Book Review: Death, the Devil and the Goldfish by Andrew Buckley

Death, the Devil and the GoldfishDeath, the Devil and the Goldfish
Andrew Buckley
Curiosity Quills, December 2012
ISBN: 978-1-62007-125-0
Trade Paperback

Death has had enough. A pub in Ireland might have something to do with that, but still, he’s had enough. And the Devil is due for another sojourn on earth, his first in a few thousand years. One week outside the confines and agonies of Hell and he can’t wait. Being the Devil, he has a plan up his sleeve. I mean, why relax for a week when you can wreck havoc? He just hasn’t reckoned on the prophetic, telepathic powers of one goldfish called Jeremiah. The problem is, Jeremiah’s memory isn’t the greatest and…oh look, someone’s put a castle in his bowl.

I have to say, this book gripped me in the first page and didn’t let go until I found the last dizzying sentence. Anyone who can appreciate the sense of humour in the UK will love this book as it is delightfully hilarious with its absurd scenarios and the way everything flies in the face of logic. Admittedly, it was sometimes difficult to keep up with the story as it zigzagged from character to character but in the end, it was well worth it. The further on the story went, the easier it was to keep a hold on who was who and what they were supposed to be doing, or in some cases, not doing. I quite liked the whole storyline with Death and his new friend Gerald, formerly a penguin but now deposited in the body of a former Olympic swimmer who met an unfortunate end via a bus and a driver called Dante. See what I mean about the British humour?

There are a lot of laugh out loud moments so whatever you do, don’t drink tea when you’re reading this book. A visitor to the house who was doing some computer work with my husband even asked me what I was laughing at since I kept disturbing them with my loud and unpredictable cackle. At one point, I checked what page I was at and realised that I had ploughed through almost 150 pages without realising. Imagine my disappointment when I knew I only had forty pages left which has to be a sign of a good read. This story is brilliantly funny with a host of characters that are interesting and have enough quirks to keep psychiatrists in business for a millennia.

If you get the chance to read Death, The Devil and the Goldfish, I heartily recommend that you do and judging from the ending and epilogue, there just might be another title coming our way. Lucky us!

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, February 2013.

Book Review: Frozen Solid by James M. Tabor

Frozen SolidFrozen Solid
James M. Tabor
Ballantine Books, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-345-53063-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The South Pole’s Amundsen Scott Research Station is like an outpost on Mars.  Winter temperatures average 100 degrees below zero; week-long hurricane-force storms rage; for eight months at a time the station is shrouded in darkness. Under the stress, bodies suffer and minds twist. Panic, paranoia, and hostility prevail. 
 
When a South Pole scientist dies mysteriously, CDC microbiologist Hallie Leland arrives to complete crucial research. Before she can begin, three more women inexplicably die. As failing communications and plunging temperatures cut the station off from the outside world, terror rises and tensions soar. Amidst it all, Hallie must crack the mystery of her predecessor’s death.
 
In Washington, D.C., government agency director Don Barnard and enigmatic operative Wil Bowman detect troubling signs of shadowy behavior at the South Pole and realize that Hallie is at the heart of it. Unless Barnard and Bowman can track down the mastermind, a horrifying act of global terror, launched from the station, will change the planet forever—and Hallie herself will be the unwitting instrument of destruction.
 
As the Antarctic winter sweeps in, severing contact with the outside world, Hallie must trust no one, fear everyone, and fight to keep the frigid prison from becoming her frozen grave.
 

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As much as I don’t like, i.e., really don’t like cold weather, I’m inexplicably drawn to books set in very cold regions and, since this one takes place at the South Pole, I was automatically interested. I also love science-related thrillers so I was really on board with this one. I’m very happy to say I was not disappointed in the least.

When Hallie Leland arrives at the research station, it’s supposed to be a temporary assignment—finish the work of her predecessor who died and get out in less than a week, before all travel shuts down for the winter. The work involves diving into a lake under the ice and retrieving samples of a lifeform called an extremophile, code-named Vishnu, that seems to have properties that could stop global warming. The scientist who had died, apparently by suicide, was Emily Durant, a friend of Hallie’s, and Hallie has trouble believing Emily killed herself.

Before her first day is done, other women begin dying in horrific ways and it becomes even more crucial for Hallie to figure out what happened to Emily. While all that is going on, Hallie’s friends in Washington, Wil Bowman and Don Barnard, are picking up on signs that a major terrorist event linked to the research station and Hallie’s work may be about to happen. She’s pretty much on her own, however, because there isn’t enough time for anyone to fly into the station before the winter shutdown.

Mr. Tabor has a strong hand with plot development but I was even more taken with the characters, both good and bad, and I love that the central figure here is a woman who is intelligent and physically fit but also aware of her vulnerabilities without being weak. I also appreciated the fact that the bad guys she’s dealing with are not obviously the bad guys. The plot device that sticks in my mind the most is a trek that Hallie has to make from an outbuilding to the main structure; it really brought home the dangers of such a forbidding environment.

There was one stylistic thing I wasn’t crazy about—a scene ends on a climactic note, the next scene has the person explaining how they escaped (example: when Hallie’s suit freezes up while she’s outside). I’d rather see the person escape than be told about it after the fact. Other than that, I couldn’t stop turning the pages and was hurrying to find out how this would all end but also rather sad when I’d finished. The science may—probably does—have some gaps but details such as what the temperatures and the enforced isolation can do are compelling. The South Pole is the setting but is also a major character.

One last note, a warning actually—don’t read the Kirkus review if you can avoid it as it’s full of spoilers and you’ll miss out on a lot of the tension and fun. In the meantime, I’m off to find the first Hallie Leland book, The Deep Zone, while I wait for the next one.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2013.