September 19, 2006
Installment 229, in which young Thomasina gets all in a tizzy about serialised novels and receives her comeuppance
All of my anachronistic tendencies are running around in their little highnecked blouses and lace-up boots with sheer delight at the news that Penguin is releasing a novel in serial form. G.W. (Gordon) Dahlquist’s Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is going to be turned out in ten paperback installments, one each week, prior to publication of the full novel in January.
The serialised format of this project, hearkening back to the days when Dickens’ Great Expectations outsold daily newspapers, is also mirrored in the project’s form and content. The volumes are bound and the covers designed to resemble Victorian serials, while the story itself, according to reviews in the U.S. where the full book has already been released, is a dark blend of science fiction, thriller, fantasy, and gothic mystery.
The serials’ home is a kind of parallel-universe but unnamed Victorian London, in which our three heroes, Miss Temple, a pretty and upright Victorian young woman, Dr. Svenson, a foreign physician enlisted to be chaperone to the Prince, and Cardinal Chang, an adequately Dickensian lower-class crook hired to kill a man, set out to solve their independent mysteries. The answers are somehow bound up in the three villains (titles leant them upfront by Penguin’s website, lest there be any confusion), the Contessa Laquer-Sforza, the Comte d’Okancz, and Francis Xonck. And, also no doubt, in the Glass Books and the Dream Eaters.
Reviews have been mixed: the Washington Post dismissed it as “hundreds of pages of ornament piled on a rickety piece of storytelling,” but the Cleveland Plain Dealer hailed it as “flat-out fun, engaging and funny as any tale of mystery and imagination I can recall,” saying also that “the dialogue is wry, the descriptions clever and the complicated plot advances as smoothly as a patrician’s pocket watch. …At more than 700 pages, this one ends too quickly.” The Kansas City Star weighed in the middle, praising Dahlquist for creating “a literary character in Miss Temple,” and assessing the book as having “a clever conceit with a foundation of literature as fantasy, though it has its excesses and derivations.” All other things aside, I find charges of verbosity in a serial to be rather beside the point: Dickens, for example, is not exactly concise. For which I love him, being a humble heir to prolixity myself (cf. size of current post).
But here the similarities to Victorian serials (if spiced up with a bit of science fiction and fantasy) end. The serials are not available in stores; you can only purchase a subscription online, with a limited edition of 5,000 copies. The entire series sells for Â£25, roughly Â£8 more than the complete edition to be published early next year, and in the U.S., only the full novel is purchasable.
If this is slightly dissapointing, confusion follows. Apparently, Penguin is using the book to “lure readers to their fledgling online site,” (according to Reuters) a goal that many publishers around the globe are trying to acheive in order to eliminate the middleman.coms like Amazon and encourage readers to buy directly from the publishers.
“Publishing is routinely behind in terms of using the Internet,” explained Amelia Fairney, publicity director for Penguin imprint Viking. “We have to start using it the same way the music and film industries have. We’re just moving with the times really.” An admirable goal, certainly, but it seems counter-intuitive to promote a website with a serialised novel. Would the music industry, as indicated by Fairney, promote their website with the release of wax cylinder recordings? Bookhugger that I am, I would never suggest that books are an analogously antiquated medium, but with the information flow tendencies of our society, promoting the serials via the website would make a lot more sense.
And furthermore, the Glass Books website does really seem in the business of promoting the books rather than drawing readers into an online community, as was originally promised. The Reuters article: “Penguin is hoping fans will discuss the book online after reading each installment and delve into the elaborate mythology surrounding the characters in a devoted online space, www.glassbooks.co.uk.” Both elaborate mythology and delving readers appear to be absent. Perhaps the forum for a blogging community has not yet been set up, as the book will not be sent out to its subscribers until next month, but until then, it does beg the question: who is promoting whom?
Embarking on an attempt to solve my own mystery, I discovered that (oddly enough) the U.S. site for the book has a a bit more interactive material—namely, an online game inventively dubbed the Glass Books of the Dream Eaters Online Adventure—but still no forums. And I join a fair amount of other internet readers annoyed that the author on the UK site (GW Dahlquist) is advertised as having “never entertained the idea of being a writer until a chance encounter with film-maker Stanley Kubrick,” while the author on the U.S. site (Gordon Dahlquist) is said to be a playwright and film-maker living in New York. The ever-amusing and ever-informative folks at Booksquare apparently also found somewhere the claim that GW Dahlquist was the “worldâ€™s sole remaining practitioner of mesmerism.” By the time I arrived at the website, as far as I could divine, this mention of mesmerism had joined its disappearing brethren.
