Another cracking good read from Stephen King. This one's a straight-up thriller with no supernatural frills, and generally follows the classic "retire...moreAnother cracking good read from Stephen King. This one's a straight-up thriller with no supernatural frills, and generally follows the classic "retired cop can't let his last case go" template. But thanks to King's wholly uncanny ability to draw rich, humane characterizations -- even for doomed bit players, but most importantly for the crazed titular foe -- it's more memorable than most boilerplate thrillers. Also? Completely impossible to put down.
I have a couple of observations (reservations?): Sometimes, while reading Mr. Mercedes, I forgot I was reading Stephen King. I'm not sure if that's good or bad. Maybe it was the "ripped from the headlines" crimes; maybe it was the lack of anything supernatural, or for that matter, particularly "King-y" about it. Okay, there are a couple of gross-out moments that make you go "oh, right, King." But it definitely lacks his usual touch of the nostalgic/elegaic. It doesn't take much time to ponder. It's nonstop.
In short, King has done his usual out-of-the-ballpark trick on yet another bestselling genre. I'm only going four stars rather than five because I like a little supernatural with my crime, but if edge-of-your-seat-stopping-a-madman thrillers are your thing, welcome to your new summer beach-read. (less)
I don't want to mislead anyone, so I'll say it up front: Dark Places is no Gone Girl. Flynn really hit the perfect balance of satirical yet bracingly...moreI don't want to mislead anyone, so I'll say it up front: Dark Places is no Gone Girl. Flynn really hit the perfect balance of satirical yet bracingly honest characterization, snappy style and ridiculously twisty suspense in her amazingly great newest book, so don't go into this one expecting another like that one.
Not to say that I didn't enjoy Dark Places, because I really did. It too is propulsive reading, twisty and funny in its own way; but the tone is much angrier, the people much poorer, the locales much bleaker, and the crime at the center of the story much bloodier. Some scenes are exceptionally violent, and some themes will (rightly) disturb.
At the tender age of seven our protagonist, Libby Day, became the only survivor of a late-night home invasion massacre that killed her entire family. Well, Libby was the only survivor besides her sullen teenage brother Ben, the accused and convicted killer, whom she damningly testified against at the time. That was 1985.
This is the present: Now a semi-reclusive adult living on the dregs of a charitable trust in a crappy Kansas City rental, Libby has many reasons to be bitter. For starters she's just been told she's broke, and her sob story has been usurped by a hundred others, so there's no more cash rolling in. She might actually have to find a job.
But then Libby receives a letter from the Kill Club, a group of true crime and serial killer enthusiasts, and it seems her troubles might be allayed for a bit. She's offered $500 to make an appearance at their meeting, along with the promise of collectors interested in purchasing Day family "memorabilia." Little does she know, some are outspoken advocates for Ben's innocence, who claim Libby was too young to understand what had happened that night, that her testimony had been coerced. They also have theories galore about who really done it. Libby is initially furious at being lured into their delusions, but the idea has been planted in her head. What if she had been wrong? And the can of worms that is Dark Places is opened.
Libby is another of Flynn's wonderfully snarkastic antiheroes. She's selfish, spiteful, lazy, entitled and completely hilarious. Almost nobody in this book is traditionally likeable, but Flynn somehow manages to find a sympathetic core in her characters. Dark Places is primarily Libby's story in the present, but is intercut with chapters from her sad, exhausted mother's point of view, and from her her angry brother's, on the day of the murders in 1985. Ben's story is especially difficult to read, showcasing as it does the unsavory side of teenage outcasts and suburban metalheads with nothing better to do than get fucked up, have sex, and break things. (Yes, that's what disaffected teens do.) The ludicrous "Satanic Panic" that gripped America for a dozen years or so before the millennium hangs heavy over Ben's conviction -- because of course if he dyed his hair black and listened to Venom and Slayer, it stands to reason he massacred his family for Satan.
Gillian Flynn is a master craftsman of snark-laced suspense, and Dark Places a unique take on the usual thriller. I alternately cackled and winced, as I put the clues together along with Libby and her new friends, traveling across a depressed middle America to confront potential witnesses and accusers, in search of the truth of that horrible night. A truth which, by the way, you won't see coming at all.
This grisly tale of a Miami cop's descent into hell courtesy of palo mayombe* is not for the faint of heart, but it's pretty gut-punch great supernatu...moreThis grisly tale of a Miami cop's descent into hell courtesy of palo mayombe* is not for the faint of heart, but it's pretty gut-punch great supernatural noir. Alas, it's far too short! Looking forward to more from D'Enfer . . . maybe a collection?
*Palo mayombe originated in the African Congo and is said to be the world's most powerful and feared form of black magic. The titular nganga, which is a consecrated cauldron filled with sacred earth, sticks (palos), bones and other items, is dedicated to a specific spiritual energy. This cauldron is also inhabited by a spirit of the Dead, which acts as interface for all magical and religious activities which are performed on the nganga. (less)
Not at all what I expected, given the "pulp crime" vibe of the imprint and the cover, but emotionally compelling nonetheless. Joyland is King exerting...moreNot at all what I expected, given the "pulp crime" vibe of the imprint and the cover, but emotionally compelling nonetheless. Joyland is King exerting his magical powers to create a sweeping sense of nostalgia for a time -- in the world, in a life -- long past. There's a nifty little ghost story/murder mystery (which I had figured out, BTW), but this novel is foremost about a coming-of-age summer, about how a job at a gem of an amusement park cures heartbreak, creates deep and far-reaching bonds, and turns Devin Jones into a man.
