Friday, June 28, 2013

Reader's Review - Thomas Harris (Red Dragon)

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Some years ago I was exposed to a very unpleasant experience. A good friend and I sat one evening and drank some fine whiskey while we heard some nice blues. After a while I left the room for a moment, and returned to my chair a couple of minutes later - ready for more blues and more whiskey. We raised our glasses and drank. The surprise caused me to spray the contents of the glass on myself and around my immediate surroundings. My 'good' friend had poured my whiskey out and replaced it with coffee.I have not the slightest against coffee, but my expectation of a very particular taste when I emptied the glass, got my senses to react very strongly and inappropriately. On the other hand, if I had a cup of steaming coffee in front of me, the experience would have been extremely pleasant. 

That was the kind of feeling I got when I read 'Red Dragon' by Thomas Harris. If you place the book in chronological order with the other books the author have written about Hannibal Lecter, this book will be the second out of four books - until now. But Hannibal Lecter appears only peripherally in the story. The readers are never allowed to enjoy his sublime character, his intellect and his cold-blooded cruelty.In this story, Hannibal Lecter is merely a mentor for the story's protagonist, Francis Dolarhyde. Francis Dolarhyde is a deeply disturbed man who obviously have severe personality disorder. Officially, he works as a manager at a photo lab, but after work, he suffers from a compulsive idea that he is about to transform into a red dragon. To accomplish his conversion, Dolarhyde must implement one brutal murder after another. 

'Red Dragon' is Francis Dolarhyde's story. As usual, Thomas Harris is both stylish and sharp. He knows where he wants to lead us, and he knows how to enthrall the reader from start to finish. 'Red Dragon' is well told and captures the reader from the first pages. If it had been another writer and if Thomas Harris had not created such a charismatic figure like Hannibal Lecter, 'Red Dragon' would have been a great novel. But because I expected that Hannibal Lecter would be the focal point in the story, I was not able to enjoy the many fine details. I was so focused on Hannibal's presence, that the other action of the story was of minor importance. What a shame it was. The novel was indeed well told. 

In other words: I expected the taste of whiskey, but what I really got, was a bitter cup of coffee.It's a bit of a paradox when a writer is able to create such strong and significant character that he completely takes over the story and begin to live his own live.I believe that if Thomas Harris had left Hannibal Lecter out of 'Red Dragon', the novel would have been so much easier to appreciate. The producer of the movie must have come to the same conclusion. In the movie, Hannibal Lecter have been offered a much more prominent place, without dominating the film. 

The best thing you can say about the 'Red Dragon' is, that readers still have the best experiences waiting ahead. In 'Red Dragon' Hannibal Lecter had for awhile resigned and left the stage to another - that is not going to happen again in 'Silence of the Lambs' and 'Hannibal'.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Boganmeldelse - Jussi Adler-Olsen (Alfabethuset)

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Oplægget på bagsiden af Jussi Adler-Olsens bog, 'Alfabethuset', indikerer at historien foregår i og omkring et sindssygehospital i Tyskland under anden verdenskrig. To engelske piloter bliver skudt ned på en mission over Tyskland, og med tyske soldater lige i hælene, er deres eneste mulighed for redning, at de springer på et lazarettog, som netop da krydser deres vej.
Toget viser sig imidlertid at indeholde højtstående SS-folk som er brudt sammen på østfronten. De to engelske piloter smider to patienter ud af toget og overtager deres senge og identiteter. Fra da af er de nødt til at simulere sindssyge, hvis de vil undgå at blive opdaget og henrettet. Begge piloter prøver, hver for sig at planlægge en flugt fra sindssygehospitalet – noget der skal vise sig at være yderst vanskeligt og farligt. Det viser sig nemlig at de ikke er de eneste der simulerer sindssyge...

'Alfabethuset' er en omfangsrig roman og selv om Jussi Adler-Olsens beskrivelse af forholdene på det tyske sindssygehospital omkring krigens afslutning er meget detaljeret og yderst interessant, forekom det mig, at det måske var at spænde buen lidt for hårdt, hvis der ikke skete andet igennem hele bogen. Der tog jeg heldigvis fejl.

