Review: Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty

What a genuinely great, fun book. Six Wakes was one of my most anticipated books for spring, and with good reason! In this future, humans have perfected cloning: with regular backups (called mindmaps) and a fresh computer, a clone can die as many times as it likes and wake up again in a brand new body. If you haven’t backed up your mind lately with a new mindmap, and you die, your clone will be missing some time.

Space janitor and chef Maria Elena wakes up in a new clone body to find that her last body is dead. The five other crew members aboard the generation ship Dormire are in the same situation. Their older bodies have clearly been in space for more than two decades, but they now can’t remember anything later than boarding the ship. Unable to trust anyone — even themselves — they have to get the ship’s AI back online and figure out how they got to this state, or the ship (and its thousands of sleeping colonists) is doomed.

Six Wakes

Despite (because of?) the high concept of Six Wakes, I was all in the way in from the jump. A manor house murder mystery is my favorite type of murder mystery, and Six Wakes is a manor house murder mystery in space. To make things even more fun, we soon learn that each of the six crew members is a criminal, undertaking this difficult journey with the promise that their records will be wiped clean at the other end. They are to be kept under control by the AI, who has ultimate command of the ship — but the AI is, at the time of their waking, offline and malfunctioning. Interstitial flashback chapters tell each of their stories, both how they came to commit their crimes and how they came to board this ship. Secrets abound, and it’s an absolute treat to watch the many pieces of the puzzle slowly come together.

The further you get into the book, the more Lafferty reveals about the history and mechanics of cloning, details that become more and more important as we gain more clues into what happened. I don’t want to spoil too much about the book — it’s fun learning as you go along! — but suffice it to say that the world has had a difficult time of it reaching the current legal and social detente between humans and clones.

If you’re a mystery person considering dipping a toe into SF, or an SF person considering dipping a toe into mystery, or an omnivore looking for something fun and meaty (a la, let’s say, a Lexicon or a The Rook), Six Wakes is your guy.

Review: The Secrets of Wishtide, Kate Saunders

Note: I received a copy of The Secrets of Wishtide from the publisher for review consideration.

I do not read many mysteries. I think the reason is that so many mysteries come in serieses, and as a completist I find this very daunting. (Yes yes I am in love with the Amelia Peabody books, of which there are infinity, but I started reading them when I was like fourteen so it barely counts.) Also, a lot of mysteries feature divorced dude private eyes wandering around thinking bitter thoughts about their exes. Or really gruesome autopsy details. And I don’t like those things.

However, The Secrets of Wishtide is the first in a series, so there’s nothing to be daunted by; and it stars a widow detective in Ye Olden Days who has nothing but affectionate memories of her deceased husband; and they didn’t hardly have autopsies in Ye Olden Days. Problems solved! Moreover, it’s by Kate Saunders, author of this World War-I1 era sequel to Five Children and It that my library keeps taunting me that it’s in stock but then when I get there it’s checked out again.

Secrets of Wishtide

Curate’s widow Laetitia Rodd is engaged to find dirt on a woman called Helen Orme, whom the son of wealthy industrialist Sir James Calderstone is determined to marry, even though she is Unsuitable. Whilst pursuing this perfectly reasonable and harmless investigation, she finds herself at the center of NUMEROUS MURDERS and must discover what is up before an innocent man is hanged for the crimes.

Someone (probably Shae?) on Twitter compared this series to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and while Mrs. Rodd lacks Miss Fisher’s devil-may-care attitude to societal rules as they govern her own behavior, the book does share Miss Fisher‘s keen awareness of the ways gender norms keep women in check. Nearly every woman Mrs. Rodd encounters in this book has faced censure for stepping out of her society-approved lane, and the severity of the consequences are deeply informed by class and wealth. By the same token, Mrs. Rodd takes frequent advantage of her own relative invisibility as a poor-but-respectable widow to make inquiries of people she otherwise might have no access to. She is cloaked by marriage and position in a cloud of anonymity not available to women like Helen Orme.

