Thursday, February 28, 2019

Hardcover: "Perish the Day" by John Farrow

Couple Weeks Ago: Perish the Day by John Farrow (Trevor Ferguson), 2017 (USA),

Nuts. I wrote these notes up a couple months ago and never posted them.

1999's City of Ice was a revelation when I read it. There was nothing about the story I did not enjoy. It was gritty, set in Montreal during winter, had scary bad guys, a grouchy detective in Emile Cinq-Mars, dirty slushy snow, English vs. Quebecois tensions, so on, so forth.

I continue to enjoy Farrow's novels but the recent books have become a bit gentler. Cinq-Mars has retired and the novels incorporate more of his personal life and, with his wife Sandra attending, there is more of a cozy element to the stories. There is still a core of violent people doing violent things but Ferguson has the retired Cinq-Mars going back and forth from professional to personal.

This story has Cinq-Mars and Sandra in Vermont (New Hampshire?) attending to Sandra's dying mother. Cinq-Mars and CO. are also there for the college graduation of Sandra's niece. Lo and behold there is a murder on campus. Cinq-Mars and Sandra do discuss how murder seems to find Cinq-Mars or vice-versa.

Throughout the novel Ferguson has several interesting observations. Most of which I forgot because I did not write them down. There are the several pointed observations on the differences between Canadian and U.S. cultures. Ferguson is like most skilled and gifted writers in that he recognizes relationships among people and the small points that can drive those relations. Anger, jealousy, love, etc. play a part among those interactions and I think Ferguson strikes a nice balance between show and tell.

Anyhoo. Cinq-Mars gets involved in the murder investigation after the local Police Chief gets pushed out of the case by the State Police. Police Chief figures he can use Cinq-Mars as a surrogate and keep his hand in things. State Police Guy is not happy about this. Another murder across the river in New Hampshire (Vermont?) widens and [word I cannot think of] the investigation.

Along the way Cinq-Mars involves his niece and her friends who were close with the murder victim. Cinq-Mars detangles professional and personal relations, faces danger, suspects real-to-life spies, discovers a possible murder-for-fun ring, considers moving to bucolic Vermont (New Hampshire?)

A very good story. Worth your time.

1. I don't think the last novel of Ferguson's City of Ice trilogy was published in the U.S. I have been periodically checking for River City for years and have never seen a U.S. edition. I've only briefly looked into getting a Canadian edition. When I first checked some people were trying to sell copies for $50+.
2. One observation about CA v. US is how Americans ask what other people do for a living when first meeting. Emile does not like that. Neither do I. I rarely ask anyone that question because I know it will color my perception of them. Most people are so much more than their work.
3. Emile is observant. He reads people well and is an expert in strategizing how to manipulate them or encourage them.
4. When searching for John Farrow-Trevor Ferguson my library video from 2011 still pops up. I stopped making those because they never had enough views to warrant continuation.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Audio: "Once Upon A River" by Diane Setterfield

Audio: Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield, 2018, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Meh. The story started out ok. Then the story got dull. Then the story got interesting again.

A inn and pub on the Thames River circa 1850-or-so is a popular location for storytellers and drinkers. One winter night a man with a bloodied face stumbles in carrying a doll. Both the man and doll are soaked wet. The man collapses and everyone attends to him until the mentally disabled son of the innkeeper discovers the doll is actually a dead girl of about 5-years-old. Well, the dead girl ends up revived - her respiration was slowed by the cold - and the novel involves finding her family.

Three groups lay claim to the girl. A wealthy couple whose daughter was kidnapped and never returned. A mentally disabled housekeeper who is convinced the girl is her long lost sister - a sister who would be about 30 years old now. And a shifty guy and his honest parents who think the girl may be the shifty guy's daughter.

Setterfield shows us around all the characters. There is a growing love affair between a widower and a spinster (who is young to us). Anxiety by the Farmer Father of the Shifty Guy over the girl and Shifty Guy's shifty behavior. Rich Couple where the wife was in deep depression after daughter went missing. Lady Innkeeper with many children and a dying husband. Various locals and a couple scuzzy, and violent men.

