This story is supposed to be an homage to Richard Matheson's "Duel", but as I was reading the story, it seemed like it was more "Sons of Anarchy" fanfThis story is supposed to be an homage to Richard Matheson's "Duel", but as I was reading the story, it seemed like it was more "Sons of Anarchy" fanfiction than anything else. There's a motorcycle club with patches on their leather jackets, riding in groups along dusty highways, involved in questionable activities, and hey, two of the members are father and son, and they seem to be going through some sort of power struggle! But, according to the Amazon, this story is "a compelling idea -- well researched, well argued, and well illustrated -- expressed at its natural length." I guess "well researched" means liberally borrowed from?
Regardless, the connection to "Duel" is there, with the motorcycle club going up against an unseen driver of a tanker truck on an empty highway. The story works better with a group of people up against the truck, as opposed to it being just one person, since the pacing of the story progresses well as members of the club are picked off during the battle. Some of the scenes seem overly descriptive, with the graphic descriptions of violence bordering on gratuitous, but the terror of being isolated and trapped was captured very well.
While the story takes inspiration from "Duel", it isn't a carbon copy of the story. The trucker is never actually seen, and the menace of the truck, not the driver, is the real antagonist here. The authors step away from that, though, and give the driver of the truck a reason for doing what he does. I won't spoil that for you, but while the trucker remains nameless and faceless, he isn't anonymous.
I also liked how the authors created the characters of the club members. While they seemed to mimic the characters on Sons of Anarchy (there was a smart one, a slow one, and one who was funniest when he wasn't trying to be funny), they each had a reason to be in the club. Each of them was a little broken, either from serving in futile military engagements, coming from a broken home, etc. Each of them was an outcast from a society that didn't understand them, and it makes sense that they came together through the motorcycle club; they were looking for companionship with like-minded people and found it through their collective brokenness.
I've read both Hill and King, and the style of this story is distinctly Hill's. I suspect that King served as the idea man for the story, and Hill was the one who actually wrote it. That's not a bad thing at all, though; Hill's style is more clipped and measured than King's, and even if it's not as vivid and natural as what King writes, it's the proper tone for the story. Plus, compared to the last two e-books of King's I've read, this one at least had tension, and proper pacing. I was gripped as the story entered its third act.
Ur and Mile 81 were disappointing because they were e-books written more for promotional purposes than for the stories themselves. Throttle reads more like an actual story, possibly because it was written for the story, not for anything else. This story was originally featured in an anthology in honor of Richard Matheson, and was later picked up as an e-book. I'm glad to have read it (and am even more glad that I have two other Joe Hill books to read), but the next time I see a Stephen King e-book I haven't read before, I'm going to do a little more research before buying them. One out of three isn't a very good track record....more
I had read the first collection in this series, Moon Lake, several years back, and then never caught up with it later. I saw that the series had endedI had read the first collection in this series, Moon Lake, several years back, and then never caught up with it later. I saw that the series had ended, and that it had been collected into one big omnibus, and figured it was time to see where the story went. One trip to the library later, and here we are.
In my review for Moon Lake, I mentioned something about Strangers in Paradise and the main character of Echo, Julie, being a cross between Francine and Katchoo. There's still some truth to that, though Julie gets fleshed out more as the series progresses. I don't want to give too much away, but her character grows in interesting ways, and Moore manages to give her a unique voice as she develops.
Another of the characters reminded me a lot of Tambi from Strangers in Paradise. She was a member of some sort of shadow organization who could balance a life as a mom against a life of espionage and violence, and at first I thought it was a little weird for both types of characters to show up in both stories. Then, it became clear that the world of Echo was part of the world of Strangers in Paradise, so it made more sense. I'm still not sure what I thought of that (there wasn't much reason to overlap the two worlds, save for the organization), but it at least made more sense for it to exist in both stories.
I talk a lot about character, because that's where Moore really shines with his writing. It was true with Strangers in Paradise, and it's true here. The story misses in a few places (in some parts, the story seemed to rush along without any real drama that I felt needed to be in the scene, while others took a while to get where they were going), and there were points in the story where Moore did more telling than showing (which in itself is ironic, since this is a graphic novel). More than one character talks about how Julie is a good person, but it wasn't necessary; the actions she performed in the series told us that already. We didn't need it hammered home through additional dialogue.
The story is engaging and interesting, despite its few minor stumbles. Though it lacks some of the depth and theme that Moore brought to Strangers in Paradise, there are enough similarities there to draw in those readers. It's more than just a plot-driven sci-fi adventure story, so folks interested in Moore's ability to create convincing relationships will still find a lot to like here....more
**spoiler alert** I have a bad habit of getting songs stuck in my head when I see something that makes me think of them. Book titles are one of those**spoiler alert** I have a bad habit of getting songs stuck in my head when I see something that makes me think of them. Book titles are one of those triggers, and a lot of times the titles don't even need to be that close to make me think of the song. Most recently, it happened with Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation ("Illumination" by Rollins Band), and now it's happened again with Blood of Angels ("Blood of Eden" by Peter Gabriel). I also find it interesting that of the last eight books I've read, three of them have been set in some way in Key West, but that's a different sort of curiosity that has nothing to do with music.
