Showing posts with label murder mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label murder mystery. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Girl Undone by Marla Madison


Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with A Girl Undone by Catherine Linka, or Girl, Undone by Kendall Aimee Kennedy, or JJ Girl Undone by the amazingly-named Nicole Crankfield-Hamilton, this is volume three in a series of which I have read neither of the previous volumes, but it seems you do not have to have read those in order to make take-up this one. I was going to phrase that as 'make sense of this one', but decided that was being too generous!

The main characters are TJ Peacock, a security consultant (read private eye wannabe), and Lisa Rayburn, a clinical psychologist. Didn't like the first. Not interested in the second. They're hired by a woman who has a shady mob-related past, and whose niece was kidnapped for three-days and then let go, but who has no recollection of what happened. The only clues are the fact that she was dating an older guy, who then dumped her for his wife, claiming that they were reconciling, and a shady roommate who subsequently disappears.

In addition to this, there is a blogger who is being threatened apparently by a serial killer. Since he's had bad things to say about police competence, the detective who is assigned to his case is not all that enthusiastic about it. This detective is married to TJ. This was a pleasant surprise because it's unusual for a PI (which is what TJ obviously is, despite her career title) to have a relationship worth the name, but other than that, I wasn't moved by this story, and saw no reason to pursue a whole series.

It didn't begin well, with a kidnap victim showing up in a shopping a mall, yet no one thinks to check the security video? She's discovered and identified by a security consultant, who is evidently too stupid to think of doing basic detective work to see if anyone can be tied to this girl. She was wearing a hospital gown, and someone must have seen something out of place somewhere!, but TJ is too stupid to follow up, so the story started off lacking any credibility as a professional work. The problem as that it never improved.

It did pick up for me when I learned that a possible motive for the kidnapping was harvesting eggs, but that wasn't sufficient to turn it around, because it started going downhill after that, and the harvesting rationale was mundane and didn't make a whole heck of a lot of sense. I really didn't like these characters, not TJ, not Lisa very much, and not TJ's husband, nor did I find myself really caring about Kelsey, the kidnapped girl.

One issue was the derisory tone of the writing. I read irksome things like, "Her posture carried her tall frame with nearly military precision although there was nothing remotely masculine about her." Excuse me? You can't be feminine and in the military? What an awful thing for a female author to say about her gender!

It got worse. Later I read, "The man's voice hinted at homosexuality, with a soft lisp that almost sounded deliberate." What? This kind of thing really dropped me out of the story and made me not want to read any more. Note there's a difference between an author's character saying things like those: people are dicks at times, after all. Some people make a full time job of it, but when it's the author including these comments in the narrative, as was done here, then it's highly unlikely I'm going to ever be much of a fan of that author's writing.

Another oddball one was "The inside of the house definitely lacked a woman's touch," which is on oddly genderist thing to say whichever way you look at it: every home needs a woman? Not necessarily! Every home that has a woman ought to evidence a distinctly feminine touch? Again, no!

Some of the police procedural behavior here was laughable, too. I don't mind that, if the author's intent is to show a bad or sloppy cop, but this is TJ's husband investigating this crime, and I assume we're not supposed to consider that he's inept, but he is, and appallingly so.

There's a blogger in the story who is being harassed by someone who appears to be a serial killer. At one point, the killer breaks into the blogger's place when he's not home and steals a couple of his rare potted plants. The blogger discovers the killer left a note for him on his computer. It's never explained how the guy got past the blogger's password, but the problem here isn't so much that, as the fact that there's no talk whatsoever of the machine being fingerprinted! Yes, the intruder probably wore gloves, but here, with the keyboard, and elsewhere, with maybe a hair sample or something, was a chance to potentially get forensic evidence of a killer, and the cop is completely lackadaisical about it.

The killer was in that very room and may have left other evidence, but the cop doesn't care. Later, this same psycho sends the blogger an email, but nothing is done to follow up on it because, we're told, the email was sent from "... a big-box appliance store south of Milwaukee that sold electronics." This detective never once considers going to the store and looking at security video to see if they can identify the killer! Maybe there was no such video, but to not even consider pursuing the possibility is bad writing that makes cops look like idiots. Trust me, they're not. Well, okay, some are, but not a large number! This one, unfortunately, is, which makes him a joke that's not funny, and certainly not someone worth reading about.

The author is using this big-box store as an excuse to not be able to track the guy down via email, but stores don't simply let you use free email. The guy would have had to have accessed some email account in order to send the message, even if he was sending it from a random computer, yet there is no follow up on this, either! This struck me as appallingly bad writing, with the author so focused on pursuing this step-by-step plot she's worked out, that she either didn't care or never noticed that some of it made no logical sense.

All of this was by a only one third of the way through this, so it didn't feel at all promising, I pursued it a bit further, but finally lost patience and DNF'd it once I realized the egg harvest was no real mystery, the young girl was an idiot, and the identity of the serial killer was obvious to everyone except the people looking for the killer! Maybe I'm wrong on that score since I didn't finish the novel, but it seemed to me that for Bart, the blogger, the wolf was in the kitchen.

As I said, I'm usually bad about figuring these things out, so I probably am wrong, but the thing is at that point, I really didn't care who the killer was or what happened next. Life's too short for books that don't grab me by the entrails, and my reading list is long! I can't recommend this based on what I read.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garett


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
"After what felt like a millennia" should read either "a millennium" or omit the 'a' altogether. Millennia is plural.
"No I couldn't take let you do that." is confused!

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

I'm really sorry to post a negative review on this one because it had some good qualities and I think this writer is one to watch, but for me, this novel simply didn't make the grade. In the interests of full disclosure, this is the start of an intended series, and I am not typically a fan of series, especially not detective series. This one intrigued me, and while it started out interestingly and had some fun characters and a sense of humor, it quickly went downhill as the main character demonstrated an increasing level of stupidity and ineptitude. I don't mind a main character who starts out dumb and wises-up as the story progresses, but when it goes the other way, it's not a good sign.

The problem is that this main character, Dayna is going way above and beyond her initial purview and we're never offered any valid reasons for this. I do get that this is what these amateur detective stories do, and it wouldn't be so bad if we were offered even a half-assed justification for it, but we don't get any here. Her motivation was supposed to be that her father is at grave risk of foreclosure. There's a reward of fifteen thousand dollars for information leading to the arrest of the hit and run driver who killed this girl named Hayley, so Dayna starts thinking about how she can get that money. So far so good. This is perfectly sensible and reasonable, but it neither explains nor validates some of the ridiculous things she does.

Dayna is a little slow on the uptake in realizing that they have the offending vehicle on video, but this is forgivable, given that she was out partying with friends that night and wasn't exactly sober. Once she acquired the video though, she just needed to pass it on to the police and she was done, but she doesn't do this. She doesn't have to become a private detective, yet she does take this on in her own very amateur and bumbling way.

The problem here is that she ends up breaking the law and getting in the way of the investigation rather than helping move it along, blundering into situations where she's very likely to tip-off potential suspects and have them skip town or go into hiding rather than having them end-up being successfully fingered for the crime. This is where Le Stupide set in with a vengeance and I found myself cringing rather than laughing or being excited by the story, and it's where I began to lose interest in this character.

Whenever Dayna gets some information, she routinely fails to pass it on to the police - the very people whom she hopes will facilitate this reward so she can help out her dad. The police get it at best second-hand if at all, and this betrays her, because it makes her look less interested in helping dad than it does in being a busybody and a rubbernecker. She insists on following-up evidence herself without passing it on, or she withholds it from the police because in her very amateur opinion, it's never enough.

Because of this, by about sixty percent through the novel she's pretty much a bigger criminal than the one she's trying to track down - at least in terms of how many laws she's breaking. At one point she and some friends discover a robbery has taken place, and rather than inform the police right away, these idiots go trampling all over the crime scene, destroying any clues that the police might have found to help them track down the thieves.

In short, Dayna is moronic. She obsesses over leaving her prints on a baseball cap she finds, yet spares not a single thought for the entire crime scene she just destroyed, evidence-wise. She's thoroughly incompetent, yet never once did she get chewed-out by the police who in reality would have had this clown arrested for interfering with a crime scene, or perverting the course of justice, which she does repeatedly.

