The Brutal Telling (CBR8 #64)

Image result for the brutal telling audio

My chief complaint when I read A Rule Against Murder this summer was that while it was an Inspector Armand Gamache novel with all that entails, and it featured some of the characters who populate Three Pines, the book was not set there and I felt the lack of the world that Louise Penny had spent three books crafting. Well, in book five I got my wish to return to Three Pines, and Penny makes the reader pay mightily for the return.

Mild spoilers for the book and series, I suppose, from this point forward.

Louise Penny crafts incredible prose. I have chosen to listen to the Ralph Cosham read audiobooks for as long as they last (through book 10, I believe) and sometimes while listening I actually lose track of the plot threads because my brain is busy savoring the way the words are put together. The way Penny uses language to describe art, music, and food is simply sumptuous. It is by far the best part of the books, followed closely by the character of Armand Gamache himself.

At the end of book three, The Cruelest Month, the Arnot case has been put to rest and we are left with Gamache in what is perhaps his first time truly being post-Arnot. The books move away from the inner workings and conspiracies of the Sûreté du Québec, and instead focus on the solving of the crimes at hand. I find myself missing that side of the narrative as books four and five have narrowed their focus to the cases at hand. There is some expansion of the story of the residents of Three Pines, specifically the Morrows, but it takes a back seat to the mystery.

In The Brutal Telling Gamache is called in when a body is found at Olivier’s bistro. From the beginning the reader knows that Olivier knew the dead man, whose name we do not know, while Gamache does not. Over the course of the book we watch Gamache, with his team of Beauvoir and Lacoste, and the new man Moran, piece together the seeming impossible mystery of the hermit, his cabin filled with unspeakable treasures, and who moved his body after his death, not to mention who actually murdered him.

At the end of the book I’m not sure the man who was found guilty of the crime of manslaughter actually did it, and there are plenty of characters in the book who agree with me, perhaps even Gamache. It’s interesting to watch a character we trust implicitly, Gamache, have no choice but to follow the evidence where it leads, even if it means arresting someone he considers a friend.

This book wasn’t perfect, there was a decidedly ridiculous portion of time where highly esteemed cryptographer doesn’t just do a very simple check to solve a code, and when the thing is solved it matters not to the overall case, it felt like a needless eddy in a book full of interesting eddies. There is also the problem of the case left seemingly dangling. My personal plan for these books is to read them in the time of year they are set, which means I won’t be reading Bury Your Dead until January and that is a long time to wait to find out what happens to Three Pines with one of its own in jail, and Inspector Gamache left with an unsatisfying conclusion to this case.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Jackaby (CBR7 #68)

I was introduced to this book via Malin’s review last November. She had my attention with sassy female narrator who does not have a romance with the titular Jackaby, investigator in the vein of a Cumberbatchian Sherlock or Matt Smithian Doctor Who. Add to that faerie folk, mythical creatures, the late 1890s and New England and I’m sold. And that cover art ain’t too shabby either.

Your basic plot summary is as follows – Abagail Rook, our narrator, has run off with her college tuition to live the life she wants. However, she finds that the life she thought she wanted at an archeological dig site is not actually what she wants. After a slight miscalculation she ends up on a ship across the Atlantic and winds up in New Fiddleham. Once arrived, she needs a job since she has run through her money in the past few months. After a day of searching all the local haunts she comes across an advertisement from a Mr. Jackaby looking for an assistant in his investigations. Little does she know that she’s about to be absorbed into a multiple murder investigation that will also bring the mythical and paranormal into her life.

While that summary may not sound like the most original thing you’ve ever heard of, there’s a lot to love with this book. Let’s go bullet point style for a change of pace (um, vaguely spoilery):

  • Abagail is an independent, self-assured, feminist lead character.
  • Jackaby is just kooky enough to be interesting without being so kooky as to be off-putting.
  • A live-in ghost.
  • A duck who was once a person.
  • Not your average shape shifter.
  • Tight pacing. All of the main events take place within 3 days.
  • A sarcastic narrator.
  • No extraneous fluff, no ridiculous red herrings (this book also clocks in at just over 200 pages).
  • Plausible historical facts and fashion (considering we’re dealing with a paranormal mystery).

Was it a perfect book? No. Was I able to see the identity of the killer about two-thirds of the way through the book? Yes. Would I happily spend more time with Abigail and Jackaby and the rest of the oddball cast of characters in this world? You bet.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Neverwhere (CBR5 #21)

I have never read what I suppose is classified as Urban Fantasy and Neverwhere was a great introduction to it. I wouldn’t have picked up the book if not for the BBC4 radio version last year. I listened to the episodes before bed each night but missed the finale. Interested to see how the story ended I picked it up from the library.

I’m in a bit of a reader’s slump. I have picked up two books, read about 50 pages, and returned them to the library – unfinished. (Those were Gone Girl and Wise Men, both of which I’m planning to get back to at some point this year.) I haven’t posted a review in a month and I struggled my way through Neverwhere, which like the other two is absolutely well written. Gaiman has an interesting and intriguing voice and I was happy to spend hours with Door and Richard and the assorted characters that filled the worlds of London Above and London Below.  It was just a slow slog, for me personally.

I am not the first person to review Neverwhere for CBR5, and there isn’t much to add to those reviews. But if you are new to the genre and enjoyed Gaiman’s episodes of Doctor Who, then I can wholeheartedly suggest this book to you.  Just make sure you’re ready for this strangely dark adventure.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (CBR5 #1)

The novel’s full title is Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story and I find that to be a telling detail about John Berendt’s work. This is a story that shows many, but not all, of the facets that make Savannah a unique place. Savannah has been haunting me the past few years. Several family members and friends have made the sojourn to the famous city and all have the same report: “you have to go”. I believe that John Berendt would agree after his 8 years of living on and off in the sequestered city.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil tells the story of the Savannah in the 1980s, focusing on the murder trials of Jim Williams. Jim Williams was one of the social centers of upper crust Savannah, a self-made man dealing antiques and restoring the same. He had purchased Mercer House, and it was in that home that he was accused of murdering his lover.   Williams and the eventual circus that surrounds him are not the sole foci of the novel; Berendt also introduces the reader to a cast of unusual characters ranging from a black drag queen to a former lawyer turned bar owner to a voodoo priestess. Through the various lenses Berendt draws a picture of Savannah life.

And it’s certainly an interesting life that Savannah leads. It’s the center of a preservation campaign perhaps unmatched by another city of similar size, a hotbed of cotillions, golf clubs, and a hard separation between the white community and the black one, and to many the unwilling home of the Savannah College of Art and Design. Can I say that some of that has changed? I can’t attest personally, but in many ways in sounds like the South as I know it.

On a separate note from the book (and even the movie it was eventually turned into) I want to talk for a moment about e-readers. I have an early model Nook – the kind that uses e-ink technology and is not back-lit. Whenever I read a book on it, instead of a paper copy borrowed from the library or purchased in a moment of indiscretion, I read much slower than average. Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon or is it just me?