Showing posts with label crime. Show all posts
Showing posts with label crime. Show all posts

Friday, November 16, 2018

Blamed and Broken by Curt Petrovich


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

As the subtitle "The Mounties and the Death of Robert Dziekanski" might suggest, this was a curiously-biased report of a fatal Taser™ incident which took place in October 2007 at the Vancouver International Airport in Canada, where four Royal Canadian Mounted Police confronted a Polish immigrant named Robert Dziekański, who spoke no English, and who was obviously frustrated and angry, but who had not hurt anyone and was threatening no one.

According to Goodreads (and this may be in error since Goodreads librarians are listed under 'useless' in the dictionary) the book is also titled Twenty-Six Seconds: A Fateful Decision. A Dead Man. A Decade of Cover-Up, so that ought to tell you something about how sensationalist the book is. Talking of Goodreads librarians, the book is listed as" Blamaed and Broken" so Goodreads' crappy search engine will never find this. You have to search by author name to get to it. This is one good reason why I quit posting reviews to Goodreads. It's about what I expect from something that has been stained by Amazon.

Let me say up front that it's far easier to make judgments on the sidelines and after the fact than it is when you're directly involved and in the middle of something as it happens, but from all I've read and seen, including the poorly-shot and misinformed video available on You Tube, Dziekański was far more defensively postured than ever he was aggressively so. He didn't offer anything like aggression until he was tasered, and even then he was not trying to harm anyone. He was clearly reacting in pain. The trigger for the tasering was after he turned around on the mounties with a stapler in his hand, and it all went sideways.

At this point he was repeatedly tasered, and when handcuffed and on the ground Dziekanski became increasingly physiologically distressed. He was denied airport medical treatment and got none until external medical services arrived. The RCMP officers initially refused to remove handcuffs when requested to do so by the EMTs, and when the cuffs were removed and the EMTs began working on the guy, he was found to be already dead. The video is misleading because there is a male voice on it repeatedly offering misinformation - such as declaring that the guy speaks Russian when he was speaking Polish. Clearly the commentator did not know this, but that's my point: don't declare something to be so out of ignorance. The voice asks, "How is he still fighting them off" when the guy is clearly lying subdued on the floor, and barely moving.

After Dziekański's death, the entire RCMP organization retreated behind a wall of 'we followed procedures' and 'we were just doing our job,' but it seemed obvious that they mishandled this situation and over-reacted, and presented a very poor face to the public afterwards, despite a phenomenal outcry that demanded contrition and an explanation.

No one in their right mind can deny that any law-enforcement officer has a difficult job to do and it's rarely in ideal conditions, but in these circumstances where the guy was not armed (unless you class a small stapler as a weapon, which they did), and was not attacking anyone, and with whom they could not communicate effectively, and given there were four trained RCMP officers present who had the guy confined if not restrained, the mismanagement was appalling in my opinion. They had time, for example, to call in an EMT to be on standby if they had already considered use of a taser - which they had, yet they delayed calling EMT help despite obvious signs of distress from the subdued Dziekański and initially denied them clear access to the guy even after they showed up.

Despite all of this, the author is writing from the outset as though he has already decided to come down on the side of the police regardless of the facts, and everything he's doing is biasing the story that way. Instead of reporting dispassionately, he uses loaded language repeatedly, for example, at one point he wrote of the pressure on the four officers in the aftermath, "Each moment is a separate car in a freight train bearing down on them." Seriously? I about barfed when I read that line. Yes, they were under stress and doubtlessly felt bad about what happened, but let's not get carried away. Not one of them felt as bad as Dziekanski's mother did, who was initially told that her son was nowhere to be found in the airport, and then was called back later to be told he was dead?

The endless and rather repetitive details quickly became tedious, removing any sort of satisfaction in the reading, but I also found some interesting omissions. It's an oddity for example, that the incident with Robert Dziekanski which took place in October, 2007 was kept in complete isolation by the author. In November that year there were two more deaths in Canada from Taser incidents with police, and there was yet another one in December. Halfway through the book, when he was well into the inquest on these events several months after the fact, the author hadn't mentioned even one of these other incidents. Out of curiosity, I searched the entire book for the three names of the people involved, and not one of them is mentioned. I wonder why? For the record they are: Howard Hyde, who was hit with a Taser up to five times about 30 hours before he died, Robert Knipstrom, and the exotically-named Quilem Registre; all tasered by law-enforcement, all dead.

