Showing posts with label Private Dick. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Private Dick. Show all posts

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I requested this from Net Galley because it sounded interesting. I've never read anything by this author before, so it was also a chance to explore a writer who is not new to writing, but who was new to me.

I have to say up front that I'm not a huge fan of first person voice novels, which automatically puts private investigator stories off limits since pretty much every author in that genre seems obsessed with writing them exactly the same way as every other author. This means of course that once you've read one you've effectively read them all.

These old soft slippers of stories doubtlessly appeal to a certain segment of the population who like to slip them on regularly, but it's like those authors have never considered that it might appeal to a larger audience if they could only find the courage to break the mold. I know it's always easy to play it safe, but I'd have appreciated this one a lot more had it not done so.

I've never read anything by this author before (and seriously doubt I will again), and the blurb made it sound like this might be interesting, assuming I could get past 1PoV. I'm always game for a good story involving a strong female lead, so: an author who might be able to carry a first person story and not make it irritating to read? Potential strong female character? Maybe this wouldn't be so bad? Those were my hopes going in.

Let me begin by saying that I did appreciate that the first person PoV wasn't as annoying as I feared it would be, although it did still kick me out of suspension of disbelief on occasion, and it did still annoy me from time to time. The main reason for that is that 1PoV is always about 'me' (the story-teller) all the time. You cannot get away from 'me': Hey lookit me! Look at what I'm doing now! Pay attention only to me! Now I'm doing something else! Look now! Annoying.

I honestly don't know how people can swallow so much of that. I'm amazed that they can, but herding animals can be habituated to anything, so I guess the same principle applies here. The real problem though is that it's the weakest voice in which to tell any story, let alone a PI adventure, because nothing can happen unless the 'me' is present to witness it! How unlikely is that? The only way to overcome that severe limitation is to have more than one first person voice which is even more annoying, or to have boring info-dumps periodically so the first person narrator can catch up on things which happened when they were not there. Again: annoying.

The amusing thing here was that the author openly admitted what a mistake it was to have limited herself to this voice because she added third person PoV 'mini-chapters' periodically. I quickly took to skipping those because I found them to be thoroughly uninformative and worse, they were nothing more than info-dumps which repeatedly stalled the story while contributing nothing materially to it.

This novel was not quite ready for prime time, which in some ways is understandable since it was an ARC. There was a spelling error of the kind a spellchecker will not find: "reversals that left a bade taste" where evidently 'bad' was required instead of 'bade', and having someone say, “Thus his interested in Baltimore, New York, and Louisville" when the 'his' should have been 'is', or alternately, the 'interested' should have been 'interest'.

There were occasional punctuation issues, such as, for example, a period missing at the end of a sentence, or a question mark (example: "He was taller than Capps, but who wasn’t.") and so on. This could use another read-through before publishing, but we've all been there and all missed something before publication, so these were no big deal for me. Other than that, it was generally well-formatted and in technical terms, well-written. The problem with it for me came from mired-in-the-mud trope and cliché. The farce was strong with this one.

Far from take a road less traveled, the author instead apparently made a checklist of tropes and clichés from the genre which must be included, and she checked off every one:

  • First person voice? Check!
  • Quirky name for female PI? Check! (It's Sunday Night which is too absurd by 100%)
  • Thorny PI or with troubled history or both? Check!
  • PI likes typically male sport (baseball in this case)? Check!
  • Quirky pet? Check!
  • Too much focus on, and detail of, ordinary everyday activities in life of PI? Check!
  • Has relative or close friend for backup? Check!
  • Has previous career in military or police? Check!
  • Has questionable record in previous professional career? Check!
  • Masochistic PI likes to suffer? Check!
  • Drinks beer like a good old boy? Check!
  • Investigation seems to be going one way; then it gets turned around and goes in another way entirely? Check!
So nothing new here then. I was truly sorry to see that.

There were also some writerly issues creeping in, such as having a character say, “Against whom?” No one says that in real life unless they're being very pretentious, or are an English teacher or an old-school actor, but I see writers using it all the time in character speech because they can't stop themselves! Personally I think 'whom' is long past its sell-by date and ought to be tossed out altogether. If writers want to use it in the narration, that's one thing, but to have real people actually say it is entirely another, and this is another problem with first person voice: the narrator is the one actually saying it!

So that's the technical writing portion of the review dealt with. Now onto the story itself! It didn't work for me because it revolved around a kidnapping of a young girl. The problem with this is that there was absolutely no rational whatsoever for kidnapping the girl, and even less to keep her alive. There's some vague hand-waving about using her for leverage, but it fails because there's nothing to leverage.

The bad guys are terrorists, so the kidnap victim is completely irrelevant to them. The terrorist leader is utterly ruthless and has no compunction about killing children, yet the one thing he threatens to do - kill the child - he never does.

The sole reason for this is of course so the PI can heroically rescue the girl at the end, but this makes the story so unrealistic as to be more of a joke than a thriller. I don't mind somewhat improbable events occurring in a novel if there's some sort of justification for them within the context of the story, but to just randomly have things be 'just-so' for the sole purpose of facilitating the PI cracking the case and saving the day makes the story look poorly written.

It didn't get any better when the PI takes a shot to the shoulder. There is a dumb gunfight in which, like Han Solo in the original film, she doesn't shoot first even though any realistic PI would have done so. She waits out the potential assassin who is in her hotel room. She waits for an ungodly amount of time, and never once thinks to call the police. Dumb. Worse than this, a host of other hotel guests go past her and see she has a gun, yet not a single one of them calls the police either! Double dumb. She's hit in the shoulder and gets a prescription for painkiller, but she never fills it! This doesn't make her look tough. It makes her look stupid.

If there was some valid reason offered for not getting the script filled - like she was in a prolongued chase, or there was no time to get to the pharmacy for some other reason, that would be one thing, but there's nothing! She has lots of time and nothing pressing, and she's out on the streets a lot. It would have been the simplest thing in the world to drop in to a pharmacy, get the script filed, pop a pill, and fix the pain, thereby making her more effective at doing the job she was hired for, but she never does. This doesn't make her look strong, it makes her look dumb or clueless. But not to worry! The entire injury seems to magically go away in short order, and isn't mentioned again - not in the portion I read, anyway.

What killed this novel for me though, was when the 'ruthless' villain kills one of two followers to try and get the PI off his back, but he delivers the other one to her trussed-up as a prisoner. Why didn't he kill that one? It turns out that the only reason he didn't dispatch her as well, is that she had a vital clue to impart which enabled the PI to track down the villain. This was so ridiculous that I quit reading the story right there, at about 75% in. I could not enjoy it when it was written so poorly, and I certainly couldn't take it seriously. I expected a lot better than this from such a seasoned writer. I cannot recommend this novel.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Devil Went Down to Austin by Rick Riordan


Rating: WARTY!

Though it was read quite competently by Tom Stechschulte, and though it started out reasonably well after a slightly rocky first couple of chapters, this audiobook soon devolved into endless family politics with very little of interest to me happening, so I started skipping and skimming, and then quickly gave it up as a bad job. Life is too short to waste on stories which don't grip you. I skipped to the end before I dropped it off back at the library and discovered, not to my surprise at all, that the main suspect turned out to be not the real bad guy, and one of the guys I'd encountered briefly earlier, who I'd tagged as a possible main villain was actually the villain, so no real surprises at all.

This is apparently number four in the "Tres Navarre" series, that name (the first part of which is pronounced 'Trace') being the name of the main character. If I'd known that before I picked it up, I'd not have picked it up. As it was, it looked like it might be interesting, and it was a story set in central Texas, but it really could have been set anywhere and remained the same story (with local details changed of course), which meant it wasn't really about Texas. It was a stand-alone - that is to say, as far as I could see I didn't feel I'd missed anything by 'starting' this series at number four. On the other hand, I didn't really feel I'd missed anything when I DNF'd it, either!

