Consumed by Jason Brant. Or, Snack-Time Lite.

Read April 2017
Recommended for fans of The Walking Dead
★    ★    ★ 

I used the lure of this book to drag my bootie to the gym and the reclining bike after the non-stop excitement of book one, Devoured. It certainly worked in terms of heart rate elevation and distraction. However, in terms of brain-stimulation, I was a little disappointed it focused more on the human threat from fascists militia-types. It’s pretty freaking obvious that people are the real threat (just listen to the news!), so for me, this wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped.

As our troupe of merry misfits seeks to provide for themselves, they debate whether or not they should head to a safe camp. I felt some of the dialogue and action was overdone from the more personal balance of the first book. You like that banter from book one? We have mohr! You want militants? We have even mohr! You want blood-sucking monsters? We’ve got mohr, mohr, mohr! It worked out, I suppose, especially when balanced by a peaceful interlude, but still, I am generally annoyed by the amped-up phenomenon. Yeah, I know I’m reading a monster book. Shuddup.

Speaking of, we have monsters, which is absolutely fine and scary, but then we also have srsly Too Stupid To Live Moments. The heroes are self-referential enough to acknowledge the “don’t go into the basement by yourself” phenomenon, but then split up to search an armed encampment. They refuse help from someone more prepared then they are, which will clearly lead to them ending up in a disastrous situation. Later, they take someone new to them, high, stupid and literally unaware of the apocalypse into a monster lair.  Of course that provides the match strike for the metaphorical firestorm. Of course. Because why write it as if our heroes had any sense and normal bad luck provides the trigger? Then there’s the personality overhaul of the doctor, who goes from dedicated, disbelieving, cringing helper to Massive Spoiler. I’m all in favor of spontaneous personality overhauls–I wish a certain President would undergo one–but I kind of like to have reasons, you know? I know–monster book. Shuddup.

On a personal note, I think I dislocated my eye when –mild spoiler– a certain character ended up pregnant after a huge deal was made about Lance’s infertility in book one.  Serious eyerolling. I don’t even know why we went there, because the reasons for striking back at the monsters were always in the making, and foreshadowed frequently. So why? Why must you torture me with these Lifetime drama moments in a monster book??

It did have a fast-n-furious pace, with a steady and predictable variety of conflicts. In short, it was basically a good, solid Walking Dead episode where we discover people are the real assholes (of course).

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Devoured by Jason Brant. Or, Snack time!

Read April 2017
Recommended for fans of The Walking Dead
★    ★    ★   ★  

Fresh off my Vietnam fictional-autobiography The Things They Carried and Pulitzer Prize winner Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, I really needed to rest my brain. Actually–let’s be honest–I really needed to see humanity destroyed a little faster than we seem to be doing it ourselves. Brant–and I might turn into a genuine fan of this non-genuine Bigfoot hunter–serves up almost exactly what I was looking for in an apocalypse-monster novel. For all you who wanted to like The Passage and didn’t, I’d strongly suggest this little action-fest. Competently written (and I’m not damning it with faint praise), I just could not put it down.

We’re set up with a character who is having a bit of a life-crisis but ends up discovering his personal strengths in an external one. He’s ill-prepared in physical skill sets but not in mental ones, once he overcomes self-doubt. I thought the characters all behaved rather realistically, from initial rationalization of the ‘illness’ to depression to to attempting to strategize through the disaster, albeit somewhat ineffectively (of course). Focus is tightly on Lance, with important secondary characters. I appreciated that Lance did not overly demonize his soon-to-be-ex-wife, often a tempting crutch to make a character seem more likeable.

Although it goes quickly, the story allows for information-sharing through television and social media, giving the chance to witness some of the societal breakdown as systems and their back-ups gradually fail. I always wish this part was longer in survival stories, but Brant gives me more than many books. Plotting was tension-filled, feeling a great deal like a survival video game. Immediate conflict, re-group/strategize, next conflict. There’s a part near the end that sounded scarily prescient with some people’s political response to the virus. I found it almost impossible to stop reading.

