Pariah by Thomas Emson

EmsonPariahWhere I Got It: Review copy via the publisher via Edelweiss (thanks!).

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2013)

Narrator: Simon Vance

Length: 10 hours 55 minutes

Author’s Page

The 1888 murders of 5 east end Londoners was never solved, though the cases became famous for the nick name given to the never-identified murderer: Jack the Ripper. East End suffers another murder spree in 1996, and again, the cases go unsolved. The bulk of the story takes place 2011, when Charlie Faultless returns to East End and the murders start again. There are foes at every turn and a deeper, darker mystery that he must get to the bottom of if he hopes to prevent the murders of people he cares about.

This was a dark and creepy mystery and I really enjoyed it. While it had a few shortcomings, I found that I didn’t want to put it down. The main hero, if you can call him a hero, is not exactly a good guy, though he is trying to do right by his dead mother and dead girlfriend, both of whom died in the 1996 murder spree. Charlie grew up involved in crime and that was his way of life until he was banished from England in 1996. In 2011, as a well known investigative writer, he returns to London to delve into the 1996 murders. He reconnects with some past criminal associates and a few old friends, and not a few enemies bent on revenge. I really enjoyed this character because he isn’t going about these activities out of some new found idea of right and wrong but out of duty to what was his. Charlie’s character grows a bit with the book, as he connects with those now threatened, and as he learns about his true nature (which happens at the very end, so I can’t say too much about that without dropping spoilers).

Meanwhile, we get to spend time in the heads of other people. There are a few women in the story (the little sister (Tash) to the dead girlfriend, her daughter (Jasmin), and a handful of other  minor characters). There is a deeper mystery to the story and the women are at the center of that mystery. Jack the Ripper is a recurring evil that is unleashed every so many decades. He hunts certain humans because he requires something from them, something hidden deep in each one; hence, all the cutting up of the bodies. These special humans can sense him and have a kind of prescience allowing them to somewhat predict events. Over the ages, these special humans have often banded together to hunt Jack and seal him away.

And that is where my little criticism came in. The male hunters (while minor characters) had very active roles in hunting down and sealing away Jack. We get several flashbacks throughout the story showing us how this was done. However, the women of the past and of the present are pretty much useless. Only towards the end, and only in a spotty way, do we see the ladies put up some sort of struggle or take an active role in hunting Jack. Mostly, they huddle around in tears talking about their horrid dreams of a man hunting them and slicing them apart. Oh, and the adult ladies have sex with various male characters. Yep, the ladies are written pretty shallowly in this book.

And despite that, I was riveted. The plot wove bits of the past with lots of the modern mess of criminal activity. Charlie’s character fascinated me because he didn’t consider himself a hero, but just a guy who had set his mind to accomplish this one thing (bring down the murderer of his mum and girlfriend). Then there are all these fascinating bad guys who do pretty gruesome things (such as the dead girlfriend’s father, a crooked cop, and handiman, etc.). In each of their minds, they were their own hero and justified their actions.

The ending was terribly exciting and brutal. I really didn’t know how the outcome would go – Jack defeated or charlie broken? There is a very nice twist at the end and makes me deeply hope there will be a sequel to this tale.

Narration: Simon Vance did a great job, as always. He is one of my favorite authors and I will pick up a book by an author I have never heard of just because he is doing the narration. He had a very creepy voice for Jack and dark, intense voice for Charlie. Excellent performance!

What I Liked:   Nitty, gritty storyline; story shows us glimpses of the past; I like the idea of a secret society hunting the recurring evil known as Jack; excellent twist at the end. 

What I Disliked: The female characters were pretty shallow; the cover doesn’t encompass the dark, absorbing story contained within.

What Others Think:

Rea’s Reading & Reviews

According to Jennings by Anthony Buckeridge

BuckeridgeAccordingToJenningsWhy I Read It: I like the narrator Simon Vance and a few easy reads for the summer is great.

Where I Got It: A review copy via the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Folks who enjoy kid boarding school stories would probably find this to their liking.

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publisher: Post Hypnotic Press (2012)

Length: 4 hours 29 minutes

Series: Book 6 The Jennings Series

While this is not Book 1 in the series, it works well as a stand alone novel.

This book is a series of small adventures and mischiefs in the lives of Jennings and Darbishire, two boarding school boys at Linbury Court in the early 1900s England. Jen is often the leader of the games or mischief while Darby more than often pays the price for the mischief. In this installment, the boys are engaged in a round of aliens versus astronauts while patron General Merridew is visiting the school. Mistaking his post-lunch snores in one of the upper floor libraries for the competitive team, the boys lock Merridew in and then taunt him in what was probably at the time pretty rude language. The adventures continue with a cricket game, capturing a pickpocket, a swim competition, inadvertent paint damage, and a misunderstanding about a teacher being gone for a weekend.

