Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino

Read June 2018
Recommended for fans of mysteries
★    ★   ★   ★   1/2

 

The second mystery I’ve read by Higashino was even better than my first (The Devotion of Suspect X). There is something immensely satisfying about his approach to telling a story. Perhaps it is a difference of cultural expectations on what an author needs to accomplish. Though Higashino is a best-selling author in Japan, he seems relatively unknown in the U.S. What I do know is that when I finish, I feel a strong sense of pleasure. The mystery is resolved, yes, providing a sense of intellectual satisfaction; but there’s also an artistic sense of pleasure, as from seeing a play performed by skilled actors.

“Kusanagi walked in through the glass doors and up to the sales counter. He had heard that the store stocked over fifty varieties of tea, and sure enough, there they were, all individually labeled and sorted into neat rows. Behind the counter was a little tea room. Even at the relatively quiet hour of four in the afternoon, he saw a few customers scattered around the cafe, sipping tea and reading newspapers. One or two were dressed in company uniforms. Male customers were definitely in the minority.”

Like Agatha Christie, Higashino makes use of traditional or iconic set-pieces, but is wise enough to let the setting be the background to the story, albeit an important one. The main characters are all treated well, with hints at complexity but not in a way that overshadows the plot. There are no scenic digressions of them having a lonely beer at the local bar, or getting their hair cut at the stylist. Kusanagi isthe lead detective, and now has a female member of his team, Utsumi, along with his long-term aide, Kishitani:

“Kusanagi suppressed a smile as he looked at his two subordinates. Poor Kishitani had finally got a new recruit of his own to push around–and it was a woman. He has no idea how to handle her.

They are working to solve the case of a man found dead in his locked home, a spilled coffee cup by his side. Is it natural? An accident? Suicide? Homicide? As they work to tease out the possibilities, they end up with an impossible situation. However, nothing is impossible when the physicist Yukawa is consulted:

“It’s not very scientific to say things like ‘absolutely’ and ‘zero possibility.’ It’s also rather unorthodox to say someone made a mistake when they’ve only presented a hypothesis that proved to be incorrect. But I’ll forgive you on the grounds that you’re not a scientist.”

I love the irreverent and infallibly logical Yukawa. He is not so much the associate with the little grey cells as the analytical counterpoint to the intuition-driven doggedness of Detective Kusanagi.

The first book I read was about how the police uncovered a murder (we knew the who, what, why and how). In this, though the reader has a strong suspicion who the murderer is and why, there’s enough doubt on the who to keep the reader wondering, and of course, the how is a puzzle indeed.

Satisfying is really one of the best words I can come up with for this tale. It perhaps stretches, just slightly, the boundaries of imagination, and yet Higashino makes this story plausible. I enjoyed the way the emotions of the story tugged at me without descending into the maudilin or horrific, as well as Higashino’s complete failure to include car chases, ominous but missed hints from the criminals as they pack their bombs, and dire threats to end the world as the detective almost fails to catch them in time. I know, I know; I’m overusing that word, satisfying. But I can’t think of a better way to describe a work that intrigued me and captured my attention without resorting to narrative or plotting tricks.

Four, five stars. Really could be either. If anything keeps it from five, it is that I do not feel the drive–not quite–to add this to my own library. Although I’d consider reading it again. Rounding up for that.

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Darkness Grows (#2) by Harley Tate

 

Read May 2018
Recommended for fans of the apocolypse
★    ★    ★  

It’s not like I want the world to end; it’s more like I can’t stand the suspense. In Tate’s series, civilization was profoundly interrupted when a solar flare and a geomagnetic storm hit the earth at the same time, frying much of the California’s, and presumably the U.S.’s electrical grid. The discovery that this is occurring and the subsequent efforts to protect themselves by a small group of college kids and one of their parents was explored in book one. Book two begins about day four after the power goes out, with the kids and the mom, Tracy, reunited at Tracy’s small house.

