“Labyrinth” Kat Richardson

“Labyrinth” is book 5 of Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series, and I read it a couple of months ago now. I nearly decided not to write a blog post about it as it had been so long since I read it – this summer has been pretty hectic & I’ve been generating posts to write quicker than I can write them! (Which is a nice problem to have 🙂 ). But I do want to make a few remarks for my own benefit even if I’m not sure how interesting or coherent they’ll be for anyone else. And it’s incredibly hard to say anything without spoilers for the previous books.

I thought when I started the series that these would be a never ending series of PI thrillers. That book 1 would be the origin story where Harper Blaine gets her ability to see and interact with the supernatural and then there’d be a bad-guy-of-the-book or mystery-of-the-book for each succeeding instalment. Instead it’s become clear that there’s an overarching story here, and I found out (after I read this book but before I wrote about it) that the ninth and final book has been published this summer. So that’s reshaped how I think about the series a bit, and I think probably gives them more re-read value (and I’m annoyed now that I missed out on book 3 as it’s more like missing a chapter of a novel rather than just an episode). I think I’ll stick to using the library for now – but I should put them on the list to be bought & revisited later.

Plot wise, Harper is back on home ground here and we revisit some of the people and plot threads from book 1 but now Harper knows so much more than she did. It’s become clear that what happened to Harper wasn’t an accident, and that a lot of the people that seemed coincidentally linked to her in the first story actually had agendas of their own. Harper is also being changed by her increasingly deep connection to the Grey, and not in good ways. Over the last 4 books she’s gradually opened up and made more friends & connections* and now the Grey is starting to take some of that away. I don’t think this is going to turn out to be a tragedy overall, the tone so far hasn’t felt like the sort of story where Harper could become evil and take over the world muahahahaha. But with 4 books left there’s definitely time for these disturbing seeds to grow and it to get darker before pulling back at the end.

*Amusing that her lack of connection to the world around her was something I was concerned was a bad sign for the series in book 1. Nope, it was a plot point.

On a different note, after I read book 4 I wondered if the Egyptian vampires were a real legend – the author’s note in this book says that they are not. I’m impressed that Richardson has made her creation feel so truthy – there wasn’t anything that jumped out and made me think that couldn’t be an Egyptian legend.

Hopefully the library has book 6! 🙂

A Very British Murder with Lucy Worsley

A Very British Murder with Lucy Worsley was a three part series about the peculiar relationship of Victorian & Edwardian Britain with murder. It was half about the real life crimes that shocked (and enthralled) the nation during the era – including such notable villains as Jack the Ripper and Dr Crippen as well as others I’d not heard of before. This strand of the programme also looked at the changing face of crime detection and reporting during this era – the very idea of police detectives was come up with in Victorian times. The British fascination with murders also got a boost from cheapening newspapers and rising literacy.

Worsley was also talking about fictional murders – and the blurry line between dramatised stories of real life crimes and purely fictional crimes. Particularly in Victorian times an especially juicy story might get turned into the plot of a melodrama or for a travelling puppet theatre show. People would also write in to New Scotland Yard with their own ideas for how to solve high profile unsolved murders – and Worsley tied this to the beginning of the detective novel.

Purely fictional murder sensational novels and detective stories rose in popularity through Victorian and Edwardian times, reaching their highpoint with the Golden Age of detective fiction between the two world wars. This is the time of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers etc and in their fiction murder has become very sanitised, and detection a parlour game. Figuring out “whodunnit” before you got to the reveal at the end of the book had much the same appeal as doing a crossword, and those were also rising in popularity at the time.

This was a TV series with a sense of fun – Worsley dressed up in period costume, and acted out snippets of melodramas and so on as they fitted into the story she was telling us. Including a bit of the transformation scene from the stage production of Jekyll & Hyde!

Other TV watched this week:

Episode 2 of Mud, Sweat and Tractors – series about the history of farming in 20th Century Britain.

Episode 1 of The Crusades – series presented by Thomas Asbridge about the Crusades.

Episode 1 of Fossil Wonderlands: Nature’s Hidden Treasures – Richard Fortey looking at three fossil sites that changed our idea of the past.

Martin Amis’ England – a one-off programme featuring Martin Amis talking about what he thinks it is to be English and about modern society. The BBC blurb for it sounds a lot more negative than I thought it actually was.

Hidden Histories: WW1’s Forgotten Photographs – one-off programme about the photographs taken by ordinary soldiers during WWI. Particularly featuring two photographers, one German and one British, whose descendants met up as part of the programme.

“Vanished” Kat Richardson

Vanished is the fourth book in Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series – I’m getting these out of the library so sadly I skipped over book 3 because the library don’t have it. I don’t think this’ll be a long post – I’m not sure how much I can say about this book while staying spoiler free. When I started reading the series I thought they were going to be very episodic monster-of-the-week stuff, but this one (and perhaps the last one too, I don’t know) is much more concerned with series arc. And my initial criticism of the protagonist, Harper Blaine, feeling in the first book like she came out of nowhere is even more off base than I thought with the last book! Here we get to meet some of her family, and other figures from her past, and we find out both why she’s kinda bad at interpersonal relationships and something about why she’s a Greywalker.