At one point Dayna comes into possession of security video tape which positively identifies one of the house burglars who is linked to the hit and run, yet instead of just passing it on to the police and letting them do their job, she takes off on another tangent on her own, all the time lying to her best friends that she's not pursuing this on her own. It was never explained how it was that these relatively amateur thieves knew there were no alarms at this particular house - which was in a very swanky neighborhood where alarms and high-level security were the norm, not the exception, so this robbery made very little sense to begin with except as a poorly-staged venue for Dayna to get a clue. Which she never really does in any meaningful sense, quite frankly.

Dayna herself was not a likable person, and she looked ever more dumb as the story unfolded. It's not surprising that the murderer targets her (so we;re told. I remain unconvinced, but this was around eighty percent in, when I had honestly lost interest altogether. I DNF'd this at ninety or so when the story, instead of smartly winding-up, devolved into an endless ramble. The novel was about a third too long and moved too slowly.

At that point I was wishing the near-miss traffic accident had not missed her. The driver would have done LA a service by getting this inept fool out of the way of the real police work. There are intelligent ways to write your character into places and situation she should not be -ways that don't make her look like a major buttinsky, but this story seemed bent on going the dingbat route every time, making Dayna look far more like dumbbell than some belle detective. Because this kind of thing was the norm rather than the exception in this novel, in the final analysis, I can't recommend this book as a worthy read and I will definitely not be following this series.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Last Dance by Salvatore Albert Lombino aka Ed McBain


Rating: WARTY!

Salvatore Albert Lombino legally became Evan Hunter in 1952, but wrote most of his novels as Ed McBain. He wrote under several other names, too, such as John Abbott, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon, and Richard Marsten. The only name related to him that he never wrote under was his original name! The Last Dance was written in 2000, just five years before McBain died, and was part of his 87th Precinct series.

I'm not a series fan, but out of curiosity, I'd picked up a book of his that the library was selling off, and which contained three stories. I hadn't yet got to it when I saw this one on the shelf and decided to give myself a sneak preview. If I liked it, all well and good, but if I didn't, I'd save myself the trouble of getting into the print book, and I could take it off my overburdened shelf!

Because of an unwisely situated library bar code sticker on the case, what I didn't realize until about half-way through the audiobook was that it's actually read by McBain himself. For me, this made it more interesting, because he has an odd way of reading. He reads it like it's a list or something, not like it's a novel, and I wonder how much of what I hear from him informs as to how he wrote his books.

He puts inflection into the speech he reads, but sometimes he carries the same inflection over to the text outside the quotes, like it's inflected the same way the speech was! It sounds a bit weird. His voice sounds very New York and eh has no idea how a Cockney sounds. McBain grew up in East Harlem and the Bronx from what I've read about him. He doesn't do too bad of a job - just an odd job. I'm a big proponent of authors reading their own novels for the audiobook version, assuming they're not awful at it, so I'm not going to complain about this! Except for one thing: like too many Americans, McBain conflates Cockney with Londoner. The two are not synonymous.

The oddest thing about this novel for me though, was that these detectives, who are the main characters, had been in two gunfights by the halfway stage, yet in neither fight did any cop fire even one round. I find that completely incredible. I know this is fiction, and I know that novels (and TV shows and movies) often have too much gun-play, but to have a detective meet an informant in a public place, and have two assassins come in to the restaurant and gun-down the informant, and the detective who's with him not return a single shot and worse, to not follow the guys out into the street when they left so he could maybe get a license plate from their getaway car or something, was ridiculous.

In the second gunfight, there was about a half-dozen cops going to bring in this assassin. They were armed and wearing vests, and expecting trouble, but they had to go through this single door into an apartment. The guy inside had to get from his bed to a drawer, pull out the gun and start shooting, and he did this without any cop shooting back at him. The assassin, so-called, hit only one cop, and that was in the leg. He shot all his rounds, then dropped the gun and surrendered! No cop fired back. I'm sorry, but it's simply not credible. Even in real life, and in both of those situations, the cops would have been firing back. I don't get it at all.

That said, the story overall wasn't too bad to begin with, just a bit annoying and odd. It even had some humor here and there, but by about halfway through it, I was beginning to tire of both the reader and the story, and towards the end I was skipping tracks just to get it over with. it was a short book, but too long for my patience, so I can't recommend this at all. As far as the print book is concerned, I'll give that a try to see if it sounds better when I'm reading than it does when I'm simply listening, but I hold out less hope for it now than I did before I listened to this book!


Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Fame Thief by Timothy Hallinan


Rating: WARTY!

This is supposed to be the "highly anticipated, laugh-out-loud thrid [yes, thrid! That's how useful the Goodreads librarians are!] installment of the an favorite Junior bender mysteries." I imagine it's a fan favorite because it stunk, and you'd need a fan to remove the stench. Had I known it was part of a series I would have left this audiobook on the library shelf, but since the only indication is some very tiny text hidden on the front cover, I didn't notice until after I checked it out. But that's a mistake that was easily remedied!

The reader was Peter Berkrot, whose voice sounded like it had been fogged by about five thousand cigarettes too many so it did not appeal. What had appealed, until I started listening to it, was the idea that a retired mobster and movie mogul, Irwin Dressler (who I guess has to be a Jew because that's a hard and fast cliche that no writer has the power to change) would hire a burglar, to figure out what had happened to a star if the silver screen form the golden age. It made no sense, so I thought this was either going to be a great idea, or a disaster. It was a disaster of government-planning proportions.

None of the characters was interesting, nothing interesting happened (not in the portion I listened to), and no hilarity ensued. End of story. For me anyway. This DNF'd novel is back on the shelf where it truly belongs, and I'm moving on to the next experimental audiobook I checked out during my latest raid on the library.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a prequel to the successful British TV series of the same name (Luther). It begins on about the same level as the TV show, but becomes darker and darker as the reader ventures further into the plot. The novel ends with the events depicted at the beginning of the TV show, and it certainly makes it quite clear why Luther acted as he did.

Luther is what people would call a dirty cop, but in his case, what he does isn't for self-gain (except occasionally to get him out of scrapes that his more altruistic behavior has got him into in the first place). For example, one of his altruistic moves is to side with an elderly and frail man who is being bullied - and brutally so on one occasion - into quitting his home so a financially distressed and morally-challenged developer can build on the land. The man won't move, so the heavies are sent in and in response to this, Luther torches the developer's venerable Jaguar car. Unfortunately there are witnesses who describe a man very like Luther at the scene (Luther stands out in a crowd!), so this necessitates the DCI having to take some other measures outside the law, to avoid being nailed for the crime.

The big thrust here though, other than to, obviously, prequel the events in the excellent first season of the TV show (which it does very well), is to tell yet another sorry and violent story about a sick villain who, due to childhood trauma, is now visiting that trauma on children himself. His overwhelming passion is to have a child of his own. Somehow he senses that he would never be considered suitable were he to apply for an adopted child. His own lack success in impregnating two prostitutes that he kidnapped and held prisoner (and subsequently murdered and fed to his dogs), and his lack of faith in the "quality" of some random child he might buy from European sources has forced him into stalking couples and selecting a "healthy breeding pair" from whom to kidnap a newborn. His first attempt goes bad and so he tries a second time with an older girl, whom he plans to raise to maturity and then impregnate himself.

The job, then, for Luther, in addition to dealing unsuccessfully with his failing marriage, and warding-off serious questions about his behavior and tactics from within his own police organization, is to find this girl before things can deteriorate even more than they have already. The book is tense, very dark in many places, brutal in others, and hard to read at times, but it stays true to Luther and to the TV show. One of the highlights for me, of the show, was Alice Morgan, but she is necessarily absent here because Luther has not met her yet. I understand this, but still missed her. She was such a high-spot for me in the show. But I can't hold the book responsible for that!