Beginning paragraph:

“The tie around Lance’s neck might as well have been a noose.
Yet another job interview went horribly as his career circled the drain. He looped a finger over the knot by his throat and pulled it down, letting out a long, depressed sigh. Fourteen years of hard work, certifications, and experience meant nothing anymore.”

What fun foreshadowing! Not only true for Lance’s own life, but about to be true for the world.

I have perhaps only two quibbles. One, overall conflict escalated quickly. I don’t mind the escalation in terms of human destruction scenario, but in terms of the monster scenario, it straddles the line between believability and pure fiction. I’m a little ambivalent about that, because then I feel the story loses its chance to explore the breakdown, and not head straight into survivalist territory. Two, (mild mid-book character spoiler—a female character that comes along is just about perfect, not in the stereotypical kind of way, but in the everything-I-need kind of way. She’s Xena, Warrior Princess. But what the hell–I kind of enjoy a good warrior princess.)

Dialogue was solid, although I did eyeroll a couple of times at the flirtation-type banter. I suppose it provides some humor. There is a little bit of humor edging into description which I appreciated. Certainly not enough to distract from the seriousness of the situation. “He considered breaking in to his neighbors’ apartments to scrounge for food, but he feared some of them might be hiding inside, armed with shotguns. Getting shot was low on Lance’s list of priorities.”

This was a freebie at Amazon when I picked it up. No worries, though–unlike the last self-pub apocalypse I picked up (L.A. Dark), this one had adequate closure, much like an arc in a television series. That said, the reader will undoubtedly want to go on to the next book. I certainly did. I just won’t start it tonight, because I need to sleep sometime and I have doubts about putting it down.

This is a straight-forward apocalypse, solidly written with no literary pretensions involved (as opposed to The Reapers are the Angels, The Girl with All the Gifts or Station Eleven). Reminding me a little of Rhiannon Frater’s As the World Dies series, I found it much better written. Recommend for people who want an apocalypse-monster fix with likeable heroes and grip-your-seat pacing.

Solid four genre stars

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A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Read April 2017
Recommended for fans of character-driven stories, sci-fi
★    ★    ★   ★    ★  

I understand that some people weren’t fans of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Personally, in my heart of hearts, I kind of suspected they might be suffering from Grinch syndrome,* but I respected it, because there were indeed a few flaws.

*

This time, I won’t keep my suspicions to myself: if you do not find this book enjoyable, you need to witness a little village of Whos holding hands and singing even though you just stole their Christmas Beast.** Or, just possibly, it is completely not your style of book. I’m fairly certain those are the only two choices here.

**

Don’t get me wrong as this by no means a sugary-sweet, singing festival: there is a lot more edginess, with subsistence living and even a touch of horror, but there’s something equally wonderful–or better–in the story as a whole. It isn’t at all a direct sequel to A Long Way, although the ending of that book does go a long way (I couldn’t help myself) towards explaining the premise of this story. No matter, as Chambers is kind enough to start just twenty-eight minutes after the last book, although without the Wayfarer crew.

It begins with Lovelace the AI program, fresh in her new synthetic body, which she continually refers to as her ‘kit.’ It’s a brilliant little device that constantly distances both the former Lovelace and the reader from her new housing. Eventually she picks a name, Sidra. Narrative then jumps into the story of Jane 23, a young female who works first cleaning then repairing parts with her clone-sisters. Chapters go back and forth between the two, but are occasionally interrupted by a type of underground message boards where less-than-law-abiding citizens talk shop. Often I dislike this narrative technique, but there’s solid continuity as well as thematic parallels. As both were written well but with different plotting tensions, I found myself both eager and reluctant at the end of each chapter to resume the other story. In a way, both are stories of survival and of identity, and they dovetail beautifully.

I do have a lingering question or two, primarily Sidra’s solution (spoiler)–of installing herself in the walls of a bar. I thought it was reasonably clear from the AI manual that she might grow bored being in one place, and that a variety of customers does not seem adequate stimulus, Linking available or not. Like A Long Way, there was a couple of very rapid plot developments near the end (spoiler)–particularly the installation of Owl and the use of the pet-bots as extended networks. While they do serve to nicely wrap things up, the pacing and resolution felt pressured. I felt a little like, once again, someone told Chambers to get a move on and finish up. Not that I would have said that, mind you. But that’s the impression I was left with in both books.

