Sunday, November 13, 2011

Book Report #36 - Branded Woman by Wade Miller

This is one of my many Hard Case Crime books that I've been collecting for years.  I only dip into them once in a while.  They are such at treat to read that I don't want to rush through them.

This story really showed its age.  There was some pretty stilted dialog and some rather narrow minded views of women.

This is a story of revenge, Cay Morgan is on her way to Mazatlan to kill a man.  She's a thief who got in the way of a rival know as The Trader.  He kidnapped her and branded her forehead with the letter 'T' as a warning to stay out of his business.  For five years she's been trying to track him down.

The story started off pretty nicely, exotic locale, independent, strong female character and sinister people around every corner.  Unfortunately the whole story unraveled at exactly page 152 where she instantly turns into a dish rag and wants to give everything up simply because she's finally found - A MAN!


No Way!


Up to this very moment she'd been smarter and tougher than anybody she'd come across but one roll in the hay and she loses every ounce of credibility!  It took me so completely out of the book that I couldn't enjoy the last 50 pages.  The book had a very satisfying ending but it just didn't matter because I lost all respect for Cay.

To be fair; this was written in 1952 so the stereotypes are not be much of a surprise; it's just that the scene on page 152 went completely against her character that it just blew it for me.

So, okay, here it is (I just have to share this) the last few paragraphs of chapter 21.

SPOILER ALERT!  If you still want to read the book (and you should, it's good) but don't want to know what I'm talking about, do not read beyond this point.

"Look at me," he commanded. She looked at him, and his face was a frightening sinewy mask.  "You've got something else now. Me.  I'm yours and you're mine.  I've taken you over and I've taken over your debts.  I'm not asking you to give up anything.  But from now on, I pay the bills for both of us."

"No, Walt!  Afterward, I can come to you,belong to you truly --"

His hand went out to the table, picked up his long-barreled revolver that lay there.  "This belongs to me.  So do you.  I'll handle you both."  He put the gun back and pulled her slowly to his chest, showing her his brutal strength.  "Do you believe me?"

She felt his mouth master her, felt her resolve melting into his reservoir of male power.  She cried desperately, "I want to believe you!  Oh, how much I want to believe you!".

"I'll show you."  He released her and went to the lanterns on the wall.  His eyes locked with hers, he said, "Now we can put out the lights, like normal people, for normal reasons."  She held out her arms to the darkness, and he found her.

"Beautiful," he said, "Any time -- in the light or in the dark -- you're the most beautiful woman in the world.  And you're mine."

"Yes," she said, "Yes, my darling."

I've needed you always, her trembling form implored him, and even as she clasped him to her she thought joyously, I belong to somebody, at last I belong to somebody!


Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Report #35 - Pacific Vortex by Clive Cussler

Oh my God - what fun!

Clive Cussler has a special place in my heart.  I read him a lot when I was a teenager (sadly a long time ago) and I grew out of his books in my mid 20's.  With my interest in pulp fiction it didn't take long to rediscover good 'ol Cussler who has not slowed down one bit.

This guy is in his 80's now and is only increasing his output by teaming up with all kinds of authors including his own son, Dirk.  The authors he's teamed up with are, Paul Kemprecos, Craig Dirgo, Jack Dubrul, Justin Scott and Grant Blackwood.

The basic story goes like this:  There is an area in the Pacific, north of Hawaii, called the Pacific Vortex, that has, for decades, has been known for ships disappearing with out a trace, just like the Bermuda Triangle.  Along comes a newly built American nuclear submarine and it too goes missing.  Our hero, Dirk Pitt, finds the captain's log capsule floating in the ocean and takes it directly to the US navy.  Thus begins the adventure and with the weight of the US navy the mystery of the Vortex is uncovered.

Pacific Vortex was the first Dirk Pitt adventure written by Cussler but was the sixth in publication order.  This is like American James Bond stuff!  Complete with an evil overlord in a hidden fortress of doom!  There are many tropes that Cussler uses that, like the James Bond films, if they are not present the book feels incomplete.  There is always a beautiful woman who falls, usually tragically, in love with Pitt, there is his best friend and partner Al Girodino and there are the cars.  Oh, the cars are wonderful and sadly the cars also come to tragic ends as well.  But not in this story  Here Pitt drives an AC Cobra into the sunset with nary a scratch on her.  Whew!

This was pure pulpy fun!  Knowing that it was written in the 70's and published in 1983 the story actually stands up very well.  There are no glaringly obsolete technologies mentioned and the story feels just like a James Bond movie.  If you like action, adventure, exotic locations, beautiful babe, humor and men being men - you really can't go wrong with this book.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book Report #34 - Perry Rhodan - Enterprise Stardust

Perry Rhodan, Book 1
K. H. Scheer & Clark Darlton

This is an interesting story in the world of publishing.  Begun in 1961 this German science fiction series has been in constant publication, written by a team of authors, for nearly 50 years!  To stagger the mind a bit more; it's published weekly!  The series is sold in instalments and many story arcs (or cycles as they are know in this series)  can range from 25 to 100 issues before the tale is told.

