Iain Banks Doubleheader | October 15, 2012

Banks, Iain. Stonemouth. Pegasus Crime. Oct. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9781605983820. $25.95 F

Stewart Gilmour returns to his hometown of Stonemouth, Scotland, to pay his respects at the funeral of a local patriarch. What should be a simple visit has to be negotiated with one of the two local crime families, a family that Stewart was a week away from marrying into when he skipped town five years earlier. With a weekend to kill before the funeral, Stewart endangers himself by questioning the circumstances that forced him to leave in the first place. This novel begins with all the elements of a good noir: a protagonist in over his head, a moody setting, and an atmosphere of danger. But about midway through, the plot begins to meander, and instead of remaining a taunt thriller or mystery, the novel ends up more as a love story and a meditation on returning to one’s childhood home. VERDICT Although well written, the story seems confused about what it wants to be. Banks’s (The Wasp Factory) latest is mildly recommended for fans of gritty European fiction, but fans of crime fiction and noir will likely be disappointed. [Banks also writes speculative fiction as Iain M. Banks; his latest Culture novel publishes this month, see below.—Ed.]—Pete Petruski, Cumberland Cty. Lib. Syst., Carlisle, PA

Banks, Iain M. The Hydrogen Sonata. Orbit: Hachette. Oct. 2012. c.528p. ISBN 9780316212373. $25.99 SF

Banks’s latest Culture novel (after Surface Detail and Matter) is about the search for a 9800-year-old man. The hunter is a young musician who lives in ­Girdlecity, a sculpted city that wraps around an entire planet. She’s added a second pair of arms to her body to play that famously difficult instrument, the elevenstring. Her people are preparing to Sublime—to leave this universe and translate en masse to another, body-free plane of existence. Their holy book urges them to do this. The book always proved true in the past, but what if it is a hoax, foisted on them eons ago by alien tricksters? The 9800-year-old man may know the answer, but first she has to find him. VERDICT Banks’s novels set in the alt-universe of the Culture are richly peopled with sentient beings, from energy people to ship Minds to all kinds of humanoids, insectoids, and what have you. No matter how exotic a detail, as Banks describes it, it’s credible. And his stories grab your attention. Of interest not only to sf fans but also to lovers of good prose and plotting. [See Prepub Alert, 6/13/12; the author also writes noir fiction as Iain Banks.—Ed.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA