Book review: WJ Burley — Wycliffe and the School Bullies

This book follows one of Burley’s standard formats, with a flashback prologue showing the reader a motive for a crime, then showing the crime that first brings Wycliffe into the story, and following the process of solving the crime. Here the motive is the vicious bullying of a young teenager on a school trip, and the crime is the separate murders of two young women. At first there appears to be no link between the two murders, but as Wycliffe digs into their past, he starts to find connections. Connections that lead him to a motive, other potential victims, and a race to find the killer. It’s not difficult for the reader to work out who the killer is, but the point of the story is to follow along as Wycliffe pieces together the fragments of information that might lead him to the next victim before the killer. It’s an entertaining read with some interesting character sketches, although be warned that the prologue could be triggery for bullying victims.

LibraryThing entry
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

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Book review: Poul Anderson — The High Crusade

In the year 1345, an alien spacecraft lands in the small English village of Ansby, expecting an easy defeat of the local primitives. Unfortunately for them, the local primitives are preparing to go on Crusade, and their reaction to having one of their number burned where he stands is a disciplined military reaction. That discipline and the aliens’ surprise results in the English capturing the ship. Unfortunately for the English, the last alien survivor manages to lock the ship onto an autopilot program that will return it to its base. Unfortunately for the alien empire, that gives the Baron 10 days of travel time to come up with a plan to conquer the garrison on the alien colony planet…

It sounds daft, and it is, but Anderson was a good enough writer to pull it off. Sir Roger may be a mediaeval baron, but he has an open mind, an excellent grasp of tactics, and a sound understanding of practical psychology. That makes him a formidable opponent for an empire that hasn’t had to deal with serious opposition for generations. It also makes for a very funny story, particularly when Sir Roger cheerfully lies his way through various negotiations, presenting himself as the representative of a large multi-planet empire.

First published in 1960, this is a short novel by today’s standards, but just the right length for the story it tells. It’s enormous fun, and well worth a read.

LibraryThing entry
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

Book log: WJ Burley — Wycliffe and the Dunes Mystery

Fifteen years ago, the son of a prominent MP disappeared whilst on a coastal walking holiday after his release from a psychiatric hospital. The police had assumed suicide. Now his body has been found buried in the sand dunes, and it’s clear his father was right all along — the young man had been murdered.

A flashback prologue makes it clear to the reader from the start that a group of six teenagers having an illicit weekend were the last people to see Cochrane Wilder alive. The fun in the first half of the book is watching Wycliffe’s team slowly piece together the clues that lead them to first one member, then the whole group. But knowing that one or more of the group was almost certainly responsible for Cochran Wilder’s death and burial isn’t the same thing as being able to prove who did it and why — not when all six also have relatively innocent reasons for hiding their involvement in that weekend. And then a second murder is committed, making this more than just a cold case to be patiently unravelled…

As usual, a nicely constructed police procedural where the emphasis is on the characters and how they behave. Much of the appeal in this one is in initially knowing a little more information than Wycliffe does, and so being anticipating how the plot will develop — the amount of extra information you get is nicely played to provide a good balance between the enjoyment of working it out and the enjoyment of being surprised by other developments. I enjoy that style of procedural, so I liked this one a lot.

LibraryThing entry
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

Book log: Gregory Benford — Timescape

I first read this book about twenty years ago, and remember enjoying it then, even if I found it a slog at times. There was some good exploration of the hard science behind how one might attempt to send a message to the past, along with a look at the problems of irreversible environmental damage. I picked it up earlier this week, and bounced right off it. It’s partly that I’ve got a cold and wasn’t terribly receptive anyway, but I think the passage of time has given me disbelief suspension problems. This book was written in 1979, and is set in the then-future 1998 for the section dealing with irretrievable breakdown of both the physical and economic environment. When I read it in the late 80s, that was still an at least plausible, if unlikely, future. Now 1998 is a decade in the past, and while we have problems, they’re different problems.

One for the charity box, I think. Twenty years ago I would have given it another try, but here and now I have a To Be Read Mountain of new books, and lots of other books I actively want to re-read, and there are dozens of 1p copies on Amazon if I feel the urge to try it again.

