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September 18, 2011

Review: The Brothers of Baker Street

Filed under: Fiction,Mystery,Uncategorized — mike @ 5:43 pm

The Brothers of Baker Street
The Brothers of Baker Street by Michael Robertson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second in a series of books about two lawyer brothers who have offices at 221 B Baker Street in London, famed address of Sherlock Holmes. As I mentioned in the review of the first book, the author is a Boilermaker, so I am “reading local” or whatever you want to call it.

I enjoyed this one more than the first. Like the first, I don’t think the chain of events would stand up to the way the law really works, but still, reading these is like watching a fun detective show on television. They are quick reads and I heartily recommend them as good books-to-read-when-you’re-in-between-books reads.

This installment finds the Heath brothers back in London, with Reggie going back into criminal law to defend a cab driver accused of murder. All the while, he is still getting letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes (because he’s at the address), with one coming from a vengeful “descendent” of Professor Moriarty.

One note, I was hoping to find that the name of a character would be an anagram of a famous Holmes character, and it comes so close, but not quite. It would have been a nice touch.

The narration is by the terrific Simon Vance, which I credit a good portion of my enjoyment of this book to. You really can’t go wrong with an audio book narrated by Vance.

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September 8, 2011

Review: The Baker Street Letters

Filed under: Fiction,Mystery — mike @ 6:21 pm
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The Baker Street Letters
The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not bad for a mystery. I ran across the audio version of the second book in this series and grabbed this one to catch up. I’ll be honest, I only read it because the author is a Boilermaker, like me. But, whatever gets somebody to read, right?

That said, I normally steer clear of Sherlock Holmes pastiches. What a pleasant surprise to discover this is not a Holmes pastiche. The premise is that this barrister moves his office into 221B Baker Street and as a result, people write letters to Sherlock Holmes asking him to solve cases, among other things. And then the rest is more or less straightforward mystery.

I’m not a huge mystery fan, but I like the occasional one, and this one was an entertaining and fun, light read. A found a few situations a little unrealistic, I just didn’t see some of the characters, or any person of the intelligence of the people in this book, actually making some of the decisions they end up making. But it’s a minor complaint.

This is a fun, quick, book-to-read-between-books read. And it was engaging enough to continue with the second book, “The Brothers of Baker Street,” which I am so far enjoying even more.

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August 27, 2010

Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Filed under: Fiction,Mystery,Uncategorized — mike @ 5:52 pm
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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ll admit, I read (well, listened) to this book because of hype and peer pressure. I generally don’t like too many mysteries, but I am glad I at least read this one.

It starts out way boring enough though. The however many pages about a libel case and the background story about how it came about is just numbing. Which is weird, because Larsson was a journalist; he should have known his lede needed to be trimmed.

But once Lisbeth Salander is introduced, the story picks up and she certainly lives up to all the hype. She’s one of the more refreshing characters (heroine? anti-heroine?) in mysteries because she’s not as cliche as so many seem to be.

The violence toward women in this book can be a little repellent, but the point is, well, I hope the point is, that it is a serious problem anywhere, even places that are held up as perfect in the U.S. (eg, Sweden, France, wherever).

I guess if I knew more about Swedish society and current issues, some of this book would have made more sense to me, as I have read that Larsson’s whole Millennium trilogy is meant to be a criticism of Swedish society. But once you see who has what skeletons in their closets, you kind of figure out who Larsson’s targets are. They aren’t much different than those in U.S. novels and movies.

A note on the audio edition: The excellent Simon Vance is the narrator and rather than fight, and lose, with bad Swedish accents, he simply uses different British accents for his characters. That works fine, although I have recently listened to his narrations of the Dune and James Bond novels. So for a disc or two, Mikhael Blomkvist sounded like Duncan Idaho and Henrik Vanger sounded like M. But that’s not a complaint, it’s just funny.

The upshot: Read this before the movie comes out, so you won’t look like you’re behind the bandwagon, but you can still chat about it around the watercooler.

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July 16, 2010

The Unreality of Reality: When Cyber-Punk Goes Noir

Hey all. Long time, no read.

With Christopher Nolan’s Inception opening this weekend at a theater near you, it brought to mind a fantastic novel I’d read many moons ago that mined the same, lucid shared dream vein called The Night Mayor.

