Thursday, September 16, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Someone Else's Skin (DI Marnie Rome, #1) by Sarah Hilary

Someone Else’s Skin is the first book in Sarah Hilary’s Detective Inspector Marnie Rome series. The first book is a pretty standard British police procedural mystery but has some notable and unique aspects. (I just realized that most British police procedurals I read are murder mysteries but there is no dead body in Someone Else’s Skin—only other several serious crimes: attempted murder, kidnapping, sexual battery, wounding and violent sexual domestic abuse.) The primary way in which the Marnie Rome books are different from most police procedurals is Marnie herself. When she was in her early twenties and working as a police officer, Marnie’s mother and father were murdered violently by an adopted son who they had fostered soon after Marnie left home at age 18. The fact that her job is to solve major crimes when she herself is a victim of one is a key difference between the DI Marnie Rome series and others in the genre.


Another strength of this first Marnie Rome book are the secondary characters. For example, her sergeant is Noah Jake, an openly gay, biracial (Jamaican-British) police detective with a handsome, blonde-haired, blue-eyed boyfriend. Her boss is Tim Welland, who was the supervising officer for Marnie’s parents’ crime scene. Marnie’s potential love interest is Ed Belloc, a good-looking guy who works in Domestic Violence Victim Support Services. Unusually, the perpetrator in Someone Else’s Skin is also a highlight of the book (typically I usually find myself less interested in the criminals in the police procedurals I read). 


The plot of Someone Else’s Skin is suspenseful. Both Marnie and Noah get placed in extremely dangerous situations and since it’s the first book, it seemed possible that one or both of them might not make it through to the end of the story without harm.


Overall, I found Someone Else’s Skin quite a strong entry in the British police crime procedural genre: I like that the main character is a female detective and enjoyed the characterization of DS Noah Jake. I look forward to reading the other books in the series. Soon!

Title: Someone Else's Skin.
Author: 
Sarah Hilary.
Format: Kindle.
Length: 423 pages.
Publisher: Headline Books.
Date Published: August 28, 2014.
Date Read: January 4, 2020.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: A-.
WRITING: A-.

Friday, September 10, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Tastes Like Fear (DI Marnie Rome, #3) by Sarah Hilary

Tastes Like Fear is the third book in the Detective Inspector Marnie Rome series by Sarah Hilary. This series should be right up my alley: it’s a British police procedural featuring a female protagonist set in an urban landscape with a strong, diverse cast of secondary/supporting characters. But Hilary tends to focus the central questions of the books in the psychology of the characters, not only the perpetrators but also in the investigators. It’s not that I’m opposed to psychological thrillers in general. Other authors I often read and enjoy like Louise Penny, Karin Slaughter and of course Tana French often include this aspect in their books but to me there’s something different and off-putting in the way Hilary’s depicts murderous psychoses and emotional trauma from The ways these other authors do it. I think one aspect may be that they leaven it with either humor/genuine goodness (Penny), romance (Slaughter) and incredibly smooth prose (French) while it seems to play a larger role in Hilary’s books. After reading the first and second books, Someone Else's Skin and No Other Darkness, I was somewhat ambivalent about continuing to read the series due to the way the author deploys psychology and my annoyance at her penchant of putting her female protagonist in mortal danger.

Marnie Rome is a police detective who left home as a rebellious teenager and had the horrendous experience of being called to her childhood neighborhood while on duty to discover the teenage boy her parents had adopted a few years after she left home had brutally murdered them with a kitchen knife. Her primary partner and the series' main supporting character is Detective Sargent Noah Jake, a handsome British-Jamaican, openly gay multiracial cop who many of his police colleagues think is being helped by what they call “positive discrimination” in Britain (affirmative action in the USA). Marnie has had experience being a member of an historically excluded group in the London Police and uses her position and authority to train/nudge Noah to be the best copper he can be and ignore the racist flak he gets from fellow officers and the public alike.

All that being said, I decided to dip back into the Marnie Rome series with Tastes Like Fear and I’m glad that I did. DS Jake plays a larger role in Book 3 than he did in Book 1 and since I would read an entire series built around him (Hint! Hint!) this was a plus for me. Another interesting feature of the series is that the central mystery is very different in each of the first three book so far. This time it’s about missing/runaway teenage girls who are showing up as corpses. So we spend a lot of time in the minds of messed-up teenage girls in Tastes Like Fear, but surprisingly it wasn’t as off-putting as one may have thought. Hilary also sets the story in an area of London where urban blight and runaway construction/gentrification are battling with another, which is basically another front in the ongoing class war in Britain. This is subtly well-done and another interesting part of the book.