I liked the idea of the PI coming to Austin to teach literature for the summer (although he actually does no teaching!), and that this brother is a software engineer who is in trouble with his new anti-virus app, but neither of these things really played a large part in the story except as a rather flimsy background.

Most of it (at least the parts that I listened to) was boring. There was far too much extraneous detail, and far too much tedious twisted family history which some readers might like but which turns me off a story. For me it made a stodgy dough of a recipe which the occasional nice turn of phrase did nothing at all to leaven in the long-run. Based on what I did listen to, and the uninventive ending, I can't recommend this one. Maybe Rick Riordan should stick to his Percy Jackson series?


Thursday, July 28, 2016

IQ by Joe Ide


Rating: WARTY!

This was an advance review copy from Net Galley. I thank the publisher for a chance at an early read of this novel.

This is a long book and was a bit of a roller-caster ride for me, but unfortunately, not in a good way. I started out disliking it, yet pressed on and found it more to my liking, but in the end I made it only fifty percent of the way through it, and the reason for that was the endless flashbacks containing info-dumps about the history of one character or another. It felt like padding which, given that this novel is over three hundred pages long, was entirely unnecessary. Not that padding is ever a good idea. I get that authors like to do mini-bios on their characters, to flesh them out and make them 3D, but to incorporate all of this into the story, Stephen King style is definitely not to my taste, and is a major reason why I quit reading Stephen King novels for that matter.

When I read a detective story, which is what this is, I want to be on the job pursuing clues. I don't want to take regimented breaks to catch-up on character history. By all means weave it into the story if you think it's really necessary, but don't bring your story to a screeching halt every other chapter with an episode of This is Your Life. The feeling I got by the time I quit - in the middle of yet another character history - was that the plot was thin and this padding was felt necessary to plump it up and make a real novel out of it, but it didn't, because it simply wasn't appealing.

The other major problem was with the main character. He's presented as some kind of prodigy or genius, or Sherlock Holmesian detective, but I saw nothing in the first fifty percent of this book to indicate he was anything out of the ordinary. He wasn't very interesting to me except when he was working he case, and it seemed like this activity was low on the author's list of priorities. He also took so much crap the first day on the job, from the entourage of the guy he was trying to help (yet another rapper) that it made no sense to me that he'd suck-up gratuitous insult after abusive insult without turning around and walking out on their mouthy asses. It made him look weak and beggarly.

Worse than this, at one point, Isaiah (the IQ of the title) has identified the perp, yet rather than draw the attention of the police to him, he simply drives away. This was criminally negligent given that this guy is in active pursuit of an assassination. I get that maybe the police don't have enough to arrest him right there and then, but I sure wouldn't want it on my conscience if I didn't say anything, and this assassin ends up succeeding in his plan. It was irresponsible and finished the job of turning me off the guy, which is a sorry thing to do when it comes to your main character!

As always, I wish the author all the best in his endeavors, but this book was not for me and I can't in good faith recommend it.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sixkill by Robert B Parker


Rating: WARTY!

Last trip to the library to pick up a requested book, I happened upon this audiobook, which is about a private dick named Spenser (and yes, he's for hire!) who is investigating the murder of a movie star's one-night stand. Over in the young readers section I happened upon a second audiobook also by Robert B Parker, titled Chasing the Bear, which was about the same character but when he was younger. I thought it would be an interesting study to compare and contrast.

Was I ever wrong! Nauseating was a more apt description, and the major reason for it was that this author sucks at writing prose. His problem is that he has all the individuality and inventiveness of a metronome when it comes to writing conversation between two people, and he writes a lot of speech with nothing to break it up. It's like listening to two automatic tennis ball throwers trying to play tennis with each other, and every bit as engrossing.

Of course this was first person because god forbid anyone should ever deign to imagine that it's legal under US law to write a novel in third person! Here's an example of this author's appalling conversational writing, from the beginning of chapter one. Note that this is a transcript of the audiobook, so my punctuation (and spelling of names) may differ from the printed page:

"Care for a coffee?" I said.
"Got some!" Quirk said. "Nice of you to ask."
"You ever read Frazz?" I said.
"What the fuck is frazz?" Quirk said.
[small descriptive section omitted]
"A comic strip in the Globe," I said. "It's new.'
"I'm a grown man," Quirk said.
"And a police captain," I said.
"Exactly," Quirk said. "I don't read comic strips."
"I withdraw the question," I said.
Quirk nodded. "I need something," he said.

Said, said, said? Has this guy never heard of words like, "asked"? Or exclaimed? Or "interrupted"? Or of simply adding no attribution once in a while? I quote this novel shortly afterwards in sheer disbelief that a grown man could write so god-awfully badly. It didn't help that Joe Mantegna's condescending, and I felt insulting version of an American Indian accent was vomit-inducing, and worthy of American western movies of the 1940's and 50's. I used to like Joe Mantegna.

I do not like this author and after listening to the opening portion of two different novels about the same guy at different stages of his life, I've come to the conclusion that there's no difference! I also have to ask how this thoroughly obnoxious lout - the accused murderer in this novel - ever became a major movie star. It's simply not credible. The story makes no sense at all. I'm all done reading Robert B Parker, I say.


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Rhythm & Clues by Sue Anne Jaffarian


Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with Rhythm & Clues by Rachel Shane, this is your bog-standard first person PoV detective story, of which I am not a fan. The thing that interested me about this particular one is that the main character was older than you typically find in these stories, and she was a member of a defunct band. The problem was that instead of a detective, the main character and her mother both came off as interfering busybodies.

Actually, there were far too many busybodies: the whole family was this way evidently, as well as the daughter of the man with whom main character Odelia's mom was involved. Odelia Grey and her mom in particular, had no problem getting into an investigation that had nothing whatsoever to do with them, and in which they were in fact interfering with police business, and doing so after they'd been warned in no uncertain terms by police officers, to stay out of the investigation. At one point the mom calls a person who might be a suspect and gives him information which has not yet been made public, before the police even have a chance to talk to him. This is unacceptable and turned me right off the story and the characters.

In addition to this, the writing style was not very good. The writing focused way too closely on minor everyday activities, bulking up the page count without conveying anything of interest, and certainly nothing to do with the investigation. It made for somewhat tedious reading. Some of the writing made no sense whatsoever. For example, at one point, Odelia outright asks her mom if she's having sex with a guy who lives in the same retiree, gated community in which she lives. Seriously? What the hell business is it of hers? Well, she's a busybody. That wasn't even the biggest problem. After Odelia asks this of her mom, and her mom indicates that she is, I read this: "It was difficult enough getting the picture of Mom and Art doing it out of my head" so why the hell did you even ask? It made no sense.

At another point, there was an exchange between Odelia and her lawyer employer who is called in to help. He says, "I had to shave while driving 75 miles per hour," and she "points out" that he drives a stick shift. If he's doing seventy, he's not shifting gears, so how is that even relevant?! Other than that he's a moron if he's shaving and driving at that speed - or even driving at all. This guy is supposedly a lawyer and should know better, but then none of the characters I encountered in this story seemed blessed with an over-abundance of smarts.

Sometimes the writing was simply obscure: "She said she'd just flown in saying she was on a two week vacation from her job." Huh?! There were some intentionally funny bits, though, such as this one: For a minute I wondered if she was going to try to make a run for it. Or more like a shuffle for it, considering her age. That was amusing, but this kind of thing was rare. Mostly it was just annoying as Odelia's mom gets (or at least lets) her grand-niece break into a neighbor's apartment because Odelia's mom is in a fluster about why he's 'disappeared'. Then they call Odelia at 1:30 in the morning because they were both hauled down to the police station. Well deal with it. You broke into someone's house, morons. These people were stupid and insufferable, and I lost all interest in reading about them. I quit this after thirty percent, because I couldn't bear to read any more about them.

