Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Reviews, 5/13/2011

After last week's deeply complex novels of politics, real and fantastic, I wanted something a little lighter this week. I managed two books (and most of a third, but you'll have to wait until next Friday for that).

Dorothy Sayers - Whose Body?

A fairly straightforward mystery novel, and the first of Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey novels. Wimsey is an aristocrat who dabbles in solving crimes. We learn, over the course of the novel, that he has served in World War One (the book was published in 1923), and suffers from shell shock - what we would call PTSD now. Bunter, his butler/valet, was also his sergeant in the war. Both characters are surprisingly well developed for what is, after all, not a particularly deep novel.

Wimsey's mother brings him word of a body which has been discovered by the architect who is helping to re-roof her local church. Wimsey investigates the mysterious body. Inspector Parker of Scotland Yard, a good friend of Wimsey's, is investigating the disappearance of a Jewish financier. It is suspected that the two mysteries are linked, and so Parker and Wimsey investigate together. The connection they discover is not one they expect.

I don't know much about the mystery novels of the inter-war period, but this novel seems fairly robust for the genre. With only a few alterations, it would work quite well in a modern setting - the plot is good, but the character of Wimsey, the aristocrat doesn't fit in a modern setting, he would have to be the son of wealth rather than the son of feudal privilege, perhaps. Some alterations for technology would be needed as well. Those points aside, Sayer's novel stands up very well to the test of time. It has humor and horror, it combines very nicely the amateur sleuth with the police procedural. It has surprisingly deep characters and a good twist ending. Fans of the genre who have, for some reason, not read Sayers, will find this delightful.

Holly Black - Red Glove

This is the second of Black's "Curse Workers" series, a sequel to White Cat, which I reviewed last year. They are a very pleasant combination of the YA "boarding school coming of age," "magic works in our real world," and "caper/con artist" genres. Actually, I don't know if those are real genres, but those are the themes these books combine, and Black does a wonderful job.

I think, in my previous review, I praised Black's use of the caper novel - a genre I adore, especially with con artists - and her creation of a realistic magical system that fits neatly into a world which is very much like our own. She has put considerable thought into how the world would be different if people could do magic, down to the constant wearing of gloves in public, and often in private. (Magic/curses are done by touching someone with your bare hands. Thus, wearing gloves is expected, not wearing gloves is a serious social infraction. Porn, in Black's world, features bare hands as often as it does bare anything else.) All of that continues here. I love the attention to detail; the little snippets of standard history that Black offers - the things that everyone knows about their world, stated in off-hand comments, or as part of a class session - excellent world building. I also recall that, in the previous novel, I didn't really like the characters. This book has the same characters, but I liked them better. Perhaps it's familiarity, perhaps Black is layering elements of depth on her characters, perhaps it's the mood I'm in right now - in the previous novel, I found many of the characters grating; in this book I am more sympathetic.

In this book, Cassel Sharpe (the protagonist) must balance his loyalty to his family (criminals all) with his loyalty to his friends and his desire to do what is right. He is torn between an offer to work for the magical mob (which is tempting because lucrative) and an offer/order to work for the FBI. The FBI are investigating the murder of Cassel's older brother, which they think is linked to a series of disappearances. Casssel recognizes the earlier cases as incidents that he was involved in, somewhat against his will. He must decide how much he owes to his brothers, how much he wants to give to the FBI, and how much he wants to protect himself. On top of that, he has to deal with his emotions regarding Lila Zacharov - a girl he's loved most of his life, who is a) the daughter (and heir) of the mob boss, and b) has been enspelled by Cassel's mother to love Cassel - any sort of interaction between Cassel and Lila will be marked by that fact. And Lila has decided to enroll at the boarding school where Cassel is taking classes. Awkwardness ensues.

So, I liked the characters better in this book than in the previous one, I still like the plot elements - I'll absolutely pick up the next book when I see it. Cassel has at least one semester left at high school - will the series follow him to college? I'm thinking at least one more novel (perhaps something Blue? Or would that just be cheesy?), possibly two. Either way, I heartily recommend the books.