Deal Me In, Week 44 ~ “Abraham’s Boys”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Abraham’s Boys” by Joe Hill

Card picked: 9
Found at: Fifty-Two Stories

“Do you believe in vampires, Max?”

Rudy was on his knees in front of an ottoman across the room. He had hunched over to collect a few papers which had settled there, then stayed to look at the battered doctor’s bag tucked underneath it. Rudy tugged at the rosary knotted around the handles.

When it came time to read Dracula during my senior year of high school, it was a reread for me. So, while still following along with the class, I decided to read Dracula and pay attention to how insane Dr. Van Helsing is. If there weren’t vampires, zealous Abraham Van Helsing could almost be a villain.

In “Abraham’s Boys,” Joe Hill plays a what if game. What if Mina marries Van Helsing after Johnathan dies? (No details on how *that* happened.) What if they have two sons? What if they move to America before Mina’s also unfortunate end? What if… maybe… there are no vampires even though the old man teaches his sons that there are?

Oh, that this story would have been picked last week, but hey, who says the Halloween spirit can’t continue on? The ending is pretty hair-raising and offers no answers. I haven’t read much Joe Hill; this is definitely my favorite of his works thus far.

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Review ~ Nothing to Devour

This book was provided to me by Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley for review consideration.

Nothing to Devour cover

Nothing to Devour by Glen Hirshberg

Librarian Emilia is alone in a library that is soon to close its doors forever. Alone save for one last patron, his head completely swathed in bandages, his hands gloved, not one inch of skin exposed. Emilia feels sorry for him–like her, he is always alone.

Today, he sees, really sees, Emilia.
What he does to her then is unspeakable.

Thousands of miles away, another victim rises—a dead woman who still lives. Sophie is determined to protect the people she loves best in the world—but she is a monster.

To Jess, it doesn’t matter that Sophie was once as close to her as her own daughter. It doesn’t matter that Sophie’s baby died so that Jess’s grandson could live. It only matters that Sophie is a vampire.

Vampires can’t be trusted.
Even if they love you.

Aunt Sally loved all the monsters she’d created in the hundreds of years since she died and rose again. She loved her home in the bayou. When her existence was exposed to the human world, she didn’t hesitate to destroy her home, and her offspring, to save herself. Herself, and one special girl, Aunt Sally’s last chance to be a perfect mother.

These people are drawn together from across the United States, bound by love and hatred, by the desire for reunification and for revenge.

In their own ways, they are all monsters.
Some deserve to live.
Some do not. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Glen Hirshberg is currently my favorite horror author.

What Worked
One of the strong points of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire was its themes of family set among a group of monsters. That novel (and its sequels) only barely scratches the surface in comparison to Glen Hirshberg’s Motherless Children trilogy, which concludes with Nothing to Devour. As a Gen X writer, it’s not surprising that Hirshberg begins with a base of found family on which to build his monsters.

In the aftermath of Good Girls (book 2), Jess flees with  her grandson and the remaining survivors, including orphan Rebecca, to a remote island in the Pacific northwest. What she establishes isn’t quite family, but it’s all she, and they, have. Their relationships are a contrast to Emily’s strong family ties, though she is trying to grow-up and away from her parents. That’s before her “Invisible Man” intervenes.

Don’t misunderstand, this trilogy isn’t all family drama. Not in the least. Hirshberg doesn’t shy away from shock and gore. He just makes sure you care about the characters first.

What Didn’t Work
I really wish I would have reread Motherless Child and Good Girls leading up to Nothing to Devour. This *is* the final book in a trilogy. It doesn’t stand alone and its cast is large enough that I didn’t entirely remember who was who at the beginning of the book.

I also still maintain that Hirshberg does his best, most unsettling, work in shorter forms. While these novels are solidly horror, they lack the gnawing chills of stories like “Struwwelpeter” or “Mr. Dark’s Carnival” (from his collection The Two Sams).

Overall
I had pretty much put a stake into vampires as a good literary monster before Motherless Child. The entire Motherless Children trilogy is a great resurrection of the trope.

Publishing info, my copy: Epub, Tor, release date: Nov. 6, 2018
Acquired: NetGalley, 7/24/18
Genre: horror

Deal Me In, Week 43 ~ “The Fish of Lijiang”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Fish of Lijiang” by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu

Card picked: 4
Found at: Clarksworld

It’s the fault of that damned mandatory physical exam. On the last page of the report were the words: PNFD II (Psychogenic Neural-Functional Disorder II). Translated into words normal people can understand, they say that I’m messed up and I must take two weeks off to rehabilitate.