One of the annoying things about the whole Luther world is the rumors which surround it: that there will be a movie (not so far!), that the third series was the last (it wasn't!), that there will be an Alice Morgan spin-off (not yet!), that the novel is the first of a trilogy (again, not yet!). It's hard to gage where this will go next and I wish people would quit saying where it's going until it's set in stone. That aside I recommend both this novel and the show, viewed in that order.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Pinch of Poison by Alyssa Maxwell


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher. I have to remark that A Pinch of Poison is not an original title. It's already been used by Claudia Bishop and Frances Lockridge, so I think the author could have chosen a more exclusive one!

This is a book I had some issues with and frankly I dithered (yes dithered, I shall have it no other way!) on how to rate this. To me a novel is either worth reading or it's not. Some I like better than others, but I can't say a novel is fourth fifths worth reading or two fifths a disaster! I look at the whole thing and it's either worth my time or it's not. On balance, this one was even though I had problems with it, which I shall discuss shortly.

Set in and around an English boarding school for the idle rich shortly after World War One, this novel has something in common with a novel I negatively reviewed in December 2016: Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg. The difference between that disaster and this charmer is that this isn't first person, and it's competently written! Both novels are YA in the sense that the main characters are in that age range, but there the similarity ends.

This is much more like a book for grown-ups, and there's a world of difference between how this is written and how your typical YA novel is written. It would serve well many YA authors to read the Eulberg book and this one in comparison, in order to learn how to really write, and how to avoid chronic YA pitfalls (such as writing in first person, and going to extremes in your characterization), and how to actually create and develop realistic characters.

This is part of a series, and while I am not inclined to read any more of it since I'm not a series fan (unless they're particularly compelling!), I did enjoy this one, which is second in the series. I was pleased that you don't have to have read the first in the series in order to get into this one.

Lady Phoebe is the middle sister (the one I married as it happens! LOL!) in a wealthy family (an earldom). Her parents are dead, so her supervision is somewhat lacking. Despite that she comports herself well and is very mature (especially as compared with your typical YA girl!). We find her doing good in the form of collecting supplies for war veterans, but this is as far as her good deeds seem to extend, so this felt more like 'tell' than ever it did 'show'.

Admittedly we see her only in the context of this murder mystery, upon the resolution of which she has set her compass and is firmly and determinedly engaged, but it would have been nice to have seen her character rounded-out rather more than we got - to have shown us she was a decent sort rather than simply being told it, and then shown that she really was no better than anyone else of her class in life. As it was she came off a little bit as a one-note character. Yes she's helping war veterans, a subject which is revisited in this story commendably, but on the other hand, elsewhere in her life she seems to be rather callous towards those less well-off than herself.

Naturally, this is in some ways to be expected since it's set in post-Edwardian times. Note that there is no traditional name for the periods after the Edwardian. Britain seems to have become disillusioned with its monarchy after King Edward and gave up naming times after the reigning monarch. Of course, King George was on the throne, and 'Georgian' was already spoken for, so maybe this contributed to the downfall.

The British monarchy needs to come up with new names instead of recycling ones from previous eras! Having eight Henrys should have taught them that at least, particularly the last one who was a disgrace. The first Elizabeth - the first monarch to give her name to an era in Britain - set the pace, but her failure to generate an heir was also disastrous. Maybe that's why they didn't have another female monopolizing the throne for a couple of centuries afterwards?

So yes, people of the upper classes were appallingly ignorant of, and disdainful towards those of "lower stations" - and still are, I'm sorry to say, which is why I personally have no time at all for the not-so-nobility. I get that much, but this story was not written in the inter-war years. It's a modern story speaking of an historical period and I think it would have been a lot nicer to have depicted Phoebe actually practicing what the author has her preach. Unfortunately, she doesn't.

Lady Phoebe's crime-cracking partnership has only one other member: the lady's maid named Eva, who is an interesting character, and who doesn't get anywhere near enough air time. This is fine as far as it goes, and it makes for an interesting dynamic, reminiscent of a similar one in TE Kinsey's A Quiet Life In The Country which I positively reviewed back in November 2016. That relationship was much more equitable though.

Here, even as put-upon Eva is helping Phoebe, her own job is being neglected because of Phoebe's incessant demands, and Phoebe just doesn't seem to get this or care about it. Yes, she pays lip-service to it once in a while, but never actually does anything to help her. This made her come across as self-centered and selfish. This is not a trait you want to broadcast about your main character when she's supposed to be the good guy! We're constantly reminded of how selfish the older sister Julia, is, but frankly I saw no difference between Julia and Phoebe. I really didn't.

Eva is shared with everyone else in the house. If she was solely Phoebe's lady's maid I could see this working, but she 'belongs' to everyone. This doesn't prevent Phoebe from selfishly monopolizing Eva's time though, and putting her way behind with her work. Never once does Phoebe stop to think of what she's asking of or doing to Eva. I kept thinking that this story would have been more interesting if Lady Phoebe wasn't the detective and it was all Eva. That would have been much more difficult for an author to work, though, since Eva was so tied to the house work, and heavily subjugated to the demands of two mature sisters and a younger one as well, but some author might welcome such a challenge.

The murder is of the headmistress of the school - by poison - and Lady Phoebe is set on discovering the truth about it even as the police inspector wants to wrap up the case. She has a lot of work to do and I loved how the author had her patiently progressing through it, feeling like she was up against a brick wall, and then finding another way through with the ever-patient and long-suffering help of Eva, who was a charmer through and through. I loved her character.

I know that women of Phoebe's station were considered marriage prospects back then - like this was all women were good for, but this pairing of Eva with the police officer and Phoebe with Owen was a bit much for me. It's very reminiscent of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries with the pairing of the well-to-do Phryne Fisher and her paid companion Dot Williams with two male characters, Dot being paired with constable Hugh Collins. The upside of this is that this author is no YA hack and so she didn't make the chronic mistake of YA authors: instadore! The relationships are building slowly (over the series, it looks like) so that at least was welcome.

That said, I have to consider this a worthy read when viewed as an entity, since it did hold my interest. It felt like it ought to have been a shorter novel than it was. It felt like it was getting a little long in the tooth towards the end, and I liked the last twenty percent less than I did the first eighty, but overall, I consider this a worthy read, especially if you're into historical mysteries, so i recommend it.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Midnight Clear by Mary Kay Andrews


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd realized that this was part of a series I would have left it on the library shelf. I don't do series, because ninety times out of ten (or worse!) they're boring and derivative, and repetitive and formulaic, but there's nothing on the cover to indicate that this is 'Callahan Garrity Mystery volume 7', at all! This is what happens when you put your cover design into someone else's hands: it gets away from you! The cover is dishonest in another way, too: Mary Kay Andrews lied about her name! The novel was initially published under the weird name of Kathy Hogan Trocheck (or is that Paycheck?). It's even copyrighted under that name which is even more weird. But whatever. I don't care who writes it, I just care whether it entertains, and this was a huge fail in that regard.

The story is set around the Christmas holiday, but it's not really a Christmas story; it's just a murder which happens in that season, in which "Callahan Garrity and the outrageous band of 'girls' in her Atlanta cleaning crew join together during the Christmas rush to prove that her trailer-trash brother didn't kill his even trashier estranged wife." I'm not sure why I thought this might make for a worthy read, but it wasn't. Usually in these stories the first thing to crop-up is the murder - otherwise what's the point?! Sometimes there's some preamble, but even so, the dastardly deed is right up front. In this case, the story was one third over before anyone got killed, and that third wasn't even preamble!

You've no doubt seen one of those sped-up decay videos, where an orange or something grows moldy at super-speed? Well that would have been more entertaining than this was, even were it shown at regular speed. This was tedious to the nth degree. It rambled on and on about the most mundane of activities, going into excessive detail about everyday events in the life of this family, which had zero bearing on the story and worse, and far from what the blurb claimed, it was not heartwarming, nor was it suspenseful, and it sure as hell wasn't hilarious.