Well, whatever; I’m no Grinch*** to quibble the minor details. I’m very glad I added this one to my own physical library, as I think it will hold up well to a re-read. I strongly recommend it.

 

***At least with books

 

 

*

 

 

**

 

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Necropolis by Tim Waggoner. Or, P.I. Mad-Libs, Magickal Edition

Read March 2017
Recommended for fans Simon Green
★    ★  

Mostly, I have only Past Carol. to blame. You see, I realized my TBR list had over 600 books, over four years of reading if I ever tried to get through it. As I try to actually make these things functional, I was going through removing books that no longer appealed. I don’t know what I was up to in 2011, but I sure was frivolous about adding books. Necropolis was one of those 2011 reads, and one I could have done without. While I’m often looking for a new take on urban fantasy, this was MadLibs: Magickal Private Eye edition. You want regular edition, use noir private eye words (Mafia, mansion, gun, babe, etc). Magic edition, use supernatural ones (Lord, castle, holy water, vampire, etc).

_____ (Plain name) Richter has just finished his latest case successfully but with some damage to his _____(body part). ___ (name) stops by his _____ (health practitioner) for repairs and discovers he has limited time remaining. As he’s dragging himself home, a beautiful ____(description) woman requests his help recovering _____(lost object). The woman’s father is a powerful member of the _____ (social group) and she wants to return the ____(lost object) without him being any the wiser. Initially skeptical, ___ (plain name) agrees, hoping he can use her connections to repair his own situation.  Together they sneak into her father’s _____ (opulent dwelling) to investigate where the _____(lost object) was stored. There is no sign of forced entry, leading ___ (plain name) to suspect that someone related to the family is responsible. There are also some fine grains of white crystal left at the scene, leading them to suspect a ____(illegal drug) user. They head to a ____(occupation) informant, then a nightclub the user is known to frequent, only to be violently accosted by ____(group of people) en route. At the nightclub, they conveniently get information from a friend, who just happens to ___ (activity) at that club. They will also have to go to a ___ (drinking establishment) and a ___ (place for sex acts) in order to further their search.

The plot was boilerplate noir with more deus ex machina than a game of Sims. At virtually every point, there is a device/conversation/person that provides the couple with the next step. Most frequently, it is people who Matt has helped before, who decided to provide extra assistance strictly because they all appreciate what a great ol’ guy Matt is (this is used at least four times–generalized spoilers–driver, information, information, driver, entrance to the palace). There’s an arbitrary attack on Matt and Devona that serves as a neon ‘bad-guy-HERE’ sign.

What makes this ‘original’ is the setting of an alternate-dimension world where Earth-dwelling ‘Darkfolk’ decided to make their home. Necropolis as a city is hazily imagined, more along political lines than anything else. The most detail is lavished on our zombie P.I.’s undead state (but not how it happened), followed by vampire habits. Otherwise there are shifters, known as ‘lycs,’ and a variety of beings that may or may not have four limbs and involve gene manipulation. While sentient bugs, a bartender with only a skull on a corpulent human body, and a preying-mantis type bug that can’t wait to have sex with a human-looking female sound potentially interesting, mostly it isn’t. They all act like normal people in monstrous avatar forms. It’s all very weird, especially when these various beings are oogling and pinching Devona’s butt. It really does have a Mad-Libs sensibility of using one noun in place of another without much world-building or integration behind it.

Add a somewhat sophomoric writing style, and it just wasn’t enough to sustain my interest. Note that for some odd reason an area library decided to shelve this as ‘horror.’ Most empathetically not. Straight up private-eye fantasy. It most reminded me of Simon Green’s Nightside series and Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I. series; if you enjoy those works, this may work for you. I honestly have no idea what 2011 Carol. was thinking, but I wish she’d stop wasting my time.