By and large, this tale is an easy read with clever little twists, providing a wholesome story. To me, it almost struck as a remembrance of simpler times with fewer worries (if there ever was such a time). There’s no swearing, not violence, no sex, no smoking, no drinking, etc. I know – so not me. But, nevertheless, I enjoyed this little jaunt down tame Boys’ Boarding School Lane. I especially enjoyed some of the crazy exclamations the boys had – ‘Petrified Paintpots!’, ‘Cristalized Cheesecakes’, and ‘Fossilized Fishhooks!’. Yes, Anthony Buckeridge had me laughing out loud with his creativeness.

While there are few females even mentioned, and only 1 female character, they are treated respectfully. Still, a female reader might find less connection to this story than male readers.

Narration: Simon Vance is always a treat. I especially enjoyed his blustering voice for Merridew, the occasionally whining school boy, and all the funny exclamations used throughout the story.

What I Liked: Mischievous boys; Merridew’s reaction to being locked in the library; Jen & Darby have to work out how to share a gift; boyish exclamations.

What I Disliked: Only 1 minor female character.

Great Classic Science Fiction by Various Authors

Smudge's face makes me laugh!

Smudge’s face makes me laugh!

Why I Read It: It’s Vintage Scifi Month and this fits right in.

Where I Got It: My library.

Who I Recommend This To: Those who want to enjoy some snippets of classic SF.

Narrators: Various (see below for each story)

Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America (2010)

Length: 7 hours 45 minutes

A little description for each of 8 stories captured in this collection follows below. Any misspellings of names are my own fault. This collection was an awesome, eclectic bit of classic science fiction. My favorite tale was by Andre Norton, featuring Stina and Bat (btw: it was the only tale featuring a woman as the protagonist). The ostrich-like Martian was probably my favorite character (Weinbaum did a great job of breaking down communication to its basic elements). Missing Link by Herbert was a very satisfying tale to end the collection with.

The Door in the Wall by H. G. Wells (narrated by Simon Vance)

Originally published in 1906. In this story, Wallace had a strange experience as a kid where he went through a beautiful and magical door and had a fanciful time. This experience haunts him for his life, driving him to search out the door again later in life.

All Cats are Gray by Andre Norton (narrated by Barbara Rosenblat)

Originally published in 1953. Stina and her cat, Bat, figured out where to find the lost ghost ship Empress of Mars has gotten off to. She’s a starliner, rich is goods and prestige. Once found though, there is question of why she disappeared. Bat figures the answer first, and luckily, tips off her mistress.

A Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum (narrated by Nick Sullivan)

Originally published in 1934. Four scientists land on Mars, and one, Dick Jarvis, has quite the adventure with the native Martian life. Think of some ostrich-like highly intelligent being, and the obvious communication issues.

Victory by Lester del Rey (narrated by Robert Fass)

Originally published in 1955. Set in a rich universe full of humanoid, insectoid, and fungoid races, Duke O’Neal is a jaded warrior married to a non-human who has been trapped in a war zone for some time. This tale is rather too long to be a short story, but rather was a novella. Lester del Rey pulls in SF coolness like time dilation and interplanetary relations.

The Moon is Green by Fritz Leiber (narrated by Katherine Kellgren)

Originally published in 1952. Ephie and Hank are stuck in an unhappy marriage, underground, for decades, while the man-made radiation storm blows over. But Ephie dreams of a life outside, which drives her to push back the lead shielding, and peer outside. Which leads her to meet Patrick, who has only a few mutations.

The Winds of Time by James H. Schmitz (narrated by Stephen R. Thorne)

Originally published 1962. Gefty Rammer is the pilot of the Silver Queen and has been hired by Marlbo to carry him, his secretary (Carrom Ruse), and his cargo to a corner of the galaxy. Of course, the cargo turns out to be something highly unexpected and Gefty has to fight for his life and rescue the secretary.

The Defenders by Philip K. Dick (narrated by Greg Itzin)

Originally published 1953. The cold war between Russia and the US escalated to peak, and the world was plunged into a radioactive inferno. Now humans live below the surface while robots (called letties) maintain the ongoing war on the surface. Don and Mary Taylor have their morning interrupted when Don is called into the office. Don, Frank, and Moss end up on the surface and discover a surprise.

