Monday, August 28, 2017

Book Review: The Late Show by Michael Connelly

The End is a Gem

The Late Show introduces a new Michael Connelly character, Detective Renee Ballard who works the night shift in Hollywood, aka the Late Show.  Although a new character, Ballard immediately shows allegiance to the familiar Harry Bosch credo, everybody counts or nobody counts, as she commits herself to three cases that are likely to fall through the cracks if she drops them at the end of her shift.  And so, she doesn’t, putting her at odds with police policy and perhaps more importantly, department politics.

Ballard is well developed as the driven detective, bending the rules when they will and breaking them when she feels she must.  I’m not a big fan of either perfect protagonists who never fail or the heroes who are so flawed that it’s hard to know whether they succeeded or their demons did.  Ballard is perhaps a bit closer to the latter than I would prefer, as her dedication to the underdog approaches reckless obsession in places.  But I have to say, that made for excellent pacing as the plot moves from looks into her unusual and disquieting past to scenes of tense action, gut-wrenching in places.

There seem to be a few scenes where things occur somewhat conveniently – developing the initial lead on the case involving the assault on the prostitute is an example.  And in places, Ballard seems to be moving faster than teams of detectives working the same issue.  But overall, Connelly continues as the master of the police procedural.  The book is filled with the jargon and terminology of the field, giving the book a strong feel of authenticity, of being in the moment.

And, without giving a spoiler, all I can say is that the end is a gem.

So, overall, if you have ever enjoyed police procedural mysteries and particularly ones with strong, well-defined female leads, I don’t see how The Late Show could miss for you.  I know it was a hit with me.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book Review: Dead Close to Reality by Jennifer Bull

A tense, physical plot in a well-paced read

Dead Close to Reality is the story of Cora Winters, computer geek, and her attempts to unravel several mysterious deaths connected to a high-tech, virtual reality game.  In a generally well-paced story, somewhat grittier than a typical YA mystery/thriller, she battles virtual as well has real enemies in a constantly shifting landscape of friend and foe, dead and alive.

Dead Close to Reality bears many of the hallmarks of a YA mystery/thriller, e.g., young protagonist, largely missing or ineffectual adults (unless they are villains of course), little or no sex.  But this book goes a bit farther on violence than I consider typical.  That’s not to say it was graphic, but violence was frequent and often intense.  If you’re looking for a somewhat more ‘physical’ YA yarn, this one will fit nicely.

The pacing was good, although the author did repeat some themes a bit much.  Cora’s complaints about a ‘nuisance’ male friend, Derek, was an example.  But overall, the story flowed well and held my attention to the end.  As for character development, Cora represented a strong, intelligent, and independent female, all great qualities.  But there is a fine line between strong and headstrong for no reason, and Cora’s unwillingness to trust anyone became somewhat tedious.  If her self-reliance had succeeded, it might have made more sense.  But the author used frequent reversals of fortune to keep tension high, making me wish Cora had used more of her intellect to discover her real friends and develop better plans.  She was likeable as seat-of-the-pants gutsy and tough, but not much of a tactician or strategist.

The main factor that kept me from becoming fully immersed, however, was the lack of attention to making the story seem real, or at least near-future real, rather than just ignoring implausibility for plot convenience.  There was something like a half-dozen deaths connected to the game, but there was no public outcry.  There was no media frenzy.  There was hardly any police presence.  And at one point, 20-30 people were being held against their will in a cave, but an individual connected with law enforcement told Cora she had to hang on until he could get enough evidence for a conviction.  Huh?  Simply put, the story lacked the confluence of tragic coincidence or unforeseen circumstances that the best authors find to tie your stomach in a knot, rather than make you scratch your head.

Overall, the story has some holes and a heroine that could often use her smarts to better effect, but it’s still a tense, physical plot in a well-paced read.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Wildlife in the Neighborhood

Thought I’d take this opportunity to post a couple of pictures of wildlife in the neighborhood.

Wait, before you wear out that mouse or get carpal tunnel syndrome swiping phone and tablet screens, I didn’t mean that kind of wildlife.  I meant the hawks that have moved into the neighborhood.

I found two using a puddle on the sidewalk in front of my house as a birdbath.  They flew when I walked up, but after a few minutes on the porch, one returned to finish his grooming.  Of course, I knew they were in the area already, what with the sudden downturn in the rabbit population.  But other than occasionally seeing them flying overhead, this was my first close encounter.

And then, a day or two later walking a local park, I spotted this doe and three fawns.  Deer are quite common around town, but I’d never seen three fawns in one spot before.

Generally, I try to keep my posts related to books and writing, so this one’s going to be a bit of a challenge.  Let’s see?  I have it.

Soon to be released, Wildlife in the Neighborhood.  An erotic, romantic, comedy with John and Betty Hawke and their escapades with the Deer triplets – Josephine, Gertrude, and Babs.  

I’ll get to writing it straight away, as soon as I finish 10…no, 15…make that 20 more books in my chosen genre, Mystery/thriller/suspense. 

