This is the third in a series of catch-up posts with short reviews of books that I’ve read over the past couple of months but haven’t been able to get round to writing about in any great detail. It’s not meant to imply that the books are any less worthy than those that get a post to themselves, just that I tend to read faster than I can blog and it seems better to provide a brief comment than nothing at all.
Dark Waters ~ G R Halliday
Dark Waters is the second novel in G R Halliday’s police procedural series featuring DI Monica Kennedy and if you have read From the Shadows, be warned, this one is every bit as disturbing. The heavily mutilated bodies of two very different men are discovered in the Highland district where Inverness based Kennedy operates. Although officially seconded to traffic at her own request after the traumatic events related in the earlier novel, Kennedy is asked to take the lead role in the case as the only available senior officer. Both victims are missing limbs and the indications are that they were alive when these body parts were removed.
Intercut with the story of the investigation is that of Annabelle, a young woman with a fast car in search of a stretch of road on which to test it out. When the inevitable happens Annabelle wakens to find herself strapped to a bed and being administered to by the ‘weird’ Marcus who alternatively uses the promise of the presence of the mysterious ‘Doc’ to reassure her and threaten her. The story then becomes both one of investigation and of a race against the clock to save Annabelle from the same fate as the earlier victims, although it is some time before the police realise this.
Like so many leading characters in modern crime novels, Monica Kennedy has a fractured past that haunts her current work: in her case problems that are linked by both a difficult family background and the repercussions of a previous investigation. I don’t feel that Halliday handles this aspect of the novel particularly well. There are too many hints and nods in the direction of what has happened to Kennedy in the past and Monica herself dwells on it pretty much all the time, but the reader never really discovers in any detail what those problems have been. The character and the story are strong enough to stand on their own and I found that I was simply being irritated and distracted by the constant references to the leading character’s own traumas. The same was true of the suggestions that Monica’s young daughter, Lucy, is in someway prescient and able to provide insights into current cases through her dream world. The story doesn’t need that. I did wonder if I was seeing the influence of James Oswald’s Tony McLeod novels here, but Oswald‘s point is surely a more universal one to do with the force of evil that will always accompany human desire for power and wealth. In Dark Waters the supernatural element seems added on rather than integral to the whole ethos behind the created world. Will I go back for a third novel? I’m not sure. Halliday writes well and plots well, but there is work to do on maintaining focus I think.
With thanks To Random House UK Vintage Publishing and NetGalley for the review copy.
Tales From the Folly ~ Ben Aaronovitch
As many of you will know, I am not a great reader of short stories. The one exception I’ve made over the past few years has been the tales that interleave the full-length novels, written by Jodi Taylor, chronicling the adventures of those intrepid observers of historical events in contemporary time (don’t call it time travel) from St Mary‘s Priory, Rushford. Taylor’s line in dry observation and witty dialogue lends itself very well to the form and, in addition, most of the stories move the overarching narrative forward and are therefore pretty much essential to the reader’s understanding of the developments in the lives of her much loved characters. I was hoping for something of the same from Ben Aaronovitch’s latest publication, Tales From the Folly, which is a collection of stories featuring both major and minor participants from his London based series featuring policeman and apprentice wizard, Peter Grant. However, while each of the (very) short stories and the even shorter “moments“ are perfectly enjoyable, they tend to read as what, for the most part, they are, which is responses to requests for a short piece of writing for a particular occasion. Consequently, while most of them do add the occasional insight into a particular participant‘s character, they don’t really further the overall narrative thrust or contribute to the development of the story world. This isn’t to say that they are not well written, they are, and there are frequent examples of Aronovitch’s trademark verbal wit, but too often they feel contrived, the characters placed in a situation designed to meet a requirement rather than to forward the overarching narrative in a necessary manner. I’m not sorry that I read them, but if I hadn’t it would not of made any difference to my understanding and enjoyment of the whatever novel is to follow the latest full-length story, False Values.
Hhm. I’m not convinced by sound of the Aaronovitch short stories – filler between novels? However, I still haven’t read beyond the second in the Rivers of London series – about 4 more on the shelf to get around to sometime.
I think the real problem, Annabel, is that they were written to forward the ongoing narrative but at the request of various organisations. As a result, they don’t feel as if they add anything to the story. There is quite a fad at the moment for short story length additions to series. I’ve just downloaded one by Jane Casey. Haven’t read it yet, so I don’t know if it works.
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I’ve not read anything by Aaronovitch but quite liked the sound of his short stories. It sounds as if I’d be better off starting with a novel.
Oh yes, Susan. You definitely need to start by reading Rivers of London. You don’t stand any hope of understanding what’s going on if you don’t.
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I don’t care much for the sound of the Halliday book, too much graphic violence, and dwelling on trauma for the sake of it.
Yes, Alyson. I wasn’t certain whether I wanted to read the second one because the first was so gory. I decided to give Halliday a second chance but I don’t think I should be going back for a third dose.
I was quite disappointed with False Values, so not sure I have appetite for more Aaronovitch at the moment. I did enjoy his previous short story and novella, A Rare Book of Cunning Device and The Furthest Station.
The first of those is included but not the second. Not sure why.
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I wonder if we’re ever going to get past the trope of the angst-ridden detective with a troubled past. It’s so tired now, and usually merely serves to pad out stories without enough substance to stand on their own.
Yes, FF, and here it’s being used as a tease as well. I don’t think I shall go back to this series.
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