October 2015

An urban fantasy novella in Uncollected Anthology called Portals & Passageways.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Page count: 47
Publisher: WMG Publishing

I’ve previously encountered these three witches, who are sisters, in a novella in Fiction River: Hex in the City. I was very happy to read about them again.

Portia is a magical dramaturge in Yale. She’s also a witch and that’s mostly a secret. However, some people know and some can guess. An acquaintance from High School contacts Portia for help be-cause nobody else can help her. Genevieve Hill runs a non-profit theater group for disadvantaged kids in Chicago. It turns out that 50 youngsters have disappeared in the middle of a rehearsal of a play and left behind a lot of damages to Chicago’s best hall where they were going to perform. The police blame the kids for the damages and won’t even look for them. Gen needs help.

Portia and her sisters Viola and Rosalind are descended from the three witches in Hamlet. They work best together but they don’t even live in the same city but when Portia calls, they come quick-ly.

In this world, theatres are literally magic. Some plays and songs have portions of spells in them and the spells can affect the actors. Most theatres also have magical energy in them. Also, writing can be magical, too.

This was a fun story and pretty intense even though it’s short. Portia is pretty privileged and her eyes are somewhat opened for how the poorer people live. The sisters don’t always get along, they bicker but they’re all professionals and focused on the job; getting rid of evil magic and protecting people. In this world, technology and magic don’t mix well and only one of the sisters is able to carry a cell phone without breaking it quickly. This sets some interesting limits in a modern world.

Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.


Fairy tales are real in fantasy land. They may seem like stories told to kids, but in fantasyland they are very, very real.

Indeed, some books and movies are based on retelling stories and then there are a few books where stories come true.

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett. The three witches go to a far-away land and along the way to find out that stories are coming to life. And not in a cute and cuddly way.

An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire. Blind Michael is a monster right out of a fairy tale. The book has also other fairy tale elements. It’s the third book in McGuire’s Toby Daye series.

The Princess books by Jim C. Hines, first book is “the Stepsister Scheme”. Princess Danielle, also known as Cinderella, has married her Prince Charming but the stepsisters want their revenge. Luckily, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White want to help Danielle.

Rose Daughter and Beauty by Robin McKinley are retellings of the Beauty and the Beast story.

One-Eyed Jack by Elizabeth Bear. Movies and TV-shows are modern day fairy tales and in this book the tropes used in them, more accurately in spy movies and shows, come to life.

Speaking of TV-shows, Once Upon a Time is an obvious choice. Snow White and Prince Charming and the whole other fairy tale gang in the mortal world. However, they seem to bring some of the fairy tale rules with them, namely “heroes always win” and “heroes get their happy endings”.

Fables the comic book also features fairy tale characters who have come to the mundane world. They’ve fled from the Enemy who has conquered their lands. Some of the main characters are Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf.

A Vish Puri mystery set in modern day Delhi. This actually turned out to be the second book in the series.

Publication year: 2010
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2013
Format: print
Page count: 332 including the glossary
Translator: Tero Valkonen
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Gummerus

Here in Finland Vish Puri is advertised as “Hercules Poirot of India” I think that’s a good comparison if you must make comparisons. To me, the book feels like a Christie type cozy mystery where the overweight private detective walks around the city talking to various people and thus solving the mystery. No gore and no sadistic serial killers here. Hall also gives us a glimpse of the vastly different parts of Delhi: the well-off middle class who have their own servants and the desperately poor who barely have enough to live. They live in different parts of the city and have very different lives. And the food!

Vish Puri of Most Private Investigators Ltd. is in the middle of working for a client who has relocated to India from US and his horrified about the level of corruption and the money he has to pay just to get his children to school. Puri is amused by the client’s attitude but helps him, of course. Then a prominent local scientist is apparently murdered by Kali the goddess herself. The victim, Dr. Suresh Jha, specialized on bringing down the local holy men and exposing them as charlatans. The murder happened in broad day light in the middle of a laughter group gathering. Dr. Jha belong to the group where they practice laughing daily. The other members were able to only laugh and laugh while the goddess appeared in a smoke cloud, put her sword through the victim, and disappeared again. The main suspect is an extremely successful, and wealthy, spiritual guru.

Meanwhile Puri’s wife and mother go to a meeting with their female friends. They each bring a sizable sum of money which is gathered and given to one of the women there chosen with lottery. They do it once a month but this time they’re robbed and the robber gets away with the money! The police are convinced that the hostess’ servants did it and don’t even consider anyone else and even refuse to take evidence which Puri’s mother has arranged for them. She is, after all, the widow of a prominent police officer and thereby almost a detective herself So, Puri’s mother decides to solve the case herself and drags her daughter-in-law into it, too. Puri doesn’t approve of women as detective, so they leave him out of it. And Puri’s youngest daughter returns home: she’s pregnant with twins. It’s apparently traditional for her to give birth in her parents’ house.

