"review" · juvenile lit · mystery · recommend · series · wondermous

{book} not in the least beastly or dreadful

Months later (deep, regret-filled sigh) a post on one of my favorite new books.

“A marvelously funny mystery that feels refreshingly original while yet channeling the best of Dahl’s characters and Grimm in storytelling.”-my staff rec at work.

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant

Random House, 2015.

Hardcover, 294.

Wondering what could possibly follow the genius who is Kazuo Ishiguro and his novel The Buried Giant, I was slumped into Picture Books and puppy-like Juvenile Fantasies. I was contemplating the cure-all (Calvino) when I shelved The League of Beastly Dreadfuls.

“Warning This book is chock-full of DREADFUL things (Calamity! Evil plans! Attack poodles!) and is NOT suitable for Nice Little Boys and Girls. Take my advice…practice your posture instead. –Miss Drusilla Jellymonk, Etiquette Expert.” –Back Copy

“Anastasia is a completely average almost-eleven-year-old. That is, UNTIL her parents die in a tragic vacuum-cleaner accident. UNTIL she’s rescued by two long-lost great-aunties. And UNTIL she’s taken to their delightful and, er, “authentic” Victorian home, St. Agony’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

But something strange is going on at the asylum. Anastasia soon begins to suspect that her aunties are not who they say they are. So when she meets Ollie and Quentin, two mysterious brothers, the three join together to plot their great escape!”–inside Jacket Copy.

Have you noticed how difficult it is for an author to pull off the Dahl-esque; especially American authors? Holly Grant is marvelously Dahl-esque in The League of Beastly Dreadfuls. But that isn’t the only reason to pick up your own copy. Grimm came to mind, for instance. But for all the fond reminiscence of favorite childhood storytellers, Grant demonstrates an originality all her own. That expansive imagination proves rather daring (e.g. the mice are genius, as is the tragic flatulence). The pacing both in action and humor is perfect, and the narrator not too clever for its own good. You must read this one aloud.

You know those scenes where the protagonist overhears the villain murmuring about their impending demise and they fail to confront said villain about it? There is a glorious moment (on page 67) where Anastasia asks an Auntie about a strong inference muttered under the breath. Anastasia is rightly terrified by this point–and so was I, thus my pleasant surprise when Anastasia quite forcefully inquires after just what did Prim mean. The author does not imperil her protagonist comfortably and the escape attempt will have all sorts of horrible inconveniences. “Saint Agony’s Asylum for the Deranged, Despotic, Demented, & Otherwise Undesirable (that is to say, criminally insane)” is not some quaint Victorian fixer-upper. And Anastasia is not in the least casual in her observation that “every day at St Agony’s Asylum was perfect funeral weather” (59). The contemplation of the photographs of past children was chilling. And despite those delicately sipped cups of tea, the ‘weirdly dentured’ old ladies are blood-thirsty.

so good.

I’m not sure which is more deliciously wrought, the adrenaline or the ridiculous humor; maybe it is the characters (who manage to generate both). The old ladies are entertaining, in their own horrid way. The Manly Baron aka Mouse Destroyer makes me sigh, and not because of his manly presence. It’s that he is silliness incarnate. I found him and that whole plot twist charming. And the boys, with their Ballad of the Lovelorn Beluga are amusing, to say nothing of awesomely gifted.  But Anastasia is the star: clumsy and resourceful and capable of keeping her wits about her.

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls is easily one of my favorite books this year, and I’ve enjoyed some fabulous reads. I found myself laughing aloud and reading huge swathes of it to the daughter. I’m sure I read the “looney gardner” scene (in chapter 4) multiple times to multiple friends; and I may have referenced the line “Podiatrists are, in general, the most dashing of all doctors” (281) a time or three, even though too few have yet to read the novel. Friends were updated at regular intervals and subjected to the mysteries of the novel: plenty of which remain unsolved. Like who is Anastasia and why have her captors taken such a keen interest in her? It quickly becomes apparent that it isn’t just because Anastasia is orphaned by a tragic vacuum incident.

The lovely problem the reader will come to realize is that the author’s imagination could originate any sort of possibility for our increasingly mysterious Anastasia. The reader also comes to the conclusion that they won’t mind terribly much when the author artfully puts off a few questions there at the end. The reader is going to want to read book two (The Dastardly Deed).

