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Posts for July 7, 2022

Still Life by Val McDermid (Books 2022, 14)

A Karen Pirie thriller,’ the description on the cover says of this. I’m not sure ‘thriller’ is quite the right term. It’s exciting enough, but there isn’t the tension that would take it up to ‘thriller’ level. Not least because Karen Pirie is never in any danger, other than possibly pissing off her boss, the deputy chief constable of Police Scotland.

I’ve never read Val McDermid before, so picking up one of her later ones — possibly her latest: published in 2020, set just before the pandemic, and ending as lockdown starts — would be a strange choice. But sometimes you’re in a holiday house and there are some books and it’s not so much a choice as an offering. I’ve fancied checking out some tartan noir for a while, anyway.

It’s good. I enjoy a crime novel from time to time, and this one certainly kept the pages turning. Backstory was filled in very efficiently, without it feeling like infodumping. And reading about the chill autumn in Scotland (with slight detours into France, the north of England, and Ireland) took the edge off some of the Greek heat.

The title is a little confusing. There is some art involved in the story, but none of it is a still life. There’s at least a double meaning to the phrase, of course, and that makes sense in context. But maybe the French term, nature mort, is even more applicable. Not least since Karen Pirie works cold cases for the Scottish police force.

The Islanders by Christopher Priest (Books 2022, 15)

I’m not sure that I’ve read any of Priest’s ‘Dream Archipelago’ stories before now. Certainly the ones that I’ve tagged with his name are all outside of that loosely-connected set. But you can’t have been interested in SF as long as I have and not be aware of it.

This one, though, well.

Its conceit is that it is a gazeteer of the Dream Archipelago (which is, I’m slightly surprised to discover, what its residents call it: I had thought it was more… dreamy than that).

The archipelago is essentially impossible to map, because of some kind of time-distorting vortices that occur over the world it is on. No one is sure how many islands there are or the names or locations of even the main ones. The writers of the gazeteer try their best in any case.

By way of the would-be-factual entries, plus a number of fairly straightforward short stories (which don’t fit the gazeteer format, but then nothing really ‘fits’ here) we get something of the backstory of the archipelago, and fragments of the lives of a few of its prominent citizens.

It’s all highly readable and makes me want to know more about this odd world and its people (who seem to be essentially human).