Puri has the entertaining habit of giving his underlings humorous nicknames; thus his driver is Handbreak and another underling is Tublight and another Facecream.

Puri is very different from usual modern US PIs: he’s married with grown children and has several servants. He also considers it his duty to employ those less fortunate than himself and take care of his employees. Far cry from the usual single or divorced alcoholic PIs who work strictly alone.

His mother is a determined older woman who is also a very entertanining character. Through her, and Puri’s wife Rumpi, we get a glimpse of the lives of the upper-class women in Delhi.

Hall makes fun of spiritual gurus and magicians who seem to be numerous in India. For me, this was a very exotic element at least in the way they represent their “divine gifts.” Hall also uses a lot of native words, especially with food. Thankfully, most of them were in the glossary because I’m not all familiar with Indian food.

I haven’t read much about India and I’ve never visited there so this was a fascinating glimpse into their culture. The characters feel exaggerated and they could certainly be just as stereotypical as the people in Wodehouse’s books.

An entertaining and mostly light-hearted mystery.

“It was not uncommon for him to experience such a sense of dislocation when working in Delhi these days. The India of beggars and farmer suicides and the one of the cafes selling frothy Italian coffee were like parallel dimensions. As he slipped back and forth between them, he often found himself pondering the ancient Indian axiom that this world is but maya, an illusion, a collective dream.”

The eARC of Bujold’s new book, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is now out: http://www.baenebooks.com/default.aspx !!

A Modesty Blaise adventure.
Publication year: 1967
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1967
Format: print
Page count: 311
Translator: Jukka Kemppinen
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Otava

This time Modesty and Willie encounter a young man who has talents in ESP. The man is called Lucifer and an exceptionally ruthless man Seff, and his wife Regina, have acquired, perhaps kidnapped, Lucifer and are using him to their own ends. Apparently, Lucifer’s mind has fractured (he’s called paranoid in the book) and he really thinks that he’s the devil and the people around him are his diabolical servants. He has the ability to foretell who is going to die and he can also use this ability to stay ahead of his opponent in a fight. However, he’s not an evil and has no malicious intent. Seff and his crew are able to use Lucifer’s delusions to their advantage and they’ve come up with a blackmail scheme. If the blackmail subjects don’t pay, Seff’s underlings kill them. The blackmail subjects are also told about the people whom Lucifer has predicted will die and told that the subjects will die themselves if they don’t pay. Seff and his wife use very strange puppet shows to enhance Lucifer’s delusions.

Rene Vaubois, the head of the French Deuxieme Bureau and Modesty’s friend, is being blackmailed. He’s not rich but he’s a civil servant and the blackmailers want his government to pay. But they don’t. Fortunately, when Seff’s goons attack, Modesty and Willie are there to save Rene. They start to investigate the matter.

At the same time, Modesty has a new friend Steven Collier. He claims to be a metallurgist but he actually is researches all sorts of supernatural skills in humans. He’s interested in Willie’s danger sense especially when it also reacts when Modesty is in danger. However, Modesty travels to Britain in order to investigate the strange blackmailers and leaves Steve behind. But the blackmailers contact Steve because they want Lucifer to be even more accurate than he already is.

This is a fast-paced thriller where the reader knows the people responsible and enjoys the ride towards the final confrontation. Modesty and Willie are their usual almost supernaturally capable people and Steven balances that out.

However, I was troubled by some aspects of the book. Just like in the previous book, Modesty was put into a situation where she had to use sex or “allow” herself to be raped in order to save her life. She doesn’t dwell on it and treats it as just another way to survive which almost makes it more peculiar. In fact, the men around her have harder time accepting it than she which makes it even more peculiar. I don’t remember any of the comic strips using that kind of plot device but I guess it wouldn’t be possible in visual form. Also, we get some strange ideas about gay people. One of the men attacking Modesty near the beginning of the book is a crossdresser and that apparently makes him gay…

Otherwise, this is again a great ride with memorable villains.

Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.
This week’s topic is THE GOOD THIEF

Sure they may pocket things that don’t belong to them. And yes, anything that can be wiggled loose isn’t really locked down and may be fair game to them. And if they put half of their intelligence into legit trades instead of long cons they would probably be pillars of fantasyland’s community. But damn it, some thieves are still good people.

Lovable rogues are some of my favorite characters and I love read about them.

