“All the greatest men are maniacs. They are possessed by a mania which drives them forward towards their goal. The great scientists, the philosophers,“All the greatest men are maniacs. They are possessed by a mania which drives them forward towards their goal. The great scientists, the philosophers, the religious leaders – all maniacs. What else but a blind singleness of purpose could have given focus to their genius, would have kept them in the groove of purpose. Mania … is as priceless as genius.”
We last saw James Bond, agent 007, collapsing in a heap after SMERSH agent Rosa Klebb kicked him in the calf with a poison-tipped knife secreted in the tip of her shoe in From Russia, With Love. Despite the heavy cliffhanger, it should come as no surprise that Bond survived that incident and, after a brief spell in the hospital, has been deemed fit for duty at MI6. Bond’s pride, however, is still wounded. He knows he got carried away with his last assignment and made some amateurish mistakes that landed him in the hospital. He blames himself and is eager to prove his worth to his boss, M. So when M hands Bond a routine assignment and refers to it as a ‘personnel issue’ that needs rectifying, Bond’s shame only burns brighter. We of course know that this ‘routine’ assignment will turn out to be anything but a simple beach vacation, but to Bond it’s another mark of shame.
You may remember Strangways, MI6’s man in the Caribbean from Live and Let Die, where he made an appearance to help set Bond on his way. Well, now Strangways and his secretary have gone missing altogether. It is believed that they ran off together, but the details of their last radio broadcast are troubling enough that MI6 wants to send it’s own man out to determine what happened. After arriving in Jamaica, Bond hooks up with his buddy Quarrel (also from Live and Let Die) and quickly ascertains that all is not as it seems in this tropical paradise. All roads seem to lead back to Strangways’ last investigation into the activities of the mysterious Doctor No out on Crab Key Island. When 007 sneaks onto the island to investigate, the situation escalates into a deadly game of survival against one of the world’s most diabolical minds.
Just like Live and Let Die, Doctor No is accidentally wildly racist, but this time it’s against Chinese people. Doctor No himself is half Chinese and half German, and he employs nothing but people who are half Chinese and half Jamaican–which means it is assumed any time a Chinese person shows up that they are a bad guy. Even worse, Fleming makes it true. There’s not much here for feminists either since 007 sees Honeychile Rider as a sex object he basically wants to treat roughly. Plus she gets naked. A lot.
Some of the Bond books thus far have been disappointingly lacking in the villain department (here’s looking at you, Diamonds Are Forever). It’s like the modern complaint that all the Marvel superhero movies never actually have a memorable villain other than Loki. The reason they work, and the reason the Bond books work, is that the hero carries the weight. Doctor No doesn’t actually show up until late in the book but you begin feeling his menace early on. Suspense builds around what he is up to. He’s a Bond villain that comes to life on the page–mechanical claw-hands and all. So it’s unfortunate that the climax of the novel essentially takes place without him. He tosses Bond into a deadly obstacle course to see how far he makes it, then disappears to check on a shipment at the dock. That’s it. The emotional climax of the story is more about James Bond fighting his own body (his tiredness, his injuries) to survive. It’s not about a showdown with a diabolical madman. Once Bond escapes he dispatches Doctor No practically without ceremony (he and the Doctor don’t even exchange any words). That’s a bit disappointing considering how good the rest of the book is.
Still, there have been worse books in the series. This one is fun (if you can get past the racism and misogyny), it just loses a lot of steam in the end. Without that hiccup it’s a great installment. I particularly like that Ian Fleming’s Bond has a trajectory through the novels. Tiffany Case moves in with him at the end of Diamonds Are Forever but by From Russia With Love she’s dumped him to run off with another man. The hurt he feels there leads him to be a little too reckless and susceptible to Tatiana Romanova, so when we meet him again here he’s desperate to prove himself as an agent all over again. The movies frequently try as hard as possible to avoid continuity, so it makes the Bond on the page that much more interesting.
“Those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make bored.”
