Crime

A Matter of Motive

A Matter of MotiveSince I am reading crime lately, I read this novel sometime last week. It is a police procedural crime novel that is self-published/ small-print/ print-on-demand.  No, I had never read the author before and it was a total random pull.  A Matter of Motive by Margot Kinberg was first released in 2020 and is the first in the Patricia Stanley series (of which, this is the only book so far).  My review of this novel needs to apply all of the self-imposed structure that I felt necessary to explain (poorly) in the previous review.  That is to say, this novel is not from a major publishing house and and I want to speak as utterly plainly as I can about it.

The novel is a police procedural. The death occurs within the first five pages or so.  Ron Clemons is driving in his car to work and he is overcome by pain and has to pull over into a lot and he expires.   We meet our detective team as the tow truck is there beside the dark blue Infinity on Lancaster Avenue in Paoli, Pennsylvania. Patricia and Luke are the police on the scene; they are members of the Malvern Police Department.

Really Paoli boasts a population of about 6,000. It is a small location on the western outskirts of Philly.  Its a small skip from Kay-Oh-Pee (King of Prussia) if you have a referent for that. I’m fairly comfortable with this area – from Reading down to Lancaster – though I have actually never been to Valley Forge. (I have zero interest in Americana). Does Malvern actually have a separate police station/department? I sure don’t know. The two police officers assigned to this case are young and young cops.

First problem with the novel – exactitude of the police ranks. So, if it was actually fully stated and I missed it, I guess I will owe the author an apology.  But I really do not recall a clear and defined statement of these two cops. So, we do learn this is their first murder case.  In the first few pages, Luke feels the need to mention the police academy. I have no idea should I call them officers or detectives? Or? Because its not entirely clear from the novel. And then if they are BOTH new hires/promotions, well, most locations of 6,000 residents are not going to be hiring at that level. I mean, the mention of the Academy – who would even mention that except a young cop? And yes, its perfectly fine to be a young cop, but is it fine to be a young cop and a detective?

The inexperience of the cops plays a rôle throughout the novel.  Patricia and Luke make some “small errors” and their boss scolds them, but also tries to guide them to correct procedure.   Definitely, there is a sense that both cops are hard-working and in their eagerness, make errors in judgment. 

Second problem with the novel – inexperienced cops versus juvenile rendering.  So, its reasonable to have inexperienced cops.  Indeed, I like that about this novel. I am somewhat bored of the trope in novels that uses the grizzled, ornery cop on the verge of retirement that bends the rules at times. Enough of every cop being the veteran expert.  Its refreshing to read a novel that has younger cops learning the ropes.  However, the balance between inexperienced and clueless was not achieved in this work.  We have detectives/cops making errors – to be expected, but errors that if they had spent a moment in a police academy or taken a class in criminal justice, they would not make. So, I applaud the idea of using inexperienced cops, but this needed to be more polished in execution.

 Third problem with the novel – this is a police procedural.  In essence, this has come to refer to any fiction work that focuses on the procedure and steps that the police take in order to solve crimes.  Certainly, in such a novel, the reader expects to be a passive “ride-along” with the cops and follow the case as the cops discover information.  However, the procedure these cops use is a bit underdeveloped. It goes like this:  interview people, go back to cop shop and tell boss. Boss tells cops to go interview more people. Repeat. And repeat again. And with one particular character (the wife of the deceased) they practically torture this woman; not a day goes by that they aren’t on her doorstep.  What’s worse is that they go there, ask two or three questions, and then leave. I mean, this is partially tied into that “inexperienced cop” situation. However, even the dullest blades in the drawer would make better use of their detecting.

Here are some things that this novel does really well:  the thoughts and feelings of the deceased’s wife, Rachel Clemons.  The author really wrote this character well and by “well” I mean very authentically. I feel like this character is utterly realistic and believeable.  Similarly, the tension between some of the characters at the business where the main character worked is done really well.  In fact, for the most part, characters are authentic and understood. It does not surprise me that the whole of this novel is based on “motive.”  The author is skilled at people.  There is even a subplot of Patricia’s relationship drama – I do not give a rip about that storyline, but that is not to say that others might not like this sort of thing. I just do not care about romance/relationship subplots and drama, so I am not going to assess whether its well written or not.

After the halfway point, the reader is lured into really disliking a couple of characters.  This is more of the skill the author has with working with “people-ization.”  Just because a character might be very dislikeable, does not necessarily mean they are the murderer.  And sometimes intentions, some good and some bad, cannot be forced to match a crime. 

