. Local players would simply be the best in the world.


Except, of course, Prince of Tennis is not alone in suggesting the top exponents in any activity do not rely on skill alone to excel. In one way or another, all winning players or fighters have inner physical and psychological strengths that enable them to outperform all opponents. That’s why we have the thread of wish-fulfillment running through this art form in which the young are shown defending the world, Japan, and their homes through the strength of their willpower as manifested through the machines they use or the sporting paraphernalia they play with. If passion was the only requirement, these young adults would win at everything whether it was a card-based game or battles against monsters.

Ryoma Echizen (Kanata Hongô)

Ryoma Echizen (Kanata Hongô)


So here’s me sitting down to watch the live action version of Prince of Tennis (2006). It’s one thing to watch fantasy when it’s line drawings filling the screen, but quite a different kettle of fish when it’s portrayed as “real”. The moment a camera shows an actual human being doing stuff, the credibility problem rears its ugly head and I start looking for some level of plausibility. As in the manga and anime, this version of Ryoma Echizen (Kanata Hongô) starts off with the inherent advantage of being ambidextrous. Because he can switch hands, he has a better coverage of the court without having to run as much. In the anime, his father is distinctly odd in a not very pleasant way. The film version has him almost human but nevertheless intensely lazy, being able to win without seeming to exert himself. This is a source of intense frustration for Ryoma and, to a degree, explains why he has such an arrogant approach to the social world as a deliberate loner. He’s far better than most other tennis players regardless of gender and age. He doesn’t have to like anyone else to beat them at the one game in which he wants to excel. Except he can’t beat his father. This gives him a major chip on his shoulder (big clue as to the theme of this series and film: he can never beat his father at his own game, he has to develop his own playing style and strategies, and play that game against his father).


The film version is remarkably faithful to the anime in the set-up with Ryoma feeling betrayed by being called back to Japan by his father, contemptuous of most other tennis players, but slowly coming to realise there can be advantages to being a team player. This is symbolised by Kunimitsu Tezuka (Yû Shirota), the school team captain, who beats Ryoma in a private game and later plays on in a key match even though he has a seriously damaged elbow. Sacrifice of oneself for the benefit of individuals or the team is one of the messages of this series.

Kunimitsu Tezuka (Yû Shirota)

Kunimitsu Tezuka (Yû Shirota)


To produce a two-hour film out of hours of manga and anime plot requires selectivity, so we watch Ryoma arrive at the school, beat a few of the top players without breaking sweat, and then playing his first match. The match the film director picks has Ryoma damage his eye. He then has to win “in ten minutes” or forfeit the match (don’t ask, it’s just a silly plot contrivance). This is also physically absurd. Monocular vision does not a good tennis player make, no matter which hand he uses to hold the racket. Anyway, he’s sufficiently impressive to be accepted as first reserve on the full team and this brings us to the “big match” where he has to play the bully. In the anime, there’s a big lead-up to this match which is won on the final shot where, after an interminable exchange of ground shots, each one more ferocious than the last, Ryoma produces a drop shot that leaves his opponent humiliated and defeated. This real world match is hilarious.


The arrogance of the bully is wonderful and, when Ryoma shows he’s not an opponent to be easily dismissed, the bully shows his supernatural talent. Now whereas others have trick shots which bend the ball in the air like an arctic gale suddenly appears or the ball disappears once it bounces (it’s the spin that takes the ball in an unexpected direction), this guy controls the solar system. Yes, when he gets angry, he produces a solar eclipse. Fortunately, the competition organisers have seen him do this before, so they are ready to switch on the massive lighting arrays to permit the players to continue the game. The bully now targets Ryoma’s leg, consistently hitting it with high-powered shots. Our hero’s head drops. His leg is bruised and hurts. More importantly, his understanding of astronomy has been seriously disturbed. Can he reset the celestial machine and rebuild his self-confidence? You betcha! He hates to lose so, with a contemptuous flick of his racket, he swats the moon away from the sun, the match organisers can turn off the lights before the money in the power budget runs out, and our hero outhits the young professional to win the match. Yeah!


The film’s attempt to be original with the subplot element of the dumb girl is rather wasted, and the token appearances of the other team members underwhelms. I suppose there could be sensible films in which magic or supernatural powers of one sort or another could be interwoven into a gaming format. Although I always thought the film version of quidditch rather confused and some of the wizard battles in other films have been distinctly silly, there’s probably room for a Tomorrow People type show in which individuals with telekinetic powers play each other at various ball sports. Until that day arrives, you should stick with the anime version of Prince of Tennis. Once you see human beings using magic to play tennis, it just gets too absurd to be watchable.