Friday, January 27, 2017

Book Review: Darktown by Thomas Mullen

A Solid Mystery Set in the Pre-Civil Rights South

Set in 1948 Atlanta, Darktown is the story of two of that city’s first black police officers (Boggs and Smith) who investigate the death of a young black woman when no else seemed to care.  In the process, they run afoul of Dunlow, a brutal, racist white officer, while Rakestraw, Dunlow’s young partner, seems caught in the middle in this confrontation.

Darktown’s depiction of the life of blacks at this time and place is, simply put, gut-wrenching.  White officers are free to abuse the law, and the excesses that are portrayed are difficult to read.  But it is, in my opinion, worth the emotional effort.  Layered on top of this taut look at race and the law is a murder mystery.  While the core of the mystery seemed a bit predictable, Mullen added enough twists in the details to make it a worthy addition to the historical setting. 

The pacing was good, although I have to admit to some difficulty getting started.  Early on, the book seemed to be disconnected anecdotes and loosely related asides.  But soon the threads came together and the tension ramped up considerably.  The final dozen or so chapters are particularly action-filled and tension-producing, with one exception.  Mullen added one scene that seems to mislead the reader, and it felt somewhat cheap in the midst of an excellent finish.  But otherwise, it was a fully, white-knuckle finale.

Overall, I'd suggest readers prepare themselves for some emotionally difficult reading and then, by all means, make the effort.  It's an excellent book.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

When 4 Comes Before 3

Every time I’m paging through my folders, navigating to the manuscript for In the Space of an Atom, I hesitate when I have to choose between the one named Book 3 and one named Book 4.  That’s because Atom was supposed to be book 4…and it won’t be.
In the Space of an Atom is currently listed on Kindle Scout (and if you haven’t already, you can nominate it here for a chance to win:  But win or lose in Kindle Scout, this book should be out in about 6-8 weeks.
Retroscape of a Future Mind, on the other hand, was supposed to be book 3, but it’s probably 4-5 months from release.  What happened?  Something I never expected.  My beta readers agreed on a concern!
Usually, I get one reader saying something like your villain made no impression on me, while another says, I absolutely hated that guy.  But on Retroscape, five of my six readers all made the same comment.  That alone, of course, wouldn’t necessarily delay release.  I mean, if they all said, ‘you know, Retroscape isn’t a word,’ which several did, I’d just go ahead because that’s intentional.  But their concern involved a rather central scene.  The scene’s so important, in fact, that I’m in the process of not only changing it, but the characters and some of the story.  Even the title will be changing.
So, what did I learn from this situation?  That’s easy.  If I don’t want to waste those few precious seconds finding my files, I shouldn’t name my folders with numbers…because the rest of this story is just part of writing.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Book Review: Too Close For Comfort (Knight & Culverhouse) by Adam Croft

Too Close Makes the Story Too Limited

Too Close for Comfort is the story of DS Wendy Knight’s investigation into a serial killer who, according to the title and the author’s synopsis is ‘too close for comfort.’

In general, the story is well paced.  Of course, if you are going to find a serial killer who is on a one-victim-per-day killing spree in 182 pages, you’ll have to keep moving.  The dialog was good.  For the American reading audience, you’ll need to do a few mental translations and brush up on British law enforcement acronyms, like DS.  I found most online, but was stumped by a few.  Nonetheless, the intent was always clear.

Character development could have used some work, as what we were told about people often seemed at odds with their behavior.  For example, in the first few pages, Knight’s reaction upon hearing she is part of a murder investigation seems inexplicable given what we were told of her aspirations and life history.  I also found some of the characters’ interactions strained.  The friction between Knight and Culverhouse, in particular, was much more than good-natured workplace ribbing, to the point of being dysfunctional and juvenile in places.  But for me, the greatest limitation in the book was the level of the mystery/suspense/tension.  It was low.  Knowing that the serial killer is close, and having a protagonist whose attachments you can count on one hand – and use only two of your fingers doing so – gives the author little latitude to create tension.

Overall, Too Close for Comfort is a quick read with good action and pacing, but you’ll need to deal with some predictability and some inconsistencies in character development.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Book Review: Everest Rising by M.D. Kambic

Everest Rising is the story of geophysicist James Von Kamburg and a team of scientists who travel to the Himalayas in an attempt to understand why Mt. Everest seems to be rising, among other unusual phenomena observed in the region.

The novel is noteworthy in its aim to combine science and philosophy, and in particular, metaphysics, in a single, thought-provoking, beginning-of-a-new-reality technothriller.  Consistent that aim, the author provides some highly descriptive text, particularly in the last third of the book, for the birth of that new age.  That writing task alone is daunting.  But while the author’s efforts to depict a new order are admirable, I found several distractions in his style.  First, he tends to overuse technical jargon and flowery prose.  People ‘cogitate’ rather than think and when someone dies, they are ‘losing synaptic energy.’  Some unique turns of a phrase make for great reading, but to go for them continually makes parts of this book ponderous.  Also, separate thoughts are often combined with one embedded in another with dashes – a writer’s tic for this author – making parsing of the sentences difficult.  Some additional respect for the simple, declarative sentence would have helped.

The characters of James Von Kamburg and Jared Griffon were well defined, if somewhat unidimensional.  James was the scientist blinded by a single passion and Jared was the win at all costs businessman.  Maggie, James’ wife, was more complex as she seemed in some ways to parallel the story’s theme – a student in science who turned to art and whose visions/dreams became primary elements in the story.  These three also formed something of a love triangle in a backstory that was extensive, yet seemed to add little to the primary plotline.

The objective of intertwining science and metaphysics is obviously ambitious, and for me, the book fell short, primarily because the plot became much more reliant on the metaphysics than the science.  It was, by the end, a new reality with new laws of physics triggered by a “mechanism buried since the beginning of time” (author’s synopsis).  There is a smattering of modern technology from fields like seismology, geology, geophysics, and the like, but these tools had virtually nothing to do with the story.  And while concepts like dark matter and transuranic elements are mentioned, there is no consistent scientific thread driving the narrative.  While I have little background for this claim, I believe the goals related to philosophy were more fully met.  If the story didn’t call into question the very meaning of existence, it at least significantly blurred the distinction between being alive and not.

In the end, Everest Rising rests heavily on an analogy between what is happening to the earth and what happens to living organisms, and whether this analogy is thought-provoking or only mildly entertaining fantasy probably depends on where you fall in the space between applied science and metaphysics.