Blood of Angels is the last book in the Straw Man series, which are suspense novels by Michael Marshall (Smith), whom I've noted before as being a dark, nihilistic author with a strong understanding of human nature. This novel is no exception, as it winds up being a story with a negative outlook of people and plot (there are several moments of abject hopelessness throughout the story), but with some amazingly astute reflections on people. It's about the three main characters, Ward Hopkins, the brother of a serial killer, Nina Baynam, an FBI agent who has been following the case, and John Zandt, an officer who lost his daughter to one of the Straw Men, wrapping up their investigation into the killings. The story is tight and tense, and the more you read it, the more compelling it becomes.
Of particular note in this book is the slow evolution -- or devolution, depending on how you see it -- of someone acclimating to a life of crime. There are two stories interwoven in the novel, both of which have to do with the main story from the entire trilogy, and one of them is about a young man named Lee Hudek who starts out as a small-town drug dealer and becomes one of the members of the Straw Men. It was a weird sort of story, since Lee was a sociopathic charmer who wasn't quite someone you despised, but also wasn't quite someone you rooted for, either. He reminded me a little of Todd from "Breaking Bad" in that respect.
The thing is, the entire premise of the novel hinges on the acceptance of a league of serial killers who have been around for thousands of years. It's been hinted at and danced around in the first two novels (as near as I can remember; it's been about seven years since I last read a book in this series), but in Blood of Angels, we get the full backstory, speculative as it may be, and it goes back about 9,000 years, and its sole purpose is, to quote The Dark Knight, "to watch it burn." The basic idea is that the Straw Men saw culture developing around the world after the end of the last Ice Age and decided that they liked the world better before civilization came along, and the conspiracy since then (which, I should add, includes the creation of religion and the church solely as a means to fight back against the killers, even if the organization has since lost sight of that fact) has been a concerted effort to bring it back. It's a little silly and ridiculous and unbelievable, but luckily the story focuses so much on the plot that it becomes easy to overlook that silliness. But it does rear its head from time to time, and it always made me roll my eyes. At one point, someone new is brought into the fold after a string of events forces him to either join or go to jail, and when he accepts, his parents suddenly arrive and tell him how proud they are of him. Really? Really?
The ending of the book was a little disappointing, too, given that Marshall has taken three books to build up not just this big conspiracy, but also this confrontation between Wade and his twin brother Paul, and then finishes the story without having progressed any further down either road. One would expect either story to be resolved, if not outright beaten, but no, we get to the end of the story where the principle characters survive, but nothing has been concluded. The Straw Men are still out there, and regarding Paul still being alive, all signs point to yes. What was the point of the entire series if this is how it's concluded?
The book is definitely stupid when Marshall tries to give it this sort of gravitas, but when it lies outside of that conspiracy, the story really flies. It's not a lean book (Marshall's insights into human nature tend to run long, though they're generally worth it), but it's a taut one, and I think folks who like good suspense stories or police procedurals would find a lot to like here....more
I mentioned in my review of Mile Zero that I enjoyed Geek Mafia because it was fun. Mile Zero touched on that fun, but part of what let me down was thI mentioned in my review of Mile Zero that I enjoyed Geek Mafia because it was fun. Mile Zero touched on that fun, but part of what let me down was that where the first book in the series was from Paul's perspective, Mile Zero picked up the perspectives of the other characters in the story, most notably Chloe. I get it; Chloe's now someone to trust, and having part of the story from her perspective reaffirms that notion. But getting outside of just Paul's head made the mystery less impactful, since now we couldn't experience his uncertainty as well.
Black Hat Blues takes that notion one step further, by adding additional point-of-view characters, most of them new to the crew. Chloe, Paul, and the gang have moved on from small-time swindles in Key West to full-scale cons in Washington, D.C., and they've picked up a few hackers on the way. That's fine, but the new characters are immediately trustworthy because we get to see the world through their eyes. I missed that device of not having everyone's input to keep me wondering how everything was going to play out.
In addition to those new point-of-view characters, Dakan also winds us back and forth through time as he sets up the story for us. First we start off in the present, with the con getting started. Then we jump back a bit to see how one of the hackers came on board. Then we jump back to Chloe in later times, and then back again to another hacker, who's also telling his story from the past. It wasn't confusing, necessarily, but it felt very messy. Neither Geek Mafia nor Mile Zero were told that way, and Dakan was still able to bring in new characters without having to break time in order to get us familiar with them. I wish that Black Hat Blues had followed that format to some degree. The new characters are necessary to the story, so it's not that they're in there just to fill up space. Dakan brings three new characters into the crew, and we need to know a bit about them and how they were brought into the group. I just wish that the story had been told more linearly, instead of hopping all over the place like a hyper kangaroo.
