The Wanted by Robert Crais

Read June 2018
Recommended for fans of PIs
★    ★   ★  

Alas; I have reached the current end in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series, a collection of private investigator thrillers set predominantly in the Los Angeles basin. Over seventeen books, we’ve mocked Elvis’ office clock, tread warily around his feral cat and winced at his taste in shirts. Through it all, he’s been witty, an outrageous flirt with the ladies and protective of his clients.

In this one, Crais turns the tables a bit, giving Elvis a legitimate client seeking help with a less-than-legit son. The experienced reader quickly understands that this will no doubt create artificial barriers with problem resolution, although thankfully, Elvis does not take it to extremes as he has at other times.

Crais continues to use multiple-point narration. While it is primarily Elvis’ voice, which is in first person, he also switches to the son’s, as well as that of two unknown but murderous men. I think following the two unknowns gives a heightened sense of tension because it becomes apparent they are both competent and intent on leaving no witnesses behind. I figured out the reason behind it fairly quickly, but it took Elvis a bit to catch up with me. Honestly, I could have lived without their viewpoint, and had Elvis work more on making the connection between the son and the pair. As it was, when it came together, it felt rather spurious and inconclusive.

The plot was decent, but it reminded me quite a bit of book 14, The Sentry, which was more thriller than mystery and also had a killer viewpoint. I have to say, I also caught strong Spenser parallels, particularly with the meal scenes. In a last damning item, I’ll note that while Elvis had a date planned with one woman at the beginning of the book, he had a date planned with another by the end. I almost suspected a ghostwriter, but there were still touches of the emotional complexity that I associate with Elvis. Ah well. Perhaps it’s time for a L.A. Requiem. Alas; I have reached the current end in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series, a collection of private investigator thrillers set predominantly in the Los Angeles basin. Over seventeen books, we’ve mocked Elvis’ office clock, tread warily around his feral cat and winced at his taste in shirts. Through it all, he’s been witty, an outrageous flirt with the ladies and protective of his clients.

In this one, Crais turns the tables a bit, giving Elvis a legitimate client seeking help with a less-than-legit son. The experienced reader quickly understands that this will no doubt create artificial barriers with problem resolution, although thankfully, Elvis does not take it to extremes as he has at other times.

Crais continues to use multiple-point narration. While it is primarily Elvis’ voice, which is in first person, he also switches to the son’s, as well as that of two unknown but murderous men. I think following the two unknowns gives a heightened sense of tension because it becomes apparent they are both competent and intent on leaving no witnesses behind. I figured out the reason behind it fairly quickly, but it took Elvis a bit to catch up with me. Honestly, I could have lived without their viewpoint, and had Elvis work more on making the connection between the son and the pair. As it was, when it came together, it felt rather spurious and inconclusive.

The plot was decent, but it reminded me quite a bit of book 14, The Sentry, which was more thriller than mystery and also had a killer viewpoint. I have to say, I also caught strong Spenser parallels, particularly with the meal scenes. In a last damning item, I’ll note that while Elvis had a date planned with one woman at the beginning of the book, he had a date planned with another by the end. I almost suspected a ghostwriter, but there were still touches of the emotional complexity that I associate with Elvis. Ah well. Perhaps it’s time for a L.A. Requiem.

 

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Vallista by Steven Brust

Read June 2018
Recommended for fans of assassins and complex fantasy worlds
★    ★   ★    ★   1/2

I’ve been a fan of Brust’s Draegera books since 1988 or so, and all have a spot on my physical bookshelves. So clearly, I am a fan, and clearly, as a series that’s been around for thirty years, you probably shouldn’t start at the most recent book. Go back to the beginning and read Jhereg (ha! A little joke for those of us in the in-group). I’ll wait.

Vallista begins somewhat awkwardly, with Vlad talking to the reader a bit about where he is, mentioning that Vlad is ‘a human assassin in possession of an important mission.’ It’s intentionally misleading, perhaps as an in-joke for old readers, so that Brust Vlad can pull a narrative twist.There isn’t much more background in the way of the complex society or Vlad’s background to date.

