Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Baron in the Trees, by Italo Calvino, translated from Italian by Archibald Colquhoun

The novel The Baron in the Trees, was first published in Italian in 1957.  The translation I read in English was done by Archibald Colquhoun. It is a fanciful type story, told as a mostly accurate history of older brother Cosimo's adventures, by his younger brother Biagio. 

The story begins in 1767 in the Italian District of Ombrosa.  Cosimo is 12 and Biagio is 8.  The family and home life is fairly bizarre.  Their father the baron is fairly well off and is ambitious to rise in the aristocracy of the French Court and thought by his sons to be behind the times socially and fashionably. Their mother, the Generalessa, nicknamed by her sons for her affections for All Things War, easily whiles away the hours pouring over maps or watching the world around her through a spyglass.  Their older sister Battista is described as a "kind of stay-at-home nun." The household also included the Abbe Fauchelefleur, who serves as the boys' live-in tutor, and their uncle, the Cavalier Carrega, the illegitimate son of the baron's father, who serves as the family lawyer and business administrator.

On this evening, Battista has prepared yet another revolting meal (this time it is snails) and Cosimo revolts, refusing to eat it and storms out of the dining room as his father shouts, "Leave the table!/ Where are you going?" Cosimo knows where he is going and it is into the garden and up a holm oak tree conveniently overlooking the dining room windows. In spite of threats, Cosimo shouts, "I'll never come down again!" and sure enough, he doesn't.

Biagio proceeds to tell us the adventures Cosimo has as well as the obstacles he must face to live his life in the trees.  It's a clever and humorous story, fun to read and see how the clever boy problem solves, helps his neighbors, figures out how to fight fires, and as he grows older, even entertain the ladies.

As the years go by, Biagio admits that some of the tales of Cosimo's adventures may be exaggerated somewhat, but he claims to have stayed as close to the truth as he could determine after analyzing all the versions he heard.  Cosimo becomes the Baron after the death of his father but has no interest in the day to day responsibilities.  He gladly shares that with Biagio, who gets the use of the family estate, since Cosimo chooses not to inhabit anything but the trees.  And Biagio reminds us that the trees in those days were much more prolific and an agile climber could move from tree to tree practically all over Ombrosa, without touching foot to ground.

It's a quick and fun read, and I thank my son Philip for giving me this copy last Christmas.  And let me say that if I had started it when I got it, you would have known all about it for 6 months already!!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Flame Out, by M.P. Cooley

A police procedural by M.P. Cooley, Flame Out features a female sheriff of a small town.  June Lyons is a former FBI agent who moved back home when her husband passed away because her dad, the town's former sheriff, could help out with child care.

June spots a suspicious fire in an abandoned factory as she is doing a routine drive around town.  Investigating the blaze, she discovers a female burn victim inside.  She survives, but is in a coma and her identity remains unknown. June knows the history of the factory, remembering that her dad had successfully made a murder charge stick against the building owner when his wife and child disappeared.  When the current investigation leads the sheriff and her partner to explore the basement, they discover sealed barrels behind a false wall.  One of the barrels has a female body in it.  June is sure they have validated the murder charge beyond a doubt, but testing proves that the body is not Bernie Lawler's wife. 

So who else disappeared 30 years ago? This case is adding layers faster than June can stay ahead of what all the facets of the case really are.  She may have to take advantage of the offer of help from a former FBI coworker, whose ultimate goal really is to get June to agree to come back to work for the feds. 

And in spite of the fact that she is incredibly busy, her annoying mother has come for an extended visit...what else can go wrong?

The Delphi Effect, by Rysa Walker

Another fast-paced thriller by Rysa Walker features a protagonist who picks up "hitchers," dead souls who are not yet ready to move on.  Anna is 17 and has had this uncanny ability since birth, apparently.  Perhaps as a result, she is a long term ward of the state who has been in many foster homes.  The only "family" she knows is a younger teen who she bonded with in an earlier foster residence, and now feels responsible for him.

She never knows when a hitcher will arrive inside her brain to share the space until whatever the issue that is keeping the soul here has been resolved, but she has received enough counseling from a very insightful caseworker that she know how to work with the individuals.  Anna just needs to be in the vicinity where the soul is hovering, and all at once she is sharing her brain space.

