Dr. Siri Paiboun by Colin Cotterill

The initial disclaimer: ‘Dr. Siri Paiboun’ is actually the name of the mystery series’ protagonist, not the title of any of the mysteries.

Dr. Paiboun has been roped into serving as Laos’ only coroner after the wars ended in the mid-1970s, and he isn’t happy about it. He’s seventy-two, and he was looking forward to a quiet receding into a retirement of calm contemplation and very little action at all. No such luck.

Instead, he gets to deal with being the only coroner in a nation with little technology (even for the mid-seventies) much less things like a reliable constant power grid, and a non-corrupt political structure. The politicians who govern the coroner’s office have no medical training and very little in the way of intelligence or education. This is not forensics or autopsy technique that would be recognized by any European or North American coroner’s office of the time; no Kay Scarpetta, Paiboun hasn’t even a scale designed to weigh the bodies, or a bone saw. Given the local climate, they’re lucky to have refrigerated storage for the bodies. He has one nurse, Dtui, and one assistant, a Mr. Geung, who though he has Down’s Syndrome does serve the coroner’s office well, given that his prodigious memory retains all that Paiboun’s predecessor did prior to swimming the Mekhong with an inner tube some months before Paiboun’s appointment at the beginning of the series.

If there’s such a thing as a cozy police procedural series, this is it, although I’m sure there are many who’d niggle that definition! I’m using it in the sense of a series with a protagonist who is not a detective or affiliated with the established law enforcement government agency which investigates suspicious deaths—your choice of official here. (local police force, FBI, immigration, whatever) In fairness, a government coroner is far closer to ‘connected with established law enforcement’ than most of the cozies out there. Strictly speaking, the ‘Siri Paiboun’ series is closer to a police procedural than a cozy, as the protagonist is an official government agent affiliated with law enforcement, and the story lines themselves do involved criminal forensics.

On the plus side, for me, Cotterill’s picked someone who would quite plausibly encounter dead bodies which became that way under mysterious or suspicious circumstances: the national coroner. The minus? Cotterill isn’t actually a member of one of the groups indigenous to the region…in fairness, that may or may not be an issue, but I know some people get ruffled about cultural appropriation. In that case, I would make the polite request “Suggest a mystery author who does so belong AND who writes in a language I can read.”

Overall, I liked the series well enough to come back and voluntarily read a second—not the case for many mysteries I’ve read in the last couple of years. There are flaws, of course, but I’d chalk those up to The Coroner’s Lunch being the first in the series. I read two in the series, the first (The Coroner’s Lunch) and the eighth (Slash and Burn), and both revolved largely about life in a war-torn nation, piecing life together and trying to feel your way forward in a job that no one else has and a career that the protagonist expected would be over by now.

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron

Jean Patrick Nkuba is a gifted runner, talented enough to aspire to the Olympics. Unfortunately, this is the late 1980s and early 1990s in Rwanda, and Nkuba is Tutsi1.

With that achievement, he would be able to drag himself out of the morass that is his country and the prejudice the majority population, in control of the government and politics, have used to quash his people. Raised by a father who held firmly to a belief in equality, the child Nkuba is not prepared for the overt hatred of Hutu for Tutsi he encounters after his father’s death. As he grows, his running improves with the training he receives from his coach. He must, however, make compromises with his background and beliefs in order to achieve the freedom of movement necessary to compete in races throughout Rwanda and in neighboring countries, chiefly among them a false identity card listing him as a Hutu. A thread running through the book, not surprisingly, is Nkuba’s struggle with whether he should be clear about his Tutsi heritage in the face of a government which cannot decide whether he should be held up as an example of how open-minded it is about minorities or squash all the groups which it does not wish to allow.

Further complicating matters is Nkuba’s love for a girl whose father is one of the country’s Hutu activists; their relationship deepens and they become lovers. As the Hutu attacks on the Tutsi rise and the country, Nkuba’s dreams of making the Olympics fade. Alas, his beloved Bea is caught in an attack which he believes her dead and he emigrates to the United States, where he continues his college education. Some years later, he discovers that Bea survived, and returned to Rwanda to track her down; they meet, and although he discovers that Bea has their daughter, he returns to the country which he believes will provide him the opportunity he wants rather than remain in the home that he loves with the family and people who’ve supported him.

