Unfinished in ’15

The Complete Father Brown Stories: edited and with an introduction by Michael D. Hurley by G. K. Chesterton

Chesterton’s Father Brown had some influence on Andrew M. Greeley’s Blackie Ryan mysteries, a series from which I have drawn some enjoyment in the past. So when I came across this Penguin Classics edition offering all the Father Brown mysteries, I thought I would check it out.

Chesterton was born in 1874 and died in 1936, making him, like E.R. Burroughs, Lovecraft, C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien, a child of the Victorian era, with the attitudes that carries. He was also a Catholic, though he was baptized as a child into the C of E. Neither of these means you have to be a jerk, but they certainly raise the possibility.

It did not, therefore, surprise me to encounter the first “straw atheist” murderer as early as the second story in the book, and many, many more encountered throughout as I went on, but it wasn’t that which made me give up on it. I should add here that I’m not upset by Father Brown holding stupid ideas about atheism and atheists, but the omnipotent narrator holding those same beliefs is a bit annoying.

What made me put down the book is the story “the God of the Gongs”, which seems to revolve around a boxing match between a black man, “N****r Ned”, and an Italian, Malvoli. Father Brown and his Watson (really more of a Captain Hastings due to incompetence) Flambeau, wander into a resort town in the winter and find that it is being over-run by Italian boxing fans due to the match. But Father Brown finds a dead body hidden under a gazebo and somehow comes up with the idea that the man was killed by “N****r Ned” who is the head of a Hashishiyin-esque voodoo cult that Chesterton, as far as I can tell, pulled out of his arse and oh yes, all the so-called Italians in town are half-breeds (gasp!) followers of the afore-mentioned religion. This touches off a massive manhunt and makes life hell for all the blacks in Britain for months, all on the word of Father Brown (they never do catch Ned. Good job, Father B!). And it’s “n****r, n****r, n****r” until the end of the story. Oh, and early on in the story, before they know that Ned has done anything, he walks past Father Brown and Flambeau, leading the latter to say, “Sometimes, I’m not surprised that they lynch them.” The man has, at this point, done nothing more than walk! (To be fair to Father Brown, he replies that he is never surprised “at any work of hell”, by which I hope he meant lynching)

The stories are quite well-written and if you’re not bothered by straw-atheism and can handle the racism as an artifact of the writer’s age then you might enjoy the rest of the stories (there are quite a few stories in this volume).

And how, you ask, does it compare to Greeley? Well, Greeley was never much of a writer, but he seemed like a decent human being. Chesterton, on the other hand, was a great writer, but he doesn’t strike me much as a human.

Not recommended.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

“You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand” says the back cover of the book, and that does sound like a good time to stop fearng the old goat, if not perhaps a bit too late (but who am I to say? I’ve never held hands with the devil, though we did once dance in the pale moonlight. But enough about me), and of course you stop reading the book when it turns out to be too stupid to go on with (it is not necessary to hold hands with the book. In fact, I would say that if your book has hands, something has gone horribly wrong). Violet White lives by the sea in a big house once owned by her grandmother, whom she misses very much. Violet lives alone with her brother because their parents, who are artists and apparently have less parenting instinct and common sense than a salmon (please note: salmon lay and fertilize their eggs and then die, leaving the fry to raise themselves) have hied off to Europe, leaving the two teenagers to fend for themselves. As they have run out of money, Violet puts up posters offering to rent out their guest-house, and proceeds to let the first guy to come along, a handsome devil named River West, have it. And then things go horribly, horribly wrong, for instance, I put the book down and never picked it up again. I mean, it’s all very gothic in a bad way, none of the characters are interesting, and when I came to a sentence no human being would ever say, well, I’d had enough. I lasted about 50 pages, if you’re keeping track.

The Diabolical Miss Hyde: an electric empire novel by Viola Carr

I’ve never understood the appeal of the character Hannibal Lector. I did like the first couple of books, for a while, but I never wanted to re-read them and the films did absolutely nothing for me beyond ruin Merchant-Ivory’s oeuvre for me forever. Now, what, you ask, has that to do with this, unfinished, book?

There was a lot here I liked, right off the bat. Rather than just a typical steampunk world, Carr hands us one where magic and/or alchemy has ravaged Europe, leading to many revolutions etc. Not in England, though, where the Royal Society decides what’s science and what’s magic and what isn’t science is treason and they burn you at the stake. Our hero, Miss Eliza Jeckyll, is the daughter of the famous doctor and has inherited his formula and the accompanying dark side as well. Being a female doctor, she can’t hold a practice and so works part-time at Bedlam (the famous hospital for the insane, now upgraded with electrical restraints and holding not just the insane and the inconvenient, but also the partially fae) and also functions as a police forensic, working with Inspector Harley Griffin (who, so far as I read, showed no signs of turning invisible (yes, The Invisible Man is not actually given a second name; I’m just saying. Actually, the name rather reminded me of Hawley Crippen, about whom I read this year). They begin the book investigating a murder involving a Russian ballerina murdered and mutilated in a back alley and before they get anywhere on it they are joined by a Royal Society Investigator named Captain Remy Lafayette who proceeds to annoy them both.