Darkness Grows explores the reaction in the small gated community that Tracy and Walter live in as the college kids catch their breath. Madison is Tracy’s daughter, and her dad, Walter, is still missing, so both Madison and Tracy would like to give him a chance to return before moving on. One of the kids, Brianna, comes from a family of ‘preppers,’ so they’re all focused on making their way to Brianna’s family cabin. Meanwhile, the current neighborhood is organized enough to have had an informational meeting, but only a small number of people out of 120 homes attended, and not everyone welcomes the idea that things aren’t going to improve. Other people, recognizing Tracy and Madison’s friends have stockpiled supplies, start pressuring the group to “share.” Meanwhile, Madison and friends are trying to ensure they have items likely needed for survival.

The narrative in this book also includes Walter’s story of trying to make his way back home from Northern California, where he and his copilot made an emergency landing, to Sacremento, where Tracy is. Walter was in the Marines and feels at least semi-competent to make the journey, but his much younger co-pilot Drew is clueless when it comes to survival skills. It’s an interesting contrast and does a lot to illustrate the challenges many people will face.

I think one of Tate’s strengths is in capturing some of the psychology of disaster. For any crisis, there will be some that want to ‘shelter in place’ in an attempt to be self-reliant and to protect their homes and belongings. That approach dovetails with the more passive response of ‘holding on’ until the powers-that-be provide information and a plan. I enjoyed the dynamics, but occasionally it comes with awkward dialogue that feels more didactic than genuine, acting as a mouthpiece for Tate more than the character.

Along those lines, it’s worth noting that Tate’s writing seems to bring up issues of gun ownership and government reliance that strongly support the first and are dismissive of the latter. I was able to mostly ignore it, and it does seem that people would be frustrated in absence of official communication.

One of the main arcs is satisfactorily resolved, but then a new opportunity is opened up at the end. I appreciate that there was a clear ending to each book, while paying attention to a larger picture. It means you can certainly stop reading at any one book for the night. Direct writing, a mild delving into the social and ethical issues, a plot that has both small and larger focus means that overall, you could do much worse with these types of books.

 

 

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Just What the Doctor Ordered by Colin Watson

Read June 2018
Recommended for fans of cozy mysteries
★    ★    ★  

This is what happens when Agatha Christie meets Shakespeare. Not, you know, the MacBeth Shakespeare will allusions to guilt and all that. No, this is Comedy of Errors kind of Shakespeare where everyone is Quirky, people run around pretending all sorts of things, and there’s altogether more than the average amount of bawdy jokes.

The short of it is that someone is accosting the women of Flaxborough (rather unsuccessfully, thankfully). From the descriptions, it seems that the perpetrator is likely a bit older, more than a bit ineffective, and displays an unusual, crab-like gait when running away. At a picnic for the village elderly, it seems as if the problem was indirectly solved, only the attacks resume that very evening. Inspector Purbright is on the case, however, and soon tracks down the identical connection in these cases, even if he can’t make his senior officer, Mr. Chubb, believe him.

Written in 1969, it is very, very much of the time period, being ‘liberated’ with all the double-entendres but very limited in its attention to women’s issues. I mean, at the end of the day, 2018, we’re all just a little bit tired we still have to have a #MeToo movement, aren’t we? So read this after doing some time travel, or after a couple cocktails and a dose of forbearance. I will note that there’s a female character, Miss Teatime, that plays a role earlier in the series (I gather that it might have been more adversarial), who ends up solving the case long before Inspector Fulbright. So I was inclined to go easy on dear old Mr. Watson because he seems so very time period, but reasonably enlightened at the same time.

It is cleverly written, with many little witticisms, and there’s a scene at the senior picnic that had me laughing out loud despite myself. When the stiff Miss Pollock holds a competition for flower naming, Mrs. Crunkinghorn enthusiastically participates:

“She held aloft a dandelion.
‘That’s naught but a poor little piss-a-bed,’ declared old Mrs. Crunkinghorn promptly and with disdain…
‘Ah, what’s this next one, I wonder?’
‘In her hand was a straggle of stalk from which hung several diminutive white bells.
‘Tickle-titty,’ said Mrs. Crunkinghorn, without hesitation. ‘That’s what that is, me old duck.’
Hastily, Miss Polllock put it down and selected what she was sure was a perfectly innocent wood anemone. Again, Mrs. Crunkinghorn was the sole responding voice. “Poke-me-gently. Very good for green sickness, my mother always reckoned.'”