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The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, read by Bryan Cranston

Read March 2017
Recommended for fans of war stories
★    ★    ★   1/2

This is quite the book, and Cranston is quite the reader. Well suited with gravely voice, solemn tones, perfect diction and flow that draws me in. I’m left with a few thoughts:

Part One, carrying a burden

The first chapter, ‘The Things They Carried’ was one of the longer chapters, at 47 minutes. As read by Cranston, it is a moving and primitive ballad, the grown-up version of a repetitive narrative structure (think ‘The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly,’ or more likely Gilgamesh or one of those tales) that builds a rhythm leading to a powerful end. It was one of the most moving things I’ve heard in a long time, a kind of spoken word poetry, a sermon from an endless hike, culminating in a too-familiar longing to fly.

“Because you could die so quickly, each man also carried at least one large compress  bandage, usually in the helmet band for easy access.

“For the most part they carried themselves with poise, a kind of dignity. Now and then, however, there were times of panic, when they squealed or wanted to squeal but couldn’t, when they twitched and made moaning sounds and covered their heads and said Dear Jesus and flopped around on the earth and fired their weapons blindly…

“At night, on guard, staring into the dark, they were carried away by jumbo jets. They felt the rush of takeoff. Gone! they yelled. And then velocity–wings and engines–a smiling stewardess–but it was more than a plane, it was a real bird, a big sleek silver bird with feathers and talons and high screeching. They were flying. The weights fell off; there was nothing to bear. They laughed and held on tight, feeling the cold slap of wind and altiude, soaring, thinking It’s over, I’m gone!–they were naked, they were light and free–it was all lightness, bright and fast and buoyant, light as light…”

Part two: unreliable narrators

Tim O’Brien is fooling himself.  There’s no judgement attached to that statement; I’m not calling it good or bad or anything else. But if he thinks that he’s left the war behind and that he’s not one of ‘those’ vets with post-traumatic stress disorder, he is absolutely wrong.

Part three: truthiness

O’Brien takes time in many of his tales to talk about the value of tales, about the veracity of the stories he is telling, about how he might make something up so that it feels true to the reader. This is where I disagree with him both as a reader and as a writer. In ‘How to Tell a True War Story,’ he eventually expounds on this idea, but first he has some powerful thoughts about war stories in general.

If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.

This feels sadly, honestly true; there is very little that is redeemable in war, in large scale violence, in the purposeful and anonymous killing of people to make a political or moral point, and any sort of stories that try to find it are like putting a Snoopy band-aid on a gunshot wound.

I adored his acknowledgement of the memory of moments, which made me think of nothing so much as Dali’s Persistence of Memory, and relativism.

In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen. What seems to happen becomes its own happening and has to be told that way. The angles of vision are skewed. When a booby trap explodes, you close your eyes and duck and float outside yourself. When a guy dies, like Curt Lemon, you look away and then look back for a moment and then look away again. The pictures get jumbled; you tend to miss a lot. And then afterward, when you go to tell about it, there is always that surreal seemingness, which makes the story seem untrue, but which in fact represents the hard and exact truth as it seemed.

That is a perfect description of the non-linearity of memory, recalling that accident scene in the middle of the night in Deerfield so long ago: the kid in the cornfield, the white and red and blue flashing lights, the circle of light around us and the strange elongated shadows outside our perimeter as I knelt by the kid’s head and held his spine straight. I remember it as a cubist painting and not a sequence of events.

All of that said, I believe that I disagree with him, that “story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.” I think a story can be absolutely true, and that with adequate craft, the writer will lead the reader to the conclusion, the sentiment–the moral, as Mitchell Sanders would claim. I believe that the occurrence itself is significant enough, and that with well-chosen words, the reader will be able to feel it, to understand the meaning of the event. But I could be wrong, and we’re both deluding ourselves that the authors has control of the story.

Particularly in a book about war, in which the purposeful and routine killing of people takes place, I believe the horror of it is a cultural burden we should all own, and that fabricating an incident in hopes of eliciting a response takes away from the responsibility we share. It hides the emotional weight under the softening fluff of ‘this may or may not be true.’

Part four: an overview

All of that said, the collection itself is a mix. It’s more about the experience of war than the actual war. It reminded me of when I was in high school and a plethora of Vietnam movies came out, including Platoon and the more lighthearted take, Good Morning Vietnam, and I suddenly found myself wanting to understand my dad’s experience there.