Following the somewhat lackluster novel Diamonds Are Forever, From Russia, With Love nice“Those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make bored.”
Following the somewhat lackluster novel Diamonds Are Forever, From Russia, With Love nicely sets everything right in the world of James Bond. Following the events of that diamond-smuggling adventure, James Bond has found himself living 'the soft life.' Work has been slow and he's been keeping time with desk work as he waits for his next assignment. Tiffany Case has dumped him, gotten engaged to an American military man, and is returning to the USA to live a life of marital bliss. Licking his wounds, 007 is itchy to get back in the saddle. “In his particular line of business, peace had reigned for nearly a year. And peace was killing him.” Well, one should be careful what one wishes for.
For the first 90 pages of From Russia, With Love James Bond isn't even present. Instead, we are introduced to the characters who will be attempting to bring about his demise in this novel. First we meet Red Grant, a psychotic man who is tempted to kill by the full moon, and who has found gainful employment as the top assassin of the Soviet Union's deadly secret service: SMERSH. We go to meeting of 'the moguls of death,' who decide that in order to dismantle MI6 (Britain's secret services division) they must target its most prized officer, James Bond, in order to defame him and then kill him. The fact that Bond, agent 007, has caused them trouble before (in Casino Royale and then again in Live and Let Die) only makes the operation seem that much sweeter to them. Then we meet Rosa Klebb, SMERSH's head of Operations and Executions, who devises the plan that will follow. They must trick 007 into going to a neutral territory where they can get at him easier, and get him to fall for a beautiful Russian girl who will bring about his downfall. Enter Tatiana Romanova, an MGB agent recruited by Klebb to be the pawn in a scheme that will destroy James Bond and British Intelligence once and for all.
On the one hand, it seems curious that we spend so much time setting groundwork for the novel before James Bond himself appears. Truth be told, Ian Fleming could have easily edited the Soviet chapters out completely and From Russia, With Love would work just as well. It would change the tone completely, but it would still work. But I actually like the addition of the Soviet chapters. Without them you'd be in Bond's shoes, wondering if the mission he's going on to Istanbul is a trap or not. The suspense would come from that mystery. Instead, you know full well that 007 is walking into a trap. The suspense is in watching him get tangled in the web and wondering how he'll ever manage to free himself of it.
The scheme is that Romanova contacts the Istanbul branch of MI6 to profess her love for James Bond, whom she 'got to know' from transcribing reports about him. She claims to want to defect to Britain to be with him, and promises to have a code machine called a Spektor as a sign of good faith. MI6 willingly takes the bait for the Spektor's value, but the rest depends on your ability to check your brain at the door a bit. You see, Bond naturally falls for Romanova pretty hard. You're meant to wonder where Romanova's allegiance truly lies, but the reality is that she falls for Bond just as hard. It doesn't really make sense for them to fall in love so quickly and so effortlessly--with such high stakes, no less. But the good thing about From Russia, With Love is that it's so much fun you don't really care all that much. I guess it also helps that Fleming makes sure you know that Bond is reeling from his breakup with Tiffany Case and a deadly case of boredom when this mission comes along. Both of those features would make him more reckless than usual, I suppose.
The novel is full of smart little twists and turns. I complained in Diamonds Are Forever that the villains weren't central enough to the story, and oddly enough this novel turned that complaint on its head--because Red Grant and Rosa Klebb disappear completely for a large swath of the plot, but you hardly mind. Knowing their scheme is at work adds sufficient menace to propel the story even without their physical presence. You may remember that in my review of Moonraker I noted that it was my favorite novel in the series so far. Well, From Russia, With Love just stole the title. This Soviet tale of espionage even had a stamp of approval from no less that President Kennedy (who listed it among his ten favorite books, and screened the film adaptation at The White House just before his assassination), and it's easy to see why he would be taken with it.
For more, check out the Bond page on my blog–which has movie recaps and best-ofs. Up next, we’ll compare the film and book of Doctor No. ...more
You may recall from my last review that Moonraker turned out to be a terrific little book that was adapted int"Death is forever. But so are diamonds."
