Thursday, 6 February 2014

A few reviews...

In the Shadow of Gotham (Simon Ziele, #1)In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This novel won the author two awards for best first crime novel and I am trying to figure out why. The premise of the novel is good - turn of the (20th) century New York is the location, combined with an insight into the suffragette movement, the emerging sciences of forensics and psychological profiling, a detective who has a decent back-story and a suitably disturbed killer. Sadly, Pintoff failed to deliver.

There was no feeling of place – New York was as flat as a theatre back-drop; the characters suffered the same fate. The detective, Ziele, may have had an interesting back-story but at no point was I able to feel the grief that Ziele was apparently experiencing. The research which Pintoff had evidently carried out was shown in the way of facts scattered throughout the narrative, but the activities of suffragettes, criminologists and the police were not engaging or enlightening. As a result I felt disconnected from characters and storyline alike.

The pace of a thriller is crucial, it needs to keep you engaged and in suspense until the denouement. Pintoff felt the need to explain her character’s emotions and ideas not just in their speeches but repeated in clunky narrative. These repetitions were unnecessary; I felt like a schoolchild being led by the hand. Just when the storyline picked up pace, like the horses drawing Ziele up the hill to the murder scene in Dobson, we stumbled over a loose cobblestone of narrative; momentum was lost. A decent editor could have made this a smoother read. But the most disappointing aspect of the novel was the fact that I was able to work out the identity of the killer 1/3 of the way through; and so should have the supposedly intelligent detective.

In short, ‘In the Shadow of Gotham’ promised much but was a disappointing read.



View all my reviews The Library of ShadowsThe Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I selected this book from the shelf as it provided me with an immediate mental connection to Zafon's Cemetery of Forgotten Books trilogy. That may be the reason for my rating only being a 3 instead of a 4...

Birkegaard is not Zafon; he cannot create the mental imagery that sucks you so completely into the novel in the way that Zafon can. Whether this is due to the skill level of his translator, it is hard to say; but whilst the concept of Lectors (people able to influence readings through one means or another) is a wonderful concept it was not as convincing as it could have been.

That is not to say that the novel is a complete wash-out, it isn't; it moves along at the right pace for a thriller and it reaches a suitable climax. However, I found that the twists were too well indicated - more slight bends in the road with 100 metres of chevrons leading up to them - and there was little enlightening from the literary history aspect. Birkegaard is not on a par with Umberto Eco as far as weaving historical aspects of literature into his work is concerned (having said that, I found Eco's 'The Prague Cemetery' to be one of the best soporifics on the market).

But when all is said and done this is a good novel for literature-focused thriller escapsim. I would love to have the power of a transmitting Lector and create compelling pictures in the minds of listeners when I read a book out loud, and because of this wonderful idea it receives the rating it does.

View all my reviews The Little StrangerThe Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Faraday is not a particularly likeable or reliable narrator but they way in which Sarah Waters writes pulls you in regardless.
I could not say that I found the ghost story 'chilling' or that it made me 'want to sleep with the light on' as some of the cover blurb would have it. However, I did find it enjoyable; I felt for the characters (except Faraday who seemed to have only one attainment in mind, and it wasn't Caroline), and could recognise some the description of old estates falling into ruin due to lack of funds for the once wealthy gentry.
Sarah Waters is immensely skilled at recreating historical periods and the shift of power and position from the old families to the nouveau riche and the 'coming men' of the working class is subtly weaved throughout the novel. A most enjoyable read, but nowhere near as good as 'Fingersmith'.

View all my reviews Sacred HeartsSacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sarah Dunant writes beautifully. From the very beginning I was transported into 1570 and the closed world of the Benedectine nuns of Ferrara. It is not only a historical trip back to Renaissance Italy when the Catholic Church retaliated against the Protestant Reformation, it is a look at the minds of women. The full duplicity of women is brought to the fore, along with their weaknesses and strengths. Science vies with faith, politics with religion and youth with age.

Do not expect descriptions of Ferrara, a university town in the north of Italy, everything takes place behind the convent walls. Do not expect a complicated plot with multiple twists and turns. Do expect a vivid,suspenseful account of how a young novice, entered into the order against her will affects the running of the convent bringing out the good and the bad in the sisters. This is a well-researched, mesmerising narrative that moves at the pacce of a thriller, whilst providing cold comfort.

I heartily recommend this novel.

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