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls is the kind of smart and entertaining everyone needs off the shelf and in their hands and reading to their favorite human (or mouse).


recommendations: if you love Grimm, Dahl, Ellen Potter’s Kneebone Boy, and/or Adrienne Kress’ Ironic Gentlemen. if you like peril, laughter, and clever narrators. To be read aloud to any and all grade-schoolers (whether they suffer from tragic flatulence or umbrating-related nudity*).

*yeah, you have to read the book.




"review" · arc · fiction · series

{book} a new(er) Flavia de Luce

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

A Flavia de Luce Novel, book 7

By Alan Bradley

ARC via NetGalley w/ gratitude to Delacorte Press*

Release Date January 6, 2015.

“Hard on the heels of the return of her mother’s body from the frozen reaches of the Himalayas, Flavia, for her indiscretions, is banished from her home at Buckshaw and shipped across the ocean to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Toronto, her mother’s alma mater, there to be inducted into a mysterious organization known as the Nide.

“No sooner does she arrive, however, than a body comes crashing down out of the chimney and into her room, setting off a series of investigations into mysterious disappearances of girls from the school.”–Publisher’s Comments

I hadn’t expected another Flavia de Luce novel so soon, if at all. The Dead in their Vaulted Arches (Delacorte 2014) closed the overarching mystery of Flavia’s mother and suggested closure for Flavia’s antics in Bishop Lacey, thus relieving the small English village of more dead bodies. I’m not complaining. In fact, I was quite giddy to see As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust show up on NetGalley. While there was no expectation we would get a glimpse of Flavia’s new situation (as suggested in The Dead), there was a curiosity of how life at Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy would go. It goes well…that is, the story goes well.

One of the things I appreciate most about Alan Bradley and this series of his is his consistency of character. Sure, Flavia has grown over the course of several books, she is essentially a self that never fails to saturate the narrative in that lovely singularly dark way of hers. As it is, Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust opens with one of the most delicious Prologues ever. Bradley excels at opening a novel. The atmospheric arrives in the first sentence and settles in for the long haul. Where first person narratives splinter into multiple voices for set descriptions and the like, the de Luce novel never shifts from Flavia’s macabre and chemistry-obsessed point of view—which can be frustrating at times. She gets distracted by life-things instead of focusing solely on the case at hand. Neither is her distraction a complaint. The novels are character driven and if you’ve haven’t a fondness for Flavia near the beginning of the series, you are not going to be reading Chimney Sweepers.

We may think we have an inkling of the how the mystery will be solved, tracing the evidence as Flavia observes (straightforwardly or obliquely), Flavia will eventually withhold a conclusion. You’d think I’d tire of this formula, but I’m much too pleased that Bradley only withholds in a believable way and doesn’t cut corners by resolving the mystery in a leap even too imaginative for the clever heroine he’s constructed. No, much of the mystery of how the case will be solved is in the unpredictable nature of those life-things I mentioned. Flavia has a want to like people and belong. She requires sleep and emotions and the personalities of other characters. Bradley creates some interesting characters in Chimney Sweepers, many of whom are of Flavia’s ilk, defining Flavia’s difference in a newer way. We get a novel launching a query into whom Flavia really is and is to become. How much is she like her elder female relatives? What boundaries will she risk?

How much can one year change?

Bradley leaves some loose ends; relationships are still troubled; uncertainties still linger—some, anyway. What Bradley certainly does do is demonstrate an exhilarating ability maintain a good mystery in his heroine and her adventures. You can leave off at The Dead in their Vaulted Arches if you like and imagine the what-comes-next, or you can extend the anticipation another book, because I wasn’t expecting the way the what-comes-next is framed by this new conclusion in the Flavia de Luce series.

I really am curious: How much will one year change?


*I received the Advanced Reader’s Copy in exchange for a fair review and nothing more.



{film} the game

Even though David Fincher’s The Game (1997) was a rewatch, it was almost like watching it for the first time. I remembered a few elements, but Sean wasn’t confirming the details. I was at the mercy of a slow and twisted mystery.

thegame-01If you haven’t seen The Game, you should stop at after the second paragraph (—) and go watch it.  At his troubled younger brother Conrad’s (Sean Penn) invitation, the game Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) finds himself embroiled in will have you wondering at it up to the very end. The question of whether Nicholas will follow in all the footsteps of his father is tied up in his survival of the game. Of course, another relevant question is: just where and when did the game begin?

