Saturday, October 27, 2007

Making Money by Terry Pratchett


Making Money (Discworld Novels)on Amazon.com
Terry Pratchett
2007

I almost didn't include this book in my list of readings because I can't give it five stars. I mean, this is Terry Pratchett we are talking about here. THE Terry Pratchett. Normally reading a Discworld novel is a matter of holding on as you are pulled along. With Making Money, I had to make an effort to finish and even peeked at the last chapter. I won't be offended if someone can tell me that I have it all wrong.

Making Money is a sequel of sorts to Going Postal. Lord Vetinari "offers" Moist van Lipwig the Royal Mint as his next clean-up task after he successfully reformed the Ankh-Morpork Post Office. Making the job interesting are greedy heirs to the banking fortune and the fact that the chairman of the board is a dog, Mr. Fusspot. Moist's fiancee, the chain-smoking Adora Belle Dearheart who runs the Golem Trust, is also a prominent character as are the golems.

Basically, Moist is trying to introduce paper currency and get Ankh-Morpork off the gold standard. This is the bit I found plodding and somewhat akin to reading an economics text. Not as much sardonic humor as one might expect in this book. To be fair, I found myself skimming whole pages so I may have missed some of the subtle humor. There seems to be a lot of filler between the snort-out-loud parts. I found myself hoping that would be more opportunities for Moist and Adora to visit the Unseen University where you do get the weirdness we associate with Discworld (like the squid that appears in the hallway).

Making Money ends with the promise of another adventure for Moist. Having fixed the post office and mint, there is always the tax system to reform.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dexter in the Dark


Dexter in the Dark at Amazon.Com
Jeff Lindsay
2007

Our favorite serial killer - he only kills bad people - and star of his own television series, returns in his third and, for me, least satisfying novel. Lindsay attempts to explain Dexter's Dark Passenger (the force that guides him in his killing) in Stephen King terms. There is an original evil, referred to as IT, that has existed since the primeval ooze started life on earth. It floats around causing horrible things to happen and, incidentally, spawning Others, like the Dark Passenger that occupies Dexter. Having an outside force guiding Dexter rather than existing as an aspect of his personality makes Dexter less interesting as a serial killer. Your mileage might vary but personally I don't want Dexter to exist as a Stephen King/Dean Koontz clone.

In Dexter in the Dark, Dexter's Dark Passenger is scared out of him by the presence of IT. Without his dark Passenger Dexter is disconnected, unable to function and provide the insights on which his sister, police sergeant Deborah, has come to depend to solve cases. Burned corpses with heads replaced with the heads of ceramic bull are appearing. Dexter is being stalked by IT who recognizes that Dexter is occupied by an Other.

IT is also interested in Rita's children, Cody and Astor, who are also possessed of a Dark Passenger, or shadow, as Cody describes it. At the end of Dearly Devoted Dexter Rita and Dexter become engaged and, we learn, that her children have interests disturbingly similar to those of Dexter. This would have been a sufficiently satisfying plot - watching Dexter try to guide Cody and Astor the way Harry guided Dexter. Some of the more interesting parts of the story are when Dexter is "educating" the children.

The story runs out of energy toward the end and the forces of evil are thwarted in 8 pages.

If you are a Dexter fan as I am you will want to read this latest installment. Unfortunately I can't give it an enthusiastic endorsement.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Love in All the Wrong Places



Love in All the Wrong Places on Amazon
Frank Devlin
2004

This is the second female serial killer book a friend sent me. See HeartSick for the first. Strictly speaking, you might characterize her (the killer not my friend) as more of a facilitator but more on that later.

This is a police procedural of the type where the reader knows who's doing it and the fun is seeing how the police put the clues together. This may be a trickier technique for the author since the reader knows where the story is heading and the author has to make sure that there is a logical progression to the investigation. Devlin makes this work.

San Francisco Inspector Rose Burke and her partner Joshua Falkner investigate a death that has the appearance of a date rape where the victim killed her attacker in self defense. With a more politically sensitive murder in the press, they are pressured to set the case aside to provide assistance to the team investigating the murder of a Japanese tourist.