In the not to distant future, since movies and TV are a thing of the past, people look to virtual reality, where a person can be projected into their own movie inside their own head, for their entertainment. Things go a bit awry when master criminal Truro Daine tries to make this unreality a reality, with himself in control of everything, and its up to two cyber-sleuths to tune-in to his wavelength and put the kibosh on his nefarious schemes…

Author Kim Newman is a huge film buff and has written several reference books on said subject. The Night Mayor is his fictional debut and it’s a real treat for his fellow film fanatics. See, Newman’s master-criminal bases his cyber-kingdom on the shadowy, rain-soaked streets and neon-lights of vintage hard-boiled Hollywood noir movies, and it’s populated with several familiar characters, scenarios, actors and femme fatales of the same era — Bogart, Powell, and Tierney — one of them being Daine in disguise. Which is why the authorities bring in an outside expert on the genre (– a surrogate for Newman, perhaps?) to help the lead detective smoke him out. And with this being based in virtual reality anything goes, right?  And when our heroes start tweaking things a bit, movie-genres start to get cross-pollinated — and if you think Lon Chaney Jr. showing up and sprouting whiskers in the middle of all this is wild, just wait until you see what comes stomping out of the harbor.

Of course knowledge of vintage films will help your enjoyment of this book but even a cursory film fan will recognize most of the cameos, winks and nods in Newman’s book. The science part of the equation takes a bit to slog through but it’s well worth it to get the fiction.

Highly recommended.

July 13, 2010

Review: Fever Dream

Fever Dream (Pendergast, #10)Fever Dream by Douglas Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I gave this an extra star because I thought Agent Pendergast had about run his course in the Diogenes trilogy of this series of books and even in the last one, ‘Cemetery Dance.’

However, even in those books of theirs where my interest wanes, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child write stories that you can’t help but keep turning the page, reading just one more chapter. Any of these books are just plain fun to read, and people tend to forget that sometimes, reading just needs to be fun.

So, on to this book. Like I said, I thought Pendergast had run his course, when Preston/Child bring out … his wife! His late wife, to be exact, killed on a safari 12 years ago. But it turns out, it was actually murder most foul. And complicated. Like cheesy Bond villain/Dr. Evil needlessly complicated (although it’s a lion, not ill-tempered sharks with frickin’ lasers).

So Pendergast enlists Vincent D’Agosta (of course) at the drop of a hat to help him solve his wife’s murder. (Mild spoiler coming) And when D’Agosta can no longer, um, assist in the case, D’Agosta’s girlfriend, NYPD Capt. Laura Hayward. is drafted to help.

Like I said, this book is full of all kinds of ridiculousness, not the least of which is Pendergast’s bad-assery coupled with how trouble seems to blow away with a couple sentences or fight moves. But again, these books are just plain fun. Do yourself a favor and read them all.

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May 10, 2010

“Second Opinion” by Michael Palmer

Filed under: Authors,Fiction,Medical Thrillers,Michael Palmer,Mystery — jacksheard @ 11:24 pm
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I really like medical thrillers.

I dislike hospitals. Don’t like being a patient or a visitor. Nothing against doctors, but I’d rather stay at home and be healthy.

But I like medical thrillers.

Michael Palmer and Tess Gerritson are two of my favorites in this genre. I crave my next Tess book. Luckily, I have a stack of Palmers to read to keep me going.

I’ve read a handfull of Palmer books, and I’ve not been disapointed yet. “The Patient” was one of the first books I read when I began reading seriously about 10 years ago. It was one that made me realize reading was awesome. I still list it in my top ten (theoritically, since I do not actually have this list).

However, Melissa and I realized we’ve only scratched the surface of Palmer. As we anticipated his most recent novel, “The Last Surgeon,” we decided to go back in his collection and catch up. I’ll eventually read them all — between new releases from “my authors” — but I started with “Second Opinion.”

And now the review (this was like the beginning of “Cougartown” — a long damn time before you get to the opening credits):

It’s great.

OK, expanding I can tell you it involves a hospital in Boston where many rich folk go to get fixed. And leave generous donations behind. When an important doctor is hit by car and left in a coma, his daughter begins looking into a few mysteriously suspisious situations. Of course, she finds some interesting tidbits, gets into some trouble and finds herself in the middle of a … medical thriller.

And it’s a good one. Maybe not on the level of “The Patient” … but maybe it is. I may have to re-read that one to remember why I liked it so much. But I’m sure I did. 

