Summer's almost over... dive into a beer and a book

Summer's almost over... dive into a beer and a book

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Odd but okay Jesse Stone adventure

Michael Brandman's third and final Jesse Stone novel, Robert B. Parker's Damned If You Do (yes, they now use the late writer Robert Parker's name in all the titles when they release a new entry in the various series he created over his long career) almost seemed like an experiment, as the story was 100% police-thriller plot, straight no chaser. That is, there was nothing about Jesse's personal issues: his drinking, his needy ex-wife, whoever he's dating, etc. Only the two offered plotlines- about a murdered girl found in a seedy hotel room, and a shady assisted living facility that abused its residents- were advanced as I moved through the book. Even when Jesse visited his shrink, they only discussed the two cases and not anything going on in Jesse's life.

If this turns out to be a new direction for the series- all cop stuff all the time- I'd be horrified. But this one time, it was sort of interesting. The two thriller plots are pretty good and are developed nicely, with each giving Jesse some entertaining "tough cop" moments. But, yeah, it was pretty weird not seeing Jesse struggle with something going on his personal life, or having a heart-to-heart talk with his assistant Molly about same. Actually, the Jesse/Molly friendship has been mostly bland since Robert Parker stopped writing the series, but that's another topic.

So, yeah, I enjoyed this quick, fast read, which reasonably suggests that Jesse sometimes works cases while not being distracted by personal issues. But when this series' next assigned writer- mystery author Reed Farrel Coleman- picks up Jesse's adventures with the next book, Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot (which will be coming out shortly), I'll be happy if we get back to the nice layered plotting that's been the hallmark of this series. In other words, I hope it features Jesse both chasing suspects and his personal demons... or at least a new girlfriend.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Supremely fun

The entertaining, fast-paced Supreme Justice, by the always reliable Max Allan Collins, centers around freelance investigator and security specialist Joe Reeder helping the U.S. government chase down conspirators who are murdering Supreme Court Justices. The story is intriguing because it takes place in a near future where Miranda warnings have all but been eliminated, Roe v. Wade has been overturned, and other major shifts to the right have taken place. In other words, the country has become a living nightmare for liberals and progressives.

As it's the conservative justices of the court who are being targeted, it soon becomes apparent that someone is trying to alter the balance of the court to try to get things shifting back to the left. The sitting president is a democrat, you see, and it's presumed he will appoint more progressive, left-leaning replacements for the murdered justices.

The politics of the novel aren't laid on as thick as the above may suggest. This is basically a well-told whodunit laced with some decent action scenes, as Joe Reeder and his main task force partner, FBI agent Patti Rogers, examine crime scenes, interview witnesses, and try to piece things together before more justices are killed. Sure, Joe is pretty liberal and doesn't like where the country's been headed, but he doesn't think the conspirators' methods of changing things is the way to go.

Introducing each chapter is a thoughtful quote from a famous historical figure- usually a past Supreme Court justice but not always- that make us think a little about the how's and why's of our justice system, and overall lend a little extra depth to the book. Actually, I wouldn't have minded a little more of this sort of thing, maybe in the form of more conversations between Joe, Patti, and the other task force members-- you know, the way Dan Brown often stops his stories mid-stream to have his characters talk about a scholarly subject for a while. Okay, maybe not, but one can't argue that that tactic hasn't worked for Brown!

Getting back to the subject at hand, the politics of the author are communicated with a little more emphasis near the close of "Supreme Justice", as it is pretty clear when the dust settles that Mr. Collins and his characters feel that many of the tragedies in the story could be pretty directly laid at the feet of the country's big shift to the right. Because my politics are pretty close to Mr. Collins', that didn't bother me, but- more importantly- it really shouldn't bother anybody else much, either. The plot, action, and characters are what really count here, all working together to deliver a bang-up page turner.

Monday, July 21, 2014

More weirdness and danger in Wayward Pines

Want a great summer read? Blake Crouch's Wayward is a terrific follow-up to the first book in this series, Pines (see the previous review on this blog). I can't talk too many specifics without revealing the secrets of the first book and the fun stuff you should discover on your own in this one, but I can say this: after finally discovering the quite amazing secrets of the mysterious town of Wayward Pines at the end of book one, former U.S. Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke now has to figure out what to do with the information.

Specifically, is doing the right thing for himself necessarily doing the right thing for the people in town? Can he come up with a plan that's good for everyone? Or should he not do anything and just accept the uneasy but relatively secure and comfortable existence offered him if he fulfills his new role as town sheriff? These moral dilemmas mix nicely with Ethan's first assigned case: an old-fashioned murder mystery. How does the murder of a young woman tie into Wayward Pines' secrets, and the secrets within those secrets?

