Wednesday, 20 April 2011

‘Bitter Gold Hearts’ – Glen Cook (Roc)

You heard it here first; I totally give up on the whole thing about making ‘reading resolutions’ for the year, it never ever works. If you were around at the beginning of the year then you would have heard me give it the whole ‘I’m going to be so great at reading these particular books in 2011’ spiel and obviously not take into account all the other shiny looking books on the pile. We’re well into April now and my unofficial resolution to read more books by Glen Cook hasn’t faltered as such, mainly because it hasn’t actually got off the ground! As a quick aside, how are your reading resolutions going this year?

Glen Cook is one of those authors where I think I’ve got them pegged as writing one particular series, only to find that they are far more prolific than I ever realised. Cook certainly qualifies here and a series of his that I haven’t really read much of are the ‘Garrett P.I.’ books; tales of a private eye trying to make a living in a city teeming with elves, trolls and wizards. ‘Bitter Gold Hearts’ (sequel to ‘Sweet Silver Blues’) was my latest trip to the city of Tunfaire and it was a trip well made.

The residents of ‘The Hill’ are the most powerful of Tunfaire’s residents and the Stormwarden Raver Styx is pre-eminent amongst these. The Stormwarden is away though, fighting on the front in the Cantard, so what better time for someone bearing a grudge to finally make their move against her. Raver Styx’ son has been kidnapped and Garrett is hired in a consulting capacity to make sure that everything possible is done to make sure that he is returned. The switch is made and the son is returned; something doesn’t quite add up though and Garrett is determined to get to the bottom of things (even though some trolls with pretty fists would rather that he didn’t). When a corpse turns up on the scene, it becomes really clear that something isn’t right and Garrett is even more determined to get some answers. Those answers are going to involve even more corpses though...

I think that the main reason I tend to shy away from Cook’s work is that while the plot is generally excellent Cook doesn’t mince his words and chooses to tell it how he sees it, plain and simple. You would think that this is a good thing (and it is) but it can also make the story a little difficult to get into as you don’t have much of a sense of what’s going on in the background. I need a little bit of both to get a good feel for the book as a whole and Cook’s novels can sometimes feel a little disjointed in this regard.

Well, ‘Bitter Gold Hearts’ bucks a trend in that Cook gives his reader a little more insight into the city of Tunfaire and it’s people. I think it’s a good approach to take as the first book has already given us a little idea of who Garrett is; now we get to find out a little more about him by seeing the city he has to operate in. It’s not handled perfectly as there were still occasions where I found myself wanting Cook to open up and really wax lyrical about his world. It made for a refreshing change though and the book felt like its separate elements were not only working together but actually wanted to work together. Taking this approach didn’t make concessions to the flow of the plot either with a brisk pace being maintained just as it was in the first book.

One of my complaints about ‘Sweet Silver Blues’ was that the intuitive leaps made by Garrett felt like they were a little ‘too intuitive’ and designed to move the plot forward rather than actually cast any light on the case itself. These ‘leaps’ were bolted on and interrupted the flow of the plot as a result. I’m pleased to say that this wasn’t an issue in ‘Bitter Gold Hearts’ although maybe I just had a better idea of what to expect this time round...

The mystery that Garrett has to solve is intriguing enough to initially pique your interest and the constant drip feeding of clues maintains that interest nicely. Not only does everything fit together very neatly at the end (with a surprise or two that added a little edge to the proceedings) but Garrett has to take his time solving this one and that adds a little more impact to the plot. You get an impression of how much this is costing Garrett, both physically and mentally, and this leaves you in no doubt as to how tough the case is to crack. It’s interesting to see though that Garrett never loses his cool, no matter how tough things get. Cook is very much playing the ‘stereo-typical hard boiled P.I.’ card here but you’re left with the feeling that this nonchalance is a part of who Garrett actually is and that’s another reason to keep reading.

Cook appears to have laid his cards out in the first book regarding who Garrett actually is and you don’t get to find out an awful lot more here. There are hints though that while Garrett has a noble streak in him he’s capable of putting that to one side if there’s something that he wants, a woman other than his girlfriend Tinnie Tate for instance. You may not agree with who he is but you can’t deny that these slightly darker sides to Garrett’s character make for interesting reading and hint at the intriguing possibility of plot developments to come.

Glen Cook doesn’t quite escape the issues that made ‘Sweet Silver Blues’ tough going at times and you’re left thinking that resolving these issues isn’t really something that he’s interested in. ‘Bitter Gold Hearts’ is very definitely a step in the right direction though; another engrossing read that has me wondering why I don’t just make the time to tear through these books all at once.

Nine and a Half out of Ten


Spaz_OL said...

I didn't make any resolutions exactly, but did challenge myself to read 50 books this year. I'm way behind.

Salt-Man Z said...

I had most of the same problems with the first book as you did. As you found out, though, the books only get better.

Elfy said...

My resolutions aren't going too bad, although I'm not making inroads on my Must-Read Fantasy Novels list. I have however managed to knock a small hole in the TBR pile and I'm tracking to top last years 70+ books read overall.
I was never able to get into Cook's Garrett PI series, but I did enjoy The Black Company books.

Jackalwere said...

My resolution was to review 26 books this year, or 1 every other week. So far I'm right on schedule, but it looks daunting with several thick books in my queue. Just finished 1000 pages of The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, so at least that's one monster out of the way.

The Garrett P.I. books get better as they go along, until you get to Angry Lead Skies. That book is terrible and was possibly ghost-written by someone else, so I'd skip it. I haven't read the one after that yet.

What I like most about the Garrett P.I. series is Garrett's smart ass attitude in the face of being dumped on by the world. It's quick, light reading which is a good break from huge books with serious themes. And you know Cook is always good for a laugh or two.


Bets Davies said...

I felt--in the first couple of books, anyway--that Cook was manipulating the old hard boiled P.I. image with purposefulness and skill. I sort of liked his leaps of intuition. He's a kick ass P.I. As far as I know, we aren't, so it makes sense he'd be a few steps ahead. I like the way the clues were handled in both books. One thing that drives me up the wall with mysteries is when the characters have really obvious clues but continue to live clueless.

My book resolution was to not reread books so that I would read more new books. I have comfort books. When the world sucks, I return to them. So far it has been going okay except for when things suck.