I enjoyed the book, though I did get tired of going round and round re-interviewing the same people with these cops.  I really liked the feeling that Patricia and Luke make errors, but are super keen to grow from them and not repeat them. Self-corrective and productive.  A lot of the time, I feel like authors make very stubborn characters that even though they know better or are capable of improvement, just repeatedly do the same dumb things. 

Overall, a light-read, nothing that is deeply intellectual or that will require strenuous effort.  The author has a lot of skill with characters and people. But the author needs more of the knowledge of the profession/roles of the law enforcement profession.  Since I finished this one, I am 50/50 on whether I would read another in the series or not. 

2 stars

Primary Target

It feels like every time (yes, it is not all that often of late) I log in to this blog editor, the editor is different and/or more challenging to use. I feel like I may have seen other bloggers making similar statements. I am going to try to do my best to figure out what I have to do here in this editor to make this post look like my standard posts – above all making it readable.

PrimaryTarget-Full Primary Target is the first novel in the Six Assassins series co-authored by Jim Heskett and Nick Thacker. It is my first read by either of these authors and is among one of my first non-science fiction, but still fiction reads this year. I am reading some different things from the bookshelves. This and the next review are of books that are kind of self-published/small print press books. I have enjoyed reading books lately, not studying them or becoming drunkenly scholarly over them. What does that mean? Well, I have enjoyed turning pages without using a whole lot of brain to do so.  I have been reading my usual diet of non fiction that has left little for complex, mighty fiction reads. 

There is a need for clear and honest assertions to be made regarding what I called above “self-published, small print press, print-to-order” novels. Amazon and a few other booksellers are utilizing this method and providing a platform for authors to get their works released without having to undergo the strains that major publishing houses may enforce. In honest truth, a lot of the stuff that is taking this route of escaping the big publishing house trials, is probably not worthy of being printed. Because of that, it is probably not difficult to see that a lot of junk publishing tends to spoil and taint the whole category.  I think the commonest way to test the calibre of these novels is to look at the typos. Usually, the grammar and formatting is just simply not on par with what a completed, published work ought to be. 

Here is a key point, though. I think the big publishing houses are able to hire high quality editors and have a more rigorous process for drafts.  (FEAR NOT – I still find typos and errors in these “polished” books, too.)  So, let us say for example that a novel published by Harper Collins or Hachette has less typos and errors in it than many “print-to-order” level books.  That is a good thing and readers need to demand good language editing.  However, to me, a lot of the books coming out of the big houses also have something of a “sameness” to them. It is difficult, maybe impossible, to describe this feeling – but though the story changes and the author changes and the characters are all radically different… there is still some ghostly sameness haunting these books.  In my mind, it seems like it could be because the editors (and the edit process) from these houses are streamlined to handle the huge volume of work by precise deadlines.  Self-published and print-to-order books do not rely on such a mechanical process. 

That being said, this stuff is not fine literature. And it is not a dig against any author or publishing house to say so.  It is a fact. An entertaining story with some fun characters is never going to be held up as the almighty shining relic over the great literary works of our time.  It is possible to write very engaging and exciting stories, but without nearing that special and sometimes divisive category of “literature.”  Further, though I doubt it needs to actually really be said, not every author is intending to write magnificent literature, anyway. 

So, after that long and poorly-written musing, I want to present the Problematic.  How do honest reviewers rate or grade these different sorts of books?  I feel, generally, like I am treading all over people when I “guess” at their intentions for their books.  I do not want to use the heavy hammer on a writer who just wants to entertain and tell a story.  But at the same time, why should I lower the standards and put on a false mercy just because, well, someone said “entertainment” and someone else said “literature”?  Anyway, I decided that in order to deal with this Problematic, the most important element in a review must be honesty.  It must be Zen-level, standing-before-God level, completely open honesty. Does this mean other reviews are DISHONEST? No, I think, though, the difference lies in the simplicity of the discussion.  There must be less musing and less supposition, therefore utterly less ambiguity or interpretation, in reviewing a small-print release.

So, here goes an attempt.

I read Primary Target because I saw it a couple of times and there was something about the storyline that I could not deny was interesting me.  Because at the end of the day, action thrillers with assassins are interesting. There is an Assassins Club.  Imagine that. Now, as someone who does read a fair amount of science fiction, I will tell you – no matter how hokey and goofy and silly the spaceship and the alien is, no matter how adult and sophisticated we want to seem, no matter how scientific we think we are:  an exciting chase across the galaxy with a ray gun of some sort and some awesomely creative lifeforms to meet along the way, is always going to draw us in for some fun.  So, assassins club.

