Review Round-up: Time After Time
The Kitschies: Red and Golden Review Round-up

Review Round-up: What's Black and Red and Everything?

SinnersStill playing review catch-up, this time with Megan Abbott's The End of Everything, Jonathan Craig's Red-Headed Sinners and Stanley John Weyman's The Man in Black.

Red-Headed Sinners (1953) by Jonathan Craig is a less-than-outstanding example of vintage noir, but still has some interesting points by which to recommend it. Jeff Stoner beats up a witness in the interrogation room and is sacked as a cop. He can't understand why he did it - the woman was provoking him, but certainly didn't deserve the throttling he gave her. Jeff figures that the only way he can restore his reputation is by solving the original crime (a jewellery theft). Unfortunately, as he prowls the city in search of witnesses, they all keep dying - and it may be that Jeff's the murderer. 

There's a lot of heavy-handed pop psychology involved, but Red-Headed Sinners is a solid job of telling a story from Jeff's (very troubled) point of view. Mr. Craig teases the "wrongly accused" formula, but it becomes readily apparent that Jeff Stoner really is the murderer. The tension is then built up around whether or not he'll realise that and, if so, if there's some sort of ultimate act of redemption he can perform.

Noteworthy? This is also one of those novels in which the protagonist is perpetually drinking. Jeff imbibes such a quantity of bourbon that I was feeling pretty hung-over by the time the book concluded.

End of everythingThe End of Everything (2011) by Megan Abbott is just straight-up horrifying. I picked up Dare Me, read it on a plane, thought, "holy damn, that's a horrifying book from an amazing author" and promptly plowed straight into this one, only to find it was even better-worse. (Not sure what the word is for "better book + more painful to read".)

A young girl is kidnapped from one of those quaint neighborhoods and the result is, well, as the title says, the end of everything. Innocence, childhood, the affair, the lying, etc. etc. You name it; it ended. The story is narrated by the victim's best friend, who, as an amateur (but effective) detective winds up at the centre of the emotional whirlwind.

The reader will piece together the core hideousness well in advance of the protagonist, but the book's beautiful brutality comes from watching the young narrator peel away all the pretty lies that surround her life. Better than both The Virgin SuicidesThe Lovely Bones or The Little Friend, all of which toy with similar themes, this book simply an outstanding example of modern noir. So good that I may never read it again, if that makes sense...

The End of Everything is, by far, the best book I've read in 2013, and that's saying quite a bit.

The Man in Black (1894) by Stanley John Weyman is a pretty sub-standard example of the author's work. Mr. Weyman was a random discovery and, for the most part, a pretty satisfactory one. His successes, say, The House of the Wolf or The King's Stratagem, manage to juggle historical detail with fairly compelling adventures. This isn't one of them.

The Man in BlackThe book begins with an orphan boy, working on as an entertainer, earning coins for his cruel master. Part of his shtick is also a recitation of his lineage. Although no one believes it, the kid can rattle off a long list of noble ancestors. Before long, he comes to the attention of SOLOMON NOTREDAME, necromancer of Paris. Notredame steals the kid and whisks him away to the city. Once established in Paris, the child has multiple opportunities to escape, but doesn't, as Notredame has convinced him that he's sold his soul to the devil

Notredame gets involved in a plot to poison a noblewoman, the kid intervenes and all hell breaks loose (sadly, not literally). Everything is resolved in one of those big public scenes, with witnesses leaping out in all directions and Lost Heritages Revealed. Etc. Etc. Disney would love it.

The plot, such as it is, is fine - the kid's noble heritage and the foiled murder, they all make sense. But the supernatural elements are never actually resolved. Was Notredame an actual wizard? Everyone seems to think so. But, then... 

Why does Notredame steal the kid in the first place? Why does Notredame kill himself while everything is going in his favour? If he is a con artist, how did he do all the tricks with the coins and the water and the horse and the... etc. etc.? And how does the kid live happily ever after when the whole "selling one's soul" thing is never actually resolved?! So. Many. Questions.

Weyman's strength as a historical writer is his ability to juggle romance and reality. The author is fond of his heroic swashbucklers and swooning maidens, but he's also not above demonstrating some of the era's nasty reality. However, when he departs from history and tries to integrate the occult, Weyman flounders. In The Man in Black, the supernatural adds zero atmosphere and lots and lots of plot holes.