Tag Archives: Mystery

Louisa Locke – Maids of Misfortune (2009)

MaidsofMisfortuneWhen I bought this, I had originally thought it was a non-fiction book about the lives of domestic maids living in Victorian San Francisco. Instead I found myself reading a, quite sloppy, murder mystery set in Victorian San Francisco. I am all for historical fiction and murder mysteries, but this was just bad historical fiction.

Personally, I consider subtlety to be a marker of good historical fiction. The reader should know where they are in time and space, but should not need constant reminders. Locke however feels the need to constantly remind her readers that they are in San Francisco in the late 1880s by cramming every single stereotype associated with the Victorian period into her work. I will give you some examples:

Annie (the main character) is a clairvoyant and constantly remarks about how her customers as obsessed with the unknown. (The steryotype that everyone in the Victorian era was obsessed with the spiritual realm)

Annie goes to a dance and wear a dress showing her ankles and is therefore mistaken as a prostitute

Annie makes a male character, Nate, blush when she says the words “legs”

Everyone in San Francisco hates the Chinese expect for Nate and Annie because naturally, as the heroes of the story they cannot be racist or sexist.

The plot of this story was not bad. It is a murder mystery and has enough suspense that I wanted to know what happened. It turned into a bit of a romance however (and a messy one at that), and wading through the info-dump of Victorian clichés was a bit more than I could handle. This book is part of a whole series, but I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest anytime soon.

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Carl Hoffman – Savage Harvest (2014)

SavageHarvest

The disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea in 1961 has kept the world guessing for years. Carl Hoffman, in this book chronicles his travels to New Guinea and his attempts to reconstruct the events that led to Michael Rockefeller’s death.

No trace of Rockefeller was even found after his disappearance and soon rumours surfaced that he’d been killed and eaten by the Asmat, a local Native tribe whose culture included ritual cannibalism. The Rockefeller family and the Dutch government vehemently denied the story ruling Michael’s death officially as a drowning. Carl Hoffman travelled to New Guinea immersing himself in the culture of the Asmat, located witnesses willing to speak publically about the event and finally “solves” the decades-old mystery; chances are that Rockefeller was eaten ceremoniously.

While Hoffman in this book claims to “illuminate a culture transformed by years of colonial rule,” the whole narrative itself seems to further perpetuate it. Hoffman is quick to criticize the decades of Dutch colonial rule in this area and points out that the “pull of the primitive” is outdated, but his descriptions of the Asmat and being around them read like a 19th century anthropological account. Here, cannibalism is still being treated like an oddity in a very voyeuristic and almost sensationalized way. It felt wrong and kind of off-putting to me. I understand what Hoffman was trying to do, but I don’t think that there was much awareness on the part of Hoffman as to his position; A white male, asking questions about another white male who died 50 years earlier. By framing his story this way, with the focus on the murder of Michael Rockefeller, Hoffman is essentially shaming the culture for their ritual practice of cannibalism, whether he intends to or not.

Maybe I’m wrong and reading too much into it, but as I was reading something just didn’t sit right. His writing is poetic and he does tell an exciting story compelling the reader to continue. I just felt like Hoffman didn’t have the same amount of respect for the Asmat as he could, or should have. His descriptions of their day-to-day lives is reminiscent of some of the 19th century travel writing I’ve come across written by Englishmen about Native Canadians. For Hoffman, the “pull of the primitive” still holds its appeal.

Carolos Ruiz Zafón – The Angel’s Game (2009)

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How do you improve on perfection? With perfection I’m talking about Shadow of the Wind, my absolute favourite book. The Angel’s Game, its prequel, was a good book, but I was so, so, so very disappointed with it. Shadow of the Wind, Zafon’s first book, was just so good, and I feel like everything that comes after, will pale by comparison.

The Angel’s Game is technically a prequel to Shadow of the Wind, and while some places will seem familiar, like the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and the Sempere & Sons bookshop, the events of The Angel’s Game do not have any real connection to the story told in Shadow of the Wind.

Zafón is still an amazing writer, and his storytelling abilities have no limits. He weaves this beautiful tale and a complicated multi-layered story that keeps the reader turning the page, wanting more. The climax however felt rushed and was a bit of a mess. The twist in Shadow of the Wind was so carefully constructed and completely unexpected. The Angel’s Game however ends with too many twists and maybe even a few too many corpses.

I would honestly recommend reading this book before Shadow of the Wind. It was still a great read, but didn’t seem that way after having Shadow of the Wind first. After all how do you improve on perfection?

Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl (2012)

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Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Here’s a review of Gone Girl (the book). I have yet to see the movie but I hear that there are some striking differences. For one the idea that Amy tries to present herself as “the cool girl” is more apparent in the book than in the movie. I was disappointed to hear this as I thought that Amy’s rant about “cool girls” was one of the most genuine things I had read. Still I’m looking forward to seeing the movie and how certain other aspects are translated to film.

I was originally weary of reading this as I had mixed reviews from various friends. Overall however, I liked it. Gone Girl, is one of those books that you have a hard time putting down, wanting to finish it and to know what happens, but not one where you spend a great deal of time thinking about it once you have finished it. The plot and the story were incredibly creative and intriguing, and Gillian Flynn manages to mess with your mind and change the way you view characters in a way that only George R.R Martin seems to have mastered so far.

The ending is slightly anticlimactic as (SPOILER ALERT) Amy never gets her come-uppance, and Nick has to give in trying to fight her. While sometimes life is like that, and revenge is not always sweet, in a fast paced murder mystery novel, it should be. I liked the book and would recommend it to my friends, but I don’t know if I would reread it myself. Knowing how it ends, and that Amy gets off scot-free does not make me want to read it again.

There’s been a lot of great debate on the internet regarding the complicated gender roles in Gone Girl and whether or not this book/movie is an excuse for men to claim “women are crazy.” Does Amy’s manipulation make Nick the good guy? The debate going on surrounding this book/movie echoes the debate that raged when Fatal Attraction came out. Susan Faludi in Backlash spends an entire chapter dedicated to the gender roles in that movie and a lot of what she says could be applied to Gone Girl today. Nick is not a blameless character and Amy’s farce should not turn him into a hero. That being said, Amy is also clearly not a protagonist, so who do you root for? It is an interesting debate and one that is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. So what was your take on the book or the movie? Is Amy a symbol of female empowerment? Or just an example for men to point at and claim victim status?

Rating: 4/5