The front of the novel has some "praise" including one comment from Kirkus, which is pointless. Kirkus has pretty much never met a novel they didn't like, so their reviews are utterly worthless! I actively avoid books (when I know beforehand) that Kirkus has praised. The story (at least the thirty percent I read) had nothing to do with music other than that the guy who has disappeared (and without notifying Odelia's mom, with whom he's not really acquainted, of his exact itinerary! The scandal!), was once in a band, so the music angle was a complete let-down for me. This guy could have been on a cycling team or in a group of charity volunteers, and pretty much the same story could have been told about him.

So overall, while I do appreciate the chance to have taken a look at an advance review copy, and while I do wish the author the best of luck with this series, I was not impressed with the story. I have no interest in pursuing a series based on these characters, and I can't recommend this based on the portion I read.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Scents and Sensibility by Spencer Quinn


Rating: WARTY!

I was drawn to this because of the amusing title and the somewhat unusual premise, but mainly by the blurb announcing that the story was about illegal cactus smuggling, which struck me as an hilarious idea for a novel, so I jumped right on board and felt instead rather like I was jumping overboard into ice cold water, because the execution of the idea left me less than thrilled.

This is the eighth in a series. I haven't read any of the previous volumes, being unaware that this series existed, and not being a series fan - with a few prized exceptions. Perhaps this is the kind of series you have to build up to from the start. On the other hand this appears to be an episodic series, so it's not one which you have to have read all the prior volumes before reading this one in order to follow the story in this particular volume.

I have to say that Chet the Eighth did not grab me from the off. Quite the contrary - it was a bit annoying. It's told from the dog's PoV in first person, which is the most irritating voice for a novel, and it doesn't help in this case that the narrator is a dog. There was just something about it which turned me off.

I made it to page sixty, the end of chapter seven, which is about one quarter the way through this, and I couldn't bring myself to read any further. I don't know what it really was, but this novel simply didn't do it for me. I didn't find it interesting or engaging, and I felt neither empathy with, nor liking for any of the characters. The bottom line is that I was simply not interested in these people, much less who the perp was or what their motives were. I can't recommend this based on what I read, and life is way too short to keep on doggedly reading when the story isn't doing it, and there are so many other volumes waiting to captivate and entrance you.


Friday, May 29, 2015

A Witness Above by Andy Straka


Title: A Witness Above
Author: Andy Straka
Publisher: Brash Books
Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
"I'm in a bit of a vice" should be "I'm in a bit of a vise" unless of course he really means that he's conducting himself immorally! (p68)
Change of font in mid-newspaper headline (p72)
"...whole neighbors.." should be "...whole neighborhoods..." (p156)
"About whether I arrest you now or you turn yourself in down to the department." Makes little sense. Maybe "...turn yourself in down at the department"?

"kibosh" should be "kibosh" or "kybosh" from the Gaelic Caip bháis meaning candle snuffer (p38)
Not an erratum as such, but an oddity:
Nicole says of her friend "We were always chums" which sounds really odd and not something which is likely for a teenager, especially an older one, to say.

I've enjoyed a warm relationship with Brash books despite posting some negative reviews, so I'm glad to be able to post a positive one like this one! This novel, despite some issues I had with it, is a worthy read and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in a nice private detective story that unfolds comfortably, always moving forwards, with some really interesting characters.

This is your standard private dick story told, of course in the first person (since it's evidently illegal to tell a PI story in third person, as you know!). First person isn't my favorite voice by a long chalk, but some authors can carry it, and this one does. The PI is Frank Pavlicek (Pav-li-check). His quirk (because they all have to have a quirk right?) is that he's into falconry and goes hunting with a red tailed hawk in time-honored tradition. His baggage (because they all have to have baggage, right?) is that he has a wife who hates him and a rather estranged teen daughter.

I found myself thinking wryly that maybe the daughterly estrangement is due to the fact that he still calls her Nicky and she still calls him 'Daddy' despite the fact that she's old enough to go into bars if not to drink alcohol. This endearment felt a bit confusing given that he tells us at one point shortly afterwards that the last time he thought of his daughter as little was when she was nine, and later again refers to her as though she's just a little girl.

The wifely break-up has no solid explanation. What seemed to be a perfectly good marriage broke down for two putative reasons: he apparently hauled her from their old life to a Podunk town and begin a career as a PI all without talking to her about his plans, apparently. Also she developed a money-grubbing attitude out of nowhere, evidently, along with an inability to work. Frank also has the requisite love interest who is, of course, a wise divorced woman. Nothing new here. The only interesting thing about him to me, was that at the time of the story, he lives and works in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I lived for a time. It was nice to read a story for once, set in a place I know!

There's actually nothing in Charlottesville. It's dead, despite being a university town. It's the kind of place you leave if you want to have fun. I've had a lot of fun since I left! It is picturesque, with the mountains a drive away on one side and the beach a really long drive away on the other, but there's really no there, there, as the saying goes, which is why I left and never looked back. It was nice to reminisce here, though.

Of Frank's girlfriend. The first thing we learn is that "She was not the most beautiful woman in the world...". This is the exact opposite of what I usually complain about, but the problem here is that we have a case of what I shall term inverse objectification. The point here is not that she's outstandingly beautiful as way too many women are in your typical novel, but that she's not the most beautiful, and so once again we have a female character who is defined by her looks and for no good reason.

Yes, there are good reasons to have a character defined (I should say primarily defined, because it never is a definition by itself) by her beauty: if the story is, for example, about a woman who was beautiful, and now has to cope for whatever reason with not being so, but in most stories, a woman's good looks or otherwise are no more relevant or pertinent than a man's, and focusing attention on how attractive or unattractive a female character is, merely serves to reduce half the population to skin. Can we not simply describe her as we'd describe a guy, without going into any pseudo poetic declarations or the gratuitous employment of superlatives, or by going into stealth mode and telling us she's not the most attractive woman in the world?

The weird thing here that made me smirk is that even after we're told how not-the-most-beautiful she is, we're still told that she has a photogenic magnetism in her eyes. Because god forbid she would just be a regular girl. No room for regular girls in this world. If they don't meet the Aryan ideal, then they must be extirpated. That sounds so familiar. Where did I hear that? I also found it odd that when Regan discovers it's a boy. it's congratulations all around? What would they do if it had been a girl? Bought wreaths?!

But in this regard, this novel is no better and no worse than any other story out there, and as a PI story, it's better than many in how it treats women. So instead, let's side-step all of this, and look at the story itself. Pavlicek is out hunting with his hawk in his hand and encounters a dead body from which he removes evidence before calling in the police. Already I don't like this guy, but you don't always have to actually like the main character to enjoy a good story, so this is fine. The evidence links his daughter to a drug dealer, so it seems, and he wants to find out what's going on. But have no fear. His daughter will be fine. After all, she's not ordinary either, because she's been endowed "With the same spectacular good looks as her mother...". I know husbands have every right to deem their wife and daughter beautiful, but this constant worship of beauty was tedious to say the least.

Pavlicek's daughter isn't very pleased to see dad until she gets jailed for possession with intent to distribute, then she's calling him. Why isn't clear, since her mom was married to a rich guy and had no problem hiring a lawyer, so this was interesting, especially since mom was behaving rather dismissively if not in a hostile manner towards her own daughter! When when Frank visits Nicole in the jail (and calls her Nickita) he notes that her eyes are brimming with tears, but still is dumb enough to need to ask her how she's doing. Some dads never learn!

