Saturday, January 21, 2006

Fox, Andrew. Bride of the fat white vampire. New York: Ballantine, 2004. 429pp

This is a sequel to Andrew Fox's first novel, Fat White Vampire Blues and, if anything, is even better than the first.

FWVB is, of course, a vampire novel. But unlike the current crop of vampire stuff, the main character Jules Duchon isn't suave or handsome or mysterious. He's a 450 pound cab driver with a penchant for fanging people who love greasy fast food. Set in New Orleans, FWVB is a great first novel but shows some of the weaknesses inherent in first outings. A little rambling and all over the place, it seemed to shift from comedy to thriller to tragedy and all the way back without the focus those kinds of plot gymnastics require.

BotFWV more or less picks up where the first left off. At the end of the first novel, Jules transformed himself into a horde of white rats in the process of defeating an evil gang of vampires and at the start of the second is unable to get back into human vampire form. Well, his buddies get him back to human form (missing a very important part!) and he sets out of the task of ressurecting the love of his life who was murdered by the bad guys in the first. The novel unwinds in a pretty relaxed way but does keep on track without wandering like the first. The secondayr characters are well drawn, especially Jules's circle of friends. Set in New Orleans, the novel also gives us a glimpse of the lost glories of the Big Easy. Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Parker, Robert B. Potshot. New York: Berkley, 2002. 335pp.

Robert B. Parker's Spenser character has always been one of my favourite private eyes. It's a popular series and Parker has contributed to it very prolifically, with 33 novels since 1973 and at least one per year since 1981. It's probably unavoidable that such a long series would have its ups and downs, good, bad and indifferent books interspersed over the years. And this is the case, with this series probably a bit harder hit than some. Certainly, it's been a very long time since a truly great one has been published, one to stand with Looking for Rachel Wallace. On the other hand, there has hardly been any true stinkers either, with most being at least readable and entertaining. I think that one of Parker's secrets in this has been to keep the novels short -- they never have a chance to really get on your nerves before they're done. And certainly, the worst of the Spenser novels have qualities that can annoy. The line between confident and smug; witty and arrogant; thematic and repetitive; loose and pointless plotting is all very thin, one Parker balances on in all the Spensers.

So, where does Potshot fall? I'd say a bit on the lower half of the scale. The plot is rather thin -- a woman from little town Potshot, Arizona hires Spenser is to figure out who killed her husband. The local gang is suspected. Spenser hires a bunch of extras from previous books (Chollo, Bobby Horse...) to to travel down to Potshot to help out. Hawk, of course, is by his side. All is not as it seems in Potshot. Ultimately, our man Spenser solves the crime and puts everyone in their place. Wittily. With short sentences.

So, not dull, not bad, some good moments, but largely on autopilot. But in the end, Spenserville is such a comfortable place to visit, that I tend to forgive a lot. I'm actually a little behind in the series. Five more have already piled up: Widow's Walk, Back Story, Bad Business, Cold Service and School Days as well as a couple in the somewhat fresher Jesse Stone series (Death in Paradise and Stone Cold). Police family drama All Our Yesterdays (1994) is probably the best Parker novel in the last 10+ years.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Farmer, Philip Jose. To You Scattered Bodies Go. New York: Berkley Medallion, 1971. 222pp.

Every one has blind spots and holes in their reading histories, classics missed or ignored or just despised. There've been lots of classics I've ignored (Book of the New Sun) or despised (ok, maybe not despised, but disapointed) over the years. However, I do make it a point to try and catch up on the ones I've just missed. Sometimes I'm disappointed, especially if it's reaching fairly far back in history. Often the literary style of a bygone era just doesn't click. Sometimes, however, I'm really pleased to discover a gem. Such is the case with the first book in Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series. The premise is well known -- characters are reincarnated along the shores of a vast river along with everyone who has ever lived on earth. The first volume in the series follows the adventures of Sir Richard Burton with later volumes apparently following other characters. I'm definately going to track down the rest of the volumes in the series. Lost classic I would recommend to one and all? Try Davy or A Mirror for Observers by Edgar Pangborn, both available from Old Earth Books.

Levinson, Paul. Borrowed Tides. New York: Tor, 2001. 258pp.

Levinson is both a well-regarded sf writer and a prof in media studies at Fordham University. I've read a few of his short stories and one other of his novels, The Silk Road, and was quite impressed, especially with the novel and stories featuring Phil D'Amato. D'Amato is a kind of science fictional forensic detective, as if Asimov had written an episode of CSI. Anyways, Borrowed Tides isn't part of that series but I thought I'd give it a try in any case. After all, not many sf novels features philosophy of science profs as protagonists. The premise, in a nutshell, is that there's this interstellar trip to Alpha Centauri and this anthropology prof has come up with the quantum mechanical way to make the trip faster via some sort of cosmic tide. The crew ends up including the two rather elderly profs and motley bunch of other rather stereotypical scifi templates. Smart, nerdy guys, butt-kicking women, etc. Well, the quantum-mechanical business doesn't work out as hoped, the interpersonal relationships don't work as as hoped and the novel proceeds rather predictably.

All and all, a bit of a disappointment, mostly because the characters weren't really that memorable for me and also because the whole thing was just a bit dull. It was really an effort to force myself to finish the last fifty pages. This should have been a novella, not a novel.

Smith, Marshall. The Straw Men. New York: Jove 2002. 389pp.

Michael Marshall is a the mystery writing pseudonym for Brit horror writer Michael Marshall Smith, so I guess we should be expecting a mystery novel with horrific elements here. And guess what, that's just what we're getting. I've read a few of the Smith horror short stories and quite liked them but none of his novels before this one.

And guess what? I quite liked this horror tinged serial killer novel, with lots of mysterious plots and subplots and surprise twists to keep it interesting. Murder, family secrets, secret societies, brutal serial killers, government conspiracies, what's not to like? This is the first in a trilogy of related novels, the other two of which have already been published (although I haven't even bought them yet): The Upright Man and Blood of Angels. This is a great testimony to the Stephen Jones Year's Best Horror series, as that's where I discovered Smith and what ultimately led me to taking a chance on this novel. I guess I'll finally be tracking down some of those horror novels too.