Along with Captain Kirk and the Doctor, my fandom of Sherlock Holmes began in my middle school years. I was aware of the immortal detective but had ne...moreAlong with Captain Kirk and the Doctor, my fandom of Sherlock Holmes began in my middle school years. I was aware of the immortal detective but had never really read any of the original source material featuring Holmes until one day in reading lab, I picked up a newly arrived copy of "The Hound of the Baskervilles." I consumed the book in a couple of days and was soon ready to move on to more.
My parents indulged my new interest in Holmes, purchasing a paperback copy of "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes", a hard cover book with reprints of the original Strand editions of the short stories and "Hound" and even buying me a role-playing game called "221 B Baker Street" to try out. (I don't recall playing it much because the game was a time consuming one and required more patience to learn to play than my friends were willing to invest).
It was a good time to be a Holmes novice. The Jeremy Brett Holmes adaptations were hitting my local PBS station. At the time I didn't understand or appreciate their faithfulness to the original material and how refreshing that as compared to other portrayals of the great detective in other mediums.
In my original reading of Holmes, I jumped around a bit. It wasn't until late in my original journey through the Holmes canon that I acquired a copy of "A Study in Scarlet" and "Sign of the Four" in paperback and read them.
Every once in a while, I get a hankering to re-visit the Holmes canon. This time around, the desire came from the debut of the second season of "Sherlock" on the BBC and discovering a series of audio adaptations of the Holmes canon ready by Derek Jacoby. I'd meant to start off where I started all those years before with "Hound" but due to a user error in loading the audio book to my .mp3 player, I found myself starting over where it all began with "A Study in Scarlet."
As a Holmes fan, I have to admit that the novel length Holmes adventures aren't the strongest things in the canon. Conan Doyle seems a bit more comfortable working in the short story format and the early Holmes short stories are among the more memorable and exciting in the canon. But when it comes to "Scarlet" I must admit I find myself enjoying it more for the introduction to Holmes and his methods than the actual mystery itself.
Seeing the first meeting of Holmes and Watson is among the the highlights of the book as is their growing friendship. Seeing Holmes initially keep Watson at arm's length is intriguing. It's also interesting to see how Watson is portrayed here--he's not the bumbler that we Nigel Bruce made him out to be in the later Basil Rathbone films. At several points in the course of the narrative, Watson comments on his general sense of laziness and a lack of motivation.
The characters of Holmes and Watson are interesting enough to more than make up for the novel's lack of compelling mystery. The story speeds along for the first half, but hits a huge speed bump when Conan Doyle shifts the focus to America and his reflections of Mormonism. (Let's just say he doesn't appear to be a fan). The third or so of the story that gives us the details as to why the crime occurred aren't nearly as much fun or page turning as what came before and it's only once Watson takes the narrative back over that things really get rolling again.
All that said, I can still see why Holmes created such an impression and a stir in his debut. He's not entirely likeable, but he's still a compelling and fascinating character. (less)
While I've been aware of Lee Child's best-selling Jack Reacher novels for a while, I hadn't really cracked the cover of one until I heard there was a movie based on the series headed our way. Being the guy who has to read the book first, I headed out to the local library and picked up the first novel, Killing Floor, assuming that the movie series would start with the first novel in the series.
That's what I get for assuming. Turns out that Reacher, like the Bond movies, has decided not to start with the first published novel in the series, but with the ninth novel One Shot. After reading both One Shot and The Killing Floor, I think this is a pretty good idea. As an introductory novel, The Killing Floor is OK, but it's not great. Having just been released from the Army after 13 years of service, Jack Reacher is wandering the country by bus. On a whim, he decides to visit a small town in Georgia to look in on his younger brother and soon finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy.
The first novel is a good one, but a lot of it depends on coincidence. Reacher happens to wander into vital information and situations at just the right time. This works the first time or two it happens, but I found myself rolling my eyes a bit as it kept occurring through the entire run of the novel.
And so it was that after reading the first Reacher, I jumped forward to the ninth novel, One Shot so I could do the inevitable comparing the book to the movie when I see it. As an action thriller novel, One Shot works extremely well. When a sniper goes on a killing spree, the prime suspect has only one request--find Jack Reacher. Turns out our accused sniper was trained by the military for this exact purpose and had a run in with Reacher as an MP. Reacher arrives on the scene and starts investigating, once again finding there's more here than meets the eye. There's too much evidence pointing to our main suspect, which Reacher finds suspicious. There's also a conspiracy in play and Reacher kicking a lot of tail on various people who make the mistake of crossing him.
As the outline for an action film, I can see why Hollywood would choose this one first. It's got a good build-up to Reacher arriving on the scene and it's got some good action moments for the character. It shows him as a man of action/detective of sorts, all while pulling in Reacher's past and previous experience. I'll even admit that the first trailer for the film had me hopeful because it looked fairly faithful to the source material, especially the last 30 or so seconds with the big brawl in the street.