One of the officers in the Dziekański case was later involved in a drunk-driving incident in which he deliberately tried to hide the fact of his drinking. He turned left in front of an oncoming motorcycle which he apparently did not see. The author describes the collision as occurring at "as much as ninety-six kilometres (sixty miles) an hour," but it may also have been as low as 66 KPH (40 miles per hour) which is still a deadly speed, especially on a motorcycle. Robinson was neither charged with drunk driving, nor with causing a fatal accident, and got away with barely more than a slap on the wrist. The news reports of this incident say that the officer took his two children away from the scene to his mother's house nearby, before returning to the scene having apparently had one or two shots of vodka, but this book seems to suggest he left the twelve-year-old girl and the nine-year-old boy home alone after they had been traumatized by being in the vehicle at the time of the accident. I don't know which version is more accurate.

At one point the author writes, "Dziekanski's actual habits when it came to alcohol and cigarettes are relevant." but earlier he had reported on the autopsy: "no drugs or alcohol were found in Dziekanski's blood." Case closed! Oh, you can argue that if he was addicted to tobacco and/or alcohol and could not get any, then he might experience some sort of withdrawal, and react badly to that, but these things could be established from his autopsy (did his body show signs of alcohol or tobacco abuse?) and from his behavior at the time which was documented on a video shot by a bystander. I saw nothing written about that. The impression I got was that this author was simply knee-jerk reacting to news reports and going off on one tangent after another like a ball ricocheting off bumpers in a pinball game. By some fifty percent of the way through, he is so all-over-the-place that I completely lost interest in the book and couldn't stand to read any more.

I can't commend this as a worthy read. In my opinion it needs some real editing and trimming. It also needs better organizing, the book is back and forth so much. At one point I read, "Underneath his deliberately cool exterior he is one part angry, one part nervous, and ninety-nine parts certain his time in the witness chair is not going to end well." That adds up to 101 parts. That's one part too many to make rational sense, and is emblematic of this book.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Heartthrob Vol 1 Never Going Back Again by Christopher Sebela, Robert Wilson 4, Nick Filardi


Rating: WARTY!

This one looked interesting from first glance but was tedious to read. It had the engaging premise that a sickly woman who got a heart transplant was now haunted and sometimes possessed by the man whose heart she gained, but she also gained his heart in a figurative sense, and she can experience him as a real person and have a physical relationship with him. The two become inseparable - so to speak.

While this was an intriguing idea and a slightly new take on this kind of story, the problem was that she talked to him regularly in the company of others and never once was she picked up by those people in white coats and carted off someplace for medical attention, so it was a bit unbelievable.

The problem for her in the story was that the man was a smooth criminal, and he wanted to continue his thievery using her as his host - and she agreed and developed a real taste for robbing banks and pulling other heists. That's pretty much the story right there, believe it or not and it really wasn't that great. It was tedious how they kept on robbing places and all that really changed was the venue, so...boring! The dialog was poor and the artwork equally bad, and I really have no desire to read any more of this and I cannot recommend this volume.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Cat Chaser by Elmore Leonard


Rating: WARTY!

Elmore John Leonard Jr (which was misspelled on the CDs!) has been hailed, at least in his later years, as a great writer by several other writers I don't have a lot of respect for, and now I guess I have to add him to that same list, based on this outing. I did like the 1972 movie Joe Kidd for which he wrote the screenplay, so maybe I will try him again later, but not any time soon.

As the novel begins, Ex-paratrooper George Moran, who last saw action as one of the Cat Chaser platoon in Santo Domingo is running a small motel in Miami named Coconut Palms (but which lacks any palms!). Moran (call him moron) starts becoming obsessed, for no good reason we're given, with the couple staying in one of his rooms. He starts having an affair with Mary DeBoya who is unhappily married to a former Dominican general. Moran becomes involved in a plot, with another ex vet named Nolen Tyner and an ex-cop from NYC named Jiggs Scully, to defraud the general.