I also had more issues with the publisher and their printing conventions. I noticed a lot of typos (a couple of "the the"s and other repeated words, a lot of missing articles and other words, some commas in the wrong place, the use of "peak" to describe someone looking surreptitiously around a corner, and even a egregiously misused "it's" and even the use of "their" for "there"), and they used words in ALL CAPS instead of italics to emphasize a particular word. It struck me as something I would read online instead of in print, and it distracted me whenever I came across it. The novel also veered into Cory Doctorow territory, where Dakan provided a lot of info-dumps to make sure the reader was on board with all the hacking activity. I'll give Dakan credit, though, since that kind of thing was necessary for the story, but the method of getting those info-dumps across was a little out of place. For good measure, though, he made sure to name-drop Doctorow in the first 25 pages or so. After that, I sort of knew how the rest of the novel would play out.
For all that, though, the novel is about on par with Mile Zero in its entertainment value. Neither book measures up to how much fun it was to read Geek Mafia, but honestly, I read the first book seven years ago. I'm not even sure how I would feel about that one if I went back and re-read it today. Regardless, I'd definitely recommend folks read the first book, but as for the two sequels, I don't see them as being necessary....more
What I remember most about Geek Mafia, the first book in this series, was how much fun it was. I went into without many expectations, and found it toWhat I remember most about Geek Mafia, the first book in this series, was how much fun it was. I went into without many expectations, and found it to be entertaining, exciting, and giddy with its own purpose. I remember it being tight and compelling, and even at the time, I hoped that there would be future books in the series, or at least more by Dakan.
Mile Zero is one of those future books, and I'm surprised with how different it feels. The crew from Geek Mafia is now living on Key West, running smaller scams to keep up their lifestyle, and basically living the Key West lifestyle. It's still entertaining, but it lacks that fun factor that the first book had. It has a good chunk of the same characters in it, but somehow they lack depth. The conversations they have seem trite and forced (no joke: a good portion of the dialogue at the beginning of the book is a lot of "Hey, looking good!", "No, man, you're the money!", and "Where's the party?" type of stuff that doesn't add a thing to the story), and as a result, they don't feel fleshed out. In fact, they feel like they're just caricatures of their previous selves. There was an attempt to bring out Paul and Chloe's relationship with a subplot where they argue over the business and their future, but it, too, felt forced.
The story took a little while to get going, as Dakan seemed to have a hard time deciding whether he wanted to give attention to the story or the Key West lifestyle. At the start of the book, the narrative flipped between the two, and I had a hard time getting a handle on where the story was headed. Luckily, the story gained ground, and by the time I was about a third of the way through the book, I knew I was in it for the long haul, despite some of my reservations. It just wasn't what I was expecting, based on how high my expectations were after having read the first book.
I also got distracted from the story by a few copy-editing issues. I'm accustomed to quotations using double-quotes for the main dialogue, and then single-quotes for dialogue within the dialogue, but this publisher kept using double-quotes. Plus, I'm also accustomed to paragraphs of dialogue not having an end-quote at the end of a paragraph, but then picking up with another start-quote at the next one. It's a good indication of when someone is still speaking, or when one character is speaking a monologue. The publisher didn't use this convention, closing off all paragraphs with double-quotes, and several times in the story, I lost track of who was speaking because I kept thinking someone else was part of the dialogue. Given that the book is basically a heist story, with a lot of people talking at length about how things would go down, it was more than just one occasion where this took me out of the story.
Overall, though, I thought it was entertaining enough to have been worth the read. The idea of following a bunch of techie anti-heroes as they try to make their way through the world is strangely compelling, and I'm looking forward to reading the last book in this series. Based on what I know of it, Mile Zero will segue directly into Black Hat Blues, so for a change, reading the books back-to-back will be more in my favor....more
A good summary for what I think about the book is best explained by a few status updates I made while reading the book:
Page 8: "Lots of telling, not mA good summary for what I think about the book is best explained by a few status updates I made while reading the book:
Page 8: "Lots of telling, not much showing. An inauspicious start."
Page 67: "So far, this reads like a Facebook chat. A very technical Facebook chat, but a Facebook chat nonetheless."
Page 216: "HOLY CRAP it's hard to stop reading this. What happened?"
Now, keep in mind that somewhere between page 67 and 216, I had a moment where I thought I was going to be abandoning the book because I had so many issues with the writing. It wasn't until I looked up and wondered where all the time had gone that I realized maybe there was more to this story than I first gave it credit. There's no denying that the book is very poorly written. Aside from the telling, the structure of the book was questionable. The book opens with a scene where the main character, Watney, has been hit with flying debris on the surface of Mars, and he's left to consider the fact that his crew has abandoned him there, thinking he was dead. This is all told from Watney's perspective, and it worked well enough, but later in the book, we see the exact same scene, only this time from someone else's perspective. I wondered why the author didn't just open the book with that version of the scene, and then seguing into it from Watney's perspective. Since the second version of that scene didn't open with anyone reminiscing or dreaming of said event -- it just opened cold on that one scene and then led into the present day directly afterward -- it was a little jarring.
