Reviews: e-book and audiobooks: Michael Crichton, horror at sea, Colombian short stories
Juan Gabriel Vasquez proves there's more to Colombian writing than Gabriel Garcia Marquez and magic realism. First published in Spanish in 2001, The All Saints' Day Lovers is a collection of short stories which proves his novel The Sound of Things Falling - winner of the 2014 Impac Dublin award - is no fluke. Readers expecting the same exposé of Colombia's social problems might be surprised to find a predominant Belgian and French setting. Vasquez spent a year exiled in the Ardennes in Belgium; it seemed a formative period. Vasquez may reject magic in his work, but he embraces strangeness and intense emotion. In the titular tale, a man consoles a grieving widow by adopting the pajamas and identity of her dead spouse. Lost love of a different variety informs several other stories. Two women fight over the same man and a beloved house. A dying man pleads with his ex-lover to visit his estranged father. Violence too is never far away whether this is hunting, murder or revenge. Vasquez has a powerful, haunting and melancholy talent.
The All Saints' Day Lovers by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (Bloomsbury) e-book
I loved Sarah Lotz's debut, The Three, a slick, high-concept thriller about the survivors of a bizarre plane crash that twisted like a tornado. While not exactly the sequel promised by the blurb, Day Four wobbles its predecessor's premise, being set on another vehicle: a cruise liner, The Beautiful Dreamer. The ship is stranded somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. Things go from beautiful dream to ugly nightmare rather in the style of Stephen King, and soon both staff and passengers realise there is more to their predicament than lost vacation days. Odd forms haunt the rooms and corridors and seem out to get our narrators. These include Maddie, assistant to the "witch" or diva-ish on-board medium, two elderly passengers with a dark secret, and Xavier, who is interested in the medium for his own reasons. There are, possibly, one too many significant motivations for my liking, but Lotz knows how to spin a yarn. She is helped by Penelope Rawlins, who reads with understated verve that makes you care a little for the motley crew.
Day Four by Sarah Lotz (read by Penelope Rawlins) Hodder & Stoughton (audiobook)
Once upon a time, long before Marvel comics ruled the silver screen, Michael Crichton was Hollywood's Prince Charming of writers. If he wasn't creating ER or Jurassic Park, he was dreaming up influential dystopian thrillers such as The Andromeda Strain. Turned into a fair-to-middling movie in 1971, its set-up resides in classic "the aliens are coming" territory. When the entire population of a small town in Arizona is found dead in mysterious circumstances (a blend of suicides or seemingly inexplicable traumas), a top-secret team of scientists conclude that a strain of top-secret extraterrestrial microbes is responsible after a suitably top-secret satellite is found nearby. The only survivors - a drug addict and a baby - are taken to a heavily guarded facility. But then the Andromeda Strain escapes. Crichton's way with science convinces you of the premise, while his way with a thriller ups the tension. David Morse's smoky, tremulous and slightly fragile voice harks back to the classic days of science fiction. Fantastic stuff, in all senses of the word.
The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (read by David Morse) Brilliance Audio (audiobook)