If this story had been submitted by a first time writer, I doubt it would ever have found a publisher. All this proves is that you can get away with a badly-written novel if you have your foot in the door already. I don't mind reading about so-called 'trailer park trash' if it's entertaining and has something to say, but I won't abide a trashy novel that goes nowhere, and takes its sweet time doing it. I can't recommend this one at all. I DNF'd it. I also think I'm done with this author.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Quiet Life in the Country by TE Kinsey


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great old-style English country house murder mystery which kept on giving. There were some parts where it flagged a little, but overall it was a very worthy read. I enjoyed it immensely and I recommend it, which may come as a surprise to people who follow my reviews because I'm typically not a fan of series, nor am I at all enamored of first person voice, and this is both: it's book one of a "Lady Hardcastle" series, and it's also told in first person! As it happens, the voice wasn't at all distracting or intrusive, and since this was book one, there was no fear of cookie-cutter stories or of a tediously formulaic approach. It just goes to show that even a cynical, cantankerous curmudgeon like me can find the occasional exception to the rule!

In a sense, it's reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, in that the assistant is the one relating the story of the 'great detective' (although both parties do their share of detecting here). On the other hand, this story departs rather a lot from the traditional Lord (or in this case Lady) and servant duo. Lady Emily Hardcastle and her Lady's maid, Florence Armstrong (that latter name is chosen wisely, trust me), are more like companions than ever they are mistress and maid. Flo has no problem setting Lady Hardcastle straight, and even being a real smart-aleck from time to time. They have a wonderful repartee, which is what made this story for me, but then they've been together for a long time and Lady Hardcastle is a widow, so they have only each other and their relationship is entirely understandable and realistic. The two have a history of adventure abroad, which made me think this was not the first volume in the series, but it is, and I shall be interested in learning how things develop from here.

In this particular adventure, as the title suggests, the pair have arrived in the English countryside and are setting up home in a cottage with the idea of enjoying a real break from the adventurous and hectic life they had been leading (not always by choice!) abroad. The problem is that on their first ever foray into that countryside, they happen upon a dead body hanging from a fine old English oak. It looks like some despondent young man hung himself, but as Lady Hardcastle observes, one or two things about this scenario hardly ring true.

From that point onward, the game is afoot and before long there's another murder and a theft. Lady Hardcastle and Flow dive into the case because they think the detective has got it rather more round his neck than the first victim had, but in the end, and contrary to one or two negative reviewers' observations I've seen, the detective turns out to be a lot smarter than he first appears, and he and the two would-be detectives begin to get along famously.

I thought I'd solved the first murder quite early in the story, but I had not. On the other hand, I'm typically useless at solving these things, which is why I enjoy them! I still think my solution would have worked in a slightly different story, but this only serves to give me the chance to turn it into a story of my own, right?!

All in all, a fun read, a decent mystery, and a good story. I think it could have been served by being slightly shorter, but I'm not about to make a fuss over that that because I did enjoy it as is, and I recommend as a thoroughly bang-up show, what?!


Monday, September 5, 2016

A Killer Closet by Paula Paul


Rating: WARTY!

This novel promised sufficient differences from the usual female-centric murder mystery (no cupcakes or coffee-bars here) that it sounded very appealing, but in the end it proved itself to be so lacking in credibility and so full of trope that it turned me off. The best part about it turned out to be that one, it was not first person voice, for which I heartily thank the author, and two, it was very short - only one-hundred fifty pages or so, again for which I offer thanks, otherwise I might have had to DNF this one.

The main character, Irene Seligman is essentially blackmailed to leave her comfortable and rewarding life in New York City to move back to home town Santa Fe, New Mexico, because her mother is a cruel parasite. Despite her job being that of an assistant district attorney, she abandons that "prestigious job" completely for no reason that we're given, and opens a very upscale designer clothing consignment store. This abrupt and dramatic switch in career choice made absolutely no sense to me because it had no roots or background, but I was even willing to let that slide in the hope of a good story. Unfortunately I didn't end-up with the bargain some of the shoppers in the store got!

The morning she opens her brand new store, Irene discovers a dead body in one of the closets. I was willing to run with that, but by the time I reached the end of the novel, I had seen no reason offered as to why this body had been left in her store. The store was locked and someone had to pick the lock or use a duplicate key to get in there and dump the body. It made no sense and didn't fit with what I later learned of the perps. Maybe I missed the explanation, but I didn't miss that despite the victim having evidently been killed elsewhere and dumped here the scene was described in a way that suggested the murder was done right there. How that worked is an unexplained mystery, and there were too many of these in this novel.

This novel is one more example of how the cover artist never reads the novel he or she is illustrating for, and ends up drawing a cover which bears no relationship whatsoever to the events. The cover shows a woman in a purple skirt with what look like Christian Louboutin's on her feet and wearing something white around her torso. She's lying in a relaxed fetal position on her left side. Here's the description of the corpse from the very first page of the novel:

The dead woman sat with her legs straight out, her upper body leaning against the wall. She was dressed in blue silk Prada pants. She wore a brown silk jacket, also Prada.
In other words she looked nothing like the cover. This is why I ignore covers when picking a novel to read. They're meaningless and irrelevant. They have no respect for the author, because the author routinely has little or nothing to do with the cover unless they self publish.

The problems didn't stop there. Here is the description of the woman's appearance: "The woman herself had been an attractive blonde." I'm sorry, but what does the fact that she's attractive have to do with anything? Would the murder have been less of a tragedy if she'd been an ugly brunette? I seriously don't think so! So why describe her as attractive?

If it had been written in first person, this might have made some sense because some people do think like that - that a murder is more tragic if the victim is pretty, but this was not first person. The other side of this coin is Irene's later observation of her aging mother. "Seeing her now in the bright light without her makeup, Irene thought she looked every day of the seventy years she’d lived." So we have an announcement here that without make-up, women are ugly, especially when they're older women, who quite obviously from this should never put their face out in public without a pretty mask of make-up to hide it behind. How cruel can you get?


But Irene's behavior never did make sense. She used to be an assistant DA, yet everything she does here gets in the way of the police investigation. She repeatedly ignores, for example, direct orders for the police and thereby risks contaminating crime scenes. Her behavior is inexcusable, and not something a DA would do. There are ways to force her, by good plotting, to do these things if they're necessary to the story, but none of that was in evidence here. Consequently, Irene simply looked like a stupid, interfering busy-body who was betraying her entire career training, and doing it for no reason whatsoever.

Perhaps it's needless to say after that, I did not like Irene at all, and I loathed her mother who was one of the most clueless, vapid, and vacuous characters ever to disgrace the pages of a novel. In fact I don't think there was a single character I did like in this novel. All the women are presented as gossiping busy-bodies. All the men are macho or boyish in one way or another. There's nothing in between. None of the characters was interesting. It was pretty obvious from early-on who the villain was and who the good guy in disguise was.

Irene's painfully obvious love interest was right out of the young adult trope stockpile: "He was tall, and he had blue eyes set in a square-jawed, high-cheekboned face and a boyish shock of blond hair that fell across his forehead." Barf. He's randomly referred to as "J.P." or "P.J." like the author couldn't decide which she preferred. That needs to be corrected before this goes to final print. I know that advance review copies are disclaimed as an "uncorrected proof" but that, in this day and age, is no excuse at all. We do not live in an age where people write novels out by hand or laboriously type them on a typewriter, and then the type has to be set in leads in a literal galley tray and painstakingly corrected. We have search & replace. We have spell-checkers. We have grammar checkers (although I don't recommend Microsoft's, which sucks). This doesn't catch all errors by any means and I sympathize with authors having to read and re-read their work, believe you me, but we ought not to be seeing mixed-up initials.

There's a lawyer who is nothing but an obnoxious stalker yet Irene seems to have no problem with him despite his pushy nature and the fact that he inexplicably knows everything about her despite having literally just met her. He flatly refuses to accept that "No!" means "Hell, no!" yet she doesn't find this remotely suspicious! She puts it down to living in a small town, yet Santa Fe, with a population close to seventy thousand is not a small town where everyone knows everyone else's business. This guy is a creep and still Irene allows him to drive her home. She's an idiot.

At one point, there's a golden opportunity to discover the identity of one of the villains because she actually came into Irene's store, make a purchase, and pays with a credit card, yet never does Irene have the smarts when she later learns this woman is bad news, to go back and look at the receipt and report her identity to the police. She must have been an utterly lousy assistant DA.