Like the first book, the dark, nightmarish stuff is balanced by a clever plot that keeps moving, a decent and memorable resolution, and this time even a little humor (I'm thinking of the secret cocktail party that serves the world's worst liquor). It's all very satisfying, and just like the first book, Pines, really made me want to read this second one, after finishing Wayward I'm all ready to jump into book three (and the apparent final chapter), The Last Town. Kudos to author Blake Crouch for a great, imaginative series. I really want to see where this whole thing is going.  And, yeah, I still think the upcoming television adaptation (on the FX channel this fall) should be pretty great.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pining for a great story?

Blake Crouch's dark and moody Pines contains echoes from all kinds of great works of the past, including David Lynch's Twin Peaks, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods, and- of all things- Issac Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy. But- whether intentional or not- those influences only flavor and enrich a confident, idea-rich thriller that is very much Blake Crouch's own baby.

Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke wakes up with a head injury in the picturesque town of Wayward Pines, Idaho, and just wants to dust himself off and go home-- but why is he getting gentle but firm resistance from the town's residents whenever he tries to do so? A slow-burn mystery that soon gives way to an ambitious hybrid of several popular genres, Pines will both satisfy and unsettle you by the end, and leave you wanting more. Thankfully, you can simply move right into the equally good second installment, Wayward.

It's no wonder that Pines has attracted the attention of network television, as it should make a great TV series (it premieres in the fall on the FX channel). But do yourself a favor and experience this creepy, mind-bending, and very entertaining thriller in its pure, original form first. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Not sleep inducing

More of a combination horror and adventure tale than an outright horror novel, Stephen King's Doctor Sleep was engrossing and fun. For those looking for more of a direct horror sequel to The Shining, you do get that in the early chapters, as the young Dan Torrance (still called "Danny" at that point), has a few more encounters with the ghosts of the old Overlook Hotel (kind of like the way the henchmen in those old James Bond films would show up for one final confrontation after the main villain was defeated). But then we jump ahead and get a different type of story, one where grown-up Dan is a struggling recovering alcoholic who has made- at best- a shaky peace with his special abilities and his past.

The story takes off when Dan is distracted from his own issues by a young girl also blessed (or cursed) with the "shining" ability, a girl who is targeted by a traveling group of psychic vampires who feed on children with her unique attributes. While there is definitely suspense about the story's outcome, I especially enjoyed the fact that the otherwise cute and friendly young girl, Abra, was shown to be extremely powerful and extremely strong willed, and regularly stood up to her attackers with only minimal help from Dan, who basically just gave her a little guidance on her powers. No patronizing damsel-in-distress scenes here.

Likable yet nuanced supporting characters (including Abra's parents and Dan's friends from Alcoholics Anonymous) and decent attention to Dan's own issues round out the proceedings, all making for yet another strong, late-career entry from Mr. King.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Testing, testing...

Okay, there have been many, many technical issues with "Kindle Taproom" lately.  Honestly, it hasn't simply been me not taking the time to post (though there's been a little of that, too).  But lately some of the technical roadblocks have lifted, or else I've found ways to work around them, at least somewhat.  So, stay tuned, and we'll see what happens.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Wonder and joy

Stephen King's Joyland was a rich and enjoyable summer reading experience.  Just don't expect the torrid crime novel the cover promises.  No, what you get here is a gentle tale, set during the summer of 1973, about a decent young man named Devin Jones- his heart recently broken- who takes a job at an amusement park during his summer break from college. The friends he makes at the park, his immersion into "carny" life, and some extra special friends he makes during his walk to and from the park every day via the beach, all fuel a gentle, involving slice-of-life tale about a young man confronting the joys and trials of growing up.

Yes, there is a crime story in the book- rooted in a years-old unsolved murder that took place in Joyland's sole dark, scary ride- but the investigation of the old crime by Devin and his friends only lightly peppers the bulk of the book, and only comes to dominate the story in the last thirty pages or so.  The crime story is a good one, filled with tension and danger as the old murder threatens to make way for a new one, but it's only a small part of a book that's pretty much dominated by those other, gentler elements I mentioned.  If you're okay with that you'll be fine.

And- oh, yes- there are some ghostly, supernatural elements, too- not surprising, given the author.  They're pretty well done, too.  But what you'll probably remember most about Joyland- which inexplicably is being marketed as an old-fashioned pulpy crime novel- is spending a gentle, wondrous, and- yes- often sad summer with Devin and his friends Erin, Tom, Annie, and Mike (the last a young boy you won't soon forget), and how they all made a deep, powerful impression on Devin just when he needed it most.