Apr. 26th, 2010

tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

The thing he liked about tough women like Ripley and Sarah Connor (and yes he knew they were fictional) was that it didn't matter how kick-ass they were, their motives stemmed from a kind of maternal love, a maternal love for the whole world.

This powerful novel - the first in Atkinson's series about the private eye Jackson Brodie, which I have been reading out of order as and when I get hold of them - begins with a series of brutally shocking vignettes: a three year old girl disappears one summer's morning; a doting father is unable to prevent the violent murder of his eighteen year old daughter; and a depressed young woman struggling with the demands of her marriage and newborn baby goes psychotic with an axe. It's a dark, dark way to begin a novel. Indeed, I might have found the opening chapters all too much, but I didn't because I knew that Jackson Brodie would soon arrive to tie up the lose ends. Brodie is a wonderful character: absolutely hard-bitten and cynical but still a genuinely good man and somehow lovable to boot. Jackson's life is in a mess: he's still reeling from some of the horrors that marred his childhood, and he's struggling to help maintain the innocence and wonder of childhood for his own tweenage daughter, Marlee, as his battles with her mother become increasingly acrimonious.

I love the way Atkinson writes. She somehow manages to maintain a real vein of crisp, bubbly humour while at the same time exploring emotional trauma and the darker side of human nature. This is a crime novel, but one with a very literary edge. I don't think I enjoyed this quite as much as her third Jackson book When Will There Be Good News, that one genuinely shocked me with its twists and turns, whereas here I had pretty much sussed what had happened to most of the novel's plethora of missing persons quite a few beats before Jackson did. But despite that, I found Case Histories to be very gripping but tender too: this novel, like Sarah Connor, Ripley, and Jackson himself (who so ardently fancies those two cinematic women) has a tough exterior with a loving core.

Water Lily by Susanna Jones

Even expressionless, there was something that she couldn't get rid of, something that defined her as being Runa, a kind of hunger, she thought, or just plain badness. There was just too much of herself spilling out from behind her eyes and through her pores.

Jones has an amazing ability to create an atmosphere of mystery and suspense. Her debut novel, which I read earlier this year had me absolutely gripped. This, her follow-up, shares many of the traits of its predecessor: both are set in Japan and feature a bit of a bad girl protagonist, on the run from former relationships. This time around, the heroine is Runa, a young teacher who has stolen her sister's passport and identity in an attempt to escape scandal as her passionate affair with a pupil threatens to become public. She boards the ferry to Shanghai, hoping to start a new life in China. During the voyage, Runa's life collides with that of Ralph, a creepy middle-aged Brit, who is travelling to find himself a wife, a submissive "Oriental Blossom" like those described in his creepy mail-order catalogue. But Ralph, like Runa, isn't quite who he seems. It's a great premise but somehow or other Water Lily didn't quite deliver fully for me. It's one of those suspenseful novels that builds up and up, and then just rushes to end far too quickly and in a way that I at least felt to be far too obvious a cop-out, which was a real shame. I went from not being able to put it down to throwing it down in annoyance. I'm glad I read it, and her exploration of the mentality and desperation of somebody who would turn to mail-order brides is really convincing, but I hope Jones's third effort will be a bit more consistently satisfying!


tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)

September 2010

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