It is fun to go back and watch an early film of a director you admire. The Game has the blue wash; the waist-high shot that zooms or cuts, but never pans; and Fincher’s meditative patience. Douglas and Penn are brilliant—Penn, so very young there! Tech is just a little outdated, and the soundtrack’s piano may become tiresome, but the film holds its thrilling edge just fine these 17 years later.


the game

If you have seen it… The ending caught me off-guard and I was trying to remember if I’d felt the same way back when. I have a hard time understanding why Nicholas was not pissed by what his brother did, the lengths he went. I get the liberation from that haunting terror that interweaves the game-playing narrative—and I don’t. The extended display of gratitude was baffling. The romantic twist rang false.

Sean read that the original scripted ended with Nicholas landing, helped to his feet, and then walking out. Yes. If you’ve seen it, could you help me out here? Do you agree the better ending was the original one? How is the current one better and/or informed by the film?

"review" · concenter · fiction · Lit · mystery · philosophy/criticism · recommend · wondermous

{book} once begun

silence-once-begunSilence Once Begun by Jesse Ball

Pantheon Books, 2014. 232 pages

“The following work of fiction is partially based on fact.”

Over the course of several months, eight people vanish from their homes in the same Japanese town, a single playing card found on each door. Known as the “Narito Disappearances,” the crime has authorities baffled—until a confession appears on the police’s doorstep, signed by Oda Sotatsu, a thread salesman. Sotatsu is arrested, jailed, and interrogated—but he refuses to speak. Even as his parents, brother, and sister come to visit him, even as his execution looms, and even as a young woman named Jito Joo enters his cell, he maintains his vow of silence. Our narrator, a journalist named Jesse Ball, is grappling with mysteries of his own when he becomes fascinated by the case. Why did Sotatsu confess? Why won’t he speak? Who is Jito Joo? As Ball interviews Sotatsu’s family, friends, and jailers, he uncovers a complex story of heartbreak, deceit, honor, and chance.–publisher’s comments

Errol Morris brought more than justice to the wrongly accused when he brought The Thin Blue Line (1988) to the screen. He demonstrated how fiction lies within the justice system and how reality reveals itself in the imaginations of human perception. Both institutions and human beings can be corrupted; the question is whether doubt can lead to a liberating or confining truth. I thought of Errol Morris as I sank into Silence Once Begun, Jesse Ball’s latest novel.

“One has the impression one can know life, actual life, from its simulacrums by the fact that actual life constantly deceives and reveals, and is consistent in doing so” (4).

Jesse Ball, self-proclaimed professor of “lucid dreaming and lying,” exercises his particular gifts with the latter. We have a want to forget that as a gifted storyteller, he is a practiced liar. The heartbreak of increasing solitude and silence experienced in the narrator’s own life is raw enough to cite the provenance of a genuine artifact. “The following work of fiction is partially based on fact,” but what in the work is partial, or impartial? Silence Once Begun invites suspicion. What becomes awkward for the reader is when the suspicion is found directed not toward Ball or a character, but inwardly. Readers who favor romance and/or political activism will find themselves the easiest targets, among other professional prevaricators.

That smooth teller of tales that drew his reader in a single sitting through door after door and haunted them long after the curfew ended, confines the whimsy of his silvery tongue to his own “prefatory material” and Jito Joo. Joo takes on the silkiness of Milton’s Satan and I remain unconvinced that Kakuzo is able to vindicate her. Questions of love’s selfishness and sacrifice deepen the mystery Ball would document. As it is, the fans of Ball’s novels since Samedi the Deafness will be jolted awake by the halting language of concrete explication. Even the stories spun by relatives as a means to explain one another, find sentences short and constantly revisited. The language Ball adopts is not only one familiar to reportage, but translation—and the earnestness of finding the correct expression.

Oda Sotatsu’s mother is fond of telling stories by means of clarification: When talking with the mother, the interviewer notes how “the impression of exactitude remains” (18). He experiences a feeling that what she is saying is true; he sees what she sees before the evidence presents itself, before what she has seen appears (e.g. butterflies). Whether the mother is telling the truth about butterflies is negligent without a strong enough moral imperative. In Silence Once Begun, lives are hanging in the balance.