Happy writing,

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book Review: Liberty’s Last Stand by Stephen Coonts

As a Story, It’s Great; As a Precautionary Note, It’s Muddled

In Liberty’s Last Stand, President Barry Saetoro’s uses the cover of terrorist attacks to declare martial law, adjourn Congress, suspend the constitution, and jail his detractors.  He wants to be dictator of the United States.  There’s also a political message in the book, a precautionary note about liberal, left-wing politics.  That message, however, becomes extremely muddled, significantly detracting from an otherwise outstanding thriller.

Politics aside (if you can do that), this is an extremely well written story.  It grabbed me in the opening scenes with good action and interesting characters, and it never let go.  Series figures Jake Grafton and Tommy Carmellini are featured and right in character.  But we’re also introduced to a host of new players, and Coonts does an admirable job developing them and making them feel real.   Plot twists and suspense aren’t highlights of this book; it’s clear where it’s going from the outset.  But Coonts keeps the tension building and uses a few, well-placed misdirects.  There is one plot flaw, at least for me.  It was much too convenient the way Grafton organizes resistance that appears after the coup but claims he couldn’t have done the same beforehand.  And he’s Director of the CIA?  Really?

With the rather consistent references to left-wing politics and their devastating effect on the country, the thriller aspect of the novel almost takes a back seat to the politicking.  That’s unfortunate, not so much because it occurs, as many authors decry a variety of excesses of that harm society.  But the problem with the politics in this book was that the message got quite muddled because Saetoro wasn’t a left-wing politician.  He was a fascist.  Even with the varying and conflicting meanings of left and right-wing, Saetoro was a right-wing wolf in left-wing sheep’s clothing, complete with delusions of absolute power and a chosen race.  His claims to typical left-wing causes were a ruse.  To him, climate change was a means to keep the masses under his rule, not a way to save the planet.  And because of that, all the diatribes in the prose and dialog about left-wing politics, all the attacks on Saetoro’s label rather than the man, became tedious sermonizing.

Overall, it was an extremely well written, political thriller, but in the end, trying to tie the condemnation of left-wing politics to someone who wasn’t left-wing became too tiring.

Monday, August 7, 2017

If you could travel to any fictional book world…

Goodreads recently pushed out their latest ‘Ask an Author’ question:  If you could travel to any fictional book world, where would you go and what would you do there?

I guess you should thank them.  This way you can hear my thoughts on something a bit more traditional than the future of human-machine romance (Ah, Those Realistic, Unreal Partners) or worry about my calculations for reading 110,000 books (You Gotta Love the Optimism).

But the question is a simple one for any author.  I’d go to one of my own fictional worlds.  Why?  Well, look at some of my recent reads.  1803 Ireland?  I wouldn’t last a day without the Internet.  Marooned on a space station with a serial killer?  Do I need to explain why I’d pass on that one?  And all the worlds with vampires and werewolves?  Those species seem sort of respectable now, but I bet they’d regress to the creepy, scary versions if I visited.  Besides, why take a chance on an unknown setting when I have all the inside knowledge on my fictional worlds?

And I pick the Nevada desert in January from Mind in the Clouds (Mind in the Clouds).

It’s not even fictional.  I can snow-bird there.  OK, it’s not exactly tropical in January.  It’s even cold at night, but Nevada’s nights are all day in St. Louis.  

I just have to avoid a few square miles out on the Nevada Test and Training Range and I'll be just fine.  

What Goodreads?  I have to go to the exact setting of the book?  Forget it.  I’m staying on my laptop where all I have to worry about is carpal tunnel.

Image by Federal Aviation Administration, Public Domain,

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Book Review: A Case of Need by Michael Crichton

Not Crichton’s Best Work…Not Even Close

A Case of Need is the story of Dr. John Berry’s efforts to clear his fellow doctor and friend, Dr. Arthur Lee, after a teenager in his care dies from an illegal abortion.  My first thought for a title for this review was, ‘You’ll need a scorecard to follow all the characters in this somewhat preachy, meandering plot involving an obstinate doctor who wants to play detective but has no idea how the criminal justice system works.’  But that seemed a bit long.

As mentioned above, the story deals with abortion and the need to broaden/relax the laws.  So, depending on your political and religious leanings, you may find the story anywhere between contemporary and thought-provoking to depraved and immoral.  Be advised.

Beyond the ethical position it takes, there is a story here with some suspense and good pacing.  The suspense is provided by assembling a myriad of suspects and digging into the background of several witnesses, many of whom have their own secrets – drug use, infidelity, self-destructive behavior, deceitfulness.  And surprisingly, Berry, with no authority and only some vague background in the Military Police, unearths all of this information singlehandedly.  But after doing so, he doesn’t understand he has more than enough to raise reasonable doubt; then he doesn’t want to use this information because it’s too “dirty;” finally, he complains that the lawyer didn’t use it aggressively enough.  The only consistency I could find in Berry was that he always wanted to play it alone and as a result, the circumstances that pitted him against the world were of his own making.  That behavior doesn’t gain my empathy and tends to make my mind wander to other books I could be reading.

As a long-time Crichton fan, I thought I’d always be able to recommend one of his stories.  I was wrong.  My advice, look elsewhere for your reading entertainment.