Ah damn. I had such high hopes for this one. The premise/hook is fantastic, and with the second season of The Handmaid's Tale starting at the end of tAh damn. I had such high hopes for this one. The premise/hook is fantastic, and with the second season of The Handmaid's Tale starting at the end of this month it's going to be so easy for marketers to draw parallels to Atwood's classic feminist masterpiece. But Vox *is not* that book. There's some good ideas contained therein, but none of them are really developed, and a lot of the themes just seem too heavy-handed and on the nose. There is no subtlety, no allegory, the author is using an anvil in heeding her warnings painting in big giant billboards -- do you SEE? do you SEE how EASY this could happen?
There's a lot of science/academic techno-jargon in the book that's totally unnecessary too and mires down the action and took me out of the story too many times.
The book did get me to think about how all of humanity might be improved if everyone was limited to a hundred words a day. Because seriously, people are the worst and say the stupidest shittiest things non-stop.
A copy was provided through NetGalley for review....more
Last October I was lucky enough to attend a Bouchercon -- the longstanding World Mystery Convention that's been gathering every year in all sorts of iLast October I was lucky enough to attend a Bouchercon -- the longstanding World Mystery Convention that's been gathering every year in all sorts of interesting places since 1970. It is here that the Anthony Awards are given out and there just might be a murder or two committed over a long weekend. My favorite quote about the experience is from none other than the great Lawrence Block:
Fill a hotel with a few thousand socially-challenged introverts, folks for whom the ‘I’d rather be reading’ T-shirt was created, and force them to spend a long autumn weekend together, and what have you got? Bouchercon—and you’d be a fool to miss it.
Much to my crushing disappointment Block had to cancel his appearance in 2017, but meeting the Mighty Megan Abbott and Nick Cutter took the sting out of that. Despite what those two choose to write about, they are LOVELY people who I'm almost sure don't have dead bodies buried in their backyards. Erm...almost.
Someone else in attendance at last years's Bouchercon was Laura Lippman. I'd been seeing her name for years, but had never read one of her books. Close friends with Megan Abbott and married to the inimitable David Simon (Simon and Lippman met and married as Baltimore Sun crime reporters), I knew that it was long past time I gave this woman's writing a try. And her new book Sunburn does not disappoint. Inspired by noir godfather James M. Cain (who lived in Baltimore and also wrote for the Sun) Lippman's latest book is definitely in the domestic noir tradition that deals in desperate characters with shady pasts carrying big secrets where trusting the wrong person could mean your life.
When we meet Polly, she has just abandoned her husband and small child. Adam is a private investigator who has been hired to follow and befriend Polly because someone thinks she has a lot of money stashed away some place -- possibly the insurance settlement she got from killing her first husband. Adam is warned not to fall for Polly's lethal charms, but he does anyway, rushing into a heady affair and Adam is left wondering if he's made the biggest mistake of his life. Who is Polly really? What is she hiding and is she as dangerous as she seems? Or maybe she's just a desperate woman looking to start over and finally have the life and happiness she's always wanted.
There's a lot to enjoy here in this twisty noir narrative that's tightly written with some nice turns of phrase: She has no use for women. That's why she has to befriend them. Polly is an interesting character study even if she fails to become as memorable as Mildred Pierce or Phyllis Dietrichson....more
"The truth was, I was jittery from sugar, hunger, and spending too much time alone in the dark absorbing a fifty-chapter horror story narrated in the kind of dead voice used by desk clerks at the DMV." ~Michelle McNamara, I'll Be Gone in the Dark
I probably would have been drawn to this book eventually no matter what. Well-written true crime that unfolds like the best of a police procedural with all the markers of a gripping horror suspense novel all rolled into one are a siren song for me. But due to the tragic circumstances surrounding the author -- in April 2016, 46 year old Michelle McNamara died very suddenly in her sleep -- the book had been on my radar for quite some time, a book Michelle dedicated the last years of her life obsessively researching that she would not live to finish.
Though there is a sense of incompleteness at the end, an abrupt cutoff in the road indicating Michelle still had so much more to write, so many more dark avenues to explore, what we are presented with is nevertheless compelling, frightening, heartbreaking stuff. The book is just as strong covering the killer's compulsions as it is covering Michelle's own.
The human propensity to be drawn to and into these stories can often seem unhealthy and aberrant. But for those of us who sometimes find ourselves disappearing down the rabbit hole into a labyrinthine cold case with so many unanswered questions, I don't think it's the darkness we're chasing, but the light. It's a quest for illumination -- the solving of the puzzle (its own deep satisfaction) is a hopeful act of throwing on the lights, a brightness from which the boogeyman can no longer move amongst us in faceless, nameless anonymity.
Before picking up this book I had never heard of the East Area Rapist - Original Night Stalker (EAR/ONS) (renamed the Golden State Killer by Michelle), yet he is one of the most prolific serial offenders in US history (50 known sexual assaults and at least 10 murders) and who remains at large. The Golden State Killer terrorized the state of California from 1976 to 1986, but for all that time lead investigators spanning multiple counties and jurisdictions, wouldn't even know they were hunting the same monster. That shocking revelation would come years later through cold case DNA testing and a new generation of dedicated detectives and forensic scientists.