You may recall from my last review that Moonraker turned out to be a terrific little book that was adapted into a seriously terrible movie. As fate would have it, I also despised the movie version of Diamonds Are Forever, but while Moonraker became my favorite book in the series so far, Diamonds became my least favorite in the series (so far).
A large part of that is due to the fact that nothing much happens on Bond's assignment in Diamonds. There isn't even really a villain of any consequence to be found. Moonraker was all the better for Hugo Drax's larger than life presence. Ostensibly, the Spang brothers are the head bad guys in Diamonds, but you barely even get to know either one of them. They only really turn up at the very end, just in time for 007 to dispatch them to save the day. There are some henchmen, but they also lurk on the periphery--only turning up roughly three times during the entire book. Without a villainous presence, the only thread for the plot to grasp at is Bond's mission--and even that is mostly boring.
M sends 007 to take the place of a diamond smuggler in order to figure out who is behind a large diamond-smuggling operation that is undermining the British economy. Bond meets up with Tiffany Case, the mob operative who is going to oversee his transport to the United States, and immediately drops the fake identity. He gets to the U.S. and basically meanders his way through the plot. He doesn't get any dangerous assignments from the mob, he spends more than half the book just trying to collect payment from them for his smuggling trip. That takes him on a detour to Saratoga, where he inexplicably helps his former CIA buddy, Felix Leiter (now a detective with the Pinkertons), cause trouble with the very mob he's trying to trick into drawing him close. Yes, Leiter is his friend, but the reckless hit to Bond's cover doesn't quite make sense.
Once the horse race payment method goes south, the mob sends Bond to Las Vegas to pay him out in one of their casinos. Bond decides to apply some pressure to the mob bosses to find out who's heading up the pipeline, but the action is still painfully slow compared to the other books--and once again, 007's movements seem unnecessarily reckless. His rather sudden infatuation with Tiffany Case doesn't improve things. It's one thing for 007 to feel attracted to a Bond Girl like Moonraker's Gala Brand, but he inexplicably falls directly into full-on Vesper-Lynd-style love with Tiffany. They barely even know each other, and nothing about their interactions seems worthy of the marked fixation they have for each other.
So you see, Diamonds is the most problematic of Ian Fleming's Bond books (so far) by a long shot. It's also the most dull. It's not a terrible read but given how enjoyable the rest of the books have been it is definitely a disappointment.
“'They want us dead,' said Bond calmly. 'So we have to stay alive.'”
The film adaptation of Moonraker is legendary for being awful. I called it the wor“'They want us dead,' said Bond calmly. 'So we have to stay alive.'”
The film adaptation of Moonraker is legendary for being awful. I called it the worst Bond movie ever, so you can understand that I was very curious to see how the book would fare. Thankfully, aside from the title and the villain's name there are precious few similarities (for more on that, check out my full comparison of the book and movie here).
Moonraker the novel is essentially a mystery--moreso than the first two books in the series at least, which played with noir but focused primarily on the action side of things. In the opening James Bond is enjoying a stretch of desk work as he finishes recovering from the events of Live and Let Die. That all ends when M asks him a favor: he suspects that a man at his club has been cheating at cards. Not just anyone, mind you, but Sir Hugo Drax, a wildly popular millionaire building a weapon system called Moonraker that is supposed to keep England safe from nuclear threats. It's a delicate matter that the club needs handled with discretion, so Bond goes in to check out the situation to see if he can figure out what Drax is up to.
That simple little excursion snowballs when the chief of security on the Moonraker project is murdered days before a crucial test launch of Moonraker's rocket. With all the money and time the government is spending to build Moonraker they can't afford a scandal or a delay, so MI6 is brought in and James Bond is sent to work with Gala Brand, a mole from Scotland Yard who has been undercover as Drax's secretary for a year. Their investigation into whether or not there is a plot to sabotage Moonraker eventually uncovers a much wider conspiracy--and a much more fiendish scheme that would devastate England if they can't stop it from happening.
