Charlie writes caper novels about a burglar. But he is also a burglar himself. If you've read any of the Bernie Rhodenbarr novels by Lawrence Block (aCharlie writes caper novels about a burglar. But he is also a burglar himself. If you've read any of the Bernie Rhodenbarr novels by Lawrence Block (and you really should), you know the basic structure that the book will probably follow: your guy doesn't like violence, but in the course of his burgling, he comes across a murder of which he will be suspected. To get himself off the hook, he needs to solve the murder, in the course of which he needs to use his thieving skills, and various highjinks ensue. It's a good formula.
This book adheres to the basic plan, and won an award, justifiably, for being a good first mystery. Well-structured, interesting setting, cool plot, and a good relationship between the first-person narrator (Charlie) and his editor.
Why only 3 stars? Two main beefs.
Charlie is alleged to be English. But his breezy, noirish voice sounds, frankly, too American. Too much like Bernie Rhodenbarr, in fact, and not enough like Bertie Wooster.
The second is the publisher's fault. At least eight times in the book, whoever edited it let homonyms stand in place of the correct word. Teem for team, for example. A small irritation. But (a) we expect that from the self-published slush pile where we find free books to download, not from hardback copies from reputable publishers and (b) the main character is an author, and we are encouraged to like his editor! Besides: he's allegedly English. They're not supposed to make mistakes like that. ...more
A quick, fun thriller, second in the series by local-boy-makes-good Eliot Peper. Mara Winkel is our first-person protagonist, CEO of Mozaik, a tech stA quick, fun thriller, second in the series by local-boy-makes-good Eliot Peper. Mara Winkel is our first-person protagonist, CEO of Mozaik, a tech startup in Boulder. Mara and her posse struggle with interpersonal and inter-corporate demons as they try to bring their product to market, in a game that has higher stakes than they realized.
It's definitely worth a look, and if you're interested in the changing face of fiction and publishing, worth some reflection.
For example: The author and publisher have called this “startup fiction.” A new, perhaps small genre.
Many mysteries and thrillers teach us things. The author has special knowledge—perhaps acquired as part of the book research—that enriches the read. If it’s a murder set backstage at the theater, we can learn a lot about trapdoors, how sets are flown, or the chemical composition of stage make-up. Or it might give us background on the social phenomena that make the crime possible and horrific, as in Sue Grafton's T is for Trespass, in which we learn a lot about elder abuse.
In this case, it’s startups. What more timely, twenty-first-century milieu? Peper has been around them plenty, and sets his young college departees in the thick of it. So he’s writing what he knows, and making it more interesting by wrapping the start-up knowledge in a thriller with good guys and bad guys, arguments and tension, disaster and triumph.
So what makes this startup fiction instead of a thriller set in a startup? In this book, I don’t think you can say. Furthermore, I think it’s a good thing.
And here’s why: the first volume, Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0 suffered (for me as a reader) because we heard characters explain too much of what sounded like seminars about staffing and financing. They explained how startups worked and what mistakes people made. At great length. This was interesting, but I had a hard time believing that characters actually talked like that. However, I could easily imagine that if I were steeped in the startup culture, if I were in a startup or closely connected to one, the book would be really, really cool, even cathartic—a book, basically, about me and the people I cared about, a book that got under the skin of the high-pressure, high-impact culture I was part of. Startup fiction. Fiction for members of the culture.
This volume is different. The author’s voice has lost all preachiness. I don’t think I got any advice I would implement in my own startup (if I ever started another). But I did feel as if I was in one, and I cared a lot about whether Mozaik succeeded. And I think the book is, as a consequence, more universally enjoyable. ...more
An important book to read if you're a doctor, or interested in becoming a doctor. Or if you know someone who wants to be a doctor. Or if you know a doAn important book to read if you're a doctor, or interested in becoming a doctor. Or if you know someone who wants to be a doctor. Or if you know a doctor.
It's even useful if you ever plan to see a doctor. In short: read this book.
As the title suggests, it's about the emotional life of physicians. Ofri connects that theme to many aspects of the medical-care world. The lucid, penetrating, thoughtful, heartfelt, even heartbreaking prose gives us readers a banquet-for-thought about everything from our relationships to our doctors to the Gordian knot of the American health-care system. ...more
A fun change of pace from Richard Jury. Grimes takes us to New York, into the seamy, ridiculous underbelly of the publishing industry, ratcheting up tA fun change of pace from Richard Jury. Grimes takes us to New York, into the seamy, ridiculous underbelly of the publishing industry, ratcheting up the humor that's always a part of her work (but not as far as, say, Dave Barry or Carl Hiassen—but who knows what would happen if she set hers in Miami...). Not much to add except that this book has the best pair of hit men ever....more
There is an ocean of Austen fan fiction out there, and no book is more extended than Pride and Prejudice. We love to read what happens to Elizabeth anThere is an ocean of Austen fan fiction out there, and no book is more extended than Pride and Prejudice. We love to read what happens to Elizabeth and Darcy, whether it's her doughty fight against the undead or how they deal with truly-dead bodies at Pemberley.
