Over boeken

zondag 29 mei 2011

Blauw Bloed door Pieter Aspe

Goeie plot, kartonnen karakters

Het huwelijk van inspecteur Pieter Van In komt onder druk te staan wanneer zijn vrouw, onderzoeksrechter Hannelore Martens, door haar jeugdvriend Valentijn Heydens wordt gebeld. Die wil haar nog diezelfde avond ontmoeten in het Brugse L’Estaminet. Zonder al teveel twijfel gaat Hannelore op zijn verzoek in, al wil zij haar ware motivatie niet voor zichzelf toegeven. Tijdens de afspraak laat haar oude liefde dreigbrieven zien waaruit blijkt dat iemand zijn vader wil vermoorden. Wanneer nog geen dag later de vader van Valentijn dood wordt aangetroffen en alles op zelfmoord wijst, kan Hannelore niet anders dan haar man op de hoogte stellen van de geheime afspraak. De echtelijke ruzies verbleken echter in het niets wanneer blijkt dat er nog een tweede moord op stapel staat.

In dit zesde boek van de Van In-reeks merk je toch al duidelijk meer structuur in het opbouwen van de verhaallijn. Daar waar Aspe’s eerdere werken nogal chaotisch van opbouw waren, zie je nu dat er zorg besteed wordt aan de geleidelijke ontwikkeling van de plot. De karaktertekeningen, alhoewel nog steeds erg stereotype en oppervlakkig, krijgen meer ruimte en het is dan ook als lezer makkelijker om de motivaties van de hoofdrolspelers te slikken. Al blijf ik het moeilijk hebben met de zorgeloosheid waarmee Hannelore vreemdgaat (of niet), de reactie van onze held komt als erg geloofwaardig over. Spijtig genoeg blijven de schetsen van de andere protagonisten flauwe clichés. Het rijkeluiszoontje, de sloerie, de machtsgeile politicus, de corrupte carrièreman… niet veel nieuws onder de zon.

Het zou onrechtvaardig zijn om deze roman pulp te noemen, maar een maatschappijkritisch tijdsportret is dan weer drie bruggen te ver. Het blijft immers een brok lectuur voor de luie uurtjes.

zaterdag 21 mei 2011

The McAtrix Derided by Adam Roberts

A humorous snack

There once was a guy named Nero, at least that was his internet-alias. The bloke lead a quiet and rather ordinary life. That is, until he became aware that he was actually rather notorious in being exceptionally not exceptional. He was so plain and bland that people refused to notice him while walking in the street. This capability of turning invisible became his most unique gift. Regrettably this again made him not so common anymore, which led him to lose his only talent. Ah, it all has something to do with a cat in a box and a guy named Schrödinger not being all that happy about it because he could never tell if he needed to feed the animal or not. But that is a totally different story.

As with many spoofs, you won’t enjoy The McAtrix Derides that much if you haven’t seen the original film. Even so, you should have watched actually the complete trilogy to understand all the jokes. The Robertski Brothers (alias of the author Adam Roberts) follows the three films rather closely, just interpreting the essence a bit differently. This leads to sometimes rather hilarious episodes that can easily be visualized by the reader just because it’s so easy to imagine Keanu Reeves getting stuck in those silly situations. The pace never really drops and keeps the story enjoyably fresh. But do not expect major literature or deep insights. This book is pure entertainment and has no other aspirations.

maandag 25 april 2011

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

A real American mythology

When Shadow is getting ready to be released from prison he is eager to start his life anew. Returning to his wife, starting a new job. But fate has something else in store for him. A few days before he is allowed to leave, his wife Laura dies in a car crash while going down on Shadow’s best friend Robbie, the guy who was going to provide Shadow with a new job. Alone and without any prospect on a bright future, Shadow reluctantly accepts the job of bodyguard for a mysterious guy called Mr. Wednesday. Soon enough it becomes clear that Wednesday is one of the old American Gods and is on a mission to fight the New Gods. Shadow supports his employer while travelling across America, but does not realize that his task is much bigger than he could anticipate.

With Neil Gaiman there are no boundaries to the fantasy worlds he creates. In American Gods he elaborates on the realm he created in the famous Sandman comics and builds upon the premise that gods only exist because people keep believing in them. In what is basically a road movie, Neil slowly reveals that crazy reality with a panache that is so typical to this fantastic author. Although the pace of the story is rather slow, it brings enough fresh ideas to invigorate the reader’s attention. His visual style lends itself perfectly for the more exuberant chapters like the one with the succubus-like prostitute, a chapter that in my twisted mind deserves even an actual spin-off. For readers with enough knowledge of mythology is probably is also a lot of fun to try to link the characters to known mythological figures.

donderdag 3 maart 2011

Treasure of Khan by Clive and Dirk Cussler

Being boring

Oil has always been one of the great motivators for battle and corruption. In a world where oil is getting more and more scarce, newly discovered oil fields are worth more than a small oil company can bargain for. That is why Borjin, the head of such a small Mongolian venture, has concocted a plan to safeguard the discovery of an immense oil reserve in Chinese province of Inner Mongolia. Not only is he negotiating with the Chinese government to re-unite this area with Mongolia, he also has a secret weapon up his sleeve. With that weapon he is able to control the oil reserves of all the world powers, including the Chinese. It’s exactly at one of the trial runs of this weapon that Dirk Pitt gets involved. And that might be the end of Borjin’s plans for world domination.

