Tag Archives: suspense

Dance Dance Dance – Haruki Murakami

My peak? Would I even have one? I hardly had had anything you could call a life. A few ripples. some rises and falls. But that’s it. Almost nothing. Nothing born of nothing. I’d loved and been loved, but I had nothing to show. It was a singularly plain, featureless landscape. I felt like I was in a video game. A surrogate Pacman, crunching blindly through a labyrinth of dotted lines. The only certainty was my death.

This is one of the early books of the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, written in 1988. It is the fourth in a series, but can be read as a stand-alone story as well. The book follows the phantasmagorical adventures of the protagonist, a freelance journalist, trying to decipher the mysterious disappearance of a loved woman.

The entire story is surreal, with a magic hotel and parallel worlds, different realities, foretelling dreams, the Sheep Man, murder of a call-girl, a clairvoyant teenager girl and many other bizarre things. That Murakami can introduce all those in a single plot, making a captivating story, is absolute genius.

The story is so far from the present reality,  so mind-boggling, with so many concepts that are changed or reinterpreted, that the writing and the stories of Murakami are truly unique.

With this writer, the reader either likes it or drops it. However, Murakami enjoyed a global success with his novels, so I would recommend a try.

[Featured picture: Infinity Rooms by Yayoi Kusama]

Night Soldiers – Alan Furst

Spying came to him as making love comes to other men. It is his belief, in fact, that his father may have had relations with the Okhrana, the czar’s intelligence service, though his murder by the Turks was haphazard—simply one act in a village slaughter. But Avram knew them, whether they were Turkish Aghas or British officers, he always understood how they worked, where their vulnerabilities lay.

Night Soldiers is the first book in a long series, 14 books, of espionage novels in Europe starting in the 1930s and through World War II. It is a fictional story following Khristo Stoianev, a Bulgarian, who is recruited by NKVD, sent to Spain during the civil war, then escaped to Paris. The action moves all around Europe, from Bulgaria to Moscow, from Madrid to Paris, to Switzerland.

Gritty spy story in World World Two.

Spying activities of Bolsheviks, Spanish civil war factions, underground activities of French patriots, Nazi Gestapo are all presented through the eyes of the protagonist, in a gritty, tense and grey atmosphere.

In 1934, Stoianev sees his brother beaten to death by local fascists, so takes refuge with the communists, being sent for training in Moscow. He is then sent to Spain during the civil war. The Soviet purges caught him there, where he escapes, fleeing to Paris, but he still cannot shake the long hand of NKVD. The action moves then briefly to the US where the OSS is formed, then back to Europe with the French resistance. The transition between stories is smooth and the reader can feel the tense atmosphere from each country caught in the war.

The writing is captivating, with an imaginative, but not overly complicated plot. Despite presenting sometimes the mundane of life, Alan Furst keeps the reader on the edge. You can feel the tension brought by war and spying, just waiting for the moment to be discovered or to make a mistake.

The decisions of the main characters are well explained, seem genuine and keep the story compact. The reader knows in every moment why a character decided to act in a certain way, what is their motivation, desires. The character creation and the atmosphere created is top notch.

A recommended read for long winter nights.

Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke

Man was, therefore, still a prisoner on his own planet. It was much fairer, but a much smaller, planet than it had been a century before. When the Overlords abolished war and hunger and disease, they had also abolished adventure.

Childhood’s End is a good scifi from the accomplished author Arthur C Clarke. It starts with a sudden arrival of some aliens, just after the second world war. They bring peace and prosperity, but never disclose their reason to come to Earth. The book ends somewhat surprisingly, into a kind of transcendence for humankind.

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Quality scifi writing

Although written in 1953, the book keeps pace with current development and innovations, which shows the, what proved to be correct, vision of the author for the future.

The plot has several twists, a couple of stories being intermingled, but the narrative is kept straight and easy to follow. The anchor of the book are the aliens and the slow progress towards the inevitable end. It reminded me of the more recent series of Harry Turtledove (Colonization – also on this website).

The book is an easy read and imaginative enough to be an entertaining scifi almost 70 years after writing.

While I enjoyed reading the book, I think it could have explored more the excellent plot lines developed. A solid reading overall.

[Featured picture by ITU Pictures]

Blacksad – Juan Diaz Canales, Juanjo Guarnido

Une étoile s’était éclipsée, abandonnant mon passé dans le noir, égaré quelque part entre les ombres. Et personne ne peut vivre sans son passé.

