Thursday, May 26, 2016

#26: The Bat by Jo Nesbo

Oslo cop Harry Hole is a fish out of water in the Australian Outback, tasked to find out who murdered a minor Norwegian celebrity (and salvage his career at the same time) in Jo Nesbo's initial novel in this crackling crime series, The Bat.

A good mystery, but also interesting as a study of a very flawed protagonist (and almost equally flawed supporting characters) as well as perspectives on Australian life.

Nesbo was already a big star in Norway when his newer books began to come out in English, so publishers have scrambled to shore up the gaps in his bibliography.  In this post-Stieg Larsson era, I recommend Nesbo and Arnaldur Indriðason to anyone trying to fill the void after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I found this in a used English-language bookstore in Rome and read it on the long flight home.

Monday, May 23, 2016

#25: The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette

A super-cool killer tries to get out of the game, but naturally nothing goes as planned in Jean-Patrick Manchette's existential crime novel The Prone Gunman.

In my readings of international fiction I have often seen Manchette name-checked alongside the works of people I really enjoy, like Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean-Claude Izzo, and Sebastien Japrisot, so when I saw a paperback of The Prone Gunman in a little English-language used bookstore in Rome I snapped it up.

Manchette definitely tries for a Jean-Paul Belmondo/Alain Delon kind of cool in his protagonist, but infuses the story with the ambience of Camus' The Stranger.  It is at the same time a crackling spy novel as well as a deconstruction of the genre. 

Overall highly rewarding for those readers interested in this style and time period.  I consumed this very quickly over a night or two in Rome.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

#24: Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt

Tough Oslo cop Hanne Wilhelmsen hunts a serial killer targeting immigrants in Anne Holt's Blessed Are Those Who Thirst.

Holt writes very hard-nosed mysteries with rich characterizations, making a satisfying read overall. 

Holt arrived on the English-language scene with 1222, a very tightly-wound locked-room style thriller, and now her older novels are rightfully being translated and filled in, like other successful Scandinavian writers before her finding hungry readers in the States.

I bought this in a used bookstore in Chicago but read it very quickly on a recent trip to Italy.  I need to look for more of Holt's novels featuring Wilhelmsen.  Recommended for Scandinavian mystery fans.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

#23: A Beam of Light by Andrea Camilleri

World-weary Sicilian cop Montalbano deals with a spate of crimes as a long-time relationship falters in Andrea Camilleri's A Beam of Light.

Camilleri has written a long-running series of police procedurals that have been popular in Italy and world-wide, and I grab one whenever I find one (this one I landed for a shiny quarter at a library book sale).  They are in general broadly comic, with gritty crimes (though this one sports an especially melancholy ending).

Here there are arms smugglers, art thieves, and other general criminal types, all framed by a prophetic dream Montalbano has at the outset of a trying week.

Camilleri's novels are solid mysteries with an international flavor.  I read this in a few nights while, ironically, in Italy.

Monday, May 16, 2016

#22: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

The drama of the Cultural Revolution ultimately leads to the rise of an alien invasion from a relentless, seemingly unstoppable foe in Liu Cixin's mind-blowing sci-fi epic The Three-Body Problem.

Readers of this blog know that I consume books voraciously, so I don't take lightly writing that The Three-Body Problem is the most astounding science fiction novel I have read in a long time--one has not altered my thinking so much since I finished Samuel R. Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, which turned me away from lantern-jawed Heinlein heroes to trippy Philip K. Dick antiheroes in an instant, never to look back.

I definitely skimmed a bit over the math and science, but just the sheer volume of ideas, and originality of thought, had my subconscious burbling for a long time.  Even though the novel is several inches thick, I read it in record time (although a long flight helped).

The Three-Body Problem is getting a lot of buzz and attention, and rightfully so.  It is on track to be my pick of the year, and I am recommending it to all fans of science fiction. 

I nabbed this off of Amazon in paperback and am on the prowl for the sequel.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

#21: A Legend of the Future by Augustín de Rojas

A spaceship is damaged, and the survivors try to navigate the failing craft back to Earth while hanging on to their own minds and bodies in Augustin de Rojas' A Legend of the Future.

A Legend of the Future is a classic slice of Cuban science fiction but lives right in the same neighborhood as Stanislaw Lem, the Strugatsky Brothers, and director Andrei Tarkovsky; and if this makes you rub your hands together in glee seek this novel out immediately.

It is a world- and time-spanning mindbender with political overtones and some unique storytelling even as it follows the conventions of the Soviet Bloc Sci-Fi of the era. Relentlessly downbeat throughout as we follow the struggle of our radiation-sick cosmonauts (and one disembodied brain), though with a surprisingly upbeat finish.

I bought this from Restless Books and consumed it quickly.