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Tim Davys – Amberville

April 13, 2009

39. Amberville by Tim Davys, translated by Paul Norlen (2007 in Swedish; 2009 in English)

Length: 343 pages

Genre: Mystery, I guess?

Started: 09 April 2009
Finished: 12 April 2009

How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 12 February 2009

Many thanks to Kevin Callahan from Harper Collins for sending me this book to review!

Stuffed animals who
drink, swear, and die. These aren’t toys
we’re talking about!

Summary: One day, Nicholas Dove, a local crime boss, breaks down the door of Eric Bear, a successful advertising executive with a checkered past, and demands the impossible. He’s heard rumors that his name is on the infamous Death List, and he wants Eric to find out if it’s true, and to remove his list before the Chauffers come in their mysterious red pickup truck and take him away. If Eric fails to do as Nicholas asks, his beloved wife, Emma Rabbit, will be torn to pieces. Eric must reacquaint himself with his buddies from his time in the underworld, and somehow find the Death List – a fact made much more difficult by the fact that no one is willing to admit such a thing even exists.

Oh, and did I mention? They’re all stuffed animals. Yeah.

Review: While the plot summary reads as though this is a straight-up hardboiled noirish mystery, it’s actually more of a treatise (the back cover uses the word “allegory”, which I’ll get back to later) on the nature of good and evil, life and death, and religion and society. However, none of the conclusions that Davys reaches are particularly profound – not that they’re not cogent, and not that I didn’t agree with him for the most part, but I’m not sure I got much insight out of this book that I didn’t get during my existential undergraduate phase. While the philisophical musings and the story didn’t always intermesh cleanly, both were interesting enough to keep me involved, and the writing itself was fine, adept at shifting narrative voice, and descriptive enough to give me a good feel for the world these animals were moving through.

Whenever I have this experience, part of me always wonders if the points that are being made are actually just *so deep* that I didn’t get them, philistine that I am. Because in this case, I know that I certainly didn’t get a large part of the story – the stuffed-animal aspect. If this is where the allegory comes in, I totally missed it. This story could just as easily have been told with humans, and because the fact that they were stuffed animals never really tied into the main point of the story, it wound up just feeling gimmicky. An effective gimmick – it sounded original and cool enough to get me to read it in the first place – but in the end it didn’t quite have the substance to back up its initial claims. Ultimately, I think that sums up my experience with the book – it felt like it was trying to be original and edgy and deep, and while it wasn’t an uninteresting read, it never quite hit the mark. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: True fans of hardboiled crime fiction might appreciate the twist on the genre more than I did. For everyone else: if you come across it, it’s an interesting and relatively easy read, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to seek it out.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Amberville home page

Here’s the book trailer – effective, no?

Other Reviews: Fantasy Book Critic
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Early one morning at the end of April there was pounding on the door to Eric Bear and Emma Rabbit’s apartment on brick-red Uxbridge Street.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 287: “The bear was fingering a small etui that he had in his trouser pocket.” – a small, often decorative case, esp. one for needles, toilet articles, or the like
9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2009 9:45 pm

    Thanks for the honest review. I don’t think this one is for me.

  2. April 13, 2009 10:00 pm

    I like the cover. Looks like an alternate cover for Jasper Fforde’s The Fourth Bear :)

  3. April 14, 2009 4:41 am

    I am hooked by the stuffed animal aspect and sorry to hear that it felt gimmicky to you. I’m going to give it a chance because I like quirky books, and the author is Swedish!

  4. April 14, 2009 9:26 pm

    Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy this one more. I’ve been wanting to read it since I first heard of it. I will probably still try it, but I’m pretty sure the gimmicky aspect is what appealed to me in the first place :)

  5. April 15, 2009 3:59 pm

    bermudaonion – I tried to be honest, but I’m worried that I came off sounding too negative – I’m not sorry I read it, even if it didn’t entirely work for me.

    Lightheaded – It does, doesn’t it? Good eye!

    Lenore – Does being Swedish give him extra points for you?

    Joanne – Yeah, I was completely hooked by the trailer. Ah, well, so it goes. Hope you have better luck with it than I did!

  6. April 16, 2009 3:42 am

    Stuffed animals in a mystery? Well, I believe that’s a first for me!

  7. April 16, 2009 10:41 am

    Ladytink – I think it might be a first, period. :) (Well, for adult lit, anyways; I’m sure there are picture books with stuffed animal mysteries.)

  8. May 1, 2009 11:49 am

    You know what’s odd? I just read a short story with a very similar premise. (Stuffed animals, mob bosses, a teddy bear married to a toy rabbit… all that jazz). I’d read your review right after you published it, and I assumed the story must be a proto version of this book. But now that I’ve revisited your review, it seems that the two pieces were penned by different people, and the names of the protagonists are just slightly different. Hmmm. That seems a bit dodgy to me.

  9. May 1, 2009 6:07 pm

    Memory – It says on the back cover that Tim Davys is a psuedonym, so maybe they were written by the same person. Otherwise, very dodgy indeed.

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