Running the Rift is worth reading and I’m glad there are such books available; it strikes me as a thoroughly sympathetic novel about what it must have been like for the Tutsi through the 1990s in Rwanda, and it’s well written and researched. I recommend it for Americans, especially those who aren’t familiar with recent Rwandan history, as it includes a fair bit of social commentary woven into the text: the international response to the upheaval in Rwanda was to pull their own nationals out of the country.

Please do not regard this as a criticism of the book; I include it just as a note for any readers who have issues with possible cultural appropriation: the author is a white American2, though (and this is NOT damning with faint praise), she is herself a long distance runner, which I’d bet allowed her to better describe Nkuba’s training. Rather, this is why Americans might want to read Running the Rift; it brings up some uncomfortable points about why the United States didn’t do more to intervene in Rwanda.

1For people who didn’t pay attention, Rwanda went through what I’m going to briefly and euphemistically call a devastating genocide in the early to mid-1990s; during this, the Hutu majority, which at the time held political power, killed a significant portion of the Tutsi minority.
2same goes for Nancy Farmer’s book, A Girl Named Disaster: good book by a knowledgeable and sympathetic author, which I liked, but I wonder what the locals might have to say for themselves.

The Grey Horse by R.A. MacAvoy

It’s a typical day in Carraroe: grey, soggy, and windy…but green. Anrai O Reachtaire1 is walking back from delivering back to its owner a horse he’s trained. A bit out of puff—he’s no spring chicken—he pauses to investigate an unfamiliar grey horse, standing loose up atop a rocky outcrop. Despite the horse’s lack of any tack or gear, Anrai ends up attempting to ride the creature, though it turns out that the horse is in fact the one with an agenda.

He’s a puca, in this case one which takes the form of a grey horse, and he’s fallen in love with the daughter of the local shipping magnate, herself no kin to the magnate but rather half fay as a result of her mother’s misguided love affair. In proper mythological style, Ruari give Anrai the ride of his life, tricky but without real malice, and delivers him safely to the doorstep where Anrai’s wife, Aine, has been keeping the pig’s trotters and mash warm on the back of the stove. Here, Ruari explains that he needs, not money or a job as such but rather the umbrella of Anrai’s respectability in order to persuade the object of his desire that he is a worthy husband of her.

This first thread of the book follows this puca as he establishes himself in the human society and woos his Lady Love, but given the time and place, it should come as no surprise to readers that there’s a considerable political (for the sake of brevity) subcurrent. Ireland at the time was a land of absentee English landlords, many of whom rarely if ever set foot on their estates; the local laird, however, is one Blondell who pays at least lip service to the lands which produce his income, and indeed genuinely believes that he does have an affection for his tenants which is reciprocated3.

The primary story arc culminates with the steeplechase between the English rider and English Thoroughbred stallion, and the Irish rider and “of unspecified ancestry” stallion; at the race’s end, Anrai and the foolish English stallion have both killed themselves with the effort of the race. After tying up the threads more or less as one would expect (Maire and Ruari marry, Seosamh and Eibhlin get what they deserve…) we get an epilogue, set fifty-odd years later during World War II, with an agent of the Inland Revenue Service coming to track down the MacEibhir family as they have not paid their taxes for several years running. The investigation comes to naught, as so far as the agent can tell, the family (father, mother and three sons) have vanished without a trace; it is no fault of his own that perhaps “into thin air” might have been a better description…

If you prefer modern writing styles, or fantasies that involve medieval settings and lots of swords, this is not for you. If you like horses but think that a pleasant afternoon involves climbing aboard a pre-groomed pony for a pleasant trot around a pre-groomed trail, this is not for you. If you like gentle romance, but think that love is only for the young, and beautiful and fortunate…also not for you. (The English, human or equine, don’t come off terribly well either; they’re pretty much across the board foolish at best and at worst, neurasthenic, nervy, over-bred, and tending to bad habits thereby, such as cribbing and attempting to be friendly with the people whom they subjugated a generation or so before.)