Irene makes no sense, especially as someone with DA affiliations. She is very reticent about giving information to the cops despite him asking questions about the corpse discovered in her closet. She repeatedly reminds herself not to tall him too much, and there's no reason whatsoever for her attitude. Yet later, again for no reason, she spills her guts to someone else with a load of unbidden and extraneous information: "She didn’t tell me anything about a struggle. She just called and told me she’d found a building and used the money I wired her to pay the first month’s lease. She said she got a good deal on a building that had been vacant for several months." Again it made no sense.

At one point, against expressed police orders, Irene decides she must visit a location out of town (instead of simply telling the police about it), but instead of going right then, when her store has been forcibly closed because of the dead body and police investigation, she puts off the trip until another day when she has to leave the store full of valuable merchandise in the care of a brand new hire whom she doesn't know, and who is supposed to be part-time. She doesn't even tell him she will be gone. He has no keys to the store and isn't told she will be away, yet he manages to open the store with no problem! Maybe he's the one leaving the dead bodies?! LOL! Seriously, this made no sense, and this novel was full of this kind of out of left field inexplicable behavior.

In the end, not remotely liking the main character and finding the story repeatedly making no sense, I cannot in good faith recommend this one.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Write To Die Charles Rosenberg


Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with several other novels which have this same title! Let this be a warning to writers! Make it unique!

I have to confess I had some really mixed feelings about this novel. On the one hand the 470-some pages flew by, which is a good thing and overall, the writing in general was quite good. The story-telling also made me want to keep turning pages. On the downside, however, I had some real problems with some parts of the plot which lacked credibility, and with some of the writing which essentially reduced women to skin-depth, strongly implying that a woman who isn't beautiful, pretty much doesn't merit consideration.

I can't tolerate that kind of writing and I'm starting to think I need to give an automatic fail to any novel which takes that approach regardless of how good it is otherwise. Plus this is episode one of a series, and I typically have no time for series. I was not informed of this when I requested this advance review copy! While I do appreciate the opportunity to read and review this novel, it would be much more preferable to have known more about what's going on with it up front.

I want to say a few words about this beauty issue to make it crystal-clear what I mean here. If this had been a novel about the modeling industry, for example, where anorexic women routinely present themselves as a disturbingly perverse norm, quite literally offering themselves as nothing more than "pretty" clothes-hangers, then I can seen how beauty would be a factor in the writing, even if it's still wrong-headed. If the novel had been about competition between actors for a movie role, then looks (wrong as it still is), might a valid topic for the author's pen. I have to add that it would be a more valid topic if the issue of looks was an internal conflict in one or more of the actors or a story based on how unjust the move business is in this regard.

If the novel were in first person and the narrator was commenting on people's attractiveness I wouldn't like that. It would be valid however, because people do see others that way, but I would downgrade such a novel for being first person - and for being about a shallow character! If the novel is third person (for which I would commend it) and had various characters make comments about looks, that would be valid because people are like that even if we don't like them. And finally, to have two people who are in love comment about how beautiful they find each other (regardless of how third-parties view them) is not a problem either, because love does foster the discovery or uncovering of beauty in people.

But to have a third person novel, as this commendably was, yet have the author write the narration and repeatedly make it about looks, is not acceptable to me. It's not acceptable to foster this ridiculous view we have today that you have to be thin as a rake and have Hollywood looks ("beautiful" if you're female, and "buff" - or whatever word you like - if you're male) or to have an hourglass figure to be attractive. It's dangerous and damaging. I don't think it serves society and I don't think authors should contribute to it; quite the contrary: they're in a very powerful position to counter it.

It saddens me when I see so many novels, particularly in the young-adult world, facilitating this evil fiction that beauty is everything and women who don't (according to the author's lights) have it need not apply. It's even sadder that all-too-many female authors aid and abet this nonsense. Countering this isn't the same as saying we should have all our female characters described as 'ugly' or 'homely', or our male characters described as 'skinny weaklings'. That isn't accurate either. To me, countering this is not to swing the pendulum the opposite way, but to stop it dead in the middle by writing stories which do not address looks at all. Leave that to your reader. Offer a vague description if necessary, but make it neutral. There are better ways to convey real beauty than by rendering character as caricature.

It would be rather hard to put out a police description in your novel without mentioning eye and hair color of course, but for the most part, if looks are not actually relevant to what's happening or necessary (for whatever reason) to further your story or make a specific point about a character, why mention them at all? I feel you should offer a vague sketch if you must, but trust your reader fill in the details as they see fit. Focus your description on other qualities to emphasize that real people are much more than looks. If you sketch your character by their (non-physical) attributes, their skills, and their personality, then you reader will have no trouble picturing them. Trust me on this. Better yet, trust your readers on this. 'Show, don't tell' isn't restricted merely to dissuading info-dumping!

Although this novel is indeed about the movie industry in a way, it's also about a law firm and two lawsuits, and looks have nothing whatsoever to do with anything which takes place in this novel, yet when major character Sarah Gold is described, the description cannot help but launch into a rapture about about how "beautiful" she is! Here's how we first meet her:

When Rory entered his office, a young woman was standing there...She wasn’t just pretty but beautiful—high cheekbones, lovely nose, alabaster skin and the figure of a model back when models were allowed to have hips and breasts. Her eyes were green and wide, without a trace of makeup around them, and the thick hair cascading to the middle of her back was the color of spun gold.
Spun gold? Not just pretty but beautiful? Figure of a model? She'a a law-firm associate. Why does she even need this description? I don't doubt that there are such law associates, but must every one we read about in fiction be those few? Are we that addicted to trope and cliché?

The author would no doubt argue that she has other qualities that we learn of, and I agree, but we learn of those as secondary qualities over the course of the story. The very first, and evidently the most important thing we learn about her is right there up front: it's her beauty that's clearly the most defining characteristic of this woman. And it's completely unnecessary. Had her beauty (or even her looks) not been mentioned in any way shape or form in this novel, she would still have been the same character, so please don't ask quo vadis ask, quid pulchra?

If that description had been Rory's view, that would be one thing, but it wasn't. It was given as an objective view. We know this because later, we read, "Maybe he was attracted to her and didn’t know it." If it had been just that one instance, that would have been bad enough, but this view is repeated, and not just about Sarah. Here's another line from the novel:
"He was naked and there was a naked female leg draped across his. It wasn’t exactly a movie-star-quality leg, but it was a very nice leg nonetheless." How generous of him. She's not movie star quality but she'll do?

This is not about Sarah Gold, but about a different woman with whom Rory has sex and it was disgusting. About which encounter, I read in a depiction of the next morning: She giggled. “Which reminds me. Did you use protection last night?" Seriously? She has to ask? The funny thing is that Dana completely disappears from the novel never to be heard from again at about the halfway or two-thirds stage. Disposable women! How beautifully convenient!

Other occasions I read things like, "An attractive woman in her midthirties." Why is this relevant? Age or looks? Here's the second worst one: "Sarah walked into Rory’s office, still beautiful..." Thank the Hollywood Stars for that! I was afraid she'd got ugly in the intervening period since Rory last saw her! That would have ruined the story! Aphrodite forbid that we have a character who is less than beautiful! What possible use would she be in a novel?

There were few other writing issues I'm happy to report, but they were interesting ones. One of them was this weird one:

I hope you can see my point about Dana Barbour.”
“It’s Barbour...."
There's a whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment. I can see what the author had in mind, but since he uses the same spelling in both sentences, it's completely meaningless. I assume it's the English versus the French pronunciation, perhaps something like Barber v. Barbour, but by using the same spelling twice he makes it unintelligible to the reader no matter how clear it might have been in his own mind when he wrote it. Given how many people are credited with helping out here, I'm surprised something like this slipped through, but we've all been there, I know!

Another plot problem was that the author confuses two consecutive weeks, the first as the novel begins, with the second week. Very early in the novel we learn of a script which has just been discovered, and which has the potential to lose Rory his previous cut-and-dried case. A week later, we're told the same thing: the script was discovered a couple of days ago, which is why he hasn't been supplied a copy of it. It cannot have been 'just discovered' on two different Mondays! Again it's an easy mistake to make, but it needs to be fixed.