The universe of Perry Rhodan is revisionist; substituting Neil Armstrong as the first man on the moon with Perry Rhodan and his team.  Written a bit like the Doc Savage stories of the 30's Rhodan is the brains behind everything while his team members represent the best in his field.

In 1969 Ace Books began publishing English translations of the series in mass market paperbacks.  If you haunt used book stores, like I do, you'll see loads of these books still floating around.  The difficulty is in finding the early issues in publication order.  Ace published 118 books in the series before ending the project due to lack of sales.

I was able to find PDF editions of the books on-line and converted the first five books to EPUB and loaded them onto my new Kobo Vox.

This first story sets the stage in the series; Rhodan and his team crash land on the moon because some energy beam interfered with their remote controlled landing sequence.  Once safely on the surface Rhodan discovers another crash-landed ship.  This one is most definitely alien in origin.  They make first contact and discover they are in a position to help the aliens in exchange for advanced technology and Rhodan's desire to unite all the people of Earth, which would allow humans the opportunity to join a galaxy-spanning society filled with alien races united under one old (and failing) government.

You can see all the popular science fiction movies taking parts of this series and using them in their own stories.  First Contact, Galactic Empires, Humans discovering they are not alone - all of it is here.

Even more fun is the cheesy 60's and 70's attitudes that prevail and how 50 years of scientific progress renders these stories charmingly dated.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Bastard Mummy by Frank Zafiro - A short story review #1


Here's another example of why I like this author.  Zafiro has proven to me that he's a versatile author.

In this story he stays within the world of River City but delivers a classic locked-room whodunit.  Laced with a classic cast of characters, from the snooty academic to an ex-con, officers Elias and Finch try to solve the theft of a valuable mummy.

This was a nice light change of pace but never forgetting the grittiness of River City.  The ex-con, in particular, was written with enough understated menace that you could feel the author was taking it easy on the reader.  This story could easily have been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

Nicely done.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Book Report #33 - Bimbos of the Death Sun


Wow! What a fun ride. The title is a bit misleading but that's the point of it. This is actually a murder mystery set at a science fiction convention. And believe it or not, this fun little book won the 1988 Edgar Allan Poe award for best paperback original.

Anybody who's been to a con will appreciate this story. What makes it fun is the fact that it's set in the 1980's (the book having been published in 1988.) with all of the "high tech" of the day.  The cast of characters, however are still among us - they are timeless and McCrumb treats the community with respect.

The story is very funny, in a self-deprecation way but the characters jump off the page which made this story a nice bit of fresh air.

I came to this book via a podcast that I recently found.  At some point Seth Harwood made a shout out to the Flash Pulp podcast.  Curious, I found it and started to listen to a few shows.  These people put out original flash (read short) pulp fiction and pepper the podcast with the occasional "behind the scenes" show.  It was during one of these shows that the hosts mentioned the new book club they've created and how Bimbos was to be the first read.

It wasn't easy to find a paper copy that I could get through the mail in time to read before the deadline of the book club.  So on a lark I did a search on the Kobo website and found it as a ebook!  I threw the book on my iPhone and read it in no time. (This ebook thing is really going to open up the back catalogs in a few years.  It's gonna be great!)

For anyone who's even a little bit geeky this book would be fun.  If you've ever been to a con (think the Calgary Comic Expo) and the book will jump right into your imagination.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Magazine Review #3 - Asimov's, August 2008

August 2008

I've got to say that all in all this issue really did not deliver on the promise of Science Fiction.  The cover art is not tied to any of the stories within. 

I'm getting the feeling that Asimov's might not be the magazine for me since I like my Science Fiction with space ships.  I don't have to be in space but I like knowing that the ability to get out there is possible.  Only one of these stories satisfied that need but only in a very limited way.

Lagos by Matthew Johnson: This was an interesting story.  I liked it.  It took the whole third world call-center industry to a whole new level.  Plus there is the recurring theme of the man-machine interface that has been cropping up a lot in SF lately.  It was a satisfying read.  I really felt the desperation of the main characters.

Old Man Waiting by Robert Reed:   I'm confused.

I cannot figure out why this story is considered Science Fiction.The story goes like this: some dude spots an old man sitting on a park bench, he decides the old guy looks queer and DECIDES he's an alien.

And SPOILER ALERT - he's exactly what he seems to be - an old man with Alzheimer's. How does this qualify for publication in this magazine?

Pass on this one.

Lucy by J Chris Rock:

Set in the near future, two engineers, working from their Hell's Kitchen apartment, on a robotic probe on Titan find that neighbourhood has an influence on their mission.

Not a bad story but it's set so near in the future that there is very little sense of wonder in the story. The descriptions of the Titan environment were satisfying but I couldn't help thinking that this particular mission is only a matter of time and forgone.

I'd call it a piece of literary fiction with a splash of science thrown in before I'd call it SF.

Divining Light by Ted Kosmatka:This story started in a deep, dark noir aesthetic. But soon it turned into an egghead quantum physics story that completely lost me in the end. By the time the story ended I was completely baffled.

