Friday 25 October 2019

By Gaslight

By Gaslight
By Gaslight
By Steven Price

In the foggy, gaslit streets of London, 1885, William Pinkerton of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency has arrived from Chicago.  The dark, hulking Pinkerton has not come on official business, but rather to track down his father’s old nemesis, Edward Shade.  Although Pinkerton senior, also a detective, is known for getting his man, Shade has eluded him for decades.

Pinkerton’s information is that an old associate of Shade’s can be found in London.  Charlotte Reckitt is of questionable character, and she does her best to evade Pinkerton.  But when she turns up dead, Pinkerton gets involved with the case through his contacts at Scotland Yard.

Enter Adam Foole, a former love interest of Reckitt’s and a grifter himself.  Foole is a gentleman with a knack for disguises.  He steals through wit, intelligence and careful planning, and rejects violence as a means to an end.  Still, his team is made up of Fludd, the protector (a.k.a. “the giant”), and Molly, a young girl with a checkered past whom he has taken in off he streets.

Much to his colleagues’ chagrin, Foole teams up with Pinkerton in a desperate attempt to find Charlotte’s killer.  The unlikely pair make their way through the dank, dangerous and often gruesome streets of London, venturing into the back-alley bars and even the sewers to find a lead.  Pinkerton begins to trust Foole, and the two respect each other.  But Foole holds secrets that eventually throw Pinkerton into a tailspin, totally upending his beliefs about his father and his search for Edward Shade.

Author Steven Price drew me in right away with a riveting mystery set in a very believable historic London.  Keep in mind, By Gaslight is not a book for the faint of heart.  It is a grim mystery that mostly takes place in the parts of London that are rife with poverty and struggle.  But it also reads like an epic, moving back and forth through time and history, and bringing all the characters together for its thrilling conclusion.

Thursday 10 October 2019

The Farm

The Farm
the farm
The Farm by Joanne Ramos

The Farm is the nickname of the luxury estate, Golden Oaks, at which reside a number of women, mostly immigrants from the Philippines. These women are at Golden Oaks because they have agreed to commit 9 months of their lives to producing the perfect offspring for anonymous women who have better things to do with their time than be pregnant.  

For providing this service, the hosts, as they are called, receive a large sum of money upon delivery of said perfect offspring. These funds will help them to support their families.

In this rather Atwoodian dystopia, the lives of the hosts are well programmed, everything is provided for a healthy, stress free pregnancy. Daily exercise, well balanced organic meals, yoga, massage – you name it the hosts have it.

Jane is one of the hosts, hired by Mae Yu, the farm’s executive. Jane has a child of her own, but after recently coming to America and finding herself a poor, single mother, she takes the opportunity offered her to improve life for herself and her daughter, Mali. Things start off well, Jane is happy to be helping someone who can’t have a child, but she misses Mali. She befriends two other hosts who are not as enamoured with the whole process and support Jane in defying the manipulative Mae. Jane becomes determined to get to Mali outside the farm, but she risks losing the money if she leaves. 

While Mae tries to keep her hosts under control, and placate the wealthy clients awaiting their perfect offspring, things begin to unravel, and the more things begin to unravel, the more Mae tries to keep them under control. 

Joanne Ramos writes a good story, and although it has a softer ending than expected, it still intertwines many things to give us food for thought on reproduction and motherhood all wrapped up in gender, race and class.

Thursday 3 October 2019

Everything Under

Everything Under - Johnson, Daisy
Everything Under
By Daisy Johnson

Everything Under is the story of Gretel, and her mother, Sarah – how they were separated and, sixteen years later, how they were reunited.  But it is much more complicated than that.

Gretel was raised by Sarah on a houseboat on a river in England.  This is an England of the underworld, that thrives in the shadows, where the murky river water and muddy shoreline promote dark dreams.  The inhabitants of this England rely on each other, and take care of their own problems, with no interference from authorities of any kind.  This is an England where Sarah is allowed to leave Gretel behind.

We are not privy to much of Gretel’s life after Sarah left her, but as an adult, Gretel goes searching for her mother and finds a woman ravaged by dementia.  Despite their years apart, Gretel begins to care for her mother, and Sarah in turn reveals some of the hard truths of their difficult life.

As we move back and forth through time to Gretel’s childhood (The River), her search for Sarah (The Hunt), and her adult life with Sarah (The Cottage), we are introduced to Marcus, a young man who lived briefly on the boat with Gretel and Sarah.  Marcus has a harrowing story of his own.  Meanwhile, we meet Margot, who has also been abandoned as a child and found on a forest path by a couple who is childless but desperate to be parents.

Mythology looms large as children are turned out to flounder in the woods, Margot’s ill-fated future is predicted by Fiona (the Oracle), and the myth of Oedipus rears it’s ugly head.  Daisy Johnson is a master of magical realism, as she links present-day England to the profound drama of myth.  Throughout the story she weaves in the terror of “the Bonak”, a creature from the minds of Sarah and Gretel that comes to represent everything that we fear.

This novel is mesmerizing although at times difficult to follow.  To make things more complicated there are also two Gretels, and two characters who change genders during the course of the story.  However, as the plot starts to come together, you will have those “a-ha” moments, made all the more satisfying because the story is so complex.  If you like a bit of darkness in your stories, I highly recommend Everything Under.