If, however, you think that love ought to be for a lifetime, and that a proper afternoon with horses involves getting sodden, bog-spattered and coated with hair and sweat..definitely for you2. Keep in mind, however, that despite being a romance and a fairy story, this isn’t entirely a romantic tale. Set in the late nineteenth century, “decimated” is still a fairly accurate way to describe the land when the book is set. As with Tea With the Black Dragon, there is an elderly couple, for whom love still blooms despite their hardships, but here there is considerably more political subtext here than in MacAvoy’s previous books. The population is still noticeably reduced from the starvation and emigration resulting from the potato blight, and anti-English feeling is running high, to say the least, among the locals. There’s a fair bit of sub-plot involving the political machinations of the local populace.

Ultimately, I suspect that this will be no more than mildly entertaining “beach and bathtub” reading for a good many people, but it may prompt a few readers to delve deeper into Irish mythology than Riverdance or deeper into its history than “The Troubles”. If you liked MacAvoy’s writing style, start with Tea With the Black Dragon or her Damiano trilogy.

1I apologize: I’m going to butcher the spelling…
2Certainly I appreciate horses that are allowed to behave like horses. None of this “Noble Beast” stuff. They sweat. They snort. They have neuroses. And so on.
3Stop laughing. I’m sure the white landlords thought the same of their sharecroppers in the United States.

The Terror by Dan Simmons

Arctic and Antarctic exploration isn’t exactly a walk in the park even today, with all our modern equipment, from motor oil designed to continue lubrication in below-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures to nutritionally complete, long-lasting foodstuffs. However, at least those modern explorers and scientists know that, should they be lost in the frozen wastelands of the Polar Regions, their remains will be located and returned to surviving (and mourning!) family members. This was not always so in the Golden Age of Exploration…and that’s at the heart of Dan Simmons’ The Terror.

In 1845, Sir John Franklin departed England in search of the Northwest Passage, a theory propounded by geographers and scientists of the day to the effect that there was a navigable passage up and over the top of what is now Canada1, and a geographic phenomenon most earnestly sought by the economic forces of the day for a variety of reasons2. No one from this expedition was ever seen again in their homeland. Their last confirmed position was near Beechy Island, though they almost certainly made it to King William’s (Is)Land.

In theory, Franklin and his backers did everything right. The commander of the expedition and the two men captaining the ships had considerable years of experience in polar exploration between them, not to mention maritime skills gained through a lifetime. The ships used, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, had been taken down to the Antarctic by James Ross a few years previously, and had in the interim been reinforced with iron sheathing and cross-grained wood planking to resist crushing in the pack ice, outfitted with steam engines and rudders that could be retracted into iron-sheathed protective wells to avoid being themselves being crushed in the shifting ice. The expedition brought three years’ worth of canned, dried and salted provisions for what was intended to be no more than a two year long expedition, not to mention each ship had a library of over 1,000 volumes with which it was presumed the crew could amuse themselves during the inevitable periods of being trapped in the ice.

Only of course it didn’t work out, and we’ll never be quite sure why. There are a few plausible real-world issues that contributed to the loss of both ships and all the men. All the problems that plagued previous expeditions worried at the heels of this one: inadequately equipped for a hostile climate, inadequate clothing, inadequate nutrition, inadequate transport, and so on. In this particular expedition’s case, however, their food and water supplies were almost certainly (and quite literally) stacked against them; not only were the supplies of drinking water piped through lead conduits, the canned food had been prepared in haste by a supplier himself inadequately prepared to provide such a large order, and the modern guess is that as a result, the cans were not only poorly sealed (with lead welding, yet), they were also contaminated with silent botulism.

Dan Simmons has put forth a theory of his own: a supernatural creature, inexplicable and unstoppable, that is prowling around the ships in the dark. All the crews of the two ships know is that it is vengeful and is somehow related to the mutely tongueless Inuit woman they found on the ice, with a similarly voiceless older Inuit man. As that second winter, the first off King William Sound, progresses, the creature encroaches further, the ice presses closer and the darkness is increasingly oppressive….and I’ll stop there. Gotta leave some suspense for anyone who hasn’t read this book but intends to.

The short version of my take on the novel is that Simmons could have left out the supernatural/religious element entirely, and it wouldn’t have adversely or even appreciably affected the novel3. Aren’t prowling polar bears enough? I don’t mind supernatural elements inserted into what would be otherwise a prosaically mundane work, if it’s done well and is made a critical component of the new work; I loved Simmons’ Drood. Even the suggestion that some of the crew members might have joined up with the local Inuit is not entirely implausible. It wouldn’t take much of a leap for the cleverer and more open-minded crew members to realize “Hey, if we make nice with this group of people that is not only surviving but thriving where we are dying, maybe we too will survive?”