This same script causes problems later when we learn that Sarah electronically compares two scripts. The problem is that they didn't have an electronic copy of the script they'd just been handed, so how did she compare it? If she was comparing two other electronic scripts (and not the printed copy they had literally just been given), then what was the point? It told them nothing about the new script. If the script they compared was with an e-copy they already had, then why had they not run the comparison before? What we needed to have been told was that the e-copy they already had possession of (by other means) was the same as the printed one they'd just been given. That would have validated the comparison.

Aside from that, it was pretty decent - if confusing at times! Its like the author occasionally lost track of what he was writing, and we've all been there, too! This sentence, for example, could have used improvement: "It didn’t pass Sarah by that Gladys had just referred to Sylvie in the past tense, but she let it pass." There's too much pass, past, pass! In another case, I read, “I’m going to go see Quentin Zavallo and get debriefed." No, Zavallo is going to get debriefed. Rory is going to get briefed! Legal terms, not military! In another instance, Rory was pacing around a table, then he sat, and evidently the author forgot, because Sarah says, "You're not sitting. You’re walking around the conference table, remember?” No, Sarah, he was sitting right there!

There were other issues I had which, when looked at overall, were what contributed to my rating this as a less-than-worthy read. Looking back on the story, I find that I really didn't like either of the two main characters, Rory, and Sarah. What kept me reading was the story in general, but in retrospect, I would have liked it a lot better had those two characters been switched out for more savory and entertaining ones. I certainly wouldn't want to read a series about these two people. Rory came across as a sleaze and a bully, and Sarah was simply annoying, like some kid sister from a middle-grade novel might be deemed by her older brother. She was insubordinate and undisciplined, and either outright broke the law or skirted with breaking it on several occasions. She went off on tangents without keeping her boss in the loop. This was passed off (or attempted anyway) as some sort of psychological disorder, but I found that patronizing and insulting. There was also an association made regarding Sarah as part of a governmental organization at one point which was then never mentioned again - like it had been added as a plot point and then forgotten about! It made no sense.

The ending was messy and all-too-convenient with a guy showing up to rescue a girl, which completely betrayed her self-sufficiency, so yes, in the end, she was nothing more than the maiden in distress, which was frankly pathetic. The rescue was highly improbable, and a supposed assassin who was "on his way" completely disappeared from the narrative. So the ending was entirely unsatisfying, which for me was the last straw.

The book blurb (which I know is not on an author unless they self-publish) didn't help! It tells us that "Hollywood’s latest blockbuster is all set to premiere", yet the plot for this movie isn't the kind of plot that makes for a blockbuster. People can, of course, disagree on something like this which isn't well-defined, but although such a movie might be critically acclaimed, and make some money, but it simply wasn't credible to me that this movie (the plot of which we do learn) would even make the hundred-million dollars that's predicted for it and even if it did, it's not really a blockbuster - not by box office receipts these days. A movie like that could just as likely be deemed a failure depending on production and advertising costs.

There's one more thing I should (belatedly!) add to this, and it's something I've been paying more attention to lately, which is how much paper a novel would use were it to go to a print run as opposed to being distributed as an ebook, and therefore how many trees would have to die for you. This novel ran to 477 pages, but the line spacing was about 1.5. Note that this was in the iPad Bluefire Reader version, which is, I believe, how it would look in print (in the Kindle version, where formatting all too often sucks, it appeared to be single-space lines). This author seemed to be rather proud of how the "great-looking and feeling" print version, but in my opinion, it could have been improved in an area that's far too often overlooked.

If the spacing had been 1 in the print version as opposed to 1.5, then this novel could have been slimmed down to some 320 pages. We can round that up to 350 in case I errored in this calculation. In addition to this, every one of the chapters had a blank page preceding it. It had 62 chapters, which meant sixty two blank pages, or 31 blank sheets in total. If these had also been eliminated, the entire book could have shrunk to little more than 300 pages from this alone, regardless of typeface or font. Even if we couldn't get below 350 pages, this would still be 25% fewer trees killed to produce a print run. It's worth thinking about this unless your novel is only going to be issued as an ebook, because even if you employ recycled paper, it still uses energy to produce.

Even if your novel is an ebook, the larger it is, the more energy it requires to move across the Internet, and it's a lot harder to recycle ebooks (in terms or passing them on to other people or turning them over to Goodwill or a used book store) than it is print books, which require no energy at all once they're produced - no reading device (except maybe a light from time to time!). No batteries. No electricity. No electronic storage space which requires power to retrieve from. Personally I think this is is all worth consideration if you're a writer, and especially if you self publish. Admittedly, if you go with Big Publishing, you really don't have any say in how they turn out your novel, so that's worth considering too, but you can determine how wordy it will be. Just a thought!

So overall, given the machismo and genderism on display and the problems with the plot and the ending, and while I appreciate the chance to read this from the publisher, and wish the author all the best in his future endeavors, I can't in good faith recommend this as a worthy read.


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Stripped Bare by Shannon Baker


Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with Stripped Bare by Emma Hart, or with Stripped Bare by Susan MacNichol, or with Stripped Bare by Penny Clark or with Stripped Bare by Lena Matthews, or with Stripped Bare by Rebecca Moon, or with Stripped Bare by Lacey Thorn, or with Stripped Bare by Lowri Turner, or with Stripped Bare by Aurora Rose Lynn, or with Stripped Bare by Nikka Michaels, or with Stripped Bare by Phil Martin (and so on!), this rather unoriginally titled novel was an advance review copy from Net Galley which I got by accident!

Not sure if I wanted to read this without looking at more detail, I tried to log into Net Galley not by clicking on the link in the email they'd sent me, but by logging-on separately and finding the title through an author search, yet this still got the book automatically added to my list! In the words of John Hurt's Olivander, "Yikes!" Having been saddled with it, I did give it the old college try, but it was not for me. There were too many writing issues and I could not stand the main character.

In what is obviously the opener for a series (I'm not a fan of series), this story is about Sheriff's wife Kate Fox who is guardian of her young, troubled relative, Carly. The novel gets into the action right from the off, which is always a good thing, when Carly’s grandfather, Eldon, is shot and killed, and Kate's philandering husband, Grand County Sheriff Ted Conner who is up for re-election, is seriously wounded. Kate's juvenile charge is missing.

It seemed likely from the start who the villain was, but I'm usually bad at guessing these things so I was surprised I was right. I had to go check since I did not read all of this novel, and the reason for this is that I took a disliking to Kate pretty much from the start. She's supposed to love her husband (she doesn't know right at the start that he's having an affair), yet she fails to get into the ambulance with him. This woman named Roxy who curiously happens to be present, goes with him instead? I couldn't get past that because it was so wrong and Kate was so stupid not to see what was happening here. We were told repeatedly how desperate she was to get to her husband and be with him, and then she lets the ambulance take off with Roxy, and she stays behind? It made zero sense, and no rational reason was offered for it.

There were other reasons not to like Kate. She lives with her husband on a cattle ranch, and at one point she processes this thought: "I could tolerate ears and tails frozen off, a common casualty of spring snowstorms..." This callousness on her part - that she could tolerate pain and suffering in the very animals she relies on for her living turned me right off her. I did not like her one bit after this and was rather hoping the villains would get her. I honestly don't care if cattle ranchers really do view their 'livestock' like that or not. It was unacceptable to me if you want me to like your character.

Kate was unlikable in many other ways. Her dangerous driving to get her to where her wounded husband lay resulted in her smacking into a fence post. I read, "The post didn’t break, but it tilted out, drawing barbed wire with it and snapping the line post six feet away." Her response? “Sorry, Elvis.” Is Elvis the owner of the property she's just criminally damaged? Nope. Elvis is what she named her aging pickup truck. Yes she was worried about her husband (the one she couldn't be bothered to get into the ambulance with), but now she's shown me twice how callous and selfish she is. Plus for a rancher, you'd think she'd know the difference between an AutoGate and a cattle guard (aka a vehicle pass, a Texas gate, or a stock gap). You can "sail over" a cattle guard. You cannot sail over an AutoGate unless your car flies. Shades of Harry Potter again!