Shenanigans over, it gets into the meat of the story quite quickly when Devera asks him for help and leads him to an immense building near the cliffs of Kieron’s Watch. Vlad goes inside, in short order meets a ghost and becomes trapped in the oddest house-escape story I’ve ever read (I wonder, did Brust come up with this after doing one of those Escape Rooms?). In total Vlad fashion, it’s a completely twisty story that has trademarks of his head-first approach, closed-mouth problem-solving, and sarcastic commentary with his familiar, Liosh (Think Hearne’s Iron Druid series, without the characterization problems).

First person point of view works fine here, as Vlad is an astute observer of his surroundings. He is also a human, known as an ‘Easterner,’ in a society of elf-like, long-lived Dragaerans (who call themselves ‘human,’ but don’t let that confuse you), giving him an outsider perspective on the mechanisms of the elaborate characteristics of Dragaeran society. The society has an elaborate, highly formalized social structure based on seventeen Houses that seem to have both genetic and cultural traits. Each book to date has been named after one of the houses, and this building at the center of this story was built by two very clever Vallistas.

Vlad is, on his better days, a generally intelligent and humorous narrator, although he is well aware that he is generally the one who finds his jokes funniest (much like Elvis Cole in the mystery series). I did find myself chuckling quite a bit, which was nice.

Are we going after it, Boss? [said Liosh]
‘After it? Are you nuts? What if we caught it?’
‘I love it when you break out in common sense.
I kept walking.
Boss, you said–‘
‘We aren’t going after it. We’re just going in the same direction.'”

While the plot focuses on helping Devera and escaping the Vallista complex, the larger picture fits into an ongoing issue of the Taltos books, so I’m not sure it would be an appropriate place to start. Except for Hawk, the most series books have had an underlying plot building about the formation of the Dragaeran Empire came about, and a mysterious race called the Jenoine. Yes, I think it’s fair to say that it isn’t the place to begin the series. It does provide some significant information about questions that arose in Tiassa.

I hope that Brust will be able to finish what should be a seventeen book series and give the Dragaeran Cycle it’s full due. However, should he not, at least he didn’t only get into the first couple books of a linear, multi-book tale and leave the reader hanging. For that, he deserves kudos.

 

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Jhereg by Steven Brust

Last read 2012
Recommended for fans of assassins and complex fantasy worlds
★    ★   ★    ★  

The release of Iorich sent me down the path of re-reading the Taltos series. While Iorich was enjoyable and engrossing, memories sent me back to the inaugural Vlad. Sophisticated writing, interesting characters and one seriously convoluted plot. It’s interesting, because this is the fourth book in the timeline of the series and Vlad’s history, but actually the first published (echoes of Lucas). I’d recommend reading Jhereg first, as it’s told in a largely linear fashion with only a few flashbacks, and as such is a decent introduction to the world’s political and social structure. As the series continues, Brust starts playing in interesting ways with narrative, so it helps to already have a solid grip on the basics.

Characters are done well, with broad brushstrokes. We get some of Vlad’s early years, and we are given the background on his initial connection with Loiosh. His friendships with Dragons Morrolan and Aliera, and his lieutenant Krager are well established in this book, with nice repartee and camaraderie. Loiosh is a smart sidekick, but not overly humanized. The plot is entirely plausible within the world setting, and although Vlad’s antagonist has spent decades planning his revenge, his rationale is somewhat understandable and brings a sense of sympathy even as Vlad works to save the situation.

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Brace for Impact (After the EMP #7) by Harley Tate

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

Brace for Impact starts a new trilogy in Tate’s series about a massive EMP pulse. Unlike the prior two trilogies, this takes place in the Atlanta, Georgia area. It also enlarges the scope of the electrical loss from what is initially thought to be a solar-generated EMP-pulse to a potential nuclear attack. I admit, I was somewhat less intrigued by the premise of a separated couple wanting to meet up, because I think stories along those lines are predictable, and the separated family unit dynamic was explored in the first trilogy. Just once can we have members of a family realizing it is sensible to cut ties? (I’ll refrain from commenting on my own family here, lest you think I’m more dysfunctional than I am).

