Book review: Thirteen by Richard K Morgan

ThirteenThirteen by Richard K. Morgan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When society stops being violent someone will try to genetically re-engineer violence.

Carl Marsalis is a specialist bounty hunter. Genetically engineered and indoctrinated from birth to be a dangerous weapon, he now hunts others like him. After landing in prison in the wrong part of the former USA – Jesusland – he is seconded to track down someone who is killing his way across the former USA after eating his way through the crew of a Mars-to-Earth flight. But the cannibal seems to be a step ahead of the game and not picking targets at random. It’s as though he has help and is possibly working for someone as their hitman.

After recently finishing the Altered Carbon series, I decided to see what other Morgan novels I could get my hands on. Thirteen promised to be similar to Altered Carbon. The setting was similarly cyber-punk, the mystery/detective narrative is front and centre, and Marsalis likes to get violent and have sex with any and all female characters.

But where Altered Carbon used those elements in a compelling way, Thirteen was too indulgent with them. The novel feels padded out and runs far too long. This leads to pacing problems, with some sections really bogging down. The charisma of Kovacs is not present in Marsalis, despite their similarities, so you don’t feel the same thrill from him dispatching a bad guy or having the love interest* throw herself at him.

I think I could have forgiven those aspects a bit more if it weren’t for the “conversations” between characters about genetics. These were long discussions that bashed the reader with the point. I’d have had less of a problem with them if they weren’t quite so wrong on the science. The “conversations” amounted to telling us that we are essentially only our genetics. That’s not only nonsense (GxExM is how we discuss genetics in science) but is pretty much spouting modern-day scientific racism.**

That point is particularly ironic given the obvious analogies for racism and backward thinking being drawn. “Look at how backward these religious bigots are. Look at how badly they treat black people. Hey, check out my thinly veiled racism disguised as science!” I don’t know if I missed something, but this really did read to me as admonishing racism whilst justifying it as not something we can get over. If that was Morgan’s point, then it would have been great if he could have done it in about 150 pages less.

With all that said, this was still enjoyable and I am looking forward to reading more from Morgan.

* I’m being overly flippant and critical here. Sevgi Ertekin is a fairly well-developed character but her role does appear to be just the love interest and character motivation.

** Yes, scientific racism is back. Modern-day phrenology comes in many forms. Often it is IQ studies and hereditarianism, sometimes it is labelled Human Biodiversity (HBD), other times it will be straight up eugenicists and white nationalists. Reading about its insidious creep into academia and mainstream discourse is sickening.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Book review: Whispering Death by Garry Disher

Whispering Death (Inspector Challis, #6)Whispering Death by Garry Disher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cat burglary seems like a career that should involve more standing near open doors deciding whether to go out.

Inspector Hal Challis is reaching the end of a chapter in his life. A new relationship, a career he’s frustrated with, a dying car, and a finished hobby. But the town of Waterloo has become the scene of a series of sexual assaults by a man disguised as a copper, a bank robber is making the rounds, and a cat burglar is making her presence felt. A great time to tell the local press exactly what you think about budget cuts.

If I’m remembering correctly, this is my third Garry Disher novel and second Challis story. Disher is to Australian crime writing what Ian Rankin is to the UK and Michael Connelly is to the US. He is respected, consistent, and knows how to tell a tale. Whispering Death is one of those solid and consistent crime novels.

I’m writing this review a few days after having finished reading Whispering Death. And I think my characterisation of this novel as “solid and consistent” is also partially a criticism as well as praise. It’s an entertaining read and I think many will want to read more about Grace the cat burglar in a future instalment (or spinoff). But I’m also noticing that even though it has only been a few days, I can’t really think of anything that memorable about the book to mention here.*

That said, Disher continues to entertain and I look forward to reading more of his Challis (and Wyatt) series.

* As my wife pointed out to me, this could be a factor of my age. I’m no longer a twenty or thirty-something. A solid book has plenty of other solid books to blend in with in my increasingly fuzzy memory (having kids ruins your brain) compared with a decade or more ago. So as I age and read more, the harder it will be to entertain me. The fewer thrills I will receive from even great authors with great books. Until finally, no longer able to find joy in the simple pleasure of reading, I commit suicide by Dan Brown.

