Saturday, July 21, 2012

Shirley, you jest?

Title: Fool
Author: Christopher Moore
Bookmark: some scrap of paper I found in the book

While stranded recently in Ohio, I started poking around the nearest bookshelf until I found something that suited my mood.  Christopher Moore is good for that.  He's an excellent storyteller, but in my few encounters of his work, the biggest reason to read Moore is a raucous sense of humor.  This one also had a warning from the author advising of the various sex acts, murders, subterfuges, and colorful language that filled the following pages, but I'm the sort of person who cheers when a warning of the graphic nature of the program shows up on TV.

Fool claims to be a retelling of King Lear from the court jester's point of view.  Since my only knowledge of King Lear comes from Fool, I have no reason not to believe that (even Moore advises in an afterword that although some people may want to re-read Lear after reading to Fool to look for similarities, "that way madness lies").  I didn't read it because of its purported Shakespearean pedigree; I read it because it looked funny, and I happily discovered I was right.

Pocket spends most of the book setting two of Lear's daughters (and their husbands) against one another and their father in a good, old-fashioned English civil war to punish the old man for mistreating the youngest daughter, exiled to marry the king of France (throughout the book, both the country and the language are continually referred to with an adjective that looks like "firetrucking," but with five fewer letters).  You love hating the villains, and Pocket, despite being a thoroughly roguish rascal, is a great protagonist.  In true Shakespearean fashion, I sometimes had to re-read a few of his insults and ponder them a few moments before I really understood, but once I got them, I liked them even more.

Pocket is assisted by Drool, his enormous, dim-witted assistant fool with a remarkable talent for mimicking voices and an eidetic memory for conversations, and the exiled Earl of Kent, who remains doggedly faithful to the mad king who ordered him out of the country upon penalty of death.  Slightly less helpful, but indispensable, are the three witches who provide Pocket with some magical assistance for a price to be named later, and the ghost ("there's always a bloody ghost") who insists upon speaking in riddling rhymes, rather than giving Pocket the straightforward advice he'd far prefer.

It's funny, very entertaining, and most importantly, it's exactly what I needed at the time.

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posted by reyn at 2:00 PM


Friday, July 13, 2012

Gypsies, scamps, and thieves

Title: A Red Herring Without Mustard
Author: Alan Bradley
Bookmark: library receipt

Remember the Angela Lansbury series "Murder, She Wrote"?  My cousin said that she'd never go to Cabot Cove or go on vacation with Jessica Fletcher because "all her friends get killed."  As much as I enjoy the Flavia de Luce books, I'm starting to wonder about the safety of the sleepy English village where she lives.  By the series' own chronology, only a couple months have passed since the first book, and in that time (including this book) three people have been murdered, one savagely beaten, two cold cases involving the deaths of children have been uncovered, and in this book, during the course of her investigations, Flavia also cracks open an antiquities forging ring.  I came from a much larger town, and in three decades, we've had maybe a dozen good murder cases.  Bishop's Lacey had three in two months.  Wow.

I mean, I get it--if she ages naturally, eventually she'll stop being an endearingly clever little girl and become a cloyingly clever teenager (with even fewer friends), but there has to be a good way around that, right?

Don't get me wrong--I still loved the book.  Flavia starts by accidentally torching a gypsy's fortune-telling tent at the church bazaar, then offers a place to park her caravan on the family estate.  When she discovers that the old woman has been beaten nearly to death, her quick actions save the gypsy's life, and she feels compelled (naturally) to find the culprit.

I liked that this book broke a couple patterns of the series, even though I missed some of those patterns (no chemistry-based revenge upon the evil sisters, far less time with Dogger), because it made things feel less formulaic.  I've been asked "was it as good as the others?  Was it better than the others?" and I don't really know how to answer.  I like all of them; they're well-wrought stories with engaging characters and excellent humor.  Reading each one of them makes me want to read the next one, write something, learn about chemistry, ride my bike, and find a dead body.  What more could you ask from a murder mystery?

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posted by reyn at 7:35 AM