Showing posts with label serial killer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label serial killer. Show all posts

Monday, February 2, 2015

Hades by Candice Fox


Title: Hades
Author: Candice Fox
Publisher: Kensington 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!

I have to say I wasn't too thrilled with the Kindle advance review copy of this novel. It wasn't even remotely correctly formatted for the Kindle. The page headers - such as the author's name and the novel title - appeared in the middle of the text because they weren't removed when the text was converted for the Kindle. In addition to that, there were random gaps and new lines in the text, mid-word and mid-sentence. The Adobe Digital Editions and the iPad versions seemed fine.

I know this was an ARC, and so not everything can be perfect, but frankly in this age of e-publishing, there really isn't any excuse for formatting issues of this nature. Hopefully this will not be the status of this novel in the final version. There were also one or two grammatical and similar issues which were a bit more understandable if regrettable, such as at location 547 (sorry, no page numbers in the Kindle - I don't know how much use a location number actually is (especially if you're not reading the ebook!), but the phrase was "cold, calculated businessman" and it really should have been something like "coldly calculating businessman" to make any sense. Unless, of course, they were talking about the corpse of a businessman which they'd designed, in which case it could well have been cold and calculated...!

This novel is really Dexter does Australia (it pretty much says so right on the cover). It's a first person PoV novel, which I normally rail against, but which in this case was one of the rare few which was not nauseating for that reason. It was told in an interesting way, because the narrator is not the main character. He's a cop who is telling the story, and it’s mostly about his interactions with an observations of his new partner, a seasoned cop by the name of Eden. She's a respected, tough and experienced cop who works on the force with her brother, Eric, but with whom she's never partnered for various reasons.

Frank, the narrator, is teamed with her after his own partner kills himself. Eden's partner was killed in the line of duty, we're told. Eden's brother Eric doesn’t take to Frank, looking through his personal stuff and generally irritating him as well as blabbing Frank's secrets (his drug use, his one-time punching of his ex wife, his DWI on his way to work. Despite all these violations, Frank is inexplicably still on the force. He and Eden get along, although she's made it clear she's not interested in becoming bosom buddies with him.

The two are thrown into a serial murder investigation immediately, with a score of bodies having been found after they had been dumped into the ocean in metal boxes. The most outstanding thing about he bodies is that various assorted organs have been surgically removed, so it looks like someone is harvesting the organs for wealthy (and none too picky) clients. The curious thing about this book is that, interspersed with these chapters, is an italicized insert here and there, talking about a character called Hades, who finds two lost and injured children whom he raises as his own despite not legally being entitled to do so. How that fits into the story isn't immediately clear, but when we learn that the children are named Eden and Eric, things start becoming more clear - or do they?

I have to interject a complaint here, and if you follow my reviews you knew this was coming! It concerns wasted trees. In an ebook, which is what I read in this case, this isn't a problem (although a larger file size does mean more energy is required to transmit and maintain it), but if a book goes to a print run, then the more white space you have on your page, the more trees are going to die in order to feed your book. It’s not a smart move to be contributing to bringing down trees en masse in an era of all-but-runaway climate change.

I'm not suggesting that writers and publishers cram every square millimeter of white space with text by any means, but as you can see from the sample image on my blog, the chapter title page is about 85% white space and the regular pages are not much better. At first I thought this was an issue only when viewed as an ebook or in Adobe Digital Editions, but when I took advantage of the "look inside" feature on-line, it appeared to be exactly the same, so I have no reason to believe the print book will be any different. I understand that there are aesthetic, practical, and artistic considerations in play here, I do. All I ask is that writers and publishers not forget the big picture. Every one of us can make a difference.

That said, I started out linking this book, but soon found that the shifting perspectives became irritating at first and then outright annoying before very long. This is the problem with limiting yourself by employing first person PoV. It’s not a voice that you should use unless you really know what you want to do with it, and it failed sadly in this instance. The severe handicap of 1PoV is that you can't show anything that's not directly witnessed by the narrator, which is an awful limitation to impose upon your story telling unless you really have a first class, iron-clad reason for it - and most authors do not.

If you've stuck yourself with this limitation and then discover that you haven't planned too-well and need to add a larger perspective, you're stuck with a clunky info-dump from a third party, or you have to go the even more clunky route of adding third person narration. This latter is what happened here, and it didn’t work. We kept having third person flashbacks to Eric and Eden's childhood, which proved to be a major spoiler, and then this was interleaved with the main narrator's first person, and with third person from the perspective of more than one other character! This made the novel seem badly organized and cluttered, and it really detracted from the story for me.

On top of that, the story was too dissipated, with focus being repeatedly dragged away from the case to the first person narrator's stalker-ish obsession with his new partner which was sick at best. The narrator wasn't a nice person which made me suspicious of his veracity to begin with, which in turn certainly did not help me to either like or trust this story. I can see why the author did it (can you say sequels?!), but the problem was that this was telegraphed, and this meant that there really was no mystery or intrigue here.

The narrator, and his interaction with Eden made the narrator seem like a lowlife to me, and he wasn't too smart, either. I had neither empathy for, nor interest in, him. I didn’t like Eric because he was just scum from the start: a caricature with villain garishly painted all over him, and I didn’t like Eden because although she was rather intriguing at first, she never grew and was never developed. She was more like a symbol, and not even a sex symbol, so what was she? What’s to keep me interested in a story where neither of the two main characters is remotely appealing?!

Almost worse than that, we'd get a bit of a cliff-hanger in the murder investigation at the end of a chapter, but then have to wait a chapter or two while the narrative wandered off to someone else's viewpoint before we could get back to the story which I was interested in! I found myself becoming more and more annoyed, and then skipping the dead zones, which in turn meant I wasn't always getting the whole story (although frankly I wasn't evidently missing much). By this time I already knew where this was going and had done for a while, so there really were no surprises in store and at about 90%, I just gave up on it. I'd lost all interest in it and really didn’t care exactly how it ended. I have no interest in being made to work this hard to get a good story out of a novel!

I can’t honestly recommend this one. The idea isn't exactly fresh, and the execution left a lot to be desired. Also, I really like trees and hate to see them so badly used! I think this author has a future, but not with this novel.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver





Title: The Bone Collector
Author: Jeffery Deaver
Publisher: Bantam
Rating: worthy!