Since Moran is doing fine, it makes no sense for him to get involved with the general or his wife, and the dialog of this 1980's novel sounds like it was written in the fifties, so this was a DNF for me, mostly because it was boring! I cannot recommend it based on the twenty percent or so I heard of it. The reader, Frank Muller, doesn't contribute a thing to the enjoyment.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves


Rating: WARTY!

Read by (I kid you not) someone named Ann Dover, and written by Anne Cleeves, this was another experimental audiobook and though it initially intrigued me, it quickly failed. In fact, it was quite simply one of the most tedious books I've ever had to listen to.

It took so long for quite literally nothing to happen, and it was so larded with endless, irrelevant, boring-as-watching-a-cowpat-dry, extraneous detail about everything and anything, that I couldn't stand to listen to it and returned it quickly to the library so someone else would have to deal with it instead of me!

It was all my fault! I had thought, when I first picked it out, that it was one of the books that had given rise to the TV show Shetland, which I've watched and enjoyed despite the high improbability of so many murders occurring in such a small and sleepy Scots village!

This wasn't any such thing! It's part of a different series, which also (and inexplicably in this case) made it to TV, and which is known as the Vera Stanhope series. Now I shall never get the book for the Shetland series because this was too poor of an experience of this author. I do not want to read any more of her work, especially since I have too much else to read, to bother with her again.

For those who are interested, the story begins not with a murder, but with a suicide. Rachael is the team leader of a trio of women who are studying the potential environmental impact that a proposed quarry will have on a national park and a friend of hers hangs herself. Later, somewhere in the tedium there actually is a murder. It's the plot! Done to death by the author! No, I'm kidding. There is a murder and Vera is on the case. Yawn. That's it! I cannot recommend this based on the limited sample that was all I could stand to listen to.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Fleeting Visions by Rene Natan


Title: Fleeting Visions
Author: Rene Natan (no website found)
Publisher: (no publisher found)
Rating: WARTY!

I made it only a quarter of the way through this. I could not get interested in any of the characters or in the plot, which seemed to be about so-called ‘white slavery’ and organized crime, but which was jumping around between endless characters so much that it was vague very nearly to the point of non-existence. I lost track of who was who and found that I didn’t even care. The novel has a list of main characters at the start, like it’s a play! This suggested to me that the author realized there was a problem here, but the "fix" just struck me as weird.

The actions, behaviors, and attitudes of the characters were often inexplicable. For example, the story starts with Jocelyn driving home in the snow and she stops at a pharmacy to get something for her stuffy nose. When she comes out, she’s handed a package by some guy she doesn’t know who evidently has confused her with his contact. She thinks it’s some sort of a promotional "flyer" and she drops it on thr ground like so much litter before getting into her car and driving off.

The guy who handed it to her doesn’t even retrieve it, neither do the police who are sitting right there in a car expecting just this transaction – police who were noticed by the woman but not even considered by the guy! The package evidently contained two hundred thousand dollars. That’s not the kind of thing someone hands to you as a promotion. Two hundred thousand dollars is hardly equivalent to the weight of your average flyer, even if it’s in large denomination bills. This entire beginning lacked credibility for me.

The woman immediately goes on vacation for two weeks, and the cops somehow fail to intercept her on the way to the airport, neither were they able to follow her in their car, nor were the two of them able to split up, enabling one to follow her while the other followed the guy. None of this made any sense or had any credibility either.

The woman’s attitude was completely wrong. When she was finally picked up, she showed no concern whatsoever that she had been implicated in some sort of illegal deal. She was flippant to the point of being at best, outright rude and at worst mentally deranged, yet it’s painfully obvious that one of the incompetent cops is going to end-up romantically involved with her. At least that’s how it seemed to me when I quit reading.