Robin Hood, Little John, Alan-a-Dale, Will Scarlet, Friar Tuck, and the rest of the Merry Men. They are the original good thieves.

Autolycus the King of Thieves from Xena the Warrior Princess. Bruce Campbell brought to life this happy-go-lucky thief.

Moist von Lipwig by Terry Pratchett. “What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter.”

Silk from Eddings’ Belgariad series: one of the first good thief characters I ever read about. And he turns out to be a prince.

Kelsier and his whole crew from Sanderson’s Mistborn series. In the first book they’re planning a heist, the biggest heist in their world.

Loch and her crew in Patrick Weekes’ Palace Job. This group was inspired by “Ocean’s Eleven” except that it has far more women in it (yay!).

Tasslehoff Burrfoot from Dragonlance is a kender, the equivalent of a Halfling in the Dragonlance world. They’re adventurous and talk a lot, rather the opposite of hobbits.

Bilbo Baggins, the burglar hobbit who went traveling with twelve dwarfs and a wizard in Tolkien’s Hobbit.

Regis the Halfling in R. A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms books. Regis is the requisite thief and he’s kidnapped quite often.

I can think of only one example from comics:
Marvel has Black Cat: a thief who has the power to bring bad fortune on her enemies.

A Modesty Blaise spy adventure.
Publication year: 1966
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1967
Format: print
Page count: 315
Translator: Seppo Harjulehto
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Otava

The second Modesty Blaise book starts with a glimpse of the enemies: a ruthless mercenary commander called Karz is gathering a large group of mercenaries, people who would kill anyone for money. Among them are the Twins, two huge men who fight like one man even though they hate each other (they’re Siamese twins who were separate later in life). Karz is looking for more lieutenants. He wants the best and has his eye on Blaise and Garvin but the two are difficult to control so he’s looking for leverage.

Meanwhile, Sir Gerard Tarrant (the head of British Intelligence) has a problem and he brings it reluctantly to Modesty and Willie. Turn out that some crackpot is claiming to be Prime Minister of Free Kuwait and saying that the current government oppresses the local people. However, that’s not true and Tarrant has a hard time figuring out what’s going on. He also knows that mercenaries are disappearing alarmingly.

Also meanwhile, Modesty and Willie have taken under their wing a young girl, Lucille, who has lost her parents and has lived on the streets. She has a hard time getting used to her new life, stealing even from Sir Gerard.

This is a very good Modesty Blaise adventure: plenty of action and violence and memorable villains. Modesty and Willie have to endure a lot and their friendship is put through a hard test. Highly entertaining! While both Modesty and Willie have to be in the biggest badass mode to get through everything alive, they’re more compassioned sides are shown.

On the down side, this was written in the 60s and it shows: Modesty is called “a girl” and other sexism, and there are some seriously strange ideas about rape. I could have done with certain scenes near the end.

I’m kicking myself for leaving it unread for a couple of years.

A short story collection centered on crimes done in the past.


Publication year: 2014
Format: ebook
Page count: 236
Publisher: WMG Publishing

Customs and laws have changed from time to time and place to place. These stories explore actions which have been crimes in the past but are no longer crimes. I liked all of these. The stories with slavery (Crowe’s and Nelscott’s stories) were the most disturbing to me. However, none of them were outstanding, to me.

“Stolen in Passing” by Dory Crowe: A slave has run away and is now looking for any safe place. However, he’s still in an area where the decent citizens are compelled by law to return him to slav-ery. With no other place to go, he runs for his half-sister’s new home. But she looks like she’s white and is already married to a white man.

“New World Gambles” by Leah Cutter: Set in Canada among the Chinese immigrants. Mei Quon is a scholar who has travelled to the New World in the hopes of a better life but the only job he has is as a companion to rich men. His current patron loves to gamble and Mei Quon has an understanding with one of the people working in the crooked gambling place. But then the Tong get involved.

“The Bank Teller” by Jamie McNabb: A stranger comes to town and quickly settles down as a bank teller. But he aims to do something quite different.
“An Education for Thursday” by Dean Wesley Smith: this is the most Western themed story in the collection. A woman rides into town, looking for revenge.

“The Curious Case of the Ha’Penny Detective” by Lee Allred: Conan Doyle wasn’t the only one writing detective stories in the 1800s. This story explores one of “Sherlock’s rivals”.

“The Horns of Hathor” by Richard Quarry: A murder mystery set in Akhenaten’s reign in Ancient Egypt! I always love those. The Pharaoh Akhenaten has forbidden the worship of the old gods and Chenzira the Scribe is sent to tell the temple of Amun-Re that the Festival of Opet is cancelled. The Pharaoh’s previous messenger was apparently killed by Hathor herself.