The story is also told through the main character's audio journal (mostly, but I'll come back to that in a moment), which detracted from the tension of the events. One entry would describe the next hardship in Watney's survival (and there were a lot, believe me), and then end with him saying, basically, "This just might kill me, but it's worth a try; wish me luck!" and then the next entry beginning, "Well, it didn't kill me," and then he would describe how it didn't kill him. I thought that it would have worked better to have the journal entry describe his mindset and state of survival, then jump to a third-person perspective of the events happening, and then jump back to Watney's journal. It wasn't just that the author was sticking to the journal-only narrative (several other viewpoints jump into the story as it progresses, including one that isn't even connected to a character), so I question why it was structured the way it was. Some of the better writing was in those other viewpoints, despite the fact that the secondary characters in the book were all stereotypes and cliches.
The whole book felt very amateurish, and I wasn't surprised when I found out later that the book had originally been self-published as an ebook. What few books I've read that were self-published ebooks (with very rare exceptions) wound up feeling amateurish, or at least like they needed an editor's hand to guide the author.
All that being said, though, the story is compelling, if only because you want to see what happens next to ensure Watney's survival. It moves along at a great clip, and keeps the reader engaged. There were a couple of times when I was looking for whatever spare time I had to read the next few chapters. I bought the book from a local seller, who was offering a money-back guarantee, and early on, I thought I was going to be taking her up on that offer. I was pleasantly surprised with how the book turned out, even after having my expectations set so high, and then fall at the beginning of the book.
I'd recommend this to anyone who likes survival stories and/or science fiction (we haven't landed anyone on Mars yet), but with the caveat that the writing may be something you'll have to overcome. If you were able to overlook Dan Brown's writing to enjoy his stories, though, don't hesitate. Start reading this now....more
Like most everyone else who saw the TV show, I decided to read Galveston after enjoying HBO's "True Detective." I didn't need to know much more aboutLike most everyone else who saw the TV show, I decided to read Galveston after enjoying HBO's "True Detective." I didn't need to know much more about it other than the fact that it was the same author, and that the novel got some good recognition even before the show was such a hit. I figured it would be a literary thriller, and while I was right about that, the novel turned out to be so much more.
The story is about Roy Cady, one of the muscle men behind a small-time loan sharker in New Orleans, who winds up going on the run when his boss tries to set him up to kill him. Along the way, he picks up a young prostitute named Rocky, and the journey they take from New Orleans to Galveston, Texas makes up the bulk of the story. Like the first season of "True Detective," the story flashes back and forth between the main events that happened back in 1987, and what's happening to Roy in the present, in 2008, but most of the story is set back in 1987 where they were forging what relationship they had.
I haven't read a lot of noir fiction, but Galveston certainly feels like a noir novel. It's narrated in the first person, it involves crime bosses and their goons, and the main character is a good guy with a bad history who has done (and continues to do) bad things. It's reminiscent of Joe Lansdale's more recent works, and like those works, Galveston is sharply written, with vivid, descriptive prose, witty dialogue, and notable turns of phrase that carry the story beyond being just a well-told tale. It feels deep and important, like it's telling you something you need to hear. even if it's only whispering it to you.
It's obvious that anyone who enjoyed "True Detective" will find a lot to like in this novel, but I think it would also be worthwhile for fans of Lansdale and even Charlie Huston. Shoot, anyone looking for a well-told, well-plotted story with a touch of the literary added in would find a lot to like here. It's an extraordinary work....more
Earlier in this blog, I mentioned that the works of Preston & Child are a guilty pleasure of mine. In my mind, I envision them like potato chips:Earlier in this blog, I mentioned that the works of Preston & Child are a guilty pleasure of mine. In my mind, I envision them like potato chips: tasty and crunchy, yes, but not something that I could live on exclusively. Dan Brown is another guilty pleasure, but in this case, I envision his books like a convenience store microwave burrito: borderline tasty, something I thought I would like more than I actually did, and something I regretted a soon as I started eating it.
Don't get me wrong, and don't think that I'm jumping too quickly on the "Dan Brown is a hack" bandwagon. His books are quick, compelling reads, but they're nothing that hold up under much scrutiny. Aside from his odd turn of phrase, and his need to put a bunch of unnecessary description throughout the narrative, he seems to be in love with the interrobang (?!). I mean, that sucker was everywhere in the first 50 pages, since Robert Langdon was suffering from amnesia and finding it hard to believe that people were shooting at him (?!), he was in Venice (?!), and he seemed to be carrying something that he didn't even know about (?!). It's been a long time since I've taken a creative writing class, but I remember hearing that you wanted to limit the number of exclamation points you used in your dialogue. Not only that, but every time I saw one of those things (and I really should have kept track of them, because they were everywhere), I was reminded of a teenager communicating on Facebook. It doesn't help Brown's reputation as a hack that he overuses the exclamation point and the interrobang in such a short amount of time.