As fate would have it, the book that gave us the worst movie in the film series is actually one of the best books in Ian Fleming's series. You could argue that this book's incorporation of a doomsday device raised the stakes to an impossibly high level, setting off the unfortunate obsession the film series has with putting the fate of the world on the line, but the novel's tight focus on the mystery aspects of the plot keep it from veering into the outrageous. So yes, it's up to James to save the fate of his country, but Fleming made sure the story came first, not the stakes.
Gala Brand (rechristened Holly Goodhead in the film) is a tad wasted in that she never has the opportunity to do much of consequence. She's basically constantly being saved by James despite the constant assertion that she's a very capable police officer. Still, she's never treated like a silly girl the way Vesper Lynd was and she narrowly avoids becoming the sex object Solitaire was. That definitely represents progress, and it makes her different from the other Bond Girls in the books. Interestingly enough, the James Bond of the novels seems to be a hopeless romantic despite himself in the books. He fell hard for Vesper, he seemed to have feelings for Solitaire, and his heart aches for something more with Gala. Bond is not quite the stone-hearted cad Fleming makes him out to be.
It's a deep shame the film adaptation was so disappointing, because I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
For more on 007’s adventures, or for more reviews, check out my blog's James Bond page. Up next: Diamonds Are Forever. ...more
“In my job ... when I come up against a man like this one, I have another motto. It’s 'live and let die.'”
Now that we've been introduced to the world“In my job ... when I come up against a man like this one, I have another motto. It’s 'live and let die.'”
Now that we've been introduced to the world of James Bond, 007, Ian Fleming gets right to the point in the second Bond novel, Live and Let Die. The events of Casino Royale don't seem to have had much of an impact on Bond aside from having a skin graft on his hand to cover the scar a SMERSH agent deliberately carved into place. He's all healed up from his wounds and ready to go and fulfill his new goal of beating down SMERSH wherever possible.
Good thing, because M has a new mission for him and it indirectly involves SMERSH. Mr. Big, head of a vast underground criminal empire based in Harlem, New York City, has been laundering gold coins from a pirate treasure in Jamaica to help finance Soviet espionage (which means SMERSH). If Bond can find out what Mr. Big is up to and put an end to his money laundering, it will kill off one of SMERSH's main sources of funding.
Bond eagerly heads to NYC, where he's greeted with the royal treatment thanks to his CIA buddy Felix Leiter. But while investigating Mr. Big in Harlem, it becomes very clear that Bond and Leiter got more than they bargained for---even with an assist from Mr. Big's gorgeous psychic Solitaire, who turns to them for protection. They end up hightailing it for Florida to check out Mr. Big's distribution center. Except things don't go much better in the Sunshine state: Solitaire is kidnapped and Leiter is brutally maimed and left clinging to life after Mr. Big's goons try to feed him to sharks. So it's up to Bond himself to get to Mr. Big's base of operations in Jamaica, stop his fiendish plot, and rescue the girl.
Live and Let Die is essentially just as fun as Casino Royale, but it definitely feels more dated from a cultural perspective. Ian Fleming makes some positive, forward thinking comments about black people in the course of the book but damn if most of the book isn't accidentally terribly racist. Mr. Big is African American and all of his agents are as well, but Fleming makes a curious assumption that all black people are impressionable enough to fall under Mr. Big's spell because they all must believe in voodoo. According to this book literally every black person must be treated with suspicion because they could become an agent of Mr. Big at the drop of a hat. Fleming is trying to let you know that Mr. Big is scary and powerful enough to force people to bend to his will just by dropping his name, but the implications are troubling.
Solitaire is spared the indignity of Bond's misogynist belief that women are useless in the field from Casino Royale, but she's essentially reduced to a sex object at every turn.
If you can get passed those aspects, Live and Let Die is a fun ride, particularly as an espionage/noir action adventure. In that regard it has a lot to offer: an all-seeing, all-knowing bad guy; exotic locations; dangerous stakes; pirate treasure; and a dash of sex. It's just a little harder to swallow than the first outing.