View all my reviews

Book review: Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, #1)Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Invent technology to make interstellar travel possible. Use it to make rich people immortal.

Takeshi Kovacs is a former elite soldier – Envoy – who becomes a criminal on Harlan’s World and has his body killed. Thanks to the technology of stored consciousness – via cortical stacks – he is revived on Earth to solve the body death of one of the richest men on the planet. The police think Bancroft committed suicide, the evidence suggests suicide, but Bancroft is convinced he wouldn’t kill himself after centuries of living. Kovacs starts treading through the underbelly of Earth and tries to discover if it was suicide or murder.

Altered Carbon has been on my TBR pile for almost a decade. My uncle recommended it again a few years ago, which got it bumped up the list. But, as with all TBR piles, it took a TV adaptation to get the novel read. I enjoyed the TV series, particularly on a second viewing. I’d say I enjoyed the book a similar amount but in a different way.

I commented in a blog post about the show that I enjoyed the themes even if the aesthetic was borrowed from Blade Runner. Kovacs in the show is a grumpier and more adept character than the novel. The show also has a more personal feel to many of the characters and makes the female characters feel less like a description of sexy body parts. Pretty amazing given the amount of nudity in the show.

What I think I liked most about the novel was one of the themes. Morgan expressed it like this:

“Society is, always has been and always will be a structure for the exploitation and oppression of the majority through systems of political force dictated by an élite, enforced by thugs, uniformed or not, and upheld by a wilful ignorance and stupidity on the part of the majority whom the system oppresses.” Source.

This resonated with me given the sorts of non-fiction I’ve been reading lately. Not to mention some of the things happening in the world these days… It made this hard-boiled cyberpunk novel very entertaining.

Well worth reading before or after watching the TV show.*

A couple of quotes related to that theme:

“Kristin, nothing ever does change.” I jerked a thumb back at the crowd outside. “You’ll always have morons like that, swallowing belief patterns whole so they don’t have to think for themselves. You’ll always have people like Kawahara and the Bancrofts to push their buttons and cash in on the program. People like you to make sure the game runs smoothly and the rules don’t get broken too often. And when the Meths want to break the rules themselves, they’ll send people like Trepp and me to do it. That’s the truth, Kristin. It’s been the truth since I was born a hundred and fifty years ago and from what I read in the history books, it’s never been any different. Better get used to it.”

“You live that long, things start happening to you. You get too impressed with yourself. Ends up, you think you’re God. Suddenly the little people, thirty, maybe forty years old, well, they don’t really matter anymore. You’ve seen whole societies rise and fall, and you start to feel you’re standing outside it all, and none of it really matters to you. And maybe you’ll start snuffing those little people, just like picking daisies, if they get under your feet.”

* Is it accurate to call them TV shows now? We watch them on TV, but would it be more accurate to call them streaming shows since they aren’t made for TV networks?

View all my reviews

Book review: Old Scores by David Whish-Wilson

Old Scores (Frank Swann, #3)Old Scores by David Whish-Wilson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

New tourism campaign: Come to Perth, where you can grift in peace.

Former Detective, Frank Swann, is starting a job with the new Western Australian Premier. The exact nature of his job is unclear. The exact motives of those around him are even less clear. Power players are moving to get their slice of the development and mining booms that are starting. The “facilitators” have their hands out. The usual underworld players – from bikies to bank robbers – see their chance as well. And the target is painted on Frank as he’s caught in the thick of it.

Back in 2016, I was lucky enough to attend the book launch for Old Scores. As a long time fan of David’s, it surprised me to realise that over two years had elapsed since getting my signed copy. If I’m honest, I feel pretty guilty for not having read it immediately. I got there… eventually.*

David is a fantastic writer and Old Scores is another great crime novel from him. He delivers with a gritty and evocative style that us crime fans love. Set in Perth, you not only get the feel of the city, but you have a sense of the underbelly that shaped it. I was too young to really understand WA Inc, but David capitalises on those, and other, events to craft his own tale. In many ways, it is often hard to spot what is a fictionalised historical event and what is actual fiction.

