Book Review: Whispers Underground

whispersWhispers Underground
by Ben Aaronovitch
303 pages
Published 2012
Urban Fantasy

I picked up Whispers Underground mainly because of one paragraph on the back: “…the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah – that’s going to go well.” expecting, well, just what that implied. Yay, a fiery woman who keeps contradicting the main character about things she doesn’t understand! Philosophical discussions! Sparks! ….I did not get any of that. Reynolds was not the main character’s temporary partner, as was implied. She had a bit part in the book. Her religion wasn’t even MENTIONED until very very near the end, and it was just an offhand “she went to go have Christmas dinner with her evangelical family” or something like that. She never dug her heels in and contradicted him. She accepted the idea of supernaturals pretty easily, honestly, and just said she couldn’t put it in her FBI report because she didn’t want a psych eval. WHERE IS MY CONFLICT?

I also did not realize at first that this wasn’t a one-off book or the first in the series – the only indication of that is that it mentions on the front cover that the author was also the author of Midnight Riot and Moon Over Soho. (And on the inside front cover, it turns out.) But there’s nothing about “a Rivers of London story” (incidentally, I had to get the name of the series from the Amazon page, it’s certainly not on the book anywhere!) or “Don’t miss the other books in the series” or anything like that. Realizing it’s the third book answered some of my other questions, like Why doesn’t the author say Toby is a freaking DOG until like the fifth time his name is mentioned? I spent most of the book wondering if Molly is a ghost or what the hell she is, and that was never explained. Peter’s actual partner had some accident happen to her face, and that’s mentioned briefly – that there was an accident – but it’s never explained. There’s very little magic in the books, all the non-humans look surprisingly human, and the “gruesome murder” described on the back of the cover is a pretty run-of-the-mill stabbing. Overall, disappointing.

The book attempts to be urban fantasy in the style of Dresden, but fails miserably, in my opinion. For only being 300 pages it DRAAAAAGGED on. Final verdict – don’t waste your time, not interested in the other books.

From the back of Whispers Underground:

It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher – and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom – if it exists at all – is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and – as of now – deadliest subway system in the world.

At least he won’t be alone. No, the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah – that’s going to go well. 

Book Review: Angelology and Angelopolis

angel1Angelology
by Danielle Trussoni
463 pages
Published 2010
Modern Fantasy

Angelopolis
by Danielle Trussoni
320 pages
Published 2013
Modern Fantasy

So – I wanted to like these books. Angelology started out strong, despite the horrid title. It was shaping up to be a religious thriller along the lines of The DaVinci Code, with shadowy organizations and cryptic clues leading to a treasure that would shake the foundations of civilization – and then it kind of fell apart. The entire point of the plot was discarded like a piece of trash at the end of the novel, and it ended on – not quite a cliffhanger, but also not an ending, either. With three years between books, had I read Angelology when it came out, I would have been extremely frustrated with not being able to continue to read the story. I continued on to Angelopolis hoping to find answers and continue the story – and was disappointed at the turn it took. I assume there will be at least a third book, as so much was left unresolved in Angelopolis, just as the first novel was left unresolved. The very last sentence of Angelopolis stunned me as it was a complete 180 from the rest of the book and seemed completely at odds with how the characters had acted for the past two novels.

In short, the first was decent and the second was a train wreck with so many plot holes….well, you could drive the train, in the process of wrecking, through them. Don’t waste your time. And – Angelology? Really? Angelologists? Those terms made me cringe every time I read them.

angel2From the back of Angelology:

There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. –Genesis 6:5

Sister Evangeline was just a girl when her father entrusted her to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in upstate New York. Now, at twenty-three, her discovery of a 1943 letter from the famous philanthropist Abigail Rockefeller to the late mother superior of Saint Rose Convent plunges Evangeline into a secret history that stretches back a thousand years: an ancient conflict between the Society of Angelologists and the monstrously beautiful descendants of angels and humans, the Nephilim.

For the secrets these letters guard are desperately coveted by the once-powerful Nephilim, who aim to perpetuate war, subvert the good in humanity, and dominate mankind. Generations of angelologists have devoted their lives to stopping them, and their shared mission, which Evangeline has long been destined to join, reaches from her bucolic abbey on the Hudson to the apex of insular wealth in New York, to the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris and the mountains of Bulgaria.

From the back of Angelopolis:

A decade has passed since Verlaine saw Evangeline alight from the Brooklyn Bridge, the sight of her new wings a betrayal that haunts him still. Now an elite angel hunter for the Society of Angelology, he pursues his mission with single-minded devotion: to capture, imprison, and eliminate her kind.