“History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.”
Although it was the 21st movie in the series of Bond“History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.”
Although it was the 21st movie in the series of Bond films, Casino Royale was the very first Bond novel written by Ian Fleming. Appropriately enough, its film adaptation was essentially a reboot of the Bond series with Daniel Craig (you can find a full comparison of the book and movie here), so both versions serve as a sort of introduction to Britain's suavest, deadliest superspy.
007 is sent to bankrupt Le Chiffre, a criminal money man who is on the brink of disaster. You see, he played fast and loose with funds from SMERSH (a Russian criminal organization whose name is a short version of the Russian words for "death to spies") in a scheme to make more money for himself. When the scheme went south, Le Chiffre found himself broke and in debt to an organization you do not want to piss off. Now Le Chiffre has hightailed it to a casino in Royale-les-Eaux to earn SMERSH's money back in a high-stakes baccarat game. If Bond can bankrupt Le Chiffre at the casino, it could force Le Chiffre to help them out as an informant in exchange for protection. 007 is assisted in this mission by Rene Mathis, Felix Leiter, and the devastatingly beautiful Vesper Lynd, who manages to get underneath 007's armor and worm her way into his heart. The stakes only get higher after the dust settles on their high-stakes game as Bond is drawn into a showdown with Le Chiffre and a betrayal from one of his allies comes to light.
Although a card game is the central set piece of Casino Royale, the game itself takes up less than thirty pages of the novel (including 007's helpful explanation of how baccarat works). The rest is jam-packed with action. Leading up to the big game, 007 has to elude the thugs and goons who have marked him as an MI6 agent and want to kill him before he can meet Le Chiffre at the baccarat table. There's even an attempt on his life during the game itself. And while the schemes are a touch overly elaborate, the result is that Casino Royale is a thrilling read. It's a surprisingly solid, suspenseful introduction to James Bond and his world.
On paper Bond is a cold, calculating man whose life is defined by his job. You get to know him far better than any of the other characters in the novel, but even he remains an enigma. You never really get into his head, but in the end it doesn't matter. Sean Connery and Daniel Craig play the character the closest to how he actually appears on the page: a cold-hearted loner who is deadly efficient and ruthlessly pragmatic. He is not very friendly to women, so be prepared for some seriously dated attitudes there. There is, however, an interesting debate on the nature of good and evil and whether or not it is possible to fight evil.
You might think it would be dated, but outside of the technology at his disposal and some deeply misogynist comments (at one point 007 excitedly thinks that sex with Vesper would carry "the tang of rape," which is unsettling to say the least). The characters are paper thin but the action and the detailed descriptions of food, clothing, and cars make Casino Royale a thrilling read. It helps that it's also short enough to read in one sitting if you were so inclined.
Disappointment, thy name is Jeff Lindsay. It was abundantly clear long ago that Lindsay had fallen into a rut with his Dexter seriesOut With a Whimper
Disappointment, thy name is Jeff Lindsay. It was abundantly clear long ago that Lindsay had fallen into a rut with his Dexter series, that the magic had gone away and he was just going through the motions. I mean honestly, it reached the point where virtually every book had the same ludicrous ending: Dexter's stepkids are kidnapped by the bad guy. To call it stultifying would be a colossal understatement.
Then along came Dexter's Final Cut, and it appeared Lindsay may have been attempting to invigorate his flagging franchise. You see, at the close of that installment, Dexter's not-so-beloved wife, Rita, was killed. The possibilities, they were endless. How would Dexter handle single fatherhood without dearly devoted Rita? How would he get by in the world without the woman who provided his primary cover as a normal family man? For the first time in a long while, I found myself actually looking forward to seeing where Lindsay was going with the story.
