No Mark Upon Her, by Deborah Crombie
The 14th book in the marvelous British police procedural mystery series that starts with A Share in Death. Family life has always been complicated for Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his wife Detective Inspector Gemma James and now they are foster parents to young Charlotte. Gemma is finishing her family leave by planning an Alice in Wonderland themed party for Charlotte when Duncan gets called in to consult on a case right before he’s due for his turn at family leave.
The setting is charming: Henley, a village on the Thames River thirty-five miles from London where Detective Inspector Becca Meredith is secretly in training for a possible spot on the women’s Olympic rowing team. Respected but not well-liked, Becca rows alone, and disappears after an evening row. Reported missing by her ex-husband Freddie, search and rescue teams are called in, and we meet Tavie and her dog Tosh and Kiernan and his dog Finn. Kiernan is also a rower, and is making a beautiful wooden scull for Becca, his lover. To complicate matters, a retired police commissioner lives nearby, whom Becca accused of assault a year earlier. No Mark Upon Her is an intriguing mix of the domestic life of Duncan, Gemma and their friends, the setting of the quaint village with competitive rowing and rescue dogs, and violence and suspense added in.
Many authors have wondered what the world would be like if something big happened and the world changed. Many of the future earths imagined are rather bleak and more about survival then creating new futures. S. M. Stirling has a different viewpoint. When the Change happens to our characters in the Pacific Northwest, they see a dazzling flash of light, and find that higher technologies stop working, such as electricity and combustion engines. Chaos, disease, accidents, and hunger mean that a year later many people have died. The people still living have mostly gathered in small communities where archaic ways of life have become popular. Medieval history professor Norman Arminger takes charge of Portland, creating knights and serfs. Musician Juniper MacKenzie moves to her uncle’s farm and ends up chief of a Celtic clan which practices Wicca and trains youth in archery. College faculty form a democracy, and a monastery becomes a Catholic stronghold. A pilot with a teen passenger who’s a Tolkien fan become leaders of the Bearkillers and Rangers. Three books, starting with Dies the Fire, describe the development of the new societies. Another series, starting with The Sunrise Lands, tell the story of those leaders’ grown children and their quest to travel across North America fighting villains and bringing communities together. The characters are realistic, the author’s imagination fascinating, and the unfolding story lines and curiosity about the future engaging, as is the question of why and how the Change occurred and if a mystical sword will change things back.
The Vices, by Lawrence Douglas
This book is the story of Oliver Vice, a philosophy prodigy and professor at a prestigious eastern college. As the book starts we encounter Oliver on the stormy deck of the QE2 during an Atlantic crossing. Oliver then disappears, apparently gone overboard. The unnamed narrator spends the rest of the book trying to fill in Oliver’s back story and make sense of this seemingly senseless act. Oliver’s problem is that, like Truman Capote, he writes a masterpiece early in his career and spends the rest of it trying to duplicate his early success. Over the course of the book we learn of Oliver’s checkered past, his many girlfriends and paramours, his trouble with true intimacy, even with himself. Oliver’s family, including his twin brother Bartholemew, and Hungarian mother Francizka, are a constant source of weird entertainment. The narrator finds himself drawn into a battle over the family’s money and art. Because of his obsession the narrator’s own family life slowly disintegrates. I did not find this to be a particularly funny book although there is a hilarious scene at an S&M Club in London. There are some serious philosophical themes that deal with the nature of friendship and self knowledge as well as are some subplots dealing with Nazi death camps and forged artwork. It is very well written.
The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Discover of the long earth begins when kids in Madison, Wisconsin start building a simple electrical device powered by a potato. When they flip a switch, most of them disappear, reappearing in a forest, confused and nauseated. Orphaned teen Joshua helps bring the children home. They had stepped into one of thousands of parallel Earths. Soon, pioneer colonists and entrepreneurs settle in nearby Earths, hampered by the fact that iron can’t cross the border. Some people can’t step, either, and this creates resentment. Governments and police struggle to keep up with all of the changes.
Fifteen years later, Joshua is approached by the transEarth Institute. A Tibetan mechanic reincarnated as an artificial intelligence wants Joshua to travel with him in an airship to distant Earths. They travel quickly, as Joshua is a natural stepper who experiences no nausea and doesn’t even need a device. They encounter varied settlements, exotic and sometimes dangerous fauna, and varying geology and climates. They meet Sally, the daughter of the device’s inventor. Other, more primitive, hominids are found, and some of them are fleeing from danger towards main Earth, where the anti-stepping crowd is becoming more vocal. A strange and marvelous journey, with some of Pratchett’s usual humor.