Currently she is harboring the soul of a young girl who was murdered.  Molly wants Anna to find her grandfather, a retired policeman, and let her tell him who her killer is.  But before long, Molly's grandfather has been shot and Molly's killer is trying to apprehend Anna, and doesn't care who else might be killed in the process.

Anna has no choice but to go on the run, and she finds some help in some very unexpected sources.

If Snow Hadn't Fallen, by S.J. Bolton

A British police procedural featuring female detective Lacey Flint, the story begins when Lacey hears a call for police in the area to report to a park where a victim is being burned. The call is really meant for uniformed officers, but the park is close enough to her home that she could walk to it. The victim is a young Muslim doctor; it appears to be a hate crime, but a little detective work reveals that it is so much more.

Soon, a mysterious burka-clad figure appears at the crime scene late at night, apparently mourning the crime or the victim, Lacey notes the mysterious appearance from her home, but the figure disappears when Lacey approaches. Is it an apparition? But no, there are tracks in the snow.

And before long the gang of killers is also after Lacey, and they know where she lives.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Time of Torment, by John Connolly

This is the twelfth Charlie Parker thriller penned by Connolly, and he has not run out of plot ideas yet!  Charlie is again faced with impossible odds with a significant supernatural component, and his detective skills and insights help him to beat the odds.

But there is great evil to overcome along the way.  In A Time of Torment, his client is a broken man, a one time public hero who faced  down two hardened killers in a gas station robbery. He is brought down a short time later for possession of pornography.  He says he is innocent, refuses a plea bargain and thus is sent to prison. 

His prison experience is degrading at best and terrifying at worst, and he leaves five years later a broken man.  He hires Charlie Parker, hoping he will discover who wanted to destroy him.  He believes it must be someone who was angry about the men he shot, but they have never been identified. 

Parker takes the case, and after listening carefully to his client's story, begins to zero in on a cult of sorts based in a rural area of West Virginia.  This community is very territorial and does not welcome visitors on their property, which they own in common, and have for generations.   The county sheriff has historically let them be if they didn't cause too much trouble in town, but the mystery of what goes on beyond the fences they have erected is worse than anyone can imagine. Unexplained deaths and disappearances are calling some unwanted attention to The Cut, which the land is called, as well as the residents.

The Sheriff is getting way too interested in what The Cut is doing and the Cut leaders become aware that Parker is asking questions that make the elders of the Cut clan consider desperate measures.  Parker and his team are ready, even when they become aware that the Cut individual members are dangerous and deadly, and beyond that, they actually have a demon in their midst which is growing stronger as more victims die.

This is quite the page turner and includes some very interesting characters, both good and evil, and succeeds as a stand alone.  I do think ideally one should start with the first one in a series, in this case Every Dead Thing (1999), but you will get the Charlie Parker aura just fine if you begin with this one.  Enjoy!  I received an e version of the book courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for a review, which I am glad to give. If you're into thrillers with a touch of the supernatural, this one's for you!

The Devourers, by Indra Das

The Devourers is Das' first published novel. It is an epic, a story covering untold ages where creatures more powerful than humans, perhaps mythological super beings, perhaps demons, walk among men, occasionally hunting and eating the weak creatures called humans. In the author's world, these creatures don't just eat the human flesh; they absorb their life stories, their experiences and thoughts. they are not actually immortal.When they are done, they take pieces of human bone as tokens and remembrances.  They are not actually immortal but the human flesh and blood prevents them from aging for as long as they continue to prey on humans.

The story begins in modern times, in a park in Calcutta one cold night during a festival.  A stranger approaches a college professor of history and strikes up a conversation, identifying himself as "half werewolf" as naturally as if he were identifying his hometown. The professor, a lonely young man, notices the stranger's androgynous beauty, his confident politeness, and the fact that he is wearing sandals, displaying unclipped toenails at the end of his long toes. The stranger doesn't give his name, but seems to anticipate the professor's questions before he can even ask.  The professor doesn't believe the things the stranger says are possibilities, but the stranger does sound very much like he believes it himself. 