You can imagine, then, that news that the next installment was to be Dexter's grand finale came as as bit of a surprise. Why invigorate a franchise just to retire it? It didn't really make sense. Still, one couldn't deny that Lindsay hadn't seemed interested in the series in a long time, so maybe this was an opportunity for him to end the series on a high point. That possibility was juicy enough for me to get excited. What was even more exciting? That the premise of Dexter is Dead finds Dexter in jail for Rita's death and several of the other murders that happened at the end of Dexter's Final Cut. We were going to get to see Dexter literally wrestling with the difficulty of Rita's death and staring down the possibility of indirectly answering for the wealth of sins he's committed across the years.
That would have potentially been a great book. If only Jeff Lindsay had possessed even the slightest interest in writing it. Instead, the whole jail storyline becomes a subplot with alarming speed. Instead of focusing, Lindsay forces Dexter to juggle his murder investigation with an utterly ludicrous subplot involving a drug lord who is displeased with Dexter's brother, Brian. Brian agrees to bankroll Dexter's legal needs if Dexter will help him fight off the drug lord's goons, track down the drug lord, and kill him. Have I mentioned that none of this drug business makes the least amount of sense? And guess--just guess--which plotline Lindsay is more excited about? Just as you start wishing Lindsay would just choose one storyline and stick with it, he does. And he chooses the wrong one. He chooses the nonsensical supervillain storyline he's already written a hundred times.
You'll never guess what happens next. THE KIDS GET KIDNAPPED. I wanted to throw the book across the room in anger and frustration. The fact that I didn't just goes to show how little I had invested in this world anymore. And honestly, if this weren't the final Dexter book I might have just quietly put the book down and gone about my life, never looking back or thinking about picking up another one of Jeff Lindsay's Dexter books ever again anyway.
Was it worth staying for the last page? Not particularly. I get no joy in saying that I stuck it out to the end. There's no payoff or reward for loyalty to be found in this series. You know, I don't ask for a happy ending or a lot of theatrics. It's just sad when an author clearly doesn't care anymore, hasn't been putting in the effort for a long time, and then doesn't even give you the dignity of a half-assed finale. You'd think Lindsay could have at least faked some enthusiasm for one measly book to do a proper goodbye, instead of falling on all the tired cliches he'd already worn out several books earlier. Even Dexter's goodbye is a tedious paint-by-numbers.
The downside of Agatha Christie's most famous mysteries is that their secrets have fallen victim to their own success. Particularly in the internet ag The downside of Agatha Christie's most famous mysteries is that their secrets have fallen victim to their own success. Particularly in the internet age, it's hard to avoid spoilers. Christie's play The Mousetrap famously kept its ending a secret in the mainstream press despite being the longest-running play in history until its Wikipedia page repeatedly updated with spoilers (and lawsuits to censor the reveal came to nothing). For Murder On the Orient Express, spoilers came earlier in the form of a wildly successful 1974 film adaptation. With an all-star cast, the movie version became a pop-cultural touchstone, and the secrets of this, Christie's most popular novel, leaked out into the pop culture consciousness for all time.
Which is a shame, because when Christie is at her best she is a truly devious mastermind of mystery. And I do mean devious: her best works (Murder On the Orient Express, The Mousetrap, And Then There Were None) toy with the conventional expectations of a mystery while completely confounding them.
If you don't know the secrets of the passengers of the Orient Express, you're in for a wild ride with a lot of unexpected twists. If you do know the secrets, which doesn't seem like an unreasonable expectation these days, Murder On the Orient Express will still be an enjoyable read because watching how it all unfolds is a genuine delight.
It's a little too convoluted and just how Hercule Poirot arrives at the conclusions that help him crack the case all-too frequently don't make sense here, which is a touch disappointing. He--and Christie--would like you to believe that he is using the evidence to arrive at a series of educated hypotheses during his suspect interviews. Instead, it appears our famous Belgian detective is wildly flinging darts in the dark, and by some miracle they're all managing to hit the bullseye. For someone who had such a unique understanding of the mystery genre, and for someone who frequently subverted that genre so effectively, Christie also had an unfortunate weakness for some of the genre's laziest tropes in some of her other writings. It's unfortunate to see them leaking through here, in what should have been one of her finest moments.
