The Leopard

leopardThe Leopard by Jo Nesbo is the sixth in the Oslo sequence featuring detective Harry Hole.

It starts with Harry on a massive bender in Hong Kong. He was going to Thailand but didn’t make it that far. He’s a mess, having rung up large gambling debts and indulging a heroin habit. Because that’s less of a problem for him than alcohol.

Back in Oslo, two women have been found dead with mysterious wounds to the face. The police are fighting a political battle for jurisdiction over murders with Kripos, who are responsible for tackling organized crime. Harry’s boss wants him back to solve the crime and to stick it to Kripos. He sends detective Kaja Solness to bring Harry back.

In turns out that there are more than two murders and the connection between them is not simple. Nesbo serves up several red herrings and twists and keeps the reader guessing right to the end. I loved this. The plot was gripping and expertly handled. There is treachery and intrigue amongst the police and the perpetrator was deliciously complicated. There are lots of threads and none of them are left loose at the end.

It’s in this book that it’s made most clear that Harry’s flawed character is the reason he’s an exceptional detective. Writers are urged to give their characters a flaw to make them human and enable the readers to identify with them. I think it’s true to say that most fictional detectives are flawed and that alcoholism is very popular as said flaw. In the previous books in the series, Harry’s alcoholism is treated in a fairly standard way. He’s an arse and he’s difficult to work with, he’s unreliable and unstable. But he’s a great detective by virtue of persistence and making connections others don’t, so his bad behaviour is excused in favour of his results.

In The Leopard, Nesbo shows how Harry’s flaw is the very thing that makes him great. His addiction is integral to his excellence. At the beginning of the book Harry is on a bender because of the impact his previous case had on him. He doesn’t want to chase serial killers again. He wants oblivion. Harry resigned from Oslo police but they bring him back. At first he resists but he finds he can’t help himself. He has to follow the threads, he has to work out what has happened and who did it. Harry is addicted to solving crimes.

For me, this is the best Harry Hole so far. I really enjoyed it.

A-Z blog challenge: C is for Character

A funny thing happened on the way to the end of my novel. I always thought I was more interested in plot and events and writing about the stuff that happens. Characters were just what events happened to, vehicles for moving the story along. My stories grew out of a scene and things developed from there. I thought the scene that inspired the story was about the event, about what was happening.

I realised recently that actually it’s the other way around. I was working on my novel, trying to get to grips with all the elements of it, and I realised I have loads of characters. I’m not sure where they all came from. And while I was putting them into my spreadsheet I realised that each one is quite fleshed out in my mind.

Thinking back to all the scenes that started the fragments of all the stories that are gathering dust on my hard drive, it wasn’t about the events at all. They are all characters searching for a story to be in.

So, weird place to be in. But good.

By the way, I thought a post on characters was a good opportunity to showcase the work of my talented cousin who painted the picture in this post. If you like it, you can see more of her work at her Deviant Art gallery.

100 Books in 2011 review: Dead as a Doornail

Dead as a Doornail is the fifth in Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series. In honour of the fact that there’s a review for each one on this blog I’ve created a new category just for these. (Having just done that, it appears I missed one. There’s no review for Dead to the World, which I’m sure I read, but I don’t keep books so can’t go back to it. Annoying.)

Anyway, moving on. When I started reading the Sookie Stackhouse series it was because I was really enjoying True Blood and I was curious to see how the TV series would be different to the book. With season 2, True Blood diverged quite a bit so it was not really possible to compare it with Living Dead in Dallas. There is one point that is still worth picking up.

That point is about character. Almost all of the supporting characters have greater depth in True Blood. I said that I thought this was a combination of first person POV in the books and the greater space for character development in the TV series. By book five, I’m beginning to wonder if that’s really what’s going on. The characters that have been in the books from the beginning are still quite thin, with the exception of Eric who is more real. It was notable in this book that the characters that are here for just this story are a name, a brief physical description and a tic or two. While the writing is noticeably more competent than it was in the first book, characterisation isn’t much better. Having read lots of first person POV books in the last couple of years (and having been paying attention to the writing) I don’t think that this POV necessarily leads to poor characterisation. Some writers manage to do it well.