The main character, Ember Clarke, is a cool character. I think the authors wrote her very well. I feel like she is genuine, honest, and seems to make fairly reasonable judgments. Is she a perfectly-written character? No. The other characters in the book are described as different individuals and play different roles. But – since we are being honest – they are not written distinctively enough. They are superficially different: this one is older, this one is younger, this one is taller, this one is smaller. But as I read it, most (not all) of the supporting characters do not bring their own separate and potent personalities to the story.

Storyline was good – in fact, maybe even a bit better than I expected it to be. What do I mean by “good”? Well, I was entertained and it seemed like a reasonable enough storyline that I could believe in it.  Except for one thing:  there seem to be TOO MANY assassins.  I mean, in the world of this book.  Because if there were THIS MANY assassins, and they were all doing jobs and being gainfully employed at their work, well, I feel like there would be a significantly higher number of dead bodies everywhere.   The story was decent, though, and over the halfway point there is a plot twist that involves the main character (of course) that adds another dimension to this storyline.  So the authors are not just putting out a “contest” story.  There are several lesser threads to follow. Intrigue among the Assassins Club members and such.  This is good – it means there will be more books and we are not just watching a cat and mouse game. 

It is a lighter content novel – and that is the way the authors chose to write it. A fine choice, perfect for entertainment.  The novel reads very quickly and nothing here requires a second of deeper thought.  But the reader senses that lack of depth and while that should not equate to a lower rating, we cannot offer five-star ratings to every book that entertains. Therefore, I honestly state that for the category of book that it is, for the entertainment I got from it, I will give this book four stars.  I have already acquired book two in the series.  It would be a lie if I said that I found it to be an “average-level” read. Recommended for fans of assassins, female main characters, action novels.

4 stars

An Ace and a Pair

"An Ace and a Pair" by Blake Banner book cover, 2017

I found myself at a lake house for a week and I was not inclined to haul much reading material out here. I grabbed a paperback that was acquired in May, a couple non-fiction books, and my camera. Had I brought my fishing gear, this review would not be being written. Blake Banner’s An Ace and a Pair was written in 2017. I got my copy via Amazon – I believe it is print to order, which means that the last page of the book has the date it was actually printed. [Mine says: 10 May 2020 at local city.] This is the first novel in Banner’s “Dead Cold” series. It is a slender 200 page crime novel; the first I have read by Banner.

I do not know if it was because I was at a lake house in late October or what, but this novel just fit the reading zone nicely. It was the perfect read for these circumstances. So, sure, that colors my review a bit. Overall, the novel has some issues – the plot is a little difficult to follow because there are so many threads of criminals. I am sure the author was attempting to make the “mystery” complex and wanted to mislead the reader a bit. I did not bother to untangle the web of confusion of this part of the plot. There are bad guys, its hard to figure out which bad guys are scheming against which other bad guys. Does it matter? Honestly, no, not really. Still, too many characters that play no significant role.

What I really liked about this novel was that the writing was pared down and even and did not have any unnecessary wordage. Lake house reading is not supposed to be for overly-wordy, thesaurus-imitator tomes. I took a shine to the two main characters, Detectives Stone and Dehan right away. They are quite stereotypical, in places, but truthfully they know it, too. But that is okay, because the police procedural novel always works when certain established tropes are there to comfort the reader who is trying a new author/series.

The storyline has a few leaps in it – gaps that make Detective Stone seem magically intelligent. He does not always clue his partner in on his thoughts, which means the reader is left out, as well. I can see some readers being vexed by this behavior. Especially when it happens more than once. And I used the word “magical” because it seems Stone has some deductive leaps that just are amazingly lucky. For those readers who like to piece the mystery together, there will be frustration and exasperation with this. However, I do not always want to draw every thread to and from every single clue. Sometimes it is okay to just paint broad strokes, give me entertaining colors and shapes, and wrap the case up with a flourish.

Overall, a basic police procedural with engaging detectives. The ending is predictable after awhile, though. And the criminals are often just a list of names. However, for a beach read or a lake house, this novel should be able to fit into all the spaces between lounging on a deck gazing at the water and puffing on a Honduran stick of your choice. I do intend to read the next in this series.