The characters and setting are well done but did not particularly engage me. My interest would wane throughout the book. Setterfield does cover some other things that interested me.

Setterfield writes a lot about the weather.  The story covers a calendar year, winter-to-winter, and Setterfield writes of the rain, heat, cold, mud, tides. The weather is so much more of an issue for a more agrarian economy and the commerce and transport that rely on good weather. I was listening to this one day as I walked to work in freezing rain. I use slip-on spikes/crampons for my shoes to keep me from sliding all over but the going is still slow. Without good gear of rain coat and pants it would be a cold walk.  All the people in cars passing by me had no trouble on the recently plowed and salted roads. And, of course, the cars deliver you in relative comfort from -25° (which we just had) to 110°. Setterfield incorporates those needs into the characters' daily lives.

Another topic is the quickness of death from accident and disease. Sure, we know about the young mortality and the poor treatment of children but well done fiction brings those things home.

Comments and spoilers:
1. I knew pretty soon that Shifty Son would be running a con job on the rich people. Setterfield takes awhile to show this. There is a reveal at the end about Shifty Son's biological father that I did not see coming.
2. The reveal the Rich Couple's daughter was found dead by the husband after he paid a ransom was a surprise.
3. The is a supernatural ending that just did not make much sense. The revived girl is the daughter of The Ferryman who pulls people from the river. He either sets them ashore alive or transports them to death. The supernatural element was discussed a couple times in the novel but was treated as superstition. One drowning victim in the novel sees the ferryman reaching down for him but I figured that as a oxygen deprived hallucination before death.
4. I have trouble typing Setterfield.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Another Audio: "Curse of the Bane" by Joseph Delaney

Another Audio: Curse of the Bane by Joseph Delaney,

Second in the Young Adult series The Last Apprentice. The series follows Thomas Ward, new apprentice to The Spook. The Spook is a professional ghost and witch catcher. A Spook catches and binds witches and malevolent spirits by imprisoning them in a pit. Thomas has been working for Spook - everyone calls him that, it's kind of a job title - for about a year and Thomas is now 15-years-old (or so).

The story begins when a rather vicious and deadly boggart - the Horshaw Ripper - has restrained a priest and is slowly feasting on the priest's blood. The Spook is deathly ill and sends Thomas to bind the boggart. Thomas succeeds in drawing the boggart away from the tasty priest and into a pit lined with salt and iron filings and capped by a stone. This is a big success for a young apprentice.

Thomas heads back to the Spook's place, gets lectured a bit, and goes back to his daily duties. But, along comes a scare and The Spook realizes that an even nastier spirit than the Horshaw Ripper has is now a danger. The Spook banished The Bane into the catacombs of Priesttown several years ago but the Spook was unable to completely defeat The Bane and the entity has gradually become more powerful.  The Bane now exerts influence on some the Priests who run Priesttown by reading and influencing their minds. The Bane has used the priests to sow trouble and strife and press for more taxes from the people of WhatEverLandThisIsSupposedToBe.

As Spooks, both Thomas and Spook are roundly disliked and condemned by the church. Going to Priesttown is a danger for Spooks and Spook himself really dislikes the church and the church dislikes him What's more, there is a rather rogue Inquisitor is traveling the countryside and drowning witches. Thomas and Spook will have to avoid that guy.

Anyhoo. Things happen. The setting is akin to a somewhere between 1300 and 1400. Transportation is by foot or horse, everything is agrarian, no guns, the church controls many things, villages are fairly separate.

This is fun stuff with Thomas getting a bit cocky about his abilities. Alice from the first novel reappears. She was raised by witches and Spook does not trust her at all. Thomas, of course, wants to help her out even though Alice's behavior is kinda sketchy and flirting with disaster. The Spook ends up captured and Thomas is in Priesttown by himself looking to rescue the Spook and Alice and defeat The Bane.