Our narrator is sent to Lijiang to “rehabiliate.” While he is there he is not allowed to have his personal electronics, not even a watch. He’s left to laze about, maybe take in some traditional Nixi music (now played by robot bands), and theorize about the strange, ubiquitous stray dogs. That is until he meets a mysterious woman, a special care nurse who is also doing mandatory rehab.

The science fiction elements in this story are very light. Robots, holograms, time dilation and compression: they’re all used in a sort of depressingly mundane way. I’ll be honest, I’m pretty lukewarm about this story. With an unsympathetic narrator, not enough setting, and an only okay plot, I’m glad it wasn’t longer.

Deal Me In, Week 42 ~ “The Frolic”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Frolic” by Thomas Ligotti

Card picked: K

David felt his own words lingering atmospherically in the room, tainting the serenity of the house. Until then their home had been an insular haven beyond the contamination of the prison, an imposing structure outside the town limits. Now its psychic imposition transcended the limits of physical distance.

David is a psychologist at a prison hospital. Over after-dinner drinks, he tells his wife about one of his patients, a child killer known only as John Doe who claims to have let himself be caught.* Doe won’t give his real name and claims that he has many names, thousands even (or maybe legions?). While Doe’s case is interesting, David has decided he needs to leave the job, especially considering what John Doe said to him at the end of  the day’s interview.

I’m not sure this story really worked for me. The dialogue has a stilted, heightened feel to it that takes away some of the story’s tension. I haven’t read any Ligotti before despite his reputation in the horror community. I don’t know whether that’s indicative of his style or only this story.

* This was  six years before the movie Seven in which a serial killer known as John Doe lets himself be caught. As far as I can tell one was not an inspiration for the other. They are fairly different stories, but I found it interesting in light of the controversy over season one of True Detective: it seems possible that the writer of the show lifted some of Ligotti’s bleaker ideas.

This story counts for Peril of the Short Story!

Perilous Details

Review ~ The Moving Blade

This book was provided to me by the author (and NetGalley) for review consideration.

Cover via Goodreads

The Moving Blade by Michael Pronko

When the top American diplomat in Tokyo, Bernard Mattson, is killed, he leaves more than a lifetime of successful Japan-American negotiations. He leaves a missing manuscript, boxes of research, a lost keynote speech and a tangled web of relations.

When his alluring daughter, Jamie, returns from America wanting answers, finding only threats, Detective Hiroshi Shimizu is dragged from the safe confines of his office into the street-level realities of Pacific Rim politics.

With help from ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi, Hiroshi searches for the killer from back alley bars to government offices, through anti-nuke protests to military conspiracies. When two more bodies turn up, Hiroshi must choose between desire and duty, violence or procedure, before the killer silences his next victim. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is the second book in the Detective Hiroshi series.  I read the first book The Last Train in May of 2017 and enjoyed it. The Moving Blade picks up in the aftermath of the first, but a new reader wouldn’t be lost picking up this book.

A moving blade is unseen, hidden in the blur of motion, felt but not perceived.

What Worked
While Pronko’s Tokyo is still very vivid, I enjoyed the characters more than the setting this time around. I really like that Hiroshi’s forte is sorting through data. It’s office-bound work that doesn’t get a lot of play in detective novels for maybe obvious reasons. Here, though, it works narratively. Hiroshi is always trying to balance his preferred work with the necessity of leaving the office. My two favorite supporting characters from the first book—ex-sumo Sakaguchi and assistant Akiko—are both given expanded roles because one man can’t do everything. The slightly beyond-the-law Takamatsu, who annoyed me a little in The Last Train, has been suspended from the police force, and given a lesser role which probably works better for the character.

Something that is possibly endearing to only me: the characters eat often. Characters meet and talk at bars and restaurants, which people do. To recuse myself, I probably have an affinity for this because it’s something characters do in my writings.

The plot held together really well. While The Moving Blade goes bigger in terms of socio-politics, it’s still at heart a murder mystery. The story never loses sight of that. I enjoyed the bigger scope without this becoming an out-and-out thriller.

What Didn’t Work
I had a couple minor quibbles (like a porter on a train not smelling and being suspicious of a man who had been pepper sprayed), but one major one. At a couple times during the story, characters turn off cellphones or do not return messages…for reasons. These instances aren’t entirely used to drive plot (thank goodness), but they are obstacles that could easily be avoided and therefore kind of chafe. The reasons given later for the behaviors are okay, but we’re in the middle of a murder investigation—return your calls!