The story really takes off from there and in general, it's very well written. I could have done without the falconry interludes which really felt like 'ludes to me, but I skipped those few pages and focused on the story itself, which was a bit predictable but nonetheless well done and engrossing. It was fun for me to read about a place I'd lived, so this lent the story a certain familiarity to me, like meeting an old friend. I ended-up still not liking Pavlicek. He didn't strike me as the smartest PI in the deck, and consequently I don't feel any desire to read more about him, but I actually would have liked to have read more about his daughter and her friend Regan. Those two were quite complex and entertaining characters, but not in the story much. Who knows, maybe a few years down the road we'll meet Nicky and Regan, Private Eyes? Until then, I think this is a worthy read if you're into PI stories.

Post scriptum - here's an oddity from the Adobe Digital Editions reader - there's no page 268 in a 268 page document!:


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham


Title: Scarlett Undercover
Author: Jennifer Latham
Publisher: Little, Brown
Rating: WORTHY!

Erratum:
“Funny” on page 67 is missing a closing quote.

The last message on Jennifer Latham's website (as of this posting) is that she's here in Austin! Yeay! The website gives no clue as to where she is exactly, however; then I'm not a fan boy so I wouldn't go anyway, but I could have at least told you guys! Maybe it's hidden away on her website, but I sure don't have time to search for it.

Now this is an intriguing novel she's given to us. Scarlett is a smart (so we're told) and precocious 16 year old who graduated high school two years early, but has yet to take up college life. Judged by her bio (which we get about half-way through the novel), she hasn't always been so smart, but a good-hearted cop (or is he?) set her back on the straight and narrow, and that's how she got into the private detective business. In the meantime, she lives off...I have no idea who or what she lives off. Her parents are dead and she lives - nominally - with her older sister.

She seems to do very little with her life save for taking Muay Thai lessons, and those only half-heartedly. She holds down no job as far as I can see, unless you count the "job" of unpaid, part-time detective. Her new case is a nine-year-old girl who reports that her older brother is acting weird lately! Scarlett is inclined to take this report with a pinch or two of salt until she starts looking into it. An examination of the kid's room while he's not around, leads Scarlett to the discovery of a series of mysterious patterns scratched onto the back of his bedroom door.

Scarlett's "love" interest has the unfortunate name of Decker, and he equally unfortunately sports the young adult cliché of having gold flecks in his eyes. Seriously? He works part time in his mom's greasy-spoon restaurant, but the interesting thing here isn't the gold flecks; it's the fact that Decker is Jewish, whereas Scarlett is Muslim. They have more in common than you might think, as this story slowly reveals.

Given this knowledge of her origins, how the heck Scarlett ever got her name is a bit of a mystery. At first i thought she was Arabic, then I thought that maybe she's African American, then maybe she's Indian. The novel never says and ultimately it's not important except in that finally, we have a majorly kick-ass non-Anglo-Saxon protestant female main character. Why is it so hard for you female authors to come up with these characters?!!! Kudos to Jennifer Latham for introducing us to this one!

Decker informs Scarlett that the pattern which she's convinced she's seen before, but can't bring to mind, is called Solomon's Knot (although it's actually a link, not a knot). It's not only in her mosque, it's also in his synagogue, but neither place is where she's seen it. Decker's mom, who also waits at this restaurant which she runs, turned very nearly to stone when Scarlett showed her the image. She refused to discuss it and wouldn't say why. When Scarlett investigates, she gets drawn into an ancient web of danger and mystery that has her fighting - sometimes literally - to stay ahead of.

In addition to an interesting mystery, Scarlett seems to have picked up not one, but two tails, since she took this case. She managed to give both of these girls the slip (and not the kind you wear), but what the heck is she going to do when she meets a guy on a bridge, who is himself the size of a bridge and wanting to take her down hard?

As I mentioned, I have to wonder where Scarlett gets her money from. She takes taxis, eats breakfast and leaves ten dollars on the table, hands out five dollars to a homeless person. She has an office! Maybe she lives off her dead parent's insurance money? Her sister is a doctor doing a residency, which means she works long hours, is always tired, hardly home, and gets paid diddly for all this, so we know the money isn't coming from her, so this access to endless cash is a big plot hole, but that aside, I can't find any fault in this novel.

I do find fault in the cover. The flimsy child-model on it in now way, shape, or form even remotely represents the outstanding girl depicted inside. Why they ever let jackasses do the cover who quite evidently have never even read the novel is a complete mystery to me. It's the price you pay, however, for going the route of Big Publishing™. The cover is out of the author's hands, and while I don't blame her for this disaster, I do feel awful for her that she got saddled with a trashy cover like this for the superior novel she's written.

Please do completely ignore the cover when considering reading this one! I never judge a novel by the cover. it's a colossal mistake. This novel is beautifully told, expertly paced, has major action, danger, intrigue, and narrow escapes, all of which are believable, and it has a romance that's done to perfection - i.e. this is not a romance novel masquerading as a PI novel like one I reviewed quite recently, it's a serious private eye story with a pleasant - for once - dash of romance. It's told - perhaps tongue in cheek - with the best private dick story-telling technique (which I think some reviewers simply didn't get), and the romance is a minor side-shoot which neither dominates nor ruins the story. I praise Jennifer Latham for that and assure you she is a writer to watch.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett


Title: The Maltese Falcon
Author: Dashiell Hammett
Publisher: Books on Tape
Rating: WARTY!

Audio book read stiltedly by Michael Prichard.

Need I get into the blatant objectification employed in this cover? I hope not.

First published in 1930 and turned into what is now considered a film noir classic in 1941, The Maltese Falcon is what would, were it published now, be considered a stereotypical hard-bitten private dick story. This is where Sam Spade was born. He's hired by a Miss Wonderly to try and get her younger sister to return home.

Wonderly has no idea where her sister is (nor does the reader!), but she claims she's hanging out with a man whom Wonderly considers dangerous: a married Englishman with the unlikely name of Floyd - unlikely because no Brit would ever name their child 'Floyd', but Dashiell (How-About-That-Hair?) Hammett obviously didn't know this or didn't care. Wonderly requests that either Spade or Archer do this and she pays handsomely for the consideration. Spade's assistant, Miles Archer, is assigned to tail Floyd Thursby. Luckily for Spade.

That night Spade is awakened by a phone call notifying him of Miles Archer's death. Why they would call Spade rather than Archer's wife is a complete mystery, but Spade goes to the murder site and sees that Archer was shot before falling over a safety rail and rolling down an embankment. Spade undertakes (I use that word advisedly) to notify Archer's wife.

Even later that night (I guess Spade goes to bed rather early!), two police detectives, Polhaus and Dundy, visit Spade and take an interest in whether he has access to a gun. It turns out that Thursby has also been murdered and Spade is now a suspect! The fact that he was having an affair with Archer's wife doesn't help his case.

And so it goes. This story really wasn't very good at all. Maybe back in the day it was new, and fresh and different, but now it's really rather pathetic. I can neither recommend this nor the movie they made from it.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Case of Tiffany's Epiphany by Jim Stevens


Title: The Case of Tiffany's Epiphany
Author: Jim Stevens
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!

This is novel two in my blog's Tiffany Day - two novels with the name 'Tiffany' in the title. This is the second one.

I made it about 15% the way through this before I gave up to go look for greener pastures. Life is too short to waste it gamely plowing through a novel that doesn’t entrance you from the off. There was nothing technically wrong in terms of the mechanics of putting words on paper, getting spelling and grammar right, etc, but it takes a lot more than that to make a novel a worthy read.

This is first person PoV, too, which is usually a mistake. Some authors can make it work, but ninety-nine times out of nine point nine, it fails because it's all "Me!" all the time and really, who cares? It’s especially hard to read when the narrator sounds like there's nothing more engrossing going on than reading-off a laundry list - and one that doesn’t even feature underwear to maybe perk it up a bit. It was tedious.

