vrijdag 30 december 2016

Top 5 van 2016

Alweer geen gemakkelijke opgave om een lijstje samen te stellen van de beste boeken die ik het afgelopen jaar gelezen heb. Om het iets gemakkelijker te maken, heb ik geen rekening gehouden met de boeken die ik dit jaar herlezen heb. Dit is mijn Top 5:

1 De Engelenmaker van Stefan Brijs

2 The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry van Rachel Joyce

3 Speaks the Nightbird van Robert McCammon

4 The Princess Bride van William Goldman

5 The Power and the Glory van Graham Greene

"Speaks the Nightbird" by Robert McCammon

"They'd hang her this morn, if they could. But she does na' deserve the rope. What she needs is a champion of truth. Somebody to prove her innocent, when ever'body is again' her."

South Carolina, 1699. Magistrate Isaac Woodward and his clerk Matthew Corbett are making their way to Fount Royal. The small town is being plagued by murders, disease and fires, and they believe a witch is responsible for all the misery. Rachel Howarth, whose husband was one of the victims, is believed to be the witch and she's been imprisoned. Woodward was called in to try her.

Woodward is quite the professional and is intent on giving Mrs Howarth a fair trial, despite the pressure the villagers put on him to condemn her to burn as quickly as possible. It's hard to ignore the damning evidence against her, though. It's young Matthew Corbett who refuses to believe the tales that are told about Rachel and he is determined to be her 'champion of truth' and prove her innocence. But this would also mean exposing the real culprit, and this puts him in real danger.

Robert McCammon is best known for his horror tales of the 80's and a couple of brilliant mainsteam novels in the early 90's, but with "Speaks the Nightbird" he wrote a phenomenal novel in a completely different genre: the historical murder mystery. No matter what genre McCammon writes, he is always great. The language is fluid, the plot is ingenious and the characters shine. At nearly 800 pages, this is quite a massive novel. These days there are too many books that have lots of pages but little substance. Not this one, though. "Speaks the Nightbird" is captivating from page 1 right to the end - I tore through it in just a couple of days. Absolutely one of the best novels I've read this year.

Author: Robert McCammon
Title: Speaks the Nightbird
Publisher: Pocket Books, New York
Year: 2007 (orig. 2002)
Number of pages: 792 p.
ISBN: 9781416552505

vrijdag 23 december 2016

"Kedrigern in Wanderland" by John Morressy

"Not at all, my boy. You can do great things with herbs. Nice clean kind of magic, too. And if it doesn't work, you've at least got the beginnings of a decent salad. You can't go wrong with herbs."

Lazy wizard Kedrigern is enjoying his time at home on Silent Thunder Mountain with his lovely -if a bit manipulative- wife Princess. Their third anniversary is coming up, so Kedrigern is already thinking about a nice present. Unfortunately it's a magic wand that Princess desires, and a decent wand happens to be very hard to come by. It means travelling, and that's the one thing that Kedrigern hates the most.

But the kindly wizard can't deny his wife anything, so the pair set out in search of the trinket. On their path, they encounter a princess who has been turned into a sword, and who is looking for her brother and sister (who are now a shield and a crown respectively) and they decide to help her find her way back to her kingdom. The story also features the world's worst fairy tale writer, a trio of malicious (albeit not too clever) witches, an evil wizard and a devious bog fairy.

"Kedrigern in Wanderland" is number three in the series, after "A Voice for Princess" and "The Questing of Kedrigern". To be fair, there isn't too much difference with the earlier books. Kedrigern goes travelling and needs to help some people who have been transformed by a spell. The basic story is always the same. But then it's been a while since I read the first two books and it was pleasure to meet Kedrigern again. A very light and quick read. Original it isn't, but it's so much fun.

Author: John Morressy
Title: Kedrigern in Wanderland
Publisher: Ace, New York
Year: 1988
Number of pages: 247 p.
ISBN: 0441432646

zondag 18 december 2016

"Blood Harvest" (Doctor Who) by Terrance Dicks

"She heard a faint rustling sound, swung round and saw a tall dark shape towering above her. Its face was white, its eyes glowed red, and it had long pointed fangs. Claw-like hands reached out towards her."

In a previous incarnation, the Doctor, along with his then-companions Romana, Adric and K9, visited a nightmare planet which was ruled by evil Lords, who turned out to be vampires. He managed to get rid of the creatures. Now, the seventh incarnation of the Doctor has dropped companion Bernice on that same planet, and she soon finds out the evil  has returned.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and his other companion Ace have settled in 1930's Chicago, where they try to broker a peace between the warring gangsters (among whom one Al Capone). Before too long, the two stories intertwine and the Doctor once again blasts into space, first to the vampire planet, and then to Gallifrey, his own home planet.

