Oh Lord, that’s a terrible decision! Don’t go up those stairs! Don’t trust her! Don’t go in the woods!
In the Woods isn’t a horror movie, but the main character repeatedly chooses the wrong path. If to the right are roses and unicorns, and to the left a reddish sky and the twisted remains of those who have gone before, Detective Rob Ryan always chooses the left. It gets painful, because you want to like him but he’s an idiot.
Tana French starts out with a gloriously creepy premise. Two decades before Rob ignores the unicorns, he was the sole survivor of SOMETHING MYSTERIOUS which happened in the suburban woods outside Dublin. The story is contemporary, and Ireland is free of snakes, fairies and Druids…or is it?
No, it seems to be a relatively unmagical place, full of sloppy cops, child molesters and corrupt politicians. As Rob and his endearing partner Cassie Maddox try to track down the molesters while avoiding the slop and corruption, tendrils of Rob’s past come winding in, blurring the line between plot and coincidence, past and present.
If you enjoyed Warner Herzog’s version of The Bad Detective, you’ll enjoy a similar self destruction in In the Woods.
Paretsky’s short stories about private investigator V.I. Warshawski came as a welcome relief from the violence and nonsense of some of the other books I’ve been reading lately (just as the nonsense was a relief from Wuthering Heights. Balance, people, it’s all about balance).
That isn’t to say that Windy City Blues isn’t violent. There’s at least one murder per story, but at least they are normal murders. Guns, poison, garrotes made of tennis rackets…these are polite sadism-free killings. People kill in Warshawski’s world for old fashioned reasons like money and jealousy. It’s all very refreshing.
It’s also refreshing to read stories with actual characters. The people in Windy City Blues may be dramatic, but they are possible and interesting. From obese ex-football players to children of Holocaust survivors, each story is populated by complicated and developed human beings. Paretsky clearly has a back story for everyone but just as in real life, we are given mere glimpses into a character’s psyche and left to imagine the rest.
Windy City Blues is also a book about a city and like the people in the stories, Chicago is portrayed with flaws and beauty both.
Although there is some movement, the stories in Windy City Blues are almost all solved in a single room, in a single day, mysteries in their classic form.
Now here’s a series problem again. I should really be reviewing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, since that was the first book, and the one that’s being made into a movie. A movie! With famous people!
The thing is, I didn’t really read Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I listened to it as an audio book, and only sort of, through a Nyquil haze when I had a very bad flu last year, so all I can remember about Larsson’s first book is this; Everyone spoke with a twatty English accent.
If we set the confusing nationality of narrators aside, The Girl who played with Fire is similar in structure and theme to the first book. Someone is wrongly accused of something, computers are hacked, dildos are mentioned and there are Nazis. Really, it’s the perfect book for a long airplane flight to Mexico. It was available in the airport bookstore in paperback, it’s very long so I didn’t finish it on the runway, and it’s shock full of very disturbing sexual imagery so the person sitting next to me now thinks I am a pervert. Win all around!
NOTE: You don’t have to be flying to Mexico when you read this book. You could be flying somewhere else.
MORE NOTE: For a review of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo by a man who read it on an airplane and wasn’t much impressed, go here – Ezra Dyer. I’ve also heard from several friends who really enjoyed the book while not on airplanes, so there you go.
Elana Scherr: Reread Wuthering Heights so I’m ready for moody discussion when you are.
Hannah Greely: Not finished yet, but soon.
Elana Scherr: I’ve been practicing my glowering and sneering.
Hannah Greely: I’m working on my slapping and pinching.
Justin Reade Sarno: Oh, Heathcliff.
Soooo, there have been some complaints about this review. Apparently, some people think the brevity of the above discourse does not do justice to Ms. Bronte’s work. To these people I say fine, fine, I will besmirch Wuthering Heights with my opinion. You have only yourself to blame.
Wuthering Heights is monumentally disturbing. Disturbing in a way which towers above you and casts a shadow. I can’t figure out why Heathcliff is so often referred to as a hero. Even the term “anti-hero” doesn’t fully do justice to the cruelty of his character, and it’s not like he’s alone. Everyone in the story including the narrator is at best a coward and at worst…we shall not speak it. When a scene involving a small boy hanging puppies is comic relief, you know you’re in deep waters.
If you find yourself harboring resentment towards friends or collegues, or for that matter, if you favor one child noticeably over another, take warning. Hatred eats and and destroys hater and hatee alike.
I’m still a hater though. Just saying.
Only two books have ever traumatized me to the point where I really wish I could unread them. One is It by Stephen King. The puppy in the freezer scene haunts me about once a month. The other is the The Painted Bird. The world is a fairly hideous place. I recognize that, but Kosinski’s world removes even the slightest atom of decency from the story, leaving the reader gasping for air in a brutal, vile death chamber. Really, this book is abusive.
Here’s what Anna thinks.
Another book I read a lifetime ago, but the images that pop out in my head from this nightmare of a novel cannot be scrubbed away by time or even the strongest mental detergents.
Like Sade’s “Justine,” or Voltaire’s “Candide,” but featuring a poor little gypsy/Jew boy lost and at the mercy of one backwoods Eastern European village after another during WWII. Oh my god, what horrors await this child as he is passed around: orphaned, expelled, sold, exploited. He is witness to some of the most disgusting sex stuff I’ve ever come across, and I’m a 30 year old woman living in the sexually desensitized 21st century!
As Kosiński’s anti-Semitic Europe psychologically rapes this fictional boy, I’m reminded of a line from Hannah and Her Sisters, when Max von Sydow’s character Frederick says about a TV program he saw on Auschwitz: ‘The reason they can never answer the question “How could it possibly happen?” is that it’s the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is “Why doesn’t it happen more often?”‘
I think Kosiński makes a valuable comparison between the cruelty of the uneducated, possibly inbred country bumpkins in his novel and the “civilized” and highly structured cruelty of the Holocaust’s masterminds. Not that there is no hope for humanity, but our (the grand “our”) capacity for hope greatly exceeds the frequency with which we acknowledge not only our history of ambivalence, but the how we perpetuate all manner of physical and psychological violence on humans we consider on the fringe of society.
Oy vey. Read this one with a REAL STRONG drink. An Irish Car Bomb???