What really rankled was the poverty of female characters. There was a lot about Sookie that made her a great female character to start with and I felt that some of this is becoming lost. Tara is Sookie’s best friend but she has barely any impact on the story. In this novel, it felt like she was only there as a plot device. The best friend relationship is never established except for Sookie telling us this. The two of them don’t seem to spend time together and Tara is not who Sookie goes to for emotional support. She is certainly not the intriguing, complex character that she is in True Blood. The same is true for Arlene. In Dead as a Doornail, Sookie is surrounded by various supernatural men who are desperate to get with her. They are literally lining up. Which basically makes this a book about a hot chick who has all the dudes after her and no meaningful relationships with anyone. Disappointing. And much less feminist than it was because it reduces Sookie to an object to be possessed.

Sookie’s feminist credentials also slip in terms of the plot of Dead as a Doornail. In Dead until Dark, Sookie investigates, takes action, and eventually saves herself and I loved that. In Dead as a Doornail, stuff is done to Sookie, she’s manipulated into participating into things, and other people save her. The plot is that someone is shooting shifters and her brother is implicated. Or at least, it says he is on the back of the book but I didn’t feel that came across particularly well. In fact, the culprit is a minor character who appears to have the red shirt role. At the end, I felt a bit cheated by the resolution of the plot.

In spite of these major problems, I did still enjoy Dead as a Doornail. It’s an easy read and not very long. It’s fun and undemanding.

The 15 fictional characters that have influenced me the most

Yay! Internet meme time! The latest internet meme that I have found is to list the 15 fictional characters that have influenced you the most. Tricky one this. I find it really hard to remember specific characters. You’re supposed to spend 15 minutes thinking about it but I spent an hour. Also, I’m not sure about what is meant by influential, have any of these characters induced me to think or behave differently? I don’t think so. Some of the lists I looked at seemed to just go for their favourites. So, I’ve gone for the 15 fictional characters that resonated most for me, in the order in which I remembered them:

  1. Elric
  2. Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  3. Sandor Clegane from A Game of Thrones
  4. Han Solo
  5. Roy Batty from Bladerunner
  6. Mendoza from Cities of Gold
  7. Aragorn from Lord of the Rings (the books not the films)
  8. Ivy from Soul Caliber
  9. Lara Croft
  10. Richard Sharpe
  11. Eleanor of Aquitaine (alright, historical rather than fictional, but any biography of a person that lived over 1000 years ago has quite a high amount of fiction in it)
  12. Red Riding Hood from A Company of Wolves
  13. Lisa Rowe from Girl, Interrupted
  14. Attia from Rome
  15. Eric Northman from the Sookie Stackhouse novels

So, stats.
7 women, 7 men, 1 male cartoon character
6 from books, 3 from TV, 2 from games and 4 from films

Who are the fictional characters that stayed with you the longest?

The problem of naming characters

I submitted a short story to Electric Spec yesterday (keep your fingers crossed for me!) and one thing I had to do to get it ready was re-name all my characters.

I have such trouble picking names. I’ve managed to get past it enough to write first drafts, on the basis that I can pick any name and fix it later. But then at some point I have to pick names for the characters that aren’t silly, obvious or cheesy. That’s where I struggle. I find it really hard to just come up with names, whether they are mainstream, fantasy or science fiction type names.

So what makes it so hard? Partly it’s because I think many of my original choices are derivative. I’m easily influenced by what I’ve been reading lately, especially if it’s Iain M Banks or something. And some times they are just naff sounding. I also tend to pick names that begin with R, G, S and T, and have either one or two syllables. There is definitely a lack of variety.

In the end I do get to change them and with the help of a few random name generators I usually end up with names I like. How do you all pick names for your characters?