Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Somnambulist

The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes (2008, William Morrow & Company)

It’s a rare thing to find something really different. While the story evokes Poe’s character of C. August Dupin, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, television’s Twin Peaks, and more, Jonathan Barnes' debut novel is truly something really different.

In turn-of-the-century London, aging stage magician and consulting detective Edward Moon has grown weary of spinning illusions night after night and longs for the good old days of evil criminal masterminds and derrings-do. Of course, as everyone knows, you should be careful of what you wish for.

From the giant, hairless, mute, milk-swilling, seemingly immortal eponymous character, to a man who lives life in reverse, to a bearded lady of the night, The Somnambulist never fails to deliver characters so interesting and “out there” as to border on the uncomfortable (in the absolute best sense of the word).

The story is delivered at an incredibly breakneck pace, with enough plot twists to make the average season of 24 seem utterly predictable. While this makes for a great story, it can, at times, be an almost exhausting read.

Barnes is an author to watch, and could easily become as gifted a storyteller as Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, Clive Barker and others of that nebulous “modern fantasy” genre. If you’re a fan of early 20th century detective stories, old-fashioned pulp action, or just plain bizarre stories, you’ll want to pick up The Somnambulist.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Author's Website

Gods Behaving Badly

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips (2007, Little Brown & Company)

In Marie Phillip’s wonderful debut novel, the ancient Greek gods are alive but not so well in the 21st century. Having lost most of their power, their days are spent pursuing mundane careers; Artemis as a professional dog-walker, Apollo as a budding television psychic, Aphrodite as a phone sex operator, and so on. To top it all off, they are all living in incredibly close quarters in a run down house in northern London.

Phillips does an incredible job of translating many of the ancient myths (especially Orpheus and Euridyce) into a modern setting. Gods Behaving Badly is nearly impossible to set aside once you’ve started. With such a great story, and Phillip’s own background in television, it’s no surprise that the book was optioned for a television series (by Ben Stiller’s Red Hour Production Company) before the book was even released here in the states.

Gods Behaving Badly is a book you should put near, of not at, the top of your “to read” list. Even those without an interest in mythology will have a great time.

Rating: 4 Stars

Author's Website

20th Century Ghosts

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (2007, William Morrow & Company)

This collection of Joe Hill’s short fiction is, in a word, incredible. A far cry from Heart Shaped Box, this collection shows off Hill’s writing talents in a number of genres, not just “horror.”

Oddly reminiscent of Karen Russell’s collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, all of Hill’s works have an almost visceral sentimentality to them. From the Godzilla-meets-Kafka “You Will Hear the Locust Sing,” to the winsome “Bobby Conroy Comes Back From the Dead,” Hill’s talent shines through.

20th Century Ghosts is a must-read not only for fans of horror, but modern fiction readers in general. From the opening story “20th Century Ghost” to the crowning and epically creepy novella “Voluntarily Commital,” Hill will have you feeling exactly what he wants you to feel… and that is the sign of a true storyteller.

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

Author's Website