Other bodies appear and gradually Rose and Joshua begin to link the cases. Complicating the case is the fact that they don't know if the killer is a male of female. Rose and Joshua think they are looking for a female. The FBI thinks the cases are related to a male killer they have been tracking.

There are three alternating tracks working in this story. first there is the investigations. Second there is the story of Rose's disintegrating marriage and the mutual attraction between Rose and Joshua complicated by the shadow of her former partner who killed himself after a bad shooting. The implication being that he fired too quickly to protect Rose. Lastly there is the story of Helen, looking for true love but always disappointed resulting in someones death.

My only complaint about this book is mostly a nit pick. Devlin, like a lot of crime authors, interchanges the terms clip and magazine. They are not the same. See http://www.thegunzone.com/clips-mags.html. Some people might think this is a "so what issue" but maybe it is the librarian in me that says why not be accurate when it doesn't take much effort to do the research. Also, a 9mm turns into a .45 Vietnam era automatic in the space of a few pages.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

HeartSick



Heartsick on Amazon
Chelsea Cain
2007

A friend recently sent me two novels with female serial killers. I'm not sure what it means that she knew I would enjoy books about female serial killers but I am grateful that she brought both to my attention.

Chelsea Cain is a columnist for The Oregonian and the author of a parody of Nancy Drew, Confessions of a Teen Sleuth. She says on her website that the Green River Killer and its task force of police officers many of whom spent their career tracking down the killer was the inspiration for Heartsick.

Archie Sheridan lead the task force that, for ten years, tried to find the serial killer Gretchen Lowell. In the end, Gretchen captured Archie and tortured him for ten days. With Archie at the point of death Gretchen inexplicably saves his life and allows herself to be arrested. She saves herself from the death penalty by offering to reveal the locations of her victims but only to Archie. Archie's imprisonment and torture is spread out throughout the book, a technique I found effective. For one, it pulls you along. You want to find out what happened to Archie. Cain does a good job of describing the disintegration of his will. This technique also provides a counterpoint the the investigation in which Archie finds himself involved.

After two years on sick leave, Archie is brought back on active duty to head the task force seeking a serial killer who targets teen-aged girls. The higher-ups have added a complication to Archie's investigation. They tell him that a female reporter, Susan Ward, will be allowed to profile Archie and the investigation. They hope this will head off the negative press they got during the Gretchen Lowell investigation.

Readers will be reminded of Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Like Hannibal Lecter, Gretchen is a brilliant manipulator who appears in flashback and in prison. Will Graham who was nearly killed by Lector is brought out of retirement to track a serial killer. Archie Sheridan is brought out of sick leave to head a task force to find a serial killer. I don't want to give the impression that Heartsick is derivative. It isn't. Gretchen is seriously scary in her own right and Cain deftly builds the suspense. Her plot twists and weaving of Archie's and Susan's back stories with the current investigation make this a really great read.

Cain is working on a sequel that continues the story of Archie and Gretchen and I signed up for the newsletter to make sure I don't miss it. If you like this form of thriller, don't miss it.

OK, I'm going to include spoilers here. If you don't want to know some of the interesting twists, stop reading.

I mean it.

Turn back now.

Last chance.

I really liked the way Cain wrote the scenes where Gretchen was holding Archie prisoner and torturing him. The progression from resistance to acceptance was very well done. We see Archie gradually becoming a participant in his own torture and developing a weird sort of dependence on and even love of Gretchen. We also find that Gretchen had male accomplices, one of whom she murders in front of Archie. As I said earlier, Gretchen is really, really scary and well formed as a character.

In a plot complication that I didn't see coming that the current serial killer was one of Gretchen's followers and she has been manipulating events from the beginning. Her saving of Archie, not so inexplicable. She was planning to use him later. it looks like Gretchen is able to activate her male accomplices on their own killing sprees and she thinks that Archie has potential in that area. As for Susan Ward, she is a lot closer to the story than she knows.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Drive



Drive (at Amazon)
James Sallis
2005

I picked up Drive in a Books-A-Million in Port Charlotte, Florida when I was really desperate for something to read. The first sentence sold me:

Much later, as he sat with his back against an inside wall of a Motel 6 just north of Phoenix, watching the pool of blood lap toward him, Driver would wonder whether he had made a terrible mistake.
That is a great sentence. It is very visual, you can imagine where he is, and it ends with a dryly ironic twist that made me want to find out more about Driver and his story.