Old Scores is a must for any crime fiction fan and for anyone who wants to get a sense of what Perth and Western Australia were like in the 1980s.

*I promise I’ll read the next one sooner, David.

View all my reviews

Book review: Choke by Stuart Woods

ChokeChoke by Stuart Woods

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Given the title, you’d think at least one person would be strangled in this story.

Former Wimbledon contender and now tennis club pro, Chuck Chandler, has moved to Key West after sleeping with the wrong person’s wife. Learning from his recent lesson, he starts sleeping with someone else’s wife. This does not end well and he’s soon in the frame for murder. A retired NYC homicide detective, Tommy Sculley, is seeing out his days as the Key West detective training a local rookie. He thinks there is more to this murder than Chuck’s philandering would suggest. A lot more.

In my efforts to explore my local library’s offerings, I came across NYT Bestselling Author Stuart Woods. I didn’t really have any expectations and was rewarded with as much. The twist was something I figured out before the first murder. Admittedly, I didn’t pick the entirety of the finale, but those extra details were window dressing. Figuring out the twist that early would have been fine if the rest of the novel was more compelling, but it just wasn’t. An example of this is that the two main characters – Chuck and Tommy – aren’t particularly interesting. How can you make a philandering tennis pro boring?

To summarise, Choke was only okay. It was just interesting enough to keep you reading but once you’ve finished you can’t think of anything noteworthy about it. Well, except that the local tennis pro is probably trying to have sex with your wife.

View all my reviews

Book review: Stone Cold by Robert B Parker

Stone Cold (Jesse Stone, #4)Stone Cold by Robert B. Parker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wonder if new sex partners actually enjoy being told how much you love your ex?

In the affluent town of Paradise, someone has decided to start killing people. Two shots to the chest. The victims are unconnected and there are no clues for Jesse Stone to investigate. As the pressure mounts, he has to balance the murder investigation against getting justice for the rape of a high school girl, and his love life. Especially when one of Jesse’s sex partners becomes a victim of the serial killer.

I’ve been meaning to read some of Robert B Parker’s novels for quite some time. Parker was regarded as one of the best detective crime novelists in contemporary (American*) fiction, like Michael Connelly or James Lee Burke. I can see the similarities between Parker and Connelly, both having a relatively bleak and realism to their investigative tales. The life of an investigation is important to Parker and Connelly’s narratives, which often involves waiting on the lab results, or going home without having solved the crime, or going on a drive to chase a dead-end – a Connelly staple. Parker tends to pare back the prose, however, which made this feel like quite a short and fast-paced novel.

I’m not sure if Stone Cold is a good representation of Parker’s writing or not, but this was only a serviceable crime novel. Nothing really elevated it above okay to my mind.

*An important caveat that is often left out of these accolades for American authors.

View all my reviews

Book review: Torment by Hank Janson

TormentTorment by Hank Janson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dames: amiright?!

Hank Janson spots an old friend who has a new mentalist act they claim is really clairvoyance. He offers to promote the friend and his female assistants’ act via a test. Meanwhile, a woman approaches Janson about helping her find her sister’s killer. Also meanwhile, another woman approaches Janson about helping her brother with a pornography conviction. Then finally, the police contact Janson about covering a gruesome suicide – no women needing help with this one, so he was a bit disappointed. How are all of these things linked? Janson intends to find out.

A friend from my writers’ group recommended the Hank Janson novels to me last year. Janson was the pseudonym of Stephen D Frances and was used as the main character in a series of highly successful pulp crime novels in the 40s and 50s. It is immediately obvious why these novels were popular: fast-paced, women wanting Janson, intriguing plot, women wanting Janson, noir sensibilities, and women wanting Janson.

Noir, particularly crime noir, doesn’t date as badly as some other genres. Even with the dated attitudes and ideas, Torment didn’t make you start shaking your finger in admonishment of the -isms on display. For example, a subplot about going to prison for possessing (run-of-the-mill) porn might seem ridiculous today, but it doesn’t feel odd here.

These re-released 50th Anniversary Janson novels by Telos Publishing are worth a read for anyone chasing a crime noir or great pulp crime novels from yesteryear.

View all my reviews