In Pwned, Christa Charter once again brings Sexy Sleuth Lexy Cooper to life with a mystery following hot on the heels of her initial outing, Schooled.In Pwned, Christa Charter once again brings Sexy Sleuth Lexy Cooper to life with a mystery following hot on the heels of her initial outing, Schooled. Once again, Lexy is dragged into a mystery set amidst the high-tech world of video game systems. This time, Lexy gets involved because her paramour, Nate, the married father she can’t stay away from, calls and asks her to check on a member of the team who should be at the airport about to head for Japan... but isn’t. Ever the dutiful "friend," Lexy heads over only to discover the guy dead on the kitchen floor, a single stab wound to the chest.
Coming as this does on the heels of her last adventure (a mere few month in book time), Lexy promptly calls her "Uncle" Mike, a police detective, reports the crime and then passes out, a victim of PTSD. Then, over the course of the relatively short novel, the murder investigation gets hampered by complications and leads down paths involving drug dealers, strippers, an old flame of Mike's who now works for the FBI and a firearms instructor who moonlights as a championship extreme sports star (or maybe it's the other way around). There are enough red herrings to make a Lithuanian meal while suspects come and go faster than pixels on a dual core processor (I don't know what the means, either).
Needless to say, it all gets solved and Lexy herself has a major hand in the action, overcoming her murder related stress as well as her devotion to Nate (well, almost). She also gets a new boyfriend and a new hand weapon (and a throng of new followers for her in-system show, Xenonline). It's a quick, fun read and I'll certainly get the next book in the series, next time it's on sale, but a lot of the same problems I found with the original book are still present here.
Ms. Charter still writes her characters as inhabiting the world she lives in at the time she's writing them and so she's got pop culture references which make the book feel dated instead of timeless. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I think she might be better served by creating fictional figures who fulfill the roles she wants her pop culture figures to fill so instead of having a concrete person we might or might not know, we'll create our own thinly veiled pastiche of whoever is current at the time of reading. This would create a relevancy which comes as a collaboration with the reader instead of actively trying to contradict their current reality.
Also, Lexy is still a sex pot and while we, the readers understand she is more brain than boob, her colleagues don’t really see her that way. And neither does she. She’s allows herself to be used to cover for her co-host who doesn’t want to work, a host who is hired in the first place to provide the show with an “intelligent” half. Her looks are given more credibility than anything else she might have to offer. I’m not saying this doesn’t exist, I just wish Lexy complained about it more than a cursory cursing and then moving on and keeping with the status quo. Even the one co-worker who asks her to edit a piece of writing, really only does it as a pretense to sexually harass her. Which brings up another issue - sexual harassment in this book is almost at the point of absurdity. When the HR Director is guilty of massive and obvious harassment I tend to lose focus and he loses credibility as a character. Sure, he may be a slimeball, but you don’t get to be head of an HR department and NOT know that standing around with your dick hanging out is a major no-no. It just strikes me as someplace where if something was going to be said about the nature of sexist situations in the gaming industry, this was the place. Instead, it passes with the barest of notices except as a potential clue towards discovering our killer.
At the end of the day, I keep wanting Lexy and her cohorts to be more aware of their situation and at least trying to understand and combat it. It’s a testament to Ms. Charter’s writing ability that I’m still reading and looking forward to more. ...more
There are times during The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons where our protagonist Bernie Rhodenbarr laments that he doesn’t want anything to change. HeThere are times during The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons where our protagonist Bernie Rhodenbarr laments that he doesn’t want anything to change. He wants everything to continue on just the way it is. We who love the Burglar books want the same thing. There’s just one problem: things change whether we want them to or not.
And yet… Lawrence Block manages to address both issues at the same time and does it brilliantly. This is the book Block wrote after he decided to retire, so at this point, anything he comes out with is gravy, and his fans would pick it up regardless – but he doesn’t rely on that. Instead, he gives us a Burglar book which addresses the idea of change and the idea of status quo and still delivers a first rate mystery in his classic style.
If you’re familiar with the series, of which this is number 11, all the elements are present. Carolyn Kaiser, Ray Kirschman, the various places of employ and relaxation and, well, the Two Guys from… restaurant, which delivers the best surprise of the bunch (okay, it doesn’t deliver, you have to pick it up, but that’s splitting hairs). In every sense, this is a perfect Bernie story. He commits crimes, he solves crimes, he has witty banter with everyone, he gets laid (Good on ya Bern!) and he’s instantly recognizable as the same guy who first appeared in 1977.