The writing continues to be acceptable, with straightforward language. The beginning has another awkward explano-blurb from a patient in the E.R.:

“Why don’t we have service?” “Because the grid is toast.” She smiled like she was embarrassed. “Explain it to me like I’m five.” The man chuckled. “Think of the power grid like a massive web of electric wires. They run out from hubs, generators, substations, and major stations.”

Next think you know, we’ll be talking about internet tubes. But there is some nice writing to offset it:

“Typing to friends and taking pictures to post online was the new pastime. No one under the age of twenty talked or hung out anymore. They just sat with their necks bent, furiously pecking at their phones like a row of birds.

Speaking of the tech generation, Tate continues to have some of the same refrains from the prior stories, which is less interesting to me, because there doesn’t seem to have improvement in the subtlety of thought or reaction. For instance, Leah is in the midst of watching a television update and thinks:

“She thought about what the reporter said on TV and how the network cut her feed in the middle of her warning. Did the government know who was responsible? Were they covering it up?”

Because that’s always the reaction in a crisis, right? You wouldn’t suspect local power outage when there have been complete blackouts, or that the network would have been worried about advertising dollars, or any other possible reason–the viewer would go straight to ‘government cover-up’ without any evidence of the character having that world-view. In fact, Leah tends to have a trusting view, so it just seemed to me that it was another authorial interjection over consistent character building.

On that note, Leah and Grant feel very… white bread.  Boring. In love, recent house purchase, thinking about a kid, establishing careers, etc., etc. While that could be made into a possible character selling point–how do people that lead a relatively safe, insulated, tech-heavy lifestyle cope with loss of power?–but Leah was the only one that was more than a cookie-cutter shape.  Leah is an E.R. nurse, so I admit that I was more interested because of a professional connection there, and the issues of emergency management in healthcare. When Grant finally meets up with Leah’s family, they have a very odd reaction to him that made no sense in context of what the reader is given. It was an awkward, uninformative conversation that paved the way for Grant to basically move on.

Aside: There really isn’t a system in place, you know, for prolonged disaster. All the disaster plans that are shared/practiced with staff are imminent emergency or mass-casualty. In prolonged emergencies to date, response has relied on extra-ordinary dedication from medical staff (somehow, I doubt people who stayed in the NYC hospitals during Hurricane Sandy got adequate overtime).

I was interested in the scenes of Leah and a doctor leaving the hospital, and different reactions to the different things they were seeing. Still, Leah’s reaction didn’t feel entirely genuine. I know E.R. nurses–and worked there for two years–and would say that they are often seriously funny, very smart, and extremely cynical nurses. Especially in cities, they see such crazy things, they hear such truly unbelievable stories (seriously people, unbelievable. Nobody believes you accidentally fell on something and it got stuck in your rectum). Leah feels like a brand-new nurse graduate that is straight out of college and has about as much world experience as a puppy (honestly, they are so sincere, it’s kind of adorable). 

At any rate, also interesting reading about her coping on her own. I don’t think she coped well or made sensible decisions given the parameters of what Tate was giving us, but I was curious to see how it would turn out.

Anyway. This ended more on a cliff-hanger than any of the prior stories, and quite honestly, I’m a little less interested in the nuclear doomsday set-up, partially because I believe it feels so unsurvivable, as well as the inevitable political commentary/subjecture that accompanies the situation. Perhaps it is time to be re-invented, but I feel like sci-fi has done a fair justice to the genre since the 1960s. I might get re-interested if the author seems to be bringing in actual sciencey-stuff, such as studies that have came out of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, but on the whole, this didn’t spark my trigger the way all the unknowns in the first trilogy did.

 
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Chaos Gains (After the EMP #5) by Harley Tate

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

In to every apocalypse, a little rain must fall. Well, not rain, here–that’s a metaphor, silly–but rather the apocalypse standby trope, Fighting Back Against the Man and His Military. In this case, we’re pretty sure the military has gone rogue, so it’s okay. Plus, they want to torture kittens, eat pets and run a brothel. Clearly not your average military.

Colt and Danielle have found a moment of respite after the events of the prior book and are resting up, healing Colt’s wounds and basically deciding how much they’d like to get involved in the troubles of a small university town that seems to be run by the National Guard, but is actually a militia. With an apparent bunch of idiots for militia members, I guess, who go from being normal Guard types to men who would do these things.

