Year 2018 was hectic that even finding time to read posed a great challenge. Still, I persevered and carted a book or two to my reading nooks. I shuttled between fantasy and non-fantasy with the choices I made, which was a concession to brain fog. When brain fogged, I plunged into juvenile fiction, and once the brain fog lifted, I went for new authors.
Anthony Horowitz figured greatly on my 2018 reading list. It started with his slow-paced whodunit novel The Magpie Murders in which I stayed devotedly married to. My devotion paid off. The adagio pacing quickly escalated to a heart-racing ride until the last page. Tempo was fast in Trigger Mortis, his James Bond novel, which, from the get-go, reeled me in with the title’s pun. He didn’t rework Bond’s original milieu of espionage sans highfalutin technology which made it a more interesting read. It truly showed the sagacity of an agent licensed to kill. I then segued to his Sherlock Holmes novels, House of Silk and Moriarty. The former has Holmes and Watson up against a formidable enemy, which upon its conclusion, leaves one musing on the glaring similarities between Holmes’ era and modern society in terms of the depths of men’s iniquities. Moriarty, on the other hand, showcases Holmes’ infamous nemesis up close, detailing his ingenuity that was never tackled before. The Word is Murder, his latest, had an allegro tempo with a soupçon of the vibe of NCIS that I finished it in no time.
Thanks to Tom Holland’s fans I discovered Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy. I read Books I and II – The Knife of Never Letting Go and The New World – I couldn’t keep my eyes open despite the intentionally ungrammatical speech of Todd Hewitt, which is one of the drawbacks of the novels. However, it was riveting because of the motif: running away from someone who has the uncanny power to speak without speaking only to run away with that someone later. I kept thinking throughout the first two books “What is going to happen to Todd and Viola?”, so I kept reading until I hit a road bump with the last instalment. The Ask and The Answer resembled a soap opera that I put it down for several weeks and picked it up again as I waited for my flight last December.
In the interim, I went back to mythology. Rick Riordan’s newest The Trials of Apollo focused on a fallen, full-pledged Greek Olympian god banished from Mt Olympus as punishment and now endures life on Earth as a mortal on a quest. The latest addition to his fractured mythology series is juvenile, but funny. The strength lies in the characterization of an Olympian god whose stereotypical self-absorbed personality is mixed with his humanized side providing a plausible, three-dimensional character. Meanwhile, Neil Gaiman’s new book titled simply Norse Mythology tied up loose ends in Bulfinch’s Mythology. Gaiman provided a context, for example, for Loki’s mischievousness, and also established his sagacity which Odin was grateful for. Unknown to most, Loki saved Asgard more than once. Running along the same line of supernatural tales is The Shape of Water by Daniel Kraus and Guillermo del Toro followed by Aaron Mahnke’s The World of Lore. The appeal of The Shape of Water is the aquatic creature – its origin, species, appearance – as well as the mute cleaner he “rescued” from life’s mundanity. The World of Lore is less of fictional stories than a published series of podcasts on the unexplained global supernatural occurrences throughout history that defy logical explanation despite witness accounts. Spooky and intriguing!
It was back to mystery with new authors: A Voice in the Night by Andrea Camilleri; The Lottery Winner and Where are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark; The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware; The Builders by Maeve Binchy; and Sleep No More – Six Murderous Tales by P.D. James. Mystery to me had always meant Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, Dashiell Hammett, and Agatha Christie. The detectives came in various forms, experienced or not, mired in a kidnapping, disappearance, or murder, or all of the above.
Camilleri’s detective is the opposite of Agatha Christie’s classical detective, Hercule Poirot. His is a hard boiled Italian inspector named Montalban but with Poirot’s appetite and astuteness in solving ordinary murder case unlike the local police force. He is a solitary figure who does not care who he locks horns with which makes his job a lot more difficult. Clark’s detective in the first novel is Alvirah Meehan, a former cleaning lady who struck it rich in a lottery, who solved unofficial police cases with common sense. Her other novel has a criminal TV show vibe to it as a sheriff-turned-detective fight against all odds to save Nancy Harmon, their children, and their marriage when the past and present lives of Nancy collide and explode. On a similar structural plane is The Woman in Cabin 10 with journalist Lo Blacklock fighting for her life when she investigates the disappearance of the woman in cabin 10 while on a press trip on-board the luxury ship Aurora whereas the novella The Builders by Maeve Binchy travels on a more nondescript plot, featuring an unwitting detective named Nan Ryan and her new workman friend who work together to unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of the family next door. Lastly, in the six stories by P.D. James, hailed “Queen of Crime”, the detective remained in the background. With the focus on the crime or mystery behind a death, the reader became an amateur detective trying to figure the mystery crime. The unpredictable revelations were filled with psychological insights into the deep workings of the human mind.
The last two books are eclectic, The Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouellette and A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter. Ouellette banishes the intimidating facade of integral calculus and combines it with pop culture and interesting personal vignettes, hoping to draw in people less inclined towards numbers like me. Who would have thought that the plot of Pride and Prejudice Zombies could be an effective way of explaining integral calculus and how fast a zombie infection – any deadly infection – can affect a population? Salter’s book veered away from mathematics diving into sexual love as the reader “listened” to an unnamed narrator relate the affair of American dropout Philip Dean with local girl Anne-Marie while vacationing in France. Eroticism runs the risk of descending into lewdness, but Salter is in full control of his text that it comes across as poignant in the end.
For 2019, Ann Radcliffe’s The Mystery of Udolpho is still part of the reading list. It was the book I intended to begin 2018 with but was derailed by other books. I should have finished with Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber by then.