This mystery itself isn’t particularly mysterious. There is a red herring or two, but nothing too confusing. The sad thing is that it will likely be a plot much more familiar to us in this century then in the prior. Not a bad little read at all; amusing and quick, as long as you can move yourself into a spot to ignore sexual assault being played for laughs.

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Darkness Begins (#1) by Harley Tate

Read June 2018
Recommended for fans of the possible apocalypse
★    ★    ★   1/2

Ah, vacation.

It’s no secret I’m a sucker for the apocalypse, and after seeing how America treats one of it’s natural-resource vacationlands, my feeling is that we’re all doomed. I had been saving this freebie for this exact mood, so on my last night of vaca, I treated myself to opening it up.

I could not put it down.

Simply written, it tells the tale of Madison and Tracy, a daughter and her mother, right before a massive sunflare erupts and coincides with a solar storm that will create a massive EMP (a premise used in the tv show Dark Angel to interesting effect). Alternating between the two viewpoints, we experience the change from a naive, optimistic college student, to that of her more jaded mother. Madison’s understanding of the crisis comes about through one of her astrophysics-geeky friends, and she alerts her mother to what might be going on. Tracy has her concerns amplified by a friend and by a quick update from her pilot husband. Because it’s spring break, Madison’s campus is mostly deserted, with just her and three friends hanging around.

One of the genre pitfalls is the risk of explano-babble. Tate does have to resort to a bit in the beginning, but in fairness, its done reasonably organically. Actually, the set-up seems semi-believable; a natural but statistically improbable combination of events that is small enough that it would be reported in specialist journals and geeky news feeds, but unappreciated by the general public. It was overly-coincidental when Tracy ran into a parallel explainer, but I’m willing to forgive. The character needed a corroberator to overcome the character’s–and by extension, the reader’s–disbelief. Madison having three other friends around her also gives the narrator a chance to demonstrate three other reactions to the news.

The writing is straightforward, but it suits the equally straightforward plot. The series is more like a novella installment; both books that I’ve read so far have a complete and satisfying arc, but also point the way toward a new challenge.

“Say all of this is true. That some massive solar storm is coming our way and about to knock out the power. How long do we have to prepare?” Tucker glanced at his watch. “Seventeen hours and counting.”

Hesitations include the aforementioned explano-babble and perhaps the wish that we lingered a bit longer on the initial twenty-four hours of disbelief and reaction. I could have used a bit more evocative language, but that’s a fine line, and coming off a book that was excessive in it’s imagery, it was a welcome change.

Overall, I was hooked, and went on to the next the same night. I’m sure I amused the crowd at the hotel’s tiki bar as I read, but really, tell me it wasn’t a perfect moment: a warm Florida night, with steady breezes from the ocean, a melting cocktail by my side, a comfortable lounge chair, and me and Kindle under the half-hidden moon.

Three and a half sun-flares, rounding up.

I was positive this came to my attention through one of my friends, but when I look into friend reviews, it appears not. Amazon review after a deal? No idea. Serendipity, I guess.

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Taken by Robert Crais

Read June 2018
Recommended for fans of thrillers
★    ★    ★   

I’ll say it right off the top: I hate kidnapping plots. When I realized this was centered on a kidnapping (that’s not a spoiler; it’s clear from both the title and chapter one), I almost skipped it. However, I am sadly at the end of the Elvis Cole series, with only this and the latest book, Wanted, remaining. I decided to trust Crais, who hasn’t really let me down since book three, and was glad I did.

Taken has a fast moving plot that begins when a college-age couple is partying with friends in the desert and run into a frightening situation. It is quickly followed by a scene with Joe Pike and Jon Stone. What seemed fairly straightforward on the surface ends up being very complex behind the scenes, and leads to complications for the rescue.

