Friday, 17 February 2012

Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow - Richard Wright (Shroud, 2010)

You need, I think, to have a minimum of two strings to your bow to be a really good writer.  A great sense of character allied with an ear for dialogue, say, or a strong plot element combined with a vivid imagination.  Richard Wright, thankfully, has all four of those plus a couple more besides.  He's done a couple of excellent stories for Obverse Books and, as the back cover blurb by Steven Saville says, he is a bit of a hidden gem.

The Nymphs of Krakow (from Shroud Publishingneeds all his skills, not because it's a poor idea but because it's the final book in a five novella series and if there's one thing I really can't be doing with it's clunky and intrusive exposition (that - and the fact it seemed to have been written as a joke by an idiot in crayons - killed Hawaii 5-0 for me just last week, for example - but I digress).  Instead of that, all the information the reader needs bleeds into the book - almost literally, at times - and the story is left to run at its own natural and enjoyable pace.  The dialogie is snappy, the various Big Bads intriguing and unexpected, even when they seem to be fantasy cliches, and the finale has a nicely ambiguous feel to it.

Don't get me wrong - this isn't War and Peace.  It's an 80 page adventure novella in what fans call 'dark fantasy' or 'urban fantasy' or something like that.  But instead of being the usual teenage wibbling about torture and eating babies and a guy working down the chip shop who swears he's Cthulhu, this is a driven narrative in which sundry plot strands are tied together, various characters get their comeuppance or otherwise, interspersed with some exciting and very well written set pieces.  There's a darkness at times - the fate of one errant river God gave me a chill, for a start - and Hiram Grange himself is an interesting soul, even if he has rather too many little quirks for comfort for me (using only a Webley revolver is fine, but all the stuff with the absinthe?  As bad as Morse and his real ale - chracter created by check list).  But Grange isn't Wright's character, so he can hardly be blamed for that.

In the end, this last story was good enough to make me seek out the first four.  Can't say fairer than that.

(In other news I listened to the Doctor Who audio 'Curse of Davros' in the car on the way to and from work over the last few days.  Let's just say - to use a phrase currnetly much in fashion - it's not my favourite Big Finish release).

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