Alien Stars by David Hambling

Series: Harry Stubbs #3 Rating: 4.5/5
Date of Publishing: January 13th 2018 Genre: fantasy, science-fiction, historical fiction
Format: Kindle Available: Amazon
Number of pages: 202 Author’s website: 

Blurb

London 1925: a grisly discovery in a ladies' rooming house sets ex-boxer Harry Stubbs on a new mission. An insidious alien force is at work, and the quest takes Harry from the lowest dives to high society, delving for occult secrets buried in the Horniman Museum and battling bare-knuckle with ferocious opponents. Harry's fighting skills and deductive prowess are put to the test, but telling friend from enemy is increasingly difficult and time is running out...a thrilling adventure where ancient mystery collides with 1920s science to the background of the Cthulhu Mythos

“Reference is the great, universal engine of the library, the powerhouse of raw knowledge. But literature—what you call imaginative fiction—is the embodiment of our wildest dreams. What is life for if you can’t dream? How can a man discover anything without imagination to draw on?”

– Mr. Hoade

Personal notes

I keep reading the Harry Stubbs series to break up all my dark fantasy reads. I don’t know what I’m going to do after book 4 while waiting for book 5 to come out. Last week was slow, mainly because I keep having some health issues the past few weeks, which doesn’t make it easy to read or even keeping my thoughts straight, so I’ve no idea how I’m going to give justice to Alien Stars, but I’ll try.

Song of the Book

I know it’s so cliché, but when I started to think about what song I should pick, two things sprang to mind: the theme song of Rocky from the first movie, when he rans through the city and celebrates at the top of the stairs. This movie came to mind mainly because Harry advises Skinner to have raw egg for his hangover and there is that scene in Rocky too. The second is Eye of the Tiger which I originally linked to the scene mentioned above. A quick search corrected me, although this song is on the soundtrack for Rocky III so I’m not that far off. Anyway, I like Eye of the Tiger and I think it fits, so this is my pick.

Review

First of all, look at the cover. I love it so much! Okay, I might be a bit too much in love in purple…

After the Roslyn D’Onston case, Harry finds himself employed by a rich man called Safford, and working closely with Skinner. They tasks are doing anything Stafford asks from them be it following people, leading an investigation, capture a gardener gone wild or finding an artifact Stafford seeks. The latter turns into a murder investigation pretty fast and Harry will need his intelligence more than his physical strength to solve the case. Which not means he doesn’t end up giving a punch or two of course. Our dear old Harry always finds himself in a situation where he has to fight wether to save his life or to help out a youngster. But Harry, being a simple, however not unintelligent man, needs some help if he wants to get to the end of things.

For starters he has Skinner as a partner, who is even more simple than Harry. Being an ex-soldier who is quite sour about his past, finds reading a total waste of time, thinks he is a Don Juan and has a cunning, cynical personality. Personally I found him quite unpleasant and insufferable for some reasons. Perhaps because of the way he has seen the world, dismissing things he thought were unnecessary, like reading or questioning his employer’s actions or orders. He is a soldier through and through who follows order and don’t ask questions, a bit narrow-minded and strongly believing in hierarchy. As Harry says about him:

“He had no very great interest in the wider considerations, whereas I believed that only by a careful accumulation of knowledge could we make sense of things.”

His biggest help turns out to be a librarian, named Mr. Hoade, who obviously loves his job and is pretty proud of the Dewy Decimal System – everyone who spent long hours in a library trying to find relevant books knows what a blessing it can be that libraries actually have a system which is easy to navigate and you don’t have to use those cards anymore. Regardless, one of my favorite lines came from Mr. Hoade:

“Reference is the great, universal engine of the library, the powerhouse of raw knowledge. But literature—what you call imaginative fiction—is the embodiment of our wildest dreams. What is life for if you can’t dream? How can a man discover anything without imagination to draw on?”

Hoade is quite fond of crosswords and puzzles, so he happily indulges himself in finding information for Harry be it about significant stones in different mythologies or any connection between Harry’s murder investigation and the Horniman Museum. One of my favorite parts in this book is where different cultures’ mythologies are mentioned and Hambling draws up a parallel between Astarte’s cultus, the stone in Mecca and Jacob who sleeps on a stone and gets a vision. A stone like that pops up in history from time to time and every culture has a different name for it, but in this book it is called baetyl, a greek word, which refers to a sacred stone thrown from heaven. Probably more like a meteorite – this gets a significant role in the story, so I’m not going to say more. Suffice to say, this story has an interesting scientific undertone to it. I’ll get back to this in a bit.

We also have an old-new friend as side character, Sally, who helps Harry and Skinner out where a sensitive, smart woman can be more effective than two rough men. Plus Sally feels obliged to help Harry after all the things he did for her in Broken Meats. I liked Sally, and I am curious how her story will continue – if we meet her at all later. I also have to mention Stafford, who although a prominent figure in the story, gets minimal role and only shows up when he feels like giving some information or needs Harry and Skinner’s help to solve a certain problem. He comes out as a spoiled rich man with an obsession for stars and something he calls his Saint Grail, and also paranoid. He hardly shares any more information than necessary to keep the investigation going on. My other favorite part is where he tries to explain how many stars are out there and how big the Universe really is while using an analogy with a broomshed, where the said shed is the Earth and as the person ventures outside realises how big the world – and the Universe – really is. And this leaves Harry in an awe:

“I scanned from horizon to horizon and tried to think what a million stars would look like. Even that many would not quite fill the heavens, but they would look like the sparkles on a sunny sea, all packed close together.”

Back when I read The Elder Ice, I found the language hard to digest for some reasons. Now that I’ve read the third book in the series I somehow grew to love not only the language but Hambling’s writing style too. It reminds me a bit of Ed McBain (okay, it really reminds me of the hungarian translation) from my teenage years when my dad introduced his mystery novels to me. Under his pen South London comes alive and you find yourself transported back in time. The scene with the fair really made me wish I was walking alongside Harry and Skinner, eating toffee apples, looking at the booths, enjoying the nice summer day. Hell, I’d like to go to a fair right now if we had any nearby.

And while the writing style and characters are spot on, I struggled a bit to wrap my mind around all the scientific explanations going on regarding the meteorite and why exactly did everyone want to get their hands on it. At some places explanations were a bit too cryptic or non-existent – for example I still don’t know how did Madam Hester got into the picture in the first place, or why did Stafford wanted this peculiar artifact. Although in the end we get an explanation for that, but it comes from out of the blue and it totally caught me off guard. The problem might have been that so many things were going on, that there wasn’t enough space for everything to get in place. 50 pages or more would have done some good in this case. Honestly, I’m still amazed Hambling can write such complex stories in such short books. Also, the info dumps never feel like info dumps. Hambling can write them in a way that they are rather interesting and it never even cross your mind that they are what they are.

Alien Stars while keeping to the historical fiction genre, ventures deeper into Science Fiction. It also draws more from different mythologies and waves them together nicely. Alien Stars still has that unique atmosphere the other books also had: the prose is flowing, the characters are alive, and London leaps off the pages. If you are looking for a mystery, a historical fiction or even a science fiction novel, you’ll get all three in one. If you haven’t already checked out Harry Stubb’s adventures, I really don’t know what are you waiting for!

Read my reviews of The Elder Ice and Broken Meats!

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