3 stars

The Black Ice

The Black IceUtterly selected, from the uncomfortably vast to-be-read-pile, at random, imagine my amusement when this book has bullfighting scenes in it. Heh. Two books in a row with bullfighting. The Black Ice by Michael Connelly is the second novel in the famous Harry Bosch series. It was first published in 1993, I read the first book in the series in 2009. (I gave The Black Echo 3 stars).  I have been trying, for the last year or more, to get through hangers-on and “book twos” that have piled up on the everywhere in the house. I do try to read more science fiction than crime or literary fiction or whatever else, but I have also been making an effort to read more thrillers and crime lately. I do not want to become a one-trick pony. Well, and 2020 just seems to be science fiction enough…………….

So, the other reason I mentioned that I do not read much crime is because I do not feel I am an expert reader-judge of crime novels. There are readers who exclusively read crime and police procedurals and so their judgment is probably more fine-tuned than mine. Nevertheless, I feel I can add to the commentary on this novel.

The pacing was very slow. I know that it takes time to unravel a multi-layered storyline with a lot of players. I know that this is a crime/police-procedural novel and not an action thriller. However, I was well past halfway into the novel before the pace was even moving. I do not always think the pace of a novel needs to be fast in order to be good. In fact, many times, I enjoy lush worldbuilding and intricate plots. However, in this particular novel, I felt Harry drank a lot of coffee, but yet was still in slow-motion.

The plot is multi-layered and the reader gets more clues, slowly, right alongside Harry. The storyline is just not very interesting. I mean, its not a gripping read whatsoever. So, within the first three chapters, the reader should realize that the introductory crime is not a suicide.  One would expect that a suspicious death of a policeman would ignite a real jet rocket in the LAPD and with our star detective.  Okay, so, there may be a departmental desire to wrap up the investigation neatly and quietly – but who expects it to be so dull? I get what Connelly was doing with the plot, I think there are some interesting facets to this story (I’m not going to mention them here and spoil the read for others), but overall, it reads very dull.  So, because of the not-all-that exciting plot and the slow pacing, I gave the book two stars.

The resolution is interesting. I mean, I think some savvy readers probably guessed what was going on. I am utterly horrible at that sort of thing, so it was a fairly interesting reveal for my reading experience. Other expert crime readers were probably all over it! Still, it kind of really just falls flat. No big crescendo whatsoever. The denouement was tedious and caused suffering. Basically at the final event, Bosch has to explain everything to his superior about the case (obviously, for the sake of the reader).

Now this next comment is me really nitpicking, but there are several points in this novel that I found myself wondering about the time of the story, is it day or night? Because it does seem like Bosch has not slept in several nights. Now, I know very well how it feels to subsist on 4-hour night sleeps for nights on end – or even going without sleep for nights. The fact that Harry (no matter how much coffee he guzzles) is as functional as he is, is rather implausible. And his “insomnia” throws off the pacing of the novel because its unclear how many days have passed.

I plan to read more Bosch novels. I am sure this is one of the lesser Bosch reads and I have great confidence that many in the series are excellent novels. Besides, the main character is interesting to a point. I like his jazz business. In this novel, we get backstory regarding his parents and youth – which is valuable to serious readers/fans of this series – so it probably is a necessary read for Bosch enthusiasts (are there such people?) I recommend this for LAPD crime fans and fans of Mexico-California border storyline readers.

2 stars

Memory Man

Memory ManMemory Man by David Baldacci is the first novel in the Amos Decker series. It was first published in 2015 and this is the first novel I have read by Baldacci. I really like the main character, Amos Decker. I think his backstory is fascinating and the author handles it consistently and entertainingly. I was pretty much onboard with this story through half of the book. But then the criminal element got too bizarre and wonky, which I don’t like. I am already suspending disbelief to accept the fantastic abilities and story of the main character. But when the author starts expecting me to believe all sorts of outlandish and really demented things, it feels like maybe he is taking my suspension of disbelief for granted. Most novels have some concept or segment that demands a lot of patience or willing to believe, but was too far.

A couple of muders and a school shooting were enough. This is one reason I dislike many crime novels…. the crimes all turn into massive extremes (which seems silly to say). I guess what I mean is, when the body count keeps going up, and there’s already been the massacre of a family and a school shooting, well, now I feel like the author is just piling on outrageously. The body count was just jumping up nearly in every chapter for awhile and I got annoyed with this. It always feels, when I read contemporary crime novels, that the authors feel the more murders the better and when they do not know how to shore up a plot point or make an interesting clue – they just set up a murder scene. It feels a bit cheap.