This is a movie/novel review. The movie is reviewed on the 0-J movie page.

So it's after noon on the first of the year. It seems like a decent time to surface and start this year the way I intend to complete it: reviewing stuff! Hopefully good stuff. At least in the majority. And whilst this blog is primarily about writing and reading, it's also about other dynamic visual media such as movies and TV. so I thought I'd start the year with a novel/movie review. The Bone Collector is an older novel, published in 1997, but it's a good one and became a movie in 1999, but the tow have very little in common when you get right down to it.

The biggest problem with this novel is that it's really, really, and I mean really, do I hear a really? Yes! Really hard to generate any tension or drama over the question of whether Lincoln Rhyme will commit suicide when this novel is the first in a long series! It's the starter for Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme series, of which there are ten in print, with a new one due to be published 2014. I first saw it as a movie and decided to start this year by reviewing the novel itself, since I've read neither it nor anything else by Deaver.

The story begins with a couple arriving in New York City at the airport, being picked up by a cab, but instead of arriving at Fifth avenue, the sleeping couple awaken to discover they're being driven through a mess of broken-down factories. The cabbie pays no attention to their protests and they cannot open the doors from the inside. The woman tries to break a window using her laptop, but succeeds only in breaking the laptop

Next we're in New York City with foot patrol officer Amelia Sachs (they changed the last name in the movie to make her seem Irish. I have no idea why - maybe they're anti-Semitic?!). In the novel she wants out of patrol work and into public affairs to rest her prematurely arthritic joints. In the movie she wants out to join the youth squad. She gets a call to investigate a report of a body at the railroad tracks under a really old bridge. The "body" is actually a hand rising above the gravel bed, with the flesh of the forefinger missing, and replaced with an engagement ring. Sachs digs down to the face, but the victim is already dead. She takes charge of the crime scene (not buying a camera as she does in the movie, but in closing down a street and stopping a train, for both of which she gets into trouble. In the movie, she gets chewed out just as in the book, and in both cases it seems too forced to be true - like we need to have a really ham-fisted, red-herring of a dumb cop for some reason?

These smart and positive actions on her part bring her to the attention of a morose Lincoln Rhyme, who is a quadriplegic, having been appallingly injured (C4 crush) on the job four years before. We see this in the movie, but don't get a flashback in the novel. Ex detective Rhyme is much more angry and sad in the novel than the movie. Once he comes on board with the investigation, he demands and gets everything he wants in terms of support and equipment to run down this "unsub" as the killer is referred to. It's all set up right there in his bedroom (which is huge). Deaver loves to show off how much research he's done into Forensic criminalistics, which is in equal parts interesting and annoying. He could have done with less and still had a good novel.

One of the biggest changes between novel and movie is the overly large switch of genders of so many characters and victims. Again, no idea why. The team quickly realizes that the body Sachs uncovered was one of a couple who were kidnapped from the airport in a cab, and the woman is still alive - until 3pm (4pm in the movie - why? No idea!). Thus far the genders match in movie and novel, and they meet their ends in the same way. The third vic is a guy in the movie, not a third generation American women of German ancestry, which deaver uses to publish some entirely unnecessary and irritating German conversation/thoughts. The third vic meets her/his end by the same means, but in the movie the guy is tied-up like the second victim, whereas in the novel, the girl is simply badly injured, tied-up but not tied to anything, and left lying in an alley. She survives, the guy does not.

In the end I can confirm that this is a worthy read. Deaver does annoy me in his writing, which is why I don't plan on following this series (I don't see where it can really go effectively, and I didn't find it interesting enough), but he does create a good ending which is very different from the subsequent movie, as indeed is the perp. The novel is better than the movie, but the movie is worth a watch, if only once!


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cain's Blood by Geoffrey Girard





Title: Cain's Blood
Author: Geoffrey Girard
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: WARTY!

The premise of this story is exactly the same as its partner, Project Cain, of course: that military-funded scientists have recovered DNA from serial killers (both living and dead), and are breeding clones of those killers intent upon finding weapons. The asinine "logic" of this premise is discussed in my review for Project Cain. Well the title Cain's Blood might be unique, but there's a half-dozen novels which are variants on "The Blood of Cain", which means it's well beyond cliche class and into ludicrous by now. If it goes any further, it'll be plaid.

The basic story is the answer to the question: what would happen if we cloned famous serial killers of history and raised those children in a variety of environments? Would they all turn out just like the original killers? Could we use them as military weapons?

The short, sensible answer is "No, of course not, because you cannot duplicate the exact circumstances of the genetics and raising of any one of them to begin with!", but Girard disagrees. His downright stupid premise is that these clones would turn out exactly like the originals, even to the point of, for example, John Wayne Gacy dressing as a clown - in his teens yet. Girard further concluded that these murderers in the half shell would be happy to join a serial killer boys' club and hang out together, plotting and organizing their gory rampages as devoted teammates. It was at that point that I quit reading this novel, my stomach in equal parts doubled-up with laughter and with nausea. I refused to finish something as amateurish, ignorant, and confused as this is.

Girard's premise at first blush did interest me, and I liked the idea of having two novels on the same topic from different perspectives. This may have been done before, but if so, it's not anything I've encountered, and if so, having had to wade through this effort has cured me of any desire to seek out other such pairings! I also liked the idea of having a clone of a serial killer who would (no doubt!) turn out to break the mold.

The bottom line, though, is that Girard failed, and dismally so, to carry through with his premise in an entertaining way. Instead, he blundered blindly into poor genetics, he sowed the story with pretty nauseating and gratuitous violence to no constructive purpose that I could see, and as if that wasn't bad enough, he frequently ventured into complete absurdity with his interpretation of how these clones would behave. I can see an amateur, writing his first novel, slipping into this, knowing no better, but I do expect better from a professionally published writer. I have to ask, yet again it seems, what has happened to book editors, when we get sad efforts like this one appearing in hard-cover from a recognized publishing house?

