Month: April 2015

Odd Thomas

Odd Thomas - Dean Koontz; Bantam, 2012

Odd Thomas – Dean Koontz; Bantam, 2012

I finished Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz earlier this week.  This novel was first published in 2003 and is the first in the Odd Thomas series of novels (seven total).  I have never read a Dean Koontz because I have assumed he writes grisly, dark stories with mediocre skill.  I do not know why I assumed this – maybe it was extrapolated years ago from reading the newspaper or backs of books or something. All of my books are still experiencing claustrophobia in a room that gives me the same feeling. So, it was a perfect time to grab up a pulp just to have something to read.

This novel is not very good – if we are judging it by the standards we set with writers like Calvino and Nabokov. Also, it is not science fiction nor is it literature. This is a pulp novel pumped out to entertain readers for the short length of time that they are gripping it in their paws.  Was I entertained? Yes. Did the novel have the basic elements needed for a completed story? Yes. Did I hate anything about this novel to the extent that I wanted to stop reading it? No.   The key thing is, before I read it, as I was reading it, and now as I review it:  I know this novel is just a throw-away pulp novel. That means it was destined to have a two or three star rating.

The worst element of this novel is that first-person narrative is supposed to be from a twenty year old. However, in no world is it believable that this kid, Odd Thomas, is that young. The characters are in a Catholic church and the narrator identifies a prie-dieu (page 156).  Besides myself, I know no one else that would put the name to the object correctly. Certainly no one under fifty. The narrator also shares architectural descriptions like this:

County General, the oldest hospital in the region, features an impressive porte-cochere with limestone columns and a dentil-molding cornice all the way around the building. – pg. 296

Do you know any twenty year olds that would describe a hospital like that? I don’t. And this is just using vocabulary as an example. There are other ways it seems that Odd Thomas is not written as a true twenty year old.

The basic concept for these novels is not exactly unique, but it is interesting enough that I can see lots of readers being curious about what Koontz can do with it.  Odd Thomas lives in a small desert town called Pico Mundo.  He possesses some abilities that put him in contact with more than the regular world. He sees and interacts with the dead.  He recognizes non-human, not of this world entities. He also is sensitive to psychic “luck” or “guidance.”  Basically, there is a desert town in which a twenty year old kid can see ghosts. Not unique, but always interesting.

The plot here is what most readers would expect. A creepy guy comes into town, Odd (with his special powers) notices. Trouble ensues.  There was one element that I did not expect and that was interesting and I was hoping Koontz would develop, but it kind of just went away.  It was only there to add a little more spooky, I guess. But I wanted more out of that incident. (Not to spoil anything: it is a unique room in a particular house.)  Anyway, Odd has a whole series of friends that he consults and who help him.  (I love Terrible Chester – who is a cat.) Odd is the only one who thinks he is aloof and independent. In reality, he bounces from character to character for advice or assistance or just a place to relax.

Still, Odd is likeable.  He can be annoying, he can be witty. He generally does better than those oh-so-dumb characters in the 1980s who seemed to always do the wrong thing and make the worst choice possible.  I feel bad for Odd at the end of the book. Nevertheless, there is some depravity in this book. I know many readers might just call it gore, but I am not talking just about descriptions of chopped up guts or whatever. I refer to the actual motives and intentions of some of the villain characters – not nice, not good.  Depraved, for sure.  And actually, not just the villain characters – Odd’s parents are both quite nasty.

Overall, I give this three stars, understanding that this is a PULPY three star rating. I may read the next book in the series. I recommend this for contemporary pulp fans looking for the typical murder crimes with a little supernatural thrown in.

3 stars

Green Rider

Green Rider - Kristen Britain; cover:  Keith Parkinson; DAW 2000

Green Rider – Kristen Britain; cover: Keith Parkinson; DAW 2000

Green Rider by Kristen Britain really does not seem like it would appeal to me, but I read it and I do not have a whole lot of bad things to say about it.  It was definitely surprisingly good; I suppose I must have had low expectations?  I only have two complaints about this novel, which was first published in 1998.  It is the first novel by the author and the first novel in its series. One of my complaints is that the novel is too long. The paperback runs to 471 pages, but I feel the story could have been ended closer to the “standard” 430 pages. The cover, by Keith Parkinson, made me really want to hate the main character because the girl looks like that mouth-breathing actress from the Twilight movie series…

I have read two of three of Mercedes Lackey’s “Arrows” trilogy. I did not have very many nice things to say about those two books. Shame on me, but I allowed those novels to color my notions of other fantasy novels by a female author and with a female main character. Bad, bad chauvinist jerk!  However, there are some correlations here – both have strong female leads, both females have strong relationships with their horses, both of these are “epic fantasy” settings (swords and arrows, a king’s road, etc.)  Here is the crux of the matter:  if we compare the two stories, Britain’s is more balanced, honest, and “realistic” than that rubbish Lackey wrote, by a large margin.

I’ve given two reasons, so far, why I should not like this novel. The cover resemblance to the Twilight series and the similarities with the Lackey series. What possessed me to attempt reading this?! Finally, there is another reason.  I am not a wild maniac for things Irish. I have no issue with the Irish. But what else can I say – my heritage is much farther East. Celtic stuff and green stuff and difficult Gaelic words and Yeats and Joyce’s mythologies…. I mean, I don’t even like Guiness! So, with all this green and pseudo-Gaelic feel, I really had no business reading this novel.  Granted, the similarities to things-Irish is only with brief hints.

