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Amy Stewart – Girl Waits With Gun

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Taking on a rich lout.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 416
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-544-40991-0
First Published: 1st September 2015
Date Reviewed: 15th September 2015
Rating: 3/5

1914: Constance and her sisters were riding their buggy when a car hit them. The owner, the manager of a silk factory, is unwilling to pay the damages and soon the girls find themselves being harassed by his group of thugs. The law courts and detectives aren’t interested and there’s little the police can do until a threat is put into action.

Girl Waits With Gun is an historical novel loosely based on true characters. Constance Kopp and her sisters are people history has forgotten. Presumably the beginning of a series, the book focuses on the sisters’ lives before Constance became a deputy.

Though there is of course a lot of almost forced helplessness, warranted for the time, the book goes a long way in showing the way women could on occasion take control of their destinies. Constance, Norma, and Fleurette are quite fearless and whilst Fleurette is flighty, Norma’s seriousness and Constance’s common sense add up to a good team. That it’s based on truth only makes it better. The social elements are well shown – the frustration of not being listened to compounded by a villain who won’t give up. Stewart talks you through the process of the courts and all the things that wouldn’t happen today.

Great is the application of humour. There are some very funny scenes, particularly near the start, that beg to be highlighted. The domestic/social issue Stewart has added, the fate of unwed mothers, holds much promise and is a good feature, as is the way she moves the sisters from the emotional and social isolation their mother’s worries left them living in to a more open environment. (In this respect, aside from Constance’s later role as deputy sheriff, Fleurette is served best, her extroversion suddenly given full reign and her desires to be the centre of attention taking to the stage, almost literally.) The sisters have been written very well; they read as real as they obviously were and interesting enough that you’ll likely want to do some research.

The book is evidently the introduction for a series; there is a lot of information in it. This means all the ground work is set and in all likelihood the next books will be thrilling, but it also means that Girl Waits With Gun is missing the necessary grip it needed in order to keep the suspense up and the plot moving forward at a steady pace. The thrill, the mystery and suspense that should have accompanied the constant threats of Kaufman’s men is not here; instead we have a general lack of the feeling of danger – staying at home, not being watched over enough – and a pacing that’s frustratingly slow.

A lot of the problem is that Stewart has focused this book on the before – the events before Constance Kopp became a deputy sheriff – and has thus had to create most of the back story. There is a lot of detailing and telling, little showing. There is a lot of repetition, odd grammar choices and anachronisms. Had the book been reduced by half it wouldn’t be so noticeable, nor would the plot meander so much.

If you like learning about the era and about women who broke the mould, you may enjoy Girl Waits With Gun, but know that the title relates more to later events, at least as far as exceptions of action go. It’s a fair story but most will want to wait until book two.

I received this book for review from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

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Georges Simenon – The Late Monsieur Gallet

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Money and murder.

Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 155
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-141-39337-7
First Published: 1931
Date Reviewed: 8th July 2015
Rating: 3/5

Original language: French
Original title: Monsieur Gallet, Décédé (Monsieur Gallet, Deceased)
Translated by: Anthea Bell

When Maigret is called upon to solve a murder case, he realises there’s more to it; something’s not quite ‘right’. There are suspects but there seems little reason for Monsieur Gallet to have been killed. The bullet and stab wounds seem slightly suspicious. And whilst there’s motive, no one person sticks out as the murderer.

The Late Monsieur Gallet is the third book in Simenon’s extensive Maigret series and whilst it’s the only one I’ve read I have to say I get the impression that various others are better.

Chances are it’s partly the translation that’s the issue. Missing commas, sentences that aren’t phrased very well. The text reads too simply.

The story is told very swiftly and much of it is facts. It can be contrived, at least in the context of our present day (more on that in a moment). People pop out of the scenery to provide titbits of information as Maigret walks past, to pop back just as quickly. Premises give way to suggestions of dinner just as you’re getting into the swing of things.

The text is outdated but easy to see why it worked at the time. It’s enjoyable if read in the context it was written in, and the work that went into the mystery is plain to see. That the story is told swiftly seems odd nowadays but one can appreciate the way Simenon doesn’t linger on sub-plots – there aren’t any. This is a crime novella and that’s how it stays; everything is focused on the mystery at hand. Maigret walks you through everything so you know exactly what happened and is happening.