Perhaps that was the intention, after all, a couple of the supporting characters were as confused as I was.

It's a lot like the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment.

Yea, this one sailed completely over my head.

Wat You Are About to See by Jack Skillingstead:  This was a strange little story: part Area 51, part Guantanamo Bay and part Twilight Zone. It deals with an alien interrogation and the nature of choices and possibilities.

The story was very "televisual" which I could see if it was being filmed but in the case of the written word I'm not sure the visual of a 7-11 in the desert was necessary. It was still a moving tale which made me hope the best decision would be made.

Wilmer or Wesley by Carol Emshwiller:  Another head-scratch.  Think - monkey escapes from the zoo.  The story is from the point of view of the monkey.  Fair enough but the monkey is not a monkey; he seems to be human.  Okay.  Why is he in a zoo?  Don't know.  What is so different about him?  Never told.  Why is it the citizens don't recognize him as anything else but human?  Still not let in on that detail.

The main character does not know why he's in captivity and the author has deemed it unnecessary to explain it to the reader.  Fair enough if you are trying to convey what it must feel like to be a zoo animal.  But once again I really don't feel like I've been told an SF story.

Radio Station St. Jack by Neal Barrett, Jr.:  What a great title.  This was another disappointment for me.  Not because it was poorly written but mostly because it was not what I expected.  I think I can be forgiven for thinking that it would have something to do with the cover art but really it was a western.  Okay, sure it was set in a post-apocalypse world so it's closer to a Mad Max setting but it just read like a western with all the stilted dialog that comes with it.

Was it good?  Well, it was okay.  The end gave it some gravity for me; it was more about how a small town survives in a world without law and order.  We are shown that we are only one war away from the Wild West.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Magazine Review #2 - Analog - December 2011

December 2011

Still on a short story kick; I received the latest issue of Analog in the mail just when I finished reading Amazing Stories.  And look who has a story in this issue - that's right - Kristine Kathryn Rusch!

1- Ray of Light by Brad R. Torgersen:  This was a fantastic story!  Man is trying to survive at the bottom of the ocean after an alien attack triggers a new ice age!  This was a very believable story told without any literary fluff; just a straight-ahead, nuts-and-bolts, hopeful story.  I loved it.

2- Turning it Off by Susan Forest:  An interesting little tale about teen-age suburban life in a time when computer controlled safety devices are implanted in everything; including humans.  What a fun idea!  If Steve Jobs were still alive I'm sure he'd try to implant the iPod in people.  Wait maybe he already has that on a drawing board somewhere at Apple HQ.  Hmm.

3- Freudian Slipstream by Brad Aiken:  Interstellar travel is possible by using hibernation and an AI interface to keep a person's mind active during flight.  In this story a problem is solved en route to a new planet just about perfect for human habitation.  I loved the pacing of this story; very relaxed and confident.

4- Hidden by Kyle KirklandSet in a time after a drug was developed and used on children to give them heightened intelligence it's discovered that these same children become insane in adult life.  Now one of these people has taken over a secret weapons lab and is threatening to set off the prototype bomb.  We follow Robinson as he negotiates with him.  I'd call this story more of a thriller than a Science Fiction story, sure there's some super weapon and a"brain" drug but that's as far as the SF is pushed.  Was it a good story?  You bet.

5- Art for Splendor's Sake by Dave Creek:  I don't know.  I feel that I was missing something when I read this story.  Earth Unity Ambassador Chanda Kasmira is overseeing a complex evacuation of the planet Splendor an ironically named planet who's description brings to mind the Rocky Mountains in February.  The planet is under threat from a fast-approaching nebula when along comes an artist . . .

By the end the artist reveals his work and Kasmira's reaction left me feeling like I missed the point of the story.  After finding Mr. Creek's website I discovered that this is the seventh or eighth story in a series so now I understand my feeling of disconnection.

The story was crisp and well paced.  It felt like it could have fit well in the Star Wars universe: I got the feeling of a much larger world out there from the story that I read.  I'm looking forward to reading more from him.  I also have over three years worth of back issues to read and I know that he has many stories buried in there.

The Impossibles by Kristine Kathryn Rusch:  Here she is again!  My favorite modern SF author with another fresh take on life in the future.  In this story we follow Kerrie, a new lawyer, two years on the job, working for the Earth Alliance Inter Species Court for the First District.  She's a public defender working off her student loans when the case of a lifetime comes to her.

Set in Rusch's Retrieval Artist universe the story felt like it was part of a larger world to me but it was such a satisfying read on it's own that I didn't get the same feeling of having missed something like I did reading Art for Splendor's Sake earlier in this issue.

Not for Ourselves Alone by Charles E. Gannon:  What a fantastic story!  Part alien invasion, part military SF with a nod to The Cold Equations.  A seemingly unstoppable alien invasion force is on its way to Earth; after attacking a Jupiter orbital space station the survivors find a weakness but can they get the message back to Earth in time.  A fantastic Old-Time space opera tale.