Missing Link by Frank Herbert (narrated by Scott Brick)

Originally published in 1959. Lewis Orne is a junior fieldman and his mission is to find the remains of the Delphinus on an uncleared planet with hostile natives.

I often avoid audio short story collections that are read by 1 narrator as the stories tend to blend together. But this was a great collection because each story was told by a different narrator. Several of these narrators have been favorites for some time (Scott Brick, Barbara Rosenblat, Simon Vance). Others were unknown to me. All did a great job. Robert Fass (Victory) did this awesome thing with his voice to mimic how some of the aliens would sound.

VintageScifiBadgeWhat I Liked: A great mix of stories; aliens, time travel, apocalyptic rehab; the narrators were awesome; several favorite authors were featured.

What I Disliked: Nearly all the stories a) had zero females or b) the women were minimized or needed rescuing.

January is Vintage SciFi Month over at Andrea’s Little Red Reviewer. Make sure to check out her site for the tons of pre-1979 SF going on. Also, January and February are The Science Fiction Experience over at Carl’s Stainless Steel Droppings. He also has great SF stuff going on, so stop by his place and don’t miss out on the fun.

readandreviewbuttonI am also including this in Anya’s weekly Read&Review Hop over on On Starships and Dragonwings. Make sure to check it out for other great reviews.


The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

Why I Read It: I really enjoyed Troost’s book Lost on Planet China.

Where I Got It: Library Web.

Who I Recommend This To: Those interested in life on the Pacific Islands and the minor, yet humorous, cultural clashes that a foreigner can experience.

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2007)

Length: 8 hours 35 minutes

Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) was an unknown place to me before I listened to this book. The author, J. Maarten Troost, and his fiance Sylvia, were both looking for jobs after graduation and she landed one on Tarawa in the island nation of Kiribati, way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (essentially in the middle of nowhere). Just getting there was an adventure, with pigs on the runway and museum-quality airplanes.

Once there, the culture shock hits on so many fronts. Kiribati is equatorial – meaning there are not seasons as the North American or European experiences them. It is always hot and there is never any need for sweaters, much to the chagrin of the author. Additionally, the island is an atoll, forged out of coral. It is not a tourist’s idea of a lush, verdant, tropical Pacific island. No, not at all. In fact, the island suffers long periods of drought, which is harsh since rain water provides much of the drinking water for the island. Take all this and throw in lack of universal electricity and sanitation, plus intermittent shipments, news, and mail from anywhere else, and you end up doing a lot of swimming, eating a lot of coconuts and fish, and learning to wash your hair with only a cup of water twice a week.

While the beginning of the book lagged a bit for me, starting off in North America with Troost dodging a financial responsibility of finding a job, I thoroughly enjoyed the other 4/5ths  of the book set in Kiribati. The author’s honest portrayal of the islanders in all their humor and endurance of island living was well rounded. I especially enjoyed the author trying to see things through Kiribati eyes – how insane or rude or ignorant are the foreigners? The chapter dealing with the island dogs – how they are seen more of as a nuisance and possible food source – was a bit hard because of my cultural background, but was explained well by the author. Over all, this book is laced with humor and honesty of the author’s experience of his time in Kiribati.

Simon Vance, one of my favorite narrators, gave this book that additional quirked eyebrow here, a chuckle there. His voice is so expressive and his performance of this book does not disappoint.

What I Liked: I love watching cultures play bumper cars in micro and this book is a good example of that; many of Sylvia’s remarks had me laughing; the author’s honesty of various fears and how those change by the end of the book.

What I Disliked: The book started with the author bored with what few job options were open to him after school, so he simply didn’t work and this annoyed me because it gave me the impression that he wanted to play but not be financially responsible (thankfully, it was a minor part of the book).

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Why I Read It: The Estella Society was hosting a read along.

Where I Got It: The Library

Who I Recommend This To: Ghost-story lovers who like a slow build up with lots of nuance.

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publisher: Books on Tape (2009)

Length: 13 CDs

I enjoyed this book from the beginning because of Simon Vance’s voice, a narrator I have been enthralled by on several books. I became captivated by the story because of Sarah Waters‘ nuanced take on a gothic-style ghost story. In fact, if I did not know from the beginning this was a ghost story, this tale would have been a historical fiction in my mental categorization for nearly all of the book.

