It’s been a weird month, this. After a week of relative normalcy, there was a week in Florida at the home office of the company I’m just starting with for “training” (in quotes because I … have my doubts), which was the first time I’ve flown in about ten years (more?). Then the following week was in Long Island for training in the office that is closing down so that they can open the one here in Connecticut (awkward at best, and this wasn’t “best”)… This past week was back in Connecticut, except for a one-day run to LI on Tuesday. Oh, and I forgot to mention that both of the past two weekends, while spent at home, were marked by a lack of heat – our furnace pooped out, was fixed(ish), and pooped out again, leaving us shivering and discontented with the oil company we’ve been using for several years. Phaugh. This weekend feels like the first real weekend in a while (and warm!), and it’s kind of a surprise in an odd way that I’m off tomorrow too. Yay.
The book I took with me on both trips was Caleb Carr’s The Italian Secretary, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche. It’s a tale told in the first person by Dr. Watson, much in the style of the original stories, in which Mycroft drafts his brother and Watson into a mission to find out what’s going on at Balmoral, to protect the Queen. The Italian secretary of the title was someone I hadn’t learned of before; apparently Mary (Queen of Scots) had in her retinue an odd little man who played and sang and acted as a clown in general, and he was brutally murdered – and said to haunt the castle. The events Mycroft needs investigated seem to have supernatural connections, and therein lies the tale. It was a decent story; I was looking forward to it because of Carr’s Kreizler novels, and was a little disappointed, I suppose; I hoped for the same flavor, but he wrote in very much in Watson’s voice. Carr seems to be very much a Watson partisan – this John Watson was assertive and sharp, and contributed greatly to the case, which isn’t the way he’s usually portrayed. (I confess it’s been a long time since I’ve read the original stories, so I can’t intelligently compare.) Not a bad book – but not what I hoped for.
I had started Jim Butcher’s first straight fantasy novel, The Furies of Calderon, before I left for Florida, but was leery of airline baggage weight restrictions – $25 a bag at check-in, and if the bag is over 50 pounds, $50 more! – and jettisoned the hardcover. So while I started it before the trips, I ended up not finishing it till this morning. Part of the reason I didn’t mind switching over to Caleb Carr was that, well, I’m not overly impressed by Calderon. I hate saying this – I love Jim Butcher; I love Harry Dresden. But this isn’t Harry Dresden. This seems like it was written by someone else, someone much less surefooted and confident. I could almost feel him disciplining himself to avoid colloquialisms and pop culture references; it was a little painful. I found it surprising how awkward the language was, throughout: “The bird’s beak gleamed in tandem with the Marat’s knife.” In tandem with? Definitions I’m finding for the phrase are “one behind the other” and “in partnership or conjunction”. Um. There’s a lot of that sort of thing, where he seems to be reaching for a poetical-type phrase, and misses – and, too, a surprising truckload of cliches.
The characterizations have potential … and unfulfilled potential. The book opens with Amara and her patriserus (teacher), Fidelius, the latter of whom turns out very soon to be not what he appeared to be. They have a relationship – teacher-student, mentor-mentored, etc. – which is turned on its head, leaving Amara hating, fearing, and resenting Fidelius. This comes across – but it could have been so much more vivid. The other stream of the story which merges with theirs involves Tavi and his aunt and uncle, Isana and Bernard (BERnerd or berNAHRD, I wonder?). Isana and Bernard are brother and sister, leading to the same need for adjustment as in Anne of Green Gables that the male and female characters featured are siblings, not romantically involved (bet Butcher never thought any book of his would be compared in any way to L.M. Montgomery). I like them, but I wanted more: why hasn’t Isana ever married? What happened to Bernard’s family? Where are Tavi’s parents, and is there any merit to my hunch that one (or both) of the siblings is actually his parent?
It wasn’t a bad book by any means; it just didn’t live up to what I hoped for, or what it could have been. I’m not overly driven to read the next one.