OLD ENOUGH TO KNOW BETTER: AN ELDERLY LADY IS UP TO NO GOOD

Sometimes the very title of a book tells you exactly what you’re in for.  A great example of this is the new book, An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good, by Helene Turston.  It’s officially listed as an international mystery, but I would put it in the category of “quirky”, or even “black humor”, and if you have a taste for the unusual and see the humor in extremely dark situations, this could be the book you have to read next.

The protagonist of the book, Maud, is an 88 year old woman, living in what amounts to a rent-free apartment in Gothenburg, Sweden.  She acquired the apartment when she was just 18, when her father died, and learned in the process that sometimes very good things can result from what look like bad things.  She then went through her life, surfing the net and traveling the world, living alone and doing what she wanted.

Now she’s 88 years old, a retired teacher, the very picture of a fragile, elderly woman who might even be on the verge of dementia, the very last sort of person anyone would suspect of resorting to murder to get her own way, but of course, appearances can be deceiving.

Maud is easily annoyed. She just wants to live her life her own way, and if people would just leave her alone, she would be happy, but no, all these different people keep interfering with her and she has to take extreme steps to stop them.  Take the celebrity who’s got her jealous eyes on Maud’s free and spacious apartment. Maud has lived there all her life, and she is NOT going to let someone else take it away from her, no matter how famous the person is or was. And then there’s the lawyer upstairs who beats his wife and makes such a racket he’s going to ruin Christmas for Maud.  No way is she going to let this continue. And what about the young gold-digger who’s gotten engaged to Maud’s former lover? Clearly the little bimbo has to go, and Maud is just the one to get rid of her. Some antique dealer thinks he can take advantage of Maud just because she’s old? He’s going to get a big surprise, one he isn’t going to like.

Can someone who appears to be just a sweet little old lady get away with murder, not once but multiple times?  Read the stories contained in An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good, and you’ll find out.  If you’re heading towards an age when people start to underestimate you and assume frailties you don’t have, you’re especially going to enjoy this one.

 

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HALLOWEEN NEW HORROR READ: ALICE ISN’T DEAD

On the eve of Halloween, maybe you’re looking for a good horror book, and maybe you don’t want to read something by Stephen King (and of course not all his books are horror, especially lately), or something classic (though you still have time to read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, if you haven’t already).  Joseph Fink, one of the creators of the brilliantly strange podcast Welcome to Night Vale, and author of two Night Vale books, Welcome to Night Vale and It Devours! (both of which we have here at The Field Library, in case you’re interested) , is ready to give you what you need, with his new book, Alice Isn’t Dead.

Like the Night Vale books, this, too, is based on a podcast (under the rubric of “Night Vale Presents”), so if you’ve been listening to the Alice Isn’t Dead podcast, you probably have an idea of where the story is going, though this isn’t really a novelization of the podcast but a slightly different telling of the story.

Our protagonist is Keisha Taylor, who lived happily with her wife, Alice, a long-distance truck driver, until Alice disappeared. Torn by grief, Keisha searched desperately for Alice but eventually decided that her wife must have died, and went through the formalities of a funeral and grieving.  So far, a sad story, but one grounded in the real world.

Until Keisha starts seeing Alice on her television, not in the foreground, but somewhere in the background of news reports of accidents and disasters. She refuses to believe that she’s hallucinating, and sets out to find her beloved wife by taking a job with the same trucking company that employed Alice and driving around the country, searching for Alice.

During her trips around the country (as she admits at the beginning, this is a book about road trips, among other things), Keisha encounters the Thistle Man, a truly terrifying character, and gradually discovers that the trucking company she’s working for isn’t what it seems, either, and that there is a war going on between powerful supernatural entities taking place right here in rural America, under the very noses of the government, but unknown to ordinary people.  