That said, I just can't quite understand why Tom Cruise was cast as Jack Reacher. (OK, I get it--the guy is a box office draw). If you've read the novels, you know that Reacher is a tall, imposing man who uses that to his advantage to impose his will upon people. I know that Hollywood can't always cast a character just as he or she originally is described in a novel, but surely they could come a bit closer than Tom Cruise. Interestingly as I waited for The Hobbit to start last weekend, there was a extended sneak peek at Jack Reacher with author Lee Child extolling that Cruise is a good Reacher. My first thought was, of course he's not going to tear down the casting choice saying "Boy, they sure blew it on this one." That won't encourage your faithful audience to head out and see the film now then will it?*
*That is, unless you're Clive Cussler, who famously was not a huge fan of what they did to Sahara, thus killing the potential Dirk Pitt franchise.
After One Shot, I was significantly intrigued enough to want to read more of the adventures of Reacher. So, I sought out the second novel in the series, Die Trying. Reacher is in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets pulled into a vortex when he tries to help a woman out on the street. I have to admit of the five novels I've read in the series so far, this is my least favorite. It just didn't quite grab my attention and hold me the way three of the five novels in the series have.
Next up, I jumped ahead to The Affair. It's the sixteenth novel in the series but one that cycles back to the time before The Killing Floor and details the events that led to Reacher leaving the Army. In Carter Crossing, Mississippi, a small town next to an Army base, a local woman has been killed. Reacher is assigned to go into the town undercover and cozy up to the local law enforcement to find out what they know. However, the sheriff is an ex-Marine MP and sees Reacher coming a mile away. She allows him to stay around and begin to investigate things, soon finding a pattern to events taking place in the town. It all adds up to (wait for it ) another conspiracy and Reacher being caught in the cross-hairs.
I'll admit The Affair works a lot better as an introduction to Reacher than the first two novels did. Reading the books, I keep finding myself comparing the character to that of Bond--he's a man's man that all women seem to find irresistible. He also has some eccentricities that are repeated in each novel (or so it seems). He doesn't use toothpaste, instead always opting for a fold-up toothbrush and mints. (Reacher loves his fold-up toothbrush, to the point that you'd think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread). He travels light, often washing the same set of clothes in the hotel sink multiple times per book (and he gets all the ladies, how again?). He also doesn't believe in settling in any one place for any length of time.
Which is why the third novel in the series struck me as a bit odd. Tripwire stars off with Reacher digging pools in Key West. When a PI shows up looking for him, Reacher denies who he is and the detective gets killed. Curious as to why finding him cost the PI his life, Reacher begins digging around and heads to New York to find the elusive Mrs. Jacobs who hired the PI. Turns out Mrs. Jacobs is Jody Garber Jacobs, divorced attorney and daughter of his former CO. The CO has just passed away and Reacher was like a son to him. It also turns out that Jody pined for Reacher when she was 15 and Reacher always wondered what might have been had she been a bit older. (There's a nine year gap in their age). After a quarter of the novel is spent fraught with sexual tension between the two, they finally admit they're hot for each other, have been for years and begin hooking up. They also look into a situation her father was examining when he died involving a guy with a hook for a hand, scars on his face and a connection to an MIA Vietnam vet.
Tripwire works well because it has an interesting adversary for Reacher. Hobie Hook is menacing in that Bond villain kind of way and I could honestly see the book translating well to a second film should the first one prove successful. Hobie chews scenery with the best of them and his plan to bilk a rich guy out of his company is an interesting one. Of course, a lot of the book would have to be set somewhere else since, unnervingly, Hobie's office is on the 88th floor of the Twin Towers. (The book was written well before Sept. 11th).
It's also in Tripwire that Reacher is at his most Bond-like. At one point he gets shot in the chest only to survive because his pecs are so strong the bullet simply couldn't get to his heart.
Of course, it's also interesting to see that Reacher is left the house of his former CO in the novel and elects to remain near Jody as the book ends. Considering she's not on the scene by the time we reach One Shot, I can only assume she exits the series at some point. I just hope she doesn't meet the same fate as Tracy Bond...
So far, I like the Reacher novels. They're not great literature, but they're fun, entertaining action adventures stories that when they're good, keep the pages turning. I'll be interested to see how the movie does and if that will drive audiences to the books. I also plan to try and continue reading more of the adventures of Jack Reacher, if only because I'm curious as to what happens to Jody and why, if she's the great love of Reacher's life, she vanishes from the series.
The writing duo of the University of Tennessee's Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson is back with a third suspense novel featuring Dr. Bill Brockton.
"The...moreThe writing duo of the University of Tennessee's Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson is back with a third suspense novel featuring Dr. Bill Brockton.
