Category Archives: Fiction

An Abel Jones moment

Here’s another little snippet from an Abel Jones mystery by Owen Parry, Rebels of Babylon. I need to set the scene up a little. Jones, a strict Methodist, made a point in the earlier books of saying that he disapproved of novels, since they were made up entirely of lies, and were a frivolous waste of time. But recently he made the discovery of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, and was completely won over—providing the novel was morally upright, of course.

In Rebels of Babylon he makes the acquaintance once again of Barnaby B. Barnaby, an English “gentleman’s gentleman” who had told him in Call Each River Jordan that he was a great reader—but only of one book. He read The Pickwick Papers again and again, comforted by its predictability.

In this scene, Jones tries to persuade Barnaby to try Great Expectations. (Ever try to recommend a book to a friend who wasn’t interested? I’ll bet you never got quite the response Jones gets):

Mr. Barnaby shook his head, slowly but with decision. “I couldn’t do it, sir. Really, I couldn’t. It’s all too awful and ’orrible. I couldn’t bear to undertake the experience of more suffering. And people always suffers in a novel, sir, if it’s worth the ink and paper…. I’ve even ’ad to give up reading Mr. Pickwick, I ’as. I couldn’t bear it no more, knowing as ’ow all ’is ’appiness is bound to be torn from ’is bosom. Not all Sam Weller’s wits can’t save the poor man, sir. ’E goes to ’is sufferings over and over again. Without end, sir, without end! As if that Charlie Dickens ’as trapped ’im forever in the pages, so ’e can’t never escape…. A writer fellow must be ’orrible wicked, sir, to go killing folks with ink and making everyone suffer for ’is pleasure. And for profit, sir! The scribblers takes money to make the innocent suffer in their books. It just ain’t right to do a thing like that.”

That says it about as clearly as it could be said, I think.

This is the last Abel Jones book published to date, and I wish I could get information on the next. I searched the web, and found an interview with Parry (actually Col. Ralph Peters) in which he projects a series of about twelve books. But where each previous volume ended with the note, “The adventures of Abel Jones will continue in _______________,” this one just says, “The adventures of Abel Jones will continue.” And this one came out in 2005. That’s getting to be a three year hiatus, which is too long for a series, as I can tell you with some authority.

I may have given the impression, in my previous review of Honor’s Kingdom, that these are Christian books. They aren’t. They’re books about a Christian (and sometimes the author gets the theology badly wrong), but the Christian is a likeable and admirable one, which is relatively rare in contemporary fiction.

This book goes deeper than previous episodes into an analysis of Jones’ faith, and the author makes it clear that much of Jones’ rigor rises from some deep, repressed fears. It’s possible future books may cross the line for me, and I’ll feel compelled to give up on the series.

But I’m willing to take that chance with the wicked writer fellow, for now.

Honor’s Kingdom, by Owen Parry

Honor’s Kingdom opens in the summer of 1862 in a London morgue, where a diverse group including Charles Francis Adams (son of John Quincy Adams and ambassador to the Court of St. James), his son Henry, an English Foreign Office official, a London policeman and a surgeon are gathered, along with the hero and narrator of the book, Abel Jones. Jones is a native of Wales and a veteran of the East India Company’s wars, but he’s now a major in the U.S. army and a secret agent of the American government.

He and the Adamses are there because the deceased, a Rev. Campbell (whose body was discovered in a basket of live eels), was an American. He was also (though they’re not mentioning this) another secret agent, and he had been investigating rumors that some British ship builder is building a warship for the Confederacy, in spite of the official neutrality of the government.

Ambassador Adams assigns Major Jones to find out who killed Campbell, and what it was he’d learned that got him (and two previous agents) killed.

Jones, in his methodical way, sets about an investigation which takes him from the halls of Parliament and the finest homes of West End London to the most miserable, soul-grinding slums of the city. He meets the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone, as well as a colorful variety of thieves, pimps, con men, music hall entertainers and prostitutes. Eventually his investigation extends to Glasgow, which is (amazing to tell) an even more miserable place to be poor in than London. His life is threatened by (among others) footpads, East Indian assassins and a mysterious man in a red silk mask. He chances to encounter Anthony Trollope, James McNeil Whistler, Karl Marx and William Booth along the way.

It’s jolly fun—exciting, engaging and sometimes moving. Educational, too. Continue reading Honor’s Kingdom, by Owen Parry

Holding Back the Praise

The Literary Saloon is excited about a 29 word compliment of a translated crime novel in the NY Times Book Review. They can’t stop talking about it.

No doubt [reviewer Marilyn] Stasio only managed to slip this by [NYTBR] editor Tanenhaus and his eagle-eyed translation-phobic cohorts by not mentioning that Devil’s Peak was not written in English …..