“Second Opinion” is fascinating for another reason. It centers around a character with Asperger’s syndrome — a condition I knew next to nothing about. It is very interesting how Palmer uses his personal knowledge of the condition (one of his children has Asperger’s syndrome) to create a character you begin to understand on a different level than many others. It is not often a main character is different in this way, and it certainly adds an element of surprise to even ordinary conversations.

Four stars out of five.

YOU MIGHT LIKE THIS BOOK IF: You like medical suspense thrillers, Tess Gerritson novels, or you’re looking for an author with a good catelog to spend some time with.

Link to Michael Palmer site.

Link to Asperger’s syndrome information.

May 8, 2010

C.S.I. New York — Circa 1896

Filed under: Crime,Fiction,Mystery,Thriller — WB Kelso @ 1:21 am
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When the severally mutilated body of a murdered prostitute is posed and left for a gruesome public display, newly appointed New York City police commissioner Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt decides to forgo normal procedure and brings in an alienist — Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, an expert in the burgeoning field of psychology and abnormal behavior — to apply his trade and help solve this bizarre homicide. Together, facing both danger, doubt, and ridicule at every turn, these two crusaders gather a small team of experts on the local criminal elements (on both sides of the law) and the most advanced forensic techniques, and then start poking and prodding at the dark underbelly of the city, trying to figure out what makes the killer tick and flush him out before this butcher strikes again.

Truthfully, author Caleb Carr’s The Alienist is about 50/50 split between psychological thriller and history lesson. And speaking truthfully again, whichever way you come at it — as a mystery lover or history buff — you’ve stumbled right into a goldmine. Carr paints a fascinating and minutely detailed canvas of turn of the century New York and its colorful denizens, which, contrary to what you might think, does nothing to distract from the plot as our protagonists methodically piece together clues and draw conclusions from the killer’s actions but serves, instead, to enhance the proceedings. Sure, some authors can bring a reader into their books as a casual observer from a safe distance, but Carr has a knack for putting you into the scene with all the sights and sounds and smells found therein — none of them all that pleasant.

It’s real. It’s happening. It’s a whole new spin on the phrase “social studies.” And, my friends, you’re along for a wild and rewarding ride if you just crack it open and take a look.

April 17, 2010

‘Caught’ by Harlan Coben

Filed under: Fiction,Harlan Coben,Mystery — jacksheard @ 8:29 pm
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Ahhh. So nice to come home to a can’t-miss.

Harlan Coben is awesome. I can spend weeks reading a book half as long as ‘Caught’, then turn this one out in a few days. His style is simply perfect. His formula for success combines mystery, realism, humor, suspense and excitement. And it comes off marvelously.

‘Caught’ starts with a social worker getting nabbed in a TV show similar (actually, exactly like) the “Dateline” show where they trap men who try to meet up with teenage girls they meet online. There’s also this bit of the story where a different teenage girl goes missing.

And a cast of characters so worthy of a best of show. A few of Coben’s usual suspects show up in many spots: Hester Crimestein, Win and all the staff at MB except MB and a few others here and there.

The book keeps you guessing all the way … and that’s saying something for me. I pride myself on this fantastic ability to figure books out. Only those that offer way too many unrealistic twists at the end stump me. This one has twists, but they are all believable. That’s what makes these Coben books so damn good. They are realistic.

And so much fun, too. This book certainly has it’s laughs, despite the heavy themes. One character, upon getting fired from his high-dollar job, decides his calling is to be a rapper. A really, really bad rapper. (I’ll assume the raps were intended to be horrible, though I don’t listen to rap music much these days, and can’t picture Coben doing so either.) Picture a 40-year-old Vanilla Ice imitating Dr. Dre. Horribly. But very funny.

This book is fantastic. Read it. I can’t believe we don’t hear more about Harlan Coben on a 1990s-John-Grisham level. He is simply the best writer out there right now.

Five stars out of five.

YOU’LL LIKE THIS BOOK IF: You enjoy reading — mysteries, books, whatever.

Link to Harlan Coben site.

Oh, and I really like Harlan Coben. If you didn’t already, check out this gushing review of his Myron Bolitar series.

‘Evolution of a Sad Woman’ by Gale Laure

Filed under: Fiction,Gale Laure,Mystery,New Authors — jacksheard @ 8:11 pm

So I was surfing around, checking my Twitter for WhatABook, when I stumbled into a chat with author Gale Laure. She explained the idea of her book, and I was fascinated.