So Saunders’s examination of that was a lot of — well, not fun, because it’s depressing, but it was interesting to see in an old-time mystery series. There are plenty of clues and red herrings to follow up, and if the final resolution of the mystery wasn’t tremendously shocking (due to not enough suspects), it was still a fun ride. There is a gruff and skeptical police inspector who — and I hope I’m not speaking out of turn here — can be expected to form a mutual grudging respect with Mrs. Rodd as the series continues. And y’all know how I feel about that.

  1. Pretend that hyphen is an en dash.

Review: The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy Sayers

Tra-la, tra-la, I am jonesing so hard for Dorothy Sayers right now I don’t even know what to say about it. My clever-but-not-always-right friend tim stopped me from buying several other Dorothy Sayers mysteries or else it would be a Dorothy Sayers Festival all up in here. I want to read all her books. And then I want to travel to an alternate universe where she wrote more books than Agatha Christie, and read all those additional books. Many of them would feature Harriet Vane. Sigh.

In The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, an old guy dies in the club on Armistice Day, at an unspecified time. This would all be fine, except that his wealthy sister also died very recently, and the inheritance depends on knowing exactly who died first. Wishing to avoid any further unpleasantness, the lawyer of the dead man’s sons asks Lord Peter Wimsey to investigate the matter.

Why I read the end: To find out who done it. Obviously.

Reviewing mysteries is hard! I think basically mysteries by the same author tend to go a certain way, and if you like the detective, and if you like the way the author writes mysteries, then hooray, you will generally like all their mysteries! I am awfully fond of Dorothy Sayers. I sometimes wonder if I would have liked Peter Wimsey as much if I’d spent all those books with him being all arrogant and know-it-all, before meeting Harriet. But, moot point! I met him and Harriet at the same time, he made Alice in Wonderland references and saved Harriet from hanging, and hence I like him. And I like Dorothy Sayers and her mysteries.

One reason I love Dorothy Sayers is that famous thing she said, that she was broke when she was writing her Peter Wimsey mysteries and she consoled herself for her poverty by giving Wimsey nice things. Oh, Dorothy Sayers. I am right there with you. When I run out of all my toiletries all at once and I have to spend half my weekly budget on replacing them, and then I can’t buy the pens I wanted or go see The Adjustment Bureau, I fetch out one of my stories and write nice things for my rich character to buy. Like an area rug! (I know, right? Dreamin’ big!)

Fin.

Y’all, I am in such a reviewing rut. I have books to review but when I sit down to write reviews, they come out really stupid. Including this one! Why am such a terrible book blogger? I think it is maybe because I’m having a little bit of a vacation hangover. I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I’m a bad blogger! I will try to do better.

Review: River in the Sky, Elizabeth Peters

I have a girl-crush on Elizabeth Peters.  She set a murder mystery at a romance novel writers’ convention; she spoofs H. Rider Haggard and Gothic novels; she made one of her characters lament “the first sour grape in the fruit salad of togetherness”.  The woman cracks me up.  However, I thought that Children of the Storm should have been the last in the Amelia Peabody series (it gave me the pleasing feeling that the series had come full circle), and I have not cared much about the books that came after that.

But I liked River in the Sky.  It is set in Palestine in 1910 (so right before Falcon at the Portal) and deals with that thing of the Germans trying to get all buddy-buddy with the Muslim world in the run-up to World War I.  I have been interested in this ever since Jill reviewed Like Hidden Fire, which is a nonfiction book on this very topic.  The Emersons become involved in all sorts of intrigue and deception with German spy rings in Palestine.  Ramses gets into a scrape (as he does), and David goes after him (as he does), and, well, it just felt like reading one of the old books for the first time.  In a good way!

My one thing was, where was Nefret all this time?  She hardly had anything to do!  I mean I do not care about Nefret, but if she’s not going to have anything to do, I say leave her home.  She could be, I don’t know, hanging out with Lia all summer.  Learning sexy religious dances in the Lost Oasis.  Studying medicine.  I don’t care, actually, what Nefret gets up to when she’s offscreen, but if she’s going to be around, she should have a role in the plot.