This is, on one hand, a book about terrifying monsters and supernatural wars and massive conspiracies, which is classic horror stuff, but it’s also a book about some truly tough women and the power of love to overcome even the worst circumstances.  If you’re already a Joseph Fink fan (I am), or if that description sounds intriguing to you, come on in and check out Alice Isn’t Dead, just in time for Halloween.

BEFORE ANNE: MARILLA OF GREEN GABLES

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, is a classic, another of those books that many generations of readers (especially but not exclusively female) have enjoyed, a book that has been turned into movies, musicals, and television series (including the most recent Canadian series, Anne with an E).  It’s the story of Anne Shirley, an orphan girl with a huge imagination who is sent from an orphanage to live with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, sister and brother in their 50’s and 60’s. They had originally wanted a boy, and stern Marilla wants to send Anne back, but after a while Anne charms them both into keeping her around, and thereafter she has all kinds of adventures coming of age on their farm.  It would be difficult to add anything to Anne’s story (which had numerous sequels), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to come back and examine this beloved classic. One way is to consider the character of Marilla and try to imagine how she became the somewhat harsh woman she is at the beginning of Anne, and this is what Sarah McCoy does in her new book, Marilla of Green Gables. This is a risky undertaking; sometimes it works and you get a new insight into the minor characters of the famous work (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, for instance, which is just brilliant) and sometimes it’s a really bad idea and you find yourself wondering why the author of the new book didn’t just create his or her own character rather than trying to shoehorn another author’s character into this new story (I’d put March into that category, for instance).  Fortunately for us all, Marilla of Green Gables falls into the first, rather than the second, category.

Marilla, growing up in Avonlea, is a spunky, intelligent young woman who has ambitions and dreams and even the beginnings of a relationship with a neighboring boy (John Blythe; if that last name rings bells to readers of Anne of Green Gables, there’s a reason for it) when tragedy strikes her family: her beloved mother dies in childbirth, and Marilla, then only 13, finds herself stepping into her mother’s place in the household, taking care of her father and her brother, Matthew, and helping to run the family farm.  There weren’t a lot of options for girls in rural Canada in the 1800’s, but her late mother’s sister, Izzy, has made a career for herself as a seamstress in the city, and Marilla gets a sense of possibility from seeing her aunt’s life. She also gets involved in the wider world of politics, both the Canadian politics of independence from Great Britain and the abolition of slavery from the United States (remember where the Underground Railroad was ultimately leading).  As we watch Marilla develop into the guarded but full-hearted person we know from Anne, we also get to see the development of other beloved characters, including her taciturn brother, Matthew (who even gets a romance in this prequel; of course we know it’s not going to work out and that Matthew and Marilla will both be single and living together in their 50’s, but still, it’s good to imagine a Matthew in love), and her friend Rachel, not to mention John Blythe, father of another very important character in the Anne universe. The book gives life and fullness to the existing novels instead of trying to change the characters who are already so well known and loved.

The highest praise anyone can give to a book like this is to say that it’s worthy of its predecessors.  If you’re a fan of Anne of Green Gables, check out Marilla of Green Gables and enter Avonlea in a time before Anne, the better to understand and appreciate Anne’s world.

 

DON’T BE AFRAID OF SCIENCE FICTION: THE NEXT READING CHALLENGE CATEGORY

As many of you know, this year The Field Library is running a reading challenge in which we have a number of different categories in which people are encouraged to read, ranging from how-to book to cozy mysteries, from manga to books about natural disasters (yeah, we are deliberately all over the place; the goal is to get everybody to read outside their comfort zones).  Our latest category is “Read a Science Fiction Book”, and if you’re the kind of person who sees the words “science fiction” and automatically thinks, “not for me, that’s not my kind of book,” allow me to disabuse you of that notion and encourage you to try one of the many different kinds of science fiction books we have here at The Field Library.

