Genre Eclectica

“I beg your forgiveness for this unexpected change to the evening’s proceedings. but we find ourselves confronted with the urgent need to conduct an impromptu séance for reasons of national security.”

feaster.jpgThe Feaster From the Stars by Alan K. Baker is a strange blend of multiple genres.

It is a science fiction/  horror/ mythic/ Faerie/ occult/ crime story set in a Victorian era, where new technologies have been borrowed from alien civilisations.

It’s a Victorian England, compatible with Wells’ War of the Worlds, where both Mars and Venus are inhabited, and their citizens have made their mark on earth.

Many Victorian “interests” collide within the book, which seems to be written in, and inspired by, the  style of the macabre literature of that time.

I first came across this book via an ad for The Martian Ambassador, another novel by Baker. When I followed that book up with local book sellers, I saw this one also on sale, for around half price.
I ordered both and this one was delivered first. They are parts of a “Blackwood and Harrington” series.

After starting to read this book, I realised it was the more recent of the two, with several semi-spoilers for the other book being revealed throughout this story.

Thomas Blackwood, Special Investigator from Queen Victoria’s Bureau of Clandestine Affairs, is sent to investigate strange events in the London Underground railway, assisted by Lady Sophia Harrington, secretary of the Society for Psychical Research and Detective Gerhard de Chardin from the Metropolitan Templar Police.

Rail workers report an increase in ghostly activity throughout the rail tunnels, and a train driver has an encounter that leaves his mind broken, and he is committed to the Bethlem Hospital. The only clue to what he experienced is his utterance of the word “Carcosa”.

Blackwood recalls this is the name of a mythical place in literature. A place that the investigators discover is actually a planet in a distant star system.

A link between the underground events is made to Carcosa, from which there is an approaching, imminent danger to the earth .

Aided by psychics. mediums and occult scholars, as well as Faery royalty, the investigators have the challenge of saving earth and countless other civilisations from a powerfully destructive entity known as The King in Yellow.

I thought the blending of science fiction and crime investigation, with a dash of ghostliness would make a compelling story. However, while the book was relatively easy to get through, I found too many genres swirled together with almost every kind of supernatural character imaginable (aliens, faeries, ghosts, angels…) made for an overall, disappointing reading experience.

A third story in the series was also published but it seems to be very hard to obtain. It must be out of print. Second hand copies are available however they aren’t cheap, but after reading this one, I wouldn’t be interested in it anyway.

This book and the one before it (The Martian Ambassador – which is still on order) will be more than enough for me.

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Already Dead, Stephen Booth

already deadAlready Dead travels down multiple, seemingly unrelated story paths.

A possible murder investigation.

An adulterous relationship.

DS Ben Cooper on extended personal leave.

Dianne Fry seconded back to Edendale to replace him.

The events of the previous book have taken a serious toll. Cooper is unfit for work and has become reclusive, worrying his work colleagues.
While they investigate the suspicious death, Cooper conducts a more personal investigation that could lead to the end of his career. Or worse.

Booth takes the reader on this varied journey and then somehow is able to bring the seeming unrelated theads together in a surprising conclusion.

Even a good turn can have unexpected deadly consequences.

I particulalry like the following brief exchange between a potential witness and DS Fry.

Baird seemed to notice the hovering youth outside for the first time, and gestured to him irritably. The young man came in and handed him the file without a word.

‘Thank you, Aaron,’ he said.
He waited until the boy had gone, and grimaced at Fry. ‘Aaron, I ask you. Why do so many parents give their kids these ridiculous biblical names?’

Fry hesitated. ‘Perhaps they’ve never read the Bible and wouldn’t know a biblical name when they heard one, Nathan.’

‘You’re probably right. Ignorance is everywhere.’

Unlike previous books in this series there were no significant music references, however a historical note caught my attention and led me to investigate further to find out more. I wrote a bit about this in my previous post: the 1973 murder of Wendy Sewell in the Bakewell churchyard.

Dead and Buried by Stephen Booth

Another Ben Cooper music reference, a regular part of Booth’s Cooper and Fry series. This song is about the landscape of the peak district, the setting of Booth’s books.

 

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Dead and Buried starts in north Derbyshire moorland  with fire burning through the dry peat landscape.

dead and buriedInvestigations are reopened into the unsolved disappearance of a wealthy tourist couple when the fires help uncover new evidence.