The unthinkable has happened. Someone saw Dexter engaging in his favorite pastime. At first Dex thinks the mystery man plans to turn him into the poliThe unthinkable has happened. Someone saw Dexter engaging in his favorite pastime. At first Dex thinks the mystery man plans to turn him into the police, but it turns out he has more nefarious things in mind. He's been inspired by Dexter. He wants to be like Dexter, getting rid of the people he deems to be morally inferior. He's been beaten down by life lately, so this is his big shot to be somebody. Of course, there's the little problem of Dexter. The rules say that people who get away with bad things have to go. So Dex himself needs to be brought to account.
Meanwhile, there's a cop killer on the loose and Deb is hot on the trail, proving that single motherhood (her big revelation at the end of the last book was that Kyle got her pregnant before running off) hasn't made her any less of a cop. And Rita wants a bigger house to suit their bigger family. Dex doesn't want to move, but his brother Brian is undermining him at every turn.
The premise is rock solid. If you apply the logic behind the Harry Code to Dexter he's a perfectly viable candidate for playtime. But the execution fails to stick the landing, mainly because the subplots are annoying and get in the way. Dexter's battle with Brian to be alpha male of his own family was interesting in Dexter is Delicious, but it's tiresome now. Deb's unexpected pregnancy at the end of that book promised big things, but it turns out she's resistant to change. And we're back to Astor and Cody getting kidnapped by the baddie leading into the climax. I cannot yawn hard enough. Jeff Lindsay likes these plot devices and does not seem willing to give them up, returning to them again and again. We're officially in a rut.
Like Freaks, this is a little bit of filler to get fans hyped up for the next full novel in the series. It's a short story only available as an eBook.Like Freaks, this is a little bit of filler to get fans hyped up for the next full novel in the series. It's a short story only available as an eBook.
Maura attends a swank party where she meets a handsome, charming man. They talk. They flirt. They drink champagne. In the morning Maura wakes up to discover that a mystery man has been murdered. And all the evidence seems to point to Maura herself. With no memory of what happened the night before, Rizzoli and Isles must struggle with the possibility that Isles could be a murderer while combing through the evidence to see if there could be any other possible solution.
The thing is, whereas Freaks was a fun little romp for what it was, John Doe is a bit more dreary. It wants to take itself seriously like the novels but has none of the heft. We all know Maura's name will be cleared in the end (especially since this isn't a full story), so reading it is really just an exercise in getting from point A to point B. They actually adapted it into an episode of the TV series, where it almost worked. I say almost because they took Maura's dedication to her job, which demands that she take the possibility that she may indeed be the killer, to sanctimonious levels.
Despite my complaints regarding this installment, I do actually like the idea of Rizzoli and Isles short stories and hope they continue.
It took three books for it to finally happen, but at long last Dexter and Deborah are going to have to address the elephant in the room: how does a deIt took three books for it to finally happen, but at long last Dexter and Deborah are going to have to address the elephant in the room: how does a devoted law-abiding policewoman get by knowing that her adopted brother kills people for fun? Can she get by? Dexter is the only family Deb has left--is that familial connection worth sacrificing everything she stands for? Will she have to turn him in?
Really, when you think about it, it makes absolutely no sense that this didn't get addressed sooner. I suppose I could believe that Deb would bury her head in the sand about her brother's hobby for a brief period of time, but for the whole thing to be unacknowledged three books later strains credulity. Deb is a take-the-bull-by-the-horns kind of girl. No way would she not express her feelings for this long. When I was first reading these books I actually second-guessed myself into believing that maybe Deb didn't actually know about her brother. That I had remembered the ending of the first book incorrectly.
Well, late or not, here it is: the moral conundrum at the heart of the entire Dexter series played out through Deb's conscience. Is Dexter a hero for eliminating the scum that get away with it? Or is he just as worthy of punishment as his playtime subjects?
