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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Three Shorter Reviews, Dan Vyleta, Lavie Tidhar and Galen Beckett (by Liviu Suciu)

"Vienna, 1939. Professor Speckstein's dog has been brutally killed, the latest victim in a string of unsolved murders. Speckstein wants answers-but these are uncharitable times, and one must be careful where one probes. When an unexpected house call leads Dr. Beer to Speckstein's apartment, he finds himself in the bedroom of Zuzka, the professor's niece. Wide-eyed, flirtatious, and not detectably ill, Zuzka leads the young doctor to her window and opens up a view of their apartment block that Beer has never known. Across the shared courtyard, there is nine-year-old Anneliese, the lonely daughter of an alcoholic. Five windows to the left lives a secretive mime who comes home late at night and keeps something-or someone-precious hidden from view. From the garret drifts the mournful sound of a trumpet player, and a basement door swings closed behind the building's inscrutable janitor..."

Does one of these enigmatic neighbors have blood on their hands?

Dr. Beer, who has his own reasons for keeping his private life hidden from public scrutiny, reluctantly becomes embroiled in an inquiry that forces him to face the dark realities of Nazi rule. By turns chilling and tender, The Quiet Twin explores a dystopian world of social paranoia, mistrust, and fear-and the danger of staying silent.

Praise for The Quiet Twin:

"A compelling rumination on watching and watchfulness, served up with Nabokovian glee." -Guardian (UK )

"A striking, pitch-perfect, wonderfully atmospheric and beautifully written ensemble piece that subtly portrays a society on the brink of moral collapse."-Sunday Telegraph (UK )

The Quiet Twin by Dan Vyleta is a pretty dark novel written in a somewhat whimsical tone that attenuates the horrors within for the most part. Vienna October-November 1939; the war has started, the Jews have been beaten and kicked out, though their murder is still only sporadic, the mentally sick and physically disabled are starting to be killed in hospitals for the good of the race, or at least this is what the characters believe - the actual killings started mostly in 1940, but rumors have been going around earlier - while forced sterilizations have been done for a while now. Integrity is rare, corruption and violence are common.

Set in a Viennese housing complex that in the spirit of the times mixed the better off with working poor and was supervised in the name of the Reich by a chief administrator/informer that worked hand in hand with the Gestapo and the police, The Quiet Twin excels in atmosphere and characters.

While Dr. Beer who still tries to do some good despite all that's going on but whose intimate secret would guarantee a one way to a concentration camp if known - hint, his wife has left him recently - and Annaliese the bright but scarred nine year old girl living downstairs are the main leads, the sinister professor Speckstein takes over the story whenever he appears; currently the police informer of the complex, he was a very respected University professor and physician tried for child rape- and acquitted - some years ago who finds National Socialism the right vehicle for his revenge on the Viennese society that shunned him despite his exoneration in court.

The Quiet Twin is mostly historical fiction and people looking for a mystery will be disappointed as there is no real such despite the talked about murders and the dog from the blurb...

The novel also has some great interludes from the press of the times - mostly about disturbed murders and their strange acts - that read stranger than fiction, but ultimately when a society is sick, the extreme slowly becomes the normal and the book's main story-lines prove that once more. Excellent novel and highly recommended.


"When Mycroft Holmes is murdered in London, it is up to retired shadow executive Smith to track down his killer - and stumble on the greatest conspiracy of his life. Strange forces are stirring into life around the globe, and in the shadow game of spies nothing is certain. Fresh from liberating a strange alien object in Abyssinia - which might just be the mythical Ark of the Covenant - young Lucy Westerna, Holmes' protégé, must follow her own path to the truth while, on the other side of the world, a young Harry Houdini must face his greatest feat of escape - death itself.

As their paths converge the body count mounts up, the entire world is under threat, and in a foreboding castle in the mountains of Transylvania a mysterious old man weaves a spider's web of secrets and lies.

Airship battles, Frankenstein monsters, alien tripods and death-defying acts: The Great Game is a cranked-up steampunk thriller in which nothing is certain - not even death."

After The Bookman and Camera Obscura, I was wondering who else will show up in this wonderful series that just ticked all the right nostalgia boxes for me. And Mr. Tidhar did not disappoint as Karl May - starring as one of the main villains with the harsh German accent of old style thrillers to boot - Harry Houdini of the many escapes - though of course there is a special take on that too - Phileas Fogg, Bram Stoker, Lucy Westerna, Van Helsing and a few others show up in The Great Game in addition to the few regulars like the Holmes brothers, Victor Frankestein or the Comte Rochefort...

The first 3/4 of The Great Game were awesome and I thought this would be a top 25 of mine, but the ending was a bit disappointing and this is one extra reason I am hoping for more books in the series; it will be a major spoiler to say why but essentially The Great Game suffers from the "great tension, great danger, way too easy out" syndrome that sometimes afflicts even the better written sff like itself.

Still a super ride to be enjoyed, lots of moments that had me laughing out loud and of course who can resist the plethora of characters named above. Another highly recommended novel of 2012 for me.


After the unexpectedly wonderful The Magicians and Mrs. Quent and The House on Durrow Street, The Master of Heathcrest Hall was another fantasy series ending - 3rd in 2012 so far after Percepliquis and Daemon Prism with a few more to come - that was a huge asap and while I enjoyed it and would recommend it, it just did not blow me away as earlier novels in the series.

Here I still loved the language and the setting was generally interesting, but Ivy who was undoubtedly the star of the first two novels, loses a little her distinctiveness and centrality to the story and while I did not mind that much having Rafferdy and Eldyn Garitt as the main characters, the book lost some luster for me due to that. Another issue was the acceleration of action as the earlier novels worked better at a slower pace where dialogue and setting counted for more; once the frantic action starts the fantasy part of the world building starts being exposed as quite shallow.

In addition the "everything explained, all i's dotted and t's crossed" that seems to afflict series ending these days are present here and there were quite a few "yawn" rather than "oh, what" moments too.

Overall I think that if you thought The House on Durrow Street slow, you may enjoy this more than I did as the pace accelerates a lot here, but for me the charm of the series was first in Ivy's character, next in the witty dialog and finally in the implied mysteries and all those become either secondary or solved a bit in a too cookie-cutter way in this series finale.


Alrin said...

Will we be seeing a review for Stover's latest Caine entry any time soon?

Christina said...

The Lavie Tidhar series really look interesting. I'll have to look into that!


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