If being boring would be an art form, Treasure of Khan would definitely be hanging in The Louvre. Not that there is technically something wrong with this Clive and Dirk Cussler novel. On the contrary, it is neatly plotted and well-balanced in the amount of action the reader gets. A bit too well balanced, I might say. With the regularity of a clock, our heroes are submitted to life-threatening situations out of which they miraculously escape... in the nick of time. As this sequence progresses they learn more of the evil plans at hand and get prepared for the final action sequence out of which our heroes will come as the ultimate winners. Surprise! Someone who is not familiar with the works of the Cussler-family, might find this story fresh and exciting, but the more experienced fan will begin to see the formulaic structure. And if there is one killer for a good thriller, then predictability must certainly be it.

So if you do not get annoyed by being able to predict the outcome of the story, then this is your book. If not, then you could do worse than skip this one. Believe me!

woensdag 23 februari 2011

Blaze by Richard Bachman

Back-to-basics

Clayton Blaisdell, Jr. is a mentally challenged con artist. His partner in crime, George, comes up with one final heist: they should kidnap a millionaire’s child and ask for a ransom that will be the ticket for a carefree retirement from their petty crimes. But George won’t take part in the kidnapping, because George is dead. Now Blaze has to fend for himself. He has no reason to quit his plans, because the inner voice of George is always there to reprimand him and push him further. But then Blaze starts to see the light. He is no slave anymore. He doesn’t have to listen anymore. And the plan turns sour...

Despite all the apologies Stephen King gives in the foreword of Blaze, this long lost novel written under the nom-de-plum of Richard Bachman, still delivers with virtue. True, it is not a classic tale of horror and suspense, but is certainly showcases the character driven inner narrative that King puts with so much craftsmanship in his most personal novels. It comes very close to The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne in the sense that it also creates a feeling of complete isolation and keeps the reader hooked on a, be honest, rather uneventful story. A true proof of his talent, I would say.

The signs of it being one of King’s first novels are rather obvious, although King did update the story before publishing it in 2007. The simplicity and naiveté of the story only shows up in his earlier works, whereas his later novels are bulging under the massive amount of thoughts. It’s truly refreshing to read this kind of back-to-basics story. Why can’t he safe some more trees by publishing more books like these, instead of massive monsters like Under the Dome? Ah, probably because we’re all hooked, not?

donderdag 20 januari 2011

The Killing Joke door Anthony Horowitz

This book is a joke

How would you feel if you overheard a bloke in a bar telling a joke featuring your own mother? This is exactly what happens to Guy Fletcher when he visits his local pub. To be fair, the mother is the much loved actress Selina Moore and no-one actually knows that Guy is her son. Completely flabbergasted by the rudeness of the joke, Guy decides to track down its origin. Indeed, his life is already down the drain, so who cares what kind of silly things he gets up to. Not only will he fall in love during his quest, he will also find out that not all jokes are created just for fun. Yes, he will soon discover that there really exists an Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman.

Good ideas are not always guarantee to great stories and The Killing Joke sadly turns out to be one big proof of this rule. Although Antony Horowitz masterly succeeds in creating the perfect intro to a hilarious yarn, it does not take long before the story gets to a point where you’ve been before and starts repeating the same gimmicks. After a few chapters it is overly clear that the world of Guy has been turned into one big joke and the reader has no need in getting that obvious fact repeated over and over. The only reason why I kept reading on was that I still had some hope for a big conclusion, with –if allowed- a surprise ending. True, the denouement is rather surprising, but only in the way that it is in the race for most stupid and annoying ending of a novel ever. I would have fallen asleep, if it wasn’t for the annoyance I felt after finishing this book.

This book is a joke (no pun intended).

maandag 27 december 2010

Het Dreyse incident door Pieter Aspe

Een beetje te gewoontjes

Patrick Claes, een succesvolle beursgoeroe, wordt in zijn eigen huis neergeslagen. Wanneer hij wordt gevonden door zijn vrouw Judith denkt die eerst dat hij vermoord werd en belt direct de politie. Nog tijdens dat telefoontje komt Patrick weer bij bewustzijn en stelt vast dat de gangster is verdwenen met zijn collectie antieke pistolen. Pieter Van In krijgt de taak deze diefstal op te lossen, maar wanneer er echt doden beginnen te vallen beseft hij dat er meer aan de hand is. Ondertussen promoveert Hannelore tot onderzoeksrechter, wat betekent dat Van In ook op zijn werk ondergeschikte wordt van zijn vrouw. Dit maakt het voor Pieter zeker niet eenvoudiger.

In zijn vorige vier romans gaf Pieter Aspe blijk van een vaak al te overdreven jongensachtige fantasie. Bij wijlen leidde dit een quasi amateuristisch plot, waarbij kwistig werd omgesprongen met tientallen clichés van het misdaadgenre. Met Het Dreyse incident wil Aspe hier duidelijk resoluut mee kappen. De plot is verbazingwekkend ingetogen en van wilde escapades is al helemaal geen sprake. Hier en daar merk je nog een paar situaties die potentieel tot James Bond-achtige toestanden konden leiden, maar vakkundig worden teruggebracht tot meer realistische plotwendingen. Deze terughoudende aanpak geeft meer ruimte voor het uitdiepen van de karakters, maar dat blijft voor Aspe duidelijk nog zijn Achilleshiel. Meer dan een paar kartonnen personages krijgt de lezer immers niet voorgeschoteld. Dit wordt nu des te pijnlijker omdat de mist van het over het paard getilde verhaal nu helemaal is opgetrokken. Spijtig genoeg maakt dit alles dat Het Dreyse incident maar een simpel, betekenisloos verhaaltje wordt.