Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Report #31 - Jack Wakes Up

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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

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Wow!  

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

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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.