Publisher: Ballantine Books

The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth

Posted December 5, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime, Horror / 0 Comments

The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt UnsworthTitle: The Devil's Detective (Goodreads)
Author: Simon Kurt Unsworth
Published: Del Rey, 2015
Pages: 368
Genres: Horror
My Copy: Library Book

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Thomas Fool is one of the Devil’s Detectives, known as Information Men, his job is to keep order in Hell. When a badly bruised and unidentifiable body is discovered, Fool is given the case. The problem is, this is Hell and everyone is guilty of something. How can he investigate a murder where everything around him screams death? Who will come forward as a witness when everyone has something to hide?

I have been thinking a lot about writing better reviews and I feel like Simon Kurt Unsworth has made that job a whole lot easier with The Devil’s Detective. Before reading this book I had most of the themes worked out in my head. So let us start with the basic; a mystery novel is typically a quest narrative. We have the detective that is the hero of the story, setting out to solve a mystery. We know what the mystery is from the back of the novel but then again there always is something more going on.

If you think of the detective as the hero, it is easy to think a white knight on a journey to bring justice to the world. Although can this really be a morality tale? This is set in hell and if we go by the depiction of hell found in the Bible or Dante’s Inferno, it is one of hopelessness and despair. Assuming Unsworth is going to try to keep to the traditional narrative structures and also keep the Christian theology we can illuminate some core character traits.

There will be no true justice, Thomas Fool will not be a savour figure; he might solve the crime but they are still in Hell. Justice in Hell, seems unlikely. Now the idea of the detective being called an Information Man, leads me to think he will have knowledge of what goes on in Hell, but can he change anything? Considering the location this is unlikely, I do believe he will never effect the social balance, there will be no change and no real justice. If you do not believe me, consider his name, Fool.

I went into The Devil’s Detective with these preconceived thoughts, and turns out I was correct in thinking this way. I did not expect anything special, this novel was a light read; blending horror with a typical mystery plot. I wish I could say I enjoyed the book but I did not, there were no surprises and nothing stood out. I do think the theology was a little off and Unsworth’s depiction of Hell really needed work. If you want to read something set in Hell, I recommend Inferno; it has some of the best descriptions of what Hell might be like. Obviously we cannot be sure but it really does capture the despair and pain they we often associate with Hell.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Posted November 5, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Graphic Novel, Magical Realism / 0 Comments

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’MalleyTitle: Seconds (Goodreads)
Author: Bryan Lee O'Malley
Artist: Bryan Lee O'Malley
Published: Ballantine Books, 2014
Pages: 336
Genres: Graphic Novel, Magical Realism
My Copy: Hardcover

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Katie is a talented young chef running a successful restaurant. However her dreams are to open her own restaurant, a place where she can have more freedom and creativity. She has found the location for this restaurant has a backer (silent partner) and is working on fulfilling her dream. The problem is, everything is moving so slowly and she is starting to get impatient. What she really needs is a second chance, to fix the mistakes she has made and get her new restaurant on track. For Katie, she has the opportunity; a mysterious girl appeared in the middle of the night with some simple instructions for a second chance.

  1. Write your mistake
  2. Ingest one mushroom
  3. Go to sleep
  4. Wake anew

I’ve been a big fan of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series so I’ve been looking forward to see what will happen with Seconds. Luckily, the same humour and whimsical adventure is present within this new graphic novel. What I like about O’Malley is the way he takes a look at everyday situations in a fun and comical way. The added magical realism thread really helps explore the issues present within this book.

Seconds is full of existential angst and it explores the idea of making mistakes and he does it in a new and unique way. Unlike the Sliding Doors style where life is explored in two different situations, Bryan Lee O’Malley plays with the idea of correcting mistakes while Katie sleeps. Of course this has some humorous effects; Katie isn’t aware what has changed and this leads into a madcap scenario.

Bryan Lee O’Malley returns as the artist for his own books again and he has an interesting art style. There is an Asian influence in his art work; the big eyes and hair are not the only thing he takes from this comic book style. This influence can be found throughout his graphic novels in the characteristics, style and storytelling. What I like about Seconds is that he took his art style as seen in the Scott Pilgrim series and added colour to it. There are not a lot of colours used; the shading is often very simple and one shade but it works really well. The colour is just used to make the art pop; Bryan Lee O’Malley does great artwork, almost simplistic but it remains very expressive.