(For what it’s worth: the book was written in Afrikaans and translated by K.L.Seegers — something Little, Brown doesn’t care to mention on their publicity page either (so that when Tanenhaus or one of his assistants does a quick check they won’t be scared off ?) — and which they managed to keep out of sight on the page for the book as well (as did the British publishers).)

Maybe excited is too strong a word, but I thought I would help The Saloon rejoice at this development.

From the Corner of His Eye, by Dean Koontz

Be easy in your ceaseless care for me. I got my walk in tonight. It looks to be the only one I’ll get this week, but it’s something. The temperature was tolerable, if I bundled up, and enough sun filtered through the light clouds to give me a diaphanous shadow.

Tomorrow night it’s supposed to rain. In any case, I’ll be running to the airport to pick up Moloch and his wife, back from China.

Which means that it’s just possible, if I hear that traffic’s bad, that I’ll skip posting altogether.

Steel yourselves. I know you can survive it.

I promise I’m not going to review every Dean Koontz novel I read, as I go through them alphabetically.

But I’m going to review the really outstanding ones. And From the Corner of His Eye definitely qualifies.

I suppose it’s possible that Koontz could produce a better novel than this. I haven’t read them all yet. But at this point I can’t imagine a better one.

This is a big, sprawling book that covers a long period of time, kind of like those Victorian novels I’ve never read, by Thackeray and Trollope.

And it’s populated by a remarkable cast of quirky, fascinating characters worthy of Charles Dickens.

And it’s built on a Sci Fi/Supernatural premise, like… well, like a Dean Koontz book.

The blurb on the inside page of the paperback is misleading. It makes it sound as if this is the story of Bartholomew Lampion. Bartholomew is certainly a central character, but he’s a baby for half the book. The story is actually about a whole network of people, all bound together by the strange effects of a radio sermon called, “This Momentous Day.”

The story begins in January, 1965. First of all (though not first in the narrative), in Oregon, a narcissistic sociopath named Enoch Cain murders his beautiful, loving wife. The next day, in two places in California, two babies are born—a boy and a girl—in circumstances of extreme family tragedy. Nevertheless each child finds a loving home and shows early signs of being a prodigy.

But Enoch Cain is out there, and he has become aware that there’s a child who he believes is a danger to him. He grows obsessed with finding that child and killing him.

Cain is an interesting character. He’s evil and does horrible things that cause great pain to people the reader has come to care for. Nevertheless, Koontz treats him to a large degree as a comic figure (he explains his rationale for this through one of his characters in the course of the book). Cain thinks he’s a genius, a connoisseur, and God’s gift to women, but in fact he’s not particularly bright, likes only the things critics tell him to like, and most people who meet him find him rather creepy. He’s blissfully unaware of this. Also his suppressed conscience expresses itself forcefully in some painful and embarrassing physical reaction, every time he commits a murder.

As the plot works itself out, and all the characters come to know one another, we observe the working out of Koontz’ premise, that just as quantum physics and string theory tell us that every point in the universe is connected, so all people are connected, and all our actions have infinite consequences—and not only in our own universe.

I loved every page of this book. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel this long (over 700 pages) before and wanted it to be longer. As the saying goes, I laughed; I cried.

There are strong Christian elements (along with some speculation which could serve as fodder for late night discussions).

From the Corner of His Eye gets my highest recommendation.

Update: Scratch tomorrow’s rain. We’re going to get snow.

If Nature is our Mother, our family is dysfunctional.

How Novels Work

John Mullan, senior lecturer in English at University College London and using material from his “Elements of Fiction” column in The Guardian, has a book on novel called How Novels Work, from Oxford UP.

How Novels Work explains how the pleasures of novel reading often come from the formal ingenuity of the novelist, making visible techniques and effects we are often only half-aware of as we read. It is an entertaining and stimulating volume that will captivate anyone who is interested in the contemporary or the classical novel.

Narnia Book Contest: Favorite Lines

I think my favorite scene from The Chronicles of Narnia, at least the one I repeat to myself most often, is one from The Horse and His Boy. Aslan says, “Have a care, Rabadash. The doom is nearer now: it is at the door: it has lifted the latch.”

But Rabadash replies, “Let the skies fall! Let the earth gape! Let blood and fire obliterate the world! But be sure I will never desist till I have dragged to my palace by her hair the barbarian queen, the daughter of dogs, the–”

“‘The hour has struck,'” said Aslan: and Rabadash saw, to his supreme horror, that everyone had begun to laugh.” They laugh because the evil prince has begun to morph into a donkey.

I’m often on the watch for a chance to say “Have a care, Rabadash,” to someone overzealous. It’s probably my prideful heart.

But what are your favorite lines from the Narnia stories? Let us know in the comments, and by doing so you may enter our giveaway drawing for one of two movie themed books. The larger of the two is seen below.