From that point, believe it or not, the novel went downhill even further, devolving into endless round robin exchanges between the cops on the one hand, and between the criminals on the other, and with some activity going on in a brothel, which I couldn’t follow by this time, so I gave up. I cannot in good faith recommend this novel. To me it was a disspitaed mess with no characters worthy of attaching myself to.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Blanche Among the Talented Tenth by Barbara McNeely


Title: Blanche Among the Talented Tenth
Author: Barbara Neely
Publisher: Brash Books
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!

Today is Barbara Neely day on my blog! Either that or it's Blanche White day. This is the second of two reviews I'm posting today on books in author Barbara Neely's 'Blanche White' series. I've had a good relationship with Brash Books, so it’s nice to be able to find a book from them which I can positively review! Unfortunately, it's not this one.

I really liked the first volume and reviewed it positively, so I was excited to have a chance to read the very next one. I'm not a fan of book series normally, so it's a joy to find a series that I like. I'd hoped this would be one of them, but I was really turned off this one by the racist diatribes espoused by the main character with which this novel was shot through.

Character Blanche White, whom I liked (with some reservations!) in the first volume, was very nearly ferocious in her grudge against white people in this volume. For a character who outright says at one point that she can't understand why some people are fixated on color, she hypocritically rants about color and white privilege on very nearly every page! She even rants against people of her own race because their skin is lighter than hers! I had issues with Blanche in volume one. In this volume I could not stand her.

I just could not believe how frequently color was mentioned in this novel and I began to think maybe I had just become overly-sensitive to it, so at the point where I quit reading this book (about 50% through), I went back to the start and began a search for the words 'black' and 'white' - only when connected with skin color. The author has one character or another (mostly Blanche) mentioning 'white' in this context on every other page on average. 'Black' is mentioned six times on page one alone, and twenty one times in the first five pages! In the first 90 pages, which is where I quit reading this, the word black as related to skin color appears eighty-three times. There's very nearly on every single page on average.

Who wants to read a metronomic litany of references to skin color? Not me. I seriously began to wonder what the author thought she was achieving with this. This volume was so different in tone from the first one that I almost couldn't believe it was the same author - and this was written only two years after the first volume in this series.

Blanche, the main character, is someone who got herself into money troubles in the first volume, and got herself out when she figured out who was behind a series of murders. She's a smart woman who sometimes does dumb stuff. She's good at heart, but also a racist at heart, and it seems like this condition has deteriorated since the previous volume. I don't mind a book about racial issues. I find nothing to entertain me in a non-stop diatribe or an endless rant.

Blanche is also hypocritical in her obsession with how much attention others pay to skin color given that it’s on her mind all the time, too. She quite literally cannot look at a person without defining them by their skin color - high yellow, redbone, dark, light-skinned, white, yellow! I'm serious: every single character we meet is defined by their color. For me I don't care what color they are, I just want a good story. I can't enjoy a story where no one amounts to anything more than the hue of their skin and the author is intent upon pushing that into the reader's face at every turn.

I have to mention the cover here, too, even though the author has nothing to say about the cover she gets unless she self-publishes. We’re told that Blanche is a size fifteen, so I have to remark that the silhouette of Blanche on the cover of this series seems to me to be exaggerated in an unfortunate direction. On this particular cover there's a second issue, which is the obvious observation that dying of electrocution in the bathtub hasn’t ever been known to turn the water red to my knowledge! The cover goes way beyond realistic into purely sensational. I can't recommend this novel.


Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely


Title: Blanche on the Lam
Author: Barbara Neely
Publisher: Brash Books
Rating: WORTHY!


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!

Today is Barbara Neely day on my blog! Either that or it's Blanche White day. Blanche White is a black woman in dire straits. She has two children (who are actually a niece and a nephew) whom she removed from New York City because she wanted them raised in a safer environment, only to discover that it's a lot harder to make a living in a smaller town. When a couple of her employers screw her on paychecks and a couple of her own checks bounce, she finds herself looking at thirty days in the slammer. Being claustrophobic, Blanche blanched at this. Fortunately for her sanity, a disturbance in the court house gave her the opportunity to slip away and go on the lam. I liked this premise!