That said, I’d still heartily recommend the novel to anyone interested in reading a well-written description of what it might have been like on that doomed expedition. Just skip the bits about the phantom whatever-it-is. Having read non-fiction about the Arctic (and Antarctic) exploration over the years, not least Fergus Fleming’s Barrow’s Boys and Ninety Degrees North, Simmons did get the historical part right, so far as I can tell. Even today, we have no real idea what precisely happened to Franklin’s expedition, though I believe modern scientists have found some traces of the Erebus and the Terror, but now as then, the basic assumption is “missing, presumed dead”.

1In fairness, there is a sea route twiddling through the islands scattered north of continental Canada. In the main, however, it is not navigable by anything larger than an umiak for more than about thirty seconds during a heat wave in August.
2While there was a certain element of the “Because it’s there.” drive that motivated all those European expeditions up Everest, seeking a trade route more convenient that slogging all the way down around Tierra del Fuego served as a more pragmatic reason. Of course, the Panama and Suez canals have obviated much of that…
3It’s not Simmons’ fault that I can’t help wondering why the British Navy kept giving their ships names like Erebus, Hecla, Fury and Terror. You’re going to the polar regions for Pete’s sake. Wouldn’t names like Tranquility or Tahiti been more cheering?

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

For those who’ve somehow missed four books, five movies and quite a lot of hoopla—perhaps you’re living under the rock next door to the rock where all the people who missed Harry Potter have congregated—here’s the plot summary: Bella Swan is moving from the greater Phoenix area up to Fork, a bitty little town on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Her parents are divorced, and her mother is now remarried to a minor-league baseball player who’s considering shifting over to a team in Florida; it therefore makes sense for Bella to live with her father in Washington until things settle down for/with her mother.

Needless to say, moving from a large city in Arizona to a small town in rural Washington comes as something of a shock to our protagonist. Issues range from the continually dampish weather to the public library being so small. The fact that the high school has fewer students in its entirety than her own grade in the Phoenix high school is particularly worrisome…until she sees the hypnotically beautiful Cullens. Graceful and gorgeous as models, the five kids draw attention to themselves merely by breathing.

Other students warn her that they’re standoffish, and indeed Edward seems actively repulsed by her initially to the point of trying to switch out of the science lab class they have together. Until he flip-flops and begins following her intently. Unable to resist, Bella is sucked into his sphere of influence irretrievably, despite warnings from the Native American kid, Jacob, whose father has warned him about the dangerous Cullens.

In the course of this book, we find out many things about the vampires’ society; they’re physically superhuman, they sparkle in daylight, they never sleep, and more specifically, the Cullen coven is a bit unusual in that they refuse to drink human blood. Instead, they make do with animals. Their refusal to hunt humans makes them something of an outcast group among their own kinds, but being moral beings, they take the high road and remain isolated. Oh, and Bella smells absolutely amazing to Edward; to him, she has the One Perfect Scent Source of which all vampires dream. This means that she is destined to become his soul mate and life partner…at least for the short span allotted humans relative to vampires. She cannot bear aging faster than the One True Love of Her Life. He lusts for her scent. Therefore she concludes that he must make her One Of Them.

…and we’re set up for another three books.

As a budding editor, I spotted more than a few factual errors, of varying degrees of (un)factuality.
     1) Travel times mentioned in the book perplex me. Bella mentions a four-hour flight from Phoenix to Seattle; in my experience, it’s four hours between Chicago and Seattle by air, and Phoenix to Seattle is more like three hours, according to American Airlines. Later in the book, Bella is surprised that the Cullens manage to drive from Forks to Phoenix in less that 24 hours. Well, if you’re a normal human being, sure: of course it will take three days to drive that distance, what with pit stops and eating and sleeping and what have you. If, however, you’re a speed freak supernatural being who doesn’t need to eat or sleep or pee, Seattle to Phoenix overnight is perfectly doable.
     2) The Cullens have moved to this part of Washington because it’s raining or cloudy all year ’round. Possibly, but only if the Olympic Peninsula has drastically different weather patterns from the rest of Western Washington and northern Oregon. The general weather pattern is, as I recall, permacloud for most of the winter and much drier weather during the summer.
     3) There are typos of the sort that a human can catch but a computer won’t; there are a lot of homonyms that are real words, but not the one the author intended (‘naval’ piercing, e.g.). In this case, in order to limit the word count, the one I’m going to mention is moat/mote. The first one is a channel dug around a castle as a protective measure. The second is a minuscule fleck. Those little specks you see dancing around in rays of sunshine? They’re the latter.