This book would stand with the best of them. Our hopes are dashed and restored and dashed again. We get love, redemption, missteps, the vile Wickham, and not knowing whether there will be a happy ending until the very end. And the writing! Jo Baker's cold mornings make my hands hurt just to read them.
But this book goes beyond great fan fiction, and here's why:
It takes place mostly during the same time period as P&P, but downstairs: it's about the servants. Jane Austen gave us the restrained, arch, inner life of women of heart, soul, and mind, finding their way in a society that devalues them. Jo Baker gives us the struggle, toil, and worry of people with heart, soul, and mind, in a society where even our beloved Elizabeth finds them almost invisible.
The human stories are the heart of the book. But Jo Baker also answers questions we may never have thought to ask: when Elizabeth arrives, muddy-hemmed at Netherfield, who cleans her clothes? In a world without indoor plumbing, what happens to the shit? And when Mr Bennet escapes to his library, who has to cope with his wife? The book is structured to parallel P&P; as Baker said in an interview, "When a meal is served in Pride and Prejudice, it's prepared downstairs in Longbourn."
For me, she gives just the right amount of detail about housekeeping practices of the early 1800s. I now know that when you slaughter a pig, it's time to make soap. And I've seen it done. But I couldn't possibly do it myself.
Another thing: Books in the "canon" are necessarily contained. But here, the outside world plays a role. Servants, after all, know things, and are affected by events, which young women are protected from ever hearing about. This expands the scope of the novel. In Mansfield Park, for example, Fanny asks about slavery and is met with stony silence. Here, we learn that one of Bingley's footmen, Ptolemy Bingley, was born a slave—and we readers, with our 21st-century perspective, wonder if he's Bingley's half-brother. In P&P, the officers of Wickham's regiment, quartered at Meryton, flirt and attend balls. In this book, there is a war going on, and it affects our characters even as the Bennet girls are insulated from its horrors.
Oh: and we learn seriously juicy backstory about some of our favorite characters.
It's a joy to read, an homage, a tour-de-force. If you're an Austin fan (and you should be) it's a great read....more
This was my introduction to Armand Gamache, and a fine discovery he is! As other reviewers mention, it may have been better to start elsewhere in theThis was my introduction to Armand Gamache, and a fine discovery he is! As other reviewers mention, it may have been better to start elsewhere in the series—for example, at the beginning:)—because there are many references to the past in this book, which must at some level be spoilers for earlier books. We'll see. I've downloaded the first in the series, Still Life.
Those other reviews mention the essentials: Gamache is a Chief Inspector with the Sûreté du Québec, which is fun in itself, a whole new milieu for me as a mystery reader. Like heroes in so many police procedurals, he has a (mostly) trusty sidekick and bosses with whom he disagrees. He's quiet and thoughtful, much more a Maigret than, say, a Wallander, and a long way from more muscular, action-oriented detectives.
The mystery is set in a monastery in the wilds of northern Québec where monks tend their gardens and make chocolate-covered blueberries. And they sing Gregorian chant. It's all about the music here, what the music does to your soul, and the conflicts that can bring.
So Louise Penny has an interesting task as a writer: how do you express the profound effect of music, and the details of the effect, in words? In general, I think she does a terrific job. It's delicate: too little and the story won't make sense; too much and we drown in words about sound. You can't really show, you have to tell. So you have to gush a little about what the listener is feeling. And you have to repeat yourself enough that the reader "gets" what's important. I imagine that the prose's effect depends on your mood when you read it, whether you're a singer, and whether listening to a piece of music has ever made you burst into tears. It might even depend on what you ate for lunch. In any case, it worked for me, and I appreciate the sheer gutsiness of writing a story where the music matters.
My quibble comes from a different direction. It's not giving away too much to say that we become interested in what's so special about the singing at this monastery. And that leads us, as readers, to speculate about Ancient Secrets. At which point we tread dangerously close to Plot Elements That Try Unsuccessfully To Carry More Weight Than A Murder Mystery Can Support. If Maigret (and not Tom Hanks) had stumbled across the whole Da Vinci Code thing, for example, we would rightly wonder whether Simenon was off his rocker.
