Friday, February 08, 2013

Review: Seduction by M. J. Rose

I usually have no trouble writing reviews for books I've read and enjoyed -- and even for books I've not enjoyed, but quantifying Seduction by M. J. Rose is difficult. There is much more to the story and what is right and wrong with the book than the usual issues.

The book begins with Victor Hugo just after he lost his daughter Didine to an accident. His daughter and her new husband were on a boat when it capsized and drowned both. Hugo was miles away with his mistress. Enter guilt and anguish and the first seduction by an entity that promises Hugo can have his daughter back -- for a price.

Seduction is filled with bargains and seductions from entities and from people caught in their own turmoil and that is what makes Rose's foray into this latest blend of historical and modern day fiction so surprising and delightful. It is not the seduction at the heart of Seduction that makes the book frustrating but the balance of story lines (there are four) and the timing and placement of clues, for this book is also a suspenseful mystery -- sometimes.

Any suspenseful novel must be able to keep the reader's attention and Seduction wears on the nerves and the fortitute of the reader by hinting at suspense and secrets and then going on to detail -- in beautiful and evocative language -- the history of the landscape and the people without getting to the heart of anything. The most important clues to the solution of the mystery that point the way to the climax do not happen until well past the midpoint of the book. One's breath can only be held so many times and for so long before giving out.

I have enjoyed every book I have read by M. J. Rose, and this one is enjoyable, but frustration with the author's methods and timing did lessen my enjoyment. I put Seduction down several times before deciding that it was more important to finish reading the story (stories).

One thing Rose does very well is surprise me with the solution to the mystery, and Seduction did surprise me in the end. Rose knows how to make the villains so sympathetic they appear to be heroes. The characters are complex as are their lives and motivations, which makes M. J. Rose's books worth reading. The rich language and lush details provide a background that is as much a character as the people inhabiting the book.

I recommend Seduction with the caveat that there are problems with the pacing and balance of the disparate elements and stories. Even so, some of these characters have more stories to tell and M. J. Rose uses them to good effect in subsequent novels.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Review: Orders from Berlin by Simon Tolkien

The name of Tolkien conjures elves, orcs, hobbits, and all things Middle Earth and magical. Simon Tolkien, grandson of J. R. R. Tolkien, does not write fantasy. He takes his themes from history and, in Orders from Berlin from the people and facts surrounding Hitler and World War II.

In London during the blitz, a British double agent, Charles Seaforth, is in contact with Heydrich, the head of the espionage branch of the SS. Hitler wants Britain out of the war because he feels there is enough world for British colonialism and for the thousand-year Reich to exist amicably side by side. Hitler's dream became ashes when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister and Britain became the biggest stumbling block to Hitler's plans. Goering's answer was to bomb Britain into submission and, in spite of air superiority and nighttime bombing raids that decimated most of the cities, London especially, the British bulldog was ready to fight.

Heydrich decided to throw the dice and have his top agent, Charles Seaforth, an up and coming operative in the British intelligence unit, assassinate Churchill. Get rid of Churchill and the British would stop fighting Hitler's Germany and the Nazi troops could move on Russia. The plan was set and Seaforth had access to Churchill. Britain was about to plunge into disaster.

This is the world of Simon Tolkien's Orders from Berlin and the very real assassination attempt against his life. The time is palpably real and the main characters finely drawn. At the heart of the plot is a man determined to destroy Churchill for his actions against his family during the first World War, a man obsessed with the destruction of Churchill even if it means destroying his own country.

What brings Tolkien's version of history to life are the tiny details. Add an embittered young woman shoved aside and wrapped up in the antique philosophy that women are to be protected from the world and from the truth, a doggedly determined junior inspector with Scotland Yard, a cunning double agent with a healthy dose of conceit, and a chief inspector of Scotland Yard who is certain of his ability to spot a criminal at first glance. Into this meat grinder, Tolkien throws a doctor with much to lose and time running out on his, his father-in-law who has more money than his daughter knows, and an operative in MI6 whose conflicted loyalties put him at odds with Churchill and in the way of Charles Seaforth, who remains polished and calm at all times.

Tolkien's look into the workings of Hitler's staff and his unpredictable tempers and the world of Winston Church's MI6 are detailed and evocative. Orders from Berlin reads like biography with the evocative details of a thriller. Although Tolkien tends towards florid descriptions in some areas, his prose is sharp and precise and the characters realistic.

It is unlikely Simon Tolkien will become a literary icon like his grandfather. His work, however, is solid, accurate, and human. I look forward to more of Simon Tolkien's novels.