Nothing about the not-good-guys was redeemable or even, really, believable. Beyond that, certain details were even more annoying – the character Sebastian Leopold, for one. So much stereotyping and eye-rolling details about this character. Literally, when Decker explains (while duct taped and under threat) the history of Leopold and he lets us all in on Leopold’s ethnicity and previous whereabouts, it was difficult not to chuck the book – but I was almost finished with the thing, anyway. But of course. Of course he spent time in that country.  Shoddy, cheap writing.

Now, Amos Decker’s “thing” is that he has a great memory. Hyperthymesia. This is probably a pretty decent condition particularly for detectives and cops (Cp. the TV show Monk (2002-2009)) A lot of the novel the reader, very much like Decker’s partners and fellow law enforcement officials, is just sitting there staring at Decker, waiting for him to remember/spot something. Now, I read crime novels, but I do not want to actually join the FBI. However, I do not want to hear elevator music while the star of the show is having a long reverie about clues. Somehow, though Baldacci was really consistent in his treatment of the character, he needs to also keep the reader involved during Decker’s many moments of mental effort.

The last chapter of the novel, after all the resolution, was interesting because I did not see that coming – I guess many readers probably did. I want to know what happens next to Amos Decker, because like I said, he is an interesting character. So I will probably read the next in the series. I am just disappointed in the outrageousness of this storyline in particular.

2 stars

Carved in Bone

Carved in BoneI have been reading a lot of….. pulp novels lately. Or trying to, I guess. I have just been feeling like reading that sort of book; gritty, basic, fast-reading. However, I still do try to be somewhat selective. I mean, I try to choose novels that there is a chance I might enjoy on some level. Well, I kind of suspected from the start that I would not like this one, but it had just enough about it for me to give it a chance.

I do not have a lot of good to say about this novel. I probably should say nothing, then, right?  And maybe what I will say will be more telling about myself as a reader than about the book. Other readers surely enjoyed this book and probably disagree with my sentiments, which is fine, because I do hope people read books that entertain them.

This is the first in the Body Farm series of novels, it is the only one I have read.  It was published in 2006. “Jefferson Bass” is the penname for co-writers Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson.

To start, the first sentence of this review I wrote the word “pulp,” but I wanted to write “low-brow.”  I did not, however, because I thought that might be off-putting to readers of this entry. Well, the truth is, this is low-brow stuff. And if that offends a reader, I guess maybe they can come and holler at me about it. To continue…. it is pretty basic writing level. A long time ago, I used software called Word Perfect; a word-processing software.  You could have it scan your writing and it would judge it (what criteria?) and categorize it on a writing level. 8th Grade, High School, Undergraduate, Doctoral, etc. Something like that. I do not remember all of the details, I think it would give it a numeric score and that gave a range of levels. I certainly do not remember what the numerical breakdowns were, but this novel would get a rather low number. The sentences are structurally and grammatically correct.  They are just not complex or far above basic reader level. Of course, this is what makes the book a speedy read.

The main character is both pathetic and yet vaguely interesting. He is just this side of bumbling oaf. His “witty” remarks are often bad puns or seem like forced retorts. He does not think fast on his feet.  And he has got all sorts of family and personal life drama. If this character, Dr. Bill Brockton, were someone I knew in real life, I would find him intolerable and insufferable. The only good thing I can say about him is that he does know his science-stuff.

The plot is heavily related to the setting.  This novel takes place in East Tennessee Appalachian Mountains, and hammers each and every stereotype and trope that ever fell off of those highlands. Personally, I have never found anything charming about backwoods, mountaintop, Appalachia. I have no interest in things categorized as “Redneck,” “hick,” or “country.”  I was raised on water and I love water. Mountains make me unhappy, generally. Any weird backwoods Southern activities that go on in mountains usually make me disgusted. Put it this way:  if you are no fan of The South, this novel will do nothing to change your opinion.  If you love The South, this novel will make you cringe because it grinds on all the worst aspects of all of the stereotypes.

Finally, the crimes and the forensics.  Well, the Body Farm concept is cool and awesome and a little underused, actually in this novel.  I think the science and the factual data is authentic and honest; I’m not someone who has studied these things, though.  However, though the main character is a forensics guy on this case, I feel like he does more actual detective work on the case than anyone else. And, as mentioned above, this is not the guy you want running a case.  There are subplot storylines that are kind of gruesome and grubby – they do work effectively to flesh out (pun!) other characters and the setting, but its too much gore and gross.  Sure, crime is awful and hideous, but there seemed to be so much of the same crime heaped and heaped on.  Even the main crime is so….stereotyped.