Diane Fry has been transferred to a city based department, but along with her new senior officer is brought back to Edendale as part of a “serious crimes” investigation. Inevitably old difficulties are rekindled when she has to work with Ben Cooper again.

Those difficulties are exacerbated when Fry discovers the body of a murder victim in an isolated, abandoned pub that Cooper had intended to check out, before being distracted by the nearby firefighting efforts.

This is the 12th in the Cooper and Fry series, and while each book is self contained, with its own specific central crime investigation, there is an increasing overlap between books as relationships develop and characters grow.

In the past few weeks I’ve read four of the series one after the other, being drawn along by the ongoing lives of the characters. I suspect it won’t be long before I start the next book. This one has an almost cliff-hanger ending, with Ben Cooper having to face the life changing consequences of this current case.

When I wrote about the previous Stephen Booth book, I mentioned the mix-up with Diane Fry’s car, where the Peugeot she’d disposed of in book 10 made a reappearance in book 11. With Dead and Buried, Booth restores the new black Audi she’d bought to replace the Peugeot.

I’ve previously (as above) provided videos of Ben Cooper’s musical choices. For a change here’s a song from Diane Fry’s playlist.

The Devil’s Edge, by Stephen Booth

devils edge

A series of home invasions seem to be getting increasingly violent. 
Labelled “The Savages” by the press, the gang responsible, who tend to target the rich, start to get a fan following on social media, being portrayed as modern day Robin Hoods.

In the village of Ridding, overlooked by an escarpment known as the Devil’s Edge, the gang seem to have escalated the violence, leaving a woman dead and her husband critically injured.

Ben Cooper, recently promoted to Sergeant, leads his new team in the investigation, while his former boss DS Dianne Fry has basically been sidelined and sent on a bureacracy-laden course.
Cooper has his suspicions that the local deadly attack had nothing to do with the previous violent robberies, but it’s a view not shared by his superiors.

When it seem like there has been a breakthrough in the case, DS Cooper’s position becomes precarious due to disturbing personal developments, and DS Fry is returned to the local fold to liaise with investigators brought in from another division.

A minor quibble: the author seems to have forgotten that Dianne Fry changed her car in the previous book, in this one the traded Peugeot returns.

Whenever I’ve written about Stephen Booth’s books, I’ve mentioned their mix of local folklore, history and landscape. Also frequently mentioned is the difficulty faced by the farming community, having to face significant change  in the business landscape, often making untenable the farming life that has been passed down from generation to generation. Ben Cooper listens to the following song towards the end of the book.

 

 

Revenge and Dysfunction

kill callThe Kill Call and Lost River are almost two parts of a single story, linked by Dianne Fry having to revisit an event in her past that has shaped her life and career, and is deemed to be affecting her work as a Detective Sergeant.

In The Kill Call there seems to be links between the discovery of a body in a field, and the local fox hunting traditions. Around the time of the suspicious death, blasts of a hunting horn had been  heard, signalling the “kill call”, that in earlier days heralded the killing of a hunted fox.

Booth’s stories mix contemporary issues, folklore, tradition, and elements of recent history into police crime investigations. This book includes references to cold war era nuclear warning procedures as well as modified, present day fox hunt practices (where the trappings and colour of the chase are maintained without the cruelty of killing a fox).

These things are woven around central crimes in which extra-judicial attempts to right past wrongs seemed to have played a part.  How could these disparate elements of traditional and history have a bearing on the investigation of the man’s death, and how do they explain why an important witness seems to have gone into hiding, without trace?

During this investigation, DS Fry finds herself drawn into a scenario related to her personal history where she might finally see justice done, but what will be the personal cost?

lost river

Lost River continues Fry’s story.

In the latter part of The Kill Call she was approached by a rape cold-case team who are confident of finally getting a conviction for an attack on Fry several years before. She travels to Birmingham to help with the enquiries, as a witness instead of investigator.

However the investigation doesn’t progress smoothly and it seems like someone wants the truth to remain hidden.

DS Fry tries to find out why the case has stalled again, seeking help from a paranoid ex-colleague who leads her to look for answers from a disbarred lawyer. She discovers that finding the truth is potentially  not always the best outcome.

I was annoyed by the beginning of the book. Long parts of it seemed to be cut and pasted from sections of the previous book. Word for word repetition of significant slabs of text might not have been so noticeable if I’d had a break between books, but I started reading this one immediately after finishing the other. It was a laziness I didn’t expect, and the desired recapping ought to have been handled better.