Conclusion - this is issue is well worth a read.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Magazine Review #1 - Amazing Stories, May 1990

May 1990

In the field of Science Fiction Amazing Stories looms large.  It's been around since the 1920's.  Although it's no longer in publication today there are still loads of back issues floating around in used book stores and garage sales.  The copy I have is in near perfect condition.  The pages have yellowed but I don't think this copy has ever been read.

I decided to read this as a bit of a break from the last novel, which was ponderous to me.  So some short stories in the SF genre seemed the ticket to refresh my brain.

One of my favorite authors in the field is Kristine Kathryn Rusch and she has a story in this issue, which, I'm sure, is the reason I bought it.

Reading it also gives a glimpse as to where SF was 20 years ago, a bit of a time capsule really.

1- Giant, Giant Steps by Robert Frazier:  Not a bad story.  Set in Chicago during the Second Great Depression.  The story revolves around Marty and his friend Rita.  Marty works as a tele-soldier fighting a distant war via a computer connection to a "Stiff" a robot he controls.  To work the robot his consciousness is transferred directly to it therefore he still runs the risk of dying.

Music has all but vanished from society, when Marty leaves work he goes to his local bar where he and Rita spend time together. On the wall the bartender displays an old relic -  a Saxophone.

While on a mission Marty tries to save a platoon-mate.  A transfer of abilities occurs and Marty can now hear things like never before.  He can hear music in nearly every sound.

Back at the bar he picks up the Sax.

2- Computer Portrait by Jayge Carr:  Again: not a bad story.  This one also delves into differing realities.  An artist living in the loft of an abandoned building is tormented by his computer.  It watches him all the time and critiques his paintings while in progress; estimating and predicting the final product and just how much money he can expect to make from them.

His creativity is in jeopardy because of it.

He turns the computer off and starts to meet interesting and seemingly sinister people who move into the building.

We discover that his life is very much being controlled not by the computer but by the people behind it.

The computer is never really off.

3- The Animist by Bruce Boston:  I didn't read this story.  As soon as I was dealing with another "altered reality" story I gave up.  He lost me when the character was looking for his shoes and found one on top of his stereo.

Stories where reality is doubted I find tiring.

4- Pins by Joe Clifford Faust: This was a fun story!  Take a pinball machine and cross it with Fight Club and you'll have an idea of how this story feels.

Building on the human/machine interface that this issue seems to be about this story takes a fresh approach is very entertaining.  It has a noir, Blade Runner underground setting where a stranger is challenged to take on a pinball machine with an AI built into it.

Strange and fun.

5- Saint Willibald's Dragon by Esther M. Friesner:   I skipped this one too.  Science Fiction and Fantasy are often grouped together but, in my mind, they are very different genres.  My tastes don't run to fantasy and I'm always disappointed to find such a story in an SF magazine.

No offense to Ms. Friesner.

Fatal Disc Error by George Alec Effinger:  This was an interesting story.  What happens to an Artificial Intelligence when it dies?  Again this story goes in and out of all kinds of "realities" as the AI dies due to a fire where it's servers are kept.

A Time for Every Purpose by Kristine Kathryn Rusch:  The best story of this issue.  Rusch is one of my favorite authors.  She does loads of short fiction and she crosses from SF to Fantasy to Romance and Mystery.  I first read her SF short fiction but also found her mystery fiction to be first rate.  Her voice is fresh and her stories are always clear and believable.

This is a "time cop" story.  The main character is traveling through time trying to prevent a serial killer from committing his first murder.

The story weaves back and forth and plays with history as we know it.  It was a first rate read.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Report #32 - Beneath A Weeping Sky


Zafiro had me at page one, up until now.

It's not really his fault; the book is written very well and there is a greater ease to his writing.  You can see that he is growing as an author - he's telling a story much more than in previous books where it felt like he was explaining the story.  By the end of the book he's allowing his characters to make a joke without telling us that he's making a joke.

It took me weeks to read the novel.  I just kept putting it down and leaving it for days at a time because it suffered from two major flaws.

Flaw #1 - it was too damn long.  This thing weighs in at 460 pages!  I am of the mind that if you can't tell a story (especially a cop story) in 300 pages or less you're not trying, or your editor took the week off, or you're just trying to up your page count.  Either way I found myself wishing the author would just get to the point.  Even the denouement went on for over 30 pages!

I know that fiction readers like a longer books, it makes them feel like they are getting a better deal on the purchase price of the book.  But for me, the opposite is true; the thinner the book the more "potent" the story.  Why mess around and fill the book with fluff?  Tell me the story, don't tell me how the house was furnished - I don't care!

Flaw #2 - the story was about a serial rapist.  No different than a serial killer - the story is about a crazy guy.  I don't get crazy and I don't care about crazy.  Why?  Because they're C-R-A-Z-Y.  It's boring.  I'd much rather read about a sane person doing terrible things for a reason.  Nut-jobs with mommy issues are just not that interesting to me.  

To me.

Was it well written? Absolutely
Was it interesting?  Not to me but loads of people love this stuff.

What would have made it better?  250 pages less.

