Crime

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

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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

Deadly Decisions

Deadly Decisions

Deadly Decisions cover

Deadly Decisions is the third book in the Temperance Brennan novel series by Kathy Reichs.  I have read both the first and second novels, and now today, completed the third.

I started this book sometime in August 2010. I finished it on January 25, 2011.  This does not mean that it was a 2,000 page tome.  I have the ability to read a number of books at the same time. Its like watching TV shows, most people do not watch an entire series of one show and then begin the next. Easily, they watch their favorite shows and manage to keep track of all the storylines and characters.  Nevertheless, I admit that I was not actively reading this book during all these months. I started it, made good progress (perhaps as far as page 120), and then just failed to pick it back up again. I got too absorbed in any number of things.  Last night, I was all set to start yet another novel and I admonished myself:  finish up the old ones first!!  So I did.

From the back of the book:  A North Carolina teenager disappears from her home, and parts of her skeleton are found hundreds of miles away. The shocking deaths propel forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan from north to south, and deep into a shattering investigation inside the bizarre culture of outlaw motorcycle gangs — where one misstep could bring disaster for herself or someone she loves.

Of the three books by Kathy Reichs that I have read, this was my least favorite.  I think the topic of biker gangs and motorcycles and such just really holds no interest for me.  And, if the book had been really gripping, it would never have taken six months to read the whole thing.  Still, I am not saying that this is a bad book.  I am used to Reichs’ writing style, I like the majority of the recurring characters in her books, and I like the tone and setting of the books.  I understand both the Montreal and Dixie aspects of the stories, and its fun to read about stories that take place in areas that I am familiar with.

In chapter five, we are introduced to a new ongoing plotline involving Andrew Ryan (Brennan’s partner in the previous novels). I, frankly, do not like Ryan whatsoever, so I just did not give a rip about this storyline. By the end of this book, I was disappointed in how this plotline is working out.

I am quite fond of Brennan’s cat, Birdie. I also am starting to become amused by the interactions between Brennan and Claudel.  I feel these interactions could really develop and be quite good in future novels.  Claudel is an intriguing character.  Once again, the story included some of Brennan’s family, Kit and Harry.  This was okay, but Kit is nineteen years old and as a major figure in this novel I was annoyed by him. I am not thrilled with the antics of teenagers.

Overall, I have to give this book 2 stars. It really is on the cusp of 3 stars, but it did take me 6 months to read it.  I will be continuing on in the series.

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

Killing Floor

Lee Child KFI finished Killing Floor by Lee Child. It was originally published in 1997 and it is the first of the Jack Reacher character novels by Child.

Synopsis from the back cover: Jack Reacher is an MP. He is also a drifter. He’s passing through Margrave, GA and in less than an hour, he’s arrested for murder.

The book is told from the first-person point of view. Due to this, the main character’s thoughts tell the story, more or less. And how do you expect an ex-MP to think? He thinks in short “incomplete” sentences most of the time. This is not too terrible, but it does get old. I am concerned that reading more of this character will get tedious. As a character, Reacher is pretty impressive. I have to keep telling myself that its possible for him to do what he does because he has lots of real-world experience. Also, and tellingly, it was hard for me to connect with the character – J. Reacher is a giant. Well over six-feet tall.

I think Lee Child is a Brit. And the flaw with his writing in this first novel (again, he gets mitigation for that), is that he writes like a Brit. The story takes place in the South. What was a Brit like Child thinking when he decided he was going to write a story taking place in the South? Unless you have lived in the South (SC, GA, AL, Miss., LA, etc.) for at least 3 years, you don’t know about it. Really. Its a different place. I have people from the North that have said a passport should be required to travel to the South. One clue that Child doesn’t have the best grasp? His characters say “right.” Its a very British thing, but noticeable. They don’t say y’all. None of them chewed tobacco. And Blue Laws didn’t effect any part of the story. Anyway, all the characters saying “right” actually annoyed me enough that I didn’t read the book for a day or two.

Child also has some sentences that make me feel like he needed an editor. If they are messed up sentences – heck, just leave ’em out! An example of this is in chapter 23: It was about as distinctive as the most distinctive thing you could ever think of. Child is describing an automobile. But seriously? There wasn’t a better way to make the point that the car stands out? Really?

Child does succeed at making an interesting plot. I like the overall big story, the little story isn’t fantastique. But the big story is interesting – and much different than a lot of other stories on similar topics. I was impressed with the answer to the “paper.” He doesn’t have too many characters and he handles the locations and timeline well. The writing just needed to be done better.

3 stars