This is not grimdark, so fans of that subgenre should not expect the grim darkness found in those novels. Further, this novel should not be judged by comparing it to grimdark. I bring this up because this is an “older” novel – and since it was published, fantasy seems to have gotten a whole lot heavier and grittier.  I enjoyed this novel because it was really well-balanced.  There is an evil villain and some grisly monsters, but there are also light-hearted moments and a touch of silliness.

Karigan is at private school, she gets sent home and en route she gets waylaid by a dying Green Rider.  The Rider presses her into service to deliver the message he was carrying to the King.  Karigan does so and meets with assorted adventures. She, naturally, gets help when she needs it and often rethinks what incidents brought her to the path she is on.  She sometimes loses heart, but overall she “does the right thing” because she was raised rightly and is strong-willed.

I actually liked all of the characters. Maybe they are stereotypical and maybe this is perfectly “standard fantasy” fare, but I am very okay with that. The storyline was really quite obvious and almost on the “folk tale” level wherein everyone already knows the story and we are just here to see the presentation. It is like that joy small children get with having a story read to them that they already know by heart.

Around 310 there is a “big reveal” that all other readers will expect, but which, of course, surprised me. This comes late in the novel, and helps re-boost interest in a storyline that is dragging a bit. Another moment occurs on page 343; a villain is revealed! This moment is interesting because should flip the opinions of the reader who fell hook, line, and sinker for a particular fantasy trope. I am purposely being vague to not give away spoilers.

The magic system [using contemporary geek-terminology] is a bit wonky and specious. I do not think it is Britain’s area of expertise. Maybe in future novels she works this out better?  In this one, she doesn’t solidify what magic is, how it works, or where it comes from. Its everything it needs to be to whomever needs it.  Overall, the word I keep coming to with this novel is “balanced.”  It is not great literature, but it is interesting and engaging. I did not hate the characters and even though the plot was familiar, it did not feel labored. I was entertained.

4 stars

A Man Lay Dead

A Man Lay Dead - Ngaio Marsh; Jove 1980

A Man Lay Dead – Ngaio Marsh; Jove 1980

I have not read/reviewed nearly enough books this year. In fact, this is the first review since late January. I moved – and all of my books are still packed in boxes in a room that is also packed tightly. It has been frustrating. However, I did read this Ngaio Marsh novel in February – finally getting around to reviewing it now in April.  A Man Lay Dead is the first (of thirty-two) Roderick Alleyn mystery.  It was first published in 1934. I read the Jove Mysteries 1980 edition.

I have been attempting to read a lot more of the classic detective mystery novels lately. And maybe even some of the not-so classics.  Many of these early stories involve the character archetype of the “gentleman detective/burglar.”  This includes Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Whimsey, Sherlock Holmes, Albert Campion, and Arsene Lupin.  The star detective of this Marsh novel falls under this category.  I have a hit-or-miss sort of opinion of these sorts of characters.  I love Lupin. I love Poirot and Whimsey.  Campion and Alleyn irritate me and I find them pompous and unlikeable. Of course, let’s be honest, I have not really read very many books in any of these series.

The novel that I read before A Man Lay Dead was Margery Allingham’s The Crime at Black Dudley, which was published in 1929. The lesson to be learned between these two novels is clearly:  avoid house parties. So, apparently, no matter the decade (1930s or 1990s, etc.) house parties have a strong tendency to turn ugly.

This short novel has sixteen chapters, all of them generally focusing on the true main character, Nigel Bathgate.  He, and several others, have been invited to a weekend at Frantock. The group is attending another of Sir Hubert Handesley’s parties.  En route to the destination, Bathgate inquires of his distant cousin (Charles Rankin) who will be attending the party.  Rankin says “the usuals,” which includes the Wildes and Angela North and Rosamund Grant. Also, a Doctor Foma Tokareff – a Russian doctor whom Handesley knows from his “Embassy days in Petrograd.”

Not unlike Allingham’s novel, this house party decides to play with a particular rare and interesting dagger.  I am not sure what the authors were thinking utilizing this prop.  Do people really go to house parties and fanny around with daggers?  Does anyone really think that this is a good idea and will end well?  Have they considered Scrabble or Yahtzee?  Anyway, no reader should be surprised that there is a murder – yes, the dagger was used. Second lesson:  If you simply must attend a house party and someone hauls out a dagger – for God’s sake, leave the house immediately.

Alleyn shows up to investigate the murder.  He is cryptic and mysterious and annoyingly arrogant.  He begins his investigation by interrogating the members of the house.  However, his interrogation is certainly unique – he suggests they have a “mock trial” through which he will learn the details of the night’s events.  Nigel Bathgate is the most cooperative and interested member of the party.  At some point he seems like he wants Alleyn to think highly of him.  At other points, he is clearly not comfortable with revealing all of his thoughts to the detective. Angela North is a fiery young girl, who is not cowed by Alleyn, nor impressed by Bathgate, though she does take a shine to him.

Alleyn does not do all the work himself. He comes with a team of helpers (to do the grunt work).  Eventually, the storyline moves beyond the Frantock property and there are adventures involving Russian spies and gangs and foreign agents.

Overall, a lot better than Allingham’s showing.  Still, Nigel is the star and he is the one I enjoyed.  Alleyn was average and blah at best.  I am slightly put off with the “Russians are villains” trope, though. I do think I will read more of Marsh’s novels.  Everyone who wants to read 1920s and 1930s detective novels should add this to their list.

3 stars