Had the book been shorter, much shorter, the story would not have dragged on and I would have been able to suspend my disinterest of crazy people.  I would have liked it a whole lot more.

Sorry Frank.

NOTE - Zafiro has three collections of short stories that I will purchase as ebooks.  I am by no means down on Zafiro just this novel.  It was a short story that drew me to his work in the first place.  I'm looking forward to reading more of his short work.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Deadly Storm

I'm a big fan of the ABC TV show, Castle.  I've bought the three novels published so far.  (I've read the first two)

Today I read the first graphic novel from the show.  This is written by Brian Michael Bendis and is an "adaptation" of Castle's first novel published before the events of the TV show.

I'm a huge fan of Nathan Fillion and I'm thrilled that his show is doing so well. 

Because I like the show I'm a sucker for all the spin-off merchandise.

I liked the graphic novel.  There was action, sexy women and humor, exactly what you'd expect from Richard Castle.

The producers of the show are doing a great job breaking down the fourth wall by giving us these books.

What fun.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Report #31 - Jack Wakes Up


I've been following Mr. Harwood's career for a long time.  He's very big in the podcast world and has made this novel (and others) available as an audio download.

The coolest thing about a podcast novel is that it is a complete throw back to the early days of radio.  Harwood himself  reads one chapter at a time and it builds into a serialized story.  When the novel was first podcasted I'd have to wait a week between chapters.  Now you can listen to the whole thing as quickly as you like.

The reason he put it out on the Internet, free for anybody to listen to, was to generate interest and to build a fan base.  By having hard numbers (the amount of times the book was downloaded) he could show a publisher that he had a number of fans who would also turn into buyers of his book.

It worked and Jack Wakes Up was published by Three Rivers Press, in 2008, as a paperback original.

I always knew I wanted to read the book more than I wanted to listen to it.  So I only listened to the first third and waited for the book to be published.  Then I bought it as soon as it was available - then it sat on my shelf for nearly three years - and now I've read it!

It was a very polished and quickly paced first effort.  This guy has got some chops. Harwood can certainly take you into the darkest, seediest, and scariest corners of San Francisco.  This is my kind of stuff.  

The story is about a drug buy.  A big drug buy.  So you know there are going to be some scary characters all over the place.

The book reads like an action movie and some of the scenes, especially in the clubs, I could feel the music thudding in my chest.  Harwood can write a tough guy like the best of them.  His action sequences are thrilling to read.

Did I like the book? Oh, yea, baby!

I only had one bit of trouble with the book.

Palms is an ex-action hero movie star, a one hit wonder.  His career is all but over when a friend calls him up to help smooth over the drug transaction.  Circumstances change early in the book and Palms has to complete the task on his own. Jack's a smart guy but what I had trouble understanding was how he had the experience to pull off a buy that was going so dangerously wrong.  Maybe I missed something early on in the book (and that's very likely) but any rational person would have walked away.  Although he was in financial difficulty I never felt like that was the only motivation for Jack.

With that bit of negative news assided I can tell you that Harwood had my heart racing a few times through the book.  Visit this guy at his website, download one of his free audio novels and give it a try.  If you like crime fiction, suspense and action you can't go wrong with this first effort.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Report #30 - Heroes Often Fail


What a difference a second book makes.  

This guy Zafiro, gave us a pretty standard police procedural with his first book Under A Raging MoonHeroes Often Fail picks up about six months to a year after the events of the first novel.  Many of the same characters are back with the introduction of some new ones.  

The stakes are higher in this story; the kidnapping of a little girl, right off the street, in broad daylight!  Every parent's nightmare.

I thought I was going to get pretty much the same kind of story as the first novel; a standard and safe account of the men in blue of the River City Police Department.  With this second showing Zafiro shows us that he's not afraid to take us in a darker direction.  I got the feeling that this was his intention all along; get us hooked and then show us just how ugly the world can be.

This is by no means a splatter book, full of senseless violence or depravity (Like the cesspool Patterson plays in.) No, it is suspense in pure form; there are only two criminal acts in the primary plot line and Zafiro never exploits either of these crimes.  They are shocking because they happened but he does not go into any detail at all leaving the reader to his imagination.  Which feels like a nod, from the author to the reader, that he expects you to figure it out yourself.  It's almost as if he won't sink to the level of his antagonists; he's just telling the story to an intelligent person.  

I liked this book a lot.  It was entertaining, with quick chapters that move the story along like a TV show.  It never slowed down in the middle third, like a lot of books do.  What struck me the most was the growth of the author himself.  He could have played it safe and had the story turn out like a TV show, but this is literature, you can get away with so much more; you're not trying to please the advertisers, the book has already been paid for so you can tell the story any way you think is best.  Zafiro took a turn into Noir and Hard Boiled fiction, something I am grateful for.

