Tag Archives: crime fiction

Ugh Book Review: The Rook by Steven James (Patrick Bowers Series)

The Rook Steven JamesThe Rook by Steven James

FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers has been investigating a series of arsons when the latest strike hits a research facility at a U.S. naval base. With his own criminology research being turned against him and one of the world’s most deadly devices missing, Bowers is caught up in a race against time to stop an international assassin before it’s too late.

I won’t get into the plot; it’s pretty much the above except with lots of symbolic rubbish thrown in to make this book feel weightier and more serious than the mediocre populist fiction that it is.

We’ve got all the tropes: the family member Patrick has a difficult relationship with (in this case his teenage stepdaughter), the criminal who doesn’t brush away spiders that land and crawl on him in his warehouse (get it?? he’s EEEEEVILL), the criminal mastermind who offers a lowlife the choice of walking through two doors (yes they are actual doors, I’m not messing with you guys) titled “Freedom” or “Pain” and the lowlife chooses “Pain” because he’s TWISTED kids, the repetitive, pseudo-menacing references to a grand master plot without any coherent criminal activities being described…Oh and let’s not forget the random migrant storyline, because what transforms a book into a “real” crime novel is some local, urban flavor so for Pinocchio to be a real boy you need to include a shoutout to the California setting.

It’s all so terribly cliched and imitative of other, somewhat better crime novels of the past 50 years. I appreciate that Steven James was trying – but if psychological darkness and the sense of menace and adrenaline contingent upon wide-ranging, shadowy criminal plots aren’t your strengths, for heaven’s sake stick to a more traditional crime-followed-by-investigation plot, and keep it low concept. Many male crime writers don’t seem to realize that you don’t need to have the government and/or the fate of the world involved in every plot.

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Book Review: Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars #2)

Mr Kiss and Tell Veronica Mars2004 cult classic TV show Veronica Mars is one of the great loves of my life (it’s one of the tags used enough to actually show up in my tag cloud to the right, for the record). So of course I pre-ordered show creator Rob Thomas and co-writer Jennifer Graham’s second book in the novel series as soon as it was available, knowing that, even if I didn’t like, it, I still wanted to support the series and the world.

In Mr. Kiss and Tell, a girl has been brutally raped and assaulted, and claims that an employee at the Neptune Grand, where she spent the evening before her assault, is the perpetrator. She plans to sue the hotel, which hires Veronica to find out the truth.

The second half of this (as was the case in the first book), is much faster-paced and tighter than the first half, but only my familiarity with and love for the characters gives life to what is unfortunately rather an underwhelming, stale world. Every single plot twist and turn, except perhaps one, is predictable – the book sets up the two or three central conflicts in the first one-third and then unrolls them in exactly the way you’d expect, without deviation. One of these subplots is the institutionalized corruption and injustice of the police force, and the series wants to be a dark, gritty take on this, a reflection of 21st-century realities, but the depth of world and character-building just isn’t there. What does that structure look like, how does corruption interact with itself, what are the internal processes and motivations of those involved? The subplot is brushed on, hinted at further development, but never really delved into.

Logan takes up a scant handful of pages sprinkled through the novel, reflective of his non-prioritized role in Veronica’s life, which is faithful to the original series but is puzzling and frustrating at this point. Rob Thomas and the writers assured fans by the events of the film that Veronica is deeply in love with Logan and committed – yet one of the same things that tore them apart in the TV series is still evident, and unlike in the series, the book doesn’t show it as a flaw: Veronica’s compulsive habit of prioritizing her cases over everything in her life.

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Top 5 Mystery Authors: Ngaio Marsh

death in a white tie
Ngaio Marsh
. Generally counted on one hand among the great dames of the English mystery’s golden age, Marsh is a New Zealand writer of the late 20th century. She wrote thirty-two crime novels over about fifty years, and most are considered classics of the genre. I’ve found her to be, at her best, the only mystery novelist I’ve read who is comparable to Christie within the style both wrote in – the sharpness of her characterizations of people both high and low in society, her good-humored approach to occasionally very dark and macabre stories, and most of all the atmosphere of her stories, such a warmly compelling blend of uncensored portrayal of evil and compassion and love for her characters. I should note, however, that I’ve also found her to be wildly uneven – I’ll pick up a Marsh novel and be wildly engrossed from the second page and come away hugely pleased – and the next week I’ll try another and be bored out of my mind.  Generally nothing in between, either – her novels are either fantastic or total duds as far as reading pleasure and quality. Unlike Christie, she chose only one hero for her novels, the deadpan, cultured Roderick Alleyn, whose mind it is a pleasure to be in, and whose famous artist wife is a significant character in several novels.