Of course we have the classics, the books by H. G. Wells and Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein and the names you’ve probably heard many times before.  If you’re a fan of classic science fiction, you might want to check out one of our collections of short stories from the classic era, like Women of Wonder: The Classic Years: Science Fiction by Women from the 1940’s to the 1970’s, or Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, to add to your repertoire.

But what if you’re not into classic science fiction?  You still can find something in this category you’ll enjoy reading, because the category is so broad.

Let’s say you want something funny to read, something not too deep, something that will make you laugh aloud.  Try Space Opera by Catherynne Valente (reviewed here), or try any of the books in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams.  The destruction of the earth to make room for an interspace bypass is just the beginning of this very quirky and funny series, which leads us to the reason the earth was built in the first place and the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything (42, just for your information), not to mention the causes of the most deadly war in galactic history.  You get to meet the one-time President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (my favorite character), Marvin the Paranoid Android (immensely quotable), and a host of other bizarre creatures. Better yet, all the books are relatively short and fast reads, so you can devour them quickly. Oh, and if you saw the ill-conceived movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, don’t let that prejudice you; the book is so much better.

Or perhaps you’re more of a graphic novel kind of person.  There are some terrific science fiction graphic novel series, but let me point you in the direction of two that I particularly love.  There’s Y: the Last Man, by Brian Vaughn.  The premise is that all of a sudden, all male mammals in the world (including those in utero) died, with the exception of one man, Yorick Brown, and Ampersand, his Capuchin monkey.  An all-female society struggles to deal with the immediate chaos and the question of what actually happened and whether it can be fixed, with the probability of human extinction looming over them all. Filled with fascinating characters and a plot that twists and turns, the series keeps you turning pages.  Saga, also by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples, isn’t finished yet (and we all know my rule about not reading series until they’re finished, a rule that I have violated from time to time), but it is so wonderful I’m willing to wait for each installation. You might say Saga is a story of star-crossed lovers from different races which are at war with each other, and that is part of the story, but only part.  Alana and Marko shouldn’t have anything to do with each other, but they fall in love and have a child, Hazel (who grows up over the course of the series), and it seems as if everyone in the galaxy is out to get them for various reasons. Just describing the cast of characters gives you an idea of the breadth of the worlds Vaughn and Staples have created: a ghost babysitter, a giant cat that announces whether someone is telling the truth or not, robot people, amphibian characters, winged people, horned people, people who look like giant insects.  And all of them are characters, with families and politics and relationships and issues of their own.  Somehow the authors keep all the plot lines clear and ever-developing. The art is amazing, wonderfully visualizing the worlds and the people who populate them.  Try just the first volume and you’ll be hooked.

You can also get your mind blown by big concept science fiction, like Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, reviewed here, which talks about what the world would be like after catastrophic global climate change causes all the oceans to rise dramatically, focusing specifically on how New York City would deal with being partially underwater.  Or you could read Semiosis by Sue Burke, which I reviewed here, a book that follows generations of settlers on a world where the dominant intelligence belongs to plants rather than mammal-like beings.  

Or, if you’re not sure whether you’re going to find something you’ll like, try short stories.  One of the best ways to see what speculative fiction is all about is to check out what the people in the field think is the best stuff being written.  Try one of the Nebula awards compilations, or any one of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year collections, and you’re sure to find something that speaks to you.

In retrospect, maybe I should have narrowed the category down when I was setting up the challenge for this year, because there’s so much science fiction here at The Field Library, and of such variety, but that should just make it easier to test the waters, try something new and get a sense of how broad and wonderful the genre actually is.  Come to The Field Library and check out our display if you want some more ideas.

 

TIME FOR SOME CATS

As most people who know me know, I’m a cat person (though I like dogs, too), which is part of the reason why, in addition to all the novels about dogs (the mysteries of David Rosenfelt, for instance, and the Chet and Bernie mysteries of Spencer Quinn, as well as the books by W. Bruce Cameron, just to name a few), I’ve gone to some effort to balance the scales and get books featuring cats.  It just so happens that this week we’ve got two new books, both of which have cats as main characters. If you need a break from the ugliness of the world, may I recommend taking one of these books out?

