The Colour of Blood, Declan Hughes

May 31st, 2007

Title: THE COLOUR OF BLOOD
Author: Declan Hughes
Publisher: Hachette Livre
Edition released: May 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7195-6841-1
346 pages
Review by: Karen Chisholm

THE COLOUR OF BLOOD is the second Ed Loy novel by Declan Hughes, the first being The Wrong Kind of Blood, published in 2006.

Ed Loy is a Private Investigator in current day Dublin, Ireland - a place that's part gritty, poor, desperate and part rich, privileged, twisted. Shane Howard is a Dublin dentist, and the son of Dr John Howard, a pillar of Dublin Irish Society, famous in the local area, with a legacy that is maintained by his family. Shane's 19 year old daughter Emily has gone missing and now he is getting blackmail threats and sexually explicit photographs of her - Shane is not sure if she's being abused or if she's a willing participant.

What starts off as a fairly straight-forward job locating the missing Emily and tracking down the source of the photographs rapidly gets more and more complicated as digging around in the Howard family starts to reveal a lot of skeletons in everyone's closets.

There are a few reasons why you'd wonder if this was a good book or not. There's the tortured, embittered, lost, hard-drinking PI in Ed but for many reasons he may teeter on the edge of the cliché, but he never quite tips over. There's the wealthy, seemingly successful Howard family, rotten to the core with all sorts of secrets and tacky goings on, but stereotypical in many ways, however there's something engaging, human, interesting in many of the members of that family.

There are a lot of subplots in THE COLOUR OF BLOOD. As Emily is found and the blackmailers are being tracked down, there are events in and surrounding the family from years ago, leading up to current day, that are rapidly revealed. The book roars along at a rapid pace with revelation and resolution overlapping themselves at every twist.

There's also a great sense of irony, of gentle humour, the cast of characters certainly help with that. The dentist Shane, whose Medical Doctor father never quite "approved" of his choice of career. Sandra, the Irish Princess, sister of Shane, family manipulator, she of the vaguely Gothic look, swooping down from the family estates to rescue Emily and her son Jonathan. Jonathan and his purposely put on private school boy touches. None of these humorous touches are overdone but they balance the brutality of many of the other aspects of the novel.

Finally, there's a great sense of place in THE COLOUR OF BLOOD. Current day Dublin with its wealth, opportunity, developers and 21st century values are contrasted brutally against the greed, exploitation, societal manipulation, hypocrisy, criminal gangs, drugs and violence. And ultimately that's the crux of the whole book - if something's rotten at the core, then it doesn't matter a damn where that something is positioned on the social scale - the damage lingers and it will come back to bite you.

Frankie, Kevin Lewis

May 28th, 2007

Title: FRANKIE
Author: Kevin Lewis
Publisher: Penguin
Edition released: April 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7181-4312-0
373 pages
Review by: Karen Chisholm

If "About the Author" in the press release is to be believed, then in FRANKIE, Kevin Lewis is writing about a world not that far from the one he grew up in.

On a cold London evening Frankie, a young woman with a sad past, now living on the streets, has no choice when a drug dealer, pimp and lowlife targets the very young Mary - a recent street kid, still pretty, still not drawn into addiction and degradation. Frankie fights for Mary and the pimp dies. Frankie is now not just on the streets with her own past to deal with, but she's running from the police, from the consequences of the fight.

In the process Frankie mugs another young woman - not realising that Rosemary has just broken into her bosses computer, and the necklace that Frankie grabbed contained the evidence that the Fraud Squad desperately need to keep Rosemary safe as well.

Frankie finds she can run, she can escape from her past and from the events of that night, but only for so long. Sometimes your actions come back to haunt you years later and in Frankie's case, the consequences are more dire when you actually have more to lose.

There's a lot to like in FRANKIE and there's a lot to feel a bit let down by. The direness and desperation of life on the streets is really well drawn in the early parts of the book, and the events that happen to send Frankie on the run tear along at a great pace with good tension and the reader's interest is firmly held. The consequences of what seems like a simple case of purse snatching by Frankie are a sobering twist and Mary's fate is no holds barred confrontational. Frankie is a good character in that she has guts and determination and a willingness to try again, despite everything that has happened and does happen to her.

Possibly that is the source of a feeling of being slightly let down, the events that sent Frankie to the streets were overly predictable - the characterisations of her mother and stepfather too formulaic; the sudden remembrance of evidence of her past too contrived. Frankie's rescue from poverty and despair was a little on the unbelievable side, and her achievement of everything a girl could possibly hope for mildly over-sentimental. The conclusion where everything she's built for herself is threatened and torn apart as a result of the actions of years before, on top of all of that build up just seemed a bit on the melodramatic side.

Graphic, Shane Briant

May 27th, 2007

Title: GRAPHIC
Author: Shane Briant
Publisher: Marburg Press
Edition released: February 2005
ISBN: 0957882610
274 pages
Review by: Karen Chisholm

There are a stack of books lurking in a corner in my lounge room that are from little / basically unknown Australian authors and I've been promising to catch up on my reading of them to myself for ages now. GRAPHIC was my most recent read from that pile and I'm really pleased I finally got around to it. Straight from the back cover of the book:

"A writer of graphic novels, in an attempt to rescue a kidnapped father of two children, is taken over by his own fictional creation, tough guy P.I. "Sainte-Claire", and undergoes a terrifying metamorphosis.