Meanwhile, Dexter returns from his honeymoon with Rita to discover that there's a new maniac on the loose in Miami. This time, bodies are found scattered around the city contorted into macabre art installations. And when the investigation takes a potentially fatal turn for Deborah, Dexter has to team up with her boyfriend, Kyle Chutsky, to get to the bottom of things. They even have a brief excursion to Cuba.
Astor and Cody are eager to begin the violent aspects of their training in the Harry Code, but Dex is instead trying to get them to hold off on that until they can pass as normal. Cody gets shoved into the Boy Scouts as part of a test to see if he can play nice with other kids.
I've knocked this book a lot, so I don't want to harp. The primary criticism I have is really that it shouldn't have taken so long for Lindsay to have Deb address her moral concerns. And when she finally does, she comes around to Dexter's point of view a little too easily. TV Deb had a much more interesting, complex struggle with her brother's hobby. For some reason Lindsay doesn't seem to want to be bothered questioning his antihero. I really think he missed out on a huge opportunity for narrative tension in the books. On the page Dex pretty much floats through life unchallenged. His nemesis, Doakes, has already been hobbled and sidelined. No one has stepped up to fill that void. Dex can be interesting without a foil, but I think his story could be so much richer if he had one.
Still, this is a decent return to form after Dexter in the Dark. Just decent, though. The focus is a little more comedic than dark. That's not necessarily a negative, but we haven't gotten back to the twisted dark humor Lindsay is best at yet. And while the kids figure prominently in the finale for the second time, it hasn't gotten old yet.
"This was the forever show in Dexterland, and tickets and tickets were nonrefundable and one-way only."
By the time Jeff Lindsay got to this, the seven"This was the forever show in Dexterland, and tickets and tickets were nonrefundable and one-way only."
By the time Jeff Lindsay got to this, the seventh book in his Dexter series (not to be confused with the TV show, which, as we have discussed, is very different), the books were beginning to fall into a bit of a rut. The killers Dexter finds himself coming up against are pretty consistently fiendishly creative visions on the part of Lindsay, but geez, it feels like suddenly every book needs to end with one or more of the children getting kidnapped and placed in mortal danger. I understand that Dexter's stepchildren, Astor and Cody, play a bigger role here than they do on the TV show, but it really is too much. It makes you long for a day when dear, devilish Dexter can face down a villain on his own.
This installment promises to be different, which was a thrilling prospect for me ...
A grisly murder (this series knows no other kind) in Chinatown leaves no trace of the suspect other than two silver hairs that don't belong to a humanA grisly murder (this series knows no other kind) in Chinatown leaves no trace of the suspect other than two silver hairs that don't belong to a human. While investigating, Rizzoli and Isles uncover a link to a brutal multiple murder nineteen years earlier. A murder with only one survivor: a girl who disappeared and has remained silent ever since. A girl who has been training in deadly Chinese martial arts. A girl who has been patiently planning vengeance. A girl who appears to have ties to a mystical Chinese creature with a keen eye for bloody vengeance. Now it's up to Rizzoli and Isles to find her and uncover her secrets before the next body appears.
As far as showcases for Gerritsen playing to her strength of writing kick-ass female characters go, The Silent Girl does very well. The titular girl almost becomes someone to root for in a sort of Kill Bill style, as does the wise old Chinese woman (and martial arts teacher) who seems to be helping her stay hidden. Like in Vanish, Gerritsen doesn't treat the girl like a villain. She's a woman who has been beaten down and refuses to stay down. Her tactics are ... well, 'morally questionable' would be a ridiculous understatement. They're full-blown illegal. But Gerritsen makes sure you understand where she is coming from and why she is doing the things she is doing. It's a compelling story.
There are some problems, though. There's very little mystery to be found here, but that isn't actually my problem. You can still have a very effective mystery/thriller when the identity of the bad guy is essentially known to the reader. It's just that the parts Gerritsen seems to think of as the mystery aspect aren't actually very mysterious at all. They're kind of obvious, actually. Even the final 'twist.' It weakens an otherwise solid entry in the Rizzoli and Isles series.