Thursday, December 3, 2015

Bite-Sized Bad Books

These days it seems that for every good book I read, I have to start, and abandon, at least one dud. I can't be bothered to do full reviews of every turkey I come across, so here are three mini-reviews of two books I gave up on, and one that I ended up skim-reading. Consider yourself warned.

Carter & Lovecraft (2015) by Jonathan L. Howard

You wouldn't hire a bespoke tailor to run you up a pair of board shorts and a T-shirt, so why was Howard, the author of the excellent series of Johannes Cabal novels (my review), commissioned to write this tie-in novel for an upcoming TV series? The premise is that a descendant of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft teams up with an ex-NYPD cop to fight supernatural baddies of the Lovecraftian variety. Howard is an excellent writer with an amazing ability to meld steampunk, horror and humour, and he does so with fluid, smart prose and a lot of originality. In Carter & Lovecraft, Howard takes all of his strengths as a writer and tosses them out in favour of a narrative voice that's supposed to sound American, but comes across as second-rate Lee Child. The story is slow, the American setting is poorly realized (Howard is a Brit), the dialogue and banter between the main characters is awkward, and the horror, by the time I abandoned the book at the one-third mark, consisted of one mildly unpleasant death. I hope they paid Howard well, but he should have used a pen name. He has a reputation to protect.

The Color of Smoke (1975) by Menyhert Lakatos

The first English translation of this "epic novel of the Roma" came out in August of this year, and I was intrigued because I've never read anything fictional about the Roma, let alone a novel written by a Roma author. Turns out Lakatos has nothing good to say about his own people. The novel is set just before World War Two in Hungary in a rural community of Roma. Lakatos is unsparing, even savage, in describing the backwardness and brutality of life in this world. In fact, by the halfway point it seemed the book's only purpose was to take vicious swings at the Roma. Lakatos is a good writer but I could only stomach so many descriptions of rural poverty and the abuse of women.

The Road to Little Dribbling (2015) by Bill Bryson

I'll take it on faith that Bill Bryson actually went to the places he describes in this rambling tour around Great Britain. On the other hand it's entirely possible that he sat down in front of his laptop and created this travel book entirely through the generous use of Wikipedia, Google Earth, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and Tripadvisor. And he does, in fact, frequently quote from these sources. Here's the book's formula: Bill travels to a British town or point of interest (Stonehenge, the South Downs, etc.) and lists the local shops, tours a museum and describes its contents, throws in a bit of history culled from the internet, complains about litter/rudeness/various bureaucratic inefficiencies, makes a humorous observation or two, throws in some invented comic dialogue between himself and a local, and then ambles off to his next destination. And he even steals a gag from one of Eddie Izzard's routines. I skim-read my way through this one, marveling that apparently the most successful authors are now allowed to plagiarize their books from the web. It's cheaper than hiring a ghost writer, I suppose.

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