I do not like either title (that is 'title of the novel', not 'title as a short-hand for the entire novel', although that's also true), and with regard to the other one, I started also disliking the novel itself rather intensely, so I put it on hold and switched to this one. The plan was to read this to the point where I stalled in the other one, and then try to read them concurrently, but the other novel was so badly written (it's one tedious and never-ending teen-angst whine) that I was sincerely hoping that this one would be several leagues above the other if I were going to finish either of them. It failed to meet that hope and expectation.

The other novel tells the story from a YA perspective (the main character is a sixteen-year-old). This one tells the same story from the perspective of one of the investigators, Castillo, and thankfully this one was absolutely not a first person PoV - a format I am learning to detest with increasing acerbity with every novel like Project Cain that I make the mistake of reading. The first thing I learned is that Girard is yet another writer who doesn't grasp the difference between 'titled' and 'entitled', but given how dynamic language is, it's not surprising. The two will be as interchangeable as flammable and inflammable before so very long.

One more question: what's with the 'Cain' reference? Obviously it's Biblical (and this is confirmed in both novels), but I think Girard is missing the point made in the Bible. Let me clarify one thing before we start: I see no reason whatsoever OT take the Bible literally. I take it with a pound or two of salt (Lot's wife notwithstanding as a pillar of the community) There never was any Adam or Eve. The Bible confirms this because those names are generic Hebrew words meaning earth (or red earth) and life. Nor was there an Abel or a Cain. And BTW, all the names you think you know from the Bible are wrong, some of them completely so. For example, anyone who is praying for something in Jesus's name isn't going to get anywhere, because there is no character called "Jesus" in the Holy Bible. Jesus wasn't his name. The mythical Messiah's name was actually much closer to 'Yeshua'. It's really the same name as 'Joshua'.

By that same token, there was neither Able nor Cain. There was Hevel and Qayin, and these names were actually derived from their occupations. Ibil (Hevel - Abel) means herdsman, and qyn (Qayin - Cain) means metal-smith (yes, the Bible lies! Is that a surprise - honestly?). The Bible confirms this when it declares that Cain gave rise to the bronze and iron-working industries in the Middle East though his descendant Tubal-Cain. There are many different views of this story and its meaning, as wikipedia makes clear, but the bottom line is that the Bible talks out of its ass: the story ultimately has no more meaning than your average fairy-tale. It's just something religious nut-jobs made-up to try and gain control of the population by some means other than the ballot box. They're still pursuing this same failed ploy today in the USA.

This story all harks back to the last few verses of Genesis chapter one, where the Biblical god declared that we should all be vegetarians, but humankind fell from that lofty goal and became carnivores. That was the real "fall of man" Abel was a representation of the carnivores, herding sheep and killing lambs for sacrifice to a god; Cain was the metal-worker who no doubt forged the very sword which he then used to slay the heathen Abel. But honestly, who actually wants to worship a god which demands that you slaughter and burn animals, and which finds the stench of burned flesh pleasant? I'm forced to wonder if a god like that found the odors at Auschwitz II - Birkenau pleasant, which would explain why he never lifted a finger to stop the slaughter of his chosen people, would it not?

So Cain slew the carnivore and thus struck a blow for the original wish of this god: that we should all be herbivores. That would also explain why the Hebrew god of the mountains rejected the death penalty and didn't harm Cain. On the contrary, he freed Cain and sent him out to evangelize the vegetarian lifestyle, and even put a mark on his head to protect him from harm! How's that for forgive and forget? You'll note that despite having the ability to resurrect Abel from the dead, this god chose not to do so. What more proof do you need of his complicity in this crime? Once again a god gets a human to do his dirty work for him!

As an aside, I do find it hilarious that in a nation like the USA, sixty percent of the population, all of them no doubt believers, reject forgiveness, and reject their god's decision here (to free the murderer), and instead demand the death penalty. But religion and rationality are not the best of bedfellows, are they? Not that I'm advocating freeing murderers, understand! I'm merely commenting on how completely absurd religion is when you look at it through rational eyes. I have yet to meet a religion which actually makes sense.

So, enough of a digression (but what am I expected to do when Girard rambles on about Cain, names two novels after him, and has yet to explain what that has to do with anything else he's written in those novels. Cain may have been a killer, but he never was a serial killer, so if this were a court case, I'd be the one calling out, "Objection, your honor: relevancy!" Anyway, I am done with this pair. I couldn't face going back to the whining teenager in the other novel, and I've grown so bored and disillusioned with this one - to say nothing of becoming really tired of Girard's over-the-top, salivating relish of gratuitous violence and appalling absurdity (the teen John Wayne Gacy is already wearing clown outfits! Really? Really?) that I really cannot stand the thought of reading another page when I have so many other novels inviting my attention. This is a warty one (or two)!


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Project Cain by Geoffrey Girard





Title: Project Cain
Author: Geoffrey Girard
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: WARTY!

I review the companion novel to this one, Cain's Blood here.

Based on CAIN XP11, which according to wikipedia ran as four installments in a publication called Apex Digest in 2007, Project Cain is a YA novel set in the not-too-distant future which is paired with Cain's Blood a more mature novel about the same subject and which I shall review directly after I've read this.

A word on genetics. I don't know where Girard thought he was going by proclaiming that "gene xp11" has anything to do with serial killers or is some sort of 'anger' gene. Anyone who knows anything about genetics will also know that a single gene is rarely acting alone and rarely specifies a trait such that a change to that one gene will completely change that trait, which makes the mutant gene in X-Men absurd, of course. There are such genes, but more regularly, genes operate as part of a gene network which is tolerant of an occasional mutation, but yes, it can be disrupted, too. I know that xp11 has been implicated in renal cell carcinomas, for example.

The gene does appear on the X-Chromosome (hence the 'X' part of the name), but the one Girard refers to is actually not xp11, but xp11.3, gene ID 4128, as is shown in this map from Vanderbilt. This section does affect monoamine oxidase A, as Girard says, but it's not known as the anger gene but as the warrior gene, and wikipedia expressly argues against Girard's plot point in that, while MAOA does appear to have a connection with antisocial behavior, it has: "...had no statistically significant main effect on antisocial behavior. Maltreated children with genes causing high levels of MAO-A were less likely to develop antisocial behavior". Quite the opposite of Girard's premise! Note that Girard is writing fiction and can write whatever he wants, of course, but my point here is that if he's going to get into genetic details, then he needs to do a better job than he's done.