The Chronicles of Narnia with Prince Caspian cover This is a Prince Caspian movie cover on a large paperback of all seven books plus a newly designed Narnia Timeline fold-out. I wonder if the fold came from the illustration work done in Narnia Chronology. Of course, Narnia Chronology is a full book of Narnia trivia and details. The fold-out in this edition of The Chronicles of Narnia is a simple, illustrated timeline–a nice perk. We are giving away a paperback of this edition and a small paperback of the Prince Caspian novel with an insert of movie photos.

Commenting on this post will enter you in our contest unless you exempt yourself (Lars, you’re exempt). Multiple comments will not increase your chances. I’ll just make a list of everyone’s name and use a random number generator to pick who wins. You must include your email address with your comment so I can write you to ask for your mailing address.

I’ll announce a winner for Prince Caspian next Thursday, April 3. I’ll announce a winner for The Chronicles of Narnia paperback next Friday, April 4.

So what’s your favorite lines from Narnia? Something about Turkish Delight? “Beards and Bedsteads”? “And they call it a mine, heh, a mine!” I can’t remember what book that last one is from . . .

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Rosenberg’s Next Novel is Dead Heat

I just heard about Joel Rosenberg’s latest: Dead Heat.

In his new political thriller DEAD HEAT, New York Times best-selling author and Middle East expert Joel C. Rosenberg depicts a worst case scenario for the United States: a nation that has fallen asleep and allowed terrorists to attack during a campaign season.

Rosenberg writes solid political thrillers about headline events, so you may want to check out this one in the next few months.

Prince Caspian

Who among us has not read Prince Caspian, the second of the Narnia books (unless you are devoted to the new numbering system on some editions)? Well, HarperCollins is talking to other people when they encourage young and old alike to read the book before seeing the movie. The publisher’s webpage has information about the book, book-related games, and a contest for a trip to the movie premiere in New York (opening in less than two months). Facebook users can catch a bit of buzz over here.

The publisher has added something new to The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian Movie Tie-in Edition, “an 8-page, fold-out insert based on C. S. Lewis’s own timeline conceived for Narnia.” This is a hard-bound edition of all seven books and a “special full-color timeline, recreated from C. S. Lewis’s original and paired with Pauline Baynes’ classic full-color illustrations for the first time. [It offers] the key to the passage of time in Narnia and Earth by laying the two worlds side by side. Never before has C. S. Lewis’s timeline been included in a complete edition of all seven books of Narnia.”

If that isn’t cool enough, Brandywine Books will have being hosting a Narnia book giveaway someday soon, so tell your friends. I’ll let you know when I can.

Person’s a Person or Something Like That

Last weekend, the movie adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who opened. It looks like a fun my girls will enjoy.

You might think the essence of the story affirms life at all stages, but I’ve read that Dr. Seuss and his widow always disapproved of the signature phrase, “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” being used as a pro-life message. A few years ago, a biographer discussed the matter on a book show in Australia:

Amanda Smith (of Book Talk): And then, also, the anti-abortion lobby in the United States has used a line from Horton Hears a Who, the line that says, ‘A person’s a person, no matter how small.’ Would that have been in accord with Seuss’s intended meaning?

Philip Nel (author of Dr Seuss – American Icon): Absolutely not. In fact, during his lifetime Seuss threatened to sue an anti-abortion group unless they took that off their stationery and they did take it off their stationery but it’s still used. I’ve still seen propaganda in recent years from pro-life groups that have adopted Horton’s line, ‘A person’s a person, no matter how small.’ It’s one of the ways in which Seuss has been misappropriated. He would not agree with that.

I don’t remember the book clearly, but I wonder if this story is larger or beyond Dr. Seuss’ intentions. Once a story is published, it’s out of the author’s hands, is it not? An author may have written something with themes he doesn’t fully agree with, stumbling on truths he does not recognize.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight–The Short Version!

Chestertonian Rambler has edited and modernized the story of everyone’s favorite medieval giant.

Gawain: I’m not good at anything but talking. I’ll take the honors.

Arthur: Helpful tip: Beheaded Enemies rarely have the ability to return the blow.

Gawain: Sure thing. *cuts off Green Knight’s head in a single stroke*

Green Knight’s head: Jolly good times! See you next year, at the green chapel!

We Mourn the Death of . . Wait! He’s Back!

Marvel Comics revives Captain America. No, the original man did not come back to life, but another character has taken up his mantle.

. . . killing off Captain America last year seemed to give him new life with readers. The editor was taken aback when newspapers even carried obituaries on the character. “Not since the 1940s have we seen Cap being this popular,” he said.

Why doesn’t Captain America have a good–I mean, good–movie yet? Maybe there will be one in 2009.