Except he’s not the same guy. Block doesn’t let Bernie age (this isn’t series for that – that’s his Scudder books, which are also amazing, but playing in a different ballpark) but the world around him does. No longer can Bernie merely walk around a building, now he has to deal with security cameras. He doesn’t look up information in encyclopedias, but Googles them instead. He learns about burner phones and Internet book dealers. In this way, Bernie has already changed with the times but he’s still the same old Bernie.
All the while, Block is also taking us all on a trip down memory lane. He references a number of the past adventures (no harm if you haven’t read them, although what are you waiting for?) which leads us to a rather interesting observation made by Carolyn near the end of the book regarding Bernie’s night time activities and his interesting relationship with law enforcement. It’s something we, as readers have obviously seen (that’s why we keep reading) but by having Ms. Kaiser point it out, and Bernie to flat out reject its implications, is a wonderful nod to the fluid nature of the books and their internal reality.
Enough of that, though, this book stands on its own quite nicely. As a former rare book seller, I greatly appreciated the insight into that world, especially the peek behind the curtain of the original holographs and association copies and the shout outs to Button Gwinnet, the unsung hero of founding father collectibles is priceless (almost literally). The way the various threads of the plot tie together make for a characteristic Rhodenbarr “wondering why I called you all here” unraveling and a certain moral ambiguity we love to see in our favorite burglar.
Finally, there’s “Juneau Lock,” the mythical location of great Chinese food and one of the reason why these books and characters are so great to return to time and again. While it’s got nothing at all to do with the main mystery, it has everything to do with the lives of our heroes. And in the end, that’s really what we’re interested in and why keep checking back. We want to see how the gang is doing, even if they never change. We do, and we can appreciate them on new levels every time. So whether this is the final adventure we read about, we’re left with the impression this is certainly not the final adventure Bernie will be having. And that makes me happy. ...more
I’m on a roll, reading the first book in a series, again. At some point, I’ll read the rest of them, maybe. This one is fun and cute and well writtenI’m on a roll, reading the first book in a series, again. At some point, I’ll read the rest of them, maybe. This one is fun and cute and well written – it may be the first in a series but it’s not a first novel, not by a long shot.
In Her Royal Spyness, Lady Georgiana (her whole name is too long to write out) is 34th in line for the English throne and in the 1930s that and a six-pence will get you a cup of tea. Which is to say that our member of the royal family, even though she’s well brought up, is broke. And times being what they are, most of her genteel friends are in the same position.
Georgie’s family tree is a bit complicated with a former police constable grandfather on the side of her commoner actress mother and the Queen herself as a direct relation on side of her father, the (late) Duke of Atholt and Rannoch in Scotland, a position now held by Georgie’s ineffectual brother Binky and his pain in the ass wife, Fig. Of course, even though they have no money either, it doesn’t stop them from continuing to live in the royal lifestyle.
As the book opens, Georgie is escaping from Castle Rannoch, a dull, dreary, drafty place and heading to London to try and seek her fortune and her own romantic future. Being a royal, there are limitations to who she can and cannot court and it seems everyone wants to set her up with people who are wholly unsuitable. Her best friend, a little more worldly wise, tries to steer young Georgie in the right direction when it comes to living life to the fullest but the Lady has her own way of doing things and that’s what makes this tale so much fun.
Sure, we figure out a number of plot points before our heroines does, but that’s okay. Her getting there is part of the enjoyment of the trip. Author Rhys Bowen delightfully invokes the typical misunderstandings and bedroom farce style humour which would hit the London stages a decade or two later than when this is set, but she does it without any trace of irony, playing it straight which let’s us enjoy these confusions rather than getting annoyed at how easily they could be cleared up if only someone would stop and think for a moment.
In a number of ways, this book is a coming of age story as well as a mystery and, like a lot of good mysteries, the characters drive the story as much as the plot. By the time the various murders are solved, sure, we’re interested, but we’re just as interested to see if Georgie is going to end up with Darcy O’Mara, a minor member of the Irish peerage, or if she’ll find a job to support herself or if she’ll continue working as a spy for the queen (actually, since there are more books in the series, we kinda know the answer to this one). And again, I like the Lady enough to stick with her through another adventure. ...more
As someone involved in both the world of magic and the world of literature, I’m surprised it took me this long to come around to Clayton Rawson’s “MerAs someone involved in both the world of magic and the world of literature, I’m surprised it took me this long to come around to Clayton Rawson’s “Merlini” books. These are widely considered classics of the “locked room” mystery genre and it’s with very good cause.
