Loved this one. Sure, it’s pretty formulaic and the main character is far too smart and shows more insight than kids his age do, but it all works well. It’s a feel good movie that never makes it too easy for its heroes and the emotional parts are convincing enough to take the characters and their story serious. And the movies exudes a positive manic energy that makes it hard not to watch it with glee in your eyes.
I read a complaint in one Amazon review about chamber pots mentioned too often in the book (before I read it) and as expected, I couldn’t get that comment out of my mind while reading the book. Maybe it was a way of showing how old Garrett has become, but I admit it’s distracting. One or two times would have been okay, but it’s mentioned so often that I felt like watching old people, who do nothing else than talk about their diseases all day long.
That said, this book was a positive surprise. Instead of merely doing just another sequel with the established formula (which would also have been fine by me, since the quality of the series never abated (much)), Cook chose to shake the status quo a bit. At the start of the novel Garrett isn’t working is a private detective anymore, merely doing some security work for the family of his love Tinnie Tate. But after an attack on him and Tinnie, he gets back into the game and reestablishes his old network. But things aren’t the same anymore. Due to growing older (and a bit wiser) and also having to shoulder bigger responsibilities, Garrett has to rethink how he does business and how he acts in general. The changes, though, don’t stop on the professional level, the events also make him reconsider his relationship with Tinnie.
At the end of the book, some very long standing elements of the series have been knocked down, which makes me more than usual exited for the next part. Except for the whole chamber pots stuff, that’s a bit overplayed.
It’s much harder to write compelling about someone who people identify as evil than about someone who most people would identify as good. Sure, those concepts are often rather ambiguous, but in this case, it’s hard deny the evilness of the main character. And yet, Lourie manages to makes us want to read on. It’s genuinely creepy just how compelling this fictional biography of Stalin is. I’m not sure how many facts Lourie has injected into his take on Stalin, but even if you have serious doubts about how realistic this one is, it doesn’t matter. There are countless biographies, but none of them will manage to write a Stalin like Lourie did.
There’s the saying that even the worst of all people, all the criminals, the serial killers, the dictators, they all think that they do good, that they are justified in their own mind. Lourie’s Stalin doesn’t do that, he knows exactly who he is. Here’s a man who has looked the evil of his own existence in the face, accepted it and moved on. He’s a monster, he knows it and doesn’t care. That’s what makes him truly scary and is the reason why Lourie’s book is such a compelling if entirely creepy read.
As much as it owes to romance and fantasy, the whole paranormal romance/urban fantasy genre can trace some of its roots to detective fiction and especially to its noir corner. Yet that influence is pretty much watered down and not very distinctive. The outings written by the male writers show that influence much stronger, Jim Butcher with the Dresden Files, Glen Cook with his Garrett Files (although that series is only retroactively part of the genre) and now Richard Kadrey with Sandman Slim. It’s still not as dark as the original source, but much stronger than in the more romance oriented outings of the genre.
Kadrey’s book is pretty good, if you like that kind of book (that argument always seems superfluous to some, but since I’ve read some bad examples, I think it’s justified). The plot is simple: a guy has been dragged down to hell (while alive) and is back for revenge. Along the way some expected and some not so expected things happen. The mythology is not very original, reminded me of Hellblazer as written by Garth Ennis, with a character who despises both Heaven and Hell. I really liked the ending, which is anti-climatic to some extend, but in a way that only reinforces the noir roots. There aren’t any winners or losers, only survivors and the dead. All in all a pretty good read.
One major theme of the book is what brought on the fall of Solomon Brothers, an investment bank that was pretty successful in the 1980s. It’s the story of a changing industry, of the cumulative effect of greed and incompetence and too much growth in too short a time. It’s also a coming of age story. It’s all real (to the extend that these autobiographical stories can be). And it’s also a pretty good read. At times I was a bit lost with all the financial concept floating around, since Lewis rarely tried to explain most of them, but with a bit research most of the stuff became understandable.
The thing that stood out for me was how much Solomon Brothers resembled an ant farm. Some people really believe that corporations, from very small to very big, are mostly guided by a PLAN, a big step by step guide on how to proceed. In reality it’s all emergent behavior, the output of a function made up of humans doing stuff (and not always stuff that makes sense). Working at times doesn’t feel like producing something useful, but like surviving and adapting to the ant hill you’re working in. Until something big comes along and steps into it. Intelligence or a plan doesn’t play into it.