I am glad to have more Bryan Lee O’Malley graphic novels to experience but I am also reminded that he had another book before the Scott Pilgrim series that I need to check out. I do have Lost at Sea on my phone thanks to comixology; I just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. I wouldn’t mind checking out The Wonderful World of Kim Pine as well but I know it is short. Bryan Lee O’Malley has become a favourite of mine and I hope he does something new soon.

Without Warning by John Birmingham

Posted April 3, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

Without Warning by John BirminghamTitle: Without Warning (Goodreads)
Author: John Birmingham
Series: The Disappearance #1
Published: Del Rey, 2008
Pages: 560
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: Personal Copy

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On the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 14 March 2003 and in a time of uncertainty and financial crisis, a wave of energy has fallen over America. The United States as we know it is gone. The soldiers are left to fight a war without command, the line of succession go so far back that it falls to the governments in Pearl Harbor, Guantánamo Bay, and a very isolated corner of the north east. What will the world be like now the last superpower has disappeared?

Without Warning is the first book in the disappearance series by John Birmingham and is an alternate history/political thriller/action novel that tries to look at what the world would be like if America just disappears. But does it work? For me, I think the book just follows all the clichés found in a thriller and while it tries to do something completely different. The blending of Alternative history just never seemed to work.

Don’t get me wrong; I think John Birmingham is a great writer with some interesting ideas, but I guess mainstream novels don’t work for me. While I do try, and have, enjoyed novels like this. I tend to think there is something missing. The book felt very Americanised, even trying to imitate people like Tom Clancy and if you are into that type of book, I’m sure you would enjoy Without Warning.

I tried really hard to get into this novel, but with so main false starts and the forcing myself to finish this novel, I just never enjoyed it. I was tempted not to review this novel because I’m not sure if I have anything constructive to say, but in the interest of showing my full reading journey I forced myself.

Without Warning did have a lot of pop culture references which I do enjoy and the idea of losing the last super power was well thought out, but in the end this just wasn’t a book for me. I remember reading Tom Clancy when I was a young and enjoying it but I don’t think I would now. Maybe this is a book for a younger me and for people that just want pure escapism into a world of action.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Posted March 27, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Altered Carbon by Richard K. MorganTitle: Altered Carbon (Goodreads)
Author: Richard K. Morgan
Series: Takeshi Kovacs #1
Published: Del Rey, 2002
Pages: 526
Genres: Pulp, Science Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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In the twenty-fifth century, technology has advanced so much that human personalities can be digitally stored on what is known as a Stack. These stacks can be downloaded into new bodies or sleeves, so when you die your stack can be stored indefinably and you can be resleeved and continue living. Death is virtually impossible, when Laurens Bancroft commits suicide (destroying his stack) he is resleeved from a backup, he has no memory of his actions but believe this was an actual murder attempt. He hires Takeshi Kovacs to investigate his death and find out what happened in those 48 hours between his last back up and suicide.

Altered Carbon is a cyberpunk hard-boiled novel that really reminds me of When Gravity Fails, they have similar genre style and while both of them have a completely different feel to them, both well worth reading. Takeshi Kovacs is a former United Nations Envoy; an elite solider whose last death was a particularly painful one. He finds himself being resleeved one hundred and eighty light years from home back on earth.  Without time to deal with his own issues, he is thrown in to solve this dark and disturbing conspiracy.

In this dystopian like future, death is never something to fear, a resleeving will fix things and if you have the money you can put yourself into a better body at any time. If someone is murdered they are resleeved to testify of the crime. This makes the Catholics a popular target for murder, as they have arranged not to be resleeved if they die so their souls can go to heaven instead. The reason I bring this up is to give you an idea of what the world is like in Altered Carbon. In fact there is a subplot involving the UN altering its legal position to authorise the temporary resleeving of a Catholic murder victim to testify in her murder trial.

I was eager to pick up this book as I’ve heard so many great things about it and I love the idea of a good cyberpunk hardboiled novel; it reminds me of Blade Runner and how much I loved that movie as a kid. Technology has advanced so much in this word but people haven’t, there are still divisions between the classes, races and religions. Mankind has not evolved at all, they have just found a way to cater to their vanity as well as immortality.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan is one hell of a journey; there are all these little plot threads blended together with the real story arch to help build this dark and gritty future. Being the winner of the Philip K Dick award for best novel in 2003  told me that not only was it going to be a great science fiction novel but winning this award meant there will be some interesting ideas that will stick with the reader well after finishing the book. Like Philip K Dick, Morgan has put a lot of thought into his future and came up with a great concept that really works.