Lucking into a job almost accidentally, she finds herself quickly whisked away to a rich white family's summer home in the country where she's the sole servant in the household, feeding and cleaning for a dysfunctional family consisting of the wealthy and sickly aunt, two money-grubbing dependents, and a sweet, somewhat intellectually-challenged younger man named Mumsfield. The problem is that there's something highly suspicious going on here and Blanche can't quite resolve what it is. When people start turning up dead, however, she realizes that the price of not figuring it out might be her own life.

I quite liked Blanche as a character in general, although I doubt I'd like her as a person: she has a shady side to her. On the other hand, she's 'suffered for her sins'. She's complex and multi-faceted, and far from a Mary Sue. In some regards she's not the smartest cookie in the jar, but on others, she's sharp as a tack, and always running through her mind like a drum-beat is the need to take care of these two children she's "inherited" from her sister.

On the problematic side, Blanche is rather racist, which I didn't appreciate. This is why I doubt I'd like her as a person. I know some people are racist regardless of their own skin color, and it's perfectly fine to depict them in stories, but to have your main character coming off like that isn't very endearing. Yes, she's essentially good at heart, but alongside that drumbeat to care for her charges, there's a second drumbeat that despises 'whitey' and carries a huge grudge as though it's a trophy!

Instead of focusing on the future, she routinely lets herself get dragged down by the distant past - a past of slavery and abuse. Yes, she grew up in an era during which racism was still prevalent and open, but she talks like nothing has improved. I kept wanting to take her aside and advise her that living in the past isn't going to change anything and that she'd be far better off - as would her children - if she got her head straight and focused on turning her own life around instead of trying to carry everyone's burden and trying to pass it off as the white man's.

On that score, when was this novel set? I have no idea. It was first published in 1992, but there's no indication (that I noticed) in the text to suggest when it actually takes place. Initially, I got the idea that it was in the early 1970's because of a mention of wanted posters for Joan Little (pronounced Jo-an, and misspelled as 'Joanne' in this novel), Angela Davis, and Assata Shakur, all criminals or near criminals at that time. The problem is that the second volume, set in 1994, follows on from this, so the first volume is at best confusingly vague and at worst, misleading with regard to the time-period. I was left to assume it took place in 1992 or thereabouts in retrospect, after having started on volume two in the series!

Those issues aside, the story was well-written, really exploring Blanche's innermost thoughts and feelings. She's not had a good life, and she tries to do her best, but she's a victim of poor decision-making on occasion. On top of this, and even though she constantly thinks of the kids and how she can dig herself out of the hole she's in, I have to add that she really doesn't spend much time with these kids!

Admittedly she's held hostage to circumstances until she can get some money together and so is restricted from visiting with the kids for a while. In a way she's serving her time and ironically (given her claustrophobia) she's tightly confined to her present location. The problem for me was that even after she was able to leave, her first instinct wasn't to go hug the kids, but to go away by herself to Boston (where the sequel begins). That struck me not only as being selfish, but also as betraying her character's mantra throughout this novel.

There really wasn't much sleuthing going on here either. Blanche pretty much fell into her crime-solving through a bit of snooping and eavesdropping, and the villain was rather given away quite early in the story. Because of this, some might find this novel a bit slow and ponderous, but for me it was entertaining, and I recommend it.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Shadow Now by David Liss


Title: The Shadow Now
Author: David Liss
Publisher: Dynamite
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Colton Worley.
Lettered by Rob Steen and Simon Bowland

The Shadow stories - which predate Batman by almost a decade - arose in the 1930s as pulp novels. The Shadow's 'real' name was actually Kent Allard. The name he's known most popularly by (Lamont Cranston) is an alias, but it seems to have become his actual name over time, and is the one used in this graphic novel, which is a reboot of the character, revitalized for modern times. The graphics are truly stunning and appropriately dark, and the story works well.

I became a fan of The Shadow from the eponymous movie released in 1994. It starred Alec Baldwin in the titular role, with the excellent John Lone as Shiwan Khan and the perfectly cast Penelope Ann Miller as Margo Lane (and let's not forget the contributions from Ian McKellen, Tim Curry, and Jonathan Winters). It really didn't do well at the box office, but I loved this movie. It's an excellent way to get a quick introduction to the early days of The Shadow if you're thinking about taking up this series - although the movie and this graphic novel are not connected.