Det er kun cirka halvdelen af bogen, der udspiller sig under anden verdenskrig. Herefter springer begivenhederne mange år frem og handlingen tager en ganske uventet drejning. Mens den første del var interessant og spændende bliver sidste del direkte ondskabsfuld og uhyggelig.

Det er intet mindre end en genistreg, Jussi Adler-Olsen har begået med 'Alfabethuset'. I perioder trækker han hårde veksler på læserens tålmodighed, men jeg skal love for at han kompenserer for det i den sidste del af bogen. Jeg kan kun anbefale denne bog på det varmeste. Her viser Jussi Adler-Olsen, hvorfor han må regnes for en af Danmarks største nulevende krimiforfattere.

'Alfabethuset' er ikke den bog, den giver sig ud for at være. Den er bedre, grusommere og meget mere nuanceret end man umiddelbart skulle tro. Giv bogen en chance. Vær tålmodig. Du vil blive positivt overrasket – måske endda imponeret. Det blev jeg i hvert fald.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Reader's review - Mike Wells (Lust, Money & Murder)

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I just finished reading 'Lust, Money & Murder' by Mike Wells. Before I began reading, I spent some time doing a little research about the author. One thing I noticed was, that Mike Wells describes his books as 'unputdownable' and a 'pageturner'. That sounds good. That's the kind of books I am always looking for. 

'Lust, Money & Murder' is the first book in a series of five books. The story is about a young woman, Elaine Brogan. For personal reasons, she is struggling to qualify for a job at Secret Service. She is not a patriot. Elaine's main reason for qualifying for the job is sheer revenge. Elaine Brogan hopes that it will be possible for her to track a certain man down who was indirectly responsible for her father's miserable death. 

Does the book live up to my expectations? Yes and no. The story is not particularly original, it has been told over and over again, but that doesn't matter if the story is well written. And 'Lust, Money & Murder' IS well written. Mike Wells definitely doesn't waste time. The first chapters creates the framework for the real story, and they justify the female protagonist's motives to make the choices she makes later in the story. The reader gets to know only the most necessary details about Elaine Brogan's family, friends and school. But that is enough for the reader to make a reasonable picture of the young woman, who are about to become the focal point of the history.The language is simple and uncomplicated and the short sentences will certainly make the book attractive to a wider audience. The story itself is fortunately not that simple. It never ends up being boring. In fact, the book contains some interesting information about admission to the Secret Service. I do not know how much of this information that are facts and how much that are fiction, but it certainly helped me to find interest in the story. 

Was there any truth in Mike Wells' contention that his book was 'unputdownable' and a 'pageturner'? Perhaps 'unputdownable' is a little exaggerated. 'Lust, Money & Murder' was not a book I was unable put away, but it was definitely a book I wanted to return to whenever I had a minute to spare.In turn, Mike Wells is absolutely right when he claims that the book is a 'pageturner'. The way the story continues to evolve all the time, makes you hang on all the way. 'Lust, Money & Murder' is definitely good entertainment but ... 

I do not mind that books are written in volumes. Many writers have done that over the years, but I do not like to read a book without any conclution. Unfortunately, that is my experience with 'Lust, Money & Murder'. If I want to know how it ends, I need to buy the other four books. That is unsatisfying! It seems as if Mike Wells doesn't believe in his own protagonist. He does not seem to believe that he has created a protagonist who is so strong, that readers are willing to invest their money in the next four books. He is so wrong!!! Elaine Brogan is definitely sufficiently varied and exciting for one to feel that you want to follow her experiences in the next books. As for now, we are not talking about five separate books, rather than one story, split into five volumes. Now, the first volume of 'Lust, Money & Money' was free, but I have to admit that I am left with a feeling that I have been cheated. I miss the conclusion of a truly good story. 

