Friday, 14 August 2009

Three short reviews

Time, once again, to catch up with a few short reviews.

Several people, including my eldest daughter, reckoned I should read Skulduggery Pleasant - I accordingly did just that, so I'll start with that book and then move on to the first two Inspector Montalbano books by Andrea Camilleri.

A funeral brings the Edgely family together - that of Gordon Edgley, one of three disparate brothers. Gordon was twelve year old Stephanie's favourite uncle and it was no secret that the two got along very well. It shouldn't have come as any surprise then that he leaves Stephanie the vast majority of his estate, including his very large mansion. At the funeral, and also at the reading of the will a few days later, is a very strange man - strange in that his entire face is covered with a scarf and sunglasses. He tells Stephanie that he is Skulduggery Pleasant, a sort of private detective. One night, alone in the mansion, she's attacked by persons unknown, using magic, and saved by Skulduggery. It is then that Stephanie makes the discovery that the detective is in fact a skeleton. She decides to join him in his fight against the dark, much against Skulduggery's better instincts, and is introduced to a world of magic that she had no idea existed. That it is also an incredibly dangerous world she soon discovers for herself, when her own life is in mortal danger and Skulduggery not always around to save her.

Who would have thought of a magical private detective who is a skeleton? Amazing what Young Adult fantasy authors are coming up with - no wonder this genre is one of the biggest growth areas in publishing at the moment. Derek Landy is Irish I believe and wrote screenplays before starting on this YA series, and all power to his elbow for his originality. I loved the pacey plot and the humorous dialogue, especially between Stehanie and Skulduggery who have such a refreshingly unsentimental relationship. I would recommend this for slightly older teens as it is fairly violent. Other than that I would say it could be enjoyed by *all* ages as it really is great fun.

Next up The Shape of Water and The Terracotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri.

The Shape of Water is the first book featuring the Italian detective, Inspector Salvo Montalbano. The setting is a small town in Sicily, and Montalbano a single man of mature years with a girlfriend who lives in Northern Italy. This first story involves the finding of the body of a local politician, half naked, in an area of the town known for prostitution. It's assumed he died of natural causes, during or after illicit sex, but Montalbano is not happy with that assumption and continues with the case long after his superiors wish him to. It brings him all kinds of problems as he deals with corrupt politicians, the local Mafia and the ineptness of his own staff.

In The Terracotta Dog an old school friend of Montalbano's, now a pimp, sets up a meeting with the detective and a Mafia boss who wants to turn himself in. A supermarket is robbed but the goods found abandoned the next day. And then an elderly member of the fascist party has a fatal accident which, it turns out, is not an accident after all. Montalbano is eventually led to a cave in a hillside, near the town, in which arms are discovered and thence on to discover a hidden cave behind that. Here the skeletons of two lovers are found, along with a Terracotta dog, an empty water jug and a bowl containing old coins. In the course of other investigations Montalbano is shot and thus gains the time to fully investigate what turns out to be a World War II mystery of many twists and turns.

I'm new to this series of crime books; having seen them blogged about elsewhere I thought they sounded interesting, as I do enjoy a crime yarn set in another country. Sicily is depicted as ridden with corruption and very much influenced by the Mafia; I know nothing about the island so have no idea how true to life this actually is. To tell the truth, even after reading two books, I'm still not sure whether or not I like the series (there are 10 so far). I'm finding Inspector Montalbano to be rather arrogant and not particularly likeable - he still has to endear himself to me in some unfathomable way.

The Shape of Water was not a bad story - I read it several weeks ago and my impression of it now is confused. Mainly I think because I found it hard to remember quite a large cast of characters and their, obviously, Italian names. Hopefully I'll get used to that. The second book, The Terracotta Dog, I found a bit more interesting but even that one didn't take off for me until about halfway through when the inspector starts his investigations into local events during WW2. Then it became a very human story that really did resonate with me.

One warning I feel I should add for anyone thinking of reading these books. There is a certain amount of sexual explicitness about them, and bad language. I'm not particularly put off by that but I know some are, so I think it only fair to warn people. Put it this way, if my mother was still alive I would not give her these books to read!