Maybe both Mr. Dahlquists did, in fact, meet Mr. Kubrick, or maybe neither of them did, but I would at least expect them to keep the marketing fiction consistent. You wouldn’t let this kind of inconsistency go within a fiction story (not that it hasn’t happened before, cf. The Three Musketeers), so why is it acceptable precisely within the realm which is supposed to be non-fiction? Does parallel-universe GW Dahlquist come part and parcel with parallel-universe Victorian London? The idea occured to me briefly that maybe all of this confusion is a kind of carefully orchestrated meta-mystery to draw in people as completely befuddled as myself, but I hardly think anyone involved has demonstrated that they’re quite that clever.
Visit Jurgen Wolff’s blogpost on Penguin’s marketing campaign; Daphoenus - Girl of Destiny’s telling inclusion of the book in ‘Literary Thingies’ rather than ‘Book Recommendations’; and a favourable review at Suburban Peril.
August 17, 2006
The Dead Hour is Denise Mena’s follow-up to 2005’s Field of Blood featuring struggling Scottish Daily News reporter Patricia “Paddy” Meehan who, three years after cracking the case of a little boy’s murder to become a full-fledged reporter, is now stuck covering the night shift crime beat. The word is depressing and going nowhere: drunken brawls, knife fights, and domestic violence. So when Paddy investigates a domestic violence dispute in the affluent suburbs, she is ready to dismiss it just as the cops interviewing the distressed couple seem to.
However, when Paddy catches a glimpse of an elegant, blonde woman suffering from a head wound, she is prompted to ask a few questions, only to have her handsome companion shove a fifty pound note at her not to report the story, and Paddy is poor enough where fifty pounds makes a difference. She agrees to not report it, only to sorely regret her decision the next morning reveals the woman to have been Vhari Burnett, a decidedly unmarried human rights lawyer, now found viciously murdered in her own home. It is here that Paddy realizes she had been bribed by Vhari’s murderer.
Things only become increasingly complicated as Vhari’s friend commits suicide, leaving an apologetic note that leads the police to believe that he had killed his friend, and then himself out of guilt. Now Paddy is faced with the decision to either track down Vhari’s real killer and admit to her own part in the crime - and possibly end her career - or to keep quiet about the affair and let her own guilt consume her.
August 4, 2006
Action thriller writer James Rollins returns to the scene with his latest Sigma Force novel, Black Order. This time, we follow Sigma Force leaders Painter Crowe and Grayson Pierce across the globe as they try and track down descendants of the Third Reich’s Heinrich Himmler who have a device that uses quantum mechanics to breed a race of genetic Aryan supermen.
In Nepal, a mystifying plague is destroying a small mountain village and monastery and a Nazi swastika is found on a cave wall. In Denmark, someone is killing to get a hold of rare historical documents connected to Victorian scientists. In South Africa, a mythological beast is apparently alive and well, and preying on wildlife. Somehow, all these stories are interconnected as Crowe and Pierce, working separately continents away from each other, come together in a race to the discovery of one of humankind: the origins of life itself.
With each offering, Rollins only garners more praise for his ability to create an exciting, suspenseful thriller that poses intelligent and well-crafted questions beyond your typical logic-wanting action-adventure fare. Rollins novels are fast-paced and imaginative, weaving you into the action with fleshed-out characters and fascinating scientific and historical facts.
Read a review of Black Order at Six Impossible Things.
August 3, 2006
Linda Fairstein eighth novel, Death Dance, brings back New York City sex crimes assistant DA Alexandra Cooper, with her friends, crime scene investigators Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace, time trying to solve the case of a murdered dancer with the Royal Ballet, who had enough of a diva attitude to foster a whole slew of suspects including her agent and Broadway producer and all-around scumbag Joe Berk. Combine this with a rape subplot and a terrifying Turkish doctor who drugs his victims before filming himself raping them, and Death Dance proves to be a thrilling tour de force with a dramatic, engrossing climax.
Read a review of Death Dance here.
August 1, 2006
Following her successes with novels illustrating the human-animal connection in her books Riding Lesson and Flying Changes, dealing with horses and horsemanship, Gruen brings in a new flavor with a take on life in the circus. The story is told through the lens of 93-year-old Jacob Jankowski, currently residing in an assisted living community, querulous about the limitations of age but still possessed of all of his mental faculties. A visiting circus nearby causes Jacob to revisit his past, when he belonged to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.
In a flashback of seventy years, 23-year-old Jacob finds himself penniless after both of his parents are killed in a car crash. After failing to sit for his veterinary exams at Cornell university, he is truly set adrift in the morass of poverty sweeping the country during the Great Depression. When he hops a train belonging to the Benzini Brothers’ show, he finagles his veterinary training into a position caring for the circus animals. Jacob grows to care for Marlena, the equestrian star performer–and unfortunately also the wife of one of the circus’s owners. August, Marlena’s husband, is abusive of both Marlena and the animals for which Jacob cares, while the other co-owner, Uncle Al, is devoted solely to business with a ruthless unconcern for any of the circus’s employees or animals. Jacob must navigate his way through this gritty world of sleazy entertainment while trying to keep safe all that becomes dear to him.