Terrance Dicks is a veteran Doctor Who author, who has writen over a dozen original Who-novels and an infinite number of episode novelisations (apart form the scrips he wrote for the original TV series). He definitely knows his stuff. This novel is exactly what you can expect from Dicks. Nothing too complex, written in easy, straightforward language and with loads of references to TV episodes. The latter I find a bit too 'nerdy' - the novel would work well without them. Still, it's fast-paced and full of action, albeit not very profound. An enjoyable romp through the world of Doctor Who.

Author: Terrance Dicks
Title: Blood Harvest (The New Doctor Who Adventures)
Publisher: Virgin, London
Year: 1994
Number of pages: 287 p.
ISBN: 0426204174

donderdag 15 december 2016

"Play to the End" by Robert Goddard

"That feeling is why I'm talking into this machine. I can't quite describe it. Not foreboding, exactly. Not excitement. Not even anticipation. Something slipping between all three, I suppose. A thrill; a shiver; a prickling of the hairs on the back of the neck; a ghost tiptoeing across my grave."

Toby Flood used to be the up-and-coming actor, even once considered for the role of James Bond. But now his career is winding down. He's playing the main part in an obscure play "Lodger in the Throat" and when the production strikes down in Brighton, he is contacted by his ex-wife Jenny, who thinks she's being stalked. Hoping to win back his wife, Flood confronts the stalker, but finds out there's a whole lot more going on. An enormous scandal is emerging and everything seems to point in the direction of Jenny's new fiancé, Roger Colborn. When a friend of Flood dies, and another goes missing, he starts to realise that he's manoevred himself into a real hornet's nest, and that both he and Jenny are in grave danger.

Although some of his more recent works have been slightly disappointing, I still consider Robert Goddard to be one of my favourite authors - mainly based on his dozen or so earliest novels. "Play to the End" is from 2004, just about the time it all started to go downhill a bit. In fact, for about three quarters of the novel, this was among the least engaging Goddard books I've read. Yes, it's beautifully written -as always- and there are once again lots of twists and turns. But the characters didn't click and the mystery couldn't really hold my attention. However, in the last 100 pages or so, the story really picks up speed and the finale is satisfying. So, not his best by a long shot (I'd suggest "Painting the Darkness" or "Take no Farewell"), but not one to skip either.

Author: Robert Goddard
Title: Play to the End
Publisher: Corgi, London
Year: 2004
Number of pages: 443 p.
ISBN: 0552148792

zaterdag 10 december 2016

"On the Beach" by Nevil Shute

"'It's not the end of the world at all,' he said. 'It's only the end of us. The world will go on just the same, only we shan't be in it. I dare say it will get along all right without us.'"

The near future. The war lasted only a couple of days, but its effects are devastating. No less than 4000 nuclear bombs were dropped all over the Northern Hemisphere and killed every human being there. Australia is one of the few places in the world where there is still life. People are awaiting the nuclear cloud that is approaching them, and will wipe out the last of humankind.

In this gloomy atmosphere, we meet a diverse cast of characters. Captain Dwight Towers, commander of an American submarine, knows that his friends and family have all been killed. Lieutenant Commander Peter Holmes and his wife Mary, who have just become parents. Moira Davidson, who feels attracted to Towers, and who tries to cope with the impending end by drinking too much. They will be among the last of humanity.

The premise of this novel has everyting to produce a suspenseful novel, but that's not the story the author wants to tell. Given such an apocalyptical setting, most authors would have their characters in deep despair, go out looting, murdering people and destroying things. But Shute's characters all seem resigned, either not wanting to accept the inevitable outcome, or being quite naive. They're literally sitting there, waiting to die, altough they refuse to give up on their old lives. They're still pursuing relationships, preparing the garden for next year, buying presents for their children, whom they know have died,... It's sad and depressing and it's especially this feeling of resignation that makes "On the Beach" such a chilling read. Yes, human kind has destroyed itself. It deserves what it gets...

And the most frightening thing of all... this could still happen today. The warring factions might have different names, but the insanity is of all times. Chilling, absolutely chilling.

Author: Nevil Shute
Title: On the Beach
Publisher: Vintage, London
Year: 2009 (orig. 1957)
Number of pages: 312 p.
ISBN: 9780099530251