BLACKLANDS [By Belinda Bauer]. Pretty dark, this. It’s about a serial killer, a child killer like Ian Brady who falls into correspondence with the 12-year old nephew of one of his murdered victims, whose buried body has never been found. Written from the twelve year old nephew’s POV it illuminates extremely well the impact the killing has had on the surviving family through the years: his Gran, Poor Mrs Peters who stands immobile, looking out of the window all day every day for twenty years; his mum, abandoned and struggling to cope with two young boys and her grim, morose mother while trying to hold down two jobs and still be home when they return from school. The twelve-year old himself, teased and bullied in class because of his impoverished, blighted situation, without either a dad or a decent pair of shoes. It’s very much the sort of thing I might have written myself; not a psychological thriller exactly more of a family saga with very dark deeds playing out underneath. It won a CWA Dagger Award so clearly the publisher and author regard it as Crime Fiction but although I liked it I am not sure that say a reader of Jack Reacher or Iain Rankin would find a great deal to interest them. It’s too slow and there is no violence and no sex and no police. All ticks in my boxes but these are usually the essentials of Crime Fiction.
What actually sets it apart is the genius of the actual correspondence: what a brilliant literary device it is. This is the reason she won the Dagger Award.
UPROOTED [By Naomi Novik]. This is a compelling, plot-driven American Fantasy novel re-translated for a European audience: Autumn not Fall; trousers not pants and is aimed at female teens, I would guess. Not me, anyway. It is a bit like Earthsea insofar as it concerns itself with sorcery and a sorcerer’s apprentice who turns out to be even more powerful than the wizard himself.
The blurb claims that the author, Mrs Novik is of Polish heritage and that she has used ancient Polish fairy tales to tell her story. We believe her.
I found it a little indigestible rather as though Ursula Le Guin had combined Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan and The Furthest Shore all into one long narrative. Great as the trilogy is, it would be too much to take in in one book. As this is. There are some terrific ideas in it and she [almost never] runs out of different ways to describe the latest spell or the new horror about to befall them but many of the crises are propelled by lines like this one:
‘I only stood there, too angry to even find my voice . . .’
The writing isn’t bad although I can’t understand her need to spell everything out at great length. She does have some nice similes however; here’s one:
‘I carefully drew my magic back, carefully, carefully, like tipping up a bottle without letting it drip down the neck . . .’
It’s kind of feminist. There is no ambiguity or anxiety about female power. She is intelligent and demanding she has substance even before she is chosen to be the sorcerer’s apprentice; spirit chutzpah personality, character. A bit of a moxie.
I haven’t read the Goodreads reviews but I expect there will be the same ‘reviewers’ who think it is ‘hoary’ [see Lament for the Fallen, last month]. It has 150 5* reviews on Amazon and that is pretty impressive. I liked it, I liked it, I don’t want to seem like a Moany old Groany; on page 173, after yet another clever revelation I thought to myself, ‘this is superb . . . as good as anything I’ve read recently’. But she simply overwrites it and after a while, it becomes as I say indigestible.
EDDIES WORLD [By Charlie Stella]. Someone’s been reading The Friends of Eddie Coyle and probably the rest of George’s canon; dialogue, dialogue pages and pages of dialogue. Submit that to an Agent in the UK today and you won’t have to wait a long time for your, ‘Not for me’ rejection letter. In fact, it isn’t published in the UK, this is an American copy.
But it radiates authority. It is about a man, Eddie, on the fringes of the New York Mafia who lends money to people who need it short-term. He inadvertently gets caught up in an FBI sting and comes under pressure from the mob, the cops, his wife and his acquaintances all of whom need him to do something. Charlie Stella relies almost entirely upon dialogue to tell his tale and he does a great job; doesn’t waste a word. No lyrical descriptions of scene or character: they drive along Rockaway Parkway and turn left into Seaview. Nothing about the weather, time of day, the streets outside, the dappled shadows, the orange sunset; it’s all in the conversation between the driver and his passenger. Loved it.
It is linear, there are no flashbacks or gimmicks: this happens then that happens and we follow the action as it spills out. Never loses pace and he avoids inserting a host of unnecessary dramatic conflicts into the story and focuses instead on the multi-dimensional characters he has created. More than that it has backbone, you really believe in these bumbling cops, the mercilessly pragmatic FBI and the even more pragmatic Mob. His dialogue is terrific; he pulls off the difficult trick of differentiating characters by the way they speak, making everyone sound different: none of the women talk the same way; the cops speak quite differently to one another. In fact even Eddie isn’t particularly articulate.
Super book, recommended on the Not New for Long blog.