Overall
Despite the above, I really enjoyed The Moving Blade. Pronko again brought Tokyo (at least a version of it) to life for me and peopled it with good characters doing interesting things. That’s pretty much a trifecta for me.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Raked Gravel Press, on sale Sept. 30, 2018
Acquired: copy provided by the author, 8/17/18
Genre: mystery, thriller

 

Review ~ Houdini and Conan Doyle

Cover via Goodreads

Houdini and Conan Doyle by Christopher Sandford

In the early twentieth century, Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini were two of the most famous men alive, and their relationship was extraordinary:

Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the ultra-rational detective Sherlock Holmes, nonetheless believed in the supernatural. After eleven family members, including his son and brother, were killed in the First World War, he searched tirelessly for word from the dead.

Harry Houdini, the great magician, was a friend of Conan Doyle’s but a sceptic when it came to the supernatural. As a master of illusion, he used his knowledge to expose psychics who he believed exploited people’s insecurity and grief.

Drawing on previously unpublished archive material, this sensational story of two popular geniuses conjures up the early twentieth century and the fame, personalities and beliefs that would eventually pull them apart.

(via back of the book)

Usually, I copy-paste book summaries from Goodreads, but none where very good. So I used the text from the back of the book and still… Well, Doyle had been interested in spiritualism before WWI. And technically, he didn’t lose his son in the war, but the horrible outbreak of Spanish flu near the end of the war. So, this one was at least 97% accurate…

I’ve had this book on my want-to-read list for 5-ish years under the title Masters of Mystery, before finding this edition at Half Price Books. Going in, I knew the basics of this story. If you’ve read a biographical sketch of either man, this contentious relationship comes up. Further, I read David Jaher’s The Witch of Lime Street a few years back, which focuses on Houdini’s (sort of) dedunking of Margery Crandon, who Doyle strongly supported. But I hadn’t read anything in-depth about Houdini and Doyle’s friendship and falling out.

Sanford gives each man a decent biography before their encounters with each other, though the story feels more weighted toward  Doyle. There are a few possible reasons for that. Doyle was in his 60s when they met; Houdini was 15 years his junior. Therefore, Sanford simply had more of Doyle’s life to tell. But the imbalance might also be due to my personal bias. I simply didn’t know as much about Doyle. I’ve read (more than enough) Houdini biographies, but never a good one about  Doyle. Something that surprised me was just how prolific he was. I never really imagined Doyle writing thousands of word per day on multiple projects. It puts his dissatisfaction with Holmes’ popularity in a different light.

One thing I didn’t like about the pre-meeting biographical sections was Sanford’s attempts to make Houdini and Doyle’s lives parallel. It felt like he was trying too hard to make their families and careers match up, as well as, sometimes, their proposed psychological states.

Personally, though, I found this book a little depressing. As a skeptic myself, it was hard to read about Doyle being so wrong about things and, as a non-fan of the magician, Houdini being so annoyingly right. I’m also not sure I actually buy their “friendship.” It feels more like a publicity story that took on a life of its own. Yes, they hung out a bit. Houdini liked knowing other famous people, especially ones with some intellectual weight. Doyle would have considered it a major coup if he’d been able to “turn” Houdini to spiritualism. That’s not really friendship. As much as I’d like for them to be the Mulder and Scully of the 20s (or even the Houdini & Doyle of the 00s), they weren’t.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Duckworth Overlook, 2012
Acquired: 11/15/17, Half Price Books
Genre: history


hosted by Doing Dewey

 

Deal Me In, Week 38 ~ “The Day of an American Journalist in 2889”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Day of an American Journalist in 2889” by Jules Verne (or maybe Michel Verne)

Card picked: 10
Found at: East of the Web

Little though they seem to think of it, the people of this twenty-ninth century live continually in fairyland. Surfeited as they are with marvels, they are indifferent in presence of each new marvel. To them all seems natural. Could they but duly appreciate the refinements of civilization in our day; could they but compare the present with the past, and so better comprehend the advance we have made!

The Story
Less a story and more of a flight of fancy, Jules Verne (or maybe his son Michel) walks us through a day in the life of “newspaper” magnate, Fritz Napoleon Smith. More than a simple journalist. Verne (whichever one) posits some semi-accurate things about a focused, on-demand form of news delivery service that a cross between 24-hour TV news channels and online news aggregation.

Other things, though… It’s hard to read about technology when it’s so far off from reality. For every impressive leap, there’s a lapse. And of course there’s the issue of our current technology, in mere 2018, being in most ways quite beyond Verne’s 2889. I think Verne would be impressed at how far we’ve gotten in 120 years.

And, yes, as our narrator observes in the opening, how often do we forget how much of a wonderland we live in?