Erasmus just spent a fair bit of time on planes and in airports and was able to knock of two books, once excellent, one despicable.
Reginald Hill's new book, The Stranger House, is a wonderful read. It is a stand-alone novel unrelated to his justly celebrated Dalziel & Pascoe crime novels. Sam (for Samantha) Flood, an atheistic Australian mathematician, and Mig Madero, a haunted Anglo-Spanish ex-seminarian sherry heir, meet in Illthwaite, a Cumbrian village, both looking into their families' pasts. What unfolds is a wonderful, slightly Gothic mystery, with complex layers of history and present-day drama all layered together. Hill's beautifully tangled plot, deeply drawn characters, and formidable erudition produce a terrific tale featuring lost loves, Norse myths, a saint's relics, Jesuits and recusants, espionage, reason, religion, romance, and perhaps even a ghost or two. A marvelous, marvelous book. Ave.
David Liss, whom Erasmus has very much enjoyed in the past, has completely alienated Erasmus with his new volume, The Ethical Assassin. While it starts off very promisingly, in the vein of the "Bunch of South Florida Wackos" genre so dubbed by Dave Barry (though here transported to the northern part of the state in 1985), its eponym proves to be Milford Kean, a character who strikes Erasmus as plainly derivative of Gregory Mcdonald's immortal I.M. Fletcher. However, Kean, a rich heir has decided to kill some white-trash dognappers who are selling the animals to a medical laboratory (why he doesn't kill some white-collar professionals on the demand side of the equation is an open question; likely Liss didn't want to alienate his white-collar readership). Kean strolls through the book as one of those allegedly charming Zen-master types who pop up so frequently in the popular fiction of the 1970s. Moreover, he explicitly justifies his actions in terms of a higher morality exactly like those which have been used to exterminate White Russians, Jews, kulaks, the bourgeoisie, a quarter of Cambodia, etc. Kean seems to believe that animal welfare (though he'd no doubt say "rights") justifies his murderous behavior (as indeed his predecessors adopted the proletariat, the German nation, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere as their casi homicidarum. Erasmus was willing to go along with this for the sake of the story, up through the point where Kean apparently dies at the hands of a sleazeball with whom he's gotten into a gunfight. Murder breeds murder. But, no. Kean is saved by the book's narrator whom he rewards handsomely, and then Kean rides off into the sunset. And perhaps some sequels. Liss then thanks any number of animal-mascotting extremists (some apparently incarcerated) in his acknowledgements. The book is well-written, swiftly plotted, and the dialogue is good. The characters are a bit shallow, but better than many. That said, the book's underlying morality (its "assassin's ethics") is so repugnant that Erasmus has consigned his copy to the recycling bin, and will never buy another book by Liss, in case his royalties make their way to people who feel inclined to murder in protest of the treatment of animals which (however justly) disgusts them. Non placet. Te ipsum futue.