The first is an international bestseller: The Travelling Cat Chronicles, by Hiro Arikawa.  Nana, the cat, has the crooked tail that is a sign of good fortune, and his life has been marked by good fortune since he was adopted as a stray by Satoru.  When his person takes him on a trip around Japan in their silver van, the official story is that Satoru is going to visit three old friends, but after a while it becomes evident that Satoru is looking for someone who can take care of Nana because he is no longer going to be able to do so.  Much of the book is written from Nana’s perspective, and the author obviously knows and loves cats to be able to give Nana a voice that any cat lover will find utterly believable. Japan, its countryside and its people, forms a major character in the book, and, while you have a strong sense that this is not going to be a book with a happy ending, still the relationship between Satoru and Nana is charming and moving, and makes this a lovely escape from the nastiness of current events.

The second is a sequel to last year’s Molly and the Cat Cafe, by Melissa Daley.  At the end of that book, Molly the cat had found herself a home in Debbie’s cat cafe in the little town of Stourton-on-the-Hill, and at the beginning of Christmas at the Cat Cafe, Molly is happily ensconced in feline paradise with her kittens and her person, but naturally things change, and, from Molly’s point of view, the changes are definitely for the worse: first Lidia, Debbie’s sister, moves in with her dog, Beau (much to the cats’ chagrin), and then, to make things even harder, Debbie adopts a new cat for the cafe, and people are starting to pay more attention to Ming than to Molly, leading to serious feelings of jealousy on Molly’s part.  But fear not, Christmas is in the air*, and Molly and her person are going to find some Christmas spirit to make everything work out.

If you’re a cat person, these are definitely the books for you, but even if you’re not, give them a try and you just might find yourself being seduced into looking at our furry friends with a different perspective.

 

*Yes, I know there are people reading this who will cringe at the very mention of Christmas when we haven’t even celebrated Halloween yet, but this is the time of year when the Christmas books come out, so brace yourself.

RETURN TO THE CLASSICS: LITTLE WOMEN THE NOVEMBER BOOK GROUP SELECTION

After a stimulating discussion of the effects of war on people, good and evil and other deep topics in our review of The Nightingale, the Field Notes Book Group voted for the book we’re going to be reading and discussing in November: the ever classic Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  Right before we voted for the book, I asked for a show of hands for everyone who has read the book in the past, and all of us raised our hands, though many people hadn’t read it in years (myself included; the last time I read it was when I was 12, which was a LONG time ago).

It’s not a book that needs much introduction, since not only has it been read for over 200 years but it’s been made into movies numerous times and (just to show that it’s still a big deal even in 2018) is currently both being made into a movie to come out in 2019 and the subject of a nonfiction book, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux.  Even if you’ve never read the book, you’ve almost certainly been exposed to one of the movies, whether with Katherine Hepburn or Elizabeth Taylor or Winona Ryder, and if you’ve read the book a long time ago, it’s always interesting to take another look, as an adult with different life experiences, at a book you read and loved as a child or teenager.  For instance, I want to see if I still, as an adult, think Amy is a totally annoying brat, or if I can find some way in which Jo’s marriage makes sense for her character.

The book group will be meeting on Saturday, November 17, from 11 to 12:30 in the Field Library Gallery, as usual, and we will have coffee and donuts to keep us going through our vigorous discussions.  Copies of the book will be available at The Field Library circulation desk probably later this week, so come in and pick up your copy and get ready for a blast from the past with the next Field Notes Book Group.