This entry into the series feels even more like an action movie than the last, and while I appreciate the different focus from the first trilogy, it was too much thriller for me to really enjoy it. Put ‘Jack Reacher’ in for ‘Colt,’ and ‘toothbrush’ in for ‘Danielle,’ and you’d almost have any Reacher thriller. The story really isn’t about survival as much as it is about waking up a cowed population. In the tradition of action heroes, it continues to venerate Colt, eventually adding in a newer associate. My take home message was that women are strong, mostly, but, you know, different, and may need a tough guy to help them figure out when compassion is appropriate. Except with said tough guy, naturally. There’s also an ankle broken at the appropriately distressing moment. Danielle continues to be the exception to the female rules.

Tate continues to find bon mots of cultural commentary irresistible:

“Reducing the flow of information was an effective strategy to keep law and order with a minimum of security. If you thought your neighbor was complying and the one after that and the one after that”

which I don’t necessarily mind; I’m generally a strong believer in critical analysis (I know you are surprised by this, dear reader), but again, it doesn’t feel quite natural. Colt does connect it to population control in Afghanistan or somewhere, so it made a little more sense, but he forgets to mention how publicized removal and killing of ‘sympathizers’ also plays more than a minor role in population control.

Anyway, I didn’t hate it, despite my somewhat snarky review, but more than the other trilogy, this ends on a somewhat unfinished note. I haven’t taken the bait yet–I really was in the mood for the end of civilization–hey, if I have to use the neighbor’s bathroom, maybe everyone else should suffer with me–and skipped ahead to Southern Grit, book seven in the trilogy that begins with a couple experiencing the breakdown in the Atlanta area.

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Darkness Rises (After the EMP #3) by Harley Tate

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

Darkness Rises is the third story in what is an essentially a trilogy of novellas of how Madison, her parents, and her friends cope with the sudden loss of electric power in California. They have left their home outside of Sacramento and are heading to the home of Brianna’s parents, long-time doomsday preppers. The end of book two has the group seriously considering a stop at a college campus to help a woman and her friends who claimed to be trapped in a radio station.

“One of us might die. We could lose all that we have.” Madison knew the danger. But she couldn’t leave someone to die. Not when she was pleading for help. “I know what we’re risking, but we have to try. If we don’t, what kind of people are we?”

That’s a bit eye-rolling, don’t you think? But I don’t know; I’m a long ways from twenty. Still, you’d think the parents would have more sense. While I enjoyed this installment, it didn’t impress as much as the first two books in the trilogy. It gets bogged down in the viewpoint of Walter, who becomes less self-reliant Army guy and more family man who is faced with role conflict. It could be, of course, that Tate just envisions this as Walter’s character, except he’s an airline pilot and is used to leaving his wife and college-age daughter to take care of themselves on a weekly basis. This desire to protect and shelter seems more than a bit inconsistent.

Meanwhile, his daughter Madison is continuing to struggle with the ethical problems of a likely apocalypse: who do you help and why in a time of extremely limited resources? She’s been over this material in book one and two, so it feels a little more tiresome to be repeating it in three. But on the other side of things, it’s probably a lesson that will take a while to sink in. In one of the more useless and stupid moments of the book, both Madison and Tracy appear to be keeping the fact that they each killed someone from Walter.

That said, I did appreciate that Tate doesn’t just hand survival to characters. Sometimes, despite best intentions–or best actions–bad luck or direct attacks just happen. I think many stories like to go with a formula, and if the characters do all the ‘right’ things, survival is guaranteed, but not here.

Every now and then there’s a line that sounds more authorial than character-specific, particularly in relation to the government riding to the rescue and private gun ownership. At first it annoyed me, but it wasn’t frequent enough to be a serious detractor:

Every drug dealer and petty criminal in this town has a gun, but none of the good people do.”