This is an excellent series so far and I'm looking forward to the third book Beneath A Weeping Sky.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Report #29 - Under a Raging Moon


Zafiro's first book.  If you like Ed McBain this is the police procedural for you.  In the fictional city of River City the novel follows the lives of the RCPD.  River City is loosely based on Spokane, WA, Zafiro's home town.
The main thrust of the book is the apprehension of an armed robber who is holding up convenience stores to fund his drug habit.  Each robbery gets more and more violent leading to the exciting conclusion of the novel.  As police procedurals go, this is a good one, Zafiro takes us into the mundane world of a uniformed cop.  Mundane with the ever present possibility that a routine event can turn deadly.

Being a first novel I found it a bit clunky at first, or perhaps it was just me not getting into the rhythm of his voice, but by the middle third the story really clicked along.  I found myself flipping pages at a steady rate; I really ate up the book.  Once I got to know the characters I began to have strong feelings for each one.  Not knowing this author I really had a sense of dread for the safety of each officer of the RCPD.

For this type of story the conclusion was never in any doubt but Zafiro proved that he's not afraid to mix up the story or to have a character come to a sticky end.  This book took few chances but the chances Zafiro took were a definite surprise.

For that reason I'm looking forward to his next book:  Heroes Often Fail.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Report #28 - Killing Floor

Killing Floor
Lee Child

 This is the first book in the Jack Reacher series.  Reacher is an ex-army MP who after being honorably discharged he decides he wants to live off-gird; traveling all over the United States paying his way with cash and barely leaving a paper trail.

This is the first book in the series (I've read one other) and takes place in the South near Atlanta.  There are a couple plot stretches that took me out of the story to say, "Really?"  Reacher gets off a Greyhound bus near a small town, he walks into town looking to dig up some history on an old blues singer he's a fan of.  While walking he's picked up by the police and accused of murder.

It doesn't take long to discover he's not the killer and somehow he becomes involved in the investigation.  He has experience as an MP but there is no way any police investigation would allow the direct involvement of a civilian.  That was the first plot point that made me say, "Really?"  The second came when we find out who WAS killed.

Most of the story involves Reacher driving from place to place occasionally killing bad guys in nasty ways and never, ever being arrested for it.  He even shows one of the cops, who he's now sleeping with, a trunk full of bodies that he created and she doesn't even react to it.

The book was over 500 pages, was boring and far-fetched.


No more Reacher for me.

Book Report #27 - Kobayashi Maru

Hmm... been a while.

The strike/lock out sure took their toll; coping with the return to work and all the backed up mail.

I've also just returned from vacation.

Yes... been a while

a Star Trek: Enterprise novel
Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin

This is not a test.

Up to now, in the Start Trek universe, the Kobayashi Maru is a training exercise meant to train cadets in a no-win situation.  Since Enterprise takes place before the creation of the Federation of Planets it is a real plot line for the crew of the NX-01.

The basic plot is; the Romulans have developed a weapon that allows them to take over the functions of a ship via telepresence.  With this new technology they capture the Kobayashi Maru and lure the Enterprise into a trap.  When the Enterprise attempts a rescue the Romulans attack using Klingon ships that they also control.

A secondary plot line involves a spy mission with Trip Tucker disguised as a Romulan scientist.

During the TV series, I really liked the romantic involvement with Trip and T'Pol so I was glad to read more about that relationship in this book.

I have to say that all these tie-in books are mostly written to fans.  Since I am a fan - I liked the book.  It felt like an episode of the show that was never broadcast; there is some continuation from a previous book (which I now own) and an overall arc that will take place over several more books.  It can certainly be read as a stand-alone, much like any TV show but the true enjoyment comes from reading all the books in the series

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Report #26 of 26 - Up Till Now


Every year I take the girls to the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo.  It's the annual geek nirvana that is held on the Stampede Grounds and has been getting steadily bigger each and ever year.

We've either met or heard speak, all kinds of celebrities. It's an opportunity to get to know our favorite actors a bit better and to be exposed to all kinds of ideas and products from the world of comics, science fiction, TV and movies.

This year William Shatner was the guest of honor.  Yes, THE William Shatner - Captain Kirk, T.J. Hooker and Denny Crane - THAT William Shatner.  He was wonderful.

To see Shatner you'd put him in his 60's, he's full of energy and enthusiasm, he's living life to the fullest with no plans on stopping.  The inspiring part of this man is that he's not in his 60's, no, he's in his 80's!!  Your read that right, born March 22nd 1931 - he's 80.

Knowing I'd get a chance to see the man himself, I dusted off his autobiography and gave it a read.  I've grown up watching this guy on TV and one of the things I've enjoyed about seeing him is he always reminded me of my dad.  Not that their characters are the same but I always saw a resemblance in his features that often made me think he could be a brother to my old man.

Through this book I learned that Shatner has lead a varied and interesting life.  He has enjoyed more highs and suffered more lows than most regular people.  Since childhood he wanted to be a working actor, he wanted to make a good enough living to support a family and pay a mortgage.  He managed to do that but, in order to make it happen, he had to throw himself into his work to the exclusion of everything else.