Set in the Sydney underworld, against a backdrop of a crime war between rival mobsters, Kings Cross' hard man Tim Brierley is pitted against Cabramatta's Vietnamese crime identity Mr Chin."

Now I'm not sure that the blurb actually does the book total justice as the "take over" or "metamorphosis" is not unconscious - there's no woo woo element here. Slowly mild-mannered graphic crime book writer (don't call them comics please), finds that adopting the clothing style, the speech patterns and the general demeanour of his main character, helps in gaining respect, in establishing a persona, in giving him the guts to go up against Brierley and Chin to help the very young (but terrifyingly grown up) daughters of the kidnapped man.

At all stages Robert is aware that he's enjoying being Saint-Claire more and more and this worries him, frightens his girlfriend profoundly and changes his life totally.

It's not the world's most complex or intricate plot and it's not one of those novels that you finish and think, wow, that was a life changing experience. Frankly the very precocious young daughters of the kidnapped man nauseated me ever so slightly, but it was a good read. Robert Howard was a great character to spend some time with, and that idea of having to put on a character, change into somebody else to handle a difficult situation, was interesting. The author's also written "Bite of the Lotus" which I'll excavate from the pile one day.

Plaster Sinners, Colin Watson

May 26th, 2007

Wandering around in Wormhole Books in Belgrave South last Saturday, you have no idea how pleased I was to find a copy of Plaster Sinners by Colin Watson. This is the last of his 13 Flaxborough novels that I've been looking for for such a long time.

Colin Watson is one of the great under-appreciated and discussed British Writers as far as I'm concerned. His Flaxborough Series, written between the late 1950's and 1980 (he died in 1982) are a magnificent example of the slightly cheeky, irreverant but never scorning, school of the ever so slightly absurb Crime Fiction.

The entire set is:

Coffin, Scarcely Used (1958)
Bump in the Night (1960)
Hopjoy Was Here (1962)
Lonelyheart 4122 (1967)
Charity Ends at Home (1968)
Flaxborough Chronicle (1969)
The Flaxborough Crab aka Just What the Doctor Ordered (1969)
Broomsticks Over Flaxborough aka Kissing Covens (1972)
The Naked Nuns aka Six Nuns and a Shotgun (1975)
One Man's Meat aka It Shouldn't Happen to a Dog (1975)
Blue Murder (1979)
Plaster Sinners (1980)
Whatever's Been Going on at Mumblesby? (1982)

All of them are fantastic, witty, slightly silly, but ultimately sound mysteries with a strong plot and engaging characters.

Plaster Sinners is the tale of poor Detective Sargeant Sidney Love, an amiable sort of a policeman, and the mystery of why, when all he was doing was attending the local antique auction, somebody should take it upon themselves to hit him over the head with a doorknob. At the time he was simply appraising Lot Thirty-Four - comprising two golf balls, an LMS railway tumbler, an old meat mincer, two decanter stoppers, a soap dish and a moulded relief of a cottage entitled "At the End of Life's Lane". Enquiring minds, in the shape of Inspector Purbright, are also somewhat exercised when the same lot is keenly pursued at the auction by the local Gentry, a solicitor and a stranger who promptly take the bidding to the princely sum of 400 pounds.

For a marvellous essay on Colin Watson's books have a look at: http://lifeloom.com/I4EwenerWatsonR.htm

And if you've never read any of his wonderful novels, well, rectify that as soon as you possibly can.

The Malice Box, Martin Langfield

May 18th, 2007

Title: THE MALICE BOX
Author: Martin Langfield
Publisher: Penguin
Edition released: February 2007
ISBN: 0718148673
429 pages
Review by: Karen Chisholm

Create a fantasy quest, add a mystery and some thriller elements, include an online community and game and THE MALICE BOX is something way outside the normal, expected style of Thriller or Fantasy Quest novel.

Robert Reckliss (yes that is his name) is seemingly just another Englishman in New York. He and his wife Katherine originally met at Cambridge, at the same time that they both fell under the spell of the mercurial Adam - who has continued to appear and disappear from their lives since their school days.

When Robert receives what seems to be a simple copper puzzle box, both he and Katherine assume this is just another one of Adam's little practical jokes or puzzles. But that night one of Robert's acquaintances kills himself in curious circumstances and the existence of an arcane weapon that could wipe the Western world from the face of the planet is revealed. Suddenly, New York in the year 2004 is a battleground to the death between ancient forces and Robert must use his spiritual powers to overcome seven mystical trials - Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether, Mind and Spirit. Only then can he come face to face with evil in a disused subway station beneath City Hall and save the World from destruction.

THE MALICE BOX is definitely unusual. Set in current day New York there's a really weird combination of the arcane and the current day - New York interwoven into a plot that is sometimes told in current day language, sometimes in something more Gothic and elaborate. It has a highly complex plot combining the alchemical and the mystical, taking characters on a journey of danger and self-discovery.

Because the THE MALICE BOX is a combination of fantasy, thriller and mystery it is a different reading experience from a standard, more conventional thriller. It is also different from a lot of recent big-name thrillers in that it does have the adventure or the quest, but the characters are an important component at the same time. The fantastical aspects of THE MALICE BOX will require an acceptance of the unexpected and the other-worldly which is not going to appeal to all readers. The combination of the styles of language - the gothic and the everyday is also obvious at points in the book - not necessarily completely off-putting, but unusual enough to stand out.

The online game at http://www.maliceboxquest.com/ is still running, although the prize competition is resolved. Playing the game adds a level of interest and multi-media experience that could just be that little something different that you're looking for.