Here it is: A woman is murdered, and five men from her past — a cop, a lawyer, a priest, an actor-turned-cab driver and a former NFL football player — all come together to attempt to solve her murder. Sounded great.

This is Laure’s first book — something she went through a hell of a lot to get finished, I found — and it is published by an independent publisher.

As I read the book, a few things jumped out at me. First, the story is good. Not great. It has a few holes, a few “well, duh” moments. And at times it simply tries way too hard. But if you let those things go a bit, the story will keep you reading.

Second, the production value is low with this effort. Editing is poor at times, misspellings and inconsistencies are annoying and little things — like the spacing after a period and the amount of space here and there for no reason — aren’t as professional as you’d expect in a published work.

Third, the writing is at times choppy. A few points here: Sentence lengths are monotonous. For long sections at a time, sentences are all short. At times, more pronouns would help — there are so few, it’s as if they were avoided at all costs. This was the case in dialogue and narrative. It made the conversations seem completely unrealistic. 

Fourth, some things just don’t make any sense. A boyfriend goes off to school in the sixties, we’re told, and plays football. He is later upset because he has to get out of the game due to injuries … in the nineties. How long did expect to play football? Was he planning to retire at 65? These types of things bother me. I look for a timeline, and if it’s spanning many decades, it needs to add up. This didn’t.

However, after offering up those criticisms, I will say this: I wanted to know what happened. So I’ll give her that much.

But not enough to recommend this book as is. I found it hard to read, mostly unbelievable and unpolished. If a book editor spent a few days with this, I think it could be a great read. There will be a sequel, so maybe Laure will put together a more complete and polished book then.

One star out of five. (But an E for effort, with a great idea.)

YOU MAY LIKE THIS BOOK IF: It’s really a romance novel, which I know nothing about and have never read and what I described above is OK in that style. Also, if you watch “Law & Order” and say, “Yep. That’s how it really works in real life. Cops are just like that.”

But I like you.

Link to Gale Laure’s Web site.

March 27, 2010

Murder Has a Good Beat

Filed under: Crime,Mystery,Thriller,Uncategorized — WB Kelso @ 12:44 pm
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When his twin brother, a homicide detective for the Denver P.D., commits suicide after being unable to solve a particularly grisly murder that he’d been obsessing over, Jack McEvoy, a violent crime-beat reporter for The Rocky Mountain News, deals with his grief and the five stages of denial the best way he knows how. But while tracking down his brother’s last few days for his next story, when things don’t quite add up, the reporter comes to the conclusion that it wasn’t a suicide after all but a carefully staged murder. And then, when his research into police suicides nationwide turns up a disturbing pattern of an unsolvable murder, followed by the lead detective’s suicide, complete with a cryptic suicide note consisting of a quote from Edgar Allen Poe, McEvoy realizes his brother was the latest victim of a serial killer.

Probably better known for his crime novels featuring LAPD detective Harry Bosh, regardless, I jumped into author Michael Connelly’s “pool” with The Scarecrow, the second novel featuring his other reoccurring character, reporter Jack McEvoy, which quickly sent me searching for his inaugural adventure, The Poet. McEvoy is very good at his job, perhaps a little too good, meaning some clues he digs up or patterns he sees are so damned obvious that nobody else has seen them is a bit of a stretch. However, find the patterns he does, and that turns out to be the easy part as now he has to convince his boss, the police, and eventually, the F.B.I. that a deranged killer, or possibly two deranged killers, is moving across the country and leaving a lot of bodies in his/their wake. And convincing that last group brings him to the attention of Special Agent Rachel Walling for a little joint-investigating and the prerequisite boot-knocking.

To tell his story, Connelly splits time between McEvoy and the killer. Fairly blunt and straight forward with his plot, from what I’ve read so far, the author likes to keep things simple as the mystery methodically unravels and saves the big twist for the end. And in the case of The Poet, it’s a pretty big one. If I have one major beef with the plot it’s the whole body in the locked room scenario for the suicide victims, who leave the quotes from Poe in their own handwriting. Here, the author kind of paints himself into a corner, and how he gets out of it will give the credulity muscle in your brain a good stretch. And for those of you who like the squickier side of these serial mysteries with the accompanying blood and guts may want to look elsewhere as we’re mostly dealing with the murders after the fact. Still, if you like puzzles and authors that reward you with pieces as you go along,  you’ll probably like the final picture Connelly provides for you.

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