Fans of Smith's Arkady Renko series are accustomed to intricate plots, bone-dry wit, and the kind of just-so observations that leave the reader noddinFans of Smith's Arkady Renko series are accustomed to intricate plots, bone-dry wit, and the kind of just-so observations that leave the reader nodding in agreement. Add to that Smith's detailed and immersive portrayals of the seedier side of Soviet/Russian life and you can consider most of the Renko books classics of the genre.
Unfortunately, Three Stations has none of the qualities of the previous Renko books. It lacks the plotting of Gorky Park, the poetry of Red Square, the wire-tight tension of Polar Star. The story is disjointed and feels like a patchwork of vignettes cut from other books and stitched together to make a short Renko novel.
(view spoiler)[Characters—important ones, like Renko's ersatz son Zhenya—are picked up and dropped in order to shove the plot forward, instead of becoming an integral part of the story. Disparate threads—a billionaire oligarch's financial woes, a teen mother's lost baby, Renko's weary fight with his superiors—seem tossed in at random to fill the pages. The main rail of the book is resolved more by accident than design. (hide spoiler)]
In his defense, Smith tackles important issues like the corruption among the Russian elite and the abuse and neglect of child orphans in an increasingly wealthy society. But he could've done so (as he has in past books) more deftly.
All in all, I'm sad to report the effort on Three Stations feels phoned in. My fingers are crossed that this was a singular occurrence. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Hell's Fury marks the explosive debut of CIA-turned-freelance assassin and operative RB…or should I say Ally Logan? Or is it the chain-smoking Jane CaHell's Fury marks the explosive debut of CIA-turned-freelance assassin and operative RB…or should I say Ally Logan? Or is it the chain-smoking Jane Calloway? The elusive Mrs. Paige?
It's difficult to say because, in her latest novel, PD Martin has introduced a dark, mysterious heroine with a murky past, a violent present, and an uncertain future.
Rescued after seven months of torture and imprisonment in an Afghani prison by the shadowy group known only as the Committee, Ally--as we know her through most of the novel--struggles to find her way in an unfamiliar and dangerous world where old allies have abandoned her and new compatriots may prove to be as trustworthy and dangerous as the criminals she hunts down. Ally's talent as a skilled covert agent are often the only thing keeping her alive…and Martin puts those skills on display often in scenes as thrilling as they are powerful.
In telling Ally's tale, Martin doesn't shirk from the hard questions, dealing head-on with tough personal subjects such as her heroine's challenges with PTSD, mental trauma, and sexual abuse. Societal issues such as human trafficking and corruption are also addressed unflinchingly; there are no vanilla bad guys or easy-on-the-conscience, man from U.N.C.L.E. missions here.
Pick up a copy of Hell's Fury and give Ally and The Committee your time. You won't be sorry…as long as you don't get on Ally's bad side. ...more
Many readers have fallen in love with Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books, especially Bury Your Dead, and it’s easy to see why. Her descriptions ofMany readers have fallen in love with Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books, especially Bury Your Dead, and it’s easy to see why. Her descriptions of place are gentle and thorough, lifting every cover and opening every cupboard of a setting until we feel that we’re strolling down the streets of Old Quebec or pushing our way through the waist-high snow of a Canadian village.
Her characters are also the beneficiaries of this intelligent and pleasant cataloging. We’re treated to wonderful physical descriptions of the important personas, then are given a trip inside their heads and hearts as they move through her drama. The intimate 3rd person narration gives one the sensation of riding along on the shoulders of the characters like an invisible eye.
Unfortunately, the same pre-occupation with detail and intricacy doesn’t always work well with plots and it’s here that Penny loses me. There’s a fine mystery series convention, the standard “A” and “B” story lines (A being the crisis of the moment, B being the protagonist’s ongoing life issues), that’s worked well for thousands of mystery writers and their books. Bury Your Dead, however, is a riot of plot lines, an attempt to weave together four separate mysteries, only two of which have even a passing connection to each other.
That’s a lot of balls to keep in the air. A and B are fine; when you toss in a C and a D, you better be prepared to wrap it up well. Unfortunately, I think Penny bit off more than she could chew, with the result that I was left feeling that none of the stories were given their due or ended particularly well. (view spoiler)[Add to that the unbelievable coincidence of a son killing a father without recognizing him and numerous traits of minor characters that are difficult to swallow. (hide spoiler)]
Had Penny sacrificed the artificial complexity of the two extraneous mysteries and concentrated instead on writing a simple, yet compelling plot, we’d have a book worthy of all the accolades it received. As it is, we’re left with a beautiful mess filled with warm descriptions and lovable characters that ultimately falls short as a satisfying novel.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The term that comes to mind when thinking about Iain Rowan's crime fiction short story collection Nowhere to Go is "devilish." This gathering of eleveThe term that comes to mind when thinking about Iain Rowan's crime fiction short story collection Nowhere to Go is "devilish." This gathering of eleven of Rowan's tales (all previously published in such respected rags as Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen, and Shots) is full of desperate characters and insidious situations, so much so that you're almost skittish as you wait for the next unexpected—and, well, devilish—plot development.
Rowan is in love with the twist, the exquisite gotcha moment when a story's premise is turned on its head and standard expectations are reversed in a heartbeat. Crime fiction, especially of the more psychological and less Hollywood-explosion variety, is a great genre for this and Rowan makes masterful use of the approach in several of the stories, including the stunning "One Step Closer," the eponymously titled story, and, what I think is the best of the collection, "The Chain." In the stories where you can see the twist coming down the pike, the reading is still enjoyable as you wait to see how Rowan is going to pull it off, even when you know the what.
Nowhere to Go also resonated with me because the language and structure of the stories is crisp, quick, and bold. There are no page-long introductions to setting or motive, no panning of scenes that bore us with superfluous detail. The reader is dropped directly into the action of the stories and has to keep up or risk getting left behind. And this is just all right with me. I'm personally tired of milquetoast writing that feels the need to describe each innermost thought of the characters right after cataloging their wardrobe. Give me a setting, a conflict, and let's get going.
If I have one criticism of Rowan's stories, it's that they're unrelievedly dark. Humor—even gallows humor—can be a nice foil to the (almost by definition) downer side of crime fiction. Some comedy could've lightened the collection up and given that extra "beat" in between darker stories that would've improved the collection as a whole. "Easy Job," especially, could've been taken down a humorous path and I was disappointed when it wasn't.
All in all, a thought-provoking and entertaining clutch of stories by someone who has honed their craft. I recommend Nowhere to Go for any crime fiction readers and look forward to reading more of Rowan's work...as long as he keeps it devilish.
Some random thoughts • At times reminded me of Ian McEwan's sometimes bizarre settings and/or situations that quickly become normalized and acceptable as you get pulled into the story. • For American readers, the very British setting and some language will seem mildly exotic (especially "The Remains of My Estate") without getting in the way. ...more