But: "dangerously close" is not "over the edge." Louise Penny navigates this well, I think. We do eventually find out what's so special—and that is what's (a little) disappointing. As a music guy, the Big Reveal doesn't quite make sense to me. It's interesting, but the dots (literally, in this case...) do not connect.
Read the book, in any case, and see what you think!...more
Great setting, and a time and place I knew next to nothing about. It was fun to hear the echoes of How the Irish Saved Civilization. And it's a fairlyGreat setting, and a time and place I knew next to nothing about. It was fun to hear the echoes of How the Irish Saved Civilization. And it's a fairly competent mystery; although the minor characters are cutouts, and like others I suspected the perp all along, I didn't really put it together until the denouement.
But I agree with other two- and three-star reviewers. The stylistic problems in Tremayne's prose are distracting, given the high quality of others in the genre. For example: he loses his grip on the point-of-view character, shifting haphazardly and unnecessarily from one to another. It would be better to stick with Sister Fidelma. Therefore you can't see the set of her mouth or the (oh, not again) flash of her green (of course) eyes.
Description is weak as well. For this period we need the sounds and smells of the place. It's too little too late, in the second half, to know that the kitchen smells of rotten cabbage. Except that the rooms are named in Latin, most of the action could just as well be in a Holiday Inn. ...more
Another wonderful Haruf. This is set some time after Eventide, in Holt, Colorado.
The style is intriguing; the author takes pains not to intrude withAnother wonderful Haruf. This is set some time after Eventide, in Holt, Colorado.
The style is intriguing; the author takes pains not to intrude with his own impressions of things. You might think that other books are based on show-don't-tell, but read Haruf to see it for real. And, paradoxically, how affecting that can be. The book is deeply emotional—and it all comes from pitch-perfect direct observation. Maybe it's just that I'm old enough now to be more aware of death. I wept, plenty.
I contrast this with The Shelter Cycle, which also hews carefully to the rule. But in that case, I felt that the spare, just-the-facts prose dulled the narrative. ...more
Still reading, and will probably continue, but here's my beef:
I love Chabon's work in general, but in this one, our 1st-person protagonist, Grady TripStill reading, and will probably continue, but here's my beef:
I love Chabon's work in general, but in this one, our 1st-person protagonist, Grady Tripp, seems irredeemably caught in webs of his own making. A certain measure of this is OK and amusing: we see ourselves. We see how his ability to get it right doesn't extend as far as he would like. But it's a pinball game right now, with him careening from near-disaster to near-fiasco without ever quite going over the edge. And that is proving tiresome.
Part of that is the setting, which contributes. Tripp is an English professor in a small college. So he's allowed to be smart and witty, and we have all the arcane alien strangeness of college life. I get the feeling here (for the first time, for me) that denizens of fictional colleges are allowed to have problems that Ordinary Proles never face, or (on the other hand) just suck it up and deal with. That is, the setting, in addition giving us a social island on which a story plays out—a kind of manor-house comedy of manners—gives the characters a pass on caring about things that really matter. Instead, it gives the writer an excuse to introduce a parade of quirky minor characters and their backstories, and create alcohol- and weed-fueled perceptions and decisions. Hmm.
(added a few days later, after finishing)
One problem is that we spend 400 (iBook) pages learning clearly why the guy needs redemption, and 30 pages getting it. It is a redemption story after all, so let's be positive: Some lovely moments, including perhaps my favorite line (not a spoiler, I think): "I guess there's no point in hanging on to this tuba, then." And it was early Chabon, it turns out, so we give him a pass on the expectations created by later, better books. ...more
Another confection from Jasper Fforde, rich in acknowledged absurdities, snarky comments, and smooth social commentary. Again not quite up to the impoAnother confection from Jasper Fforde, rich in acknowledged absurdities, snarky comments, and smooth social commentary. Again not quite up to the impossible standard of the first quartet, but a worthy addition to the oeuvre....more
This is a good, well-plotted story in the Tom Clancy tradition. And we like the characters. The good guys are good, but with flaws. The bad guys are bThis is a good, well-plotted story in the Tom Clancy tradition. And we like the characters. The good guys are good, but with flaws. The bad guys are bad. And the sub operations have the ring of truth, at least to one who has never been aboard.
But somebody has to say it: Oak Ridge Publishing should treat its authors better. The look and feel of the book shouts "self-published" and "we didn't hire a copy editor." Even the best authors need editing. So you get a copy editor, who would have axed the (many) unnecessary commas and caught the consistent misspellings (e.g., carousal for carousel). And a really good one would have caught the occasional glaring errors of (non-military) fact. For example, a character cannot lug the Sunday New York Times home to read the funnies: it has none. Anyone who cherishes Sunday comics should know this!