I suspect King can cough this kind of quasi-elegiac stuff up in his sleep by now, but his craftsmanship still wins the day, showing on every page. Yes, this is lightweight compared to, oh, say 11/22/63, but Joyland is still pretty great summer reading, and that's good enough for me.
One of the most gripping, best-written thrillers I've read in recent memory, Gone Girl is dark, twisty, emotionally insightful and -- surprisingly --...moreOne of the most gripping, best-written thrillers I've read in recent memory, Gone Girl is dark, twisty, emotionally insightful and -- surprisingly -- quite funny. This is one of those books you can't say much about, for fear of unleashing ruinous spoilers. And believe me, you don't want to be spoiled. This both is and is not the book you expect it to be, and I dare you to put it down once you've started. (less)
Ass-kicking "vulture" Miriam Black is back, and trying to make a go of "normalcy." Sure, she's no longer grifting on the back of her visions of death,...moreAss-kicking "vulture" Miriam Black is back, and trying to make a go of "normalcy." Sure, she's no longer grifting on the back of her visions of death, but then she's also dying a little herself every day. Sharing an Airstream with trucker Louis (who's never home), stifling her visions, and working the checkout counter at a crappy Jersey Shore convenience store just isn't cutting it. So when one more sunburned bitch in a muumuu makes a crack about Miriam's gloves . . . they come off. Both literally and figuratively. And we all know where that can lead.
Pink-slipped and pissed off, she's ready to blow town when Louis offers her a last-ditch peace-offering. He has a friend, a teacher at an exclusive all-girls boarding institution, who is willing to pay for Miriam's "talent," and she finds herself almost too eager to agree. Easy, in and out, right?
But as we all know, boarding schools just scream perverse and creepy, so she's not getting away that easy. When a casual encounter with a smart-ass student brings on a debilitating vision of the girl's torture and death at the hands of a bird-masked butcher, Miriam feels compelled to see what she can do about twisting Fate. Again.
While still rocking plenty of Miriam's patented irreverent snark, and a bunch of epic fights (man can this girl take a beating -- she's either a Slayer or related to Harry Dresden), this book delivers a more introspective Miriam. We learn more about her seriously damaged history, and that recently, she's had a frequent visitor -- she calls him "The Trespasser." He likes to arrive out of nowhere in the shape of a dead lover, the back of his skull blown off, delivering ominous messages regarding the "work" she has to do. Which is suddenly somehow related to the girls of the Caldecott School. So there goes Jersey . . . and the gloves. Who wants normal anyway?
Bravo, Mr. Wendig. A sequel that's as good as the first, possibly better (the yellow-line metaphors are certainly much more effective* . . . melting butter pats FTW!), Mockingbird also significantly ups both character development and the creep-factor, with Miriam facing a truly insidious and deeply disturbing adversary. A bit less noir and more horror than Blackbirds, this book kept me up late into the night, alternately cracking me up and building up dread . . . the twisted twists keep coming right to the end. Can't wait for #3 -- Cormorant -- due in 2013.(less)
If you love Sherlock, you'll find things to like here, but like many anthologies, it's kind of hit and miss. Favorites included James A. Moore's Lovec...more If you love Sherlock, you'll find things to like here, but like many anthologies, it's kind of hit and miss. Favorites included James A. Moore's Lovecraftian "Emily's Kiss," and Simon Kurt Unworth's exceedingly creepy "The Hand-Delivered Letter," in which Moriarty exacts a quite unexpected type of revenge. (less)
If Joss Whedon and Chuck Palahniuk had a love child, she might be called Miriam Black. A foul-mouthed and totally kick-ass borderline sociopath, Miria...moreIf Joss Whedon and Chuck Palahniuk had a love child, she might be called Miriam Black. A foul-mouthed and totally kick-ass borderline sociopath, Miriam also sees the future . . . or at least one particular kind of future: your death. With a simple touch of her hand, she knows exactly when, where and how you're gonna snuff it, and it's mostly not very pretty.
Neither is her life. When we meet Miriam -- in a cheap hotel room, posing as a truck-stop hooker -- it's just another day for her. On the grift, she makes her way by profiting from deaths foreseen. Having long ago come to the conclusion that she can't beat fate, so might as well profit from it, the self-proclaimed "vulture," is watching the clock on her current seedy mark (it's three minutes and counting) so she can liberate his cash and valuables, and move on. You can imagine how it's hard for her to make friends.
But when Miriam hitches a ride from nice-guy trucker Louis, she senses her own presence at his strange and violent death a few weeks hence. The vision haunts her, and somehow, a chance ride turns into an uneasy friendship, which kick-starts a twisted race to beat the reaper -- and maybe change the future.
I bought this book because I couldn't resist its gorgeous cover art, but Chuck Wendig really delivers the goods: Blackbirds is a fast-paced, ultra-violent supernatural noir, with cheeky dialogue and a vivid pop-culture vibe. 4.5 stars instead of 5, because sometimes the writing is too self-consciously edgy (a freeway has a "crusty, broken dividing line like a spattered stripe of golden piss"), but just as often lines made me laugh out loud.
At the time I picked it up, I was unaware that Blackbirds is the start of a series. Sometimes this really bugs me -- can nobody write a stand-alone anymore? -- but in this case, I'm glad. Miriam may have morals deep into the grey zone (and a mouth like a sailor, and a serious drinking problem . . .) but she's good, snarky company. And contrary to some other reviewers here, I find Miriam to have a very believable "female voice." She may not be a role model, but like Arya Stark, Lisbeth Salander, or any number of Whedon's women before her, she's one girl that doesn't take any shit. Even from fate.