I’m so impressed with Altered Carbon I’m thinking about reading the rest of the series; only problem is I’ve heard the other books don’t really work in the same way. So I would love to know of more cyberpunk hardboiled novels worth reading; I think When Gravity Fails is probably the only other one I’ve really read and enjoyed. I know people will probably tell me Snow Crash or even The Diamond Age and yes, I will get to those books eventually. But I’m sure there are plenty of great books in the style out there.

I’m so happy to have finally read Altered Carbon; there is so much in this book we can talk about. I have avoided the main story line in the hopes that I’ve left this review relatively spoiler free. I would love to talk more of the world and the concept of resleeving but  most of my readers may not have read this book yet. For fans of science fiction and even crime novels, don’t be scared of Altered Carbon; it is worth your time and effort.

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Posted July 26, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Horror / 13 Comments

The Passage by Justin CroninTitle: The Passage (Goodreads)
Author: Justin Cronin
Series: The Passage #1
Published: Ballantine Books, 2010
Pages: 766
Genres: Horror
My Copy: Audiobook

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I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time and considering The Twelve is only months away, I figure now was a good time to read it. The Passage is set in the not too distant future; a highly contagious virus has infected the greater masses turning them into vampire-like creatures. This is not your typical post-apocalyptic novel; The Passage follows the events for ninety years, starting with the outbreak and patient zero till the colonies of humans attempt to live in a world filled with these creatures.

I went into this novel expecting a post-apocalyptic vampire novel but I was presently surprised with this book. It was pure joy reading something so literary spanning from the apocalypse to the fight for human survival. I’m finding it really difficult to review this book, because I was impressed with it but I need to try and be a little critical because over all I don’t think I could rate the book more than 4 stars.

To begin with this book has so many characters, I was often lost with what was happening with all the characters, I had to keep a note pad and write down little things to remember just to keep my head straight. Simple things like ‘Amy; main protagonist, infected with a form of the virus which has made her immune.’ This has distracted me from fully enjoying this book, but when I had my head straight with all the vital characters, I was able to relax and enjoy the ride this novel took me on.

I also felt this book may have been far too long, but on reflection I can’t really think of anything that I would take out. It wasn’t repetitive and all the plot points just helped flesh out and make the characters interesting and three dimensional. I love how Justin Cronin gives you a story for each character but never really influences the reader to whether or not you like the character. In the end this just makes different people like different characters and the writer’s influence never seems to be a part to the decision making progress.

This is a beautifully written character driven story of survival and humanity. I find myself remembering what it was like reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy; another post-apocalyptic novel that I would also consider literary. The joys of reading something so wonderful and still feel like you are reading genre fiction; it’s a great feeling. Please, don’t be put off but the size of this book, it’s a wonderful read. Having finished the book, my biggest problem is that book two; The Twelve doesn’t come out to October and the final book in the trilogy; The City of Mirrors isn’t set for release till 2014.

The Deep Blue Good-By by John D. MacDonald

Posted June 24, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp / 0 Comments

The Deep Blue Good-By by John D. MacDonaldTitle: The Deep Blue Good-By (Goodreads)
Author: John D. MacDonald
Series: Travis McGee #1
Published: Ballantine Books, 1964
Pages: 384
Genres: Pulp
My Copy: Personal Copy

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I’ve never read a John D. MacDonald book before and I’ve read a lot of good things about his Travis McGee novels, so I thought I might start at the beginning for this series. This is the first in what is now a 21 book series and the first time we meet Travis McGee, a self-described “salvage consultant”, almost like a treasure hunter but instead he recovers the property of his clients for a fee; half.  He is hired and has to go up against the pathologically evil antagonist Junior Allen, who may seem friendly but has a very sinister agenda.

For a hard-boiled style “salvage consultant” McGee seems to be very ordinary; I felt like all the guys liked him (except the antagonist) and all the girls wanted him. There wasn’t much depth in the character at all except in one scene where he was ready to torture someone for information and I saw a glimpse of a sociopath in McGee. This just made me want to read a book with a sociopath hard-boiled detective, so if you have any recommendations let me know.

The story felt very predictable, it was more of a quick enjoyable story being told to me. I think, while this series might work well as filler reading to  help recover from something heavy, there are much better books out there to read instead of this series. The sex and violence that was in this book was pretty intense for a book written in 1964 so I really don’t want to just write off the entire series because of predictability; so if you share a different opinion or can recommend me one of the Travis McGee books that could change my mind, please let me know.