I should really go read Like Hidden Fire.  I bought it in hardback for fifty cents at the Jefferson Parish book sale.

In order to create some transition, however awkward, INTO MY GRIEF AND PAIN, let me reiterate that Children of the Storm would have been a good place to stop writing books in sequence.  Children of the Storm took place in 1919 and 1920, and 1920 is the same year that Justice John Paul Stevens was born (on 20 April, the day of the year I call Day Most Likely for College-Age Me to Get a Headache Because the Jackass Sitting in Front of Me is Countercultural Enough to Smoke Pot on 4/20 Day But Not Countercultural Enough to Just Skip Class), and y’all, JOHN PAUL STEVENS IS LEAVING THE SUPREME COURT.

I am very sad about it, and I believe he will be difficult to replace.  On the other hand, it makes total sense that this should happen now.  Descriptors I would use for John Paul Stevens include: brilliant, old, was in a war, liberal-leaning, and wears a bow tie.  You know who else I would describe using all of those words?

THAT IS RIGHT.

See, the world plainly has room for only one brilliant ancient war-veteran liberal-leaning bowtie-wearer at a time, and Justice Stevens has recognized that his time is over.  How else can you explain the timing?

Review: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R. King

Mary Russell is a (half?) Jewish (half?) American girl who takes up with Sherlock Holmes.  Like him, she is brilliant and unemotional; she becomes his protégé at age fifteen, and they solve cases together.  In The Beekeeper’s Apprentice they run up against a villain more villainous and clever than all the clever villainous villains heretofore encountered by Holmes (he says) (though obviously not because I have heard he got outwitted one time), and they work in tandem to thwart the villainously clever villain.  This did not bother me because I have hardly read any Sherlock Holmes stories (apart from Hound of the Baskervilles) and thus did not have any Holmes canon sensibilities to offend.  On the other hand, I expect there were oodles of things in this book that would have been more fun if I knew the Holmes canon.  I enjoyed this reading experience but did not find it necessary – i.e., I carried it around in my purse for nearly a fortnight before finishing it all the way to the end.

My little sister started watching Doctor Who with me when I was about halfway through the second series.  (Bear with me, it’s an explanatory anecdote.)  She became hooked almost instantly, and after a while, as they will, some Daleks appeared and I screamed “OH NO OH GOD OH NO WHAT WILL HAPPEN EVERYONE WILL DIE!” and Social Sister said, “What what what what?” and I said, “IT IS THE DALEKS!”  A dramatic pronouncement that fell flat because Social Sister had never seen a Dalek before (except in Breakfast on Pluto) and had no idea what they were.

I think The Beekeeper’s Apprentice was a bit like that.  Not having read the Sherlock Holmes books made the book less punchy than (I believe) it could have been.  But I liked Mary, and I shall revisit this series sometime after I have read some more Sherlock Holmes stories.

That’s all I got on the Mary Russell front.  Other things are said by other people, and I would be glad to add your link if I missed it here: A Striped Armchair, Presenting Lenore, Books and Cooks, Today’s Adventure, One Swede Read, Shermeree’s Musings, Age 30 + …A Lifetime of Books, What KT Reads, My Random Acts of Reading, Bogormen

And now for something completely different:

On to a holiday out of which I expect neither Sherlock Holmes nor Mary Russell would get very much: Christmas!  Christmas is coming, everyone!  I know it is because I went to several shops today that had Christmas displays up, and because I sang Christmas songs in my car really loudly.  Oh lovely Christmas, all red-and-greeny and cold (I hope) and full of delicious foods and lovely presents and my enormous family.  To those of you who do not like for Christmas preparations to begin before Thanksgiving, I do not know what to say.  The earlier I think about Christmas, the earlier I am filled with soaring sensations of joy and well-being, so for me, there is no point at all in waiting until after Thanksgiving.