I’ve heard that this is a book that some kids now read in high school. I don’t know that this is a collection that can help someone unfamiliar with the Vietnam war understand; the darkness of the jungle, the tunnels, the antipathy of the public, the absence of soldiers’ conviction in a ‘good’ war, the absolute isolation and the adolescent technology, all in contrast to the more modern ‘conflicts’ that soldiers have participated in since 2001.

Despite protestations to the contrary, there is much here that is not specific, and there is much that is too specific (the water buffalo, the girl dancing, the puppy, the sewage field) and much that is apocryphal (the water buffalo, the girl dancing, the puppy, the sewage field). This is where I find myself arguing with O’Brien again, that the specifics only matter for the feeling of truthiness. This book relies on concepts associated with war to fill in the details, and thus the impact would likely be lessened for someone unfamiliar with the real details.

The rating? Cranston, a solid five stars. The titular story? A solid 42 stars. The collection as a whole? Interesting, fraught, unhappy, deceiving, monotonous, provoking.

No doubt, much like war.

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A Curious Indian Cadaver (Inspector Singh Investigates #5) by Shamini Flint

Read March 2017
Recommended for fans of detective mysteries
★    ★    ★   1/2

Yikes! So close to the end of the Inspector Singh series, and stalking checking out the website for Ms. Flint makes it clear that self-promotion isn’t in her wheelhouse. Hope that means she’s busy writing the next Singh mystery, a series that is a more modern and culturally aware take of a Piroit-style investigation.

I found this to be one of the more solid entries in the Inspector Singh series. Poor Inspector: forced to take a medical leave of absence after the calamitous ending of the last book, his wife has the perfect activity to prevent him from rattling around the house–attending a family wedding in India. Not close family, mind you, so the reader is introduced in bits and pieces to some of the concepts of family in India and acceptable social roles. Alas, by the time they arrive, the bride has disappeared during her traditional pre-wedding house arrest seclusion. When her elder brother Tanvir identifies a badly burned body as his sister, it looks like she committed suicide. But her grandfather would like to know why, so Inspector Singh is placed on the case.

As in the other Singh books, Flint deftly weaves in bits of social and cultural commentary, giving the reader the flavor of the setting, and the ways it plays into Inspector Singh’s investigation. Really, it’s a fascinating concept for a series–what is ‘crime’ in each country, and what does policing and ‘justice’ look like? I thought this story was nicely fleshed out, and slightly less farcical in regards to the Inspector’s bursting shirt buttons and his skinny, bossy wife. There’s a fascinating juxtaposition between one of the local slums and the pristine nearby factory. I appreciate that Flint doesn’t hit her readers over the head with moral judgements, although this book comes close when it looks at life in the slum.

There was somewhat of a surprise with the ultimate solution, but the set-up behind it was obvious from the beginning. One thing about the series that continues to puzzle me is how Singh is referred to as an amazing detective, yet execution of the investigation usually seems haphazard and more subject to circumstance than the little grey cells or leaving no stone unturned. Plotting here was a little smoother. Overall, it’s a series I enjoy, certainly worthy of borrowing from my library friends. I’ll be sad to see the series end.

A solid three and a half rupees.

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bellwether by Connie Willis

Re-Read March 2017
Recommended for fans of light romantic comedy
★    ★    ★    ★     ★   

I owe bellwether a review.

 

Bellwether is a book that I inevitably turn to when I want something that is light, clever, literate and sweet.

Sandra Foster has been studying fads, specifically trying to identify what started the bobbed hair crazy at some time in the 1920s.

The company administrative assistant, Flip, is pretty much the worst ever, and one day when she mis-delivers a ‘perishable’ (not ‘fragile,’ as Pip says) to Sandra, Sandra finds herself taking the package down to the Biology Department, where she meets Bennett O’Rielly, a chaos researcher who seems to be entirely immune to fashion fads.

What happens is a more than a bit of gradually escalating chaos as they each try to work on their respective projects, turn in the annual funding request to the Hi-Tek Corporation, dodge team-building meetings, and avoid Flip’s oblivious tendencies towards destruction.

