Friday, November 4, 2011

100 Books 61 - Gary McMahon's DEAD BAD THINGS (D'oh!)

Dad gum it, I hate taking up stories in the middle. Which is what, it appears, I did in deciding to read this next ebook in my Angry Robot subscription. Which I didn't realize until I was considerably invested in the story. Which has me a little annoyed, but I can't really blame anyone but myself; I should have known by now that a lot of the ebooks magically coming to me every month were sequels, continuations, snippets of bigger stories.

Somehow I missed it this time, though.

That aside -- and it's mostly annoying because all of these ominous references to the series arc's overall hero, Thomas Usher, keep cropping up without any context for the reader who has just happened to stumble upon this title -- this is mostly a pretty satisfying bit of horror, gross and creepy and emotionally wrenching and did I mention creepy?

It took a little patience, though, to get through this. For most of the novel, the four storylines followed show no signs of having anything to do with each other at all and the reader must simply have faith that they will knit together at some point. This is common enough in fiction today and I would not normally remark on it, except that one storyline is told in the first person and the rest in the third. And for all but the last few chapters, I had no idea who the first person narrator was supposed to be. His chapters were interesting and evocative, though, so I at least sort of cared about seeing what the hell they had to do with anything. For most of the book, they were just a weird distraction from the storyline I really cared about, that of a young female policewoman who was having to deal with a lot of weird and possibly supernatural shit in her professional and personal life, supernatural shit that was well hinted at by a prologue that suggested how the other two third-person storylines might tie in with the policewoman's, but still left that first-person stuff (that I now, having finished the book and nosed around the author's web page, know to have been this Thomas Usher, he of the unknown importance and powers unless one has read the earlier Usher novel, Pretty Little Dead Things) unconnected but buzzing around like a mosquito that's too quick to swat.

Reader cluelessness aside, Dead Bad Things did come to a pretty fantastic climax, full of action and anguish and genuine horror. By the time all of this comes about, the reader is well invested in the policewoman's story and background; for me she was the protagonist throughout and I cared quite a lot what happened to her (though the revelation of who she "really" was left me pretty meh since I was apparently reading this book wrong. I should have taken a clue from the first person narrative of that other thread, yes; this is a(nother) book about this Thomas Usher dude and if I knew or gave a damn who he was I'm sure I would have been all kinds of emotionally invested in the policewoman's identity blah blah blah). Until the end when her story is hijacked by this Usher dude. Sigh.

I sound like I hated this book, but really, I didn't. The policewoman's story is really compelling and so it comes really close to standing alone on that basis. The fact that one can read Dead Bad Things as her story says something about it, and I liked it well enough to want to go back sometime (after this challenge, in which I'm insisting on every book coming from a different author, is over) and read Pretty Little Dead Things and find out what the big deal about this Usher dude is. I just wish McMahon had given me more about Usher in this one.

I'm sure, in retrospect, that this might be how people might feel coming upon a Doctor Who episode like "Blink" and being surprised to learn at the end that this is not a show about Sally Sparrow, adorable, spunky 21st century girl who has to battle creepy statues, but about some amazing time traveling dude who only appears in her story as a guy on TV giving her bizarre instructions. We who are/were in the know hail "Blink" as one of the best episodes of the DW revival, but people who'd just stumbled across this episode were probably a little annoyed and puzzled and it might be a crap shoot whether they'd bother with another episode.

I've just learned a lesson about my Angry Robot subscription: never assume that the ebooks I'm getting are stand alones. Always assume they are sequels until proven otherwise.

Because yeah, both of the books in this month's feed are third volumes of trilogies! So imagine how annoyed I might potentially be if I fell into this same fallacy again with them!

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