Chapter after chapter I saw how slowly Shatner came to realize that his obsession with becoming a star was destroying everything else.  And then I was able to see him grow through success and tragedy.  The best gift of the book is learning Shatner's philosophy on life and living.  Through everything, he suggests, to never lose your sense of wonder and adventure and to embrace saying "yes" to opportunities because it's those opportunities that sometimes pay off right away or pay you back years afterwards.

Plus the book is a hoot to read; each chapter is long but they are all laid out in the form of a conversation.  Shatner's humor springs through at the strangest of times, he actually interrupts his paragraphs with all kinds of asides.  At first it's a bit jarring but I quickly got into the rhythm of his writing and enjoyed his narration very much.

Like any autobiography the book is best read if you are a fan but there is a lot to get out of the book if you are.  Shatner is not Kirk but Shatner is very close to being Denny Crane.

Live life and have fun doing it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Book Report #25 of 26 - L.A. Noire

Various Authors

Because this is a project tied in to a video game some explanation is needed.  L.A. Noire the game, is the newest title by Rock Star.  The game and the stories from the collection are set in post WWII Los Angeles, 1946 - 1947.  Think of all those Fedoras and that Detroit steel when Hollywood was as corrupt as any mafia family.

The collection has eight stories from the biggest names in crime fiction today.  Every story is set in the same time period as the game, some use characters right out of the game others just use the environment to inspire the narrative.

Each story has it's own art work to support it and I'll share them here.

STORY ONE: The Girl by Megan Abbott.

This was a drug addled story of a nearly out of control Hollywood party.  While reading I was screaming at June to just to the right thing.  There is loads of illicit behaviour going on that is only hinted at in the story which I found to be very effective, I can imagine quite a bit.  Abbott can write raunchy like no one else.

STORY TWO: See The Woman by Lawrence Block

One of my favorite authors Block is not stranger to the intimate crime story.  It's about two LAPD cops who have to deal with a recurring domestic disturbance.  It's tragic in the original problem and in the solution to it.  Dark, dark, dark.  Fantastic.

STORY THREE: Naked Angel by Joe R. Lansdale

This was a nice straight-ahead police detection story.  It relied a bit too much on the cop's hunches but in the end they all made sense.

I'd read more from Lansdale.

STORY FOUR: Black Dahlia & White Rose by Joyce Carol Oats

This was a well thought out retelling of the Black Dahlia murder of 1947.  (Just imagine a world without Marilyn Monroe!)

STORY FIVE: School for Murder by Francine Prose

A veteran from the war is having trouble finding his motivation in the production of a new movie.  The director helps him out by sending him to acting class.  All the clues are there.

Loved this one.

STORY SIX: What's In a Name by Jonathan Santlofer

Oh, ick.  A mentally deranged sociopath serial killer story.  I hate stories about insane people - they make no sense, I can't understand them and they usually do terrible things to people or their bodies.  Yuck.

Obviously it was well written because I got the above reaction.  But this is a side of crime fiction that I usually try to avoid.

STORY SEVEN: Hell of an Affair by Duane Swierczynski

My favorite author!  Swierczynski can twist a story like no other.  This is a straight-up story about a straight-up working Joe who meets a stunning woman and the start a whirlwind affair.  Even though he knows he should question her motivation he just goes along with it all.

The story does not end like you'd expect, believe me, just when he's getting a grip on the situation ...

STORY EIGHT: Postwar Boom by Andrew Vachss

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book Report #24 of 26


Probably the most literate book I've read in a while.  Vachss is a highly regarded figure in the world of crime fiction; he certainly has a very interesting bio.

The book follows a group of six homeless men on the streets of New York.  Some are there by circumstance others are there because they cannot function in society and one (the narrator) is there by choice.  Together they survive the streets with each person bringing his personal skill to the group.

Most of the story centers around Ho who used to be a highly regarded sensei.  Ho believes he is responsible for the death of his most beloved student and walks away from his old life to atone for his part in her death.

One of the characters in the book has created a library of thousands of books inside an abandoned building.  When he discovers the same building is scheduled to be demolished the group decides to help by moving the library to a safe location.

For most of the story we discover how each member of the group became homeless and how they all cope from day to day.  I found the aspects of survival on the streets riveting and the novel brings to light how easy and random the journey to homelessness can be.  They are not all crazy, they are all not off their meds, though some are.  By choice or by circumstance survival becomes a new set of skills that one must learn.

The plot of the book is pretty much secondary to the story of these six people.  Through the mission of moving the library many of the characters find a new direction to his life.  And like real life - it's messy.

This is an excellent, excellent book.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Report #23 of 26


Finally!  A novel where we are not constantly hearing about Sunny Randa's struggles to be an independent "female" PI.  Plus, there is much less about Sunny's struggles with her emotions regarding her ex-husband.  Don't get me wrong - she's still struggling with her emotions regarding her ex-husband - but it's not getting in the way of the story, for a change.

Straight up detecting, good "guy" trying to put the bad guy away.

Sunny Randal is more self assured and I think so was Parker when he wrote it.

This was the best one so far.  This being the third installment in the series.

The next book is Melancholy Baby

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book Report #22 of 26

Janet Evanovich

This was another fun romp through the world of Stephanie Plumb; bumbling rookie, bounty hunter wannabe.