Appropriately published by Dynamite(!), the new and fresh premise here is that because of his Far East training, The Shadow can prolong his life, and he left the US in the thirties for several decades, doing a bit of a Captain America by then returning in contemporary times and in this case, posing as his own grandson. This was fine, except that then we seem to have a veritable plethora of grandkids popping out of the woodwork, all with the original mission statement still intact in their DNA.

This is how we get a Margo (who was originally a Margot) Lane, now named Margo Forsythe, who is the granddaughter of the original Margo, but who nonetheless looks like her grandmother did at that age. Here's a bit of interesting trivia: Margo was initially played on the radio by Agnes Moorehead who played Samantha the witch's mom in the TV show Bewitched.

We also get the granddaughter of Shiwan Khan, The Shadow's original arch-nemesis, who himself is now an old man in jail. His teen granddaughter is brought in from her life of petty crime (taking advantage of her inherited ability to sway people's minds) to join the organization and become Shiwan's official heir, but this struck me as a little odd since it's actually Shiwan's plan to literally rejuvenate himself. This does allow for some serious and amusing conflict between the old guard/old man and the new, rebellious teen, however, which I really appreciated. it paralleled the exchanged between Margo and Lamont.

The Shadow discovers that things have changed dramatically during his sabbatical. 'Margo' is no longer a defenseless and retiring socialite he remembers. Margo 3.0 i a dedicated and deadly agent, and her amusing observations on The Shadow's anachronistic ineptitude are welcome. The Shadow's organization has continued to run in his absence, taken care of by his many trusted associates, but his methods are antiquated, and he initially finds himself out of his depth and frustrated with his team, which is beginning to fall apart at the seams. This lends confidence to his enemies, who believe they can finally vanquish him.

Of course, they're wrong! I recommend this novel.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Me, Myself, And Why? by MaryJanice Davidson


Title: Me, Myself, And Why?
Author: MaryJanice Davidson
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Rating: WARTY!

Really poorly read by Renée Raudman.

(Not to be confused with Jennifer Ouellette's much more intelligent book of the same title, but entirely different subject matter.)

I read the first of this author's 'Undead and...' series because the title was hilarious, and I actually found it very entertaining despite some issues. The second one in that series was nowhere near as good and so I gave up reading her material, but then I saw this one in the library and decided to find out if I liked a new and different series any better. I didn't.

It was audio, which is good for me when driving, and it was short - I dislike long audio books - but I soon found myself skipping tracks trying to find a good bit (there weren't any), and gave up on this before even the first disk was done playing, because it was so god-awfully bad I couldn't believe it. The reading was poor to begin with, but even with the best reader in the world it would still have sucked because the writing was awful, shallow, tedious, frivolous, inanely rambling, and air-headed in the extreme. I literally could not stand (nor sit!) to listen to it any more.

There are other issues with it, including the entire premise of this novel. The blurb is one of the most misleading book blurbs ever written. Indeed, it's outright fraud. It mentions the main character's "sisters" Shiro and Adrienne, but they are not sisters, they are two other personalities of a woman who has Dissociative Identity Disorder. I thought I would be reading a book about three sisters sharing an apartment which sounded really interesting to me. I did not expect to get, nor did I want, a book taking potshots at people with unfortunate mental issues, and not in any edifying, educational, or loving way. (If anyone wants to actually write that three sisters novel of which I now feel robbed, I'd love to read it, BTW!)

Cadence, the main personality, works for a special division of the FBI which purposefully hires mentally-ill people because they're evidently fun to watch. Of course, that's not the reason given, but it's quite obviously the reason Davidson chose to write this book - to make light of people with such issues, and more than likely, serial killer victims to boot. My first thought, only a few minutes into the novel, and before I had any real idea what was really going on was "I sincerely hope the FBI doesn't have people like this working for them irl!"