But when Evangeline suddenly appears on a twilit Paris street, Verlaine finds her nature to be unlike any of the other creatures he so mercilessly pursues, casting him into a spiral of doubt and confusion that only grows when she is abducted before his eyes by a creature who has topped the society’s most-wanted list for more than a century. The ensuing chase drives Verlaine and his fellow angelologists from the shadows of the Eiffel Tower to the palaces of St. Petersburg and deep into the provinces of Siberia and the Black Sea coast, where the truth of Evangeline’s origins—as well as forces that could restore or annihilate them all—lie in wait.

Book Review: The Dark Monk, The Beggar King, and The Poisoned Pilgrim

dark monkThe Dark Monk
by Oliver Pötzsch
463 pages
Published 2009
Historical Fiction/Mystery

The Beggar King
by Oliver Pötzsch
466 pages
Published 2010
Historical Fiction/Mystery

The Poisoned Pilgrim
by Oliver Pötzsch
496 pages
Published 2012
Historical Fiction/Mystery

I cracked open the pages of The Dark Monk with a certain amount of satisfaction and glee – to be rejoining a world I lost myself in with The Hangman’s Daughter – to catch up with characters I’d fallen in love with some months ago – is always a heady feeling. I reviewed The Hangman’s Daughter on this blog already, and mentioned I’d be looking for the sequels. On my last trip to the library, I happened to see all three of them, so I snagged them with a grin that made my husband laugh. Pötzsch has continued his amazing storytelling in these three books, and I’m still amazed that books originally written in German can flow so well – lyrically, even – in English. I’m sure that’s in large part due to the excellent translation work of Lee Chadeayne.

beggar kingJakob Kuisl (the hangman of Schongau), his daughter Magdalena, and her beau Simon Fronweiser are again up to their old tricks in these three books, letting their curiosity lead them into mysteries they perhaps should have stayed clear of. In The Dark Monk, the three find themselves embroiled in the hunt for lost Templar treasure. In The Beggar King, Jakob is framed for the murder of his sister, and must prove his innocence with the help of Magdalena and Simon. The Poisoned Pilgrim takes place a few years after The Beggar King, and involves the three attempting to prove the innocence of one of Jakob’s oldest friends. Woven throughout the mysteries are portrayals of everyday (and not so everyday!) life in 17th century Bavaria, from taking care of the sick to child-rearing to executions.

One thing that continues to impress me about the books is how they treat torture. Torture to achieve a confession is a regular duty of a Hangman, but it’s not treated lightly in these books. It’s described, and it’s treated as a horrible thing, but it’s also not so descriptive that it crosses the line into gore. It’s a mark of Pötzsch’s skill that he can take a man that does this regularly – tortures and executes people, even people he knows are innocent, if he can’t get out of it – and makes him likable. He makes us sympathize with him.

I enjoyed these three books just as much as I did the first. The action is well-paced, the plots are well-thought out and complex, and the characters are rich and enjoyable. It’s easy to see the amount of research Pötzsch has put into his setting, and the books are richer for it. I love this series.

pilgrimFrom the back of The Dark Monk:

1660: Winter has settled thick over a sleeping village in the Bavarian Alps, ensuring that every farmer and servant is indoors the night a parish priest discovers he’s been poisoned. As numbness creeps up his body, he summons the last of his strength to scratch a cryptic sign in the frost.

Following a trail of riddles, hangman Jakob Kuisl, his headstrong daughter Magdalena, and the town physician’s son team up with the priest’s aristocratic sister to investigate. What they uncover will lead them back the Crusades, unlocking a troubled history of internal church politics and sending them on a chase for a treasure of the Knights Templar.

But they’re not the only ones after the legendary fortune. A team of dangerous and mysterious monks is always close behind, tracking their every move, speaking Latin in the shadows, giving off a strange, intoxicating scent. And to throw the hangman off their trail, they have made sure he is tasked with capturing a band of thieves roving the countryside, attacking solitary travelers and spreading panic.

From the back of The Beggar King:

1662: Jakob Kuisl, the hangman of a village in the Alps, receives a letter from his sister calling him to the imperial city of Regensburg, where a gruesome sight awaits him: her throat has been slit. When the city constable discovers Kuisl alongside the corpse, he locks him in a dungeon, where Kuisl will experience firsthand the torture he’s administered himself for years. As nightmares assail him, Kuisl can only hope to prevail on the Regensburg executioner to show mercy to a fellow hangman. 

