Monthly Archives: January 2003

Ed McBain – Ghosts

It’s Christmastime at the 87th Precinct, and Detective Steve Carella catches a double murder. One of the vicitms is a bestselling writer of ghost stories, and his girlfriend is a medium. When she starts making spooky predictions, Carella isn’t sure if she’s faking or for real. But he’s going to find out… It was a bit strange to see a supernatural element in the normally gritty world of the 87th Precinct, but McBain uses it to good effect, producing another tense mystery.

Neil Gaiman – Coraline

Coraline is a young girl who lives with her parents in a big house. Downstairs live two elderly actresses, and upstairs lives a crazy old man who trains mice. But the adjacent flat is empty. Or is it? One day Coraline opens the door between the two flats, and finds her “other mother” waiting for her. Even in this short a space (it’s a novella, really), Gaiman crafts a beautiful, creepy tale with all his trademark depth and imagination. Wonderful.


Chicago: sex, liquor and jazz. The characters are sleazy, selfish and morally bankrupt caricatures, but the cast tackle them with such relish and exaggerated glee that you love them anyway. The song and dance numbers–most of which actually play out in Roxie’s imagination–are flawlessly executed, and brilliantly interwoven with the main story. It’s a snide look at corruption, ambition, and the fleeting nature of fame. It’s also a cynical black comedy, and a masterpiece of good old-fashioned entertainment. On every level, it works, it snaps, and it sizzles. Go see it now.

Drouthy Neebors (Baker St., Stirling)

When I saw that the “Big Boy” burger was “12 oz of prime ground beef” on a toasted bun, topped with cheddar cheese and bacon, I thought that this was just the ticket for me. Unfortunately the bun was more stale than toasted, and the 12 oz actually came in the form of two burger-shaped things, which made the whole too big to assemble and put in one’s mouth. The burgers themselves were pre-packaged, dense, and flavourless. They’d been cooked to the point where they had a thin, crispy crust. And to top it all, the table was so wobbly that it was hard to eat it with a knife and fork. I won’t be coming back here in a hurry (or at all).

The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin’s books are like the little girl with the little curl right in the middle of her forehead, and this one is not very, very good. It uses her old trick of demonising something she disagrees with (in this case, organised religion) to set up the plot conflict. As with that unfortunate run of books where her male characters were capable of evil, but her female ones were never worse than misguided, she has substituted paper tigers and dogmatic thinking for serious character development. It is a waste of a good background and a previously invisible bit of her future history. Even her usual luminous prose cannot save The Telling.

John Sandford – The Devil’s Code

A hacker acquaintance of Kidd’s is killed under suspicious circumstances, and his sister asks Kidd to investigate. He pokes around, and finds the signs of a bigger mystery, with threads leading to another murder, the NSA, and a mysterious hacker group called “Firewall”. The story sprawls a bit, and the plot isn’t as tight as the first two Kidd books–too much of the action seems to be going on in places other than the main narrative. And there are only a few instances where Kidd’s character gets stretched beyond a thumbnail sketch, which is a shame.

John Sandford – The Fool’s Run

This is the first Kidd and LuEllen novel. For a book–a mass-market thriller, no less–about computer hacking that was published in 1989, it hasn’t aged a bit. Sure, the tech is old, but it’s never silly in the way that some “hi-tech” books seem after the fact. This is partly because Sandford puts a lot of research into his books, but mainly because at its heart The Fool’s Run is a fundmentally human story about crime and betrayal. Very good.

Robert Crais – Hostage

A robbery goes wrong. The three perpertrators break into a suburban house and take the family hostage. On the surface this looks like a simple hostage negotiation story, but it soon becomes more complicated than that. Some of the plot twists are expected, but all are perfectly timed to ratchet up the tension and keep the action flowing. The characterisation is simple but effective, resulting in a highly satisfying thriller that’s just begging to be turned into a film.