So, Project Cain is a military-funded research project whereby the DNA of serial killers is taken and cloned, so the military can raise a series of children who would grow to be deadly killers and therefore invaluable weapons. It's brain-dead, of course, because they can never replicate the circumstances of the childhood of those serial killers. They can try to emulate it, but this is not the kind of scientific experiment you can completely control - to say nothing of the appalling ethics of such a scheme. But this story focuses on one such clone, named Jeffrey Dahmer. Kudos to Alexander for taking the bizarre if gutsy step of making a serial killer (who's not Dexter Morgan) the hero of his story! It;s rather sad that he completely ruined his starting point by making Jeffrey the most irritatingly whiny-assed teen ever created by a fiction writer. For this alone I want tor ate this novel warty! This kid is endless nails on a chalk-board, which I guess is evil enough....

But having said that I have to ask: honestly? This story makes no sense at all, even assuming that, say fifty years from now, genetics would be advanced enough that cloning could be carried out with both a high rate of reliability and at reasonable cost! Why? The military already has trained killers, and they’re free! They're the volunteers who routinely sign-up for military service, and who are professionally trained with weapons. Some of these people are trained to be very deadly, extremely skilled, and highly efficient. They're called Army Rangers, and Navy SEALs.

How would a serial killer (who is highly specific about the targets he is willing to prey upon, all of whom have to have some real meaning to him) be of any advantage whatsoever in a military conflict? They would be as likely (if not moreso!) to kill their fellow soldiers as they would the enemy. From what I've read, most of them can only work alone, they need to get up very close and personal with their victims, and many of them want to be caught. I can’t imagine (unless the mission specifically called for it for some clandestine reason), that any soldier, and especially not a Ranger or a Seal, would want to be caught in pursuing their duties. I's sincerely hoped that Girard had much more than this to offer, but it did not look that way at all by chapter fifteen at least.

Other than that complaint, it is technically well-written for what that's worth. To be fair, Jeffrey does have some reason to be the way he is: his dad, who seemed superficially to be a decent, if somewhat remote dad, came to him one night and gave him a thousand dollars and warned him to stay away from DSTI - the corporation his father worked for. Then his dad left. Jeffery couldn’t find him anywhere. He came home to find people in dark suits hauling everything of interest - including every personal thing of Jeffrey's - out of the house. Jeffrey slept overnight in the emptied house, but was captured there the next day by a man called Castillo - the subject of the other book in this pairing.

Castillo isn't friend of DSTI either. He's ex-1st SFOD-D, and he informs Jeffrey that twelve kids were killed in a nearby boys' institute, with six more missing. Every one of those six was a cloned serial killer: David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, another Jeffrey Dahmer, Albert Fish, Henry Lee Lucas (who may have been actually wrongfully convicted and who had his death sentence commuted by George W Bush), and Dennis Rader. Castillo takes Jeffrey for a ride-along to try and track down these kids - as well as find Jeffrey's dad.

Well, I reached chapter 15, and frankly, I'm ready to drop this novel like a not best seller, because I am so infinitely-SICK-and-freaking-TIRED of the whiny-assed self-pitying Jeffrey boundlessly, ceaselessly, constantly, endlessly, interminably, everlastingly, and self-perpetuatingly complaining about how miserable his lot in life is, and how everyone hates him, and how he's got nothing to expect, nothing to look forward to, nothing to hope for and nowhere to go, which is coincidentally exactly< how I feel about this novel right now! Actually, at this point, want Jeffrey to run into the six escaped serial killer clones and be hung, drawn, and quartered. I really do. To paraphrase Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs, it's the best thing for him really, his life is going nowhere! I detest this self-obsessed brat.

At the end of chapter 14, which was long past my due date, as rotten as I felt having read that far, I thought that just maybe there was going to be a sea-change, because as he was wandering self-pityingly around the motel trying to get into any room other than his, he saw a woman's body on a bed - with the face painted into a doll mask. Now he doubts his sanity. That's perfectly fair, because I honestly doubt mine for even reading as far as I did in this novel. But rather than have this tediously slow novel take off at that point, the very next thing which happened was that this worthless excuse for a teenager started right back into the whining again.

The deal was that I'd read these two novels consecutively. Scratch that. I am now starting on the other of the pair, hoping that that one is better than this one. When I catch up in that one to the point where I am in this one, then I'll try to read them concurrently and I'll try to finish them both, but I'm making no promises about either one of them, having suffered my brain cells being serially killed from the crap I had to wade through in the first fourteen chapters of this novel!

I finally decided to call this one - or more accurately, these two. After wading through pretty much the same pointless boring crap in the other one that I'd already waded through in this one, I could neither stand to read any more of that one, nor face coming back to the whiny teen in this one, so I decided to return them both to the library. Maybe someone else can benefit from them. I certainly can't; not when I have over a dozen books on my reading list on the right there, all of which offer a promise that neither of these books seems able to deliver on! This one goes down as a warty!


Friday, July 12, 2013

Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin





Title: Knots and Crosses
Author: Ian Rankin
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Rating: worthy

Well how weird is this? For the first time since I started this blog in January, I'm bereft of both galley ebooks and library books! Yep! For the next few volumes I review, I'll be going through books which are wholly-owned subsidiaries of me! Just thought I'd get that off my chest! Not that it was actually on my chest, but you know what I mean. And before we go on I have to note here that after I read this novel, I watched two of the Rebus TV shows and couldn't watch any more. I started on the third and had to ask myself why? Rebus in the TV shows is presented as nothing but an incompetent, cluless, thoughtless drunk, and I couldn't even begin to sustain an interest in a waste of time like that.

I have to award Ian Rankin the MIRAPro (Make Ian Read A Prologue) award for 2013. He bypassed all my defenses and titled the entire first section of the book 'Prologue', even including numbered chapters in it to force me to read it! That's without question the sneakiest assault yet, and since I cannot see anyone beating that approach, and even though it's barely past the half-year mark, he gets the award hands-down. He then adds assault to injury by including an epilogue! He also gets a What? award for this sentence: "...some of them brought in from stations outwith the city"?! p26. I'm sure that makes sense in Scotland. I've just never heard that phraseology before!