…and so on.

Additionally as an adult who reads a lot, I can spot several developmental editing issues, such as the flat characterization and lack of backstory suggested herein. I have to wonder a bit about Meyer’s presentation of the vampires; she’s not the first to suggest that they can go out in daylight, but remains a bit foggy on the details of why vampires aren’t entirely nice to be around. Instead, her vampires come out being more superhuman than frighteningly supernatural, with no real drawbacks.

Others have touched on Edward’s possible pedophilic behavior—he may look seventeen but he’s actually over ninety, and unless vampires are frozen mentally and psychologically at the age they were when “changed” in addition to physically, he’s considerably older than she. I’d add to that the fact that at even half Edward’s putative age, the idea of returning to high school is a repellent one to me. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back! In fairness to Meyer, I don’t remember any other authors mentioning practicalities that she leaves out: wouldn’t the kids need transcripts and immunization records from their previous “school”? how do you explain to the DMV that you look 28 but were born in 1640? and for that matter, how about Social Security numbers?

…and so on.

What to read next? If Twilight was just right (and I know there are a lot of people who think so!), try Maggie Stievater’s books in the “Shiver” sequence, especially if you’re a ‘Team Jacob’ kind of girl. For those who want something from the adult section, Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches (and its sequel) might be a good place to start; they’re similar in many regards, though Harkness’ book is a bit more complex, being intended for adults. If you still like vampires after reading this (or any of the books in the series) but find the language a bit simplistic and the characterization flat, try Anne Rice’s “Vampire” books”. Another possibility, if you find these too SRZ, are S.P. Somtow’s The Vampire’s Beautiful Daughter (a stand-alone) and his Timmy Valentine books.

As for the Team Edward/Team Jacob split, frankly I’m neither. I’m Team Constantine.

I love vampires

Okla Hannali by R.A. Lafferty

There are not a few books, fiction and non-fiction alike, written about the Trail of Tears, from the European perspective and that of the Indians; while this may not be a groundbreaking work from either perspective, it’s a fun read, if I may use that term for a book about such a serious subject. Hopefully, I can describe it in a way that makes it sound worth reading, though that depends in no small degree on whether you like Lafferty’s writing style…he does have rather a distinctive one.

Hannali Innominee, a Choctaw, had the ill fortune (from certain perspectives) to be born shortly before things went west for the Indians, both figuratively and literally–it may be something of a surprise to anyone who wasn’t aware of Indian history in the U.S. to realize just how far east many of the tribes’ original territories were. Even when young, he was an important (fictional) figure in the Choctaw tribe, through his own talents and through his acquaintances. He might, however, have been not so acceptable to the more straitlaced among the whites or the Indians, as he ended up with three ‘wives’, each thinking she was the only one and the others mere servants.

The bulk of the book is Hannali dealing with his family and the world changing around him, trying to settle his Choctaws in their new and decidedly forbidding land, and the like. Over the years he becomes an unofficial leader among the people.

Like many, it tries to answer “How could the Indians let this happen to them?”:

Were the Indians somehow effete to let this happen to them? Were they less men than the white men? No. Man for man they were more man than the whites. But they were unarmed except for bow and lance, and the white man had rifles and courts and sheriffs and armies. Though the United States in the person of its President Andrew Jackson had announced itself powerless to oppose the states in their assaults on the Indians, yet its army was quickly available to put down any countermoves by the Indians against the states.

Part tall tale, part historical novel, Okla Hannali‘s an interesting twist on the Western genre, though I’m sure Lafferty’s not the first to write a Western from the Native American perspective. For those who’ve read Lafferty’s other works, this is something of a departure from the fantasy for which he’s best known, though the writing style will be familiar. Consider it a tall tale based on fact, if you will. Certainly he’s touched on Native American culture before, though all standard disclaimers apply: he is not himself a genetic member of the groups in question, being more or less of European descent himself.

