Book Review

Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – March 2020

I’m behind with my reviews, and so, rather than torture myself by trying to play catch up, I’ve decided to post three mini reviews in a single post.  See below for my thoughts on:

  • Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
  • I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
  • The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson


Roughly twenty years from now, our technological marvels unite and turn against us. A childlike but massively powerful artificial intelligence known as Archos comes online… and kills the man who created it. This first act of betrayal leads Archos to gain control over the global network of machines and technology that regulates everything from transportation to utilities, defence and communications. In the early months, sporadic glitches are noticed by a handful of unconnected humans – from a senator and single mother disconcerted by her daughter’s “smart” toys, to a lonely Japanese bachelor, to an isolated U.S. soldier – but most are unaware of the growing rebellion until it is far too late. Then, in the span of minutes, at a moment known later in history as Zero Hour, every mechanical device in our world rebels, setting off the Robot War that both decimates and – for the first time in history – unites humankind.

As you’ve no doubt gathered from the title, Robopocalypse is an end of the world scenario in which our demise is brought about by a robot uprising following the creation of Archos, an artificial intelligence that immediately kills its maker and seeks to take control over our technology.  Told in retrospect, Robopocalypse details the accounts of various individuals from around the world, obtained and collated by Cormac “Bright Boy” Wallace, one of those to survive the initial onslaught and to take up the fight for survival.

I liked that the same characters are visited multiple times throughout the novel.  There were some that I liked more than others, and some have a more significant role to play, but I enjoyed seeing various perspectives from different corners of the world – showing the extent of the catastrophe – and Wilson has successfully incorporated a broad range of individuals to use in the narrative.  The structure is similar to the superb World War Z by Max Brooks, and I think that if you enjoyed that novel you might like this one too.

Through these separate accounts, the reader gets to see what happens shortly after Archos achieves consciousness as small, isolated incidents of rogue technology occur.  Taken individually, these incidents are deemed inconsequential, and few pick up on the significance or link them together.  I enjoy seeing the build up to an end of world catastrophe, and so I really liked seeing the precursor to the main event as our technology shows its potential to turn on us and the damage it can do.  From these initial events – which I think is Archos testing both its own and our capabilities – the reader sees “Hour Zero”, the point at which our technology turns on us in a single, coordinated attack that extends worldwide.  Many people are killed, particularly in the cities, and those that do survive the initial onslaught form small pockets of resistance in order to take the fight back to “Rob”, as the enemy is collectively referred to.

Given our increasing use of and reliance upon technology, reading about the way in which it can be turned against us – and with relative ease – will always be discomforting, and this is an enjoyable post-apocalyptic novel which I recommend to fans of the genre.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

i'll be gone in the dark

The masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer – the serial rapist turned murderer who terrorised California for over a decade – from the late Michelle McNamara.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark offers a unique snapshot of suburban West Coast America in the 1980s, and a chilling account of the wreckage left behind by a criminal mastermind. It is also a portrait of one woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth, three decades later, in spite of the personal cost.

Updated with material which takes in the extraordinary events that followed its initial publication, Michelle McNamara’s first and last book is a contemporary classic – humane, haunting and heroic.

I don’t read a lot of true crime – I’m struggling to think of the last time I did, in fact – but I’d heard a lot about I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and found myself intrigued.  Having read it, what struck me about it is McNamara’s compassion.  She doesn’t just focus on the Golden State Killer (a moniker she coined herself), his acts, and possible identity, but her concern for his victims shines through in the text, and it’s easy to see why she was so motivated to see this person brought to justice.

McNamara details – briefly – how she became interested in this case, and the lengths that she has gone to, often at her own personal cost, in trying to identify this individual.  As it became a cold case, she was able to collaborate with those still trying to solve the mystery in a more official capacity with information being shared both ways.  McNamara’s work was never about the glory of identifying this individual, but ensuring he was brought to justice, whoever identified and caught him.  McNamara died in 2016, and I think it’s heart-breaking that she never saw the Golden State Killer identified, although I don’t doubt that she’d be pleased to know that the man responsible has since been caught.

I love how in-depth McNamara’s own investigation was, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that this case became something of an obsession for her.  I love her perseverance, her dedication, and attention to detail, even going as far as to purchase some cuff links which held a possible link to the case on the off chance that they proved relevant.

This is a fascinating account of one woman’s investigation into the Golden State Killer, and one that I highly recommend.

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

the body in the library

It’s seven in the morning. The Bantrys wake to find the body of a young woman in their library. She is wearing evening dress and heavy make-up, which is now smeared across her cheeks.

But who is she? How did she get there? And what is the connection with another dead girl, whose charred remains are later discovered in an abandoned quarry?

The respectable Bantrys invite Miss Marple to solve the mystery… before tongues start to wag.

I’m quite familiar with – and fond of – Agatha Christie’s little Belgian Detective, Hercule Poirot, but this is the first novel I’ve read to feature Miss Jane Marple, probably Christie’s second most famous creation, and another sleuth to feature in a series of novels.

One thing that did strike me about The Body in the Library is how little Miss Marple actually appears in it.  She’s there, and more so in the latter part of the novel, but so much seems to happen when she’s not on the scene, or so it seemed to me, at least.  Being of its time, I suppose it’s to be expected that even though the investigating officers are happy to make use of her skills and deductions, they may be less likely to involve her so overtly as they do Monsieur Poirot.  It may be a quirk of this novel, of course, as it takes place over a variety of locations.

I liked the difference in the approach of Miss Marple and Poirot.  While Poirot – with all of his quirks and foibles – uses the evidence and his infamous little grey cells to make deductions as to whodunnit, Miss Marple seems to rely more upon an understanding of people and psychology, although that’s not to say that she doesn’t have the same powers of observation as Poirot – she proves very quickly that she does.  The plot of The Body in the Library is no less complex than any of her other novels I’ve read, although I did have an inkling as to whodunnit, although their exact motive escaped me.  I expect that this was more luck than judgement on my part if I’m being completely honest!

I did get rather annoyed by the repeated use of the word “spinster” to denote an unmarried woman of a certain age.  Again, I suppose that it’s of its time, but it seems odd to me that this is the first word that springs to the mind of many characters in describing Miss Marple, even acknowledging when it was written.  Since completing it, I did wonder if this was Christie’s way of poking fun at society, pointing out that such a person as Miss Marple should not be so quickly dismissed, but maybe I’m just trying to justify an element of the text that irked me.

Recommended if you enjoy Christie’s work.


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