Like The Lost Symbol, there was a lot of character inconsistencies as the main characters would often flip-flop between knowing everything and knowing nothing as the plot required it. Characters remember critical details in the weirdest, most convoluted ways possible, to the point where I was reading this story, thinking Why is anyone buying this? And am I the only one who would probably slap the shit out of someone like Robert Langdon in real life if I ever had to put up with more then ten minutes of his pompous, condescending, ingratiating tone of being the smartest man in the room? How in the world is this guy supposed to be a sympathetic character?
Oh, I forgot: he isn't. There is absolutely no character development in the way of Robert Langdon in this novel. The novel just starts with him coming to in a hospital, with no recollection of the last two days of his life. Brown apparently expects us to know exactly who this guy is, for having read the other books in the series. I get it -- folks who read this book most likely read the other books and already know who he is, so why waste the effort in giving us any additional background on him? The problem is that it's a lazy way to write a story, and one that's, frankly, insulting to the reader. Plus, in other series with continual characters, there's at least some development in the way of the characters that changes their outlook on things; Robert Langdon is just a shell of a character who's defining traits lie in his condescension.
Brown's style of writing is tedious, too. A key element to the story is the existence of a video, which we see played about seven different times. I mean, it could have been something like, "So-and-so watched the video, and felt disturbed," and then later "So-and-so showed thus-and-such the video, and both had concerns," and then yet later, "Thus-and-such passed the video on to whatshisname to watch and ponder," and so on, until it gets to the final reveal of the video when it's finally necessary to know all the details. Instead, we get to see this video play out a number of times, always with the same bit of detail, and always with the same reaction of the persons viewing it.
The story is one of a lot of unbelievable sequences of events, culminating in possibly the dumbest reveal I've read since Son of Rosemary (and no, if I'm being honest, it's not as bad as that train wreck -- nothing could be as dumb and ridiculous as that piece of shit novel). At that point, it veers away from "Okay, this is a little ridiculous, but I'm still along for the ride" territory, and straight into "OH MY GOD is he seriously expecting me to buy this crap? (?!)" land. If were Robert Langdon, I might take this moment to expound on what the willful suspension of disbelief is and how far you can take it (in my most condescending, know-it-all voice, of course), but I'll refrain. Suffice it to say, the novel gives us a great example near the end of the book.
I'll give Brown credit for two things: first, he does manage to give the additional characters (protagonists and antagonists alike) enough background to make them more than just a shell; and second, thrillers and action novels sacrifice characterization for plot. I get that, but Brown doesn't give us any reason to care about what happens to Langdon. And when you can't care about your main character, there's no emotional connection to him, and there's no reason to worry over the conflict that becomes the story. I mean, I've defended this guy for being a good storyteller, if not a good writer, but now I'm not even sure if he's that.
So. Is Inferno an intriguing read? Yes. Is it a compelling read? Yes. Is it an interesting read? Eh. Without the connection through the main character, it's just too hard to give a crap one way or another what happens in the story. Brown has proven that despite his odd writing style, folks will flock to any new release and buy them up and keep him rich and happy. Hell, up until this book, I was one of those people. But not again. Angels & Demons was good, and The da Vinci Code was good, but everything after that has just been more of an example of how piss-poor of a writer he is. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me....more
**spoiler alert** Preston and Child are a guilty pleasure of mine. I describe their books as "Indiana Jones movies in book form," because they tend to**spoiler alert** Preston and Child are a guilty pleasure of mine. I describe their books as "Indiana Jones movies in book form," because they tend to strain credibility and believability, but they're just so much fun to read. I've had fun with all the books of theirs I've read (Riptide was an awesome book, made even more awesome by the fact that I was at the beach when I read it), even though I know they're not going to win any awards. A friend encouraged me to read this story, since it was short, and featured Agent Pendergast from the long-running series featuring him.
The thing is, it's been a long time since I've read an Agent Pendergast story, so a lot of the references at the start of "Extraction" were a bit foreign to me. I didn't understand who the other people in the start of the story were, or how they tied in with the main character. I get the feeling that folks who are caught up with the series will know who they are and have some context about them, but I didn't get a real sense of either character. There was no development or explanation that I could find, for any of them; they were just there, at the start of the story, with the expectation being that the reader would know who all those people were. The story winds up being a flashback to when Pendergast was a child, so none of the characters introduced have much to do with the story itself, but then I have to ask if it was necessary to include them at all.