Driver is a movie stunt driver and occasional getaway driver. All he does is drive
I don't take part, I don't know anyone, I don't carry weapons. I drive.
Then a job goes bad and Driver ends up holding the money. He doesn't want the money and would be happy to give it to the "right" bad guy. Unfortunately it isn't as easy as you might think and Driver is on the run, wanting to get rid of the money, and get back to his life.

The story moves around in time. The opening scene reads like the end but actually happens near the beginning of the book. Sallis does an excellent job of fitting in Driver's back-story amongst the action and while there might not have a linear flow to the story you don't mind.

The story of a job gone bad is entertaining enough but it is Sallis' style of writing that pulled me along. He writes in compact, well crafted sentences. In this he reminds me of Ken Bruen. Over on the Killer Year blog Sean Chercover wrote
What the rest of us need a page to say, Ken says in one sentence. One perfect little sentence that packs more emotional wallop than all the ham-fisted heaping of words upon words.
This is the way I feel about James Sallis.

Sallis is the author of the Lew Griffin private detective stories set in New Orleans.

The Cleaner



The Cleaner
Brett Battles
2007

Jonathan Quinn is a free-lance cleaner working for a shadowy agency known as The Office. His job is to clean up after operations both in the literal sense as well as checking to see how an operation went. He is hired to go to Colorado to check on a fire that killed a man. Quinn is not informed of who the man was or why is is important. His job is to see if the fire was an accident as the authorities believe. Quinn determines that the fire covered up a murder. Quinn reports this to The Office and returns to his home in LA with his apprentice Nat. He doesn't report a heavy silver bracelet Nat finds in the ashes.

Not long after getting home, an assassin attempts to kill Quinn and Nat. They survive but find that The Office is under attack and its operatives are being picked off. Jonathan and Nat go on the run, looking for a place where the unknown enemy won't expect them to go. Super secret agency attacked, operative on the run isn't a new plot but Battles uses it to good effect to get the action going. I'm rather fond of this story line myself.

Quinn gathers clues and begins to uncover a conspiracy of with horrible implications. He appears to be a target but has no idea why.

If you like the Lee Child Reacher and Robert Ludlum Bourne stories then The Cleaner should appeal to you. As with lot of thrillers, you probably want to avoid examining details too carefully and just enjoy the ride. There were a couple of times when I started to think "huh? Why don't they just ..." but I was able to rein myself in.

The conspiracy is indeed horrible, the bad guys really unpleasant, and the plot plausible because you know there are nuts out there who would like to pull off something like it.

This is Brett Battles first novel and already he is working on a Jonathan Quinn sequel. I am putting it on my watch list.

Cold Granite (a Logan MacRae novel



Cold Granite
Stuart MacBride

If you like your detective stories hard, cold, wet, and pretty revolting at times then Cold Granite will appeal. This is Stuart MacBride's first novel in the Logan McRae series and it can be placed firmly in the Tartan Noir form of crime fiction.

Cold Granite begins at a crime scene on a cold, rainy, night in Aberdeen, Scotland, aka Granite City. It is the first day back on the job for Detective Sergeant Logan McRea after spending the last year recuperating from stab wounds. Logan expected to be eased back into the job but instead finds himself with a new boss and in the center of the investigation of the murder of a four-year old boy.

Other children disappear and the police feel pressure from the higher-ups, the public, and the press. Compounding the problem is the leak from within the department feeding information to a particularly annoying reporter who is despised equally by his co-workers and the police. Are all these crimes against children related? Is there a paedophile serial killer at work in Aberdeen?

The author is excellent in his descriptions and the reader won't have difficulty picturing the scenes. He is particularly vivid with the crime scenes and autopsies. He also seems to have taken great delight in describing in horrid detail the hording habits of a refuse collector nicknamed Roadkill. Think about it... it is worse than you just thought.

MacBride introduces multiple story lines and deftly manages them to satisfactory conclusions. I wouldn't say that there is anything clumsy or predictable in the way he handles the situations or in the way that Logan finds the truth.

This is an author I am going to continue to read.