As a comparison, fair or not, I preferred the Kathy Reichs’ novels.  Many of those take place in Montreal (a place I love), so perhaps I am overly-biased. Now, I actually found book two of this Body Farm series in my stacks of TBR novels. I realized I did not have book one, so I bought this novel. I think I will probably read book two, but I cannot think I will read beyond that.

In fairness to readers:  this novel has scenes of rooster fighting, tobacco consumption, and shotgun usage. So, a normal day in The South……

2 stars

Fatal Voyage

Fatal Voyage

Fatal Voyage

Fatal Voyage was published in 2001 and is the fourth novel in the Temperance Brennan series. The main plot of the novel involves Brennan dealing with an airplane crash in Western North Carolina. Immediately, I could not help but be reminded of the incidents occurring on September 11, 2001. I believe this novel was published before those events, but in my paperback edition, the author added an afterword in which she briefly discusses the NYC incident at the World Trade Center. Reichs herself was a member of the recovery response team. In some sense, I felt “bad” for her because I am sure she was a little disturbed about having written about a plane crash earlier in the year. It must have been a bit unnerving.  Fatal Voyage takes place in October.

In any case, the story starts off with Dr. Brennan entering the crash site where emergency teams are gathering among the refuse and damage. Rather quickly we meet a major character, the Sherriff Lucy Crowe. Normally, I do not really pay attention to descriptions of what the characters look like. I generally pay enough attention to get a vague image and then forget all the details. Crowe, however, was interesting enough that I found myself picturing her throughout the story.  She’s described as being very tall. Crowe has frizzy, carrot red hair and eyes the color of Coke bottles (which Reichs will remind us of plenty of times throughout the rest of the novel.) Upon first meeting Crowe, Brennan estimates Crowe’s age at around forty years old.

It was somewhat difficult for me to figure out just where the crash site was. Crowe is the Sherriff of Swain County. But there’s a lot of talk in the novel about Bryson City. Basically, I just put the crash in some area of the Smokey Mountains that is more rural than anything. Having driven through most of Western North Carolina, Eastern Tennessee, and NorthEastern South Carolina, I pictured these little-driven roads, small townships, and lush green forests that are way too muggy in the summertime and drafty in the wintertime.

After the multitude of official recovery/investigation teams arrive (each bearing their own three-letter acronym), Brennan begins her first day by assisting her colleagues in tagging, photographing, and packaging remains.  After a long day, she is told by her boss to take a break. Instead of milling around the hectic command center, Brennan heads outdoors to the forest. It’s here that she happens upon the situation that entirely changes the storyline.  In the underbrush, she is encircled by a small pack of coyotes (she mistakes them, at first, for wolves.) Fearing for her life, she also notices that the animals are protecting and trying to abscond with a human foot. Obviously, Brennan thinks this foot is connected to the plane crash. She makes several attempts to wrest the foot from the coyotes. At this point, who should show up but none other than Andrew Ryan – the detective she works with (and is sweet on) at her job in Canada. Ryan and Brennan rescue the foot and chase off the pack of coyotes.

I think the cover of the book (my purple edition, anyway) is supposed to be a picture of a skeletal foot representing the foot that Brennan found. However, I don’t know many people who have toes that are so even in their size. Heck, most of the people I know have third toes that are as long as their big toe.

From this point onward, the story changes, Brennan does not really deal with the plane crash. Instead, she ends up in a lot of hot water with her superiors over the mysterious foot and is booted from working with the crash site. She remains in the area, however, because she wants to clear her professional reputation. Also, she discovers that the foot is not actually from the crash, so she begins her investigation.  The foot actually involves a whole series of killings that occurred since the 1940s. Most of Brennan’s troubles come from people in high places impeding her investigation because they will be implicated or guilty of whatever she is investigating.  Andrew Ryan is there, we learn, because his partner Bertrand was on the plane that crashed. Bertrand was escorting a criminal to Canada for arrest/trial.  The coincidence of all of this is a little bit hard to swallow – but it’s fiction and it’s fun, so I just read onward.  Of course, there are plenty of red herrings that Reichs puts us through so that we are as lost as Brennan.

There are a lot of names in this novel. Names of people investigating, names of people on the plane, names of local persons who are being investigated. There are a lot of characters to keep track of. Reichs does a surprisingly good job of keeping everyone pretty clear and even, but sometimes it gets a little difficult if the reader isn’t paying attention. While there is “science” in the novel, I feel Dr. Brennan is less the forensic specialist and more the investigating detective. This is okay, because it works for the novel. But I do hope future novels do not turn Brennan into a detective and lose the coolness of her laboratory expertise. For most of the novel, the only people who are Brennan’s allies are her dog, Boyd, and Sherriff Crowe – who is about as unflappable a character as there ever was.

