"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

The Lock Artist is unique for only ONE reason: the locks, lock picking, and safe cracking. That's about it. The whole time I kept thinking I've seen this whole framework before.

Here's the breakdown:

Young boy has a tragedy, It scars him, causes him to never speak again and shapes his boyhood. Boy falls for girl. Girl in danger so boy must "protect" her by doing something he doesn't want to do. Boy goes on journey, always thinking back to girl, Boy eventually reaches end of the line, Rescued just in time, Boy finds himself, faces his demons, and owns up for his mistakes.

Done. Sadly that's about it. The best parts of the book were the discussions on lock picking and safe cracking. Steve Hamilton gets it right and makes it interesting. Unfortunately the long time line of the book, coupled with jumps back and forth, numerous characters and situations, end up being too much to keep up with. By the end of the book, which ends in a rather let down to the reader I thought, you're left with a dozen questions. Where happened to this person, that person, why did that happen, etc. Too many loose strings.

Nice attempt but needs a lot of work.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Terror by Dan Simmons

An intriguing mash-up of a horror novel and historical fiction. Simmons starts with a real-life 19th century nautical expedition that disappeared in the arctic while searching for a northwest passage, and whose members must have perished from the elements, disease, and starvation, and adds a monster. Simmons is a master of detail and atmosphere: his writing captures the many particular realities of life on an 1840s British naval vessel, the grueling, claustrophobic experience of being stranded in arctic cold and darkness, and the gradual disintegration of human order as circumstances grow more desperate.

In a way, the monster plot is superfluous to the story, which is intense enough without it. As it is, the deliciously grim descriptions of hauling a sledge across a frozen waste or trying to sleep in fifty below zero weather while sick with scurvy, running out of food, and hundreds of miles from anywhere will make you feel grateful for being at home in a warm bed. But Simmons uses his creature as an effective background presence in the story, symbolic, in the way fictional monsters usually are, of the folly and weakness of man in the face of the wild.

The book moves at a slow pace, which had me occasionally skimming pages to the more exciting parts. And some character vantage points seemed to be there just for a sense of atmosphere, which made me wonder if I would have missed that much had I gone with the abridged audio version instead of the printed edition. Still, the oppressive grip of the story pulled me through to the end.