"The Devil's Bones" follows the events of the previous novel as Brockton continues to come to terms with the murder of his lover by his nemesis, Garland Hamilton. Brockton is asked to look into the cremains of a friend's loved one and soon uncovers a scam being perpetrated by owners of a cremation company. Add to this that Hamilton escapes custody and is on the run and you've got a myriad of threads all running parallel over the course of this suspense/thriller.
The story follows three separate threads that, for the most part, only cross paths with Brockton having to deal with them. The authors avoid the tempation to bring everything neatly together in the end and instead concentrate on the specifics of being a foresnic anthropologist. The moments in the novel when Brockton and his team investigate and solve various crimes based on the physical evidence left behind are some of the book's most compelling.
But without a good story, this would all be meaningless. And there is a good story here that will keep you guessing and keep the pages turning. (less)
The tenth entry in Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series finds the Baltimore-native reporter-turned-private-eye rowing her way into the production of t...moreThe tenth entry in Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series finds the Baltimore-native reporter-turned-private-eye rowing her way into the production of the television mini-series Mann of Steel. Tess is hired to provide security for young starlet Selene Waites (think Paris Hilton only with acting ability) due to a series of disturbing incidents plaguing the fledgling series.
At first Tess chalks Selene up to a ditzy Hollywood type, but events quickly show that Selene is cleverer than she lets on. When the series of incidents escalates into the death of one of the writing assistants, Tess’ natural curiosity is piqued and she begins to investigate what’s really happening with the Mann of Steel production.
As the story unfolds, a number of likely suspects enter into the picture with Lippman laying out a foundation and motive for each person to be part of the plot to disrupt the production of the show. As always with Lippman’s books, the pages turn easily and the narrative shifts between several characters while staying firmly grounded with Tess. The first half of the book lays out all the characters and their potential motivations and the second half puts the pieces into place, leading up to a satisfying denouncement to multiple mysteries taking place within the novel.
Yet despite having several threads running, the novel never loses focus or the reader.
Along with Elizabeth George, Lippman writes the most satisfying, character-driven mystery novels on the market today. As with George’s Lynley and Havers series, part of the pleasure in Lippman’s Monaghan novels is the chance to “catch up” with Tess. Of course, the mystery is compelling as well or else the novels wouldn’t be worth the time or effort. But the balance of character and mystery is well navigated here. And Lippman does the near impossible task of allowing new readers into the Tess universe while satisfying long-time readers of Tess’ adventures.
The latest in Stephen White’s Alan Gregory series of novels continues his recent trend of shifting between multirple perspectives among the various pr...moreThe latest in Stephen White’s Alan Gregory series of novels continues his recent trend of shifting between multirple perspectives among the various protagonists, always settling and centering on Boulder pysychologist Gregory.
“Dead Time” weaves together three perspectives as it slowly unravels the mystery of what happened years before when some friends camped out on the floor of the Grand Canyon. A woman disappeared under strange circumstances and has never been found since. What happened to her and the impact it had on the friendships of those on the trip plays a significant role for the rest of the novel.
The other threads slip back and forth between first-person perspective of Alan and his ex-wife Meredith. Meredith comes back into Alan’s wife when she attends a funeral of an old friend in Colorado and later when Alan visits New York for a few weeks with his newly adopted son. Meredith needs Alan’s help to look into disappearance of the surrogate mother she and her fiancee are using. Both the surrogate and the fiancee were part of the trip to the floor of the Grand Canyon.
What unfolds next is a series of revelations at a fairly reasonable rate, all grounded and set up by the early stages of the novel. And while the central mystery of what happened or what it means to the characters today isn’t exactly the most original mystery storyline around, it’s still compelling enough to keep reader interest as the pages turn.
What is far more interesting is the shifting perspective between Alan and his ex-wife and how they see the world and each other. Also, readers of the series will know that Alan’s current marriage is on dicey ground and following Alan’s struggles with tempations as he and his wife are geographically separated for the summer is intriguing. The real meat of the story comes from the glimpses and justifications as well as the blindness to faults he’d find in patients that Alan undergoes as the story unfolds.
And once the central mystery wraps up, there are still a few revelations about Alan’s personal life to come that are clearly setting things up for the next installment. It’s not quite as “holy cow, I’ve got to know what’s next” as the developments to Inspector Thomas Lynley in Elizabeth George’s novels, but it’s still enough to make the year or so wait between this book and the next an interesting one.
Brilliant first half of the novel, completely let down in the second. The ending stretched my willing suspension of disbelief to the breaking point an...moreBrilliant first half of the novel, completely let down in the second. The ending stretched my willing suspension of disbelief to the breaking point and then some. (less)
Two years ago, Detective Archie Sheridan was captured and tortured by serial killer Gretchen Lowell. However, instead of following her pattern, she le...moreTwo years ago, Detective Archie Sheridan was captured and tortured by serial killer Gretchen Lowell. However, instead of following her pattern, she let Archie go and turned herself in. Why this happened is just one of the questions that haunts the Archie and Chelsea Cain's superb novel, "Heartsick."