ONE WAY TO HEAL OUR BROKEN SOCIETY: PALACES FOR THE PEOPLE

I confess it: I’m a sucker for the big concept nonfiction book, much more than I am for other kinds of nonfiction.  You know what I’m talking about: the book that takes on the large issues with a twist, something I wouldn’t have considered before. I’m not really interested in the books that tell us we’re doomed and there’s nothing anyone can do (or there’s nothing anyone can do that’s remotely practical); my feeling is, if that’s the case, why even bother reading about it?  A recent book that offers fascinating and (at least to me) novel solutions to America’s problems is Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization and the Decline of Civic Life, by Eric Klinenberg, and I recommend it highly for anyone who wants to think about how we can make America work better.

Klinenberg starts out with a provocative scenario, a terrible heat wave in Chicago that resulted in a number of deaths in poorer neighborhoods.  The interesting thing was that two neighborhoods, in close proximity, with similar demographics (income level, ethnic distribution, etc.) had wildly different death rates.  Why did more people survive in one neighborhood than in the other? Asking that question led to deeper questions about resilience and what makes one neighborhood or one housing project work while another turns into a disaster area, and this brought him to the heart of this book, the question of what social infrastructure is, how it works, and how we can make more of it.

This is a book full of anecdotes and stories, not a lot of dull statistics.  The author begins with an easy and familiar illustration of what social infrastructure is, by taking us to a branch of the New York Public Library.  Now, I’m not going to lie: obviously I’m a big booster of libraries, and anyone who praises libraries is already on my good side, but he does more than just talk up all the programs the libraries provide. He demonstrates how a good public library is a place that brings together people of different social and economic classes, building relationships between and among people who might not ever have anything to do with each other socially otherwise. He then progresses to other examples, some obvious (when they’re pointed out) and some surprising, until it’s clear he knows what he’s talking about and the promise of his subtitle (and do all nonfiction books have to have subtitles?  Is there some kind of rule about that?) seems well-grounded and not an empty promise to sell books.

One of the more eye-opening chapters talks about the infamous “broken windows” theory of policing (you know, where bad actors see that things aren’t kept up and therefore feel free to steal, sell drugs and engage in other illegal activities without fear of reprisal, so therefore the police crack down on the small offenses to prevent the big ones from happening), and turns it around, focusing on the abandoned properties that are usually part of the initial supposition of the theory.  He studies neighborhoods where those abandoned properties are turned into community parks and gardens, and how that changes the whole feel of the neighborhood, lowering its crime in the process. This chapter was excerpted in a recent New Yorker issue, so it may sound familiar to you, but it’s nonetheless fascinating and very plausible.

The author’s agenda isn’t right wing or left wing, but very practical: he wants Americans to have a civic life again, and to be more resilient in the face of disasters or near disasters, and his ideas for how we can achieve these goals are backed up by evidence and seem extremely reasonable.  For a good read about important issues and a fascinating look into urban planning and how that impacts our lives, check out Palaces for the People.  You won’t regret it.

HOT NEW FICTION FROM BESTSELLERS FOR OCTOBER

October is a great month for bestsellers, and this month many of the most popular fiction writers have come out or are coming out with new books for your reading pleasure, all of which are here at The Field Library, ready to be checked out.

Of course, if you’re talking about bestsellers, you have to start with James Patterson, who never lets a month go by without releasing another book in one of his series.  This month, his new book is Ambush, in the Michael Bennett series. The book starts with a bang, literally: a crime tip turns into a setup and a police officer is killed. It should have been Michael Bennett, and he comes to realize, through a string of other murders, leads that turn out to be fake, and attempts on his own children, that the killer is someone who’s got a grudge against him personally, and who is willing to go a long way to get rid of Michael Bennett.  The plot twists and turns as Bennett tries to figure out who this unknown killer is and what his ultimate plan is, before he becomes the last victim.

Stuart Woods is another perennial bestseller with his Stone Barrington series, and his latest is Desperate Measures. In this book, Barrington meets a stunning woman who seems ideally suited to helping him professionally and possibly personally as well, but no sooner does he hire her than a series of disturbing crimes takes place, all pointing to the likelihood that she might be the next intended target. Barrington has to use all his skills and connections to protect the lady and discover who’s behind the attacks and what’s really going on.