Though Gruen’s prose is often marked as only servicable, her characters are human and the story itself blends fictional memoir, adventure, romance, and mystery for an exciting read. She has clearly done substantial research on both travelling circuses of the earlier part of the century and on Depression-era America, lending the book historical interest as well. Historical buffs and romance fans alike will find a fun summer read in this novel.
Read a review here.
Read an interview with Sara Gruen here.
July 28, 2006
In Proof Positive, author Phillip Margolin brings us his third novel starring Amanda Jaffe, an Oregon defense attorney employed at her father’s firm. This time, Jaffe is trying to defend a mentally ill homeless man charged with murder while her father is doing the same - except for a mobster. Both men claim their innocence, but the forensic evidence says otherwise. That is, until Jaffe discovers that the two unrelated cases share a common denominator.
Despite problems in her personal life - her abysmal love life, being one - Jaffe is determined to uncover the strange mystery surrounding these two murder defendants. Her examination leads her to respected forensic expert Bernard Chashman, a man with a frightening philosophy that allows him secure a successful prosecution of those he feels are guilty - even if it means manufacturing crucial evidence that had never been there in the first place.
Margolin weaves a complex, suspenseful tale of multiple storylines against a fascinating backdrop of forensic evidence and crime scene investigation methods, effectively exploring how easy it is for a crime scene investigator to influence the outcome of a trial and ensure a certain verdict, completely undetected. With the massive popularity of shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Margolin’s novel is sure to attract a wide and appreciative audience.
Read a review of this book at Duffbert’s Random Musings.
July 19, 2006
Author John Lescroart kicks off the start of what is sure to be another engaging series with his latest novel, The Hunt Club. When a controversal federal judge and his mistress are found murdered, to homicide inspector Devin Juhle, it seems like a simple case of a jealous wife’s rage. However, Juhle’s investigation reveals far more complications: the murdered judge has many powerful enemies who wanted to see him dead. Meanwhile, Juhle’s good friend Wyatt hunt, a foster child, Desert Storm veteran, and now a successful private investigator, thinks he’s found the real thing with the beautiful and talented Andrea Parisi, a lawyer turned celebrity TV Trial commentator, bound for a national anchor job in New York City. Of course, it’s just Hunt’s luck that Juhle uncovers suspicious connections between Andrea and the murdered judge, and when Andrea herself goes missing, Juhle begins to suspect her for having a hand in the homicide, contrary to Hunt’s belief that she was kidnapped. Hunt is determined to find Andrea, and with him are his fellow associates and friends to help him, calling themselves “The Hunt Club.”
Read a review of this book here.
June 5, 2006
In Jesse Kellerman’s Sunstroke, Gloria Mendez has been unrequitedly pining for her much older, solitary boss Carl Perreira for ten years. So when Carl disappears and is pronounced death via a fiery car crash on an annual trip to Mexico — an aspect to his life he has never told her about — after leaving a frantic, garbled message on her answering machine, Gloria impulsively decides to search for him, not quite sure if he really is dead. But what she uncovers may be more than she has bargained for as both hers and Carl’s pasts come to light: including false identities, abandoned sons, and a whole mess of danger.
Read a brief review of Sunstroke here.
May 13, 2006
When Hugh Glass and Lewis Cole scaled the peak of Yosemite’s El Cap Mountain with the women they were going to marry three and a half decades ago. It had been the highlight of their lives but the tale didn’t end happily ever after. Fast forward to the present finds both men unhappy. Hugh’s wife is gone and Lewis’s is asking him for a divorce. With things going so badly, the men decide to relive their greatest triumph and climbe El Cap again, but what they encounter is a harrowing adventure more than the nostalgic trip they had been hoping for. They stumble across the corpse of a climber who fell, encounter a wild caveman who steals the corpse, and meet up with a suspicious-acting mountain guide whose fiancee is missing. All of this, and there’s a fierce storm heading their way.
Read a review of Wall here.
May 2, 2006
Next Page »
Detective Francis X. Loughlin’s first big case was solving the death of a female doctor, but unfortunately, Julian Vega, the convicted killer, got his release on a technicality just a few years later after a string of appeals. Inevitably, another murder arises bearing remarkable similarities with the case from twenty years ago so that Julian is the first man Loughlin suspects. However, thanks to advancements in DNA technology that hadn’t existed back then, evidence points in an impossible direction — the blood belonging to the woman Julian supposedly had killed in 1983 — and forcing Loughlin to rethink years of certainty. Now, Julian’s the only one who can help Loughlin solve this puzzling mystery and get to the truth of the matter.
Read a review of Slipping into Darkness here.