The interview is seeking someone to speak where Oda Sotatsu would not and now cannot. Once a silence had begun, can the silence ever be broken? The novel ponders how reputations are powerful constructs (29): how we are represented, expressed, speaks for us; it can certainly lie for us. Jito says of role-playing: “Each person chooses his life from all the roles in all the theaters. We are a prisoner and his love. For I am sometimes one and sometimes the other. You are one and then the other” (187). The liberated speak from a place of privilege and the imprisoned the limitation of choice. In a mystery based on mistaken identification, conversations on love and identity are the discourse that bind, and often blind the character and reader both.

“You don’t know me at all, I said, but I have a feeling that you know about something that I know” (Interviewer 163).

How can we truly know the other? We understand that different kinds of knowing exist. As one character after another jockeys for supremacy of knowledge, we test their validity. Jiro claims, “He hadn’t done it, because I believe he hadn’t done it” (45). The sister is an educated one yet distanced; Kakuzo is the architect of the crime and vain; Jito Joo, the most intimate of actresses.

Jesse Ball, the interviewer, is consciously aware of influence. How his ability to capture an image through a lens is affected, is made literal and then figurative when he takes photographs of the prison and other locations. He questions his ability to be objective, and the state of his relationship with an interviewee can be temperamental at best. He finds amusement and delight without anticipation by the reader. Even as it could be argued that “everything is contextual” (41), there is still the phenomena of surprise. Few could demonstrate the art of startling the reader into remembering that not everything can be anticipated nor traced back to an origin like Ball; which is key in a story where explanations are not just obscured, but elusive.

The attempt of the novel reads like Joo’s own: “I believe in discovering the love that exists and then trying to understand it. Not to invent a love and try to make it exist, but to find what does exist, and then to see what it is” (180). A sacrifice exists at the heart of this novel, more than one; and a person, more than one. Interpreting it and their meaning, to see what it is is a marvelous experiment, and a convicting one. At what point in the time-line is the act of invention initiated, because it would be dangerous to mistake Joo for not inventing a love into existence, wouldn’t it? Maybe your reading will disagree. Silence Once Begun interrogates human impulses: what we would remember, and what we would choose to conveniently forget.

If your cups of tea always require coherence in the mystery to be opaque in the end, to invite an explanatory flashback with solid connecting lines rather than perforated, any of Ball’s work will be uncomfortable, but none more than Silence Once Begun. This is not to suggest Ball leaves lazy gaping holes. His work is impressively spare. No, coherence needn’t have a clear answer everything, and Ball’s coherence artfully alludes to the corrupted nature to the human, the memory, the fictions we tell to make sense of things. The mystery is how we can ever pretend to be so very certain—so certain that we can carry through the life-threatening convictions that we do.

Jesse Ball’s provocation can be both frustrating and an absolute delight; which is how I could describe the conclusion. Ball makes the narrative personal and familiar, investing the reader in a summation that is as tidy as the novel will allow while yet demanding its lingering effect. He does not employ Errol Morris’ chilling play button on a tape recording at the end, but he does compel the reader to ask what it is we wanted to believe happened when the world turned upside down, when the expanding silence entered the room and asked us to wonder why.


{film} arachnophobic

enemy_2013If Jake Gyllenhaal is starring in a film, we’ll watch it at least once. The debate with Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy (2013) is whether we would sit through it a second time. An indie-type film running at a slow-moving 90 minutes, Enemy benefits from a second viewing. The building winding narrative looks to startle and smile at that final revelatory scene at the end. You are going to want (if not have to) return for another viewing to decipher the film. Gyllenhaal as Adam and Anthony is not in the least to blame with my disenchantment with Enemy; that he is riveting carries most of the film. My primary difficulty with Enemy is in how my desire to work out its meaning as the end credits roll is not excited by the film itself, rather, it is the need to justify the time spent not being thrilled by anything more than Gyllenhaal’s mere presence.