This novel is over a quarter of a century old, but something talked me into reading it. I probably would not have had I not been able to purchase it used! Rankin should probably thank the penny-pinching Scot trope in me for buying it. But why look at this novel in particular? Was it because I love Scotland (it was featured powerfully in my novel Saurus), or because I believe I once watched the TV version of this novel - although the memory is vague? It doesn't hurt that I recently got through viewing Prime Suspect an equally venerable TV show set mostly in London, and featuring a feisty and put-upon detective, too. I've even started watching the US version of that show and it's proving quite watchable, too. However my decision to read this novel was arrived at, it was evidently not a completely dumb one, because I was finding it reasonably readable at about one third the way through it.

Seasoned and battered Detective Sergeant John Rebus, on the Edinburgh police force, is put on a child abduction task force only to discover, his first night on the job, that both children have been recovered - but dead. Rebus has, curiously, received the same number of hand-delivered letters, each one showing up at the police station where he works, with his name and nothing else on the envelope, and containing a piece of knotted string and one short sentence: 'there are clues are everywhere'. A third envelope arrives not long afterwards. This has a different message and a different 'toy' enclosed. Yet despite the fact that Rebus gets an envelope for each murder, this guy is so lousy a detective that he never, ever links the two things together, and this costs him in the end.

Rebus isn't exactly adored on the force, so he's given really low-level jobs, such as reading through case files for the assorted known deviants and perverts in the area, and then knocking door-to-door to find out what, if anything, anyone has seen regarding the two abductions/murders. He appears to luck-out personally in the cafeteria one day, when a fellow detective invites him to a party she's throwing, but when he gets there, she's with another guy. He hooks up instead with a detective inspector named Gill Templer. This is later misspelled as 'Temple' in the novel, which goes to show two things: a spell-checker will not completely save your ass, and professional editors are really no better than editing yourself when you get right down to it. Gill is also on the task force, and they end up in bed together. Gill is evidently quite an adventurer in bed, but the relationship really goes nowhere.

Rebus has a bother, Mark, who is a stage hypnotist, and who is also apparently a middle-man in some shady drug dealings, which are weirdly tied to the main case on Rebus's agenda. Rebus has an ex-wife who is dating the son of Rebus's superior at work! So yeah, it couldn't really get any more screwed up than that.

On top of all this, we discover that Rebus is an ex-SAS soldier who has mixed feelings about being in (and then leaving) the military. The way this is written made me suspect that whatever is going on in Edinburgh right then has something, somehow, to do with his military service - and for once, miraculously, I was right, but this revelation only goes to make me feel even more cheated that I didn't get a decent detective story out of this! Most of my suspicions and guesses are completely wrong, so I was a bit surprised by this one being right! This is why I'm not a detective; I do have designs on writing such stories, though!

So, long-story short: I went into this hoping for some cool detective work and I got a police procedural where none of the police work paid off in any way at all. I got no great insights, no deep observations, no cool detecting or problem-solving. I got a lot of nauseating swilling of whisky and smoking of cigarettes, which I felt was unnecessary - and an unnecessary slur on the Scots! So like I said, I feel cheated; however, the story itself wasn't bad in the sense that it was badly written or too stupid to take seriously. So how do I rate a novel like this? I thought about this for a while, and in the end, I decided that I will rate it a low worthy, but qualify that by adding that based on this novel, I doubt I will ever feel a compulsion to read any of the numerous sequels to it!


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Girl Who Disappeared Twice by Andrea Kane






Title: The Girl Who Disappeared Twice
Author: Andrea Kane
Publisher: Mira
Rating: WARTY!

If this were a movie, it would be a bit of a mash-up of Mission Impossible with Bad Boys. In what seems to be the opening salvo of a series, a high-tech trio consisting of the standard ex-SEAL (Marc Devereaux), a standard geek (Ryan McKay), and a standard woman-with-issues covering the 'standard hit-all-interest-groups spectrum' (but they missed Latinos and native Americans) got together and formed 'Forensic Instinct' (FI) based in Manhattan, to run down bad guys. I have to ask: why are they always referred to as Navy SEALs? Are there other SEALs - that is, of the human military variety - form whom we must distinguish these guys?! Surely no one would imagine that this detective agency hired aquatic mammals?! If they did, what would it mean to be an ex-seal: it's now a sea-lion? A sea otter?!

The novel starts out looking like it might be good, but quickly sheds that impression: Casey Woods (trope name alert, but since she almost shares a last name with me, I guess I have to let her get away with it, huh?!) the troubled head of FI, is portraying herself as a shy college girl in order to trap the rapist/serial killer, which she successfully does with Devereaux taking him down, breaking his arm, and forcing a confession. But they are working for NYPD, so it’s all okay, I guess.

Having taken care of business, Woods doesn’t go home to bed, she goes into the office and sits watching the news coverage of the guy being led out of the alley in handcuffs. Just a moment please! Casey left immediately after they had the confession from the perp (not that such a confession would hold up in court, but corroborating evidence might). No police were on the scene at that time, yet as soon as she gets back to HQ, Devereaux is already there. Meanwhile, she's watching the Fox news channel (and that might account for the inaccuracies!) and they show news footage of the perp being led out of the alley in cuffs. Here's my problem: did the NYPD hold the perp in the alley, waiting until all the news teams had assembled at four in the morning so once more the dawning could bring out the rapist in cuffs? In the full glare of news camera lights? That's neither rationally possible nor even credible.

We learn that their conference room is controlled by an AI which can detect who is in the room and even that Woods has an elevated heart rate. It can understand commands and even ask questions to refine the commands it's been given. So why are they not selling this AI technology and making a fortune? Why do they rely on hefty fees from their poor clients to make a go of their operation? Another problem.

We'll see how it goes. After Woods finally gets to sleep for the whole day, she's woken up by a call in the late afternoon (evidently FI can't afford to hire office staff!) from a judge whose five-year old daughter has been abducted from daycare by someone using a gas-guzzling piece of environmental destruction which looks exactly like the one the judge herself uses. It even passes the judge on her way there with her kid banging frantically on the window and the judge doesn't even register it. She immediately calls in FI to help her find her child because she has zero faith in the local police or the FBI. How's that working out for you, judge?

