I had been reading some Albert Campion/Margery Allingham in ’08, and picked up a couple more in January. What I wanted to read was The Tiger in the Smoke, going with a memory that it was exceptional; I apparently don’t own it, however, so I went with what I had: Tether’s End and The Mind-Readers.
The former was lovely. Poor “little Albert”, dragged in kicking (literally) and screaming (or at least complaining loudly) to assist the remarkable newly Superintendent Charlie Luke in the investigation of a number of killings. He only wanted to go on vacation – and shortly found himself left unsure whether he was more likely to be kidnapped by the bad guys or the good guys. The plot was handled nicely; since the reader pretty much knows the villain is the villain it’s more a matter of suspense – is he going to hurt the old lady or the girl, or the girl’s beau? How are Campion and co going to find him? Not whether, of course. And what exactly is he up to? Allingham’s greatest gift was with rounded, real, believable characters, which is why her books are so enjoyable to go back to again. I liked this one a lot.
I was dubious about The Mind-Readers; I didn’t remember much about it. I apparently read through the Allinghams years ago (ten?) and never since – I hadn’t thought it to be so long. My impression of MR was of an improbable, not to say idiotic, premise, and a slight reluctance to read it. Happily, I was mostly wrong. It was an improbable premise – but it was handled very nicely. This was written in the 60’s, which I happily missed entirely but for four short oblivious months; 1965 to be exact – the Space Race was on, science was exploding in every direction, science fiction was coming to the fore – it seems like if someone had said “I have invented a device that will allow me to read minds” it wouldn’t have been so very surprising. There was an element of World Criminal Conspiracy, which is something I despise, but I found the characters to be enjoyable, the suspense involved in the kidnapping (or was it?) to be well managed, and overall the book to be a lark. Not one of the best – but not bad.
I usually tend to stay in the same genre for a while, but at the beginning of the year I did a lot of jumping about – from sweet fiction (LMM) to mystery (Allingham), to fantasy: Lynn Flewelling’s Shadows Return. This is the continuation of the Nightrunner series, and I think I plunged in in the midst of a mystery streak because I love Lynn Flewelling and I had just splurged and bought this new. First of all, what a gorgeous cover:
I was a little disappointed in the book. Not horribly so, but … still. The previous book, Traitor’s Moon, was so very good, and wrapped the series up so tidily, that I was surprised when I found out about the new book(s). Seregil and Alec are wonderful characters, and what they do best is the Nightrunning – hence the name of the series. And it starts promisingly with a mission successfully completed and another begun … and then suddenly en route to Aurënen they are ambushed, and next thing you know both of them are on ships as slaves. Well, Seregil is a slave – Alec is destined for other, even darker things, and it isn’t pretty, any of it. (Except the cover.) I’ve read reviews commenting that they spend far too long imprisoned; I agree, mostly, but not entirely: it’s not like they didn’t both try. Repeatedly. It was a serious illustration of what slavery means: you may be an intelligent and resourceful and motivated young man, but if you are enslaved, you’re still a possession. All the traits that make you a wonderful Nightrunner, lover, friend, person make you a lousy slave – and lousy slaves end up dead. Unless your owner has an ulterior motive in keeping you alive, in which case they make you a spectacularly bruised and miserable slave. The identity of the owner was startling, and inevitable in its way – and explained a lot. And his fate, not at all what one would expect, great for the plot. The white child … fascinating idea. I wonder if she had that in mind when she revealed Alec’s parentage. It was almost as tortuous to read about its creation as it was for poor Alec to go through it (all right, not quite: hyperbole for effect); much of the book was like that. Once the lot of them are free and on the run, the fight for Alec and Seregil to regain their status quo is almost as painful; I missed them. The next book will be out on February 23, according to Wikipedia; the Hâzadriëlfaie, at last. Here’s hoping that whatever harrowing adventures come their way the two of them will be together, and will not fall prey to the “You don’t understand me!” trap. Which is even harder to read than the “good lord, they’re beating him up again” situation… at least in the latter I can have sympathy for the character if the writing is good and the situation is plausible. Although it is always a little hard to swallow that with all that abuse a character emerges in the end without any permanent damage. In the former, I just want to slap everyone involved.
I’m already disappointed in the cover:
– Alec should be as pretty as Seregil, no? Oh well. Fingers crossed.
The next set of books I read this year were the Kate Ross four – and I do believe that’s where I came in.