Thursday, March 31, 2011

Two Untraditional Reads

Not untraditional in material, but untraditional in how I read them

I've been kind of a fan of Doherty for years; he mixes historical mystery with touches of gothic horror in a way that tingles my literary palate. This time he's starting a new series set during the Crusades and depicting the birth of the Knights Templar.

Now, it's kinda interesting but also misleading; the word "Templar" actually never appears in the text of The Templar and only in the author's notes is it made clear that this is about the birth of the Templars. It's mostly about a motley group of French aristocrats who set off on a pilgrimage for various reasons (and it casts a jaundiced eye on the Pope who gets it all started, and sometimes seems to be drawing a parallel with the anti-Islamic sentiment that's growing today), and of their adventures in various parts of Europe.

There's also kind of a mystery.  Seriously, it's packaged as a mystery, but really it's a historical novel with a few mystery elements.  Very little time is spent on the mystery plot, and it's hurriedly resolved at the end as almost an afterthought.  Disappointing for Doherty, who's usually much better than this.  I can't help but wonder if this was a rush job to cash in on the currently-stylish Templar trend.

I read this on my Kindle, and I can loan it to friends with Kindles, so if anyone wants to borrow it, drop me a message.

Next up was Cleek: The Man of the Forty Faces, which I didn't actually read, per se; I listened to it.  It was a free download from Librivox, and so far the best audiobook I've listened to from them. 

"Hamilton Cleek" is a dashing cat burglar with tons of panache, but in the course of the book's prologue, he falls madly in love with a beautiful, virtuous woman, and decides to reform in order to win her love.  He's a master of disguise, since through some quirk of genetics he's been granted rubbery features that can be twisted around in different ways.  He's also possessed of a criminal's phrenological profile (seriously, they make a point of that) but decides to make a name for himself as a private detective anyway.  And ends up solving the most BIZARRE cases I've encountered in non-supernatural literature.

Make no mistake: this is hokum.  But it's full-blooded, delirious hokum, having a ball with itself.  It's basically a series of short stories strung together loosely into a novel, and characterizations are thin.  Cleek is quite manly but also possessed of several aesthetic qualities, including a passion for flowers and gardens.  He takes in a street tough named "Dollops" in as a servant/assistant, whose doglike fawning on Cleek sometimes borders on the nauseating.  And at the last second, Cleek is revealed as the long-lost prince of a central European kingdom, Mauravania, which comes to figure in later books.  (Yes, it started a series.) 

It was written in 1910, just when things were starting to heat up, full of post-Victorian jingoism and suspicion of the Jerries.  It's got all that late-Gilded Age glitter, of race meetings and gentlemen of leisure going abroad for months, and criminal gangs straight out of a Louis Feuillade serial. In other words, it's a lot of fun.

The Librivox version is well read by a lady named Ruth Golding who was obviously relishing the job.  (On her site, she says, "Oh my, I did enjoy reading this!" I could tell, Ruth!)  Her sense of fun comes through and I highly recommend this for your long drives or walks home from school or work.

So there's one book not very recommended unless you're into the Crusades, and another I recommend highly.  Go to Librivox and go wild.

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