It turns out that the judge also has issues. Not only has her kid been kidnapped, but her twin sister was also kidnapped when they were both six years old - about the age of her daughter now.

So, let’s see - twin sister kidnapped, then years later, daughter kidnapped at the same age, perhaps by someone who looks so much like her mom, driving the same kind of vehicle, that the little girl doesn’t even suspect a thing until it's too late (I got that part right!)? Surely it can't be this easy to solve this "mystery" can it? But then I'm usually wrong with these guesses of mine, so perhaps we’re safe!

Woods & Co dive in and start questioning parents, witnesses, and potential suspects, including the nanny, who has a rather wayward boyfriend, but neither he nor she seem to be guilty of anything. Judge Willis's fired secretary and her wayward boyfriend seem clean, too. Willis's husband, Edward, is having an affair with the nanny. Willis's mom is three sheets to the wind in a nursing home, and a retired FBI guy who worked on the original twin sister kidnapping, Patrick Lynch, tracks down Hope's father, which is how we learn that the mob was involved in the kidnapping of Hope's twin, Felicity. The story is that she was killed, but I think the reason Kane is so desperately tossing out so many red herrings is to distract us from this twin.>/p>

I had a wild idea that Edward might have met the twin, now grown up, and decided he preferred her to Hope, and have entered into an arrangement with her: have the twin kidnap the child posing as Hope, have Edward stage a "rescue" but instead of taking Krissy home, take her to a new home he had set up, and present the twin as her real mom. But that's probably not what happened. I am, at this point, still holding out for the twin being involved somehow. Unless Kane deliberately put that out there as a huge red herring.

What does happen is that Hope gets a call ostensibly from the kidnappers, demanding $250,000, which she puts together from safety deposit boxes and a slush fund her husband has (he's a defense layer so you know he's as crooked as a dog's hind leg. Hope is supposed to head to a mall, drop the duffel bag into a specific trash can, and then pick up her daughter an hour later. The caller does know some details about Krissy, but I seriously hope our judges are not this monumentally stupid or so blindly trusting. Hope tells no one but Ashley. Woods, however, knows something is up.

She follows Hope to the ransom drop, but get this: she notifies not one single person - not on her team, and not on the police or FBI teams, and the quarter million predictably disappears, and of course there is no Krissy. Right now I feel like I'm going to finish this novel, but it's definitely going to get a warty on this showing - and it's not just this.

The kidnapper again sneaks into the Willis residence - during of the very few times when hardly anyone is home, so the residence is under surveillance and not one of these law-enforcement types has noticed. The kidnapper has a key to the house, and lets herself in the back door. She goes up the back stairs and she takes a toy from Krissy's room, and some perfume and a heart locket containing a picture of Krissy and a picture of Krissy's mom from Hope's room. She leaves without being detected, but has to clock Ashley on the head to knock her out when she's in danger of being discovered.

Meanwhile the law-enforcement teams are obsessing on the mob connection which was inadvertently triggered by Woods's team's pursuit of a possible connection between the three-decade ago kidnapping of Hope's twin sister and the current events. The assumption I'm currently operating under is still that the kidnapper is Hope's twin sister, but there's now a twist. What if the kidnap victim wasn't Hope's sister Felicity, but Hope herself? When Felicity saw Hope had been kidnapped, she assumed Hope's position, and insisted that it was Hope who had been kidnapped, and Felicity has been impersonating Hope ever since? Yeah, warped, but that very warping is what's fueling the current events.

Yeah, it;s weird, but until we get more clues instead of endless red herrings out of this novel, this is all I have that makes any sense to me. And it's probably wrong! But we have nothing going on in the story. I'm over half-way through it and there are no real leads. It's actually boring right now with this mob-connection crap, and this Claire psychic woman is dragging the story down for me. She divines that Felicity won a 'most goals scored' award over her nearest rival by two goals - and she divines this from a photo of the twins! She has a dream about Krissy's toy panda missing a friend, and this pans out when the kidnapper returns to steal a second toy. After that, Claire is called in, and she 'senses the energy' in the room where Ashley was knocked out, and Claire comes out with the most abusive genderism babbling on about the energy in the room: "It's a female's energy - not dense or heavy like a man's would be. More light and airy." Excuse me?!

Le stupide kicks up to an even higher notch next. Woods has a boyfriend in law enforcement and one day he brings her a pet bloodhound, which has been retired from law enforcement duty. Woods employs this dog pointlessly in sniffing around the entire neighborhood in case Krissy was hidden in one of the homes nearby, but when someone comes directly to her office building and sticks a letter in the door advising her to look closely at the family, and the dog wants to follow the scent, Woods unaccountably, inexplicably fails to let it chase the scent of this person who quite clearly has valuable information!

The useless clairvoyant has a vision that Krissy is fine, but Hope is stressed. On the basis of this, and this alone, they decide to tell "Hope" that Krissy is fine. I'm going to start putting "Hope" in quotes now because these last two revelations have convinced me (rightly or wrongly!) that my idea that "Hope" is really Felicity and the real "Hope" was the abducted child is right. Woods - the one who is supposed to have super-instincts - blindly assumes this letter refers to the Vizzini crime family they're investigating, not the Willis family. Her boyfriend, Hutch shows up very shortly after the letter does - which some might consider suspicious! She shows him the letter and they don't consider for a minute that it refers to the crime family unless it means "Hope"'s father, who has connections to the crime family!

After they've dispatched the letter that Woods failed to follow up on to the FBI crime lab, she and Hutch, despite being pissed off with each other for holding back secrets about the case (which Hutch actually hasn't been doing but which Woods has) have their usual sex which is described so briefly that it need not be described at all. Just rest assured that it was on a plain which mere mortals can not ever so much as hope to dream of. Their sexual tension began the moment they met, and it's only become more intense since! Hutch grips the headboard and drives "...himself all the way inside her - and then some"! What the hell does that mean?! Where he's been driving prior to this isn't detailed. Finally it erupts "...in an explosion of nearly painful pleasure." Oookay!