At one point Brennan goes to Charlotte. I found her descriptions of the city to be very keen. Obviously Reichs has spent much time there and is familiar with the difficulty with navigating the city. In chapter 23 Brennan describes the city streets, truer words were rarely spoken about Charlotte and its streets:

“Charlotte’s street names reflect its schizoid personality.  On the one hand the street-naming approach was simple:  They found a winner and stuck with it. The city has Queens Road, Queen’s Road West, and Queen’s Road East, Sharon Road, Sharon Lane, Sharon Amity, Sharon View, and Sharon Avenue.  I’ve sat at the intersection of Rea Road and Rea Road, Park Road and Park Road.”

Reichs also deals with the local natives in the rural areas of North Carolina with precision and tact.  Yes, there are some hillbilly religious folk. And there are some stubborn, insular folk. But there are also simple, well-meaning folk too. I think most of this comes across in Reichs’ writing. I think this is the first novel wherein Brennan spends the majority of it in North Carolina and not Canada. Overall, I think the book was probably difficult to write. It is a large novel with a wide-open plot. There’s lots of characters to hang on to and lots of plotlines to be careful with. I think Reichs succeeds with her story. The novel is creepy, tense, and amusing all at different points. It works. I don’t like reading about planes crashing, but I appreciate a good detective story. Especially one with two pets (yes, Birdie has his cameos!)

3 stars

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I finally finished this book. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – published in 2005 in Swedish, 2008 in English. I got it for Christmas in 2010, and I finished it at the end of June in 2011. I muscled through the first 250 pages and then couldn’t go any further. I had the sense that I was finally moving beyond the setup and the action and thrill would begin, but I dropped it anyway. Finally, I made it through the book.

I’m told that the title in Swedish is “Men Who Hate Women,” which I guess is somewhat apt. After all, there are murders and rapes and such.  This series of books is often referred to as the Millennium series/trilogy.  This takes its name from something in the book. There are a bunch of characters – but the main character is a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist.  Blomkvist publishes a political/financial expose magazine called Millennium.

Blomkvist is not a terribly interesting character. He’s the hero and its obvious he is the hero. He survives getting shot at, when he goes to jail he has a pleasant time, all the women adore him, etc. However, he’s also somewhat daft for someone so “James Bond.”   The other main character, who’s story we learn along side Blomkvist’s story – until the two narratives run together, is Lisbeth Salander.  She’s crazy. Seriously. But she’s apparently quite intelligent, too. (She’s the girl with the tattoo…..)

I can understand why this book was a big bestseller. It does have a huge story and a complex narrative.  Its graphic enough that all the folks that love intrigue and mayhem will enjoy it, and its intelligent enough that it takes brainpower to follow along with the storyline.  After all, Blomkvist is caught researching the Vanger family – and the reader’s got to keep a handle on at least 10 characters to make it all make sense. This gets tedious – prepare to keep your bookmark in the genealogy chart.  The story has a variety of levels, there is not just some simply surface story. Everything is interconnected and the story involves a whole lot of companies, people, and timelines.

Unfortunately, the writing is very boring. And perhaps some of that is the translator’s fault? The writing style is flat. Its just flat. Deadpan. The most outlandish item can be told to the reader in the flattest, emptiest tone. And I think that is why I had take a break from the book after the first 250 pages.  Its not bad writing, i.e. idiotic and foolish. Its just deadpan. I’ve read that this book is a thriller…. well, no I don’t think so.  However, the last chunk of the book is exceedingly more interesting than the front half.  So much so that, yes, I am vaguely interested in reading the next in the series. I want to know what’s going to happen next with Blomkvist and Lisbeth.

The crimes in the Vanger family are gruesome. Sexual deviants and murder and such. However, told in this deadpan style, its hard to be shocked. However, if you think about it, this is quite twisted stuff.  It makes me hesitant to say this is a great novel because there were these sick elements that I find quite disturbing. Writers/creators/artists who write about these things leave me a little wary because while I am not naive, I still think its weird for people to write what is classified as “entertainment” (i.e. fiction) to include these topics/subjects.

3 stars

Creepers

Creepers

Creepers cover

I read Creepers by David Morrell today. (Published 2005)  It only took an afternoon and an evening to read it.  It is rather gripping in the sense that it is an action novel with plenty of “suspense.”

