Reading Update 28/07/2020

Updates

Hey bookwyrms. You might have noticed I’ve been taking a more lax approach to these reading updates lately; I used to do them every Wednesday but found I’d sometimes end up forcing myself to read when I didn’t want to just to avoid retreading familiar ground each week. Soooo I’m just gonna do them whenever I have new stuff to talk about. I’m not one who deals well with routine anyway. I’m not reading any new books lately, in fact they’re all canny old, so if what you’re really interested in is the shiny new releases you’re not gonna find anything to excite you here. But! If, like me, you think old books deserve appreciation too, then let’s wipe the dust of aeons off those old book covers and dive into some retro fiction.



Recently Finished: THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler
Some of my favourite books have been influenced by the pulp noir genre. Neuromancer by William Gibson for example, one of my all time favourite books, is saturated with the atmosphere and character tropes of noir detective fiction. Classic cyberpunk characters are the marginalised, alienated loners who live on the edges of society and eschew its rules, much like the anti-hero of Raymond Chandler’s THE BIG SLEEP. Private dick Philip Marlowe is the archetypal rough-around-the-edges, booze-guzzling maverick private investigator we’re all familiar with now and is pulled into the shady underbelly of 1930s Los Angeles when he’s hired by an old general to investigate the blackmailer of his daughter. This was a really good book. Didn’t quite make it to being great, but Chandler’s famous no-nonsense prose was very compelling and, given how much I love William Gibson, I was intrigued by the stylistic prose that clearly influenced what came to be a classic of the cyberpunk genre in Neuromancer.

Currently Reading: THE STAND by Stephen King
I’ve mentioned before in passing how I have a goal to read all of Stephen King’s books in order. I’ve been making slow progress with that but, let’s be real, it’s gonna be a lifelong commitment cos that guy has written a lot of books. You may also be questioning my sanity in reading a book about a killer virus that wipes out 99% of humanity while in the middle of an irl pandemic and I really have no answer for you there, maybe I just didn’t think the real world was dark enough. I’m about ten chapters in and enjoying it well enough so far. I have an odd relationship with Stephen King; he has a weird writing style and his books feel like deep character studies more than books with an actual plot and I think he really needs an editor to tell him to shut the fuck up sometimes, but his books are enjoyable, sort of like chewing gum for the brain.

Next Read: THE MURDER ON THE LINKS by Agatha Christie
This section is almost always entirely nonsense cos I love a good mood read, so will change my mind a hundred times about what to read next, but I finished the first Hercule Poirot book a few weeks ago and loved it. I’m a massive Agatha Christie fan boy now and I’m really digging old crime fiction at the mo. THE MURDER ON THE LINKS sees our old Belgian detective summoned to France after receiving a distressing letter with a urgent cry for help. Upon his arrival Poirot finds the letter writer, the South American millionaire Monsieur Renauld, stabbed to death and his body flung into a freshly dug open grave on the golf course adjoining the property. Renauld’s wife is found bound and gagged in her room. Apparently, it seems that Renauld and his wife were victims of a failed break-in, resulting in Renauld’s kidnapping and death. There’s no lack of suspects: his wife, whose dagger served as the weapon; his embittered son, who would have killed for independence; and his mistress, who refused to be ignored – and each felt deserving of the dead man’s fortune. The police think they’ve found the culprit, but Poirot has his doubts. Why is the dead man wearing an overcoat that is too big for him? And who was the impassioned love-letter in the pocket for? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse… Love it love it love it.


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Review: COIL by Ren Warom

Book Reviews

One of my reading goals this year is to read more noir. Another is to read more small press releases. And COIL by Ren Warom is a science fiction detective thriller that satisfies both these needs. A gritty, futuristic murder mystery spattered with copious amounts of biopunk body horror, Coil isn’t a book for the squeamish, but if you like stories with gritty characters and settings featuring criminal gangs warring with corrupt and bureaucratic law enforcement agencies then BOY do I have a recommendation for you!

What I loved about Coil was Warom’s ability to take a simple, yet solid, foundation of noir tropes and build a rich and complex world on top of it. The whole story takes place in The Spires, a mega-city that has emerged from the ruins of Detroit following some kind of cataclysmic event in the history of the book’s world. In the Spires, numerous criminal gangs have taken control of sectors of the city and largely operate with the tacit approval of a police force which is powerless to confront them. With drastic technological change and the inevitable culture shift that accompanied it, this is a world where humans have merged with machines and body modification is ubiquitous, to the extent that to be a human without body mods is considered altogether weird – abnormal.

And in this world we meet Bone Adams. Bone is a legend, the best mortician in the Spires, and a man without modification in a world where body mods define humanity. When a new killer begins leaving bodies stripped of mods but twisted and bent into grotesque pieces of art, City Officer Stark tasks Bone to unravel the clues, few though they may be. In Warom’s world, morticians have become much more than simple undertakers. In a world littered with the bodies of gangland murders, where large sections of the population seek out illegal body modifications and technological implants from surgeons who owe allegiance to criminal gangs, often the only way to identify a corpse is through tracing the modification trail. Morticians are detectives and diplomats required to have one foot in the shady criminal underworld without falling foul of either the gangs or the police.

We get to follow Bone as he navigates the seedy underbelly of the Spires, as he and City Officer Stark attempt to unravel the clues they uncover about the mysterious killer. These are our two main viewpoint characters and Warom does a great job of taking the grizzled, alcoholic rogues of pulp noir and fleshing them out into characters you can really root for, even if they are difficult, frustrating SOB’s sometimes. And what is pulp noir without a femme fatale? Coil has such a good femme fatale. I can’t expand much without getting into spoiler territory but holy shit I need you to read this book, if not for the sole reason I need someone to talk about this with!

I’m not very practised at reading mysteries and thrillers where you can follow the clues and work out what’s going on yourself if you’re clever, so I never saw the ending coming, but in retrospect there’s some really top notch foreshadowing. Coil is one of those books where I kind of want to read it again just so I can pick up on all the hints and clues Warom drops throughout the story. I recently saw the film Knives Out, and so much of the joy of that film (and there was much joy to be had about it) was trying to pick up on the clues as the story progressed. Coil is much the same and I’m absolutely hankering for more mystery fiction right now.

All told, Coil is a great book and has me interested in reading Ren Warom’s back catalogue, which features some very interesting-sounding stories, including some good ol’ cyberpunk in ESCAPOLOGY about a data thief hired to hack into a corporate databank – absolutely my jam all over.

Go read Coil. Definite recommend from me.