LibraryThing entry
Wikipedia entry

Book review: Brian Minchin — Torchwood: The Sin Eaters (Read by Gareth David-Lloyd)

This is one of the series of Torchwood audiobooks read by cast members, and the first to be read by Gareth David-Lloyd. This one is only available as an audiobook, not in print. I bought it because I’d heard a sample of David-Lloyd reading an audiobook, and thought he was a good reader. It was well worth the money. The story’s the usual competent tie-in work I’ve found with previous Torchwood books, and David-Lloyd is an excellent audiobook reader.

The story itself is set between series 2 and series 3, with references and foreshadowing that tie it firmly into the series universe for those who’ve seen the referenced episodes, without excluding those who haven’t seen them, or overwhelming the story. The basic plot is standard monster-of-the-week fare for the Torchwood corner of the Whoniverse — an alien castaway courtesy of the rift, its threat magnified by the meddling of local humans who don’t understand what they’re playing with. In this case it’s alien insect larvae which feed on human emotions, and a vicar who thinks he’s found a way to heal people of their sins and guilt. It’s competently written, with a good look at love and the complexity of human emotions, but there’s nothing particularly noteworthy here.

What does stand out is the characterisation, which is as good as you’d expect from the man who was script editor for the show. One thing which I particularly liked was that it showcases both the Gwen/Rhys and the Jack/Ianto relationships, while still acknowledging the attraction between Jack and Gwen. There are a lot of small details which build on what we’ve already been shown in the tv series, showing how the characters and their relationships are developing and changing. It’s a particular joy to see the playful and affectionate side of both romances.

Gareth David-Lloyd does an excellent job of reading the book. He’s a good reader when it comes to the mechanics of reading aloud, well paced and with good tonal colour. He’s also very good at portraying the various characters already known to listeners from the tv series, getting most of them spot on in their dialogue. It’s usually clear who’s speaking, even without dialogue tags — and you can tell the difference between narrator and Ianto’s dialogue. He even mostly gets Jack’s American accent right. I hope he’s invited to do more of the audiobooks.

At two full-length CDs, it’s a lot longer than a standard tv or radio episode, but with it being an audio book you’d expect that for the same basic story. I didn’t feel that it was padded or too long. It feels about the same as reading one of the print tie-in books. Minchin makes good use of the format, taking advantage of being able to show interior monologue without crossing too far into telling rather than showing.

I enjoyed this a lot, and happily listened to it again a couple of weeks after the first time through. Definitely worth the attention of Torchwood fans in general, and very much recommended for fans of both Ianto Jones and Gareth David-Lloyd — both the character and the actor are well served by this title.

Available as both CD and download.

LibraryThing entry
at Amazon UK
at Play
at Amazon US

book log — September 2009

Well, I was going to get my book log for the month done on time for once, and then I got home on Thursday night and found that the network had crashed. Joy…

Anyway, here’s the list of books I read (or in one case listened to) in September. I’ve reviewed one already, others may or may not follow depending on whether I get time while I can still remember them in enough detail.

James Coltrane — Talon
1978 technothriller, reviewed 27 September

Peter Anghelides — Another Life
First of the Torchwood tie-in novels. As with the others I’ve read, enjoyable tie-in that uses the features of the Torchwood universe to good effect.

Brian Minchin — The Sin Eaters — read by Gareth David-LLoyd
Torchwood audiobook, one of the ones published only as an audiobook and not in print. This is the first and so far only one read by GDL, which is why I bought it — I’d heard a sample of GDL reading Lovecraft and thought he was a good reader. This is a good tie-in story, and GDL reads very well. Recommended if you’re a fan of his.

WJ Burley — Wycliffe and the Pea-Green Boat
One in the long running police procedural series. This is one of the ones where a crime from the past leads to a crime in the present, it’s fairly clear to the reader what the main thread is, and the fun is in watching Wycliffe work it out and seeing the side-stories unfold.

I’ve probably forgotten something, but I’m away from home and don’t have the stack to hand to check. There may be additions later.

ETA: The one I’d forgotten was Alan Garner’s Red Shift.