Our viewing could’ve done with a darker room, and less intrigue. Near minute forty, when Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon), tearful and completely freaking out, asks “What’s happening?!” I was echoing the same, although with an emotion inspired by exasperated boredom. My scene was repeated at the end: looking at Sean: What was that? I do not mind working for a film, I expect it with films outside of the Hollywood blockbuster, but Enemy was weighted too heavily on the side of the inexplicable—beginning with that title.

enemyThe IMDb synopsis for Enemy is intentionally spare: A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie. This is all we had going in, so needless to say, the opening sequence in an elite strip club was unexpected. Appropriately off-kilter, we proceed to the monotonous life of a History professor Adam (Gyllenhaal) talking of historical cycles, repetition, dictators, control, bread & circuses and quotes from Hegel (everything happens twice) and Marx (the first time it will be tragedy, the second: farce). Like a good student, I made note of the twice repeated lectures. I would look for clues as to which Gyllenhaal was present at the high-end seedy club, and how Adam’s lecture applied to all that would follow. Necessarily, I was having difficulty reconciling Adam to the figure of such darkness and distaste at the opening. Nor could I decipher how a ‘third-rate’ actor Anthony (Gyllenhaal) would get into such company as the elderly suits shown present.

The film takes its time introducing Anthony as the actor Adam sees in a film recommended by a co-worker. The late hours, the waking, the strange relationship with Adam’s friend Mary should provide some clue to the surreality of the film’s situation beyond a simple curiosity of the uncanny. A big mystery in the viewing experience is, as the doppelgangers are introduced, how the doubling works. How can Adam and Anthony be identical and yet not the same person? And how could they be the same person, yet noticeably distinct to others? An actor is a constructed persona, and ‘third rate’ (such as (an illuminating) Adam’s mom would suggest) reads bad actor in its multiple meaning—a bad character. But being an asshole doesn’t make a person necessarily horror-music terrifying—so I had to take the actor’s (and film’s) word for it…

A problem with Enemy is the dramatic tension the film was applying with an incredibly heavy hand. The burgeoning and resounding woodwinds and tympani of high anxiety and impending doom were applied as unavoidable cues for an otherwise unmoved audience. So one guy sounds just like another on the phone? Why would that freak Helen out? Maybe Adam was a long-lost sibling or cousin or from the same geographic region. Their interaction on the campus is bizarre, not because she is trying to internalize some emotion or other, but because Adam seems so charming and not the awkward recluse previously observed. He steps around corners and becomes another man. But is there anything to suggest Helen is dealing with a husband with a mental disorder (ala multiple personality disorder)? Even if she did not know he was a professor (instead of a no-longer-working-actor), he is yet to be explained in this scene.

ENEMY2I thought I had an understanding of the uncanny, even reading Freud’s thoughts on the matter, but Enemy is so overwrought as to call attention to itself. Perhaps it isn’t about the uncanny, because the film would otherwise read insecure if anxiety is to be created by such overt means. As it is, the film was ever waving its screenplay saying it has the answer, it knows what’s going on!! Haha! Don’t you wish you knew? Except I find this move the opposite of compelling. The ridiculousness of the uneven application of melodrama generated apathy, not suspense. It would have been another thing had I arrived at the conclusion with a conclusion, but I was just dumbfounded.

No doubt, we were still recovering from the Mary (Mélanie Laurent) and Anthony scene in the hotel room where Anthony and Adam have their own discourse on body demarcation earlier. Why is she suddenly discovering a band on the finger of a lover that is not supposed to be two actual people at this point in the film… I believe one could argue her horror as being his horror manifested, his ego projecting through her in a fantasy sequence as supported by subsequent events. Sean remains unmoved and views the scene a significant flaw in the narrative. There is none of the concrete, the coherent, to ground the narrative leaps. The exchanging of (man-woman) pairs serves to muddy the discourse, and not necessarily in a satisfying way. Where is the entry point into the psychological–the dark corridor into the theater of the erotic? We observe no evident exit, only a ‘spinning top’ for psychoanalytic confirmation, aka the spider.

I am curious about the exclusivity of the key…that part of the film eluded me.