I like that Richardson is pulling in things other than the typical urban fantasy critters. The main focus is the ghosts rather than the vampires, and there are other beings from other mythologies – notably a golem, and a statue of Sekhmet which the goddess speaks through at least once. You can probably guess I was pleased to read that bit, I do have a fondness for Sekhmet – and I think Richardson got the right feel for a goddess who is both a protective deity and a personification of rage. She also works in some Ancient Egyptian vampires – not sure here if she took some known piece of Egyptian mythology and reworked it or if it was an invention of her own. What I liked was that they were both vampires and yet a bit different – having cultural and mythological variety in even the creatures that are well worn tropes of urban fantasy makes the whole world feel more fleshed out and solid.

Time to see if the library has book 5, I think 🙂

“Poltergeist” Kat Richardson

This is the second of Kat Richardson’s urban fantasy/detective series about a Seattle-based PI who sees ghosts & can walk in the ghost world (I read the first one a couple of months ago). The set up for this book is that a psychologist is researching how people react to the idea that they are interacting with the paranormal – he’s set up an experiment where a group think they’ve generated a poltergeist, but he’s got someone faking the ghostly actions. Only now he’s getting things happening that his faker hasn’t faked – so he asks Harper Blaine to investigate & find out which of the group is faking the new stuff. Obviously, given the genre of the book the poltergeist is in fact real and significantly more dangerous than the psychologist comprehends – and Harper must figure out how to get rid of it without letting on that it’s real, and what caused it.

My specific criticism of Greywalker – that Harper appears to’ve appeared fully formed from nowhere is addressed. In this book there’s more of a sense of roots in the city pre-dating her becoming a greywalker, in particular her friend Phoebe & Phoebe’s family. There’s also another improvement that Richardson actually mentions in her afterword – in book 1 Harper didn’t have a mobile phone instead she just has a pager, which felt rather odd and made me wonder if the book wasn’t as recent as I thought. It turns out that the first book was written several years before it was published, and Richardson decided not to entirely update it to the “present day” of the publication date. This second book has Harper get a phone and even lampshades it by having her dislike how it lets people call her too early in the morning.

I still like how the series is tending towards the horror side of the supernatural beasties – this poltergeist is dangerous, and the vampire necromancer that Harper needs help from to deal with it has his own less-than-human perspective on appropriate punishments for the mind that is linked to the poltergeist. I also like how Harper has to hide what she is otherwise people would think she was crazy – it’s like our world, the default is that ghosts and vampires don’t exist. It’s just that in this case Harper and a very few others know that’s not true. But her understandable desire to not be seen as crazy is probably making her miss out on potential allies, I suspect as the series goes on she’ll let more people into the truth of her world – there are various things in this book that made me think that Harper’s need to keep herself to herself is being framed as something she needs to move beyond.

I think this still falls into the fun-read-once category – so I’ll carry on getting these from the library. Sadly the library don’t have the third book, but I’ve reserved the fourth one instead.

“Delusion in Death” J. D. Robb

J. D. Robb is a pen name for Nora Roberts who writes mostly romance & romance/crossover novels under her real name. Robb writes futuristic crime/thrillers, and her protagonist is Eve Dallas, a police lieutenant in a future NYPD homicide division. There are loads of these books, all called Something In Death, this one (Delusion in Death) is last autumn’s one (there appear to be two per year). In it Dallas must figure out what could make a bar full of perfectly normal business people suddenly slaughter each other – leaving 80 dead and nearly no witnesses. What could’ve caused this, who did it & why? And can Dallas stop the perpetrator from doing it again?

These books are guilty pleasure books for me, candy floss for the brain – ok in small doses but you wouldn’t want too much. There’s definitely a formula for these, a pattern to the shape of the story that holds true across the whole series. And I have the distinct feeling that the choice of a futuristic setting is to remove the need to have the murder methods be plausible with today’s tech or have the police follow acceptable to now standards. She’s even written in a collapse of society & rebuild in between now & then so extrapolation from here to there doesn’t need to be obvious. (Although having said that, the world she’s invented for them does hang together pretty well it’s not just a get out of jail free card she’s put some thought into it.) It doesn’t stop them being fun reads, and a series that I will pick up the next instalment of as soon as I see it in the library (and mostly finish reading while standing in the library) but I won’t bother reserving them.

Robb/Roberts’s strength is creating characters and making them feel real, and distinct. Obviously in this series Eve Dallas and the other recurring characters get fleshed out gradually over the course of several books, but even the one-offs for this book feel like individuals. Even the antagonist – who’s a pathetic weasel of a person, not a meglomaniac or caricature.

I don’t know if I’ve really got anything else to say about this book – fun but possibly not worth looking too closely at the plot in case I see holes.