Tag Archives: supernatural

The Secret Place by Tana French

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Tana French has got her groove back, thank goodness. I really didn’t like her last book (Broken Harbor) but this one had me staying up late and reading on my work breaks to find out whodunit. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you.)

If you’ve never read Tana French, you can start with any book – they are all loosely connected by way of being about someone in the Dublin Murder Squad, but since each novel stands alone and features different detectives, there are no real spoilers. If you are only going to read one of her books, try The Likeness (if you like suspense) or Faithful Place (if you like complicated family drama). Of course if you’re a purist and intend to read them all, start with her first, In the Woods. It doesn’t matter where you start, they’re all good (as long as you avoid Broken Harbor).

The Secret Place’s protagonist is detective Stephen Moran. We met Moran initially in Faithful Place, but now he is working in Cold Cases. One morning, the daughter of his former mentor Frank Mackey comes to him with a card she found – a card with a picture of Chris Harper, a boy who was murdered on the grounds of her school, St Kilda’s, over a year ago. The card reads “I know who killed him.” Moran isn’t on the Murder Squad, but he wants to be. He shows the card to Antoinette Conway, whose case it was before it went cold over a year ago. Her partner on that case has since retired, so she grudgingly accepts Moran as temporary sidekick. They drive out to St Kilda’s to investigate, and what follows is a roller-coaster ride where he and Conway encounter defensive nuns, warring mean girl cliques, and what seem like endless layers of deception. Moran and Conway don’t know each other, so they are constantly trying to feel each other out on the fly and aren’t sure how far to trust one another – if at all. And as the evidence starts to implicate Holly, her father gets involved and Stephen has to decide whether to risk career suicide by offending his former boss or bail.

The most intriguing aspect of this story is the very real threats Stephen faces while working this case. First of all, he isn’t on the Murder Squad, and his involvement could be interpreted as poaching. Second, Conway is an outsider in the Murder Squad – the men have never accepted her, and are actively trying to drive her out. Aligning himself with her could be genius if they solve the case, but if they don’t, he may as well go back to being a uniformed cop. As a person of a lower social class and as a man, he has to be extra careful dealing with the girls at St. Kilda’s, who can so easily destroy him with any hint of impropriety on his part. He dances delicately, and it’s fun to watch.

What reads like this book? Hmmm. Some of the characters remind me of Gillian Flynn’s younger characters in both Sharp Objects and Dark Places. The fierce friendship between the girls and the isolation of their school life reminded me a bit of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, but that’s a stretch.

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The Dresden Files (series) by Jim Butcher

So the reason I haven’t posted in forever is that I’ve been spending all of my free reading time reading children’s books and…confession time…I’ve been binging on the Dresden Files. For years I have looked up these books for patrons and silently judged these books by their covers – complete with pictures on the back of the author with Very Big Bad Hair. (He looks like the kind of guy who lives in his parent’s basement and plays too much D&D.) But then I heard that the audiobooks were read by actor James Marsters, who I have been mildly in love with since he appeared on Smallville and madly in love with since I binge-watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Since the first book (Storm Front) I’ve been hooked. I get the ebooks along with the audio in case I stop driving at a cliffhanger moment or the CD skips and I miss something. It’s a sickness. I’m ashamed, but I still perennially have the next 2 on hold.

The premise of the series is that magic and the supernatural are real, but most people don’t believe. Harry Dresden is a wizard – the only practicing wizard in Chicago, with an ad in the phone book and everything. Of course, none but the most desperate or nutty clients would seek out his services, so he is constantly hungry for cash and takes on the most ridiculous cases to pay the bills. He serves as a consultant to the Special Investigations unit (Chicago’s vague equivalent to the X-Files team) and is called in on cases where the supernatural seems likely. His “straight man” on the force is Karrin Murphy, a 5-foot cop with overcompensation issues (she may be short, but she knows several martial arts and is an expert in all types of firearms). She kicks the mortal asses while Harry kicks the supernatural ones. It’s fun to watch (listen).

It sounds cheesy, I know. The covers look cheesy. The constant glowing descriptions of every female character (there are no ugly females as far as lonely Harry is concerned, and he lovingly details their every feature for you) are cheesy. The fight scenes are overly dramatic and the sex scenes are downright hilarious in their soap-opera-y way. But for some reason I am as powerless to stop reading these books as I am to stop eating potato chips once I start. They seem to be getting better and better as more characters are introduced and we find out more and more about Harry’s world. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for Spike reading to me while I drive. It’s hard to say. Read one yourself (or better yet let Spike read it to you) and see. But beware – maybe the author really IS a wizard, and he’s put an addictive spell on them? Who can say?

Kraken by China Mieville

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Holy squid, I finally finished Kraken. I have been working on this book through 3 renewals (that’s 9 weeks, people) and last night I turned the final page. My exact thought after finishing was “I know I have been complaining about how hard this book was but now I’m sorry I’m done.”

It is impossible to really describe this book. On the surface, it’s the story of a cephalod expert at London’s Natural History Museum named Billy, whose only claim to fame is that he preserved a giant squid and now leads tours to show it off. When the squid inexplicably vanishes, Billy (and you, dear reader) discover that London has a secret, supernatural underbelly that many do not even suspect, and that the stolen kraken may just bring about Armageddon. There are countless people who could have stolen the squid, and for all sorts of dangerous reasons – and Billy needs a crash course in who’s who in the supernatural world before he can even begin to comprehend what trouble he is in.

This book is fascinating. The characters you meet range from clueless mortal Billy to Wati, the Union Boss of the Underworld, who makes sure that familiars, golems and what-have-you are treated fairly by their wizard masters. There is Dane, who was an assassin for the Church of God Kraken (a squid cult) but has now been excommunicated for helping Billy, who the church sees as a possible prophet. There is a secret police division that deals exclusively with cults and supernatural critters (the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit), and a collection of the most frightening magical thugs you will ever encounter in any book ever. You will love each and every one of the good guys (the book is worth reading just to get to know Constable Collingswood of the aforementioned FSRC), and fear the bad guys – when you can tell the difference, which admittedly sometimes you can’t.

Word of warning – this book is hard to read. I had to have a dictionary and the Internet handy every minute, because Mieville’s vocabulary is extremely difficult. The dictionary can handle the merely big complicated words, but you’ll need the Internet to identify the origins of some of the religions and critters you encounter. You’ll also need the Urban Dictionary to decipher the London slang, and brush up on your Latin for the words he seems to have made up out of several different roots put together in no particular order. More than once I Googled a word or phrase and got no results other than message boards full of people saying “I’m reading Kraken and I can’t find this word anywhere. . .”*

But don’t let that stop you. After a certain point, it’s okay to just give up and gloss over the hard words, because the context helps you figure out enough to follow along (or rather, get dragged along). The pure adrenaline rush of adventure is so worth it.

I’d give you some read-alikes, but frankly, I have never read anything quite like this book. MAYBE The Master and Margarita by Mikail Bulgakov? It has that same sort of all-hell-breaks-loose feel, with characters that are familiar because they are based on historical/mythological/supernatural standards. If you like YA, I suppose it is vaguely similar to Michael Scott’s Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, or Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series for that idea that there are many worlds out there, and some people can exist in more than one.

*Incidentally, if anyone can figure out what the phrase “caned a cigarette” means, I would be immensely grateful.