Kuisl’s steely daughter, Magdalena, and her young doctor paramour, Simon, rush to Regensburg to try to save Jakob, enlisting an underground network of beggars, a beer-brewing monk, and an Italian playboy for help. Navigating the labyrinthine city, they learn there is much more behind the false accusation than a personal vendetta: a plan that will endanger the entire German Empire. 

From the back of The Poisoned Pilgrim:

1666: The monastery at Andechs has long been a pilgrimage destination, but when the hangman’s daughter, Magdalena, her doctor husband, Simon, and their two small children arrive there, they learn that the monks have far larger concerns than saying Mass and receiving alms. It seems that once again the hangman’s family has fallen into a mysterious and dangerous adventure.

Two monks at the monastery experiment with cutting-edge technology, including a method of deflecting the lightning that has previously set the monastery ablaze. When one of the monks disappears and his lab is destroyed, foul play is suspected. Who better to investigate than the famed hangman Jakob Kuisl? But as the hangman and his family attempt to solve the mystery of the missing monk, they must deal with the eccentric denizens of the monastery and villagers who view the monks’ inventions as witchcraft that must be destroyed at all costs.

Femme/Kinsmen by Bill Pronzini

femmeFemme
by Bill Pronzini
175 pages
Published 2013
Mystery/Noir

Kinsmen
by Bill Pronzini
185 pages
Published 2013
Mystery/Noir

I’m not usually much of a mystery/noir fan – I enjoy mysteries set in fantasy worlds, or in urban fantasy, but not so much in noir, real-life settings. The cover of Femme caught my eye though, and since these were novellas, and short, I thought I’d branch out.

Not the best decision I’ve ever made.

kinsmenFemme and Kinsmen are part of Pronzini’s “Nameless Detective” series. They’re told from the viewpoint of a P.I. who is never named. Femme was the first one I read, and I just felt like the story drug on. You wouldn’t think a 175 page book could be slow and still get through the plot, but this one was. The plot was fairly simplistic. Our unnamed protagonist is called in by a bail bondsman to find the brother of a femme fatale. When they find the brother, they discover the femme fatale is not exactly the caring sister she’s portrayed herself to be. Since it’s a novella, I can’t really say much more without ruining the surprise. Let’s just say that the ONLY reason I decided to go ahead and read Kinsmen was because of its connection to my hometown.

Kinsmen is the story of a boy and a girl from the University of Oregon (GO DUCKS! …sorry.) who go missing on their way down to southern California to see their families. I felt like the action moved a little quicker, but it may be that I just enjoyed seeing places I used to haunt being prowled by our unnamed hero. Unlike Femme, where I felt like people got their just desserts in the end (for the most part), in Kinsmen two young lovers are caught by small-town bigotry to a tragic end. Again, it’s a novella, so I won’t say much.

Unless you’re a mystery/noir fan, I probably wouldn’t recommend these. Yes, they’re quick reads, so you won’t waste much time on them, but it’s still time I could have spent reading far better things. If you do like these, apparently Pronzini has written novels in this series as well, so they’re not all so short and simplistic. Perhaps I would have enjoyed one of those better, but if the pacing is the same as these, I probably wouldn’t.

From the back of Femme:

Femme fatale. French for “deadly woman.”

You hear the term a lot these days, usually in connection with noir fiction and film noir. But they’re not just products of literature or film, the folklore of nearly every culture. They exist in modern society, too. The genuine femme fatales you hear about now and then are every bit as evil as the fictional variety. Yet what sets them apart is that they’re the failures, the ones who for one reason or another got caught. For every one of those, there must be several times as many who get away with their destructive crimes…

In the thirty years the Nameless Detective has been a private investigator, he has never once had the misfortune to cross paths with this type of seductress… but in Femme he’ll meet Cory Beckett, a deadly woman who has brought some new angles to the species. New—and terrible.

From the back of Kinsmen:

Allison Shay was traveling home from the University of Oregon with her new boyfriend, Rob Compton, when their car broke down near the tiny rural town of Creekside, California. Soon after, Allison and Rob went missing without a trace.

Whatever happened, it felt like something bad to the Nameless Detective. Five days without a whisper of contact with the outside world. Long past the inconsiderate-kids stage; long past the silly and the harmless.

Kinsmen takes Bill Pronzini’s classic private investigator to California’s northeast backwoods, where an isolated community is determined to keep a deep, dark secret: why Allison Shay and Rob Compton really vanished.

The real question facing the Nameless Detective: are they still alive?