I'm not on board with this kind of sloppy, amateur fan-fic style writing. Never will be. And I'm done with MaryJanice Davidson.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

It's NOT Just a Dog! by Pam Torres


Title: It's NOT Just a Dog!
Author: Pam Torres
Publisher: Legacy Media Press
Rating: worthy!


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.

Tomorrow! Russ Ryan, author of It's Just a Dog goes paw to paw with with Pam Torres, author of It's NOT Just a Dog!

The first thing I noticed about this novel is how poorly formatted it is for the Kindle; indeed, it's not formatted at all, at least for my rather antiquated model. There are words which run together (which any spell-checker ought to catch), and lines which are broken half-way along. Periodically the author's name appeared, presumably snitched from the page header, but in the Kindle, it was randomly appearing in the text at various places on the screen. Hopefully those issues will not be a problem in the final version of this novel.

For some reason, perhaps to try and connect with the youth generation, the author decided to post hash-tagged comments randomly in the text, as a short-hand indicating the narrator's state of mind, but these were a fail for me, especially in the Kindle where they ran into the rest of the text. They seemed out of place, and much more like a gimmick than an integral part of the story.

Maybe others will like them, but I have to wonder how many people of this age (11) are actually involved in Twitter. I don't use it myself. Twitter is for twits! I liked the take on it in the Doctor Who Episode The Bells of Saint John where the Doctor says, "This whole world is swimming in wi-fi; we're living in a wi-fi soup. Suppose something got inside it? Suppose there was something living in the wi-fi, harvesting human minds; extracting! Imagine that: human souls trapped like flies in the World Wide Web, stuck forever, crying out for help!" whereupon his companion, Clara responds immediately: "Isn't that basically Twitter?". I laughed my patootie off at that one.

But I digress. As usual. You know, if I were to tally-up the number of times I digressed...but I digress again! So, having said all that, and with some reservations about eleven-year-olds becoming involved in directly investigating dangerous men who are training dogs to fight, I actually enjoyed the story rather a lot, and thought that it was a perfectly fine and interesting yarn. There was lots going on, interesting and gripping situations arising, and there was a significant educational content.

The basic story is that of Madison, and 11 year old who lives with her dad and her pet dog Lilly, and who, with her friend Cooper (what's with all this last name as first name stuff?!) is trying to set up their dog-walking "business". Madison works as a volunteer at a pet shelter run by a family friend, which is evidently falling on hard times. In place of a regular birthday party, which Madison really didn't want, she holds a fund-raiser for the shelter, but the collection box (and all the money in it) is stolen. I don't recall reading where that was ever resolved, which is odd. Maybe I missed it.

As the story progresses, we learn more and more more a local dog-fighting ring, where brutal men train-up brutal dogs to fight each other and the men wager a lot of money on outcomes. Madison gets more involved in investigating this than I felt comfortable with, but at least when she gets out of the scrape she was in, she has the smarts to put this into the hands of the law, where it belongs, so while I had a few uncomfortable moments reading this, her heart was in the right place, and she made some smart decisions, which is commendable.

Indeed, there were portions of this novel where Madison seemed a lot older than 11, but the issue isn't whether it's believable and realistic to me, so much as whether it's something an eleven-year-old can read, enjoy, and learn from, and I think I would have loved this novel at that age. Not only does it offer a fun and thrilling adventure with some unnervingly dangerous situations, it also educates about pet issues: dogs are not to be taken lightly, and are living, feeling beings who need love and care, so I'd give it five stars for that.

In short, I recommend this novel for appropriate age levels (chronological or developmental!)


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Così Fan Tutti by Michael Dibdin





Title: Così Fan Tutti
Author: Michael Dibdin
Publisher: Vintage Books / Black Lizard/
Rating: warty

Set in Napoli (Naples) in Italy, this novel is one of a series, but it isn't the first in this series, and I haven't read any of the others, so that may or may not affect my take on this. I've actually been to Napoli, but the visit was so brief and it was so long ago that I barely recall it. It seems that everyone who writes detective series has to have a character they groom for their stories, and I confess that sometimes seems weird to me, but it’s undoubtedly a very commercial approach. In Dibdin's case, the character is Aurelio Zen. Dibdin was English by birth and spent only five years in Italy, so I'm not sure what his motivation was for setting his series there. Maybe it was nostalgia or a desire to set his series apart from those of other writers. Maybe it was something else.