I failed to pinpoint the moments of confirmation between Adam and Anthony, but I perceived their connection nevertheless—thanks to a need to understand the title and the recollection of a popular saying. So a man can be his own worst enemy… and? What was the conflict about? I missed the spider symbolism throughout, so I was disabled in my reading; yes, I did see the one at the open and close and its shift in scale. I had a hard time interpreting the otherwise expressive face and posture of Gadon (Helen). The one character I could come to care about, Adam, does something so reprehensible at that lengthy turning point near the end that I wanted to discard the whole film. If Enemy would deny the viewer a sympathy and optimism with a husband’s struggle with a shoe fetish and sexual infidelity, the film is an unparalleled success. I fear, however, that the conflation of woman with spider blames female sexuality as the source of man’s conflict—the woman, bearing yet again—the double-cultural-bind of domestication and destabilizing predation; in neither case is her sexuality liberating to the men in the film. In the end, neither Adam nor Anthony are enemy to the other (though fears yet present themselves); no, woman is the enemy to which the title alludes. How positively unstunning and unthrilling a revelation….

I may have enjoyed the film had I been better prepared: perused other viewers’ readings, for example, in order to get a sense at what the conflict between the doubles was. I couldn’t get a sense of what was at stake—or rather, wasn’t made to care. I would recommend Enemy on the basis of Jake Gyllenhaal’s superb performance alone; and with the recommendation of a good dark quiet room and absolute attentiveness. Otherwise, I’d recommend using your viewing minutes re-watch your favorite Hitchcock, Fincher or Lynch.


enemy postre

Enemy (2013, US release 2014). Director: Denis Villeneuve. Screenplay by Javier Gullón; based on The Double by José Saramago; Music by Daniel Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans; Cinematography Nicolas Bolduc; Editing by Matthew Hannam. Studio: Mecanismo Films, micro_scope, Rhombus Media, Roxbury Pictures.  Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal (Adam & Anthony); Mélanie Laurent (Mary); Sarah Gadon (Helen) and Isabella Rossellini (Mother)

 Rated R for some strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language. Running Time: 90 minutes.

"review" · fiction · Lit · mystery · recommend

{book} guests of city/city

a guest post: [w/ a bit of editing]: thank you, Natalya…


Imagine a world where instead of visiting a city within a city, you visit another peculiar place: a city that is its own country. It’s a 2-week process to get your visa—2 weeks of testing and intense learning where they tell you that though there’re are 2 cities (countries) in 1 location, you may only see and walk in 1. If you fail to do so, an unknown force of whom even the police and military are frightened of will come after you. Do not Breach- they tell you.

When you enter the streets you are surrounded by people who have grown up this way- unseeing each other, unseeing the other city. Citizens live in fear of breach, striving to ignore the other. Imagine the difficulties, the implications. Imagine the things you are asked to unsee, and not only when driving on shared streets.

You go into a dead-ended corridor and when you exit it, you are in another country. International calls could be from one building to the adjacent, but the connection is bad as if the distance were the width of an ocean. To get to your neighbor you may have to walk through that dead-end tunnel, turn around and enter the other city again. Some vacation, huh? Welcome to Beszel and Ul Qoma, the City and the City.

city and the cityA delightfully complex mystery I wouldn’t suggest as anyone’s light, easy read, or to read aloud, China Mieville’s The City and the City (Del Rey 2009) is a novel split into 3 parts: Beszel, Ul Qoma and Breach, is set in 2 cities, and begins with one fairly inconspicuous murder. In explaining this book there are multiple paths to explore, but perhaps I should just summarize: it is a difficult read, but a fantastic one.

L and I both wanted to read The City and the City, and we both wanted to read something aloud. It is most definitely a book to read- and I’d hazard all of Mieville’s books should be read- just not read aloud. I speak from experience. With names like Beszel and Ul Qoma, Borlu, Corwi, and Bol Ye’an, Mieville immediately aims to create the unfamiliar among the familiar amongst the unfamiliar; a move that is, in essence, fantasy. Yet Mieville makes it clear even in a Q & A at the back of the book, that City and the City is anti-fantasy. For every hint of hidden magic he counters with a classic noir tone, which throws the reality of corruption into sharp relief. So instead of the supernatural, which is easier for the reader to grasp- City and the City’s mystery is not only that of a murder, but of a whole society that has no clear exposition to explain it.

Inspector Tyador Borlu is already well-versed in the concrete reality and sometimes absurd intricacies of Besz and of Ul Qoma, but is asked to navigate, too, the conspiracy and paranoia of a childhood folktale: Orciny. With the ever-present threat of Breach, he must tread lightly.