The problem with the lack of editing is, first, that the extra commas slow down the reader and make them (well, me) reread sentences to figure out what they really mean. And second, errors in trivial facts make us readers lose confidence in the author—and in this case, it's really not the author's fault. ...more
A terrific potboiler in which you get a great combination of gothic cathedral design and construction, English perfidy and betrayal, a clear distinctiA terrific potboiler in which you get a great combination of gothic cathedral design and construction, English perfidy and betrayal, a clear distinction between good and evil, blood and gore, and hot sex, all delivered at about an eighth-grade reading level. Don't look for literary brilliance, but you want a fun read? Here is one....more
I have so liked many Tepper books, and this one raced along well enough. It has an interesting premise, with intelligent, speaking dogs, but the writiI have so liked many Tepper books, and this one raced along well enough. It has an interesting premise, with intelligent, speaking dogs, but the writing just didn't hold up for me this time. Not sure why. But I felt vindicated in my opinion when I picked up the next book I was going to read, by Barbara Kingsolver, and immediately saw the difference. Could it be the mood I was in? Sure....more
This novel inspires me to identify a new genre in mystery fiction: the police dysfunctional.
Given the current interest in Scandinavian mystery and myThis novel inspires me to identify a new genre in mystery fiction: the police dysfunctional.
Given the current interest in Scandinavian mystery and my enthusiasm for the Beck series (Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall), the Wallander novels by Henning Mankell, the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson, the Harry Hole books by Jo Nesbø, and books by Kjell Eriksson, the prospect of this book was irresistible. The cover blurbs looked great, the author has a bunch of cred, what's not to like?
Let me list seven:
• It's OK to skip around in time; that's an interesting technique that lets you present parts of the story in the best order; and it can keep your reader off-balance if that's what you want. But you have to give some clues about when you're skipping ahead or back and how many years. Maybe it would be clearer to somebody who lived in Sweden at the time, but dang, at one point I thought I was in the 90s or the 00s, when somebody said there's this new disease called AIDS and I was yanked back into the 80s.
• A related issue: It is not a spoiler to say that the plot includes concerns about the safety of the prime minister. Are we told whether that prime minister is Olof Palme? We are not. Why keep it a secret? Even we Americans know that's an issue. If we were told the year instead of just the date, we could orient ourselves. It's as if we're following a character who gets a key to a book repository in Dallas and we're not told it's 1963. What? You think we're going to be surprised? No, just annoyed.
• Many important characters are identified by role, not by name: the prime minister, of course, but also his special assistant; the Stockholm Chief Constable; the assistant's mute housekeeper; and a few others. Having one of these makes sense and focuses our attention on him. Having three or more is confusing: do they have no names because they're unimportant? Because they're so important, so high-up, we're not allowed to learn their real names?
• Not to be a feminazi or anything, but there are very few women characters, and the ones we get are one-dimensional. Of course, there are a lot of one-dimensional guys as well, particularly the endless parade of racist, piggish policemen.
• It's interesting to have a character say something and then be told immediately that they're thinking something different. But Persson uses that device constanty in this book. Makes you hanker for Jane Austen, where you often sense such contradictions without being hit over the head with them.
• The story has many instances of people doing very bad things. Too many of them have no apparent motive beyond the sociopathology of the perpetrators.
• Our stereotype of Scandinavians is two-pronged: you have the sunny, blond, buff, ecologically- and sexually-aware bike-riders; and you have the Bergmanesque, dark, brooding drinkers, prone to suicide. Crime fiction naturally tends towards the latter; in a mystery/thriller, we expect the noir side. What I did not expect was a the depth of resignation and cynicism Persson can express. That is not the problem; the problem is taking 550 pages to express it. (Little Murders, in contrast, runs under 80 pages.) If I'm going to work that hard, and if I get foreshadowing of redemption until maybe page 475, I want some redemption—or at least hope. One star: for deeply disappointed....more
If I had not read and so enjoyed Alan Furst before, I would have like this better, but dang, Al! You can write atmospheric pre-war Paris in your sleepIf I had not read and so enjoyed Alan Furst before, I would have like this better, but dang, Al! You can write atmospheric pre-war Paris in your sleep and it's lovely, so that's a given. But—and I mean this with the greatest respect and admiration—this one reads as if you had a deadline to meet for an eight-book contract or something. Too much tell, not enough show.
Two things in particular I miss in this book: the heart-pounding, sweaty-palms tension of the quiet, sneaky parts of a spy mission, especially when undertaken by an amateur who really doesn't know what to expect. And the way that you (Alan) make love grow out of the descending darkness of that Europe you know so well. We have the chance for both of these in Mission to Paris, and both are perfunctory. ...more