To read: Death in a White Tie

To avoid: Black As He’s Painted, which is both melodramatic and unfortunately tainted with quite a lot of the racism that was a fact of life in Marsh’s day

CoffeeGirl Reads: The Snowman

thesnowman book

 

I started my first Jo Nesbø, who is probably the greatest Nordic crime fiction writer alive now that Mankkell is no longer writing and Stieg Larsson is dead. Thus far it is very broody and suffused with a tone of depression that matches what the main character Harry Hole is experiencing, but the prose is slowly drawing me in, particularly this gem.

A young woman in the front row stood up unbidden, but without offering a smile. She was very attractive. Attractive without trying, thought Harry. Thin, almost wispy hair hung lifelessly down both sides of her face, which was finely chiseled and pale and wore the same serious, weary features Harry had seen on other stunning women who had become so used to being observed that they had stopped liking or disliking it. Katrine Bratt was dressed in a blue suit that underlined her feminity, but the thick black tights below the hem of her skirt and her practical winter boots invalidated any possible suspicions that she was playing it. She let her eyes run over the gathering, as if she had risen to see them and not vice versa.”

The Snowman, Jo Nesbø

Bring on the chills.

Book Review: A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

atrickofthelight

A Trick of the Light, Louise Penny

If you’re a mystery fan, hopefully you are already aware that there’s scarcely anyone who can touch Louise Penny in the art of modern mystery-writing. Jacqueline Winspear and P.D. James both write well-crafted, occasionally brilliant novels, but in her emotional astuteness, playful style, and superb plot-building, Penny is the only mystery novelist alive today who I find to be a worthy successor (at her best) to Agatha Christie. In particular, I think that Ms. Christie would have been pleased to read a writer who could not only craft chilling, dark plotlines that unflinchingly trace the lines of human evil, greed, and envy, but who also – as Christie almost invariably did – returns to a place of distinct hope at the end of each novel. Human beings are fallen creatures in Penny’s work, but they are also creatures of light, capable of forgiveness and of loving persistently in the face of a dark world. Penny always returns to characters at the end of the novel their humanity, no matter how dragged into the dirt they have necessarily been over the course of it, and for that, I love her.

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Spotlighting Great Book Reviews: Girl with a Dragon Tattoo

Girl-Dragon-Tattoo_300An oldie but a goodie – Victoria at Eve’s Alexandria reviews Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. Having read the book, I couldn’t agree more with the below –

“Perhaps that is what attracts readers to Larsson.  It is not his labyrinthine plotting or cunning, but his startling simplicity.  There is no mystery in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; there is just savage, terrifying, ordinary violence.  It is a revelation no more or less obvious than its other proposition,  that international corporations are exploitative and that financial markets are corrupt.  It is an idea we are familiar with, but it is a slumbering sort of idea.  It snoozes away in the back of our minds, and if prompted we repeat it without really confronting it.   The point Larsson makes is that we must confront it.  We are all like Blomkvist, in the midst of real crimes we spend our time reading crime novels.  We’re horrified by the fiction but ignorant of the realities (and thus implicated in its perpetuation).  Shame on us, he says, we should be more honest with ourselves – this isn’t fiction, its the real thing.  To write a novel with such a ‘message’ is both the height of irony and of moral outrage.” RT

Book Review – Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

girlwiththedragontattooThis will be a quick review as I don’t have much time today, but – COMPLETELY riveting. It’s a superbly well-done thriller that manages to surprise every time you think the twists have already happened. What really stands out however is the strength of the character development – Blomkvist and Salander are fascinating, charismatic, fully-sketched figures who leap off the page and feel readily identifiable despite the uniqueness (on Salander’s part anyway) of their upbringing and profession. It is at times also a very dark novel – a thread of fury at violent crimes against women runs through the novel and finds a voice occasionally in graphic depictions of said violence – but this is a thoroughly impressive and completely gripping novel with a strong sense of worldbuilding and the dialectics between good and evil. Well worth the read.

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