Books and Book Reviews: January 2005 Archives

A Season for the Dead--David Hewson


This book is currently being compared to The DaVinci Code for reasons that completely elude me (other than the obvious one of captializing on a "name brand." ) The two works share few, if any similarities. In fact, were one to compare it to a Dan Brown book it would have to be Angels and Demons in its city tour of Rome bia the sculptures of Bernini. In this case we get a little history of the paintings of Caravaggio, but nothing like the plot of the former.

First, it is superbly written with well realized characters and a plot that never seems to stop. It's a curiosity that the murderer is revealed a little less than halfway thorugh the book and yet the book keeps up momentum and there are surprises through the entire latter half.

Hewson has a very nice touch with descriptions, both of persons and of locales so that you get the sense of being in a place. He has also a deft touch with dialogue and his plotting and timing are quite good.

As this seems to be about a serial killer, it isn't really my kind of book; however, this one succeeded for me with one minor flaw. The beginning of the book is told with a sharp focus on the interior monologue of one character (a major characcter) from whom the focus shifts abruptly. While even this is done well, the effect does stand out in reflecting on the work.

Obviously not one for the annals of all time, but given the current crop of popular writers and their proclivity toward being utterly unreadable, this is a welcome addition to the ranks of mystery writers. Exotic (for me) locales and interesting characters combine to produce a book with distinctly above average appeal.


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The Viaduct Murder Ronald A. Knox


I'm glad that Msgr. Knox's reputation is secured in other arenas because whle this may have made the famous "Haycraft" list, it is an understatement to call it a disappointment. Written as the skeleton of a golden age mystery with four ciphers analyzing the murder of yet another cipher, the writing is undistinguished. The characterization makes Agatha Christie at her very worst look like Leo Tolstoy. These four golfing buddies start talking and except for quirks noted by another of the talking heads they are indistinguishable.

Add to that some of the usual nonsense circulating around railway schedules and you have the ingredients for what might be a pastiche of the Golden Age mystery if Mr. Knox himself had not prized it so highly.

Unless you are a student of the Golden Age, give this one a big miss.

Status: Recommended for serious students of the genre only.

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Book List


Presently reading Ronald Knox The Viaduct Murder. It is listed in one of the definitive lists (the Haycraft list) as one of the great works of detective fiction. I'm not far into it at this point, however, I do have high hopes for it.

Also reading Mandelbrot's The (Mis)Behavior of Markets. I think I've made sufficiently clear my deep admiration for the mathematics of Benoit Mandelbrot; although there seems to be about him a certain air of insecurity that demands frequent mention of "my work" and "my research." I shouldn't think he would have anything to be defensive about, but perhaps the world of economics research and scholarship is more cutthroat than I realize.

I'm also alternating between Ascent to Love and a book of short essays Carmelite Prayer. These were a thoughtful and utterly unexpected gift. And they are a magnificent way to start the New Year.

On deck, as it were, are a number of birthday and Christmas gifts.

Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange (Or vice versa, can't seem to keep in mind the order of the names
Will in the World Nominated for the national book award and splendidly written study of Shakespeare's "secrets."
And a large number of books by Evelyn Waugh including 9 travel books, the Men at Arms trilogy, Black Mischief, Scoop, and The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfoil Waugh is, however, best taken in very small doses. I do have on my list for purchase as soon as it comes available a dual biography--Ronald Knox and Edmund Campion. (I have a copy of the Edmund Campion and remember reading it and not being terribly impressed, often having to read a single sentence seven or eight times to get the logic of the paragraph flow. I am now more used to Waugh's style and hope that the difficulty was merely unfamiliarity. Also, his biography of St. Helena is being reissued. I intend to read that as well. Waugh is perhaps my perfect counterfoil because his view of the world is so diametrically opposed to my own. I find what Waugh writes appealing, but a good deal less than hilarious most of the time. Even the "comic masterpieces" such as The Loved One do not really touch me with a sense of comedy. Perhaps it is too dark. Nevertheless, I find what he writes enormously appealing once I got over the Brideshead Revisited anomaly. Curiously unlike anything else I have read by him.

There are other books--I'm still reading in fits and starts Anna Karenina and intend to read other translations by these authors--most particularly Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov which I have heretofore found utterly impenetrable.

And so the list continues and unwinds.

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Preston and Cloud's latest collaboration lives up to their previous efforts, and as in most cases is curiously disappointing. After setting us up in the supernatural realm, as all too often in Dean Koontz, we find out that everything has a nice, neat, rational explanation.

More "problematic" is that this book is the lead-in to the next in the series featuring Pendergast, and so we are left hanging (somewhat.)

Much of my dissatisfaction may stem from the sheer oddity of Pendergast, a character who seems to be a throw-back to childhood memories of Sherlock Holmes, with his eccenctricities and little pretentious tics.

Nevertheless, I would say that it is a fine book for wasting time and better by far than much of the drivel that is published for that purpose. So, a fairly enjoyable ride if you aren't looking for plot logic or rigor or much in the way of characterization (people seem to be an assembly of tics, motions, and body parts rather than fully realized human beings). But then, there's lots of mystery and some fun to even things out.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Books and Book Reviews category from January 2005.

Books and Book Reviews: December 2004 is the previous archive.

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