Friday, August 31, 2012

Prisoner of Heaven and The Truth of All Things

First, feast your eyes on some lovely clips from the 3rd season of Downton Abbey, the show that has captured the imagination of nearly everyone that I know:

A pair of brief new clips from the third season of Downton Abbey
have been released. Indiewire noted that the potential to watch Shirley
MacLaine, as the mother of Elizabeth McGovern's Countess of Grantham,
"trade barbs with Maggie Smith is certainly enough to have us setting
the DVR for new episodes." The first clip "sets the scene for MacLaine's
arrival, and the second sees her doing the impossible, leaving Smith's
Dowager Countess speechless."

Second, I wish I had read this before I made my annual Powell's pilgrimage a month or two ago!

The Portland Mercury reminds us all that there are other bookstores in
Portland, Ore., besides Powell's Books
"While that local juggernaut might be the automatic go-to for locals and
tourists, visiting--and supporting--Portland's other bookstores is a
fantastic way to spend a few hours. Or a day. Or a week." The Mercury
highlights 20 stores in and around Portland, including Annie Bloom's
Books, Broadway Books, A Children's Place, Monograph Bookwerks and
Murder by the Book.

"The Prisoner of Heaven" is the third book by Carlos Ruiz Zafon that has to do with Daniel Sempere, his family and the wonderful Cemetery of Forgotten Books. I loved his first novel, "The Shadow of the Wind" so much that it is on my list of all-time favorite novels, which is no mean feat.  Then I read "The Angel's Game" when it came out, and I was disappointed because all the charm and light and joy had gone out of his characters and his prose...the book seemed very murky and obsessive and filled with pain. So I approached "Prisoner of Heaven" with some trepidation...would it fall flat or be as powerful as the first novel?
The answer is that it is better than Angel's Game, but not as wonderful as Shadow of the Wind, unfortunately. Still, I did enjoy getting to know Ferme and Daniel and some of the other characters better, but I didn't get my Cemetery of Forgotten Books fix until the final chapter, which left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. Readers also spend a lot of time in a prison that seems similar to the one in "The Count of Monte Cristo" except there were more tortuous and painful things to ascribe to it. Ferme escapes the same way that the Count of Monte Cristo does, except he has to scramble out of a lime pit full of dead bodies and make his way into town. Not being a fan of horror fiction, books about war or books about the dark underbelly of Spanish politics,  I found a lot of the chapters almost too grotesque to read, full of pointless butchery and cruelty. But Zafon's prose is still beautifully translated, and he never fails to leave the reader without a solid ending. All in all, I would recommend this to those who loved Shadow of the Wind, with the caveat that it really should be read by adults only.
The Truth of All Things by Kieran Shields was a bit of a conundrum, because it was hailed as being "steampunkish" while also providing a protagonist who was like Sherlock Holmes as a Native American. Somehow the mystery was all linked to the Salem Witch Trials of the 17th century, while the story takes place 200 years later. Also, a lady historian and a deputy marshal named "Archie Lean" were to be the protagonist's assistants in solving the crime. At the outset, a bit of a head-scratcher, with all those genres and classic mystery characters combined in one novel.
Turns out that Shields was able to pull off quiet a magic act in mixing and matching the characters, the mileau of 1892 and a fiendish plot to bring back a 'black magician' who was hanged at the Salem trials 200 years before. A book of black magic and spells is also involved in the case, and Shields keeps the reader guessing right down to the final chapter, with it's terrifying showdown. The fact that this all takes place in or around Portland, Maine, makes it all the more interesting. I could tell that Shields had done his homework, researching the Salem Witch trials and the testimony of the girls who accused so many people and doomed them to hanging or worse. There was also plenty of Native American lore, and information on what happened to the Abenaki Indians of the area when white settlers ran them out of town after several massacres of earlier settlers. Out of all the characters, I must say Perceval Grey remained something of a cipher, and I think the author intended that to be the case. I also enjoyed Helen Prescott, until she became rather hysterical toward the end. Still, I think there is room for romance between the two characters, and I hope that Shields explores that in further mystery novels about the cool, logical and unrufflable Mr Grey. I would recommend this book to those who like American history, Native American history, are interested in the Salem Witch Trials and anyone who enjoys a mystery that has tinges of Jack the Ripper. Fascinating stuff that will keep you wondering until the final page.

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