In The Reckoning, John Grisham returns to the South for a twisting suspense novel about a surprising murder.  Set in 1946, in Clanton, Mississippi, the book’s protagonist is a seeming golden man, Pete Banning.  A World War II vet, member of a prominent local family, farmer, neighbor, and member of the Methodist Church, Pete seems to have it all, until the day he walks into his church and guns down his pastor and friend in cold blood.  Then, to make it more complicated, he refuses to say anything about the crime beyond “I have nothing to say.” His defense attorney, desperately trying to keep him from the death penalty, digs deeply into Pete’s history, from the jungles of the Philippines during the war to the intricacies of Jim Crow laws to an insane asylum, trying to find the answers Pete refuses to give for himself.

Michael Connelly has recently branched out from his Harry Bosch series to a new series, featuring Renee Ballard, working on the night shift in the LAPD.  In his newest book, however, to the delight of his many fans, he brings together the characters from both series. Dark Sacred Night starts with Ballard coming to her desk one night to find a stranger rifling through some old files.  The stranger is Harry Bosch, now retired but still haunted by one case from his past. Regulations require Ballard to stop Bosch from going through the old case files, but she’s the kind of person who can’t let things go herself, so after he’s gone, she starts looking into the case, which involved the brutal murder of a 15 year old runaway, and she’s intrigued enough to go to Bosch and offer to work with him to solve the cold case.  What could be more fun for a reader than seeing these two characters working together, especially when the case takes a dangerous turn that tests their growing trust in each other?

While you would expect a Stephen King book released at the end of October to be one of his horror novels, he takes a surprising turn in Elevation, his newest book, which is more of a thriller than a straight horror or supernatural novel. The protagonist is Scott Carey, living in Castle Rock (scene of many of King’s books and stories).  His neighbors, a married lesbian couple, have a dog that keeps defecating on Scott’s lawn, and Scott is engaged in a low level feud with them over this. He is also suffering from an odd ailment in which he keeps losing weight for no apparent reason, and he weighs the same no matter what he’s wearing or not wearing. He’s unwilling to go through medical procedures to determine what’s going on with him, but he shares his concerns with his family doctor, just so someone will know.  In the meantime, the lesbian couple is trying to run a new restaurant in town, but the town’s prejudice against a gay married couple is making this extremely difficult. As Scott comes to understand his neighbors and the prejudice they’re facing, he begins to find common ground with them. His strange affliction brings the town together in unlikely but moving ways, in a book that’s been compared to It’s a Wonderful Life (and how unusual is that for Stephen King!).

So follow your favorite authors right here to The Field Library and check out their latest!

NEW DYSTOPIAN WESTERN. . . WESTERN??

The kind of writer I admire is the one who’s not afraid to branch out.  Sure, it’s easy enough to keep writing the same series forever, with the same characters and similar plots, and it’s often very lucrative (consider the late Sue Grafton, for instance, a longtime bestseller, with her alphabet novels; consider Stuart Woods and Clive Cussler for still-living examples).  Sometimes people even continue writing books under those authors’ names long after their deaths (look at all the books in Tom Clancy’s series, or in Robert Ludlum’s, or Robert Parker’s, and let’s not even talk about V. C. Andrews), and while I can understand the motivation (money), to me, a writer who’s willing to branch out, even a little, gets more respect.  You have people like Walter Mosley, who have written mysteries, speculative fiction, and nonfiction, and you have people like Charlaine Harris, who is not content to rest on her laurels for the Sookie Stackhouse novels (the basis for the television series True Blood) but has branched out into other fields, including today’s focus, the realm of dystopias, in her new book An Easy Death.

An Easy Death takes place in a post-apocalyptic southwestern United States.  There is no U.S. anymore, not since the assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Great Depression.  There’s a number of smaller countries, including Texoma, where our story is set.