Overall, I would say that I am glad I changed my mind and continued the Marnie Rome series by reading Tastes Like Fear. I do intend to finish the entire 6-book series at some point, with the hope that DS Jake’s role gets bigger in later entries. (I also wouldn’t be opposed to both Noah’s and Marnie’s boyfriends having a larger part in the story.) The two ongoing plot threads that are not resolved invoke siblings(Noah’s brother is trying to escape a sketchy/gang-related youth and Marnie’s murderous half-brother is now old enough for adult prison) and I am curious to see how both stories develop further.

Title: Tastes Like Fear.
Author: 
Sarah Hilary.
Format: Kindle.
Length: 416 pages.
Publisher: Headline Books.
Date Published: April 7, 2016.
Date Read: February 20, 2021.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).
PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: B+.
WRITING: A.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller is another one of her amazing novelizations of the life of a famous (or infamous) character from Greek mythology. I had previously read The Song of Achilles, a heart-wrenching book about the most famous tragic gay love story of antiquity, that of Achilles and Patroclus (told mostly from the perspective of the latter). While The Song of Achilles can be described as a gay male equivalent of a “bodice ripper” (“jockstrap stretcher”?), featuring one of the most celebrated heroes of all time, Circe is about a less well-known and decidedly less well-regarded antihero. The genius of Miller is that she uses the protagonists of her books and their interactions with the Greek pantheon to depict mythological stories and legends as real events and occasions in the lives of her characters. Because her research is impeccable and her knowledge of the mythology is so vast, Miller is able to weave stories that readers have heard of together with others that we haven’t into a seamless, compelling whole that is educational, emotive and engaging.

All I remember knowing about Circe before reading Circe is that she was a sorceress (i.e. witch!) who turned Odysseus’ men into pigs after they landed on her island when they were sailing back from the Trojan War. She and Odysseus “hooked up” and this delayed his return to his long-suffering wife Penelope by several years. While all of that is known, Miller starts her story of Circe’s immortal life much earlier, informing us of her subject’s relationships to the more central gods of Greek mythology. Circe was the daughter of Helios, the Titan god of the Sun. The Titans, you may or may not remember, were the primordial gods who existed before the Olympians. They were led by Cronus (who had taken over by killing his father Uranus) and thus tried mightily to prevent the same thing happening to him by swallowing and imprisoning all the children he had with his fellow Titan, Rhea. However Rhea helped her favored son Zeus escape this fate and so it did come to pass that eventually Cronus’s son did usurp his father to become the King of the Gods and ruler of Olympus after the Olympians won a Great War with the Titans. The point of this background is to put Circe’s life in context; she was the daughter of a defeated Titan (Helios) and a sea nymph (Perses) who was always in the shadow of the now-ascendant Olympians and also her (evil) elder twin siblings Aeëtes and Pasiphaë. So although Circe grew up in godly dominions and in proximity to divinity she was only a demigod herself and even her godhood was of a secondary nature, since it was from a Titan, not an Olympian. In other words she was always  perceived (and perceived herself) as an outsider.

Early in her life, Circe discovers that she has powerful magical abilities through the use of herbs and incantations. Unfortunately, at a young age she uses these powers to break an important rule, by elevating a mere mortal she has a crush on to become a god (a status higher than she herself has) and turning a rival of hers into a horrible monster. When her bad behavior was revealed, an agreement was reached between Helios and Zeus to punish her by exiling her to a private, remote (but verdant) island for the rest of her very long life. 

Miller provides us context and rationale for Circe’s actions, so the reader begins to understand why she does some of the objectively horrible things she does. We also learn more about her siblings, and they are most definitely even worse. Her sister Pasiphaë births the monstrous Minotaur of Crete (after having sex with her husband's prized bull and gets a dispensation from their father to let Circe be released from her island exile to act as her sister’s midwife). Her brother Aeëtes committed murderous atrocity after murderous  atrocity to protect the Golden Fleece well before Jason and the Argonauts show up. I don’t think Miller excuses Circe’s bad actions, exactly, but we definitely learn Circe’s side of the story, especially in the most well-known tale involving her, namely that of her relationship with Odysseus and their son Telegonus.

Overall, the experience of reading Miller’s Circe is highly recommended for anyone who ever spent time in a library researching the various lives and family trees of the Greek and Roman gods. It’s an engrossing and enjoyable way to experience mythology. 

Ultimately, if you have already read The Song of Achilles then Circe compares somewhat unfavorably with that masterpiece, but there’s very few books that don’t. (If you haven’t read The Song of Achilles yet, what are you waiting for, a sign from the gods? Get to it!) That said, Miller does as good a job as one can do with an antihero like Circe as protagonist. I can’t wait to read whatever story/tale/myth she decides to tell an entire book about next!

Title: Circe
Author: Madeline Miller.
Format: Kindle.
Length: 433 pages.
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company.
Date Published: April 04, 2018.
Date Read: July 29, 2021.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★  (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: B+.
WRITING: A.

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