What I’ve Been Reading: 2011 so far…

So I’ve been gone a while, haven’t I? What have you all been up to while I’ve been out? Playing cards, drinking…and…oh I see. Well we’ll get that fixed later. So I’ve been reading a whole bunch of novels and short stories in the past month or so, and I’ll give you a few mini reviews below:

The Casebook of Thomas Carnacki by WH Hodgson is one of the most insane Sherlock Holmes rip off’s I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Carnacki is an occult detective, who ends up mostly debunking paranormal activity using an electric pentacle. He uses tricks that Victorian psychics used to use to fool people and applies them to murders and hauntings. He’s essentially Derren Brown crossed with Van Helsing. The book dates back to just after Sherlock Holmes appeared on the scene and the influence is easy to see. Each story starts with our narrator being called to Carnacki’s house and being told a story, and then being told to leave again without even a whiff of conversation. I would heartily recommend this bizarre artifact of a bygone penny dreadful age.

Which leads me to a book I wholeheartedly wouldn’t recommend, The End of Mr Y, by Scarlett Thomas. I don’t like to hate a book, and I certainly don’t like to call an author out on bad writing/plot/character but this book has it all in spades. The story concerns a PHD student who comes across a copy of an extremely rare (and apparently) cursed book, the titular ‘End of…’. What follows is a mish-mash of Being John Malcovich, Neverwhere, and sub-Douglas Adams characters. The main character is written explicitly as an extension of the author, some sort of insane hyper-sexualised wish fulfillment character who is a geniunely horrible person. At one point she prostitutes herself in a dirty toilet to make money for a hotel room…never really making a clear case as to why she doesn’t just get the guy she’s with to pay for a hotel room to have sex in. There are few books I would tell you to leave well alone, this is one of them.

Sometimes a book can have all the elements of a bad book and somehow work, Boxer Beetle is just such a book. Written by Ned Beauman (his debut novel), the book tells three intertwining stories. The first, a modern segment about a Nazi memorabilia collector (one who collects Nazi memorabilia) nicknamed Fishy who discovers a letter from Hitler to a Professor, and becomes the target of a very Welsh assassin, works in part due to the healthy sense of humour that Beauman injects. The second storyline (which encompasses the second and third points of view) tell the story of the Professor in the letter and his experiments with a nine-toed Jewish boxer. The book is hilarious, and whilst the mystery maybe doesn’t stand up quite as well as Beauman thinks it does, it keeps the pace up and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Quite possibly the highlight of recent reads, The City & The City by China Mieville has been getting all sorts of plaudits over the past year, and quite rightly. A bizarre crime novel, it’s Raymond Chandler filtered through Phillip K Dick. Telling the story of a murdered girl, and the police officer who has to investigate her murder and ends up crossing into the neighbouring city to follow the trail. Only thing is, the neighbouring city occupies the exact same space as his own. This is a fascinating book, and a very, very strong thriller. If you want a perfect example of the twelve rules of a mystery story you need look no further than this novel.

I’ve read a few more and I’ll have some mini reviews up on here soon, so look out for Heart Shaped Box, Big Machine and Rabbbit, Run.

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