Così Fan Tutte is the name of the opera by Mozart; it's taken to mean: 'women are like that'. So there's a slight difference between it and the title of the novel. Maybe the changed title means men are like that (or perhaps everyone is like that)?! The book is supposedly published by Black Lizard but the lizard on the cover is pink! Hmm!

I don’t really get novels which are set in another country and the language is English using English idiom, but (as in this particular case) unmarried women are referred to as Signora, rather than Miss or Ms. If it were in French, it would be Mademoiselle, if German, it would be Fraulein. From a writing perspective I have to ask why? What does this achieve? To me it’s an annoyance, reminding me that I'm reading a novel. It’s the same problem when the writer mentions some local meal they ate. Unless I happen to know what it is (which was only about fifty percent of the time so far in this novel!), what does it convey to me to say they ate sucho-and-sucho? Nothing. Doe sit have meaning beyond the mere word, though - to evoke a feeling or a reaction? maybe. My reaction is Oy Veh!

I didn’t like the opening, which set up the requisite murder (more accurately, the first of the requisite murders). I do like that the contents shows chapter headings in English, but the headings for each actual chapter are in Italian. I don’t know why, but it’s a quirk which somehow appealed to me - and this almost completely contradicts what I said above, doesn't it?! But not quite - at least we get a translation! In that way you can learn a little Italian if you wish. The chapter headings are actually from the original libretto for Mozart's opus. After the opening chapter, the story was much more readable, and I easily got into it, enjoying the sly humor and everyone's attempts to work the Italian system to their own advantage. Unfortunately, this didn't last too long!

Aurelio Zen starts out having apparently been demoted (but he proactively set it up so that he could chose the venue of his 'punishment'). This evidently is a result of something he did (or failed to do!) in a previous volume of this series. Frankly I was suspicious that this itself is a set-up and he's actually investigating something - perhaps corruption - under the guise of the demotion, but if my guess is right (which it usually isn’t!) then he sure doesn't seem to be doing much in that regard. Perhaps he really was demoted.

His first act is talking to two young women, doing a favor for their mother - a very rich woman, the widow of a mobster, whose two daughters are dating street thugs. Their mother wants the relationships terminated. She and Zen plan to achieve this end by sending the girls to London for two weeks under the guise of studying in England. Zen than hires two prostitutes to lead the thugs astray to show the daughters how fickle they are. In return for this, Zen gets to rent, at advantageous terms, a nice apartment which is owned by the woman. Zen does notice that these guys have absolutely no police file whatsoever, which only makes him more suspicious of them.

There's also the case of a stabbing in the dock area (a locale for which Zen is responsible). It took place after a fracas (an appropriate word since it comes from an Italian root!) between some American sailors and some Greek sailors. The guy they have in custody isn't talking. He claims he understands only English, but he says that in the thick local accent! When Zen sings snatches of some English pop songs he knows, the guy doesn’t even remotely react like he understands it.

Okay, so here's what happened with this, seriously. I was going along and I just was not getting into it. I thought I was going to finish it and give it a reserved worthy, but today I actually had a choice to read this or to listen to Charlaine Harris, and despite the fact that I am starting to despise book 4 of that sucky series, I still found it easier to listen to that than to plow through more of this one, so honestly, what did that not so much as tell me, but scream at me? It's warty! It's a DNF.

But it's also post-mortem time. Why could I not get interested in this? I think one reason was Dubdin's increasing use of Italian terms when everything else was in English, That doesn't impress me and was, in fact, annoying. On top of that there was one character after another paraded across the pages and not one of them made an impression on me. I could neither identify with any of them, nor develop any interest in them. So I decided to call this one and move onto something I would really like to read. Contrast this with The Salbine Sisters which really grabbed me from very early on and wouldn't let me go. Life's too short.