I found Martin Seay’s The Mirror Thief in the course of helping a library user learn how to download ebooks. I grabbed it as a random example from our Mystery & Thriller category and the blurb intrigued me. It’s a three-timeline story about 1) a vet home from Afghanistan trying to find an old gambler friend of his father’s in 2003 Las Vegas, 2) a homeless teenage grifter looking for the poet who wrote a book he’s desperately trying to understand in 1950s California and 3) an alchemist in 1500s Italy arranging the theft of mirror-making artisans for the Hakemi Sultan in Constantinople.
The three settings (the Venetian, Venice Beach and Venice) felt distinct in style of story and language, but connect reasonably satisfactorily. It wasn’t mind blowing but it was entertaining.
Tim Powers’ historical fantasy The Stress of Her Regard is a deeply cool gothic romance of a doctor named Crawford whose bride is killed on their wedding night because he mistakenly wed something inhuman at his bachelor party. He runs from the law, and his now dead wife’s twin sister, who assume he murdered her, but in France he learns that he’s part of a terrible jealous and predatorial family.
Crawford makes his way across the Alps and finds his life interwoven with John Keats, Percy Bysse Shelley and Lord Byron. All of them are tied to these creatures and some are trying to deal with them, while others try to free themselves.
It’s an excellent book, especially because there are so many things the characters try and are successful at, but then they backslide on their victories. It’s a tale of friendship and self-destruction. Because these are the Romantics, everything is done melodramatically, but for grand tragic purposes.
Powers also brings in the ideas of randomness and determinism (a la Last Call, my favourite book by him) and even a bit of quantum physics. I like it a lot and am glad it’s back in print (which is why even though it’s from the 1980s I hadn’t ever read it before).
What I liked best about Gomorrah was its lack of explanation. There are five or so storylines and while some of them are obviously about gangsters waving guns around, there’s also one about a tailor whose factory makes haute couture dresses. It’s not immediately obvious how it connects to the rest of everything, but it draws you along. There’s a young boy who is getting initiated into one of the gangs, and the gangsters are talking about being at war. The movie doesn’t explain who they are at war with. When a bagman tries to go over to the other side, the gangsters all look the same. They don’t even try to differentiate the clans or gangs or whatever. The movie doesn’t tell you where it’s taking place, apart from somewhere they speak Italian. Oh wait, two characters specifically go to Venice at one point, but that’s the exception. You have to travel to get somewhere with a name. Maybe if I spoke Italian I could recognize the main town as being in Sicily or wherever, but nothing is named. It’s just a stew of violence. But in a good, bleak, film.