“How was it go to be a child then?” Hannali’s son Travis asked him years later.
     “Everything was larger then,” Hannali would tell his son,”the forest buffalo were bigger than the plains buffalo we have now, the bears were bigger than any you can find in the Territory today you call that a bearskin on that wall it is only a dogskin I tell you yet its from the biggest bear ever killed in the Territory the wolves were bigger the foxes the squirrels were as big as our coyotes now the gophers were as badgers the doves and pigeons then were bigger than the turkeys now.”
     “Maybeso you exaggerate,” his son Travis would say.
     “Of course I do with a big red heart I exaggerate the new age has forgotten how I remember that the corn stood taller and the ears fuller nine of them would make a bushel and now it takes one hundred and twenty that doesn’t consider that the bushels were bigger then the men were taller and of grander voice the women of a beauty to be found nowhere today except in my own family the girls sang so pretty with voices they walked so fine when they carried corn they could soft-talk you like little foxes those girls.”

(and yes, the lack of punctuation is deliberate; Lafferty goes into some detail about how the Choctaw speak without apparent punctuation, and write with a punctuation that follows no known pattern of the Europeans.)

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama

Mr. Hyder Ali, recently retired clerk, has decided to open a marriage bureau to keep himself occupied and out of his wife’s hair. He and Mrs. Ali clean off their front porch–they are fortunate to have a house of their own with a bit of land around it–uncommon in many Indian inner cities.

While this may sound odd to acculturated Americans, for whom the dating service is the norm, and participants in same are looking for partners on their own behalf, a matchmaking service isn’t so far-fetched in India. Arranged marriages are serious business in India, where it’s still accepted that the parents will select a spouse for their children, dowries are still crucial to a girl’s marriageability and caste is still a dividing separation between groups on a par with religion. Standard procedure for marriage brokers at the time is to accept payment upon completion of a successful union, but Mr. Ali decides to reverse that business practice. He charges a much smaller up front fee and provides a list of possible matches from his files of potential candidates, from whom his customers may select possible candidates. After that, they’re on their own; he makes no guarantees other than that they will find someone. Well, the lists he hopes to have soon…and to his surprise, he does well.

Well enough that he soon has more business than he can handle, and must start looking for an assistant. Several applicants respond to his ad, but in the end it is his wife who strikes up a casual conversation with the young woman who proves right for the job…not to mention right for one of Mr. Ali’s clients, though inadvertently, by Mr. Ali’s own marriage bureau. As the story progresses, Aruna takes an increasingly central position in the book, at least equal to that of the Alis–her family, her concerns, and in the end, her love.

There are a few serious notes. The Alis’ servant confesses that her grandson has a brain tumor and the family is scrabbling to pay the hospital fees; in a land without health insurance as Americans understand it, this is a serious matter even if the family may take their child to a government hospital. The Alis’ son, Rehman, is arrested and imprisoned as the result of his political activism on the part of poor farmers whose land is being purchased at below market rate by a rapacious corporation; without other resources, these ill-educated farmers will have no other recourse or income once their farms are sold.

A very pleasant book to read; it is perhaps predictable–I guessed who was going to marry or reconcile with whom easily enough–but an interesting glimpse into a society strange to me by someone who is a member of that society. (not that people who aren’t part of what they’re writing about CAN’T create good accurate tales, mind. Indeed, sometimes gifted writers who are outsiders have the distance to better describe the alien society.) In many ways, it reminded me of Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Ramotswe series or perhaps more accurately Nicholas Drayson’s A Guide to the Birds of East Africa; there’s no mystery, but rather a romance at the center of this book. It’s a world in which the predominant cultures are very different from that of many (though not all) residents of the United States: clothing, cuisine, religions, marriage traditions, family structure.

While I would not compare it to Jane Austen, but rather Smith and Drayson, that should not be construed as dismissive! As with those two books, it’s as much an interesting peep into a strange place and culture for most Anglos in the United States as it is a sweet romance. Lightweight and uncomplicated, this is several steps above your average beach reading or chicklit. And he’s written sequels!