The story itself has some inconsistencies, as well, with the idea that the "Tooth Fairy" in their hometown could possibly have gone as long as he did without someone catching wind of it (if the kids were talking about it, the adults surely must have known) being pretty absurd. Pendergast casually mentions that his uncle and the Tooth Fairy disappear, with nothing else to say about it. It winds up coming off as a creepypasta story, and a poor one at that. For one thing, it wasn't as creepy as it could have been; for another, nothing was explained or resolved.
Preston and Child are accomplished enough writers to be able to do better than this, even when their stories aren't going to be deep, thoughtful affairs. My understanding is that this is their first short story, and if this is standard for what they would do with a shorter form, I think I’ll just stick to their novels....more
Ever since reading Shadowland when I was a teenager, I’ve been a big fan of Peter Straub. Reading Ghost Story was great, and one of the scenes in theEver since reading Shadowland when I was a teenager, I’ve been a big fan of Peter Straub. Reading Ghost Story was great, and one of the scenes in the book represents one of the few moments I can recall where a passage in a book really, truly got under my skin. I think he’s an effective storyteller with a great sense of what’s creepy, and I was thrilled to see that he had written a short novel that was supposed to be the be-all, end-all of creepiness.
It’s true that the book is creepy. It’s about a young boy who receives tutelage from his uncle about how to develop and support his murderous nature. This isn’t a new idea — hell, there’s a television series on Showtime about this very thing — but Straub takes it into dark, dark corners. This isn’t a mainstream story; it lacks a real plot, and settles instead on sheer character development to drive the narrative. The focus is strictly on the young boy and how he goes from being an abuser of animals to a full-blown psychopath. It’s effective, because it’s a chilling look at that development, and because while Straub doesn’t shy away from showing us the bad stuff, he doesn’t do so in a clinical way. It’s just enough to make his point.
The thing is, there’s not really much resolution here. Anyone looking for a denouement will be left behind, as will anyone looking for some sort of retribution. It was somewhat disappointing in that sense, but I’ve since learned that this novella was written as a way to show some of the backstory to the main character in one of Straub’s other novels, A Dark Matter. This is cleverly revealed in the subtitle of the book, but I somehow missed that novel, and didn’t realize that this was just a prologue. On the one hand, the novella felt like it was missing something; on the other hand, it piqued my interest enough to want to read the novel.
I think so long as readers going into this novella realize that it’s a prologue to a larger story, they’re going to be satisfied with it. As it is, though, I’m not sure I would recommend it as a stand-alone book....more
Justin Cronin. That’s right. That’s the name of the guy who wrote this book. I couldn’t remember, even after reading the book. Why is that? Well, hisJustin Cronin. That’s right. That’s the name of the guy who wrote this book. I couldn’t remember, even after reading the book. Why is that? Well, his name certainly doesn’t ring any bells with me. If this were his first novel, I wouldn’t be surprised, but it’s actually his third, and based on what I read about him on the dustjacket flap, I doubt I would go out and read his other two books based on their summary alone. So even after reading the book, I probably won’t have any name recognition with this guy. What compelled me to read it, anyway?
First, I noticed the summary of the book sounded a lot like The Stand by Stephen King. I thought that was a good start (Swan Song and The Road started there, too, and were both awfully good), but then I noticed King’s own praise printed on the back of the book. OK, I thought, that may not mean too much; he also heaped a lot of praise on Jodi Picoult, an author who I felt was overwrought. But it’s definitely enough to get me started. And how did that go?
By the time I reached page 8 of this book, I was hooked. It may have been even sooner than that, but I do remember looking at where I was in the book when I realized that I wasn’t going to be quitting it any time soon. By page 17, I already felt emotionally wrenched, and I had a moment where I thought, “How does that happen?” How does one get wrapped up in a character so quickly? I had the feeling that I was in the hands of a good author, and I settled in for a book that I expected would haunt my thoughts, enough so that I would start looking forward to the time when I could return to the book. For the most part, that was the case.
The Passage is not a perfect novel. It begs comparison to King’s own The Stand, since the story is a massive post-apocalyptic novel that’s about rebuilding after the destruction. This isn’t really a spoiler — this fact is mentioned on the dustjacket flap — but that isn’t made clear until about 200 pages into the book. What this means is that the novel is broken down into two distinct parts — the destruction, and life afterward. With The Stand, King managed to put all these parts together with a cohesive story that led logically from one part to another, using characters that popped up throughout the narrative. The Passage has a character that shows up in all the parts, but in some of them, the appearance is brief, meaning that you have two different stories in this novel. It makes the novel a little disjointed, and it’s easy to lose focus on the story, since the author gets us all wrapped up in a handful of characters, only to dismiss them and move on to some different ones each time. It requires a lot of investment on the reader’s part, and it’s risky, since it makes it easier to quit on the book when it shifts away from the characters you really want to see more. Cronin manages to make the story continually interesting, but I would have preferred a more straightforward approach to the characters and the story.