Lizbeth Rose, known as Gunnie Rose, is a mercenary gunslinger who has never yet lost a client, and so has an impressive reputation despite her youth.  After a particularly bruising job across the border, Lizbeth Rose is hired by a pair of Russian wizards to be their guide and protector as they search with increasing desperation through the border towns for a particular low-level magic practitioner who MAY be a direct descendant of the legendary Grigori Rasputin. What they don’t tell Lizbeth Rose is that they’re hoping this young man’s blood will cure the young tsar.

As the group begins its search, they are almost immediately attacked by various enemies.  Someone or something doesn’t want them to find this particular young wizard, and Gunnie Rose has to put her reputation and her life on the line to make sure she and her wizard clients can survive this mission.

Take a western with magic, a gunslinger working for wizards, a dystopian world that’s both recognizable and disturbingly different from the world we know, and add all the worldbuilding and  character development for which Charlaine Harris is justly famous, and you have a book that’s guaranteed to be a good read. The only caveat I have to offer is that it’s the first book in a series, and we all know my feeling about unfinished series (especially when there are cliffhangers in any of the early books), but we can pretend we don’t know that there’s any other books coming and enjoy this as a standalone.

THE LAST OF MURDERBOT

“I was having an emotion, and I hate that.”

You read a line like that and you know you’re reading yet another of the Murderbot Diaries.  Exit Strategy, the latest book in the series (and possibly the last one) by Martha Wells, brings the whole story arc that began back in All Systems Red to a satisfying conclusion. Delighted as I am (and you know I am) to have another Murderbot book to devour (I read it in a day), I’m still a little sorry to have finished it, not because it’s a disappointment (it is most definitely NOT a disappointment), but because now I don’t have any new books in the series to anticipate.

Murderbot has had all kinds of adventures since it last encountered the humans from the Preservation system in All Systems Red, including discovering the reason it thought of itself as Murderbot, the reason it destroyed its control system, and some incredibly bad shenanigans of GrayCris Corporation, which is now fighting against Dr. Mensah and the other colonists. In fact, under the guise of “negotiating” with the Preservation people, GrayCris has taken Dr. Mensah hostage, and it is up to Murderbot to get the damning evidence of GrayCris’ illegal behavior to Dr. Mensah and save her from whatever horrible fate GrayCris had in mind for her.  Naturally this would be much easier if Murderbot was an ordinary Security bot, but since it freed itself, it doesn’t have the same firepower as it used to have, but what it’s gained is cunning and the ability to tap into other bots’ systems and use them for its own purposes. Murderbot has now dropped the pretense that it doesn’t care about human beings or want to protect them; these humans are important to it, especially Dr. Mensah who freed it from its official servitude.

As has been the case throughout the series, the book is filled with action, fighting and plotting and escaping from danger and causing more danger. It’s a pleasure to watch Murderbot manipulate other computers and bots, and even humans, into helping it, as it puts into place “what I was designating as Operation Not Actually A Completely Terrible Plan.”  The real fun is Murderbot’s narration, a voice filled with snark and sarcasm and a certain charm as well.  Over the course of the four books, Murderbot’s character has developed and grown, and what started out as something like what would have happened in the movie Alien if the AI had had a heart and a real desire to protect the humans has now turned into a story about the relationship between robots and human beings, between human beings and corporations, and about the possibilities for change.

If you’ve read any of the (short!) books in this series, you don’t need me to tell you to rush out and read the last one.  And if you haven’t started with Murderbot (possibly because you’re following my rule of not starting a series until the final volume has been written), now is the perfect time to get out All Systems Red  and read all four straight through.

And, while I realize that the story arc has been wrapped up and justice has been done and the ending is quite satisfying, I can’t help but hope that maybe Martha Wells will add some new volumes of adventures to Murderbot’s saga. Such a wonderful character deserves more.