Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Dead and Laughing

I'm going to do a quick review of two books which both suit the title of this post: Elizabeth Peters' The Laughter of Dead Kings, and Dean Koontz's Odd Hours. They are distinctly different, but both make for enjoyable reading, especially on holiday.

First, Elizabeth Peters. As I just mentioned, I've read mostly everything by Elizabeth Peters (as well as her alterego, Barbara Michaels). This book, which I received as an advance reading copy, was certainly up to standard. It is a Vicky Bliss novel, if you follow her series. Vicky is an art historian who works at a German museum which lets her travel pretty much anywhere -- which really works for the plot! Her boss, Anton Z. Schmidt, is one of my favourite characters in this series; a very large and gregarious man, he takes a fatherly interest in Vicky, meaning he spends lots of money on her and wants to know what she is doing all of the time. This book opens with Vicky and her lover John Tregarth (aka John Smythe, a former international art smuggler) getting themselves embroiled in the circumstances around the clandestine theft of King Tut's mummy. FBI agents are convinced John was involved, as it was done in such a professional manner, and was as successful as all his former heists had been. It is up to John, Vicky, and of course Anton Z. Schmidt, to clear John's name and reveal the actual criminals behind the theft. So, they all head off to Egypt where they make use of John's contacts in the underworld, Schmidt's contacts everywhere else, and Vicky's clever yet bullheaded personality to solve the problem. Lots of adventure, humour, atmosphere, banter and true love later, it all comes to a satisfactory close. Those of you familiar with Elizabeth Peters' writing will know that I can not detail the plot too closely, as it would take quite a bit of exposition to explain her tangled storylines. Everything depends upon everything else, and I don't want to spoil the joy of discovery for any future readers! I hope it is enough to say that it is Elizabeth Peters in top form, and the fact that they are in Egypt explains the origin of the mysterious John Smythe -- characters from another series appear as his antecedents, and the early 20th century expeditionary home of the Peabodys plays a large role in this story.

And now for Dean Koontz' Odd Hours:
Rachel has asked, can I recommend Dean Koontz to her? Well, all I have read of his work is the Odd Thomas series, because I love the character so much. I don't read a lot of horror or supernatural fiction, so I am not exactly tempted by most of Koontz' work, and I'll also admit that I have ever only read one Stephen King novel, and that was in high school. Still, for some strange reason I picked up the first Odd Thomas, and the character was so appealing that I kept reading, right through mass murder and eye-closing terror. I then read the next two quite eagerly, and was pleased to receive this fourth in the series as a review copy. And it was a wonderful summer read, once I got to it (my husband claimed it before I could...). In this adventure, Odd has left his hometown of Pico Mundo to go to the oceanside community of Magic Beach. He has been drawn there by his visions of a 'red tide', a great disaster in the making. He has taken a position as private cook to an aged star of the silver screen, Hutch Hutchison. The banter between these two was delightful and really highlights Koontz' quirky and original sense of humour. I enjoy his pages of dialogue; he may be a 'genre' writer, but he is a very accomplished one as well, as his writing reveals. Odd, of course, becomes embroiled in the mysterious criminal activity causing his visions, and once again saves the world. This particular novel is more of a classic suspense story than the previous three; as illustration of possible influences, Odd more than once presents himself to the authorities as "Harry Lime". In case you don't catch that, the movie The Third Man is later referenced by another character. His dead companion changes here as well -- dead Elvis has moved on the next world, and the shade of Frank Sinatra has taken to hanging about (to great effect in one jail scene). All in all, a great summer read which I'd recommend, as much less terrifying than the first book in the series! Still, I think my favourite of the series so far has been #3, Brother Odd. If you don't mind a little bit of hair-raising gore and a few ghosts and scary supernatural beings floating about, do give this series a try. Odd Thomas is a memorable character.


  1. I have got the last book in the Vicky Bliss series to read and then I will definitely be reading this one! I am looking forward to it.

  2. Marg - is a lot of fun.


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