In addition, the book itself was a bit schizophrenic, in that about half of the novel was a portrayal of how the world devolves into chaos due to the release of a biohazard, while the rest of the novel was a tale of survival after the fact. The progression made sense — the two halves are clearly related — but it was almost like you get settled in to read a book of one type, only to start reading a different one a few pages later. It’s not necessarily bad, but it did take me longer to finish the second half of the book than the first half, because it just wasn’t as interesting.
In the end, I was satisfied when I finished the book, but only because I had finished it, not because I felt like it was some redeeming story. That’s a real shame, too, because the first third of this book was well-paced, well-told, and populated with very likable characters. If he had managed to maintain that level of storytelling with the entire book, I would be more interested in the book overall. As it is, though, I can only recommend it with hesitation....more
So, the series draws to a close with this novel, and true to form, Larsson took the same cast of characters (plus a few extra) and made a different soSo, the series draws to a close with this novel, and true to form, Larsson took the same cast of characters (plus a few extra) and made a different sort of novel using them all. This time, he wrote a pretty good police procedural thriller that, to me, was far more interesting than any of the other books in that genre I've read. Granted, I haven't read that many of them, but still, I wasn't left wanting for more with this book. Other than the occasional episode of "Law and Order," I find police procedurals to be pretty dull.
This novel was probably the most difficult to finish, because (a) police procedurals are usually full of details, and (b) I've already covered how Larsson covers every teeny-tiny little detail of his novels in microscopic, clinical detail. Combine the two characteristics and you get a near-tedious presentation of everything that happens in the book. The book started out well -- it literally started right where the second book left off -- and then hit the doldrums for a few hundred pages before it picked up near the end, as the trial began. Interestingly, the trial itself doesn't take that long, but the detail is just right at that point. The author shifted from narrative to dialogue for much of that portion of the novel, and it increased the pace and readability of that part of the story. By then, it was smooth sailing through the end of the book.
I wish that Larsson had lived long enough to pursue this series. I understand that he had up to ten books planned out before his death, and given that he was writing distinctly different books with each novel, I would be curious to see where he would take his characters next. Surely a science fiction or fantasy setting wasn't too far off, right? Because that's what we would all really like to see: Salander in space....more
The second book in the so-called Millennium trilogy picks up right where the last one left off, more or less. It follows the main players — Salander,The second book in the so-called Millennium trilogy picks up right where the last one left off, more or less. It follows the main players — Salander, Blomkvist, and Vanger — and brings us up to speed on what’s happened to them since the mystery of the first novel resolved itself. It also takes a bit of a turn, with a new story developing that involves Salander, Blomkvist, and a criminal mastermind who goes by the name of Zala. It involves murder, intrigue, espionage, and adventure, much like a Bond film. And, truth be told, this sort of does read like a Bond story, though without the suave, debonair approach that Bond typically brings to such stories.
Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire gets off to a very slow start, and almost plods along at certain points as the author goes far off target and goes into excruciating detail about … well, nearly everything. He talks about what people do when they get ready in the morning. He writes about what kinds of furniture and appliance brands people buy for their apartments. He writes about the insects and worms that live in the dirt surrounding the buildings where the crimes take place. (OK, no, not really. But I’m a little surprised that he didn’t.) When he focuses on the story and the plot, the book sings as it zips along, but there’s just so much detail in the books that it becomes almost distracting.
I do find it interesting that the story has such a different feel than the first book in the series. In Tattoo, the book is a big mystery with a large cast of characters; in Fire, the book is more a political intrigue thriller, with a smaller cast of characters. I could be all coy and predict that the third book will be something different from these two books, but truth be told, I’m almost halfway through the third book already, and I can already tell that this might be the case. So I have to give the author credit for pulling off that sort of diversity in the series.
Still, the novel ain’t perfect. Tedium of detail aside, the characters are almost Koontz-ian in their perfection, to the point where I have to say that I don’t know people like this in real life. It has nothing to do with the situations they find themselves in; it’s more that I don’t know people who have the perfect answer to every question, and know all the right people, who have the perfect answer to the questions you couldn’t answer yourself. These are all moral, uplifting, smart, perfect people, and in the end, it’s difficult to read stories like that, because I can’t relate to the characters. It becomes a little frustrating, but once I get caught up in the story, I sort of forget about it all.
In addition, the story was a lot less interesting than that of the first novel in the series. This might be because the character development stopped to some degree (we find out much more about Salander, but Blomkvist is already a painted canvas), or because the idea of a political thriller is less interesting to me than a Gothic mystery. Either way, it took a little more dedication to get through the novel, which was a bit of a bummer. I figure it’s never a good sign to find that, while I’m reading one book, I’m thinking of another book I’d rather be reading.