We also learn that Eliza was involved in the capture of the killer known as Razor Jack, who killed 17 people. We shortly see, in a dream Eliza has (before waking up from a session as her alter-ego) that she actually confronted Jack, whose real name was Malachi Todd and who was a brilliant artist as well as a psychopath, Listening to their dialogue I got a bad feeling, but figured from the way things were going Todd probably didn’t survive the arrival of reinforcements, but later, when Eliza arrives at work, at Bedlam specifically, guess who turns up and starts muttering hints about the guy killing entertainers? I flipped ahead to the end and yep, we’re playing out a variation of the whole Hannibal/Clarice thing, which is such a turn-off I put the book down and now that I’ve written it up am reaching for the brain-bleach.

Seriously, there’s a lot that’s good here and if you don’t share my particular prejudices, you might find you like it. I, however, can’t recommend it.

The Last Page by Anthony Huso

According to his bio in the back of the book, Huso was a designer on Dishonoured, one of my favourite video games, featuring a society based sort-of on a steampunk Queen Elizabeth I. This book, presenting a kind of steampunk high fantasy society, was, I thought, worth giving a look. Caliph Howl (first name: Caliph. Last name: Howl) is meant to be High King of a Grand Duchy (or something), but at the start of the book he’s at a boarding school where they study something, I couldn’t figure out what. Possibly because most of the focus of that part of the story is on Caliph’s affair with female student Sena Iilool, who in fact is an undercover witch seeking a book of some kind, I think. Then she graduates ahead of him and goes away, but eventually sends him a letter telling him where to find her. He takes off after graduating rather than going back to his kingdom/duchy but by the time he gets there she’s been attacked by a mysterious thing that is somehow destroyed by something else and then she flees but before he can catch up with her the Duchy forces catch up with him and take him back.

I think it might have made more sense further on, and it’s an easy enough read despite the many strange words and unexplained things but it just doesn’t grip. I didn’t want to go any further. I kept finding excuses not to go on. So I didn’t.

Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky; translated by Natasha Randall

This Russian novel and its sequel were the basis for a duo of video games that come quite well recommended, albeit not by me, I haven’t played them yet. The setting is simple: nuclear war happened; the only known survivors in Moscow are gathered in the tunnels and stations of the Moscow subway. They live in tents in the open areas of the stations; they raise pigs and mushrooms. They fight off swarms of rats and strange mutants, and occasionally the crew from “the Red Line” who want to bring back soviet communism.

The hero of this book is one Artyom nolastnamegivenovich, who lives in relative comfort in the station VDNKh, with his adoptive father, Sasha, the soldier who rescued him from a station overrun by one of those swarms of rats I mentioned above. One day, Uncle Sasha is visited by a stranger named “Hunter”, who turns out to be a Stalker, one of the mysterious soldiers who actually dare to investigate the still irradiated surface. Hunter is concerned about the mysterious dark folk, mutants who may soon be entering the VDNKh area. Artyom has a guilty secret about that, so Hunter charges him with a vital task should Hunter not come back.

Of course, Hunter doesn’t come back, and Artyom has to set out on a odyssey through the tunnels of the Moscow Metro.

This is dark. Both literally (underground) and metaphorically (I peeked ahead to the ending). Maybe the sheer grimdarkness of it is why I couldn’t finish? Or maybe it’s that claustrophobic people shouldn’t read stories set mostly underground? It could even be the translation problem. The world may never know.

The Buried Life by Carrie Patel

Similar to the above, The Buried Life is set after a great catastrophe. The world (internal clues such as books recovered from the tale’s past suggest that it is our world, and thus the distant future) has begun to recover, but most people are still happier living underground. Inspector Liesl Malone is set to investigate the murder of a wealthy historian (with a rookie partner, of course, though Liesl is not close to retirement), but the case will have repercussions beyond what she expects. Grim, dark, and noir, for all that it’s well-written and contains a number of engaging characters I just couldn’t get through it.

The Age of Atheists: how we have sought to live since the death of god by Peter Watson

Oh, Philosophy. Why do you keep hurting me so? And why am I drawn back to you again and again? Basically, this book is as thick as a brick and about as much fun to read. I’m not even sure it has anything to do with atheism.

Master & Commander by Patrick O’Brian

I know a lot of people love this book, and I can’t figure out why. I gave it 200 pages to develop a plot. Or characters. Or anything, really, other than an infodump. On the plus side, though, if you need someone to run an 18th-century naval vessel, I’m now prepared for it.

Havoc: the Dred Chronicles by Ann Aguirre

I decided to give Aguirre another try, but you would think that someone who’s read as many books as I have would notice, when picking up a new book, that it’s the second book of a series, not the first. Which would explain a lot, such as the many references to characters no longer with us. But I did not, in fact, realise that until I started reading. I’m not sure it would have made any difference, though.

This is set on a old ship long decommissioned and converted into an orbital prison. With no real need for guards, the population has been left to Lord of the Flies themselves to death, which they have done by breaking up into various mutually antagonistic gangs. One Dred, known as “the Dread Queen” runs the district known as “Queensland” and is our token sane person. The story begins when what should be a shuttle full of supplies turns out to be full of heavily-armed mercenaries sent to clean the place out. Will our heroes survive? I read on long enough to realise I didn’t care (which is, at least, a step up from wishing for their deaths, as some books have left me feeling about the nominal heroes). I think I’m done with Aguirre.

This is set in the same universe as her earlier “Grimspace” novels, so if you enjoyed those you might like this series as well. Don’t start with this one, though.

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