This time she's trying to apprehend an ex-soldier who is selling restricted military weapons on the street.  Along the way she gets help from a cop friend, an experienced bounty hunter and her grandmother.

Like the first book you find yourself rooting for Stephanie, hoping she'll figure something out that can help her become a better bounty hunter.  She is forever getting her apartment broken into and at one point in the story she gets her Jeep stolen.  She then has to borrow a 1958 Buick she dubs Big Blue.  This car is as much a character in the story as anybody else.

It really is refershing to read about a person who's trying to figure it all out.  Especially since the genre is stacked with characters who are "the best" at what they do.

This book was a fun easy read.

I'm looking forward to reading the next one in the series - Three to get Deadly.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Book Report #21 of 26


This book is a real tip-of-the-hat to Elmore Leonard.  It's crime, for sure, but in that funny-how-things-happen sort of way.  These types of stories feel more real than most crime fiction because the plot can be sent off in an unexpected direction simply because a character turned left instead of right.  Which is how most crimes get solved in the world; someone makes a tiny mistake and the whole master plan comes crashing down.

This story revolves around Matthew Worth who's been busted to night patrol at a supermarket where we find him bagging groceries, just to help out.  He meets Gwen, a check out girl and one night she comes to him with a problem.  From the blurb on the back of the book the story is described like this; "Worth discovers just how far he's willing  to go to protect and to serve.  The next thing he knows, he's driving a stolen car with a corpse in the trunk, a pistol in the glove box, and no way to turn back."

This is definitely a ride and I liked it a lot.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Report #20 of 26


Again, this was a knock out book by Lehane.  The second in the Kenzie & Gennaro series.

What I liked best about it was the expansion of the relationship between the two detectives but also the filling out of the South Boston environment with new characters and some that were introduced in the first novel.

I won't go into the details but Lehane did his magic again by bringing seemingly unrelated events together to form a rich and scary story.  Unfortunately he went with the crazy-serial-killer route, one that I just don't enjoy, just because I don't like crazy people.  Smart people are much, much more interesting.  Organized crime is much more interesting.  Cops are much more interesting.  Oh, well.

The city of Boston came to life in the story, I especially liked the bit about just how long the Mass. Ave. Bridge is.  (Measured in Smoots, by the way.)

Look it up here.

The next book in the series is Sacred.

Mass Ave Bridge

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Book Report #19 of 26


First I saw the movie - loved the movie - then I read the book - loved the book too!

Repo men, the term, brings up images of cars repossessed in the middle of the night; of deadbeats who can't or won't pay their bills; and of the "men" themselves who are not much better than their clients.

Now spin this world into a dysfunctional future where the same thing happens but instead of cars it's artificial organs that are being repossessed.  Oh, yea, you read that right - organs.  Hearts, livers, kidneys, you name it, technology has progressed so far that any organ can now be manufactured instead of transplanted.  Think of just how wonderful that can be.  Now think of it outside of the Canadian and British models of healthcare and think of it in the terms of the for-profit world of American health care.

So, a person needs a new pancreas but has to buy it himself.  He certainly can't afford to just write a cheque for it; these things cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars and, even in the future, that's a lot of money.  So he must finance the purchase from the Credit Union which is also responsible for repossessing the organ should the client default on the loan.

Gross!  Right?  But strangely compelling, right?  I mean, how can you do that?  You'd kill the person, right?  How could that be legal?  Who would take the job of repo man?  All of these reactions are natural and the author is counting on you to have them,  I was fascinated to find out what kind of world you'd have to live in for this career to exist. 

Of course there is way more going on than just the "job", that would be a boring book.  The main character, Remy is very good at what he does but circumstances along the way cause him to be on the other side of the job.

The book was well written and very different from the movie.  The author, Garcia, used a rotating structure in the book where Remy is narrating from his present telling short stories about his past in the military and of his five marriages and five divorces.  All these stories add a little bit of insight into Remy and how he got to where he is.  Garcia also keeps the details of how Remy went from repo man to target (or client, to use the term from the book) to the last moment and it all gels together in a very satisfying way.

I must admit that I didn't quite get the final twist at the end.  I was scratching my head a bit there, thinking, "Hmm.  I'm not sure I really buy that but I'll let it go because the rest of it was so good."  

One last thing - just look at the cover of this book!  It's actually the movie poster but it conveys the whole look and feel of the book in one image.  It's dark, (black and white, well blue and white) it's dangerous (just look at that cannon that Forest Whitaker is holding!) it's strange (what's with the weird tattoos?) it's a job (company coffee cup) and it's darkly funny (see the blood on the cup?).  The world Garcia created here was really cool and it was fun to visit for a while but I really would not want to buy a house there.

And one more last thing.  There is a very interesting essay at the back of the book explaining just how it all came into being.  What I liked best about it was the evolution of the title; it started as a thirteen page short story called The Telltale Pancreas which was then turned into a screenplay called The Repossession Mambo then into the movie Repo Men.

I like The Telltale Pancreas best.