Clearly this is one of those "romantic" relationships where sex is everything and there is nothing whatsoever beyond that, yet the relationship is supposed to be the best there is! Even as they both agree that this relationship is a one-in-a-lifetime thing, they neither of them ever even remotely look like they're going to discuss marriage! Some relationship! And be warned, you'll need a barf-bag for the next chapter.

So Woods relates to Hutch a tale of a college roommate who had told Woods that she felt like she was being followed, and reported it to the police but nevertheless was found raped and murdered shortly thereafter. So she's been in this supposedly intense relationship with Hutch, and she's never told him this? Woods claims that this is what drove her to form Forensic Instincts, but she fails to address how she thinks a college student might even begin to afford the high fee that FI charges for its services. This "back-story" is so predictably mundane that it's a joke. Then Woods bitches out Hutch because she had an epic fail when she suspected that "Hope" was up to something with her ransom payment and never told anyone, even though she had ample opportunity to do so. She justifies this fail because she has these instincts and has to act on them! She's evidently arguing that she doesn't have the time to do it right and catch an extortionist.

So Devereaux the bully hits on another suspect threatening violence on him until the guy finally 'fesses to the fact that he left the note at FI's HQ. Why he didn't write that he saw "Judge Willis" go home on the day of Krissy's kidnapping when Ashley was out getting the mail, and before Krissy was kidnapped (presumably the impostor was picking up the panda toy) instead of simply writing "Look closer at the family" is another weak spot in this novel. Later, Devereaux dresses up as a janitor to break into a psychiatrist's office to look at confidential medical papers for a nurse, Linda Turner, who lost a daughter who was in the same soccer camp as Felicity Ackerman.

That Felicity girl sure as hell gets around and does an amazing amount for a six year old, doesn't she? But here's the risible part: Devereaux wants to avoid anyone paying any attention to him so instead of going up the elevator with his janitor cart, he carries it up the stairs! Seriously? This is the man of whom we're told that he's a sexy hunk who draws women like a magnet, and yet he's carrying a janitor cart up the stairs, and two women pass him on the way down, and they don't even pay any attention to him! This is the same guy who had a secretary at one of the Vizzini's building sites all over him when he posed as a Xerox technician so they could substitute the existing Xerox machine with one which sends a copy of the image to McKay so he can see everything they copy.

A standard Xerox machine for typical office use costs around $6,000. Who paid for that? Judge Willis? Casey Woods? Out of what budget? Again how does Woods's organization pull down enough cash to be this extravagant? How do they finance the geek's robot building? McKay has a robot called Gecko which they're sending into the air-ducts in the psychiatrist's building just for a test run, as Devereaux breaks in there. The really bizarre thing here is that, "knowing" that Woods's team has broken into a health-care provider's office and copied medical records, they don't even blink an eye, and they take this new information and run with it, focusing their search on Turner now instead of the mob where they've been wasting time for days.

So now they've tracked down Turner's home, but it's empty; she's apparently disappeared without a trace, so Woods's best plan is to take Claire the Voyant there to see what vibes she can pick up! The whole freaking crew goes over there, bloodhound and all. McKay is the only one who doesn't because he's off charming records out of nurses or someone. Kane would have us believe that medical personnel are such lowlifes that a hunky guy can get them to compromise their integrity and patient confidentiality? That's quite a power.

But this actually turns up the interesting revelation that Felicity Ackerman - who supposedly broke her arm - was never admitted to an ER with it. Instead, the girl who was admitted at that time with those symptoms was called Anna Turner! So yes, this is fascinating, but it reveals another weakness in this story: that in the extensive search for Felicity Ackerman, not a single law-enforcement officer ever discovered that someone had switched names for the girl with the broken arm? Or it had never occurred to anyone that maybe it was Anna Turner who was the truth and Felicity Ackerman who was the fiction?

Claire the Voyant declares that Krissy was never held in Turner's house, but Felicity Ackerman was. The search of the residence turns up a single pill of an Alzheimer's drug called Memantine, which is a real drug. In a tiny percentage of cases this drug can cause confusion, so while Woods & Co leap to the conclusion that this was a med Turner was taking, I'm wondering if it was a med Turner was administering to her victims. 10 milligrams seems to me like it might be a bit high for a six-year old, but then I'm not a medical practitioner! More to the point, I'm also wondering if Linda Turner is actually Felicity (or Hope!) Ackerman.

After Devereaux breaks into the Sunny Gardens nursing home and confirms that Turner is there under the name of Lorna Werner, McKay plants video surveillance, and puts his 'Gecko' robot into the grounds where Turner sits when she's brought outside. She is expecting a visitor - her daughter - and when that visitor shows up, they will record the visit in audio and video and thereby track down Krissy. These morons once again fail to inform law enforcement of the fact that they know where Turner is and have a lead on tracking down Krissy. So now not only are they threatening Krissy's welfare, they're also officially obstructing officers of the law.

Before the daughter shows up, a construction crane situates itself between the surveillance van and the Gecko, meaning that they can't receive the transmission directly from the Gecko because of interference. The simple solution is to move the freaking surveillance van, but instead, these morons give up on the whole thing, deciding to simply have the Gecko record what happens so they can review it later! Once again they're putting Krissy's life at risk, and even more-so because instead of having McKay go in and pick it up posing as a workman (as he did to place the device to being with), they inexplicably wait until dark and send Devereaux in to get it! They don't even think for a split second of discovering who it is who's visiting Turner and following that person after she leaves! These people are stark-staring imbeciles, and if I were not within 50 or so pages of the end, I'd quit reading this right now.

But it gets worse! Recall that the Gecko is a device which can walk - McKay had it walk down the air-ducts into the psychiatrist's office earlier, but when it comes to retrieving it from the grounds of Sunny Gardens, McKay apparently can't have it walk to the fence for Devereaux to grab it: he has to get into the grounds and go find it up himself. Why?!!