Two years later, Archie is still recovering from the mental and physical scars when a new serial killer crops up. Archie is called back in and paired with pink-haired journalist, Susan Ward. Ward's job is to document the hunt and profile Archie.
Where this all leads and how it ties into Lowell makes for a compelling, page-turning mystery. In a field where serial killer novels can be a dime a dozen, Cain steps up and delivers a story that has richly done, sympathetic characters and one of the most chilling pyschos to haunt the printed page since Hannibal Lecter. While not featuring in the story until halfway through, Lowell hands like a spectre over the novel and the final few twists and turns are well set up but still manage to surprise the reader. (less)
With an endorsement by best-selling author Stephen King and a vast majority of those writing suspense fiction today, you have to wonder why Meg Gardin...moreWith an endorsement by best-selling author Stephen King and a vast majority of those writing suspense fiction today, you have to wonder why Meg Gardiner hasn't broken through in a big way here in the United States. From what I understand, she's published several successful novels in the UK, all of which are being published here over the next several months.
After reading "Dirty Secrets Club," I can see why she has the ringing endorsement of Mr. King and others. And I can definitely see her being the next "big thing" not only in the mystery/suspense genre but also in the publishing world as a whole.
Set in San Francisco, "The Dirty Secrets Club," is a secret society of people, all of whom have a dark secret from their past that they've shared with members of the group. Run in cells to keep one person from having too much power, members of the group are dying at the rate of one every three days, all in spectacular fashion and in a way that looks like suicide. The latest victim works for the district attorney's office and is one of the founding members of the club.
After her death, the case is given a high priority to be solved, leading to foresnic pyschologic Jo Beckett being brought onto the case. Beckett's job is to explain the why of the death and the pyschological state of the victim of a crime. But just like the victims, Beckett has her own secret from the past she doesn't want brought into the light of day.
Fast paced and exhilerating, "The Dirty Secrets Club" is one part pyschological drama, one part character study, one part suspense thriller and one part mystery. Gardiner shifts efortelessly from scene to scene and follows several characters in the story, weaving together a story that is suspenseful, exciting and one hell of a good read. I will warn you that this is not a book to read as you're getting ready to turn out the light and need to be up early the next day. Not only can Gardiner draw you into her universe with the story unfolding, but her writing style is effortless and addictive to read. You'll find yourself up way past bedtime, just wanting to read one more chapter to see what happens next.
Along the way, there are revelations, twists and turns to the story all of which are surprising and well set up by the early stages of the story. Nothing comes entirely out of left field, making the reader roll their eyes. Instead, the twists will shock and then begin to make sense based on what we know about the situation and the characters.
Meg Gardiner could be the next big thing in the writing world. But don't let it be a dirty secret...share her writing and this great novel with not only yourself but everyone you come in contact with. This is a great book and I highly recommend it. (less)
While walking home one day, six-year-old Joanna Mason's family is attacked and killed by a man wielding a butcher knife. Joanna escapes by fleeing int...moreWhile walking home one day, six-year-old Joanna Mason's family is attacked and killed by a man wielding a butcher knife. Joanna escapes by fleeing into a cornfield and hiding. She's eventually found and the killer is caught and sent to jail.
Now before you get upset with me for revealing too much, let me just say that all of what I described above happens in the first twenty or so pages of Kate Atkinson's latest novel "When Will There Be Good News?" The death of Joanna's family is the catalyst for everything that happens for the rest of the story and the impact is felt on every single character we meet over the course of this story.
As usual, Atkinson's novel is one that defies easy description. It's one part a mystery, one part character study and one part suspense thriller. The story starts out on a deceptively slow note, allowing readers to get to know the various players in the events to come and slowly building to a train wreck (literally and figuratively) of a turning point that has a direct impact on each of the characters. Atkinson brings back Jackson Brodie, the private detective who featured in her previous novels "Case Histories" and "One Good Turn" as well as several other familiar faces.
As I read this story, comparions to Elizabeth George kept creeping up on me. (And that's a good thing as George is one of my favorite authors). Atkinson has a storytelling style that highlights characters, but continues to build the story with each page. She's subtle, working in details to the storyline naturally and rewarding readers when a payoff comes several pages later. Watching the story unfold, building up momentum until we finally see the bigger picture is fascinating. Several storylines cross over and we get to see events from several points of view.
The various elements will keep you guessing, keep you curious and keep the pages turning. I consumed this book eagerly, anxious to find out what happens next. It's one of those where once the final page is turned, you'll walk away satisfied but wishing there was more to savor. (less)