Monday, May 23, 2022

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter: a very short review

Wow, it's been a really long time since I wrote on the blog. Bad Bryan!

Seth Grahame-Smith's quite bizarre Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter followed just a few years after his earlier (and better known?) sensation: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which I didn't read).

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has several things going for it:

  • It's a quick read, with (unsurprisingly) lots of action!
  • The decision to suspend your disbelief is not complicated here: you either accept the basic premise or (and I'm sure this is common) you just don't bother with the book.
  • Grahame-Smith actually turns out to be much more interested in Abraham Lincoln than he is in Vampires
  • And, perhaps most importantly, the premise is actually quite an interesting metaphor.

It's that last point that is surely arguable, and I'll concede it is not to be taken too seriously. The two hundred and fifty years or so during which North America experienced the horrors of human slavery are surely among the most evil period of modern human history, and anything which deflects from that evilness can be criticized and rightly so.

On the other hand, it is all too easy for modern Americans in their easy chairs to look away from that time, close their eyes, and try to avoid thinking about it entirely. For how can we easily come to grips with the sheer monstrosity; it is so dreadful that we cannot even bear to contemplate it, and yet, undeniably, Abraham Lincoln did contemplate it, and did come to grips with it, and did do something about it, and did pay for that with his own life.

It's a story worth telling, and if Grahame-Smith's bizarre mash-up of history and horror novel manages to provoke even some people to stop and consider and imagine what it must have been like in those times, and how hard it must have been to completely re-shape the country into a totally different result, I'm willing to grant him considerable latitude in trying to take steps in that direction.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Death and Judgement: a very short review

Donna Leon's Death and Judgment is the fourth Guido Brunetti novel.

But rather than becoming formulaic and predictable, Leon's books are progressing nicely, becoming richer, more compelling, and more fascinating.

Indeed, at this point we can perhaps say that Leon has solidly found her footing, and Death and Judgment is perhaps the first complete work of the Guido Brunetti series.

What evidence can I present for this claim? Well, here's a sampling:

  • The plot is sharp. The criminals are despicable, and the villains are truly horrific. The three page segment late in the book in which Brunetti finally connects all the dots when he views a short video of one of the crimes is one of the most gripping sequences I've read in years. After I got through it, I had to put the book down and go for a long walk in the sunshine and look out over the ocean and try to recover: it was that vivid and terrifying.
  • The supporting characters become richer and more fascinating. Previously we've learned a lot about Brunetti's wife Paola; in Death and Judgment it is his daughter's turn. And this, too, adds depth, as Brunetti observes when he reflects on the consequences of bringing his work home with him:
    His mind flew up and away from the room. He tried to think noble thoughts, tried to think of something to say that would assure his child, convince her that, however wicked what she had seen, the world was a place where things like that were random, and humanity remained good by instinct and impulse.

Brunetti does not so attempt to convince his daughter. Rather, he is straight with her, in a quietly powerful conversation.

Everything is working for Leon: her pacing is excellent, her characters are believable, her evocation of Venice is engrossing, and her plots and tales are just as vivid and compelling now as when she wrote Death and Judgment twenty seven years ago.

Can't wait to read more of Comissario Brunetti's adventures!