This is your bog-standard private dick novel, too. The author did try to de-cliché it by making the dick be the father of two daughters, but aside from that, he still sat it squarely in trope central. The dick is badly done-to, gets no respect, he's broke, has no love interest, and so on. Trope, meet cliché, cliché meet trope.... The dick is an ex cop who apparently got fired for hitting a superior ( I doubt that one offense, in absence of anything else, would merit a firing. A demotion and a transfer - and therapy - I can see, but summarily fired?

This does, of course, mean that he is actually a major dick. He seems to be clueless, too. He works (evidently part-time) and is really poorly paid for it, yet he's still paying alimony to his wife, with whom his kids normally reside, although he has full access to them, evidently. It’s apparently never crossed his mind to get a second job to buy the things he keeps whining that he doesn’t have.

His case? Try not to laugh, but the spoiled rotten daughter of his wealthy employer believes she was "roofied" at a dance bar one night. This is his 'case'. Seriously? This girl, Tiffany, is even more clueless than the Dick is, and she passed out in this bar. Those are the facts. According to the video surveillance, no one slipped her anything, so we don’t even know if she passed out from low blood sugar or something, or if she was drugged earlier (or very surreptitiously) or gassed, or something. We're told the dick gets a sample of blood, urine, and DNA. Seriously? What’s the DNA going to reveal? That she has a genetic predisposition to be clueless?!

Even if she was drugged, no crime took place (other than the drugging). She wasn't kidnapped or raped or anything. She simply passed out, was carried into the back office, and she woke up some time later and went home. It was essentially just as though she'd passed out drunk. Unless something bad happened in the back office (and there seems to be no suspicion of that in the portion I read), there's effectively no crime here and the girl just needs to find a better class of place to go dancing and never visit this particular dive again. Case solved!

My guess is that she was somehow made to give up some sort of password or pass code while she was woozy in the back-office and this was the crime - or at least the prelude to it: we're told that she has a whole palette of expensive classical artwork in her apartment, so maybe that's the motive. Or maybe she knows crucial things about her dad's business? Not that Private Dick thinks of that. He's obsessed with trying to track down all the people who were around her at the bar instead of focusing on what there might be to be gained from drugging her, and then apparently doing nothing with her.

But I was yawning too much over what I read in the first fifteen percent to want to fall asleep trying to read the last eighty-five percent. I just didn’t care about any of these characters, and especially not the Dick and Tiff.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Out of the Past by Renée Pawlish


Title: Out of the Past
Author: Renée Pawlish
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Rating: WARTY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

This novel sounded really interesting from the blurb, which only means that the blurb did its job - it lured me in. Unfortunately, this novel was not for me. I don't know what it was, but it made my skin crawl the minute I started reading it. It just felt completely wrong. I think part of it was that it tried way too hard to be what it patently was not: a hard-bitten noir-ish novel harking back to the classics of yesteryear. The problem with that was that it was set in contemporary times, so neither the attitude nor the lingo fit at all.

Instead of getting into it, I found myself stifling laughs at how ridiculous it truly was, with the caricature of Denver-based PI Reed Ferguson being beaten up in the bathroom by the even more caricatured brace of "goons" (yes, that word was actually spoken) named Tyrone and Oscar, when all they'd been sent to do was pick up the PI on behalf of some insanely rich dude. The PI's wise-cracks when he was punched were ludicrous. I have no idea what the author was trying to do, but none of it made any sense in the context in which it was presented, and the flashback to the eighties in the dance bar to which the PI was forcefully taken as the novel began was cringe-worthy.

The plot is that daddy warbucks wants the PI to escort his daughter because he thinks she's at risk for kidnapping. Why this is suddenly a threat now, when she's been all through high school with no issues, then all through college with no issues, and now she's been gallivanting around town partying all the time without even so much as a whisper of a threat is never explained (at least not in the portion I read). The PI is blackmailed into it because of some shady event in his past, but the assignment is so open-ended that it makes no sense. There is no threat to his daughter - there is only daddy warbucks's fear of one, so when is this assignment supposed to end? The PI is too dumb to even ask.

And why the PI? Why not hire a professional security detail? Why not hire a couple of moonlighting cops? None of this is even raised, much less dealt with. Worse than that, the girl is the polar opposite of Mr. Hard-Ass-the-PI. She dresses in pink and is a 'girly-girl' as far as I could see, so we're truly hit over the head with this tired cliché of square-peg versus round-hole (so to speak), which frankly held no appeal whatsoever for me. It's been done far too many times before. This one offered no promise of anything original or off-the-beaten-track based on what I'd read thus far, and there isn't even the promise of any mystery to it.

I cannot recommend this.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Dead Drop by Jesse Miles


Title: Dead Drop
(Barnes and Noble's website search engine doesn't seem to get the fact that if you type in title "Dead Drop" you really don't want titles like "Drop Dead"! No wonder they're losing out to Amazon!)
Author: Jesse Miles
Publisher: Robert Gordon Peoples (no website found)
Rating: WARTY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new novel is reward aplenty!

I had some really mixed feelings about this and wavered between a negative and a positive rating overall. Even as I sat down to work through my first draft of the review, I felt I was going to go positive in the hope that a new writer will season and improve on these scores as experience (and more reviews!) weigh in.

In the end I couldn't bring myself to rate this positively because of the gratuitous treatment of women in it which irritated more and more as I re-read what I'd written and considered it against the overall story. It was when I realized that I was in danger of having to make excuses for the writing by trying to argue that the overall story was good, that I knew that I had to change my rating, or take the road marked "Hypocrisy This Way"!

This is part of the 'Jack Salvo' private investigator series, of which I've read no others - I believe this is the first, although it feels like it's further along than that from the way it's written - it feels like we're starting in the middle of something rather than at the outset.

The blurb sounded intriguing, but it goes completely against my self-imposed ban on reading novels of any kind in which there's a main character named 'Jack' since that name is so over-used and is so clichéd that it almost makes me physically sick. I end-up wanting to name these characters Jack-Ass. And "Jack Salvo"? Seriously? Please, since this is evidently a brand-new series, can we not follow the road less traveled?!

Having said that, the story itself was good overall. In general it was well-written (apart from, for example, the use of the non-word "Thusly" on page 55!), it moved quickly, and was interesting, thoughtful for the most part, with some mystery and not too much machismo. The plot was believable and the main character's actions were also (for the most part) - except for the part where every woman no matter what her age or circumstances, seems ready to lie down and open her legs for Jack.

On the downside, there was rampant objectification of women, and some age-ism going on here and there, which I didn’t appreciate at all. I found myself trying to gage whether there was a favorable balance between sheer inappropriateness and decent story-telling, although a writer ought never to put their readers in that position! In the end I concluded that it was too much to let slide.

A problem here is one I have with a lot of books in that it’s told from first person perspective (Salvo's of course), which is also pretty much a cardinal rule for hard-bitten private dick stories, but that doesn’t mean that the PI actually has to be a dick. Plus it can be difficult in this case to be sure what is the character's thinking and what is the author's, which is creepy at best.

I know it’s all-but de rigeur to have this sort of predatory ogling of women in such a "hard-bitten and cynical" genre of novel, but this isn't the 1950's. Just because it's traditional doesn't mean we have to perpetuate it. Is there no one out there who can ditch convention and strike out on their own trail - one which has a PI story which isn't written in 1PoV and main character who doesn’t objectify or prey on women, no matter how indirectly?

The age-ism eared its ugly head on page 43 where Salvo first meets Wendy Storm, a fifty-year-old woman who may have some information which will help his investigation. I'm not remotely convinced that her age has to do with anything in this story, but it’s employed to generate this charming observation: "Thirty years and thirty pounds ago, she would have stopped traffic." Is that supposed to endear me to the main character, that this woman is fifty and somewhat overweight and is therefore somehow second-rate? It doesn’t. It makes me think Jack-Ass Salvo is a low-life, and it makes me dislike him immensely.