The story goes back and forth between different timelines, signalling what is going on with chapter headings like “Five days before XX is taken’ so the reader can keep track. Crais also switches narrative viewpoints between the young adults, Pike, Stone and Elvis, and one additional character, along with a brief viewpoint from a kidnapper.

Overall the narrative lacks a sense of cohesiveness. The timeline changes end up being somewhat disruptive, and instead of building tension, actually somewhat diffuse it. I’m okay with that, honestly, but it’s worth noting for those who like the sense of increasing danger, although the outcome is never seriously in doubt. Like ’80s action movies, Good will Always Triumph Against Evil (none of this modern ambivalent heroes or endings, thank you very much). Along those lines, I also appreciated that Crais didn’t linger overmuch on potential/torture issues with our missing people.

There was one moment of really solid writing that sticks in my mind, but I already sent the book back to the library, so unfortunately, I’m unable to share. It’s one of the things that sets Crais above the average thriller/serial mystery writer, but it’s in shorter supply here than in his mid-series books. He notes in the acknowledgements that this one was harder to write, and I think it shows. Overall, a solid installment but definitely not one of his best.

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Claire DeWitt and the Infinite Blacktop by Sara Gran

Read May 2018
Recommended for fans of mysteries
★    ★    ★    ★   ★  

Five million stars.

But wait, if I rate this book that high, what does that make Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead? Fucking awesome, of course, but I rated that five stars as well. Yet these were two very different, powerful reads.

Since we parted ways with Claire way back in 2013 in Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, Sara Gran started writing for Southland, apparently as one of the main writers in 2012 and 13. Claire left a very significant mystery unsolved, and so I scouted everywhere for signs of Gran’s activity. But is she John Scalzi? No. She, like Claire, doesn’t appear to care if anyone knows who she is.

“San Fransisco didn’t throw open her arms and welcome me to her bosom. No place ever had. But the only unhappy residents whose opinions I had to care about were the police.”

She was on some social media for a while, then briefly, Twitter, and then she dropped off the face of the earth as far as the internet knew. She lost her domain name, apparently, and started a new site, but much like the first, updated it about once a year. I began to despair that much like Claire, Gran had immersed herself in drugs and mystery, and for the first time in my life, began to fret about an author. There is too much complication in Claire to be anything but semi-autobiographal, I thought.

And then rumors started to leak in early 2018 about a new Claire book. I wrote it down, forgot about it, and when it finally hit NetGalley, Dan was kind enough to let me know.

Oh, the book? The book is, quite possibly, the I-Ching, a bound Tarot deck, an astrological guide or a fortune cookie. Much like City of the Dead, it spoke to me in complex ways. I was coming home from a ten-day vacation and had a lot to process. As always, Claire seemed to speak to my soul, but this time, we were both older, both more mature. Claire was fighting bitterness and despair, but she’s always done that.

“But age isn’t just time passing. It’s time breaking you–your will, your heart, your beliefs. Richter’s breaks were written in the deep wrinkles in his skin, in his tired posture, in his large, sagging hands.”

In this book, Claire is solving the mystery of who is trying to kill her. We also go back in time to follow the case that was supposed to complete her California P.I. license application, and discover the true mystery. Through all of this, much like the prior two books, she’s thinking about her two best friends from childhood who are part of her own significant mystery. It is all integrated together quite well, and the mysteries end up being rather intriguing. I’ll note that this is absolutely not the place to pick up the mysteries of Claire Dewitt; start with Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead. While each larger story stands alone, Claire’s personal mystery plays a role that is best appreciated through the backstory.

“People wanted to tell you the truth. They just didn’t want it to be true, and they didn’t know they wanted to tell it.”

As always, I highlighted about ten percent of the book, but we’ll all have to wait until I get my hands on a hardcover copy to share. I will note that Gran has some very dry humor regarding Los Angeles, is a keen observer of human nature, and has a lot of hard-won wisdom.

 

Many, many, many thanks to Dan for the heads-up, and to Netgalley and Atria books for an ARC e-book. The quotes are subject to change in the final book, but I think they give a good flavor of Gran’s writing.