The story follows Mrs. Ayres and her two grown children Caroline and Roderick through the eyes of our story narrator Dr. Faraday. Each of the main characters has some loss and some deep-seated longing and those two things drives the flaws in them. Set in post-WWII Britain, Hundreds Hall has gotten quite dilapidated. The Aryes can’t admit to themselves or their peers what financial conundrums keeping the place is putting them in. So they struggle on with a part-time cleaning lady and a slip of a girl servant, with Roderick making house repairs and Caroline helping out with the cooking. They both milk the cows.

Dr. Faraday comes from working-man stock and through perseverance on his part and great sacrifice by his parents completed medical school to become a country doctor. In many ways, he straddles the two main classes of society – the working, uneducated poor and the landed nobility. The tale starts off with him as a small child sneaking peaks at a magnificent party at Hundreds Hall while his mother performs her function as a servant. The bulk of the story takes place later in life (Dr. Faraday is in his 40s) and due to his roots and his education he finds that he is welcome few places as anything more than a doctor.

This book kept me riveted during my commute and on days when I didn’t commute, I often thought of reasons to run a few errands just so I would have time and opportunity for this book. I truly enjoyed the slow buildup of the mystery; were all the unfortunate and abnormal incidents at Hundreds Hall due to some paranormal force or aberrant human behavior? This book kept me guessing to nearly the end. I also liked how there was some ambivalency to the ending, leaving it up to the reader to decide one way or the other. In short, this book made me think, and we all know I like a good think.

Simon Vance, as always, was a welcome voice on my ears. His word pronunciation is clear and his pacing excellent. I love how he imbues the written word with an undercurrent of emotion. Once again, The Little Stranger was a quality performance.

What I Liked: Easily read as a historical fiction or ghost story; the portrayal of the class differences was deeply interesting to me; none of these characters are superb heroes or supermodels – they are all flawed in some way; the reader had to pay attention and think throughout the book to make a decision about the ending.

What I Disliked: At a certain point, Roderick has to go off for medical treatment and we as the readers see very little of him afterwards – I think I would have liked a bit more of his presence in the book.

Read Along Part I

Read Along Part II

Not only was this book part of a read along, I also read it as part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event (and I would dual categorize this book as Gothic and Supernatural). It’s not too late for you to play along, so check out Stainless Steel Droppings for details.

The Little Stranger Read Along Part II

Welcome back all to the second, and concluding, part of the read along of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Once again, this most awesome pick was the choice of the folks of The Estella Society, so make sure to wander over there and sample their take on this book.

The Little Stranger Read Along Part I

There Be Spoilers! You have been warned.

OK. So, everyone has some tragedy haunting them in this book. Dr. Faraday never met the woman of this dreams and had a family; Caroline is so plain and ordinary, she couldn’t really hope to attract a love match and once she had found a place in life as a war nurse and escapes her family, she got called back to nurse her injured brother; Mrs. Ayres lost her first child, daughter Susan, to diphtheria and found that she never loved anyone quite the same again; Roderick had his war accident that left him scarred and a little crippled.

So, with that as our starting point, this old once-majestic house seems to be haunted. At first, we can’t tell whether or not there is an actual paranormal presence or merely a variety of abnormal human behavior. In fact, this book had me flip-flopping back and forth until the end. I loved that about the story. There’s the eerie little fires that eventually lead up to a true midnight nuisance that almost kills Rod and is the final straw that sends him and what little is left of his psyche off the mental hospital. Next, the servants and Caroline are plagued by calls at the most inconvenient times followed by the summoning bells and whistles (those noisemakers used to summon servants to any part of the house to carry light-weight objects from one side of the room to another). This silly game finally culminates in Mrs. Ayres in the old nursery, trapped behind a locked door, desperately wanting out, breaking the glass on the window, and ending up severely lacerated. Throughout it all, Dr. Faraday maintains that there is nothing with ectoplasm running about the house. He maintains this when even greater tragedy occurs – Mrs. Ayres taking her own life.

As the story moves forward, Dr. Faraday and Caroline become engaged. Yet, it is such a hesitant engagement on Caroline’s part – she shows no interest in the arrangements, the clothes, the date, the decorations, the food, etc. Granted, she has grief and hardship on her mind. The family was in financial straights before Rod went off to the institution and the house was gloomy and sad before the tragedy with Mrs. Ayres. So it wasn’t until somewhere in the last 2 CDs that I started to really worry for Caroline – Why wouldn’t she marry? If she doesn’t marry, what will happen to her and Hundreds Hall? Would Dr. Faraday’s heart be irrevocably broken and would he make a scandal and fuss over it?