Between the militsya of Ul Qoma and Beszel’s policzai, lies an entirely different form of law, one that is, as they explain to foreigners, “the sanctions available to Breach are pretty limitless.” The reader gets the sense of a swarm of silent ghosts, because Breach does not appear, it does not arrive, it “manifests”. The limitless amount of intrigue that pairs with the political effects, secret societies and bureaucracy of a good noir is complicated by Mieville’s third city, Orciny. Orciny is a speculation: possibilities abound as to what it could be: Breach’s enemy, the place where Breach resides, the ravings of a cult, the silent manipulators—who knows?

A murder mystery centers the novel. In investigating the peculiar murder case, Tyador guides the reader about the simultaneous cities. In an interview Mieville mentions he, “could have had fourth, fifth, sixth rumored cities, etc., at ever-decreasing scales.” I’ve always been a sucker for setting, but the cities in particular were a delightful challenge. Mieville does not shy away from a complex approach to describe the way the cities interact, and the fact the setting is inextricably linked with the plot makes understanding it important.

But for a book about cities, Mieville effortlessly brings brilliant characters into a spotlight. Of a fairly intricate cast of characters, 4 stand out in particular: Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad. Beat Cop and Grade-one Constable Corwi. Senior Detective Quissim Dhatt.  The last person- well I’m afraid you’ll just have to find out for yourself. As cops, all: Corwi, Dhatt and Borlu share a similarity in roughness- they’re all wary, all sweary (one reason this is an adult novel) and – in accordance with noir- willing to go beyond the law to accomplish something. Of course, Corwi is (understandably) hesitant, Dhatt is a bit eager when it comes to violence- but Borlu, the protagonist is the epitome of sticking his nose where it shouldn’t.

City and the City rewards the reader their persistence. It is a perfect site for negotiating what might endanger us if we were notice, and the fear of what goes seen and unseen. City and the City is an unusual and entertaining mystery, you should read it, just maybe not aloud.


aka The Daughter; middle-schooler; writer & poet; a SFF fan; and avid reader: she just finished The Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami and is currently reading Jesse Ball’s Silence Once Begun.


"review" · cinema · fiction · foreign · mystery · recommend

{television} Mans

Heard rumors BBC comedy drama, Jim Field Smith directed Wrong Mans (2013) was good, and have had it queued to watch. Don’t put off the Mathew Baynton and James Corden created/written show (available on HULU) like we did. Especially if you could use a bit of post-holiday pick-me-up.

wrong mans image

It all begins by answering someone else’s phone. The consequences of mistaken identity is compounded by further misapprehensions in a series of six thirty-minute episodes wherein Sam Pinkett (Mathew Baynton), Town Planning and Noise Guidance Advisor for Berkshire County Council, and his acquaintance and accomplice Phil Bourne (James Corden), the mail room employee, try to survive one unexpected disaster after another. The madness is in just how mixed-up everything becomes, the brilliance is in how the series works it all out—and ends it. Yeah, that ending is deliciously demented.


Sam and Phil are just your average guys which makes their feats of bravery amidst all the intrigue all that more astounding—and entertaining. The show is just ridiculously funny with clever little touches—the credits person has too much fun. And stick around for credits to catch the synopsis of the episode in little animations.

The actors are obviously having a good time with this little comedy, but the camera-work and editing are just as playful. The Wrong Mans is a wild ride, completely silly and wonderful.

of noteThey’ve been getting some flak for the poor grammar in the title–apparently poor grammar is not a laughing matter for some. The opening sequence of credits clarify matters, as does the opening episode. The “wrong man” becomes two when Phil gets involved; and really, you should not mistake the series for being dark & broody noir as ‘Wrong Men’ would only suggest.


wrong mans

Wrong Mans (2013). Directed by Jim Field Smith. Written/Created by Mathew Baynton and James Cordon, w/ co-writer Tom Basden; composer Kevin Sargent; editors David Webb & Victoria Boydell; Exec Producers Charlotte Koh & Mark Freeland; producers Mr. Smith, Charlie Leech & Lucy Robinson. Set/Shot: UK. BBC2 Television. Starring: Mathew Baynton (Sam Pinkett), James Corden (Phil Bourne), Sarah Solemani (Lizzie), Tom Basden (Noel Ward).