Crime

Short reviews

Mini-reviews of recent books. 5-star scale.

Bloodshot, Cherie Priest, 2011 ****
A vampire private eye/thief/assassin novel. I know, you’re rolling your eyes. “Another vampire story?” But really it’s pretty good. The narrator is a tough blood-sucker.  Unlike the cover illustration, she’s got a flapper haircut and big black eyes. She and her cast of interesting accomplices rack up the body count, yet are generally motivated by loyalty and responsibility. I’m looking forward to the next installment of this series.

Devils’ Due, a Starcraft II novel, Christie Golden, 2011 *
I’ve played a lot of World of Warcraft, and have read some of Golden’s WoW novels. They were OK. I have not played Starcraft II but apparently it involves embittered military men-turned-criminals using prostitutes, ripping off prostitutes, then beating up angry prostitutes. It didn’t seem like a game I want to play. I didn’t finish the book so technically it’s possible it got better.

Naked Cruelty, Colleen McCullough, 2010 **
Ms. McCullough has a thoroughly unpleasant imagination. Most of the people in this New York-based police procedural are horrifying in one way or another. I read the whole thing even though it made me feel grimy.

Other Kingdoms, Richard Matheson, 2011 ***
This book tastes like a Charles de Lint novel left out in the sun too long, overripe and fermented. A 80-something author of schlock horror novels reminisces about his teenaged, post-WWI experiences having sex with a witch and a fairy. It’s probably best not to dig too deeply into the meanings behind the voluptuous and vengeful witch-as-mother and the childlike, self-sacrificing, fairy-as-sister love interests. Lots of mythic detail of war and magic, with a likable narrative voice. I’ll probably continue to read anything Matheson cares to write.

Shorts – crime, fantasy, horror

Foolproof, a 2009 novel by several authors, Barbara D’Amato, Jeanne M. Dams and, Mark Richard Zubro. It’s a NYC-based mystery/crime novel, which starts out very strongly with an affecting portrait of 9/11 seen through the eyes of two Twin Towers survivors that happened to both be late for work that day. It eventually deteriorates into silliness – the main characters become 007-esque anti-terrorism globetrotters. A Bill Gates analog blackmails the president to further his scheme to take over all the oil in the world. Entertaining but doesn’t really live up to those first chapters.

Vengeance Child by Simon Clark. A nicely done 2009 horror story about a child that accompanies bad fortune. I enjoyed the dilemma the main characters found themselves in. A child is a reluctant harbinger (or is it instigator?) of violence and death. What would you do if confronted with such a child? Can you imagine it ever being right to torture or kill a child?

The Gates (of Hell are about to open/”want to peek?” or “mind the gap”) by John Connolly. I really wanted to like this 2009 book. It fits my penchant for books about heaven and hell, and it features the Hadron Super Collider. The narration is in a chatty, directly-addressing-the-reader, copiously footnoted style reminiscent of Terry Pratchett, and the episodic adventures of a young main character were evocative of L. Frank Baum. I even appreciated the production quality, the cover art, text fonts and such are quite attractive. But (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?), I fell out of love with it on footnote number 12. “It is a curious fact that small boys are more terrified of their babysitters than small girls are. In part, this is because small girls and babysitters, who are usually slightly larger girls, belong to the same species, and therefore understand each other. Small boys, on the other hand, do not understand girls, and therefore being looked after by one is a little like a hamster being looked after by a shark.” Etcetera. This big spoonful of gender essentialism, topped with a cherry of “women are some strange species that is not human” put me off. Already feeling like this book didn’t like me, I wasn’t as ready to suspend my disbelief of the stereotypes, gender insults, and general derivative nature of the story. This may more about me than about this book, but it took the fun out of it for me.

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker. A 2010 gothic horror novel masquerading as a “women’s” book. I appreciated the bluntness of the harsh story, the painful explication of a woman who has to marry her rapist, without ever directly naming it for what it is, and how the fallout from this affected an entire town. But, the first-person omniscient narration made me sea-sick. As the narrator described events and thoughts she couldn’t possibly have witnessed, I couldn’t decide if she was supposed to be making things up, or magic or what.  The narrator was a fascinating woman. She had some form of giantism, and the cover made me wonder what the Sociological Images blog would make of it. You can have a look at their post on women’s body types as depicted on book covers  here, but the general gist of it is that even if a fiction book stars a main character who is a “large” woman, the woman pictured on the book cover will be thin. In this case, the book cover features a heavy looking mannequin.  The author may have had little to no input on the cover image, but I still find it fascinating that the publishing house would opt for a headless mannequin rather than actually depict a large woman. Regardless of the cover art, I will be looking forward to Baker’s future books.