Each chapter begins with a description of a fad, much like certain books begin chapters with aphorisms. I actually learned a little bit about a number of fun things, including hula hoops (1958-59), hair dioramas (1750-60) and mah-jongg (1922-24). There are numerous references to scientific discoveries, fascinating if you know your scientific history. There’s a mention of Fleming leaving a Petri dish cracked as he headed out to golf, and a researcher hiring a Polish woman named Marie Curie to help him with radiation research. It’s one of the things that elevates this beyond your average rom-com. I’ll also note there’s a definite feel of verisimilitude about this; on this reading I noted Sandra referencing SPSS software, classic software that I’ve used myself in statistics class.

As in To Say Nothing of the Dog, there are a number of running gags, including corporate insensibility (“Tell them any number of scientific breakthroughs have been made by scientists working together. Crick and Watson, Penzias and Wilson, Gilbert and Sullivan–“), bigotry against smokers, personal ads, where rivers begin, and the unrelenting cheer of Browning’s Pippa. In a nod to having a life outside of work, she weaves in her adventures at the local (trendy) cafe and her regular visits to the library.

While I understand this isn’t highbrow literature, it is one of those reads that make one feel delightfully entertained, resulting in a lingering feeling of happy once it’s over. It’s my go to read when I need something light and clever to cleanse my palate in between those nail-biters. In view of my recent review of The Trespasser, I absolutely give this five stars.

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Ghosts of Tsavo by Vered Ehsani

Read February 2017
Recommended for fans of the Parasol series
 ★     ★    1/2

An decent distraction read that will likely appeal to genre fans. I needed the distraction as I was waiting in the emergency room with my mom who had broken her arm (for those of you who know of my broken finger last year, you can tell I come by my grace honestly). So without damning it with faint praise, it worked for me, in this situation, where my normal critical thinking skills were otherwise occupied. That doesn’t mean I would have tolerated just anything, however. The tv in the E.R. room stayed ‘off.’

This is the first in a series staring Beatrice, investigator for a clandestine Society of Paranormals. The head of the society is a werewolf, so right away we’re keyed in to the dimensions of the occult. Beatrice is also haunted the ghost of her dead husband, Gideon. Alas, fortunes in the household have changed dramatically, and they must follow Father as he accepts a post in Africa. On the boat, Beatrice meets an effusive young woman. Initially off-putting with her refusal to bow to Victorian decorum, Beatrice realizes she might not have much opportunity for socializing out in the bush and should make the best of it.

“We hadn’t been formally introduced, but I was so startled that rather than ignore the person (the socially appropriate response to such an intrusive and offensive question), I turned to face a young woman with a pleasant, rosy countenance, a charmingly plump figure and dark-blue eyes.”

It’s light, it’s generally cute and ought to appeal to those who enjoy Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate. I feel like there’s might have been thing going on here with the Magical Negro and White Savior which was sadly unsurprising. Take Victorian attitudes about non-white races, and what is an author left with? Still, there’s also fierce lions, a robot and a gently developing love interest, so it has plenty to keep one distracted–although for me the love interest description became an irritation. Why must authors use ‘taunt’ and ‘smirk’ when they mean ‘tease?’ I counted at least four instances of ‘smirk’ after this one.
He smirked as if delighted to be the object of my attention.

It’s not particularly intense, which is nice for those times when one’s read is interrupted by emergency room staff. There is the feeling of the novella about it as the ending felt a bit rushed–but that could have been us getting ready to leave the E.R. It could have been the author juggling a bit much to wrap everything up, but at least there are subsequent books available.

Two and a half stars, rounding up for keeping my mind busy

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The Trespasser by Tana French

Read March 2017
Recommended for fans of police procedurals
All the stars

 

What does a star rating mean? Does it mean this is a work of greatness, that deserves to be read by every generation? That each word is empathetically chosen,* each sentence crafted, each paragraph placed with an eye to flow? That through metaphor, symbolism and theme it exposes the reader to some kind of truth? That it inspires a passionate response? That at this moment, I loved it? That it made me happy?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many stars I give The Trespasser. It wrung me out like a three-day fight, playing me like an old lover, an old enemy, hinting in exactly the right ways, saying the right words, pausing at the best movement, to achieve their ends. I found myself reading every word, but forcing myself to occasionally pause, to ~breathe~ to consciously unclench the tense muscles in my neck and arms. I found myself becoming generally, non-specifically angry, just like Antionette striding through the squad room, defensive, irritable, ready to lash out at annoyances. Did I enjoy the experience? Not particularly. It was not pleasurable to be in such an angry person’s head. Was I able to break free? Not particularly. Common sense was able kick in, three hours into reading and only an hour or two to go before bed. I knew there was no way on earth I’d be able to sleep with rage like that simmering below the the surface.