“Impressions” by Lisa Silverthorne: Set in London in the 1780s, a nobleman is looking for his wife who is supposedly dead. Young constable Fletcher gets clues from her death mask.

“The Raiders” by Cat Rambo: Set in a prisoner of war camp during the U.S. Civil war, some of the prisoners oppress the others and the guards look the other way.

“The Monster in Our Midst” by Kris Nelscott: In 1918 in Arkansans, black men are still being lynched and it’s extremely dangerous to investigate it. But Emerson West does that sometimes. When he receives a hair-raising postcard depicting a hanged black man, he volunteers to investigate.

“Blood and Lightning on the Newport Highway” by M. Elizabeth Castle: Making moonshine is the livelihood of some families in the Appalachia during the Prohibition. However, the Monroe family has lot of bad blood with certain Revenuer who has returned to town.

“Deathmobile” by Michele Lang: Little Rocky is just 11 years old but she comes face to face with the reality of New York in 1977, when the Son of Sam is threatening everyone.

“The Stonewall Rat” by JC Andrijeski: The main character, the Chief, works for the mafia. Stone-wall is a gay bar and the Chief is sent to find the rat in there.

A good collection with solid, interesting stories.

Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.
This week’s topic is PURE GOOD

No middle ground, no moral middle, no grey area at all. Some people are pure avatars of goodness. Fantasyland seems to be full of them.

I have to disagree: a startling amount of characters are grey. Also some characters are presented by the author as pure good and yet they go around killing people. Usually that happens in a war but a startling amount of fantasy books have good and evil races. And (pure) good is presented in Western setting with Western values.

Still, the first person who springs to my mind is:
Sir Galahad. He’s actually a very interesting case because he (and his dad Lancelot) is a later addition to the Arthurian saga. He’s the perfect knight and one of the three who found the Grail. Sir Percival is another, earlier pure knight.

Carrot Ironfoundersson by Terry Pratchett is another person who I think is also “pure” good – and an excellent foil to his boss who might be the biggest cynic in fantasy (although incorruptible), Sam Vimes.

Samwise Gamgee by Tolkien is never tempted to take the Ring for himself and he loyally follows Frodo on all the adventures.

Drizzt Do’Urden by R. A. Salvatore is a drow, a dark elf whose whole race is Evil. He’s the only good one, except of his dad. He’s an example of characters who are supposedly very good and yet kill a suprising amount of people. Indeed, his only real skill seem to be killing people.

Comics have a few characters who are supposed to be as pure good as people can be. Lots of readers seem to think that they’re boring, and they might be if their goodness is never tested but just taken as given.

Superman and Captain America are both the epitome of goodness in their respective universes. They also refuse to kill anyone. (Except in alternate universe stories)

Spider-Man: with great power comes great responsibility. He not only refuses to kill, he has saved his enemies.

Thor: his hammer can only be lifted by someone who is worthy of being Thor. By Asgard standards.

The second book in the historical mystery series. This is set in Chicago in 1968.
Publication year: 2002
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 hours and 38 minutes, including an excerpt of the next book
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Miron Willis

Billy “Smokey” Dalton is a black unlicensed private detective in US in the 1960s. After the events in the previous book (“A Dangerous Road”) he and 10-year-old Jimmy had to flee their home in Memphis and they’re trying to make a new life in Chicago. However, the upcoming Democratic National Convention is inciting violence in addition to political unrest. The police and the FBI are keeping an eye out for anyone who could be trouble, especially black men. Smokey is afraid that they will notice him and Jimmy, especially after his neighbor tells him that she had noticed someone watching him. Then Smokey finds out that someone is murdering 10-year-old black boys and the police aren’t interested in investigating, except for one black detective. Of course, Smokey has to investigate.

Jimmy isn’t Smokey’s son but Jimmy doesn’t really have a family and when he saw who killed Martin Luther King Jr. and people started to hunt him, Smokey took him under his wing. But they’re telling others that they’re father and son to avoid scrutiny.

Smokey has a job as a security guard but has to live together with a friend, Franklin Grimshaw, and his family. Both Smokey and Jimmy are loners but now they have to live in very cramped quarters, which makes them irritable. Smokey’s also keenly aware that he doesn’t know Chicago which makes his life difficult. He realizes that tension is rising between blacks and whites because of the political situation but he has no other place to go. Another complication is Laura, a rich white woman whom Smokey loves, but they both know that they can’t be together.

To me this was an excellent portrayal of the time period and the people living in it and a great follow up to the previous book.

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