Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Neon Court (Urban Fantasy Novel)

On one level The Neon Court, the third book in Kate Griffin’s (Catherine Webb) Matthew Swift Series, is depressing and dark. Late in the book Matthew lists all the people who have died while he tried to solve his and London’s latest magical problems. Matthew comes across as both a hero and an antihero. (One of the few bright spots in the story is the addition of Penny, his apprentice, who unknowingly almost destroyed London in The Midnight Mayor.) But on another level, The Neon Court is a wonderful example of urban fantasy and has some very thoughtful character development. Matthew brings a lot of heart to the role of Midnight Mayor. Griffin explores his complex relationship with Oda, a woman determined to eradicate magic in London. By the end of the novel, Griffin has fully described how Oda became “psycho-bitch,” making the story that much more tragic.

In the beginning of The Neon Court, Matthew find himself magically summons to a burning building. He finds Oda with wounds that should have killed her and uses his magic to rescue the two of them. As the story unfolds, he discovers London has some major magical problems. Two rival magical factions, The Neons and The Tribe, are about to start a war. The Neons are beautiful, neo-fairies. The Tribe members, made up of magical folks who don’t fit into any other group, are as ugly as the Neons are beautiful. Both have been told that whoever finds the “chosen one” will win the war. Meanwhile, Matthew discovers that Oda has become possessed with an entity called “Blackout;” anyone who looks at her start bleeding from their eyes and usually dies. Also, London has become shrouded in an unending night, and slowly more and more of the outer areas are becoming inaccessible. To help Matthew, the Aldermen give him Bakker’s last breath, connecting Matthew with part of Bakker’s consciousness. Bakker was the last person known to defeat Blackout. Matthew, Penny, Bakker, the Aldermen and others attempt to rescue London before it disappears.

On to the Minority Council, the last book in the Matthew Swift Series.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (Mystery Novel)

Reading the latest installment in the The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith is always like catching up with old friends. Reading the fourteenth book, The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, was no exception. I found a Mma Ramotswe who was less sure of herself, questioning her role as a detective. While Mma Makutsi adjusts to motherhood, the relationship between her and Mma Ramotswe also undergoes a transformation. Even the seemingly unchangeable Charlie is transformed by the end of the novel.

For me, Mma Ramotswe’s cases take a backseat to the character development in The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon. In one case, Mma Ramotswe tries to find the source of a mysterious feather sent to the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon and later of a smear campaign. In the second case, Mma Ramotswe is asked by a lawyer to disprove that a young man is the rightful heir to an inheritance.

Clea Simon has a very nice review of The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon in The Boston Globe.

I never get tired of reading the The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series. While I am reading the books, I always feel that people are basically good and that life will somehow turn out alright in the end.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Sound and the Furry (Mystery Novel)

Each year I look forward to the next novel in Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie Series. How can I do justice in a blog to a series where the protagonist is a dog, yet the books are not in the least bit cute? Bernie, the human detective, is all male; a man I would imagine that many female readers would love to meet in person. Chet, as the narrator, offers a world of scents, tastes, subtle sounds, and subtle movements that most humans rarely think about. He often uncovers clues long before Bernie does. But how can he explain them to Bernie? Bernie is the problem solver and the how-to guy. Together they are a team that solves cases.

The Sound and the Furry, the sixth book in the Chet and Bernie Series, sends Chet and Bernie far from home, to the Bayou of Louisiana. The story begins innocently enough. Bernie and Chet drive past a prison work gang, where they see a perp they had sent to jail. It turns out that Frenchie is worried about his missing brother, Ralph, an inventor and one of the only honest people in his family. For a fee, Chet and Bernie agree to go looking for him. Before they leave, Bernie is assaulted by a mysterious gang member and a person from a major detective agency offers Bernie a more lucrative case, which would require him to give up the Ralph search. Bernie sticks to his principles. Once in Louisiana, Chet and Bernie uncover a family feud, a story of missing shrimp, oil covered birds, and drugs. Oh, and Chet smells a “froggy, toady, snaky, with the peppery poopiness mixed in” coming from parts of the swamp. Bernie soon learns that things are not as they appear to be. Bernie and Chet work together to try to find Ralph.

I love both the storyline and craftsmanship of The Sound and the Furry. The setting is fresh. The only things that I missed were not seeing more of Suzy, Bernie’s girlfriend, and of Iggy, the next door dog.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Midnight Mayor (Urban Fantasy)

As I am reading the Matthew Swift Series by Kate Griffin (aka Catherine Webb), I am delighted by her spin on modern day London and on magic. She describes magical creatures made from the castoff debris and information of a city. She describes the people and the things that we know are there but don’t really acknowledge. She describes how people in a city relate and disassociate from one another. She describes the Life of the city, as if it were a living entity. Much of what she writes about resonates with what I have experienced in places, particularly in cities. While I had mixed feelings about A Madness of Angels, The Midnight Mayor, the second book in the series, lived up to my expectations. The novel has a good heart and just the right touch of humor.

Matthew and his electric blue angels are back. As the novel opens, he finds himself lying on the ground bleeding after answering the phone. His hand has odd markings burnt into it, and specters are soon chasing him. As things gets worse, Aldermen arrive at his home, blaming him for the death of the Midnight Mayor, who died about the same time as Matthew’s watch stopped. Only a sorcerer could have killed the Mayor. And, because Matthew is the only sorcerer in London, things don’t look good. To even further complicate matters, Matthew discovers that he is the new Midnight Mayor and London is in danger from some unknown source. One of the major clues is a mysterious message that keeps on appearing: “Give me back my hat.” Who killed the Mayor? Whose hat was taken? What does it have to do with the fate of London?