Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Review Post, 1/21/2012

John Donohue - Deshi

I read this on the train from DC to Philly, rounding out my trashy book week. Connor Burke is an Irish-American academic martial artist. His chosen martial art is kendo, the art of the sword, but it is implied that he is also a black belt in at least two other arts - judo and akido, I think. His brother is a New York City detective. Connor gets called in by his brother when an execution style murder scene includes some Asian calligraphy - Connor needs to translate, and then explain. This, of course, pulls Connor into a complicated mystery involving power among gangs in New York and honor among martial artists.

It's a creditable novel. Donohue (an Irish-American academic martial artist, oddly enough) knows his material. The martial arts are all well described (but not overly so - there were only a couple of places where I felt like "you know, I don't really need to know how that particular fight went down, thanks"), and the whole work held together very well. A good mystery, with a reasonable motive and a satisfactory ending.

This is the second book in what looks to be a trilogy. Donohue does an excellent job of giving enough detail from the first book that you know the connections between the characters, but not so much that you feel like you really should have read the first book. (Nor anywhere near so much that you feel that reading the first book would be unnecessary.) I'm going to look for the first book (Sensei).

Thomas Mullen - The Revisionists

A sci-fi spy thriller. The premise is twisty. Z has come from the future to our present. So, ok, you're thinking Terminator, right? And, ok, fine - think Terminator. But Z is not Kyle Reese. Z is the Terminator. His mission is to ensure that horrible thing happen to us so that his perfect society can blossom out of the ashes of our destruction. In particular, Z has been sent to protect a series of events from "hags" - historical agitators - who have come back out of some misguided attempt to "save" us from ourselves. Z is equipped with a replica of a present 9 millimeter, and some impressive skull based equipment, including a Genescan which allows him to see hags, and mental access to thousands of files in a database, which allow him to accurately predict when, where, and to whom things are going to happen.

Leo is ex-CIA. He may or may not have leaked information about torture at black sites to the New York Times. He is currently working for a civilian government contractor, doing more or less the same things he used to do for the CIA. His current job is to monitor the activities of an anti-war anti-government secrecy group (essentially wikileaks, but not quite). While shopping for groceries one day, he runs into a confused Indonesian woman also shopping for groceries, and discovers that she is the deeply unhappy (and sadly abused) servant of a South Korean diplomat. Sensing that this could be a way to redeem himself with his former superiors (and, frankly, wanting to get to know the woman better), Leo begins weaving a plot to get information out of the diplomat's residence.

Tasha is a young African-American lawyer working in a corporate law firm in order to pay off her law school debts. Her brother died in Iraq. She doesn't believe the official story of why. When she reads memos from a client of the firm indicating that they had delayed shipping equipment to soldiers in Iraq (including armored vests and ammunition) in order to save a little money, she agonizes for a bit, then leaks this information to the New York Times, where it causes a minor sensation, then vanishes. She becomes involved in periphery of the anti-war group that Leo is investigating. She also runs into Z, who is using the alias Troy Jones, and they begin a relationship of sorts.

So, it's a spy story. It's a political thriller. It's an odd utopian/dystopian sci fi story. All mooshed together in a delightful way, and then twisted until the reader isn't sure what's really happening, and who it's really happening to. Z, who is the only point of view character, is quickly shown to be an unreliable narrator. I'm going to mask some spoilers here (those who don't mind spoilers can decypher the following here - simply cut and paste into the obvious box, and click the button.):

Nobhg n lrne ntb, Ebova Ynjf ena n tnzr ba uvf yvirwbheany pnyyrq Natryf naq Bcrengbef. Vg jnf onfvpnyyl n pubbfr lbhe bja nqiragher tnzr. Rnpu jrrx, Ynjf jbhyq cbfg n yvggyr ovg bs gur fgbel, naq raq jvgu n fheirl; fbzrgvzrf gjb pubvprf, ohg bsgra sbhe be svir. Ernqref jbhyq ibgr va gur fheirl, naq gur bcgvba jvgu gur zbfg ibgrf nsgre n ernfbanoyr crevbq bs gvzr jbhyq or jung unccrarq. Gur punenpgre jr jrer pbyyrpgviryl cynlvat jnf n uhzna ntrag bs gur natryf. Gur natryf hfrq uvz gb svtug ntnvafg gur Bcrengbef, tenagvat uvz gur novyvgl gb frr Bcrengbef nf gurl gehyl ner haqre gurve uhzna qvfthvfrf. Ubjrire, jura gur ntrag jnf abg arrqrq ol gur natryf, ur erfvqrf va n zragny vafgvghgvba, jurer ur vf tvira n zrq juvpu gheaf bss gur novyvgl gb frr Bcrengbef... V qba'g npghnyyl erpnyy vs gur dhrfgvba bs "ernyyl na ntrag, be npghnyyl fpuvmbcueravp" jnf rire ernyyl erfbyirq, orpnhfr gung jnf gur prageny grafvba bs gur fgbel. Zhyyra qbrf fbzrguvat fvzvyne gbjneqf gur raq bs guvf obbx, naq qbrf abg erfbyir vg rvgure - rvgure M vf na ntrag bs fbzr shgher tbireazrag frag gb cebgrpg riragf va bhe cerfrag, naq znfdhrenqvat nf Gebl Wbarf va beqre gb svg va, be Gebl Wbarf vf na rk AFN ntrag jubfr oenva fanccrq jura uvf jvsr naq xvq qvrq va n pne nppvqrag, naq jub abj, va n fpuvmbcueravp shthr, oryvrirf uvzfrys gb or M, na ntrag bs n shgher tbireazrag frag gb cebgrpg riragf va bhe cerfrag.

In the end, it doesn't really matter. Either possibility results in the same excellent story, and the tension between the two possibilities merely makes the story that much deeper and twistier and, as I suggested yesterday, mind-fuckerier. Which it was to begin with.

It's a slow read, because the events are complicated. Also, expect to dream of spies and such for most of the week while reading it - at least, I did, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. Some readers may find Mullen a little too cynical in re: current politics, and that may be a fair assessment - he has not, however, written a work of propaganda, so I didn't mind. There are no "good guys" and "bad guys" here - the pro-government and anti-government groups are equally a-moral and, almost, slimy. I'm ok with that.