Still, once it gets going, it’s pretty good, and once it gets on course, it keeps your attention. I just wish it had been able to maintain that sense of something new and fresh that was evident in the first novel....more
This book is a hard one to peg. On the one hand, it's a mystery; on the other hand, it's a police procedural; on the OTHER other hand, it's a thrillerThis book is a hard one to peg. On the one hand, it's a mystery; on the other hand, it's a police procedural; on the OTHER other hand, it's a thriller; and on the OTHER OTHER other hand, it's a political intrigue novel. That it's set against the backdrop of the world of financial journalism makes it unique, and that it's a compellingly readable story makes it worth the time to read. So it's not completely surprising that this is an "international best-selling novel," but to be such a hybrid of different genres, it's successful despite itself.
I say that because my biggest complaint about the novel is that it's almost clinical in its description of the minutiae of life of its characters. If you've ever wondered what it's like to live in Sweden during the deep winter, or what the typical drudgery of being a researcher is like, or what it entails to be a financial journalist, then this is definitely the book for you. Larsson covers in great detail all of these different aspects of life, which in part accounts for the near 600-page length of the book. While it gets a little tedious to see so much detail, it's still written in such a way as to be relatively fascinating, enough so that you're not going to be taken too much out of the story during these passages.
There were a couple of parts that seemed a little clunky, too. The main character has a daughter with whom he isn't estranged, but he doesn't see her often. She pops in right in the middle of the novel for about four pages, and provides the clue to keep the plot moving along. It was plainly obvious that she was only there for that one purpose only, and it stood out to me like a neon sign. There were also a number of references to authors and novels listed strictly for flavor, without being necessary to the plot at all, and I felt like the author threw them in there for recognition more than anything else. It wasn't that Larsson was going for his own recognition, as much as he was giving a shout out to his inspirations, but it was pretty clear that's what the purpose of the comments were. As I understand it, though, this was Larsson's first novel, despite having been a writer for years, so I can overlook some mechanical gaffes in the narrative. As compelling as the story is, it was very easy to overlook them, in fact.
And that's ultimately what I look for in the books I read: Story. This single novel has it in droves, with plots, subplots, and sub-subplots, peopled with likable characters with their own flaws, set against a historical backdrop in a remote, out-of-the-way place. What starts off as a single-minded plot becomes much more layered and involved, without it ever seeming contrived or forced. The good guys win and the bad guys lose, but the journey to see who's who, what drives the different characters, and the growth that they endure over the course of events will keep you stuck with the story, no matter how much you want to be doing anything else. The book may have a few flaws, but what works in it works so damn well that the flaws will hardly make a difference to you by the end.
By now, you have to have heard about this book. Now you just need to get out there and read it....more
Joe Lansdale writes some weird stuff. Consider “Bubba Ho-Tep,” a novella about a dying Elvis impersonator living in a nursing home, a black man who beJoe Lansdale writes some weird stuff. Consider “Bubba Ho-Tep,” a novella about a dying Elvis impersonator living in a nursing home, a black man who believes he’s JFK in hiding from the government, and a mummy who’s stealing the souls of the nursing home residents.
Sunset and Sawdust is a more mainstream novel for Lansdale, set in 1930s Texas, but it’s not without the normal Lansdale weirdness. Sunset, the main character, so named because of her long, fiery-red hair, has just shot her husband because she’s had enough of him beating her up and raping her. When she goes to her mother-in-law for help, she finds not a woman distressed at the loss of her son, but a sympathetic woman who gives her the position of Constable at Camp Rapture, the local sawmill. Aside from her bring a woman constable in Depression-era Texas, she raises even more controversy because the constable she replaced was Pete, the husband she shot.
A lot happens in this brief novel, but Lansdale pulls it off without making it seem convoluted (an achievement all by itself) or forced. At the beginning of the novel, I had an issue with how one of the characters reacted to a certain plot point, but by the end of the book, Lansdale had explained that away, and made it seem more acceptable. It was a bit jarring at first, but by the time I had finished the book and thought back on the beginning, knowing the whole story, it made perfect sense. I should have known to expect something like that, knowing that Lansdale is an accomplished writer with more than a few tricks, but it was a nice surprise. It just reaffirms my faith in him as an author.
The other great thing about Lansdale is his turns of phrase. He writes like you would expect a Texan would , and comes up with some very clever metaphors. He describes the color of a sunset as being like a razor had been slashed across the horizon, and he describes a hot, searing sun as like a blister hanging in the sky. The banter between characters is also a sort of signature of Lansdale’s, and it never gets tiring; if nothing else, it accounts for much of the humor in his stories. It’s always dry, but it never fails to get a laugh from me.
Lansdale, though, is also a brutal writer. He doesn’t hesitate to show you the darkest nature of his characters (protagonists and antagonists alike), and he won’t shy away from violence. I suppose you could best categorize his books as noir, but the East Texas settings, and the characters who live there, make his stories a category unto themselves. Noir is usually reserved for dark alleys and average men; Lansdale populates his stories with bright, sunlit areas and odd characters. Southern noir? Country noir? Who knows? It’s worth reading, though, and Sunset and Sawdust is as good a place as any to start....more