When she finally takes Elvis to the hospital, she selfishly parks right under the awning at the entrance to the ER instead of finding a parking space! The hell with other people coming in! The hell with ambulances delivering other patients! Once again she proves herself selfish and thoughtless. At this point I couldn't stand her, and I was actively rooting for Ted and Roxy.

Some of the writing was weird. I read, "Because the railroad depot was the first building in Hodgekiss, in 1889, and the main reason for the settlement, the town had grown up along the tracks." How does this work? There was literally nothing there, but they built a railroad depot anyway, and then a town grew up? Where was the need for the depot if there was no one there to begin with? I'm sorry but that's not how these things work!

There were sections where there was far too much info-dumping, such as:

I started off on another trek to Broken Butte. I had to drive over most of Grand County and into Butte County, sliding just a mile or two through Choker County, which ran along Grand’s eastern edge and north to Nebraska’s border with South Dakota. We’re a bunch of square states, and Grand County copies that pattern. Sprawling over six thousand square miles, it’s bigger than Connecticut, Delaware, or Rhode Island, with about as many people living inside its borders as there are square miles.
TMI!

At another point, Ted, who has literally just come out of a coma, is able to update Kate on where everyone is. How he managed that feat would have made a much more interesting story than the one I got! At around this point, I was unable to read any more of this story because it was turning me off on every page. I wish the author the best of luck in putting yet another detective series on the market, but I can't in good faith recommend this one based on what I read of it.


Monday, June 6, 2016

The Body Reader by Anne Frasier


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an novel with a really interesting set-up, which was well-written, and which actually made good on the promise of the premise!

A woman who was a police detective was abducted and held in an underground cell, abused for three years, then suddenly she got a chance to escape and ran with it - literally. Now she's back in the world and trying to cope with three missing years of her life while the world, including her boyfriend, moved on. One thing she learned in those three years, apart from resilience, was how to expertly read even the minutest of body language. The problem is, her troubles are far from over.

Jude Fontaine's take on, and reintegration into everyday life was what made this story engaging from the start for me. She wasn't up for taking the usual trajectory. She wanted to take charge of her life again in her own way, and most of all, she wanted her job back. Eventually she gets it, but on day one there's a murder of a young girl which is ham-fistedly set up to look like a suicide, and something is off about this whole thing.

The investigation doesn't go well. No one seems to want to trust that Jude is really ready for the job despite her evaluations coming back fine. She's dumped on a new partner who doesn't trust her and doesn't think she can handle it. Their best hope for a lead doesn't want to talk (or does she?), and someone is trailing Jude as she rides home on her new motorbike one night. What the heck was going on here had me making some wild guesses. Did she not kill her captor when she escaped? Was he working alone? Is there some sort of conspiracy or trafficking going on here? Are the cops involved? What happened between Jude and her father all those years ago before she emancipated herself, and ditched him and her brother for years?

This novel was told well from the off. Even the prologue was actually chapter one, which is perfect for me because I've been arguing that's how it should be for a long time! Finally an author who shows everyone how it's done! Put your prologue in chapter one and I'll read it, otherwise, no!

It wasn't all plan sailing though. It became pretty obvious who the villain was quite early in the story, and if I can figure that out, you know it has to be quite glaring, because I'm usually hopeless at that. That aside, there were only a couple of places where the writing fell on its face. One was in Jude's interaction with her boyfriend. In some ways, he ended-up ironically being treated like a kidnapped girl who had reached her expiration date. It felt like the author included him and then didn't know what to do with him, so decided to write him out and really didn't care how it looked. It really showed badly in the writing of that scene. Why even involve him? If she'd left it how it ended after their first encounter it would have been fine. That second bite really bites and was embarrassing!

The novel was also one chapter too long! If it had ended with the helicopter taking off it would have been just about perfect. That last chapter rather spoiled things I felt. I was thrilled that the author realized that Jude (the un-obscure!) - of all female main characters - didn't need a guy to validate her. That was a smart move. I liked Jude, despite her off-the rails behavior here and there, and she was well-worth reading about, so I was happy! I was glad to have read this, and I recommend this novel as a worthy read.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Face of Fear by Dean Koontz


Rating: WARTY!

This is my first Dean Koontz novel, and I have to report that I could not get past the first third of it. Koontz has more pen names than I have fingers on two hands: David Axton, Brian Coffey, Deanna Dwyer, KR Dwyer, John Hill, Dean Koontz, Leigh Nichols, Anthony North, Richard Paige, Owen West, and Aaron Wolfe. This novel has been released under three different names, including his own. The other two names were Brian Coffey and KR Dwyer.

The worst thing about this novel was Patrick Lawlor's atrocious reading, which turned me off from the start. It was truly sickening when he made the police detective sound just like the eponymous detective in the TV series Columbo, but given the way the character was written, Koontz probably modeled him on Columbo anyway. I just couldn't stand it. I may go back and attack this again in a print or e-version, but right now all I'm interested in is evasion!

The premise is that a sick killer by the name of The Butcher is terrorizing female victims. I did not like the relish with which Koontz described this terrorism, not did i like the way the investigation was laid out. The detective (aside from his Columbo impersonation), was obnoxious to me. I actually liked the Columbo TV series, but I sure didn't want want to follow an entire story having to deal with this guy. I found myself losing interest in the story repeatedly and in the end, I simply didn't care who dunnit, and gave up on it. I was a lot happier once I'd made that decision! Naturally I can't recommend this at all.


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen


Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff, or Bad Monkey by Curtis Smith, or Superfreak: Bad Monkey by Melanie Kendry, this audio book I got from the library was a plodding bore from the off, so I DNF'd it. Plodding is appropriate since in Britain that's a derogatory name for a cop and this cop story set in the US was insufferably plodding and meanderign into a bunch of tedious crap that had nothing to do with the murder. The reading by Arte Johnson did not help at all. It was like listening to a Public Radio documentary - and not one that was interesting, but one that was so tedious you wonder how it ever got green-lighted to begin with. It was awful.

It did not help that the main character, Yancey, was a jerk, a moron, and a complete dick to begin with. He was one of the most unappealing main characters I have ever encountered: lazy, immoral, clueless, unmotivated, selfish, womanizing, and a slob. I was unable to see anything in him that would make me want to read (or in this case listen to) any more about him. The plot sounded interesting: a severed arm is hauled in by a guy on a fishing trip off the Florida keys. The arm bears a valuable wedding ring but is missing a wristwatch, and which has its middle finger extend from its fist? How can you start with a premise like that and bore the pants off me? Ask Carl Hiaasen. He managed it. I can't recommend this based on what little I could stand to listen to.


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Awaken Me Darkly by Gena Showalter


Rating: WARTY!

I have no idea what that title means. It's nonsensical. Wake me without turning on the light? Wake me with a shocking revelation? That's what the blurb promises, but the blurbs always promise that, and it never is. Blurb writers are morons. This audiobook was read in the kind of purring chocolate voice that sounds intriguing to begin with, but runs a severe risk of becoming cloying, irritating, even nauseating with too much exposure. And it did.

Listening to an audiobook isn't like meeting someone at a function or a party, where you have a conversation with them and can move on at any time. In an audiobook, you're stuck with them for the duration! There is no conversation. You're lectured and expected to like it. The reading in this case was done by Justine Eyre. I had no idea who she was, and the impression I got was that she was a lot older than the character. Since this is told in first person, this seemed wrong to me. Later I learned that she is, very roughly, the same age as the character, but she still seems wrong for this voice. She eyred! The voice sounds too old and nowhere near appropriate to the character as depicted in the novel. It's not enough street for my taste, so the character, as read by Eyre, came off as inauthentic to me.

When you're reading a novel for yourself, you have the choice to picture the characters however you want, but when this is taken from you by a reader in an audio book, it can be a spark of life or a kiss of death. In this case I tried not to be lured to either extreme and just let this voice go by me. It wasn't easy! I am no fan of first person PoV and I cannot understand why so many authors are so compulsively addicted to it. Some writers can make it work in some cases, but for me it's too much "me" from the character: "Hey, lookit me! Look, I'm looking in a mirror and describing myself for you! Aren't I wonderful? Lookit what I'm doing now. Pay attention only to meeeeee! I own you!" Yuk!

