Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Recommended Author

A Sinister Aura - Bret Herholz

And now for something completely different. If the autumn felt like a good time to be reading old detective novels set in simpler times, then the winter is definitely time for pulling the curtains closed, sticking on the fire and curling up in a big round chair, reading kids' books, ghost stories and comic books.

This is the first of Herholz's graphic novels I've read, though I've loved his Edward Gorey style illustrations since I first saw them (to the extent that I'm delighted that he has graciously agreed to do a cover for an upcoming Iris book).

It's the story of a strange suicide/murder in 19th century America and one potential, scandalous solution.

Herholz moves the story from its original 1889 setting to one about 30 years later, in order to make the apparently clairvoyant Miss Polly a little more modern while retaining the Crichton/Jeeves style manservant Handgraves (it's a lovely detail that these are the adventures of Polly and Handgraves, and not vice-versa as one might expect). It's a good idea, I think, as the drawing (which is particularly fabulous in those panels which feature what appear to be ghosts) lends itself particularly well to the post-Victorian period.

The mystery is intriguing, the writing taut and without a pound of waste and the illustration and lettering all top notch. Throw in an additional short story, a note from the author and a preview of Herholz's next work, and this comes highly recommended to anyone looking for something more than the latest Spider-Man.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

(Hardly any) Winter Reading

Just been thinking about books I've read recently and I seem to have stopped reading altogether. By my mental count I read exactly four books (not counting graphic novels) in November - four! I read more books when I was six.

And as one of those was the magical Hell's Belles (Which is dedicated to me, doncha know, and so deserves a post of its own), I might as well describe the three I did read...

Murder on the Brighton Express - Edward Marsden

This is the fifth in the best selling Railway Detective series, a series that I've been meaning to take a look at for ages. It was OK, competently written (which is all you need really in mystery novels) but like loads of these kinds of serial historical books the mystery is fairly unmysterious and the characters fall fairly neatly into 'black', 'white' and 'Looks So White that He's Bound to be Black'. Also, it's just Peter Lovesey's Cribb novels (or more specifically, the excellent TV adaptations starring Alan Dobie) with more steam engines and fewer interesting idiosyncracies.

The Pilot to Cribb

The Fallen - Dave Simpson

This, on the other hand, is like a Fall single rather than anything as flashy as a tv show. It's a series of short, repetitive pieces - look for ex-Fall member A, find him/her, chat about the way in which Mark E Smith tormented/facilitated member A, look for ex-Fall member B - each headed by a grainy black and white photograph.

'Repetition' - The Fall

"Repetition in the music and we're never gonna lose it", and while Simpson (like the Fall themselves) mainly avoids the tedium that kind of repeated refrain can cause, it's a close run thing at times. Fairly obviously one for the fans only...

Blackberry Wine - Joanne Harris

I haven't read Chocolat, Joanne Harris' massive international success and had a vague half-idea in the back of my head that it was the kind of book I don't like - full of people sighing at each other's European beauty combined with an extended and over-stretched metaphor acting as the spine of the story.

Maybe Chocolat is, but Blackberry Wine - the second of the author's self-described Food Trilogy - isn't. Instead it's an involving story of an author with one big literary hit behind him and a future filled with booze and a series of psuedonymous hack novels churned out to pay the bills. Then he opens a bottle of homemade wine left to him by an old friend...

It doesn't sound like much - in fact it sounds like it's verging perilously close on the sighing at beauty/over-extended metaphor territory - but Harris has a lovely style, her writing is warm like red wine, rich like good chcolate and full of unexpected moments of brilliance, like...hmmm...a Victoria Wood sitcom (damn, blew it!).

In the style of food and wine magazines everywhere (the edition I read actually came free with Good Food Magainze), this book is a perfect accompaniment to falling leaves and dropping temperatures.

And I've not read it yet, but Elaine (bless her cotton socks) finally repaid me for stealing my copy of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (and the Abbess of Crewe probably, plus sundry Asterix books) twenty odd years ago by sending me beautiful Folio Society edition of the book for my fortieth birthday. She's a star (and a big thief, obviously, but still - a star). Though pointing out that she was pushing the boat out for my 40th because I might well not make 50 was a wee tad harsh, if you ask me.

So I'll read that next, then invigorate my reading palatte by battering through some trash. A
Star Trek: Enterprise tie-in and EC Tubb's Space 1999 book, perhaps, or a couple of the Doctor Who NSAs and a certain someone's Merlin books (which are at least bound to be well written even if the need to remain true to the tv series has potentially emasculated anything interesting in the story).
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