The book follows Ross Harte, a reporter and sometimes mystery writer who gets dragged into a locked room case happening in his apartment building. Harte is known to Police Inspector Gavigan and when things look a bit confusing fairly early on, and all of the suspects are magicians and entertainers, Harte and Gavigan both have the same idea, call in a consultant who might know a thing or two about magic and mystery: The Great Merlini. Merlini is a stage magician and magic shop owner (like Houdini, Merlini has presumably added the “i” in homage to a great wizard) who also happens to dabble as an amateur detective when the case fits his particular set of skills. This case does.
A believer in the black arts is found dead inside a conjuring pentagram which has been drawn on the floor of his apartment. Of course, to find this body the assembled group who would soon all become suspects must break in and it is quickly discovered there was no way in or out leaving everyone perplexed.
A second locked room shows up about two thirds through book, giving Merlini a new riddle to solve. A second room with the body laid out the same way and here we get a great bit of actual magical knowledge, that a magician may be able to perform the same trick in a number of different ways to throw off the audience, because when they perform the same trick for a magician, each time the viewer gets closer to piecing together the secret.
This is a nice bit of verité, here, since Rawson himself was a performing magician and so was able to provide all sorts of little tid bits and asides, things which make you think you’re getting an insider view of the tricks, a backstage peek, but you’re not. In reality, even in 1938 when this book was written, the methods given up were old or unusual methods, when he even ascribed a method at all. Often Rawson hinted at a secret but in the end revealed nothing.
While Rawson has a great way of developing the mystery and revealing the clues (a nice touch in this edition is they actually point out where in the text the clues are to be found as Merlini reveals them during his final summation), he is not great, at least not in this first book, at creating individual characters who have anything beyond a slight third dimension. It was easy to get characters confused and not quite remember who was who and where. In the end, it required a fair bit of concentrated effort to make sure we knew who everyone was and why they wanted other people dead.
That all said, I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series. ...more
Generally, I enjoyed Christa Charter's new series starter (you can tell it's a new series because the last line completely sets up the sequel) and herGenerally, I enjoyed Christa Charter's new series starter (you can tell it's a new series because the last line completely sets up the sequel) and her double team of detectives - Lexy and her "uncle" Mike - work well together. The mystery itself is fun and while there are no great twists and turns, it's also not completely obvious from the outset, which is nice.
The setting, an online game company based in the Seattle metropolitan area seems to be unique and it's obvious (even without reading the author bio) that this is a world Ms. Charter is quite familiar with. On the downside, though, there are enough contemporary pop culture references to choke a horse and while I, personally, love those, a little goes a long away... especially when reading the book now, in 2013, 2012 references are already feeling dated. The problem with writing up to the minute touchstones to current culture is that unless they become timeless, the need for an annotated edition will become necessary in very short order.
The other objection I had is the clumsy way social issues were introduced and dealt with, especially in terms of male/female social interactions. Lexy is a woman who defines herself through her sexual connection with people (think a crop-top wearing version of Lady Brett Ashley) so it's no surprise that the venom spewed at women in the tech and gaming world would come into play. I think this is good thing, it needs to be dealt with and it needs to be discussed if we ever hope to eliminate it, I just felt that in this particular book, it was shoe-horned in, in an effort to give the story some "gravitas." Even with that, the book is a fun, quick, and easy read - but with enough sex I wouldn't recommend it for more delicate readers.
I am, however, looking forward to reading the next in line, Pwned, to see where Lexy takes us....more
Prior to this, I'd only known Brown as a science fiction writer. It was while doing research on a SF story that I came across his mystery thriller worPrior to this, I'd only known Brown as a science fiction writer. It was while doing research on a SF story that I came across his mystery thriller work. Being a Lewis Carroll fan myself I had to try this book.
It was wonderful! It's an engaging mystery with humor and thrills and an incredibly likeable protagonist. It's also a nice snapshot into the world of a small mid-western town in the middle of the 20th century.
Of all of her books, I think I liked this one the best. The writing is still sharp as ever, but here at least the story is complete without any annoyiOf all of her books, I think I liked this one the best. The writing is still sharp as ever, but here at least the story is complete without any annoying loose threads. Sure, I figured out the killer half way through, but that wasn't really the point. The point was more of the interpersonal relationships and the strength of familial bonds....more