Anyway, let's look at the plot, which makes little sense, but this is what we have to work with. At some point in the near future, interplanetary portals appear on Earth for no evident reason, allowing through several varieties of alien, all of which seem to be superior to humans. Feeling threatened, the humans fought back - literally - and were pretty much losing when a treaty was struck and an organization to police the aliens was formed. The main character, Mia Snow works for the New Chicago Police Department as an 'alien huntress'. I don't get why it's New Chicago, but this is sci-fi so you have to have the city renamed with the new prefix, right? It's the law! Why she's a 'huntress' rather than a 'hunter' I don't get either. Do women need to be especially labeled to pigeon-hole them as women rather than as people? Gena Showalter seems to think so. Why is she a 'huntress' at all? Why not a detective - or a detectivess in this case? LOL!

The story starts with an alien serial killer. The evidence points to a female Arcadian. Why the alien race is named after residents of the highlands in the middle of the Peloponnese in ancient Greece, I have no idea. I'm guessing Showalter doesn't either. The name just sounds cool, right? The body is a muscular male with dark hair. He's found naked and posed and tied with ribbons - which is why the idiot detectives insist it had to have been a female who did it. No male would ever use a ribbon, right? Genderism and pigeon-holing seems to be the order of the day in this future. "She" is identified as Arcadian by the fact that Arcadians have three hairs to each root as opposed to the single hair per follicle every other species evidently has. Et in Arcadia ego grew three hairs, apparently.

None of this could have been possibly, planted, could it? I'm sorry, but this story started out stupid and got worse. I ditched it DNF and moved on to something much better written and far more entertaining. I cannot recommend this one, and I'm done with this author!


Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie


Rating: WARTY!

This is one of three novels by Agatha Christie that I intend to review this year, the other two being Murder on the Orient Express, and Cat Among the Pigeons. I enjoyed all three of these in the ITV television series starring David Suchet as the consummate Hercule Poirot, but my experience with the novels was not the same. This one I really did not care for. It was boring. Note that I already favorably reviewed Christie's The Unexpected Guest in July of 2013, and Thirteen at Dinner in November of 2014.

The murder doesn't take place until about half way through the story, so the entirety of the first half is prologue. I'm not a fan of prologue! Some of it plays into the story, but most of it seemed to be nothing more than Christie running off at the mouth painting character studies and contributing nothing to the plot at all. It was awful. The same could have been achieved with two or three short chapters.

This saddened me, because this particular audio book was read by David Suchet, and he did an excellent job. I had never heard his real voice until this novel! But the tedium, particularly of the interactions between the girls in the opening chapter, was deadening. I detested each and every one of those women and had no issues with any of them being bumped off!

The story was highly formulaic in quintessential Christie manner. She cannot write a travelogue story without having her stock characters. These consist of several Brits, including a young woman and an old crotchety woman, a couple of Brit guys, and then there are "the foreigners" which always consist of an American, an Italian, and at least one other foreigner, preferably French or German. In addition to this there is the trope Christie ending which improbably gathers all of the characters together at the end so he can lord it over them with his brilliance. This, for me, was the most irritating part of the TV series, and it was so unrealistic as to be ridiculous. Seriously, would all of these people put up with this every episode, including the murderer? Not on your nelly!

Poirot is actually in danger of being charged with impeding a police investigation, too, since he has knowledge which leads to the arrest of the perp, but which he inevitably conceals until the last minute, and the police inexplicably indulge him every time! In this case, there were no police, just Poirot and some high-up in the Brit consulate or something, I forget which from the TV show, and I didn't listen far enough to meet him in the audio book. The essential plot is that a woman introduces her fiancé to a Lady who isn't so much a Lady as a spoiled brat. She steals the man and marries him, and the jilted woman takes to stalking the happy couple including following them on their honeymoon to Egypt. No one thinks to ask how this impoverished woman could afford a vacation to Egypt and a cruise on the Nile. If they had, they might have rooted out the killer earlier.

The new bride is found shot, and witnesses are being bumped off left, right and center before Poirot figures it out. There are the usual Christie red herrings, of course. All in all it's a bit improbable, but not a bad story in the TV version. The written version not so much. I can't recommend it.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Beauty Volume 1 by Jeremy Haun, Jason A Hurley


Rating: WORTHY!

This volume (an advance review copy for which I am grateful!), collects the first six individual issues and seems like it could have been made for me, someone who rails against the obsession humans have, particularly in this media-soaked age, with physical beauty and who cares what lies beneath - with the emphasis on lies. I wish I had thought of this idea!

Yet another sexual disease gets loose in the world, but in this case, people actively try to get infected, because what it does is confer beauty upon those infected - youthful good looks, taut, fresh healthy skin, lush hair. In short, everything TV, movies, and magazines look for in actors and models. Very soon, this disease is no longer considered a disease. It's called simply 'The Beauty' and it has spread to almost every adult on the planet as this story begins, in a world where there are very few people of color, curiously enough. That was my only problem with this story.

Detectives Vaughn and Foster, one of whom is infected, the other not, are called to an apparent incident of self-immolation on a subway train. The curious thing is that it looks like the passenger burned from the inside out. Soon more and more of these victims are found, and they were all infected with The Beauty. This disease, it seems, has a long-term consequence, and now if a cure is not found, the world is going to burn.

The story is by Jeremy Haun and Jason Hurley, and is tight and paced, moving things along at a very readable clip. The art is by Haun and is excellent, although be warned it is adult in nature, with nudity and graphic violence. I recommend this as an entertainingly worthy read.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie


Rating: WORTHY!

This is pretty special - a novel about Hercule Poirot (not to be confused with poi rot!) in which Hercule Poirot almost doesn't appear and in which the motive is uncovered by a young schoolgirl rather than Poirot himself! Don't confuse this one with the score of novels by other authors with this same now way over-used title.

This is the fifth of Christie's novels I've reviewed, nearly all of them Poirot stories, and all (including this one) save one I have rated as worthy reads. The one I did not like was Death on the Nile. The others that I considered to be worthy were: Murder on the Orient Express, The Unexpected Guest (which was taken from a play Christie wrote rather than an actual novel, and was not about Poirot), and Lord Edgeware Dies more commonly known as Thirteen at Dinner.

This story actually flirted with receiving a 'warty' rating (hey, in the middle of warty, there's still art!), but what saved it was the female politics, and in particular the amazingly entertaining schoolgirls Jennifer Sutcliffe and Julia Upjohn. These two were even more entertaining in the televised version starring David Suchet, which departed from the novel rather a lot, especially in bringing in Poirot at the beginning. In the novel, he is entirely absent for the first two thirds of this story, which takes place at Meadowbank School for Girls, fictional, but the most prestigious preparatory school for girls in the entire country.

Christie is known to have grown to detest her character, Poirot, yet she continued to serve up stories featuring him because she felt some sort of duty to her readers. I can't help but wonder if this is perhaps why he is so conspicuous by his absence from this one. Perhaps when she wrote it, she was really having a bad time finding anything to like about him, and decided to see how far she could take the story before she had to draft him in. In this instance, it was by a rather unusual means that he came onto the scene.

The start of a new term brings the usual minor issues, and one larger one. The principal, known as the headmistress, is Miss Bulstrode, and she's ready to retire if she can find a replacement who is worthy of overseeing Meadowbank. She has two fellow teachers in mind: Miss Vansittart, who is a veteran at the school and her prime choice, but newcomer Miss Rich is a serious contender.

Things seem to be fine until the gym mistress, a bit of a busybody, is discovered murdered in the new pavilion. In the TV series, she's impaled by a javelin, but is merely shot in the novel. How uninventive! As more murders occur, and the reputation of the school starts rapidly downhill, other questions arise. Why as Princess Shaista kidnapped? What is so important about the new pavilion which continues to draw some evil perp there? And why isn't the tea being served already?!

I enjoyed this novel and recommend it.