Thursday, February 25, 2010

Underground, by Kat Richardson - Photoessay

Something New
OK, so I've never done this before, but I just couldn't resist. This isn't going to be a traditional review - I'm going to just highlight Kat Richardson's genius at describing setting. Hopefully you can get a sense of what kind of book it is and whether you might like it from the snips.

There are books that could happen in any generic city anywhere in the world, or anywhere in North America, and it wouldn't materially impact the story. But for some stories, the setting itself is palpably a character, a critical element of the story. Underground is the second sort of story.

To make matters more interesting for me personally, most of the action takes place in locations that are very familiar to me -- I actually walk through one of the key story locations every weekday.

So today, I brought my camera in to work, played hooky for an hour and took shots of a half a dozen scenes that appear in the book. I was hoping for a gray drizzly day for the sake of atmosphere but unfortunately (!) managed to pick a beautifully bright sunny afternoon. In February. In Seattle. What are the odds??

Below are some excerpts from the book paired with those photos. You can click on the photos to see a larger view.

p 29. Will, on the phone to Harper:

"So. Are you free for dinner?"

"Yes, I am. How ' bout you?"

"Not only free, but eager to get out of here and meet you."

I smiled a little in response. "How 'bout the Bookstore?"

"I thought you wanted food..."

"No, silly man. it's a bar in the Alexis Hotel lobby at first and Madison. Good pub food, lots of old books on the walls, nice old furniture..."

p. 33, after dinner...
The viaduct's elevated double-decker road looms over the flatland of the waterfront like a concrete house of cards waiting to collapse onto the desolate parking lot wasteland beneath it. Blocks of old warehouse buildings on one side face the patchwork quilt of the waterfront businesses on the other. Crazed, pitted blacktop, striped with parking stalls and lane markers, stretch the width of the missing city block beneath them. An uneven fringe of stunted shrubs marks the edge of the old trolley line, but nothing else grows under the viaduct's unloved shade.

p. 44, Quinton's lair
...until we reached a poured concrete wall under the Seneca Street off-ramp from the viaduct. A three-story retaining wall held back the tumble of the hill while a wide stone staircase climed the side of the building perpendicular to it, creating a dark half room roofed by the roadbed above us.

(We got an email from HR a few months back saying that the police had reported a rash of muggings on this stairwell after dark and that we might want to avoid it in the evenings. I do. Avoid it.)

p. 45:

A rusted steel door had been set into the bunker wall and sported a triangular yellow caution sign with an odd symbol of spikes and circles and the words AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.

p. 47, Harper to Quinton:
"So the symbol on the door...?"
"Means nothing-- I made it up -- but it looks like something you ought to be afraid of, doesn't it?"
I found this logo on a Pioneer Square storefront for UtiliKilts, of all things. It does fit the description, doesn't it?

p. 213, foiling the electronic bugs:

Located on Cherry in a basement row of little lunch spots that mostly catered to local office workers, Bakeman's was determinedly-blue collar in service and atmosphere. The odor of roast turkey and meatloaf wafted out the sunken door along with the clang and shout of staff passing orders and moving customers at New York speeds. The hard, slick walls and Formica tables reflected the noises of the busy kitchen and hurried diners into a rattling cacophony.

Sadly, I missed the rush so you're not getting a true sense of the bustle that Ms. Richardson vividly portrays. I've had lunch here and while the sandwiches are good and cheap, the atmosphere most resembles something out of a high school in a not-very-well-off school district.

P. 245 - on a quest for information:
Just beyond the totem, a trash can fire burned to warm the hands of a small circle of homeless. The obese woman at the foot of the other carving scowled at us as we passed and pressed herself into the dark. I couldn't see much of her in either the Grey or the normal, cowering as she did in the black fold of the totem's shadow. It occured to me it wasn't a nice totem-- Nightmare Bringer. I wasn't too surprised it cast a very dark shadow and I certainly wouldn't have wanted to sleep near it with such an association. The woman pulled a black blanket over herself and hunched into a shapeless mass.

Uh, yeah. I took a picture of the wrong totem. Dumb white eyes. However, I found a perfect shot on Flickr's Creative Commons. Photocredit: hairygrumpy.

On to page 254, where the action gets tense in the alley between the Seattle Mystery Bookshop and the back of the Pioneer block. This is what the alley looks like on a bright sunny afternoon. Would you turn down there at night, looking for a spooky man-eating snake-monster? Much less pull up a grate and crawl into a hole in the alley floor? Yeah, me neither.

First is the store, with the alley showing to the right:

Then the alley itself:

p. 265: Turns out there was something awful down there. And it chased our heroes:
"It's fast," Quinton panted.

"Then run faster!"

We dashed into Pioneer Square and down Yesler.

(right this way, ladies and gentlemen - shot looking west on Yesler from under the Pioneer Square pergola)

p. 266 - the chase goes on:

"Stay in the open," Quinton yelled. "It's keeping to the alleys! if we can force it into the dead end of Post at the Fed Office Building, we might be able to slip it!"

Here's where the monster turns off. I didn't creep down the alley to take photos of the Federal Building. That's kind of frowned on these days.

p. 266 - more chasing:

We ran past Post and turned at Western, keeping the tall old brick warehouses between us and [the monster]. My knee protested every step, but I didn't dare slow or limp. ... We shot out the narrow confines of Western at Marion and into the open ground

Our Heroes' view, except of course, without the daylight.

When the story opens, Harper is working on physical therapy exercises for her knee. There are quite a few references through the book about the running and climbing and slipping and the toll it takes. Here's an example of some of the terrain in Pioneer Square:

There are also numerous mentions of the Bread of Life Mission:

Well, this wasn't exactly a review, but I hope you enjoyed it. Kat Richardson writes a wickedly-plotted ghost story and hometown effect aside, the Greywalker series is a great read. I do recommend.

Oh, and one last thing:

BONUS EXTRA! This is a zoom in of the shot down Yesler Way from the chase scene. As it happens, Harper and Quinton run right past my department's favorite Friday night watering hole. See where it says "Saloon" just below the Hotel sign? Come join us sometime.

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Kara said...

What a fantastic post!! I loved seeing all the places in "real time" that were mentioned in the book.

I have this on my TBR stack and when I get around to reading it...I am definitely coming back to your photos!!!

Chris said...

Nicola, this was great! I loved getting the chance to see the environs.

Victoria Janssen said...

COOL post!

Unknown said...

Great seeing my favourite parts of Seattle as described in such vivid detail by Kat

Now we need to get you over to West Seattle to Endolyne's to see where parts of the first book Greywalker are set

Nicola O. said...

Endolyne's gets a shout-out in Underground as well as Zeitgeist Coffee, but there wasn't much in the way of an excerpt for the post. Definitely have to check it out though, I've never been.

sanguinea said...

Wonderful post! I love this idea. -Jen

Nicola O. said...

Thanks all! It was fun to do although Blogger's formatting quirks for images drove me to the edge of insane, so it's probably not something I'd do all the time.

Renee said...

Awesome post, Nicola! I really enjoyed Underground (each book by Kat Richardson just keeps getting better!) and Seattle truly was another character in it.
Thanks for providing such great pictures to go along with the story!

Erin said...

This was fabulous!! Loved it and you just rock my dear!

Kat Richardson said...

I usually don't do this, but...

Thanks for the photo essay. I really enjoyed it! Would you mind if I linked to it on the site?

Nicola O. said...

Kat, I don't mind at all, I'm entirely flattered! Glad you liked it.

Brenda Hyde said...

This is SOOO awesome! Plus how cool that Kat commented on it:) You have outdone yourself!


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