Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m not sure I’m actually able to review Discworld books properly (if I ever review anything properly at all), because I’ve been reading them for nearly 20 years now and they’re part of the furniture of my mind, integrated with the general mess.
And I put off reading this one, after hearing about Pratchett’s Alzheimers diagnosis. There won’t be many (any?) more Discworld novels soon, and it feels wasteful to just read them all up now.
But once I picked it up, it was fun. Definitely one of his lighter and simpler outings, no end of the world in sight, just the fate of a handful of newcomers at stake. Another Good Reads reviewer described it as “fun with wizards” and that’s pretty much it.
It’s about football (or soccer, however you like) and what makes class divisions. The crab bucket metaphor really hit the target, as anyone who comes from a similar home life as our main characters will know.
Glenda and Nutt were lovely, Trev and Juliet were silly, and a good time was had by all. The Romeo & Juliet setup morphing into Posh & Becks style was a giggle, although I could have done without the floaty golden whatever at the end. Nutt’s confident “come on if you think you’re hard enough” was worth it, though.
Mostly I liked Pepe, although I couldn’t help imaginging him voiced by Timebomb from No Heroics, no idea how that association started up. It was odd seeing Rincewind as anything but a point-of-view character, but it’s nice to know he’s still hanging around and ready to defeat evil with a half-brick in a sock if necessary. View all my reviews »
Carter Beats the Devil
Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This page-turner has something for everyone. Thrill as Carter escapes a deadly trap set by Secret Service agents! Sigh as he woos a mysterious blind girl! Ponder the question of whether he murdered the President or not! Marvel at the new technology he (and the military, and the RCA) covets! Contemplate his loneliness and wonder if his renewed hope for the future will be squashed by the unfairness of everyday life!
It reminded me a bit of Sayers’ Gaudy Night, actually - not that the setting has anything much in common with it, other than having the main action set in the inter-war period. But in both novels, solving the mystery requires you to pay attention to character details as well as clues, and the resolution has something to say about how we live our lives.
Gold plays fair with his clues, and blends literary skill with an ingenious plot. I was surprised by the ending, but it not only fits the facts together neatly, it *feels* right. I’m going to re-read through the present-day parts to catch all the foreshadowing and clues again. I particularly liked his hapless Secret Service agent, Griffin, and the dastardly Mysterioso. Carter himself is a well-rounded and believable character, although I found Annabelle a little plot-device-y (but fun!).
I could have done with less period detail, though. I’m usually happy with a more impressionist view than exact verisimilitude. By the end of the book you could probably draw a pretty accurate map of 1920’s San Francisco and Oakland, although Gold playfully changes the historical details for the sake of plot. I checked Wikipedia just in case Pres. Harding did appear in a magic show - alas, it was a change :) However, your mileage may vary: if detail’s your thing, you won’t find better than this. It did make me want to get hold of the biography of the real Carter the Great, although the price on Amazon ($535 new! $630 used!) has put me off just a little. View all my reviews »
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s a really satisfying read: tightly-plotted, with grubby characters you can’t help but like even when they’re completely screwing up their lives. Plus it’s funny - not laugh out loud funny, but the kind of wry humour that leaves you with a smile on your face every couple of pages.
Meyerle Landsman is your typical hard-boiled detective, living in a Jewish sort-of-state in Alaska, drinking too much and regretting his failed marriage. He gets involved in the case of a murdered junkie with a strict religious background, and although (as is standard for your hard-boiled tecs) he’s told to drop it, he doggedly pursues his hunches as they lead him into all sorts of trouble and danger.
I’ve always liked mysteries, and this one is more interesting for needing an alternate history for it’s setting, and nodding it’s head vaguely in the direction of magical realism. The resolution is not really what you’d call a happy ending, but I think it’s the best these characters could hope for. And I feel that they’ll continue muddling on through their lives, best as they can, backing each other up in their future misadventures.
Chabon’s writing is light, dry and witty even when dealing with subjects like junkies, religion and the improbability of fixing the world’s ills. And he gives his stereotypical detective more depth and capacity for redemption than they usually get. View all my reviews »