The Prohibition era is one of the most interesting parts of the 20th century. Gangsters like Al Capone were able to create an empire out of smuggling alcohol and earn a place in pop culture legend. Chicago became a haven for criminals of all kinds and the city is at the centre of Ray Celestin’s novel Dead Man’s Blues. Taking place during the 1920s, the book focuses on a brutal crime that involves the poisoning of several Chicago politicians. Jazz, murder and industrial innovation mingle together to create a story that pops with intrigue and excitement.
“I’ve worn a mask most of my life. Most people do. As a little girl, I covered my face with my hands, figuring if I couldn’t see my father, he couldn’t see me. When this didn’t work, I hid behind Halloween masks: clowns and witches and Ronald McDonald. Years later, when I went to Mexico, I understood just how far a mask can take you. In the dusty streets, villagers turned themselves into jaguars, hyenas, the devil himself. For years, I thought wearing a mask was a way to start over, become someone new. Now I know better. A mask doesn’t change who you are; it lets you become the person you’ve always been, the person you paper over out of habit or timidity or fear. Some people – people like me – have to try on a lot of faces before they find one that fits.”
The Aztecs were one of the most advanced civilisations in the history, but they also had a reputation for violence. Human sacrifice, death masks and sun worship are how many people remember them, and Dancing With The Tiger by Lili Wright puts Aztec and Mexican mythology at the forefront. When a looter digs up the death mask of Montezuma, it sets off a chain reaction that sees drug lords, crooked art dealers and archaeologists all vying for the same prize. At the heart of the story is a woman called Anna who believes the mask of Montezuma can help her family find redemption, but she has to beat everyone else to get to it in time.
Japan is known for its beauty and rich history, but the country has a dark side that isn’t explored as much as it could be. Japan’s seedy underbelly is exposed by Ryu Murakami’s In The Miso Soup, which focuses on the sex trade and Tokyo nightlife. Kenji, a young tour guide, takes an American tourist called Frank on a journey. But Frank is far more sinister than he appears to be and it’s not long before Kenji is dragged into a nightmare he wishes he could escape from.
Haruki Murakami is known for writing surreal fiction, and that can be seen in After Dark. Taking place in a single night, the novel focuses on Eri and Mari Asai. The sisters are vastly different to each other, but are connected by a sense of loneliness. After Dark stirs up a lot of emotions, with Murakami using various techniques to keep the reader guessing what will happen next.
One of my goals for 2018 is to read more widely, and that involves becoming familiar with authors from different backgrounds. I recently picked up An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro has established himself as a talented storyteller and I was drawn to the novel because of my fascination with Japan. The book features a post WW2 Japan recovering from its scars and looking towards the future.
The decay of civilisation has cropped up in several places, from Egypt to Rome. History has a habit of repeating itself and that’s the case with Firewalk by Chris Roberson. The supernatural thriller covers themes of decay and myth in the modern city of Recondito. It follows FBI agent Izzie Lefervre as she comes back to Recondito to deal with a case from her past. What starts off as an investigation into old evidence soon becomes a paranormal nightmare for Izzie. I was sent a free copy of Firewalk in exchange for an honest review.
It’s safe to say that Wonder Woman is one of the most recognisable superheroes in the world. As Princess of the Amazons, Diana is the perfect balance of strength and beauty. But how closely does she live up to the real life Amazons? This is one of many questions that are addressed in John Man’s Amazons: The Real Warrior Women of the Ancient World. The book takes the reader through the entire history of the women who became known as the Amazons, and the answers might surprise you.