 

 

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The City of Lost Fortunes by Bryan Camp

Read May 2018
Recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman
★    ★    1/2  

The City of Lost Fortunes has an intriguing premise. Set in New Orleans post-Katrina, it’s about the son of a magician finding his way when the local magical authority needs a job done. There’s a lot to enjoy, but it feels like a story that could use editing with an eye to overall pacing.

The writing is descriptive and evocative. The underlying premise of a card game with high stakes is intriguing. Camp seems to be a writer in love with writing, with crafting each sentence with an eye towards building a crystal-clear image. While this can be a fabulous, and indeed desirable skill, in this case description careens out of control. I know, I know; I’m the same person that complained about Morning taking more time to describe a skirt than a door in Darkfever. But it is possible to over-describe, particularly if it is coupled with a lack of action. Let me illustrate, as the protagonist makes it past an obstacle and approaches the house:

“Jude rose to his feet and stepped onto the rot-wood porch, hesitating for only a moment before reaching for the knob. The handle turned, but the door, swollen into its frame, refused to budge. Jude put his shoulder into it and went sprawling into a dark, cramped space filled with cobwebs and the musty, nose-tickling stink of mold. Inside, entropy had long been at work, leaving behind crumbling Sheetrock and exposed brick, years of grime and dust. Jude stood in a long hallway, barely able to make out the outline of a door at the far end. When he reached it, doing his best to ignore the scuttling shapes amid the debris on the floor, he saw that it had been painted, recently, with bright red paint. He pulled it open, his pulse thundering in his ears.”

That is by no means an unusual example; that much detail is used for both significant and insignificant details. I was left with an impression of one active verb per sentence. For instance, though the prior sentence contains a plethora of verbs, it is followed with two paragraphs describing the room and the occupants, while in the third, Jude finally “stepped inside” and “studied.” This is followed by a description of Jude’s reaction to what he is seeing.

Each chapter begins with a entry about a certain story time; creation myths, Tricksters, and draws parallels across traditions. The writing is flowery, beautiful and, dare I say it, virtually pointless.

I think I’m only partially a visual person reader; growing up on mysteries, myths, fairy tales, and a total lack of Brandon Sanderson, means I learned to focus on plot. Eventually my stories also had character development beyond the ‘orphan embracing heroic destiny.’ While Camp attempts to integrate Jude’s self discovery into the story, it feels more like abrupt change in personality. For the most part we are hearing what Jude says about himself, not seeing how he actually acts. His flashbacks, for instance, are like someone at a party telling a story, not reliving a scene, so it feels somewhat unreliable although the scene is described with clarity. You know, when that person says, “I used to be like that, but now I’m not,” and you think, ‘uh, I disagree,’ but keep your mouth shut to wait for the proof.

So. Interesting story but with a somewhat confusing framework and plot that is not made more clear by the variety of myths and traditions. However, a number of immediate conflicts keep momentum until Jude’s predicament becomes more obvious. For me, the last third was very engaging, but I was close to putting it down a couple of times between 25-50%, I think. I just don’t need the scene described so completely to enter a story, and it started to seem pointless to read if I was only looking for plot points. Other’s mileage may certainly vary.

Two and a half stars, rounding up because Camp is a skilled writer. He just needs someone to make him drill down to the story core.

Many thanks to Allie, who joined me on a buddy read for this one, and to NetGalley, for an advance ereader copy. Quotes are subject to change, but I think conveys the style well.

 

 

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Touch by Clare North. Actually, read.

 

Touch

Read May 2018
Recommended for fans of mindbenders, maybe Dark Matter
★    ★    ★    ★    1/2  

 

Kate Griffin–excuse me, Claire North–is one of a handful of writers on my ‘will probably read everything they write’ list (not that this means immediately, mind you. But an interesting and talented enough writer that I’ll likely give everything a shot. Probably. With a couple of exceptions). With that in mind, I had bought Touch on the cheap and saved it for a time when I could give it some proper attention.

I was both successful and a failure at this.

Before leaving on a ten-day vacation, I gave the first few chapters of Touch a try, and found it to be utterly engrossing. I forced myself to put the book down and pack it away in my backpack for the plane. Yes, the Kindle was going too. But there’s something about a paper book that just works for me.