The professor is estranged from his parents and has recently broken off his engagement to a young woman.  We learn that he has also had some intimate encounters with other men, but has no deep relationships with anyone at present. After a short time, the stranger offers the professor a job typing out two ancient manuscripts, actually scrolls, which he has in his possession. The professor accepts, and these manuscripts provide us with the bulk of this novel.  The genre is labeled Dark Fantasy; it contains boldly homosexual encounters, and the only heterosexual encounter is rape.

Are they vampires? Das never calls them that.  They are shape-shifters, sometimes called werewolves. From the first manuscript, apparently written around the time that the Taj Mahal is being built,  we learn that they consider themselves above the concept of love as humans know it, so when one of three shape-shifters traveling together through India is attracted to a woman, the other two are shocked and disgusted that he rapes her and lets her live, rather than hunting and devouring her.

She too is disgusted and filled with hate toward the creature that has defiled her. Though in his human form he looks like a man, she can sense that he is something more and incredibly, she chooses to chase and confront him. Her pragmatic attitude toward life seems to give her power over those who would do her harm.

The language is lush and vividly descriptive of the sounds and images in the jungle, and just as descriptive of the gory battles and resulting wounds when the shape-shifters fight among themselves. The author does not just go with stereotypes though.  We see the inner conflict and doubts the humans as well as the shape-shifters experience, both in the past and present.

The book reminds me of Dan Simmons' Song of Kali, another book set in India, with unsettling descriptions of the power of evil, and I well recall the chilling descriptions of vampires in Bram Stoker's Dracula, where their power over humans was virtually invincible.  Chilling stuff, and not for everyone, but it definitely gives the reader lots to think about.

I received an e copy from NetGalley in exchange for a review.

IQ, by Joe Ide

Isaiah Quintabe, aka IQ,  is an exceptionally bright young black* man in East LA.  He has overcome some pretty incredible odds to become independent and works as an unlicensed investigator, taking on the cases that the police don't have time for (or the clients don't have the money to hire a professional investigator). He is remarkably observant and a great analyst of the facts and impressions that his clients give him, and is usually successful, which leads to referrals and occasionally repeat business.

The author Joe Ide, an American with  Japanese roots, has placed his characters in the East LA neighborhood where he grew up.  He has a great ear for street slang and is great at writing dialog of the gangsta thugs who populate this novel. The language is rough, but there is wit and pathos in the dialog throughout the book.  The characters, both good guys and villains, are well developed and believable.   In alternate chapters, Ide tells the current story, occurring in 2013, and the back story, which takes place in 2005-06.

Isaiah and his big brother Marcus share a one bedroom apartment of necessity, since their parents have passed away.  Marcus has been Isaiah's guardian and biggest fan since the death of their parents when Isaiah was 10 years old.  Isaiah is in AP classes and a strong part of the Academic Decathlon team at his high school when Marcus is abruptly killed in a hit and run accident.

Isaiah, still a minor, is forced to get a roommate or he will lose the apartment and be sent to a foster home.  He ends up taking in another teen, Juandell Dodson, a hardened drug dealer/thug, whose family has kicked out of the house, but that's not enough. Isaiah ends up dropping out of school and getting several part time jobs.   Eventually, both young men are desperate for income and Isaiah makes the biggest mistake of his life, going into a "thievery" partnership with Dodson. In the beginning, Isaiah's thorough planning leads to success, but eventually Juandell's lack of discipline sends them both spiraling out of control.  In the end, Isaiah's intelligence and inner strength, not to mention the lectures that he imagines Marcus is giving him for making such bad choices, pulls them back from the brink.

I received the book courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for a review, which I am happy to give.  It is really good reading and I hope there will be more books to come.  IQ is a marvelous reinvention of Sherlock Holmes for this day and age. The book should hit the shelves in October 2016 so be watching for it.

*Some reviewers refer to Isaiah as Asian American, and there is an allusion to his "almond shaped eyes,"  but none of the other characters refer to his ethnicity except to call him "nigga" and occasionally "brotha," so until the author tells us, I guess his ethnicity is whatever you see in your head!