Monday 20 December 2010

Rooting for the Killer: A Book Review of Merryll Manning: Trapped On Mystery Island

My Review of Merryll Manning: Trapped On Mystery Island:

Merryll Manning: Trapped On Mystery Island by John Howard Reid is an eccentric, odd mix of a British murder mystery and a screwball comedy, with an offhand, often irreverent manner. It has worthy qualities, but I found it disjointed and lacking somewhat in focus.

The book revolves around an island murder mystery getaway, a police detective, his girlfriend and an assorted bunch of peculiar individuals. These characters are prepared for a weekend of mystery and murder games. Instead a real life killer pops up and claims an actual victim.

This book has problems, the main one being setting. It is supposed to be set in Florida and there are one or two American references, but the tone, dialogue and descriptive passages are peppered with Australian (the author’s nationality) allusions. This is prevalent enough in the novel that it made it impossible for me to believe the Florida location, unless the book takes place in an alternate universe. These anomalies kept pulling me out of the narrative and interrupting the stream of the book.

I sometimes found the pace and dialogue a bit off-kilter, and the characters pushed to the edge of comedic parody. Much of the character interaction comes off a bit forced, like a series of staged, interconnected monologues. The individual viewpoints are lively and interesting, but they often veer into theorizing, philosophical or moralizing debates that do not flow naturally, but are randomly thrown at the reader.

Also, the lead detective character seemed, well, a tad incompetent. Subsequent to the real murder he doesn’t hunt for clues or try and keep to any sort of police procedure. Our detective barely interviews the suspects or examines for possible motives and appears to be far more comfortable in haphazardly choosing probable killers based on his “experience” and bad clich├ęs. He does somehow manage though, to stumble on the killer and figure the rather apparent solution to the mystery.

I wanted to like this book for its quaint unconventional charm and the author’s excellent turn of a phrase, but I could not overcome the distracting aspects of the plot. For me, Merryll Manning: Trapped On Mystery Island unfortunately does not rise above the level of mediocre.

Saturday 18 December 2010

A Light Speculative Trip: A Review of Warped and Wired

My Review of Warped and Wired by Joshua Caleb:

Warped and Wired by Joshua Caleb is an enjoyable adventure novel, part sci-fi, part fantasy. You are not going to find any deep meaningful angst or heavy introspective character development, but you will find an amusing, delightful book full of sly humour, action and an intriguing premise.
"She shoved the glittering tangle into her pocket then thrust her fingers into the brick wall. The chill of cold space slid down her spine. Taking a breath of concentration and fortification, she grasped the edges of space and tore an opening in the wall. Her small, faintly lit apartment opened up before her. She stepped through the portal and into her cool living room. The portal whooshed shut behind her just as the footfalls turned into looming shadows. Angry shadows."
The book follows the escapades of two girls: Portia, a magical Sky Wryter, and Mlina, who has a serious computer problem. They are on the hunt for Mlina’s father so he can shed light on the secret of both girls’ past. Complicating matters are Portia’s odd relatives and a malevolent Dark Wryter who wants both Mlina and her father for his own malicious purposes.
"Looking past the creature, Portia noticed a dark figure walking down the tunnel toward them. She’d stake her staff it was Dragwen. A shaft of light struck the figure, revealing her suspicions. How had he followed them? Uncle Vi’son was about as secluded as a person could be. Dragwen stepped fully into the light, the blue glow glinting off his fangs."
The book is breezy and an easy read, giving the reader a fast-pasted plot and engaging characters, nicely realized. The tone blends the conflict and peril with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek wit and homage. I did think it faltered a bit in the emotional resolution; I found it somewhat rushed and shallow, with all the family threads tied up a bit hastily. Also, there were a few grammar gaffes here and there. Still, overall it is an entertaining book.

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