Kate’s wonderful verbal imagery is pared down here, not nearly as enveloping as in the Matthew Swift novels, but still evocative and colorful. She’s found a narrative that gives her a great chance to exercise those world-building skills in a variety of ways, from brief snapshots of people’s lives across time to a multitude of cities in across Europe.

“I ran, my trousers soaking, my stomach empty, a bag of someone else’s secrets bumping on my back, past the half-shadowed faces of men with coats pulled across their heads, fighting for a cab, women with umbrellas turned inside-out, hair clinging to their pale, cold faces; teenage girls whose shoes were now too impractical for walking in, holding them by their heels as they waded through the riverine streets.”

The story is told in first person, by a narrator with a very unusual skill. Again, Kate–I mean Claire–puts her poet-like skills to work, demonstrating by cadence and format that the narrator has changed bodies.

So what went wrong? I’ll tell you what went wrong: children. Children on a flight from Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Miami, Florida. More specifically, the toddler and the kindergartner sitting behind me. Parents, please do the responsible thing, and drug your children before airplane travel. I promise that I will only judge you if you don’t.*

The older kid had to pee, and was afraid of the airplane toilet, so initially she settled for kicking my seat. While I can sympathize, I generally just hold it, instead of breaking out hollering in a full-on temper tantrum. And younger brother was clearly a sympathetic screamer. This proved a problem because I was in the last third of the book, and the story was getting quite intense, in a not-gentle kind of way. I put it down for a few minutes, turned my music on–high–and tried to relax. But the story kept niggling at me; I wanted to know what happened. I thought maybe I knew. But did I? Kate–I mean Claire–is not adverse to a little death and destruction. Was this the time that she’d kill a character off? I couldn’t resist the siren call of the story, little screaming hellion or no. But it’s hard to listen to the cadence of words in my head when my auditory canal insists on transmitting sound waves.

I finished as the plane landed, and think it’s a stunner of a book. But was it the moving experience my friend Mimi had? Did I immediately want to read it again, as I did with Kate’s other book, Madness of Angels? No. But I think I’ll blame the parents on that, and not Kate–I mean Claire.

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Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Read May 2018
Recommended for fans of heists
★    ★    ★    1/2

Robert Jackson Bennett is one of the few authors I watch out for. Recently, I finished his early award-winning book (Philip K. Dick, Edgar, Anthony), The Company Man, so I was very excited at the opportunity to read an advanced reader copy of Foundryside, his latest work.

Bennett has a habit of starting out a book slow, letting the reader get a feel for the world and the characters before heading into action. He’s gotten better at that through his career; Foundryside springs into action on the first pages during an elaborate heist. Skilled independent thief Sancia is in the midst of stealing an object in a safe, although she accidentally burns down half the waterfront in the process. Unfortunately this attracts the attention of Gregor Donaldo, head of security at the waterfront and noble heir, as her actions have jeopardized his long-term plans for a neutral police force in a decidedly partisan city.

 For me, this had a decidedly new adult feel, a bit younger than I enjoy. I think I appreciated the more seasoned characters in his Divine Cities series and in some of his other works. He also seems to be experimenting a bit with world-building in this one, and I felt his magic system was far too detailed with too much information-dumping (Brandon Sanderson owes readers an apology). Thankfully, I had the experience of knowing Bennett and his interesting stories to keep me pushing through. I persevered and around page 99, found that the story was finally gripping me.

The plot is essentially a series of heists and cops-and-robbers that takes place in a city controlled by merchant houses who have a complete disregard for the underclass. It’s not an unusual setting, and I appreciate Bennett’s attempt to create a more ‘realistic’ vision of the proto-Renaissance setting so many fantasy authors love to play in. However, beyond the Commons area as a dirty cesspool where bodies were literally left to rot on the streets, and the gated merchant communities as pristine, light-infused compounds, I didn’t get much of a sense of how the two pieces fit together.

