Man vs Bookshelf: Six Years

This entry is part 13 of 18 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

After last weeks disappointment with ‘Silence’, I needed this week’s book to provide a lift.

I needed something fun, funny, fast-paced and exciting.

In short, I needed Harlen Coben.

Harlan Coben and Me

In a move that Harlan himself described as “Christmas come early” I mentioned Coben in one of my previous blogs.

It was in my Cuckoo’s Calling blog, and I described him as the only writer of murder mystery type stories I read.

Mum recommended him – well, his character – to me.

She knew I didn’t like mysteries but implored me to pick up the first Myron Bolitar book, saying I would love it.

I took some convincing.

Not because I worried mum might be wrong, thus wasting my time, but because I worried she would be right.

I had already insisted I would not enjoy any murder mysteries, and I did not want her proving me wrong.

I hate being wrong.

Still, in the end, I did read the first Bolitar book.

I can’t remember what finally made me decide to do so, but I did, and I loved it.

The story was sharp, the mystery good, the plot rocketed along.

Most importantly, the characters were brilliant.

I have Bolitar books on my shelf so I won’t say too much, but that Myron, Win and Esperanza are all fantastic.

I went on to read almost every Myron Bolitar book and acquired a few other Coben’s. Including Six Years, although I never read, to my recollection, any of the non-Myron books.

Until, that is, the past year or so, as I tried to clear down my bookshelf and before this challenge.

In finally reading these books I could see they were much like the Myron Bolitar books.

It was for that reason I suspected I would find Six Years easy to get through and would love every page of it.

I was not disappointed.

Six Years

Read from 02/12/2017 to 04/12/2017

The back jacket of my version of Six Years describes it as a romance/ murder mystery mix. This is pretty close to the mark.

Six Years is the story of a man who fell in love with a girl faster than I finish a Dominos pizza, only for her to marry someone else.

Upon attending the wedding, she makes him promise to leave her alone, he agrees, and we jump to six years later.

Our professor main character, Jake, is a man of his word and has left Natalie alone.

Until, that is, he sees her husband’s obituary on his university website.

Drawn by a weird morbid curiosity and love he has never let go of, he attends the funeral. Half hoping to see Natalie.

But, when he arrives and sees husband Todd’s wife, he is shocked to find it’s not Natalie.

Worse, no one seems to have heard of Natalie, and there is no record of the wedding taking place.

Cue our lovesick hero going to great lengths to discover what happened to Natalie, and where she is now.

Along the way, people from all corners try to kill him as he begins to unravel the mystery. But he never gives up, determined that, whatever happens, he will find the truth about Natalie.

The Detective

This is not a PI but a man who has thrown into a mystery by circumstance – sketchy circumstance in this case.

He eschews most detective traits by having no discernible flaws.

He’s a professor at a university but has no interest in sleeping with his students (no, I don’t see why else you’d become one, either). He never betrays his friends. He’s not an alcoholic. He’s unwaveringly good-hearted and determined to do the right thing and he only ever kills in self-defence.

His only weakness, I suppose, is love. The fact he has fallen head over heels for someone he only knew a couple of months. Not to mention he hasn’t stopped thinking about her for six years after she married someone else.

These are the actions of a maniac.

His need to find out what happened to her and rationalise his ridiculous love ends up putting people in danger, but he never backs out.

Still, I liked him.

He’s clever, and tenacious without seeming like a superhero far removed from us normal folk.

He’s one of us. Just with less cynicism, an ability to love over many years and no desire to sleep with his students.

In the end, I would rate him well worth following throughout the book.

The Mystery

This is a classic Harlen mystery.

It moves at breakneck pace. There are twists and turns aplenty. And you never really know what is going on until you are finally told.

It also involves plenty of shooting and action, making it as much an adventure story as a mystery.

It draws you in, without doubt, and the exciting nature of it makes you forgive some of the sillier aspects.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll be careful in what I say, but I suppose the reason Natalie is missing turns out to be a little silly to me.

That’s not to say it doesn’t work. Cohen brings together numerous plot points brilliantly in revealing the truth. But a lot of it seems quite convenient, and quite unrealistic, within the context.

Still, the ending works, and in a story as exciting and fast-paced as this, we let Coben get away with a little heightened, unrealistic reveal, in a way we might not always.

So the mystery was good, more than a match for the detective.

Harlenisms

Obviously, all writers have a style, and as much as anything else, this is written like a Harlen Coben book. In his voice, using his pace, etc. etc.

But more than that, there are some real Coben devices here that are often reused throughout his books.

Firstly the setup.

All stories like this start with someone who has their world shattered by something innocuous.

But beyond this, Coben’s characters tend to be middle class, well educated and, more often than not, tall. They can usually fight and, as discussed below, have a higher than normal propensity for love.