Back at FI HQ, once they have the Gecko plugged into a specially designed connector (what, a USB port not good enough for simple video and audio streaming?!) it comes as absolutely no surprise whatsoever that the person visiting Turner is "Hope". They show the video to the FBI and it's agreed that they will stake out the Sunny Gardens nursing home the next day, which they do, but Felicity detects that she's literally surrounded by the feds, so she conks a nurse on the head and steals her outfit and car, and escapes, triggering a huge woman-hunt which involves Felicity taking a train. They track down where she disembarked and and eventually find her house, but Felicity has beaten them there. She grabs Krissy and starts to head out the door, but Krissy breaks free and escapes into the woods, where the bloodhound naturally tracks her down. Krissy is free and Felicity can get treatment. The end.

If this novel is so painfully obvious that even I can get it in the first few pages, it really sucks. I'd hoped for so much better than that, but even that, I could have withstood if the characters had been realistic instead of cardboard cut-outs, and if the plot hadn't been so full of holes and Le Stupide!


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Blind Date by Frances Fyfield






Title: Blind Date
Author: Frances Fyfield
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: worthy

Frances Fyfield is from my own home county of Derbyshire in England, and this is my own signed hardback copy! How cool is that! How many author's signatures do you have on your Nook screen?! lol!

So, too cool, but if only I could be sure I'll like it! So, a blind date with Blind Date! I have to confess that I found this novel almost impossible to get into for the first thirty or forty pages, then it all started settling down. I’d advise a re-write of those first pages were I Fyfield's editor. At one point she's in first person, then loses that for third person. Very little of what she wrote in those pages made very much sense to me; then it’s like someone else took over and the novel was fine.

The story features Elisabeth, a young woman who got drunk one night and tripped over while walking home, and while she was lying there half asleep, some psycho who had been stalking people prior to this, threw acid onto her. Fortunately, she was laying in such a way that her face was largely protected, but her body was severely burned, her skin even dissolved in several places, and her surgery to correct this hasn't exactly been stealthy. I can empathize with Elisabeth a little, having accidentally knocked scalding hot water onto my back when I was very young, but mine is hardly a scar which stands out in public. It does lend a whole nude meaning to "keep your shirt on" though!

We join Elisabeth staying with her mother in Devon at her boarding house. She hates it there, her only comfort being her 12 year old brother (whom I suspect of being the acid thrower, warped wretch that I am, but there is another potential suspect revealed later, so maybe I am as warped as I claim!). Even though she isn't completely recovered from her trauma, Elisabeth prevails upon her friend Patsy (shades of Absolutely Fabulous!) to return her to London. Patsy is something of a fair-weather friend of Elisabeth's, resenting her neediness now that she's injured.

Back in London, Elisabeth moves back into her bell tower. She lives in the bell tower of an old church, one which is largely disused, so the bells haven't rung in years. She wakes up in the night to discover someone else is staying there - a large, gentle young man who was occupying the place during her absence, doing some work around the church. After her initial fear that he was an intruder, they reconcile their positions and he plans on leaving the very next day. She fails to recall that he is the same guy, Joe, who she saw hanging around during one of her hospital visits in Devon....

In addition to Elisabeth, we’re introduced to a small group of young professional women, of which Patsy is one, Hazel another, and Angela the third. They're in relationship doldrums and decide to join an introductory dating service to find a decent guy for themselves. Angela, who has already signed on for this service, but who keeps this secret from the other two, is supposed to meet with a guy (nicknamed 'Owl' because of his eyeglasses) who also joined the dating service but kept it secret from his three male friends (Joe, Rob, and Michael) who were talking about joining it - at Michael's suggestion!

Angela turns up dead. Patsy gets an invitation from the same dating service. None of these girls talk to each other about what they're up to - except that Patsy does confide in Elisabeth, who, having kicked Joe out, has now started to become friendly with him and is lured out for a bus trip around the sights of London with him.

Meanwhile, the rather weird woman who runs the dating service seems to have an oddball relationship with her rather oddball son. The plot sickens! But this story continues to intrigue me. During the first thirty or forty pages I was really becoming frustrated with it, and when I read bits and pieces of it over the weekend, I was frustrated, but reading it at other times, including at lunchtime today, I was drawn right back into it. The problem I think is that this novel is dense and serious and it doesn't take kindly to being read in dribs and drabs, or when there are interruptions going on around you. But if you sit down with it and treat it with respect, and give it some time, then it will be kind to you! How odd is that? It’s like the novel is the physical real-world manifestation of the fictional female protagonist within. I don’t know if Fyfield deliberately created it like this, but it’s a wonderfully enlightening concept which has really made an impression on me as a writer!

So Patsy survives her encounter with Michael, the son of Cynthia, warped and wefted adult child that he is, and she passes on her knowledge of him to Joe and Elisabeth, who are now becoming much more comfortable with each other, although she's as irascible as ever. In a bygone era, I could imagine a young Katherine Hepburn playing her and playing her well. Michael is carrying a psychic wound from someone who was unkind to him, and I believe that the person who did this to him is none other than Elisabeth herself, who caught him stealing when they were both kids, and reported him - although that alone seems insufficient to warp him as much as he is. So now he's killing women who are unkind to him, which is why Patsy is still alive. It makes me worry about what will happen to Elisabeth if this is what happened. How is she going to handle the guilt-trip that drops on her when she learns that she set this killer in motion? Or am I completely wrong in my assessment? It wouldn't be the first time!Both Joe and Elisabeth go to sign on with Cynthia's match-making agency, but Joe deliberately plays himself as an uncouth character and is thrown out, whereas Elisabeth, who remembers Cynthia from the incident during her childhood, is rushed through the sign-on process and hurried out the door a little more kindly. Now it appears that Michael has his hands on a key to her church tower, so things are slowly coming to a head.

I'm not sure I'm too keen on Joe. He strikes me as being a little bit creepy, but Elisabeth I am in love with, and looking forward to reading how this all pans out. As it looks right now, I'm pretty much expecting there to be a showdown in the tower rather reminiscent of the ending to Hitchcock's Vertigo, but with a bell falling on Michael (assuming he's indeed the villain and not an appallingly stinking red herring!) or something along those lines. We'll see!

Well I finished this and I did get something right! The ending struck me as a bit vague, and Joe's behavior seemed so at odds with how he'd been characterized earlier that it bothered me to a degree, but considering characterization and general writing quality, I recommend this novel because of Elisabeth.