Disguising himself as a journalist, Frank Balenger, ex-U.S. Army Ranger and Iraqi war veteran, joins a group of “Creepers,” also known as infiltrators, urban explorers—men and women who outfit themselves with caving gear to break into and explore buildings that have long been closed up and abandoned. Though what they’re doing is technically illegal, participants pride themselves on never stealing or destroying anything they find at these sites. They take only photographs and aim to leave no footprints. This gang infiltrates the Paragon Hotel, an abandoned, seven-story, pyramidal structure built in 1901 by eccentric, hemophiliac Morgan Carlisle.

It starts out quite good. I was unsure where the story was going – but I was certain that wherever it was going, it was gonna be a creepy, suspenseful trip.  The buildup and background for the story was unique and interesting and really creative. The characters, particularly Cora and Rick, were really one-dimensional. Dialogue for these characters was not done well. They spoke just to move the plot along, not because they were dynamic, full characters.

I was actually really interested in the storyline – starting at the hotel in the beginning and moving into the tunnel-drains.  Finally, as the characters moved into the Paragon Hotel, I was thinking that this book was going to be really good.

But the book went somewhat downhill with the introduction of three young, goofy criminals. I was annoyed that the creepyness was ruined by these goons. I was on the edge of my seat until the kids with the surplus night-vision goggles entered the story. Think about it:  an eccentric builds a huge, pyramid-shaped hotel around 1900. The hotel has hidden passageways, a secretive penthouse, and creepy old furnishings. This is good stuff for a nighttime “urban explorer” theme.

After we meet and deal with the three dummies, we are then introduced rather violently to someone else who is in this old hotel that is about to be demolished:  the true menace!  And, at this point, I gave up all hope of the great and scary suspense novel.  I settled in for an action read. I was pretty annoyed when it turned out that the menace of the book has a sordid past based on sexual abuse as a child and he has taken his mental issues out on random girls he brought to the hotel. (He didn’t molest them, just killed ’em.) Anyway, blah blah. Its always back to sex as motive/motivation for modern authors.  I would rather have read the surreal creepy novel that I started with than the shootout with the crazy dude. This isn’t a bad novel, there’s not much in it that is R-rated. Its pretty much pg-13 for a novel. But I wanted to read the scary novel instead.

I think I rated this one a bit lower because it wasn’t what I, personally, felt like reading. I could probably give it 3 stars on a different day.

2 stars

Death du Jour

Death du Jour

Death du Jour

I finished this book today. I was able to read it basically starting late one night and finishing it the next evening. It is the second Temperance Brennan book written by Kathy Reichs. I did read the first book in the series.

This book contains a little less French in it than the previous book in the “series”. The character Temperance Brennan also seems a lot more like the derivative television character that stars in “Bones.”  By that I mean, she is less emotive and more assertive. The story is split between Brennan’s job in Montreal and Brennan’s university job in Charlotte, NC. Much of the story takes place in Beaufort, SC. There is one romantic scene (no sex) involving the character Andy Ryan.

The interesting part of this book is that even if you know how the story is going to go, you still do not feel bored reading along. I was able to guess pretty early on what was going on with Brennan’s sister and the murders that she was investigating. I was not able to guess about the investigation of the nun which started the book, but it wasn’t all that interesting when I did find out at the end of the book. There were some pretty gory parts – babies had been killed. Most people will avoid this book based on that and I cannot say that I blame them. The main problem with the book is that there are a lot of murders. Well, not murders, but actually just dead bodies. At least 12 of them, I think. And while the heavy body count fits with the storyline, I admit that once in awhile I lost track of who the heck each body was etc. Mainly, the bodies are female and around the same age. All kinds of female names and talk of bones. It gets a little too much. Was this Anna? Or was it Kathryn? No! It must have been Carole. Sheesh!

Nevertheless, its a fun read. I like Reichs’ writing style well-enough. Temperance Brennan had a bit more attitude in this novel, which I appreciated. Don’t worry, at one point Brennan does still break down and have a crying fit. (She actually has two, but one is justified – she thought someone killed her cat! Thankfully, Birdie is fine!)

There is a rather long phone discussion between Brennan and another scientist regarding the role of insects and time of death. If you are interested in this sort of thing, larvae and flies and maggots, then this section is probably a lot more engrossing [sic] than if you are reading while eating a pizza. Nevertheless, I do appreciate a little of the “science” in the book. It makes it not seem quite so pulpy. [sic]

3 stars