I know it flies in the face of Hollywood predilection (or predation), but you know what? There’s nothing wrong with older women (or older men). Anyone who is deluded enough to honestly think there is, needs psychiatric attention. There was no need at all for that observation, and it bothers me that this author seems to think, as evidenced by too much of what he writes here that involves on women, that the only really important thing is her looks.

That stinks regally, and we see it repeatedly expressed in Salvo's attitude towards most every woman he encounters, right from the start of the book. All he thinks about when he meets a woman is the superficial: how attractive or unattractive she is, how hot she is, how skimpily or provocatively dressed she is. It’s tiresome. Frankly, it’s pathetic and detracts from the power that this character could have, were he written better. The irony here is that Salvo is, believe it or not, a philosophy teacher. This leads me to believe that he must be also schizophrenic, to be a student of philosophy on one hand and to objectify women to an obnoxious extent on the other. I can't reconcile these things adequately!

Fortunately (for my continuing reading this and for my rating of it), although those kinds of references were common where women were "in play" in this story, they were thinly-spread through material because there were a lot of other things going on, most of which were good, and/or interesting, and/or intriguing. To be fair, there were occasions where women were portrayed positively: smart, capable, brave. The problem with that, though, was that the way these things were represented was as though they were something special - as though most women don't have these qualities, so let's be glad that this particular one does. Now maybe I got off to a bad start, having my perception tainted by his first interaction with a couple of women in the first few pages, but I wasn't the one who tainted that perception.

Some of the references were a bit off, too. For example, in one instance, Salvo makes the sarcastic observation that he could be the next Clint Eastwood (page 65), but Clint Eastwood hasn’t been a real movie star for decades. Making a reference like that makes the lead character seem like he's fifty or sixty, but he isn’t. He's younger than that and should, therefore, have a somewhat different frame of reference. For example, he mentions Brad Pitt at one point, so could he not have referenced Matt Damon or Vin Diesel, or Will Smith for his deprecating self-comparison? The analogy just leaped out at me as wrong.

On the subject of which, I have to also mention a cop's use of "…that broad's rear end…" at one point in the story. I don't have a problem with that particular observation because there are people who think like that in the real world, and it's unrealistic to pretend they don't exist in your novel, but in this day and age, does anyone really say 'broad' as a rather derogatory term for 'woman' or 'girl'? It seemed even more anachronistic than the Eastwood reference. Who knows? Maybe people do still say that.

The main female interest was Lilith, and she was written quite well, but I have to say I find it rather bizarre that she thinks that bad guy Faraday should be shot for putting his hands on her whilst "searching" her, yet she has no problem with Salvo ogling her and making remarks when she first meets him.

I also find it odd that when Salvo is watching Lilith's apartment because he fears for her safety, he outright lies when questioned by two cops in a patrol car, about his reason for being there. By lying, when there was no reason at all to do so and every reason not to, he put Lilith's safety in jeopardy. If he had truly cared about her, then he would have told the cops everything, putting her safety before all else. He hardly seemed smart or chivalrous to me after that. The only reason this was done was to achieve a certain end the writer wanted, and it was badly done.

There was another such weak spot when Salvo is fastened to an evidently wooden chair by a chain. I don't get why he doesn't simply break the chair. He has some ninety minutes before the bad guys return, yet he sits around and makes no effort to get free of the chair or to arm himself by breaking the chair and taking a piece of it for use as a club. I know he was concerned about making noise, but lives were in danger. This seemed too passive for the kind of guy we'd been led to believe he was.

Despite all those latter kinds of issues, I would have been willing as I said, to rate this positively, but I simply couldn't get past the way women were abused and misrepresented, thus (not thusly) I cannot recommend this novel.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Melancholy Manor by Ellie DeFarr


Title: Melancholy Manor
Author: Ellie DeFarr
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Rating: WARTY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new novel is reward aplenty!

Erratas and curiosities:
P63 "Any suspicions of fowl play…" should be "Any suspicions of foul play…" unless the character has a pet chicken.
Chapter 31 (paragraph 4) "...preferring to follow from behind..." - how else would one follow?!
"He seemed do distraught." I forget the location, but this clearly should be "He seemed so distraught."

This novel, which has a title that sounds like a children's book, isn't. It is one of a series, but each episode is discrete, so you don’t have to have read the first, or the whole preceding set (however many or few that might tally) to enjoy this one. I appreciated that! I was immediately drawn-in because this is a PI story, but it isn't told in first person PoV, which I detest, so major kudos to the author for being independent and original in that regard. Unfortunately, it failed to keep my interest.

Another reason I was drawn-in was that private investigator Hera Hunter (yeah, I know the name is a little bit too much like 'Hero', but I let that slide!) is very different. We first meet her in this story dispatching a child molester and murderer who got away with his last crime. Hera, 29, was a marine sniper and she took out this criminal in a park early one morning, and sauntered off home without a hint of guilt for her action. This lack of remorse or feeling is important for her later inexplicable reactions.

Next she's breaking into the home of a dishonest collector of valuables to steal back a precious diamond which the collector stole on behalf of some criminal element, and additionally, she's worrying over the unidentified body of an Asian woman found in a park. The body is unidentified, yet the police are somehow convinced she's not a prostitute. I don't get how they figured that out! I also found it rather too convenient how many useful coincidences crop up during Hera's investigations! She's always overhearing vital conversations, or seeing odd things going on that prove of use later, or meeting or hearing of people who are crucial to her solving the crime. It was too much.

I had an issue with the ubiquitous invincible hacker motif, too. Hera's partner at her PI agency is able to hack into anything just by tapping a few keys. Bullshit! That trope is tired and sad, and not even remotely realistic. As I said, I did like the story from the start, but the big question was, with issues like this cropping up so often, could the author keep me liking it? No, she couldn't.

There were too many white caps that hindered smooth sailing here. One big one, was a little yappy dog named "Lucky" belonging to Hera, which she literally takes everywhere with her, including into bars and along to visits with potential clients without even offering them courtesy of asking if it’s okay. This was absurd at best. I'm a dog lover but even I would draw the line somewhere. In this novel no one ever does and that was way beyond the bounds of credibility.

Like Lassie, Lucky has almost superhuman (or more appropriately, super-dog) instincts which are slightly improbable at best and farcical at worst. For example, Lucky can always tell if someone is a bad person, and is almost shark-like at detecting the faintest trace of a smell. That made the dog seem like it was from some cheesy kid's story.

The dog was written just like a human character, being given little comments here and there, such as in: "Arf, arf," the dog said, or as in: Lucky added, "Yip Yip", and so on. I found this juvenile and annoying, worthy of a middle-grade children's novel, but not an adult private-eye story. Initially this dog feature didn't irritate me too much, but the dog kept cropping up like that sad-ass Microsoft Windows "help dog" they used to have, and it was for no good purpose at all. I thought the dog was going to play a part in the mystery because it was featured so much. Thankfully it didn't, but this begs the question as to why we're hit over the head with little growly dog every few paragraphs?

Another oddity was that pretty much every significant guy Hera meets is very tall. I have no idea what that's all about, but this novel was introducing one such guy almost every ten pages in the first half of the book! Weird! It's not surprising that I quickly reached the point where there were too many things bothering me to enjoy this. One of the tall guys was a sleazy politician who happened to be related to Hera's assistant. The number of times he stopped by her office, the two of them had ample opportunity to record his voice and get him into serious trouble, yet they never did. Given Hera's radical action with the child molester, it seemed that she had way too much forbearance with the politician. It made no sense.