Secondly, romance.

Harlem Coben is a real love freak.

Myron Bolitar is completely in love with Jessica, even though she broke his heart. He has unrealistic expectations about a romantic relationship. Perhaps because his parents are together and happy (although so are mine and I’m still cynical)

Harlan’s one-off characters tend to be as lovesick and Jake is no exception.

His complete and unwavering love for Natalie drives him. Remember, this is a girl he dated for a couple of months. Who then dumped him with a note saying she was marrying an old flame – leaving him a wedding invite at the same time.

Yet, for some reason, he never stops thinking about her – even after six years – and when her husband dies, he goes straight out looking for her.

That’s not normal love.

That is Harlen Coben, unconditional, unrealistic, unsustainable love.

And, finally, humour.

This is last but certainly not least.

The reason I fell in love with Coben books was because of the sarcastic, laugh out loud humour of Myron Bolitar.

The way his fear in the face of death would reveal itself in inappropriate jokes at the worst time. I loved that.

Coben’s characters all have a certain degree of this, and Jake is no different. He, and his best friend, often crack off jokes that are worth a laugh or two, even when it isn’t appropriate (for them).

It’s this humour, as well as the fast-paced mysteries, that make me want to pick up a Harlen Coben book and, as usual, it did not disappoint here.

Sum Up

A breakneck plot, a clever mystery, plenty of twists and turns, a funny main character, an easy read.

All these factors contribute to making a solid 4/5 book on Goodreads.

Another great read from Harlen Coben.

Next Time

Next time we’re jumping into children’s book territory.

It’s an author I’ve spoken about before, and one I’ve my favourites.

Darren Shan, with, The Thin Executioner.

See you then.

Man vs Bookshelf: I Am Legend

This entry is part 11 of 18 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

Important milestone here.

I Am Legend was book number 10 in my quest for domination over my bookshelf.

That’s ten down, 200 to go.

Pretty neat, huh?

I’ve been enjoying myself so far.

It’s been tough, at times. When I don’t feel like reading or when I don’t have the time or when I’m knackered and just want to go to sleep.

But it’s great, persevering. It’s forced me to read books I would never have read otherwise.

Books that would have sat on my shelf unloved and uncared for until the end of days.

Like Wheezy in Toy Story… uh, 2? 3? In one of the Toy Story’s, anyway.

This challenge is equal opportunity. Everyone gets love.

Like a Disney film.

So this week’s princess and prince coupling are…

Richard Matherson and Me

I’ve little experience with Richard Matherson.

For example, no idea if he would like me referring to him as a princess.

Let’s assume yes.

I’d never read anything by him before I Am Legend.

I’m not even sure I’d heard of him until the 2007 Will Smith starring film adaptation of I Am Legend landed.

I enjoyed the film, and it was because of it I bought the book from HMV (Future readers might want to Wikipedia that one).

But (recurring theme) I never actually read it.

Until now.

I Am Legend

Read from: 20/11/2017 to: 21/11/2017

I’m fascinated with the origins of stories. Always have been. From conception to development to writing.

Anything that happens before it hits screens/ bookshops.

Whenever I enjoy a book or a film I seek out such information. Hoping to learn from the creative process, or to at least see some interesting facts.

It’s one of the reasons I love Darren Shan. His author notes are so detailed and offer real insight into his creative process.

Upon seeing I Am Legend, I was keen to find out about the book it was based on.

I could have read it, but it was easier (and more interesting) looking online.

So, I knew the film didn’t match the book in many ways, and that lots of what made the book so great was missing.

I also discovered the book had influenced such greats as Stephen King and Night of the Living Dead. Which meant it had indirectly influenced Night of the Living Dummy.

That was pretty exciting to find out.

Going into this book, then, I had preconceptions, without having any idea if I was going to like it or not.

But what is it about? What did I think of it? And why has it taken me so long to get to the meat of the review?

The Plot

I Am Legend is the story of a man alone in the world. Alone, that is, if you don’t count the vampire-like creatures that now cover the globe.

By day he goes on supply runs, builds up his fortress-like home, and slays sleeping vampires.

By night he hides in his home as the vampires – led by his old neighbour Ben – surround his home, screaming for him to come out. Unable to enter themselves because of his fortifications, which include cloves of garlic. For real.

Over time, our hero becomes dissatisfied with his life, which is understandable. He begins teaching himself ‘science’, trying to learn what happened to humanity. Doing this helps him become a more effective killer of the undead and the not quite dead.

Troubled by loneliness, alcoholism, and depression, our hero (Robert) spends as much time living in the past as the present. Until, finally, he meets another human.

Only even this is not the good news it could be, and this unexpected meeting leads towards the climax of the book.

A final confrontation with the creatures of the night.