And the psychology behind it all is fascinating. Simenon spends just as much time on the who as he does the why, looking into the social context. He lets his character flourish on the page, to be there in front of you even though the man’s been dead since the beginning. Solving the mystery may be key to the world at hand but looking at the deceased as a person is key to Maigret.

I get the sense that this book isn’t reflective of the rest of the series. The books can be read out of order but I would certainly recommend starting with a different one and leaving The Late Monsieur Gallet for later. It’s a perfectly fine way to pass an hour or two but is unlikely to make much in the way of a good early impression.

I received this book for review from the publisher.

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Guy Ware – The Fat Of Fed Beasts

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When banks do not store money.

Publisher: Salt
Pages: 233
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-784-63024-9
First Published: 1st March 2015
Date Reviewed: 7th April 2015
Rating: 4/5

Alex, Rada, and D are ‘loss adjusters’ – they deal with lives that have ended, reporting on the worth. Alex gets up later than D and Rada. He wanted to be with Rada but she chose Gary. D is sick of Rada’s detailing and just completely sick of Alex, and hopes for better. Rada is in the bank when it’s robbed, can’t get the old man to lay on the floor and her following suspension leaves her aloof in the world. And then there are the demoted police who want to give something unlawful a try.

The Fat Of Fed Beasts is a somewhat confusing novel that looks at work, the worth of a life, society, and individual reactions to situations. Honing in on one particular situation, it deals with its subjects swiftly, mostly devoid of extraneous detail.

‘Mostly’ is the the keyword here because there is an aspect of The Fat Of Fed Beasts that is best noted prior to reading – the book is told from various viewpoints (it takes time to work out who is who) and one of these viewpoints is going to make you want to throw the book across the room. It takes a chapter of this viewpoint to realise what is going on and that chapter is a long, tiresome, one. The character provides every minute detail. They are frustrating, repetitive, and take forever to get to the point. It’s important to mention all this because for a time you may well wonder where the editor was: this is a style Ware makes use of for this (one) character. Odds are, Ware found them as tedious to write as the reader will to read; Ware has ensured his characters are different. In sum, you’re going to want to give up early on but bare with it. The author’s on your side, as are the other characters.

The minute detailing takes us to the next point: this is largely a book about personal responses to situations; the bank robbery. Characters worry about their jobs, about the person called Likker who no one seems to know, about society in general. The frustrating character allows us to look at customs and etiquette, British mannerisms, all in a relaxed but nevertheless slightly satirical way. The character who swears a lot shows the way a younger person can strive to keep up to be listened to (not that the swearing is due to age). Another character shows varying levels of anxiety, angst, and a certain sort of empathy that to name would spoil part of the story. It could be said that Ware’s little use of first names, especially at the start, shows that whilst these are individuals, their issues could be anyone’s.

So it’s about people, crime, features a bit of comedy and a smattering of mystery. The writing style, almost to suit this smorgasbord, is part literary, part general. It’s hard to say it’s literary fiction but at the same time that’s sort of what is it.

To be sure The Fat Of Fed Beasts isn’t for everyone, though even those who aren’t overly keen are likely to take something from it. It’s short, almost necessarily so; the length is pretty perfect actually. The ambiguity is something to savour; it let’s you focus on what’s most important.

Give this one a chance; there’s a chance you’ll like it.

I received this book for review from the publisher.

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Paula Lichtarowicz – The First Book Of Calamity Leek

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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No; it’s something else entirely.

Publisher: Hutchinson (Random House)
Pages: 296
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-091-94422-3
First Published: 7th February 2013
Date Reviewed: 11th March 2015
Rating: 4/5

Calamity Leek lives with her ‘sisters’ in Mother’s garden. It’s mainly aunty who looks after them. They have lovely furs to wear, work in the garden, and gain an excellent education. Oh, and they are being trained to fight and sleep on straw. Calamity is reaching the age where she’ll be sent off to war, but one day sister Truly decides to climb The Wall. Nothing will be the same again.

Let’s get this out of the way – The First Book Of Calamity Leek is not a book about books. The title relates to the way in which Calamity must think through her life and come to terms with everything that does not align with what she’s read in her aunty’s appendix. What Lichtarowicz’s book actually is is a very strange, silly-sounding but surprising story.

