Ellroy uses this odd convention where he drops nouns and verbs in order to convey action or mental leaps. Sometimes it's effective, other times it's just...dense:
Ed, staked out at 1st and Olive. His father's shotgun for backup, a replay on his hunch.
Sugar Ray Coates: "Roland Navarette, lives on Bunker Hill. Runs a hole-up for parole absconders."
A whispered snitch: the speakers didn't catch it, doubtful Coates remembered he said it. R&I, Navarette's mugshot, address: a rooming house midway down Olive, half a mile from the Hall of Justice Jail. A dawn breakout--they couldn't make Darktown unseen. Figure all four of them armed.
Scared--like Guadalcanal '43.
Outlaw--he didn't report the lead.
James Ellroy: "No time for predicates! Thinking! Running and shooting!"
His dialogue is unsurpassed, however. There's an utterly fantastic scene in which the protagonist interrogates three suspects who are innocent of the mass murder at the heart of the story but are guilty of another horror. They can't alibi themselves without sealing their own doom. Best part of the book, amazing dialogue.
I've never experienced such a concentration of colorful slurs: "fruits", "jigs", "yid", "schvartzes", an abundance of N-words--it was relentless (and often quaint). The background racism of the time was displayed in all its foul glory: "Leroy, if she's dead and she was colored you can cop a plea. If she was white you might have a chance." This stuff was jolting in that it wasn't held up for scrutiny; it was just always there, oozing from every chapter. While the stream of offensiveness served the setting and characterizations wonderfully well, it was more than a little off-putting...but worth it, I think.
In the first chapter, the protagonist as a middle-aged man visits his childhood home for a funeral, and it's BORING...which accents the utter richness and simplicity and innocence of childhood when memory comes crashing in on him. It's like that moment when Dorothy steps out of her black-and-white house and everything is in color.
It's a powerful illustration of childhood. He's sad that no one shows up at his birthday party but he's even happier to be able to bury his nose in a book. He knows that "naked" is bad, although he doesn't really understand why. He knows that children explore but adults take paths and always know what to do. He is confused that grownups take wonderful delicious things like peas and put them in cans and make them repulsive, and he has simple faith that his new friends will protect him when the monsters come.
It reminded me strongly of Coraline at first: a bright young child's family is endangered by a sneaky supernatural fiend, and adults won't or can't help. But where Coraline is about empowerment, Ocean is simply an acknowledgment of the wonder and terror of being a child.
Reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane really made me relive my own childhood...Gaiman tapped into some magic when he wrote this.
After the misstep that was the 6th book in the series, Frost Burned is a return to form for Briggs. It's non-stop kinetic, very easy to read.
Briggs accomplishes this blistering pace partly by depriving her characters of agency. She builds this incredibly intricate network of non-human societies--werewolf, fae, vampire, and others--but her protagonists are just people that things happen to: in this case, [SPOILERS FOLLOW******] first the pack is taken by rogue government agents, then they're set free by disaffected government agents, then Mercy is attacked by fae assassins, and finally she's forced to fight a big bad vampire. It'd be nice to see the good guys take the initiative more. A lot more.
A homicidal sociopath from Great Depression-era Chicago uses a magical time-traveling house to bounce around the 20th century murdering "shining girls", young women of exceptional potential. One of his intended victims survives his horrific attack and devotes herself to hunting down the killer.
Beukes's research really stood out: clothes, transportation, language and body language, characters' era-specific problems and issues, it all rang true to me. She touches on racial issues in the 30s and 40s, the Commie witch-hunts of the 50s, backroom abortions in the 70s, all without getting bogged down on one specific issue.
She writes characters well. Even bit players came to life. I could feel the ripple effects of one victim's murder on her parents, sister, friends, community.
As a time travel story, The Shining Girls falls flat. It's undeveloped. What could have been a clever, intricately woven exercise (like [book:Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency|365], for example) was simplistic. The author's sad attempts at full-circle time-travel flair (like Bartek's presence at the snowball fight at the end of the book) were pretty much stapled on.
I pulled Breed off the library shelf based solely on the excellent black and red cover: two creepy minimalist lines suggesting the headless profile of a pregnant woman. (That's abstractly headless, not decapitated-headless...) I should really know better than to pick up an unresearched book like that.
Breed is aimless, meandering, and lacking tension. Point-of-view characters are introduced and forgotten. One minor character has an inspired but unrevealed idea, makes some mysterious preparations, and then...talks firmly to another character several chapters later. Apparently that was the big plan.
Breed is full of lame faux-scares. A MAN-SHAPE APPEARS OUT OF THE FOG AND STRIDES TOWARD HIM but it's just a pedestrian out for a foggy stroll. OMG HE HEARS FOOTSTEPS ON THE STAIRS BEHIND HIM and it's his sister who wants him to come back to the dinner table. [eyeroll]
All Breed really has going for it is its brevity and that awesome cover.