Having the killer's DNA profile however, did not miraculously lead to his arrest. The hunt was also complicated by the fact the trail had been cold with no new victims or crime scenes since May 1986. So is the Golden State Killer dead? Serving a long prison sentence? Did he get married like Green River Killer Gary Ridgeway, a living arrangement that made it too difficult to continue his double life as a serial murderer?
In her quest to finally unmask the Golden State Killer's true identity once and for all, McNamara shows the heart-wrenching toll on all parties who share in this consuming need to know -- the victims families of course -- but also the retired detectives who carried the burden for decades and those who were forced to take that burden to the grave with them. Another aspect I loved is how McNamara talks about the "confirmation bias" that sneaks up on real and armchair detectives alike. Anyone involved with the hunt will eventually uncover a suspect they become certain is "The One" -- the circumstantial evidence piles up and so much of the suspect's background and personal life fits the FBI profile. He lived in the right area at the right time, is the right height and weight and age. Was a peeping tom as a teenager, or broke into houses to steal. It's GOTTA BE this guy, he's "The One." When DNA testing finally eliminates the suspect it can be a devastating blow, and it may take a while for the mind to let go of what it was so certain to be true.
I'm reminded of Robert Graysmith's obsessive quest to hunt down the identity of the Zodiac Killer -- Graysmith's "The One" was Arthur Leigh Allen, and for very good reasons. Yet in 2002 DNA testing of saliva from the stamps the Zodiac used to send his letters to the San Francisco Chronicle were not a match for Allen. This did not deter Graysmith however, who still believes Allen is the Zodiac (someone else could have licked the stamps or the original DNA sample might have been too small or degraded). It's a dangerous kind of tunnel vision that's resulted in a disturbing amount of innocent people going to jail (or death row) for crimes they didn't commit. Thanks to the rise of DNA testing and organizations like The Innocence Project, many wrongly convicted persons have been freed, though too many still remain incarcerated to this day, or have been killed by the state. It's a chilling reminder that despite what we've been told, just because something walks and talks like a duck, still doesn't mean it's a duck.
The nature of the the Golden State Killer's m.o. -- that he was so brazen to break into homes as people slept -- will leave you unnerved and paranoid. After spending a night reading, I couldn't help take a really hard look at my patio sliding doors and wonder how easy it would be for someone to get through them. But we could all stand to be a little more careful and alert these days anyway, right? Because you just never know who's prowling in the shadows of your backyard, or peering into a back window, waiting for you to turn off the lights and get into bed.
Michelle McNamara and husband Patton Oswalt...more
I hate to be the Debbie Downer here because so many people are so excited about this book, but it did practically nothing for me. I thought the “twistI hate to be the Debbie Downer here because so many people are so excited about this book, but it did practically nothing for me. I thought the “twists” were ridiculous and obvious in a soap opera way, and most of the time I was bored waiting for something of import to happen. This might be a good portrayal of living with agoraphobia but even if it is, using it as a plot device is not enough to carry the whole book. Neither is the main character’s love of classic noir and suspense films. Referencing Hitchcock repeatedly doesn’t miraculously transmogrify your book into a suspense masterpiece.
I suppose if you’re reading by the pool, at the beach (or in a bar because I hear some people do that — I’ve only ever written letters, remember those?) and recovering from a head cold the short chapters and derivative plot would probably scratch an itch. Probably. My advice? Pick up Megan Abbott instead. Life is too short for mediocre books....more
So just recently I was grumbling and being a Debbie Downer by 2 starring a buzz book that's got a lot of people excited. It doesn't have "Girl" in theSo just recently I was grumbling and being a Debbie Downer by 2 starring a buzz book that's got a lot of people excited. It doesn't have "Girl" in the title, but it does have "Woman" and the waitlist at my library is already pretty long. I expect this book's popularity is only going to increase exponentially as summer approaches. You might already have this book on hold yourself, or have added it to your teetering TBR pile. I'm not going to judge you. Much. No really. ::cough::
Today I'm going to recommend you pick up Tom Hunt's Killer Choice instead. I had way more fun reading it because it's one of those tightly plotted suspense thrillers with an irresistible hook where the pages practically turn themselves. We're introduced to middle America all around good guy Gary Foster whose life suddenly spirals into desperate circumstances. His pregnant wife Beth, who he is madly in love with, has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. They need 200,000 dollars to get her the miracle treatment she needs.
Just when you think life can't get any shittier or more scary, in walks a menacing tattooed stranger, with a shaved head calling himself Shamrock. Shamrock wants Gary to kill someone, and in exchange for that dirty deed, he will give Gary the 200,000 dollars needed to maybe save his wife. Whatever will Good Guy Gary do? What's that saying? -- oh yeah, lie down with the devil and wake up in hell. Generally decent people finding themselves morally compromised is one of my favourite noir tropes. I usually can't get enough of it in any story but this one we're presented with here is particularly well-executed.
On the flip side of Gary's ordeal pulling him towards the edge of the abyss, is Shamrock's -- or Otto as we will come to know him. Otto is *not* a good guy and is basically living a Mirror Universe life that's the polar opposite from Good Guy Gary's. But in his own way Otto's found himself ensnared in circumstances just as desperate, driving him to make choices he thought he would never make.
The collision course that both these men are on and how far it will take them is straight up compelling reading. For a debut novel this is very strong and I can't wait to see what the author does next. ...more