The writing style is odd. Calamity talks strangely, a particular sort of childish language; uppity, almost. So odd is it, that’s it very possible you’re going to read a few pages and want to move on to something better. (It’s also strangely humorous, both naturally and in that way children can be when you know you shouldn’t be laughing.) Calamity can be irritating, obnoxious, a bit of a pain when compared to her sisters. The truth is that even if you persevere it’s going to take quite a while before you become used to it as well as understand it all.

Understanding. There are two schools of thought here. One is that Lichtarowicz is a genius, that the way she lures you into considerations of a bizarre fantasy world is wonderful. The other is that the subject has been handled in a way you may not find comfortable. Is this a book about pigs living in a barn, about animals? Is it about children? Perhaps it is about birds? Fairies? Ghosts? Suffice to say the confusion, alongside the oddity, is likely going to put you off. Upon working it out you may want to flick through the previous pages.

References to modern media abound to confuse you further. Aunty’s actress days ensure plenty of singalongs: Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, Grease, and a nod to The Phantom Of The Opera. Whether these were designed to confuse or whether they suggest something more is never explained, but there is plenty to wonder about. The children watch show-reels to learn about men, videos wherein aunty is, to the reader at least, acting in various musicals; they’re are taught that these are real events, or that at least they represent the reality of aunty’s life.

There is much that can be said as to the realistic possibility of what happens – in both the past and present sections. Whether Lichtarowicz wanted realism here is not obvious: it’s more than possible that the things that go on, and the reactions that would be frowned upon in reality are based solely on the way Calamity perceives them. At the same time it’s also possible that it’s the result of the adult way of doing things that may not always gel with a child’s understanding, especially not one in Calamity’s state.

The First Book Of Calamity Leek is incredibly odd and difficult to get through. Its narrator is irritating and it takes a long time until you realise exactly why. The ending is a little ambiguous. This is a book in which you are thrown into a situation with only so much explanation given.

Nevertheless it’s a good book and worth reading. What you discover may shock or surprise you and it will certainly make you consider what you’ve read and the reasons the author has chosen to write the tale the way she has. Calamity is not trustworthy but she’s innocent enough not to realise it and not to see that by reporting what she’s experienced, we will learn the truth.

Give it a go; see what you think. And make time to chew it over afterwards.

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Taylor Stevens – The Catch

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All aboard.

Publisher: Crown (Random House)
Pages: 356
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-385-34893-5
First Published: 1st January 2014
Date Reviewed: 25th September 2014
Rating: 3/5

When Munroe is employed to join Leo’s team on the ship in east Africa, she quickly realises that she hasn’t been told everything about what’s going on. She’s been kept in the dark – and kept out of the payment, too. When the ship is hijacked it’s time to reveal her true colours to Leo and the crew, and time to try and find out what happened. She doesn’t care what happened to Leo, but she feels for his wife and Victor, a kind team mate, and whilst she could leave them to fate, she’ll stay to help.

The Catch is the fourth book in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series. Whilst fair, it pales in comparison to the other books, especially as the previous, The Doll, was so exceptionally good.

The story itself is okay, but there isn’t enough of it and so the narrative has been padded out with repeated details. It’s both a case of necessary filler content and lacklustre editing. Repeated phrases and info-dumps slow the pace to a halt in many places and it may prove difficult to get through a number of chapters and work out exactly what’s happening. There are a great many characters in this book.

However Michael is as good as always, straddling the fence between good and bad, her background continuing to have an affect on her. In The Catch the reader sees her weaknesses – whereas she mostly escapes unscathed, here she is wounded badly and so Stevens is able to explore her willpower further than ever. The wounds are a bit of a problem, as they fall under the repetition – Munroe spends most of the book in pain and we know about it – but it does fill in for the previous occasions. And because Stevens has always managed to have Munroe escape unscathed without it seeming convenient, it is excellent that here she’s allowed the reader to see what happens when she is harmed.

The book feels more a standalone than the others; Bradford is not here and Munroe’s dealings with Leo are new and presumably not to be continued. Certainly it seems like a spin-off of sorts, illustrating what Munroe gets up to without her ‘usual’ team. We may have known she took on similar jobs, but this goes one further.

The Catch may not sport a particularly interesting story, and it most definitely is not the first Munroe book a reader should choose, but it does give you more insight into Munroe.

I received this book for review from the publisher.

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