But then Caroline becomes the hero of the story, flying in the face of then societal expectations. She makes the momentous decision to sell Hundreds Hall and leave the country, possibly planning to go to the Americas. Awesome! Oh, but she won’t be marrying Dr. Faraday, and in fact never loved him, just kind of had it all muddled up inside her head. All this only like 2 weeks before the wedding. I think my heart broke a little bit for Faraday over that scene. Still, Caroline had it right in that marrying out of gratitude and staying at Hundreds Hall could have ended up being the greater tragedy.

So let’s talk about that ending. Caroline dies on what was to be her wedding night in an empty house, falling from an upstairs landing as Betsy the servant watches in surprise and dismay. Faraday spent that night in his car, in that lonely still glade where he and Caroline parked and had the most regrettable first tryst. He yearned so greatly for the life he was to have with Caroline – living at Hundreds Hall chief among them. Of course, there was the legally required inquest in which her death was ruled a suicide while she was not herself. After that, the rumors fly about the Hall being haunted. This leads to difficulties with it selling and it becomes even further run down. Faraday is the only one who visits the Hall on a regular basis, tending to it as he can.

The ending lets the reader decide if there was a phantasm, or ghost, or spiritual energy and I admire the craftsmanship that went into this novel. For me, I believe the unexplained and unfortunate events were the work of Faraday’s deep longing to be a part of Hundreds Hall. I also like how that kind of ending gives symmetry to the story: Faraday is a firm believer in the tangible and science and not in the paranormal.

So, what say you?

Do you believe that our deepest yearnings, hopes, dreams, wishes, and prayers can affect the world around us? Perhaps even manifesting unknowingly in a negative manner to get what we desire?

The Little Stranger Read Along Part I

Hello everyone. Welcome to the read along of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. This read along is the brainchild of those lovely, quick-tongued, and highly entertaining folks over at The Estella Society, so make sure to stop by and enjoy their site. As stated on their site, this is kind of a loosey-goosey read along, aiming for the midpoint today (Sept. 10th) and to be completed Sept. 17th. As of posting this, I haven’t seen a midpoint post at The Estella Society. If I see one go up, I’ll put in a direct link to it as we wouldn’t want to miss the fun. (P.S. the midpoint post went up Sept. 11th).

This is my first time reading anything by Sarah Waters. Her clear writing style and knack for including small mysterious or quaint detail drew me in straight off. The Little Stranger is set in rural Warwickshire, England, post  World War II. We first meet Dr. Faraday as a young boy sneaking peaks at a fancy party at Hundreds Hall where his mother works as a maid. The story then moves forward ~30 years or so and Hundreds Hall has faded greatly in grandeur. The Ayreses (Caroline, Rodney, and their mother) try to keep the place up with their own hard work.

I decided to check the audioversion, read by Simon Vance, out from the library. There are 13 discs and I am on Disc 7. Without spoiling any of the story, I just wanted to chitchat about a few points that have made this story interesting so far.

1) Rodney and Caroline are adult children and, based on their physical efforts to keep up Hundreds Hall, perfectly employable. So I had to wonder why at least one of them didn’t go get a job? Can that truly be any less ‘noble’ than milking the cows or doing the cooking? And the answer simply, is Yes. Based on the time and culture, it would have been next to unthinkable for landed nobility to go out and get an office job, rubbing elbows with the unwashed masses. Truly, the family would have been ostracized from high society. Yet, how it is now, the family rarely has peers over (due to the dilapidated state of their Hundreds Hall) and rarely are invited out by their peers (again, what would they wear?).

2) I love how the author made Caroline a sensible woman and very plain in appearance instead of making Caroline a financially poor belle of the story. I found myself relating to her from the first few encounter with her. I love how she cleans, gathers berries, milks cows, and cooks. She is also practical in footwear and her lack of stockings for day-to-day antics.

3) Based on this book being part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, I am guessing there is a supernatural element to this story. Yet, as the reader, being ~halfway through, I am still not positive. I am thoroughly enjoying how the author has woven the story so that all unfortunate events to this point can be described by abnormal human behavior.

4) Class difference keeps raising it’s ugly head. The story is told through the eyes of Dr. Faraday, a man whose parents poured everything they had into his education and who himself has worked hard to obtain and maintain his local practice. While his profession is often referred to as noble, there are still the small societal slights, on both sides, concerning him spending so much time with the Ayreses. I find this interesting as it is not something I personally have bumped into, having spent most of my life in the desert Southwest USA.

For those of you reading along, or having read Sarah Waters’ works before, what has drawn you in? What has kept you hooked?