This is the second novel in Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series, and like the first one it is an odd and unexpected mixture of cozy mystery and horror novel that manages to work surprisingly well. This time, Rickman moves the supernatural rather more into the foreground than it was in The Wine of Angels where it was only a very subtle presence that might very well not have existed at all. In Midwinter of the Spirit (I really love that title), we have ghosts, demonic possession, satanism - a whole range of supernatural phenomena. It is getting almost too much, and one can’t help but feel that Rickman is laying it on a bit too thick with an ending of almost apocalyptic proportions. Still, he manages to keep things in balance, if just barely, and never comes quite down on the side of a supernatural explanation of events; also there is a definite sense that human greed and ambition are at least as evil as any supernatural forces.
Due to my recent blogging slump I’ve fallen far behind on keeping up with the books I’ve read, pretty much beyond hope of ever catching up by way of regular blogging (at least for someone as fundamentally lazy as myself). Considering that the main purpose of this blog is to keep track of my reading, I did not want to just skip them like I did last year in a similar situation (and still regret doing), but constantly dragging two months behind is not an appealing prospect either, I’m finding it rather more fun to write about books while they’re still fresh in my mind. So I’ve decided to do a catch-up post that will bring me up to date (or at least close enough) where I basically just write a sentence or two on most of the books that I’ve read in October and November. I’m hoping to be able to return to at least some of them (Checkmate and Hydrogen Sonata in particular) for a more extensive post, but at least they won’t drop completely under the table.
The author clearly loves language, and loves descriptions and every reader who loves those too will enjoy Silk immensely. It is a first novel, so there is some tendency to overindulge herself – there is hardly a sentence here that does not contain at least one metaphor or two similes, but Caitlín Kiernan’s prose is so luscious and sensuous that complaining about this in the face of so much too enjoy would seem rather petty.
I suspect that one of the reasons why I do not read much horror fiction is that it just does not get at me. I can (and quite often do) tear up over a good Romance novel, but horror fiction, while I can appreciate and enjoy it intellectually, for the most part leaves me cold emotionally. Which The Ritual, Adam Nevill’s third novel (and his second one I have read), also did – but in the sense that it was giving me the chills. And on a hot day in July, too. This really is one scary novel, and if it even impressed me who am usually indifferent to that particular aspect of the genre, I assume that it will frighten the beejesus out of afficionados (unless they already are too jaded and barely twitch an eyebrow at even the scariest of tales).
This book had me hooked right from the first pages which consist of a highly atmospheric description of hobos riding a freight train in Depression era USA. It is not a realistic account (at least not necessarily so, for all I know it might be extensively researched and historicaRobert Jackson Bennett lly extremely accurate, I am simply not competent to judge), but the characters in Mr. Shivers move through a scenery that owes at least as much to myth and legend as it does to history. This is not quite obvious at the novel’s outset – at first it is just a nagging feeling that things are more than they appear and that there might be more to this tale of revenge we are apparently being told than meets the eye. As the novel progresses, that feeling continues to creep up on the reader, intensifying steadily; but it is only at the end, when all cards are on the table, that we find out what the true stakes are.
Like C.L. Moore, whose Jirel of Jory stories I read recently, Clark Ashton Smith was a pulp author writing during roughly the first half of the twentieth century; in fact, he was, besides Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, one of the mainstays of Weird Tales. He is markedly lesser known and (supposedly) read than the others today, but not necessarily a worse writer for that; in many aspects I would even consider him the most interesting of the three.
Jennifer Crusie’s books are my ultimate comfort read – they are well written, intelligently constructed, very, very funny and above all, they tell heartwarming stories about credible people. This one is the first of her later ones that I’ve read, and while her early works are more or less purely Romance novels her later ones have a tendency to cross over into other genres - in this case the ghost story. The result is slightly less funny than I’m used to from her her books, but makes up for it with increased tension and general creepiness, and in general I think the mix works quite well here. Maybe This Time basically crosses His Girl Friday with Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw; in fact, it stays astonishingly close to James’ basic plotline, so much so that one might almost consider it a modern-day reworking of the 19th-century tale. It does not quite attain the literary heights of The Turn of the Screw – but then, Henry James really sucked at Romance. Also, Maybe This Time is way funnier, so I figure that makes James and Crusie about even.