Là dehors se cachait le coupable de deux meurtres, au moins: celui d’une personne et celui de mes souvenirs.

Et ce salaud allait le payer.

Blacksad est une exceptionnelle série de bande dessinée, anthropomorphiste, en cinq volumes (2016) de Juan Díaz Canales (écrivant) et Juanjo Guarnido (dessinateur).

Blacksad, l’héro.

Le héro est John Blacksad, un chat noir, détective privé aux États-Unis dans les années 1950. L’atmosphère a l’empreinte d’un film noir et est parfaitement exprimé par les dessines. Le graphisme de Guarnido est monumental: les personnages animalières sont superbe choisis, la coloration à l’aquarelle donne un timbre spécial, précis et vivant au action.

Le dialogue est fluide, les mots sont bien choisi. La narration est souple, avec aucune bagage de mots inutile, une qualité rare dans la littérature. C’est un plaisir de lire les histoires de Blacksad, regarder les dessines et être part de cette atmosphère noir crée par Canales et Guarnido.

Les cinq volumes sont : Quelque part entre les ombres (2000); Arctic-Nation (2003); Âme rouge (2005); L’Enfer, le silence (2010) et Amarillo (2013).

John Blacksad n’a pas des qualités incroyable, exceptionnelles, mais il est honnête, courageux et obstiné. Blacksad est sombre et solitaire, mais il reste sociable. Le lecteur se peut identifié facilement avec le héro. Son ami est Weekly, une fouine, journaliste, très bien informé, qui partage les même valeurs, mais pas la même personnalité réservé que Blacksad. John travaille souvent avec  Smirnov, un berger allemand, commissaire de police, aussi honnête et incorruptible.

La intrigue est toujours fraiche, plaine des surprises, mais réaliste. Les options disponible pour le héro ne sont pas simple. Les volumes sont avec mafia, assassinats, racisme, femmes fatales, fume de cigares, anticommunisme. Chacun a une couleur dominante propre:  noir, blanc, rouge, bleu et jaune.

La série de bande dessinée Blacksad reste une ouvre d’art, qui je recommande de voir et lire.

[Feature photo: Photographies prises lors du Festival International de la BD de Sollies Ville by Esby from Wikimedia]

[Article photo by Galvi, flickr]

Seveneves – Neal Stephenson

The Mining Colony now comprised eight modules, plus an inflatable dome that was attached directly to the asteroid. The robots had spent several weeks welding a three-meter-diameter ring into a circular groove that they had prepared on Amalthea’s surface. The inflatable had been mated to it about a hundred days ago, and filled with breathable atmosphere. It was not quite a shirtsleeves environment, since the asteroid was cold and chilled the air in the dome. And many of the robots’ normal operations produced gases that were toxic, or at least irritating. But that wasn’t the point of having a dome.

Seveneves is a book of what is called hard scifi, a category of science fiction focusing on scientific accuracy and technical detail. Neal Stephenson did a fantastic job in researching and writing this book, which is arguably one of the best scifi in the last years. The technical detail is incredible and the plot is perfectly built and sustained.

Seveneves1
What will humanity do if we have to leave Earth?

The novel starts with the destruction with the Moon in a cataclysmic event, an action that will destroy life Earth, leaving only the space as a refuge. After this strong hook for readers in the introduction, which kickstarts the entire action, Stephenson brilliantly describes the logical steps that human race takes for its survival. The author pays considerable attention to scientific accuracy, making the book a true voyage of discovery and imagination.

It is also extremely entertaining: the action has great pace, the descriptions are just enough to understand what is happening, the plot leaves the reader guessing what will come next and the personages are truly easily identifiable and memorable. The reader finds out by the last chapters why the novel is called this way.

The book is recommended by both Financial Times and Bill Gates. It’s incredible how you keep wanting to continue, even after more than 800 pages. A masterpiece.

The adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle

I didn’t read the book in my childhood, so I read it recently. Interesting, but I read better ones, such as Monsieur Lecoq by Emile Gaboriau. Gaboriau had more depth.

The short stories didn’t allow characters to develop, although Holmes and Watson are in each of them. Also, the stories are more about mystery rather than dangerous crime.

Still, very fluid stories, smart plots, good dialogue. An interesting book.