A potentially intriguing point, except that we’ve already learned from books one and two that some of the ‘good people’ with guns were equally dangerous for Madison and the family. It highlights one of the major weaknesses of Tate’s style so far, that the writing is very straightforward and misses nuances. The benefit is that the story goes quickly. The downside, of course, is that it’s not always enough to carry the subtleties of thought and ethics that I think Tate is going for. But occasionally it’s redeemed through insightful observations:

“She knew hard work, but it was in the confines of plenty and abundance. There was never a time she went to bed hungry or risked her life to listen to the radio.”

It is an interesting point, and one survival tales rarely dive into: the main characters are almost always people from privileged backgrounds, and might therefore be less likely to deal with the real challenge of an apocalypse–the end of comfort and ease. Perhaps that’s shown here with the discomfort the group has with breaking and entering, and the false assurances they give themselves that the owner will not make it back. Does it matter? I was a bit impatient that this was even a discussion after all they had been through.

As a simple Aesop’s Survival Tales, it’s definitely an adequate read. I feel like Tate is walking the reader through various mental and physical preparations. As a complex philosophical discussion, I think the ‘After the EMP’ trilogy occasionally misses the mark. Still, a solid wrap-up to a diverting group of novellas. I admit that I am very curious to see what Tate does with the next trilogy in this world–that of a Navy SEAL and a young woman from a very challenged upbringing.

 

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Chaos Comes (After the EMP #4) by Harley Tate

Read June 2018
Recommended for fans of the apocalypse
★    ★   ★  

A few words about this series: to date, the “After the EMP” book series has been in trilogy format. “After the EMP” one through three follows Madison, her friends and her parents as they cope with the aftermath of an electro-magnetic wave wiping out California’s electrical grid. Chaos Comes begins the second trilogy which primarily follows Colt, a former SEAL, and Danielle, a teenager who comes from an underprivileged background. The third trilogy that begins with Southern Grit, follows a middle-class white couple as they cope with disaster in Atlanta. All are novella length and quick reads.

And now a few words about my timeline: I had a very significant eleven-day vacation, returning late Thursday night after a will-they/won’t-they fly flight, followed by a post-travel headache on Friday, and two days of work on the weekend. That all would have been tolerable, had not major construction begun on our house’s only bathroom on Monday. All the tile ripped out, new bathtub, new drywall, new floorboard. Changing this wasn’t optional, as we had been in the contractor’s line-up for months. Then, just as the project was nearing end (you know, not at the end, but at least with functional toilet and ability to take baths), he announced he’d also begin on the deck remodeling, which entailed removing an old wooden deck and replacing it with a composite. Understand, all of this takes place in context of a house with two dogs, one of which is territorial, and two Amazon parrots, who absolutely adore drama and feel they can best contribute by screaming loudly. For extra layering, let’s remember I work as a hospital nurse, late shift, from 3pm to 11:30pm, so I absolutely never go to bed before 1a.m.

 

Is it any wonder I was ready for the world to end? Chaos begins, indeed.

 

Chaos Comes reminded me in the best way of an 80s action movie. Our good guys are Good Guys, and have loads of redemptive moments, even if they are just a little bit oinkish. Things are going to Work Out. Using Danielle (‘Dani’) as a main character gives Tate a little chance to explore the idea of how someone used to fending for themselves might manage in the apocalypse. I rather liked Dani’s character in this one, as well as Cole’s gradual realization that even if he has skills to save himself, no man is an island.

I thought it was better written that the first book in the series; not that the first was terrible, by any means, but it felt like the storyline was more cohesive and focused. There’s still a few awkward writing moments like when the Bad Guys make their intentions helpfully and publicly clear, but really, it’s a technique I think we’ve all become used to from television and movies:

“Request for clarification, Echo 6. If we encounter hostiles what is the protocol?” The radio crackled. “All hostiles are to be eliminated on sight. No prisoners are authorized. Over.” Colt blinked. It was true. “

There’s also still little authorial asides (in the guise of Colt’s voice) regarding society:

“Not the video games and the 24/7 news and the never-ending quest for escape. But the little things. The simpler things we can all get back to”

but that’s mitigated by a moment of two of self-aware humor:

“Time to play action hero.

Definitely what I needed during the past few weeks. I highly recommend it if you are sleep-deprived and cranky.

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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 (After the EMP #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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