While DS Fry has to follow her uncomfortable personal path, DC Cooper faces his own troubles after being present at, and unable to prevent, the drowning of a young local girl. He has flashbacks of the experience which seem to indicate the drowning wasn’t an accident, but can those apparent recurring memories be trusted?

Both Cooper and Fry, in their respective cases, discover the complications and hazards of family dysfunction and its potential to cause harm.

 

Reading Slowdown

I have three books under the heading “Reading Now” on my current “Reading List” page:

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, James Runcie
Green Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
No Is Not Enough, Naomi Klein

sidney chambers.jpgThe James Runcie book has been there for several months. It’s a book of short stories and so far I’ve only read the first and wasn’t engaged enough to want to rush on to the next one. I leave it on my list because I’ll get a round to the next story eventually.

I got the book because I heard an interview with the author who is the son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury. The stories feature a C of E minister as the main character, who finds himself investigating suspicious deaths. The books were adapted into a TV series Grantchester,  which apparently takes a lot of liberties with the main character. The author mentioned in the interview, something along the lines that a real priest would have been thrown out of the church if he’d acted the way of the televised version.

Green MarsGreen Mars is the sequel to Red Mars, and continues the story of colonists on Mars.

In the series so far there have been some allusions to early America, leading up to the war of Independence; with the colonists growing to feel exploited by their home land (home planet) and developing a growing passion for an independent, self sufficient  new home, free of the exploitation of a distant colonial power.

I started this one several days ago, but have been distracted too much by other (non-reading) things to get far into the book yet. Maybe I shouldn’t have picked this one up straight after reading the first three volumes of the Dune series. Something a little less bulky may have been a better reading option than a 550+ page book midway through another sizable trilogy

noisnotenoughI started on Naomi Klein’s  No Is Not Enough because of some of those (political) distractions. I can only shake my head in disbelief at what has been going on in Australian politics, and I spent far too much time trying to keep up with the last few sitting days of parliament.  The cost of that has been my usual lunch-hour reading time.

Klein’s book shines a light on a lot of what is behind that current political situation from a North American viewpoint. Problems that aren’t restricted one particular nation, but are evident throughout the “western” world.

This book draws together the issues she’s written about in earlier books in greater detail. No Is Not Enough shows how all of those issues have become focused into a single point in the person and Presidency of Donald Trump.

However rather than merely add a negative voice of despair and opposition, Klein wants to look at positive answers to turn around the political and cultural systems that led to Trump’s political rise.

None of these books have maintained my interest enough to make me want to keep reading, so my progress through them has been slow, and my attention has been drifting towards other books. I suspect I’ll be finishing another book or two before I get to the end of any of these three. I’m already approaching the end of one about the manned Apollo missions of the late 60s – early 70s and have tentatively started another about the retrieval of the wreckage of the space shuttle Columbia after it broke up on re-entry in February 2003 (so long ago, how time flies!)

sts 107

 

Blackened Tanner by Ron Irwin

blackened-tanner.jpg

The principles of natural justice are based on three core rules.

The hearing rule provides the right to a fair hearing. When conducting an investigation, it is important that the person being complained against is advised of the allegations in as much detail as possible and given the opportunity to reply to them before any decision is made.

The bias rule requires that no-one be judge in his or her own case and that investigators and decision-makers act without bias or perception of bias in all procedures; where a person has preconceived opinions, a vested interest or personal or family involvement, they should not investigate the matter.

And the evidence rule provides that decisions must be based on logical proof and evidence, not on mere speculation.

When I set out to look at the cases involving Denis Tanner, I discovered that these principles of natural justice had all been ignored.

This is the beginning of Ron Irwin’s first chapter in his book Blackened Tanner.

Like Denis Tanner, the subject of the book, Ron Irwin had been a police officer in the Victorian police service.  He writes of a man who was identified as a murderer at an inquest into the death of his sister in law- but because there was insufficient evidence to put him to trial, was never given the opportunity to refute the claims made against him.

Denis Tanner and his family had to continue living within a community where he was seen as someone who had literally got away with the murder.

Irwin makes it clear there was something rotten in the state of Victoria, especially within the legal processes and their dealings with Denis Tanner.

https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/evidence-backs-jennifer-tanner-suicide-theory-late-cop-ron-irwin-claims/news-story/a6e1853995dbdaf5c94e7380e58560c1