So, will I continue with the series? Yes, I will. There's just enough about them to keep me interested, though I'm hard put to put my finger on what. I know that's a bit ridiculous, but there you go. I have book 3 on my library pile as a matter of fact but may take it back unread and get it out later in the year; I'm not sure I want to read another one quite so quickly.


Two of these books, Skulduggery Pleasant and The Terracotta Dog, count for the Support your Local Library challenge being hosted by J.Kaye, for which I've now read 18 of my 25 books.


DesLily said...

I've been seeing the Skullduggery book around but noth the other two. I think I am hitting the wall with YA books...getting tired of it always being teenagers..I get this way now and then, but like you said the YA authors do come up with many more storylines than do other authors. I think after dragonlance (which is not a ya book) I will read one or two books not YA then I will be ok to go again lol.. some really are so good, like the Sorceress which I am still having trouble getting off of my mind lol.. I think I am already ready for the RIP challenge! just for something different again.

DesLily said...

by the way... have you ever read any of Laurie R Kings other detective books??? I hear one is actually a tie in to the holmes books called The Art of Detection... ummm not that you need more books mind you

Kailana said...

Oh, yay, glad you read Skulduggery! I can't wait for book three to come out!

Cath said...

Hi Pat. Yep, I need a change from kids in YA books from time to time. So I read something for adults... and then can't wait to get back to the kids. LOL!

Oh me too. I keep looking at the books I took out for the RIP challenge and wanting to start.

No I haven't read any of the other Laurie King detective novels but I have it on good authority that they're very good. So eventually I probably will read them.

Kailana: I'm keen to read Skulduggery book 2 now. I've seen it in the library so am hoping to grab that soon.

Susan said...

I have the first Andrea Camilleri to read on my shelf! My stepfather enjoys the series. It does get good reviews, so I found yours interesting too. And the first book you reviewed - Skulduggery - sounds really fun! a skeleton detective!! And 18 of our your 25 library books done. I'm still at 9, even though I've taken out close to thirty!

BooksPlease said...

I'm behind with writing reviews too - I can't catch up with my reading. These three all look interesting - I've read books too that I've thought - oops my mum wouldn't like this!

Cath said...

Hi Susan! I'll be interested to hear your opinion of the Montalbano book when you get to it. It was a quick read and it was okay and the second one is better. Am wondering if they continue to improve.

The Library challenge is one I really intend to complete!

Margaret: I seem to have stopped writing a review of every book as soon as I've finished it. Perhaps I'll get back to that way of doing things in the winter. I'm not sure.

Nymeth said...

I've been meaning to read Skulduggery Pleasant for a long while - it sounds right up my alley!

Nan said...

There's a movie out called Gomorra which might answer your question about Sicily. I didn't go but Tom said it is very intense.

Vipula said...

I think that Skullduggery sounds like an interesting book for the young adult category. I dont know if this is correct or not but Harry Potter kind of spurned the whole fantasy fiction market. I mean if you think of it Grimm's fairy tales are probably the most oringial fan-fic tales and they are timeless.I guess some of the appeal in fantasy - fiction for kids is that it makes their imagination look plausible.

Cath said...

Nymeth: Skulduggery is great fun, full of humour and imagination. Hope you like it when you eventually get to it.

Nan: Thanks for the link, I'll follow it in a moment see what I can see.

Vipula: I think Harry Potter probably brought fantasy for children back into fashion although authors such as Susan Cooper were writing it back in the 60s as well. But you're right, it does go back a really long way to things like Grimm's fairy tales, so there is a long tradition of fantasy writing which we tend to forget.

GeraniumCat said...

I quite liked Skulduggery Pleasant, and mean to get round to reading the second, though I thought it lacked somne of the depth of characterisation that other authors manage to include. I've read several of the Camilleri books (though not The Terracotta Dog) - I like the preoccupation with Sicilian food!

Cath said...

GeraniumCat: I think with the Skulduggery books that the fact that Derek Landy wrote screenplays before he wrote books shows. So I would have to agree with you about lack of character depth. It was almost like he had a movie in mind when he wrote it.

Oh yes, I like the foodie parts of the Montalbano books. Sometimes I like the sound of his dinners, other times I think, 'Ughhh!' LOL.