Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hell House

by Richard Matheson

This is my first read for the RIP IV Challenge. One of my favorite horror stories is I Am Legend by Richard Matheson published in 1954 but I had never read anything else by this author. I loved I Am Legend because although about vampires, it is really about the terror of one man being truly all alone in the world. It does not focus on the vampires but focuses on the psychological terror. Which of course is absolutely nothing like the movie that came out a couple of years ago. I enjoyed the movie but I never would have guessed that it was based on this book if it did not actually say so on the trailer. So enough about I Am Legend except to say if you haven’t read it you certainly should.

Hell House was published in 1971 and while not as powerful as I Am Legend was an enjoyable read. I just love haunted houses and this is one of the creepiest evil houses there is. It is similar to Shirley Jackson’s the Haunting of Hill House but is less of a psychological thriller and has more graphic violence and sex. A dying millionaire wants to determine whether there is life after death before he finds out first hand. To do this he purchases the “most haunted house in the world”, Belasco House, and assembles a team to investigate it. The team consists of a physicist and his wife (Dr. Lionel Barrett and Edith), a mental medium who heads her own Spiritualist church (Florence Tanner) and a physical medium (Franklin Fischer), the only survivor of the last investigative attempt 30 years before. The investigative team initially argues over whether the evil nature of the house stems from the spirit of its prior owner Emeric Belasco or multiple spirits that were involved in the horrible acts of blasphemy and perversion that took place with Belasco as host or whether it is pure physical oddities that can be eliminated. Eventually the question becomes will anyone survive Hell House this time. I would have liked a little more background on Belasco and the history of the house because I am always interested in the why, but it was a fun read. If you haven’t read any Matheson however start with I Am Legend.

All She Was Worth

by Miyuki Miyabe

Blurb from the back cover:
A suspenseful noir thriller from one of Japan’s best-selling authors. All She Was Worth takes a journey through the dark side of Japan’s consumer-crazed society. When a beautiful young women vanishes in Tokyo, her distraught fiancĂ© enlist the help of his uncle, a police inspector, to find her. The detective quickly realizes that she is not who she claimed to be, and his search for her brings him to a dangerous financial underworld where insurmountable personal debt lead to crimes of desperation. Her, spending frenzies, stolen identities, and unscrupulous creditors can create a lethal mix.
This is my first read for the Third Japanese Literature Challenge. I liked the main character, the police detective Honma, very much and the woman that he was in search of was very intriguing. I found the story compelling and read it fairly quickly because I wanted to know what happened. I found the census and registry procedures in Japan fascinating and especially liked the switching identity story line. Despite an ambiguous ending ,I enjoyed it very much.

There is one aspect of the story which I found a little puzzling which was the extreme consequences of getting over your head in consumer debt. This book was first published in Japan in 1992, 17 years ago. As I was reading I kept wondering whether I was finding it a little dated or whether it was a cultural difference. Today, especially in this recession, I think most people are well aware of the dangers and problems associated with using credit, especially credit cards, to excess and how it can rapidly get out of control. On the other hand, while today stories of people brought to ruin by credit card debt are common, in the U.S. that translates into financial ruin. While you might have to declare bankruptcy and not be able to use credit in the future, no one is going to kidnap or murder you. I suppose if you do go to loan sharks things could get dicey but I also think it unlikely that people in the U.S. go to loan sharks to pay off credit card debt rather than just defaulting on the debt. In the story people go to great lengths to avoid defaulting on debt and consequently get themselves mixed up with a deadly bunch of characters. Do people in Japan avoid defaulting on debt at all costs or has it become more common for people in Japan to simply walk away from debt these days?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

by Stieg Larsson
translated from Swedish by Reg Keeland

My husband got me the new DX Kindle for my birthday, having taken custody of the Cybook that he had gotten for me a few years before. To give the Kindle it’s first spin I wanted a page turner and this best seller both in Europe and in the U.S. seemed to fit the bill. I don’t normally read mysteries but I really enjoyed this and immediately purchased the second book in this trilogy.

The original Swedish title is Men Who Hate Women and the story takes place in present day Sweden. A disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist is approached by Henrik Vanger, a retired industrialist to attempt to find out what happened to his great niece who mysteriously disappeared 36years before. Blomkvist teams up with an unusual pierced and tattooed young girl, Lisbeth Salander, who is a genius investigator/hacker to try and solve the mystery. Lisbeth has been described in other reviews as having Asperger Syndrome but that is not clear from the book and I think it is also possible that she is just emotionally stunted by mysterious events from her past. In any case Lisbeth is a fascinating character. Obviously brilliant, emotionally distant but with rare and heartbreaking attempts to connect with someone. Although very young she is a survivor and does whatever is necessary to take care of herself. This is a part one of a trilogy so we only get glimpses of her background but I really want to read the other books to learn more about her. All the characters were well developed and I especially enjoyed the creepy and extended Vanger family. And the person at the heart of the mystery is also suitably terrifying. It was certainly a page turner with lots of interesting plot twists and a full conclusion to the mystery at hand. I highly recommend it.