General Thoughts

I Am Legend was a good book.

I’m not usually a fan of books written a long time ago, but this was good enough.

Fast paced, easy read, not a lot going on that’s offensive.

I suppose that’s the main thing to note. The best way to describe this book is in ways it wasn’t bad, rather than ways it was good.

In the end, I’d describe it as middle of the road, and so gave it a three out of five on Goodreads.

Did it deserve its legendary status? Eh, probably not but then I’ve never been too fussed about unicorns either so what do I know?

Depth

This book is a snip at 161 pages which was good for this challenge, and bad for the story.

Not a lot happens, and Robert is pretty plain.

He spends most his time killing sleeping vampires, moaning, or getting drunk.

And yes, two of those are my favourite things to do, too, but I’m not the protagonist of a book. That I know of.

The plot is light. The only exciting sequence pre-climax is one where he leaves his garage door open and gets home late.

This bit is enjoyable, but it also feels silly.

Robert is a man who has survived alone for months and months. This doesn’t happen by accident. Yet, one day he gets up, goes out, leaves his garage door open, and then falls asleep outside.

When he wakes, rather than going home, he does more vampire hunting.

It turns out his watch has broken but still, it’s crazy reckless and doesn’t speak of someone who would have survived so long.

For the rest of the novel he is sensible, and maybe that’s why it’s a bit dull. He does exactly what a survivor would do in an apocalypse situation, and where’s the fun in that?

His only other lapse in rational thought also prompts the climax of the book which goes to show. No one wants a protagonist who knows what he is doing.

Different types of Vampires

Ugh, this was confusing.

In I Am Legend, Vampirism is brought about by a bacterial virus (more on that later).

This is fine, in itself, but it does cause confusion when there are two types of vampires. Vampires that have died and risen again (proper vampires) and vampires that are the alive.

That’s right; they’re just infected, or something. Cheat vampires, you might call them.

Maybe I missed something, but there doesn’t seem to be a distinction between them. At least not until the very end.

Certainly, they are both hurt by the same things and seem to have the same abilities. For a long time, they even seem to chum along together pretty well. Again, until the very end.

Given the virus that turns people into vampires tends to kill, I’m not sure why living vampires ever happen.

I’m confused. Someone, please explain.

The Explain

Speaking of explaining…

A lot of tales get in trouble for trying to explain away fantasy with science.

Here’s the problem. Fantasy doesn’t exist. We don’t have zombies or vampires in real life because they can’t happen because science says so. (so there)

So, when stories take a monster and try and make it seem plausible with science, it often falls flat.

Worse, the explanation takes away from the strength of the story and weakens the effect of the plot.

Recent example: an episode of the latest series of Doctor Who. A house is eating people, and a girl is made of word. It’s proper weird and quite creepy.

Finally, the Doctor gets to meet the wooden girl and the creepy landlord and…

They sit down to talk about what has happened.

I get that this is what Doctor Who is about in many ways, but the explanation took from the plot, rather than adding.

All we wanted was for Doctor Who to get an axe, chop up the girl, set her on fire, then explode the house.

But I digress.

Reading other reviews of I Am Legend I know this problem annoyed a lot of people.

Robert spends a lot of the novel experimenting on the vampires. Finding out where the virus came from, then explaining it to us via internal monologue or his girl mate.

In the interest of fairness, I actually thought the explanation worked well. Or as well as any explanation could in such instances.

But in a book so short already, I felt Matherson could have devoted these pages to more interesting plot. More movement.

Most of it made sense, at least, but not all.

The only explain away that fell flat for me was the story of why Robert thought he was immune. Spoiler alert: it involves a vampire bat.

This was silly and unnecessary. It’s a virus. As readers, we accept there will be some immune people. That’s how it works.

We didn’t need some half-baked explanation to try and handle it.

That, unfortunately, was a detraction from the story as a whole.

Sum up

I’ll sum up now because otherwise, people will complain the sub-heading is misleading.

I Am Legend is legendary because of what it gave the horror genre. An interesting take on vampires. One of the first man living in a post-apocalyptic monster-filled world stories. An early blend of sci-fi, fantasy and horror.

The influence of the novel is unquestionable, that’s what makes it one of the most important books. Definitely in 1954, if not the last 100 years.

However, reviewing it in 2017 the story feels light, and a little underdeveloped. Where it has been developed is in sciency explanations that only half work and not in characterisations or story progression.

Although Robert does meet a dog at one point, the real story does not start motoring until the last fifteen percent.

So it’s good, and it was an enjoyable read, but a 3/5 is as good as I could have ranked it.

Some might say that is even too generous.

Next Time

From vampires to a group many think of as real monsters…

I’m delving into Non-fiction story Confessions of A Sociopath next.

Look out for that.