Another annoyance was the author's habit (I noticed it more than once) of reminding us of things which happened only a few pages before, and which were significant enough that your typical reader is highly unlikely to have forgotten unless they have some serious cognitive issues. One example of this is that Hera's (foster) sister is the proprietor of a brothel called 'Knickers' in town. Once I read that I didn't need to be reminded of it.

Hera is represented as a bit of a vigilante, hunting down the bad guys, and especially the ones who got away with it (that is until her own brand of thug-justice catches up with them), but the problem with that is that it disappears when she discovers her father! This is the man who shot her mother when she was a child and then fled, and who has been on the loose ever since - and who is very possibly a material witness in a case upon which she has just begun working. In fact, he's worse than that, but Hera does nothing about him!

Instead of shooting him out of anger, or more smartly, turning him in to the police as a murderer and a potential vital witness in another shooting, she just walks away. This was not only totally out of character given her previous behavior, it made her look completely inept if not downright stupid.

The situation was made worse by her schizophrenic attitude towards her dad. At one point she almost feels sad for him, at another she walks away from him, indifferent, at another she's infuriated by his behavior. It made no sense whatsoever, and served only as another annoyance for me. Admittedly Hera's idea of love is rather warped, and kudos to the author for not giving her a trope male love interest, but her attitude towards her foster parents was at best oddball.

As for the mystery, it was rather run-of-the-mill, and not very gripping. It was obvious who the bad guy was from the beginning, so there was no mystery there. Once we knew 'who', it was only a matter of what he was doing. This will probably be obvious to some readers, although it wasn't to me, I confess, but it seemed highly unlikely he would be doing what he was doing in such a relatively small town.

So while I was really drawn into this to begin with, it quickly became an annoying novel which I was glad to have finished so I could move on to something more engaging. I can't in good faith recommend this one. It didn't leave me with any desire at all to read any more in this series.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Compliments of a Friend by Susan Isaacs





Title: Compliments of a Friend
Author: Susan Isaacs
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media
Rating: WARTY!

I really had a bit of a time trying to decide how to rate this. It was not that interesting to me, but it was short (and there was no prologue! Yippee!). Unfortunately, it was in the first person, which is almost never a good thing in my book. What made me want to rate it worthy was that it featured an older woman doing the detecting. It's about time, when we're undergoing a flood of young and sassy female detectives, that someone swam upstream. Kudos to Isaacs for that.

This novel wasn't smart mouthed - although Isaacs isn't afraid to to go potty mouth when called for. I appreciated the honesty, so kudos again. What really put me off was all the snobbish brand-name-dropping. I detest novels which do that because it keeps destroying my suspension of disbelief. It's especially obnoxious when the writer tries to dismiss the name-dropping by pretending it doesn't matter, like even they are embarrassed by how pretentious they are. And on this topic, why isn't Isaacs embarrassed by the price she's asking for a 69-page ebook?

The detective part of the story wasn't that interesting to me either - there was nothing brilliant or dramatic about it. So despite my initially wanting to find this short-story 'worthy' because of the older woman PoV, it was because she offered me nothing else to rave about that she left me no choice but to rate it warty.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Doll by Taylor Stevens





Title: The Doll
Author: Taylor Stevens
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Rating: WARTY!

So why would a nation which overthrew the monarchy sport a publishing company called Crown Publishing? Another mystery for Vanessa Michael Munroe to crack?! This novel, published by Crown, is the third in an ongoing series of which Munroe is the main character. Note that I haven't read the previous two. The back-cover blurb compares Munroe with Lisbeth Salander of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fame, but apart from the fact that both were abused when they were younger, they have absolutely zero in common. Let this be a warning to all who do not self-publish: there is no limit whatsoever to the stupid things your publisher will lard your novel up with, and no end to how misleading back-cover blurbs can be! Those blurbs are not there for your guidance or for your education; they're there for one purpose and for one purpose only: to trick you into buying the novel! Fortunately, since I borrowed this from the library, I was far more willing to take a risk, so it wasn't an issue for me

There is some prior history going on with this volume, but it's almost completely irrelevant to the story told here as far as I can see, so if you picked this up out of order, as I did (and there is no indication on the cover to tell a prospective reader that this is "Book x of the Blah Blah series") you won't miss anything. Plus, it's blessedly told in third person (maybe the fourth in this series will be told in the fourth person? Hmm!), so there's none of that absurd and obsessively self-important "I did..., then I did..., then I wanted to..., then I saw...." garbage to wade through.

This volume doesn't even open with the main character except in that her colleague (and romantic interest, evidently) at a private security company observes her being tranquilized and kidnapped from the parking lot as she comes in to work. He's so incompetent that he can't do anything about it! As they try to trace who took Munroe, we meet her in person in the company of her foreign and very callous kidnappers, from somewhere in central Europe. She's required by these people to transport a "package" from A to B, or her brother Logan (no, it's not The Wolverine!) will be hurt even more than he was hurt already when they kidnapped him. The package is also kidnapped. She's a young, Hollywood celebrity: Neeva Eckridge who, we're told is the daughter of a US senator, but no one seems to know this? I don't buy that something like that would never have been ferreted out by the media. Or that someone would be so stupid as to try and kidnap a celebrity of her stature for his own personal use.

I picked up this novel because I was interested in Munroe, but the chapters roughly alternate between her and her partner, Bradford, who was completely uninteresting to me. I started skipping any chapter in which he was featured, and honestly didn't feel that I missed anything! What does that say about one third of this novel?! I got everything I needed from spending my time only with Munrow and Eckridge. I found their relationship fascinating - one kidnappee effectively forced to kidnap the other and take her across Europe to Monaco! Not that this made any sense whatsoever.

I was interested because I don't recall reading a story of this nature before. It was (to me) a really good and intriguing idea; it didn't develop in the way I had thought (and hoped) it might, though, and the ending really was pathetic and inexplicable. Plus Stevens left way too many loose threads to carry over into the next volume - just like she left some from the previous volume carrying over into this one. The main loose thread was Kate Breeden, apparently a friend of Munroe's from earlier adventures, but who betrayed Munroe and got herself jailed, then betrayed her further, from inside the jail - and then escaped from jail to no doubt reappear in Volume 4. That did nothing for me save inflict a mild feeling of déjà saturé (already nauseous). I only mention this because it's important for the ending (not my nausea; the fact that Munroe did not terminate Breeden with extreme prejudice in whatever earlier volume she'd had the chance to do so).

There is very little exchange between the two kidnap victims to the point where they start their road trip, and not a whole heck of a lot afterwards, unfortunately. That's' what I'd been looking forward to, and I didn't get it! Eckridge's new "captor" is more interested in how to get out of this mess, obviously, but there is an added twist in that one of Munroe's kidnappers, a younger man, the nephew of the man who orchestrated all of this, seems to be developing some remote low-level feelings for Munroe. He and a heavy (conveniently the one against whom Munroe has a grudge) are following their victims, observing them from out of sight, tracking their every movement, and controlling those movements by means of text messages to a phone Munroe is carrying. Plus both Munroe and Eckridge have their clothing bugged as well as the cheap crappy car in which they are traveling, and as well as the phone they were issued to stay in touch with the kidnappers.

I enjoyed this cat and mouse, finding it entertaining, and I was interested in how Munroe was going to get out of it. The problem is that she didn't. She made no attempt whatsoever during the two sleepless days of the trip to communicate anything to Eckridge about her plans or her reasons for doing what she was doing. Thus when Eckridge tried to make a run for it, I had thought the two of them had planned it when they were out of earshot of their trackers, using a noisy rest room. They had not. Eckridge was going it alone, and Munroe used this attempt to procure for herself a cell phone, which she then used to send her partner Bradford some text messages communicated in Morse code (since the car was bugged and she couldn't tell him everything in plain English). Superficially, this seems ingenious, but it's really stupid given that Munroe could have simply (and in Eckridge's ignorance) turned on the phone, called Bradford's number, and then simply engaged Eckridge in a conversation explaining to her where exactly they were and what was going on - fooling the kidnappers into thinking she was educating Eckridge, when she was really cluing-in Bradford.

