Tag Archives: Books

Enemy of God by Bernard Cornwall

Enemy of God by Bernard Cornwall

I don’t know why I have so much trouble reviewing Bernard Cornwall’s books.  He’s one of my favorite authors and I love just about everything I’ve read by him.  Enemy of God is no exception.  When it comes times to write a review, however, my thoughts can generally be summed up  by saying “This book was awesome, just like everything else Cornwall has written.”

Enemy of God is the second book in Cornwall’s take on Arthurian legend.  Like all of his books, (and unlike most other modern re-telling of the Arthur legend), it is full of period accurate historical detail.  Also like all of his other books, it is full of intrigue and fantastic battle scenes.

The subject matter, in this case, is epic on a scale unlike anything else I’ve read by Cornwall.  I’m looking forward to reading the third and final book in the series this Spring.

Last Stand at Saber River by Elmore Leonard

Last Stand at Saber River by Elmore Leonard

Leonard’s laconic style is well suited to Westerns. The writing in this novel is as terse as the characters. It is those characters that make this novel what it is. While Leonard does not waste a lot of words, his characters are always well fleshed out, complex and, most importantly, believable. It goes without saying that people are complex and Leonard captures this complexity as well as any novelist writing today.

Last Stand at Saber River is, on some levels a deconstruction of the classic Western. Leonard sets up a classic confrontation and, while the novel does not shy away from violence, the morality of that violence does not go unexplored. War is war, self-defense is self-defense and murder is murder. When those lines start to blur, a moral man will weigh his actions carefully and that conflict is the heart of this book.

Secret Dead Men by Duane Swierczynski

Secret Dead Men by Duane Swierczynski

Secret Dead Men is an interesting concept disastrously executed.

Del Farmer is a murdered reporter who has his soul absorbed by someone investigating his killers. He eventually takes over the investigation himself, absorbing souls along the way and housing them in a hotel within his brain. As concepts go it’s not without potential but, by the end, it devolves into a god awful mess. The characters are paper thin and jumbled, no one’s actions or words ring particularly true and the original interesting concept continues to evolve in ever more ridiculous directions.

I enjoyed the last two books I’ve read by Duane Swierczynski, (The Driver, a straight forward crime novel about a double-crossed get away driver and The Blonde, another high-concept crime novel that works well once you accept the somewhat far-fetched central conceit), so it pains me to give this book one star but, this was a real stinker. By the end I was muscling my way through simply because I was close to the end and it was a quick read.

The Internet is a Playground by David Thorne

The Internet is a Playground by David Thorne

The Internet is a Playground is essentially a printed version of David Thorne’s hilarious website, 27bslash6.  A printed version of a website feels somewhat archaic, like those old Internet Phonebooks they used to sell in the 90’s.  That having been said, as Thorne’s site is essentially a collection of short essays, it lends itself to print format well.  Additionally the book can be used to kill spiders and costs less than a smartphone should you accidentally drop it in the toliet.

As with the website, some of the essays are funnier than others.  For some reason this is a little more irksome in book format but, at the end of the day, it’s good to support your favorite internet funny people.

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books are a hoot.  Discworld is a light fantasy world with striking parallels to our own.  These similarities create fertile ground for satire and satire is Pratchett’s forte.  Indeed, Pratchett is hilarious, not unlike a more prolific version of Douglas Adams.

There are 39 books in the Discworld series to date and I try to read one or two a year.  This means I can look forward to many more years of reading Terry Pratchett.  (Unfortunately, Pratchett has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers and it is unclear how much longer he will be able to pursue his passion for writing.)

In Hogfather, malignant forces have ordered a hit on the book’s titular character.  Concerned about the ramifications of this disturbance to the order of things, Death, (with a capitol D), steps in to fill The Hogfather’s shoes, traveling the world in his boar-driven sleigh, delivering gifts and spreading goodwill and confusion on Hogfather’s Eve.

As Discworld books go, Hogfather is slightly sub-par but even a below average Discworld book is an entertaining read full of amusing vignettes.

The Phantom Ship by Frederick Marryat

The Phantom Ship by Frederick Marryat

The Phantom Ship is Marryat’s re-telling of the Flying Dutchman legend and, while it was slow to get going, the payoff was really worth it.

The Phantom Ship, tells the story of Phillip Vanderdecken’s quest to free the soul of his father who has been damned to sail the seas for all eternity as captain of The Flying Dutchman. Being a gothic novel, the book lacks Marryat’s characteristic sense of humor and, while the scenes set at sea are as gripping as everything else I’ve read by Marryat, there is a subplot involving Phillip’s Muslim wife and her struggles with Catholicism that took a while to pick up speed. This subplot really went in an interesting direction, however, and the novel’s exploration of themes relating to religion, faith and morality is thought provoking and non-didactic.

While the first half of this novel was easily my least favorite thing I’ve read by Marryat, the second half is right up there with his better works. As a bonus, there is a fun, grisly werewolf story slipped in towards the end as well

The Grifters by Jim Thompson

The Grifters by Jim Thompson

Jim Thompson’s novels are dark, even in a genre marked by brutality. Like most people, I was familiar with the Grifters from the 1990 movie starring John Cusack, Angelica Huston and Annette Bening. While the movie follows the same broad plot lines as the novel, all three leads in the movie bring a natural charisma to the roles that romanticizes the lives of these disreputable characters.

On some levels, this is appropriate. Roy Dillon has devoted his live to presenting a charming facade. It’s a critical skill for a short-con operator. It’s hard not to be pulled in by that charm but the novel contains a critical scene that is omitted from the film. It’s a scene that serves as a wake up call, reminding the reader that there is nothing romantic about the twisted paths these characters have chosen.

Upon being released from the hospital, Roy is cared for at home by a visiting nurse. Roy seduces the nurse but is worried that she is too innocent for his tastes and so he asks her outright if she is a virgin. She tells him she is not and Roy takes this as a green light. Afterwards he pressing her on her sexual history and finds that, as a child of eight, she was raped repeatedly at Dachau. Roy is furious with her. He views this revelation as a betrayal and immediately and brutally breaks things off with her. In justifying his actions, Roy rationalizes the holocaust and blames the Jews as being responsible for their own plight.

It’s a horrifying look into the depths of his character’s depravity. On some levels, I find Roy Dillon to be a more disturbing character than Lou Ford, the sociopathic protagonist of Thompson’s novel The Killer Inside Me.  Sociopaths are a dime a dozen but Roy Dillon justifies his horrible actions with a profound level of conscious self-delusion.

Thompson’s novels don’t shrink away from these sorts of horrible character revelations. The darker side of human nature is not just hinted at in Thompson’s work, it’s examined with unblinking clarity.