Does evoking strong emotion make it a good book?

The second evening I read, I had more time, a little less anxiety; I knew I’d be finishing far before bed. And I might of peeked at the ending, because French is one of the authors I can’t quite trust; she plays by different authorial rules. I haven’t forgotten her first book, In the Woods.

Does unpredictability make it a good book?

I did notice–as I often do in a French book–that I stuttered on her mechanisms, the details of her plotting. I realized–even as I read it–that a particular device was used to allow the plot to go the direction it did. It felt a little obvious, maybe even a little cheap, but like the old, old lover/friend/enemy who knows where each button is and how to best employ it, it didn’t matter. I still finished the story exhausted, relieved, drained.

Does obvious make it a bad book? Less good? I can’t even think answer these questions of scale. What am I comparing it to? The greatest books that exist? French’s best work? That paint-by-numbers mystery I read last week and said I ‘liked’? The words ‘like,’ ‘love,’ seem ridiculously weak. Did it pull me out of the world, move me to black and blue, into a night-long, bleary-eyed wheel of emotion?

All the stars.

*You can assume all italicized words are said with emphasis, hand-waving drama and occasionally some irritable sarcasm. Sometimes the hand-waving may come close to the side of your head if you are especially obstinate.

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The Black Ice by Michael Connelly. Eh, tepid.

Read March 2017
Recommended for fans of police detectives
 ★     ★    ★

Continuing on my quest for a new mystery series suitable for distraction, I hit up my librarian for the second book in Michael Connelly’s famous series centering on Detective Hieronymus Bosch. I ended up rather pleased with result, at least until the Mexican vacation. While there are moments that feel somewhat formulaic, Connelly puts enough flavor into it that I enjoyed the result.

Harry is spending Christmas alone and on-call, peaceably listening to the scanner as he makes his dinner. He hears a call go out for a homicide detective in his district and is surprised when his pager doesn’t go off. It turns out to be the body of a missing vice cop, Cal Moore. Harry had recently met with Cal looking for more information on a dead body carrying concealed bags of the newest street drug, Black Ice. Cal mentioned something about an internal investigation launched against him, had recently separated from his wife and had been by all accounts, working on a serious case of liver cirrhosis. Harry invites himself to the death scene, smooth talks his way in and promptly discovers enough to build suspicion that this is a murder, not a suicide. In about two minutes, Harry is warned off the case by both Internal Affairs and his boss, so of course, he’s even more suspicious. To keep Harry busy, his boss hands him all the open cases for a co-worker who’s decided to go off on disability due to booze. Instead of distracting him, they seem to lead him back to Cal.

Alright, so that’s enough of a summary to help me remember which one it is, because with a current twenty-one books in the Bosch series, it’s going to be easy for both me and Connelly to get them a little confused. Despite a number of standard noir elements (see Kemper’s hilarious review for The Black Echo), it felt engaging. Until the case leads Harry down to the border (now that I think about it, it must be pre-wall), when Connelly tries to pad his story with red herrings and conspiracies. Writing has definitely improved, but Connelly keeps Harry flat enough that the reader can’t tell exactly what he is thinking. Is Harry suspicious of that official? Why does he seemingly trust that one, or is he keeping him close as a potential suspect? It means the mystery isn’t allowed to grow naturally; instead, it’s like being in the fog and having it suddenly lift. It’s the difference between a dim room and sleight-of-hand.

But the good news is that I feel quite mentally stocked up on police detective type mysteries (except that most entertaining Peter Grant. I’ll make space for him any day). Time to make room for some non-fiction and sci-fi/fantasy.

 

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