There was an interesting problem from the writing perspective here. On p139, Stevens writes: "Bradford lay back on the sofa, head to one side...". When I reached that point I had thought it meant his head was turned to one side, but Stevens finished the sentence: "...feet to the other..." Obviously he was laying down length-wise on the sofa, but the way Steven phrased it robbed me of that understanding to begin with. Why did she choose to say "head to one side", rather than "head to one end"? I don't know. It's just another thing which can trip-up your narrative flow, and let your reader stumble. It's very minor - the rest of Stevens's writing is quite acceptable, so I wouldn't fault her for this. It's just one thing, but something for which a writer needs to be constantly vigilant when putting words on paper. Which, of course, reminds me of a Monty Python sketch (as so most things!). As John Cleese put it, "Ah, well, I don't want you to get the impression it's just a question of the number of words! I mean, getting them in the right order is just as important." I can't add anything to that. And now let's go straight over to James Gilbert at Leicester....

Anyway, in conclusion I'm going to have to rate this warty, because there were problems and the ending was a disaster in more ways than one. One problem, for example, was that Eckridge did not even realize that Munroe was a woman until a day into their trip! Now admittedly, Munroe was inexplicably disguised as a guy for the trip, but really? They had been living in each other's laps, talking from time to time, and using the rest room together for a day, and Eckridge never figured out the obvious? Nor did Stevens communicate Eckridge's knowledge deficit to the reader in way way, shape, or form! The ending? It was not only unsatisfactory, it was downright stupid. Let me give one spoiler. In the closing chapters, and knowing that Kate Breeden - whom she let live in an earlier volume - has totally screwed her over and caused deaths in doing so, Munroe then blithely chooses to let one of her kidnappers live, when the smart thing to do, and especially to do in light of her gross error of judgment with Breeden, would be to kill him.

She fails, and with that (and other issues), so, too, does this novel. I don't want to hear how tough, and mean, and decisive, and can-do, and feisty, and Salander-like she is and then find out she has let two dangerous people live, the second one in full knowledge of what a deadly mistake she'd made by letting the first one live. Her interaction with this kidnapper guy reminded me of that Woody Allen line in what, for me, is his best movie: Annie Hall when he does battle with two spiders in Annie's bathroom, armed with nothing more than a large tennis raquet, and she's crying over her sad life when he returns. Thinking she's upset about the passing of the arachnid couple, he asks her, "What did you want me to do, capture and rehabilitate them?"

I am the first to admit that trite, happy endings are never good, and even decent happy endings are sometimes not as good as a sad ending, but for Stevens to end this one the way she did turned me right off. If it were not for the crappy way she rolled this up, with so many loose threads the pages were almost falling out of the binding, I might have been willing to give this a 'worthy' rating, but given the totality of what I had to deal with here, I'm rating it warty, and advising you that I have no plans whatsoever to read any more of this series which is sad, 'cause I could have used another really good femme fatale in my life!


Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson





Title: The Girl Who Played With Fire
Author: Stieg Larsson
Publisher: Books On Tape
Rating: WORTHY!

For a review of the Swedish movie based on this novel, Flickan som lekte med elden, see here

Review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Review of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

TGWPWF begins with Lisbeth on an extended vacation in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean, Blomkvist at home wondering what the heck happened to her, since she left without a word and refuses to have anything to do with him, and Bjurman, technically her legal guardian, plotting her demise! Staying in Grenada, Lisbeth seduces a teen-aged boy who lives in a shack on the beach, and in between sessions of reading a massive tome on the history of mathematics, which is fascinating to her, ponders what to do, if anything, about an abusive doctor who is staying in her hotel, accompanied by his abused wife. Meanwhile there's a hurricane on the way. How great a start to a novel is that?!

This epic premise is a bit let-down by the execution, unfortunately! The hurricane (if that's what it was) comes and goes. Lisbeth rescues another woman from abuse in the middle of it: the doctor's wife. The doctor is found dead, blown 600 yards down the beach. We follow her back to Stockholm where she goes shopping for an apartment and furniture. This is the most mind-numbingly tedious episode in the entire trilogy so far. It was like reading Charlaine Harris - that's how god-awfully bad it was. I have no idea what Larsson was thinking of when he wrote this section. And actually, I don't really think I want to know!

In counterpoint, we do see Bjurman get really steamed (in a bad way!) about Lisbeth and he starts plotting how he can murder her. He begins by digging into her affairs because he can, being her guardian, and he starts to get a faint whiff of the fire she started - on her dad who was abusing her mother! We also learn that Lisbeth has a twin sister. Two Salanders are quite obviously better than one. Evidently they were separated from their mother when she proved incompetent to take care of them, but they were also separated from each other. This kinda made up for the Ikea shopping list!

We also learn of the affair between Harriet Vanger and Mikael Blomkvist (as does Erica!), but this goes nowhere, and Vanger disappears from the novel at that point, never to reappear. Lisbeth rekindles her relationship with lesbian lover Mimmi, and offers Mimmi her empty apartment to move into, since she has now moved herself considerably upscale. This happens right after Bjurman, in complete ignorance of Lisbeth's newly-won billionaire status and consequent change of address, has indirectly hired a huge blond German who is built like a brick outhouse and can feel no pain (Larsson evidently ripped this off from The World Is Not Enough. The German is supposed to kidnap Lisbeth from the very address Mimmi just moved into! Lisbeth's sixth sense is onto Bjurman even though she doesn't know exactly what he's doing. Oh, and Mimmi studies martial arts, so while this promised to be explosive, it actually wasn't quite written that way, but this definitely helps to clear out the dead wood from the wooden tour of the Ikea store with which Larsson earlier bored (or should it be board?!) us....

The novel picks up pace even more when the person tasked by Nils Bjurman to deal with Lisbeth Salander kills Bjurman and two friends of Mikael's who are working on exposing the Swedish sex-trade. Why Larsson didn't start his novel here is a really interesting question, because this is where the intrigue and the real story begins. Larsson leads us on an intricate and engrossing tour through the life of Lisbeth Salander. It's as disturbing as it is endearing, and as angering as it is heartening. If you started reading this novel at Chapter 7 you really wouldn't miss anything of significance or relevance. If a new author had written this - without having had the success of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor) under their belt, an editor would doubtlessly have told the author to seriously edit this novel. It just goes to show how indulged a successful author is, whereas a new author is abused cruelly on this score. All hail self-publishing!

Salander is now hosed with three murders (her prints are on the murder weapon), and a nationwide police hunt for her begins. But the findings make no sense at all to the police. No matter how they try to piece this jigsaw together, there are problems: the pieces seem to fit, but when you come right down to it, something is noticeably off. The pieces don't fit properly. Something is missing.

Meanwhile Lisbeth has dropped from sight, and she begins her own investigation, as does Blomkvist, as does Armansky! All the time, the puzzle pieces fall into place, one-by-one, but not always where you expect them to appear, and the picture which is emerging is one of unexpected weirdness. In the end, Lisbeth is shot in the head and buried. And that's all you're going to get from me! Ain't I evil?

It's hard to believe that I've read - or at least started on - ten novels since I first started listening to this on audio disk, but finally I finished it in paperback form this morning, and once again we have a worthy read. Yes, it got really boring during that one spell, but it picked up wonderfully after that, especially in the last hundred or so pages. Highly recommended (just skip over the Ikea obsession portion!).