The magic system is complex, using a system of ‘scriving’ on objects to ‘tell’ them what their purpose is and how to interact with the world. Bennett spends far too much time describing this, although to give him credit, he at least tries to do this in conversation with Sancia and later with scriving experts explaining what they do. But to me, there was a lot of unnecessary information-dumping, kind of like explaining the molecular process behind tasting and nerve-signal processing when, really, I just want a piece of chocolate.

I enjoyed Sachia’s personality a great deal at the beginning and thought she developed reasonably well. One of Bennett’s strengths is his ability to create female characters that feel like real people. The Divine Cities have a wide variety of female characters, and Foundryside is no exception. A love interest developed during this story that felt somewhat unfounded, however, I credit his attempt at being diverse. Again, it just didn’t hit the complicated notes in The Divine Cities.

Two side notes: one, occasionally too much vernacular crept in. It was particularly noticeable with swearing; ‘goddamn’ bothered me as I hadn’t noted any gods/churches/religion. I think I recall a ‘bullshit,’ although we hadn’t heard of any bulls, or even cows, as well as some other form of ‘shitting me’ that seemed far too familiar. These were varied with ‘scrumming,’ so go figure.
The second issue is purely stylistic and not troublesome to me, but I imagine it will bother some readers. A lot of the dialogue is in ‘mindspeak,’ and so is set off in italics to differentiate it. Which means there are pages of alternating regular style text and italics.

All that said, this just didn’t resonate with me like his other books. The City of Stairs, and it’s follow-up, City of Blades, were easily among the best books I’ve read in years. I loved the Southwest atmosphere and the magical-realism of American Elsewhere, and The Company Man had me paying attention to it’s intriguing mystery despite some heavy-handed moralizing. This seemed a bit rushed, a strange combination of over-worked (the explanobabble for scriving) and under-developed (the efforts to integrate economics, politics, war) compared to Bennett’s usual sophisticated and emotionally complex stories. It’s not that I wouldn’t recommend it as much as it wasn’t as awesome as I know he’s capable of (do I sound like a teacher or what?). It felt a little like The Lies of Locke Lamora, and a little bit like Mistborn, so if those appealed to you, I’d recommend it.

 

Many, many thanks to Kathleen Quinlan at Crown Archetype & Three Rivers Press, Crown Publishing and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy.

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Blood Magic by Eileen Wilks

Read May 2018
Recommended for fans of urban fantasy, murder mysteries
★    ★    ★    ★   

Another solid entry into the World of the Lupi series. Rule Turner and his fiance Lily Yu have returned to San Diego to catch a breath and see where the political fallout of their engagement leads. Unfortunately, various people in San Diego seem to be experiencing hallucinations centered on monsters, resulting in a lot of busywork for Lily as a member of FBI’s team on magical crimes. However, when they host a baby shower at Clanhome, things go very wrong when one of the guests is almost killed.

As usual, Wilks does a decent job plotting the investigation. We get a few pages of the villain’s viewpoint to prime anticipation and give the reader the inside scoop, but it isn’t overused as a device. In this case, finding the villain becomes very personal, so there’s more integration between professional business and personal lives.

Narrative is almost entirely from Lily’s point of view, with a few instances from Rule as well as her grandmother, Li Lei. I kind of enjoyed being in Grandmother’s head, as she is amazingly determined individual, although the narrative didn’t do a good job of making it clear that we were 300 years in the past. I think. This installment gives us even more insight into Grandmother and I have to say, while I love witnessing her strength, it is also nice to know that she is fallible.

For me, the most annoying point was Lily insisting on bringing the attempted murderer ‘to justice,’ though the murder had a highly unusual set of skills that would preclude this occurring easily. This was also after her prognosticating boss implied literal anarchy and doom. I understand she’s a law&order kind of character, but she’s also smart, and an insistence on the literal law is not a smart move, but ignores the very grey area officers of all types have to operate in.

And oh, yeah: dragons.

I’ll certainly be continuing on with the series, but have run into a temporary hiccough with availability at the library. As in, the library system doesn’t have it. Clearly some generous donor will need to rectify this–after she reads it first, of course.

 

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