Mike Wells is not the only one, using this tactic. It seems that it is a phenomenon that is becoming more and more widespread - especially among indie authors. For this reason, I will later address this issue in an article on my blog.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Reader's Review - J. Joseph Wright (Gramma's Freezer)

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Many people mistakenly believe that horror is a primitive kind of writing style anyone can dig into. They think that as long as a movie or book contains enough blood and splatter, then all claims about horror are honored. They are wrong! A study in the classic horror genre will quickly reveal that the most powerful horror stories DON'T contains endless amounts of blood and guts. This does not mean that this element should not be present, absolutely not. but if it becomes excessive or abused, this kind of effects will loose its shocking impact. The proficient writer, tells the story in a way that the reader will experience the protagonist's anxiety, frustration and confusion as a physical pain to himself. How is this done in the most powerful way?

As I regularly mention in my blog, we need to consider the ancient authors eminent techniques. Let me mention just one: H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft's short stories and novels are built up slowly. Often the story is written in first person. In other words, the reader doesn't know more than the protagonist. He doesn't throw the reader into the abyss of horror at once, but
he slowly builds the experience with lots of details about the physical surroundings and the protagonist's state of mind. Only when the reader at last has been brought far into the story, Lovecraft unleashes hell in a highly effective manner. Not all his stories have the same high standard, but all of his stories contain some elements, the modern storyteller of horror must learn from.

What happens if you do not hit this delicate balance between the unsaid and the violent splatter? If there is too little action and physical and psychological violence, the story is pointless and boring - especially because the reader expects a horror story to contain these elements. Conversely, a history, where action and violence becomes exaggerated will seem grotesque and perhaps even amusing to the reader, which must be a nightmare to the serious horror writer. If you laugh when you should have been scared to death, everything is lost. Not everyone can write effective horror. It is seen too often in zombie movies. Ask yourself: How many of all the zombie movies I've seen over time, have been labled as quality movies. Often producer and screenwriter
abandon the intention to create a serious horror movie, and instead chooses to make a parody of genre.

OK. J. Joseph Wright was kind enough to let me download a copy of "Gamma's Freezer". I will not spoil the reading experience for others by mentioning too many details, but if you going to read "Gramma's Freezer" you should probably stop reading here.

In brief, the story is about a boy named Eddy Mitchell who are going on vacation at her grandmother's house. It turns out that his grandmother's killing people brutally and his vacation shows to be anything but relaxing - if you understand a hint.

Let me
say, basically I like the story. It has certain features in common with Stephen King's "The Mangler". But while "The Mangler" brings the story up to climax by slowly opening up to the history's heinous context, "Gamma's Freezer" plunges the reader into the wildest orgy of splatter from the first chapter. The first time we become acquainted with Eddy's grandmother, is down her basement where she's eating a dead man's liver. I'm sorry to say, but the picture that was drawn did not work for me. In fact, I sat and laughed aloud, imagining the crazy situation unfolds and I must say, that in my mind the story shifted from horror to clean splatter from that point."Gramma's Freezer" has its moments in which the events takes an unexpected turn and the reader is surprised. It's certainly not a bad story. It's just not classic horror.  

A writer should ask himself: How would my story be perceived if it was transferred into a film? In the case of "Gramma's Freezer" I hardly think that it would be nominated for any award.There is nothing wrong with the plot. But in my opinion the story ought to be rewritten in a way that the whole ghastly context could slowly unfolds, until the true horror finally stands crystal clear to the reader. Keep the blood and gore, but save it for the end of the story. In fact, the final chapters of "Gramma's Freezer" was incredibly exciting. At a certain point there were reminiscence of "The Shining" without loosing the storys originality.

I know, that as a writer, you have strong feelings for your novels, and that it may be difficult to accept that others do not share or understand the thoughts you are trying to convey. But I hope that this review will be seen as constructive criticism from someone who truly loves horror and really would like to see it maintain a strong and loyal audience. And this can only be done when we, the writers, treat this genre with all the respect and love it deserves.