Yearly Archives: 2006

A Simple Plan by Scott Smith | Book Review

A Simple Plan was the basis for the movie of the same name. It uses a simple premise to set up a psychologically taut thriller that explores the boundaries of love, family, marriage and friendship.

Two brothers, who are no longer close since the death of the parents, and a friend, find a downed airplane in the middle of the woods. The pilot is dead and no one knows that the plane is there. Inside the plane is a large duffel bag that is filled with packets of bound $100 bills. The total amount of money in the bag is $4.4 million dollars. The three men come up with a simple plan, one of them will hold the money for 6 months, that will allow enough time for either the plane to be discovered or for any missing plane reports to be announced. If at the end of the 6 month period of time everything looks safe then they will split the money. If at any time they think that they will be found out then the money will get burned. Needless to say this puts them on a slippery path and the almost immediately the situation spins out of control.

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To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman | Book Review

Laura Lippman, author of the popular Tess Monaghan series, takes a break to explore a stand alone novel. In To the Power of Three she takes an old mystery novel concept, the locked room mystery and updates it, using it to explore upper middle class suburbia in northern Baltimore County.

To the Power of Three opens with a letter being written on the eve of a school shooting by the shooter. Before the start of first period the next day a murder will take place behind a locked bathroom door. Three seniors who were life long friends: one will be dead, one will be critically wounded and the other injured. The only living witness and most of the evidence points to one outcome but a few minor pieces of evidence and the professional eye of a veteran murder police point to other possibilities. What really happened in that room? What caused such a breakdown in this supposedly unpenetrable friendship? Is someone lying, if so why?

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Three Days to Never by Tim Powers | Book Review

Tim Powers’s novels are so unlike anything else that I think John Shirley said it best over at Emerald City “Tim Powers is his own genre”. Or maybe he is the most unpredictable predictable writer alive, either way he is the most consistently originally fantasy writer of the last 30 years.

In a perfect world I would post a review for Three Days to Never and I would be bombarded with replies that say ‘Shut up already, we’ve already bought it and read it. You’re the one that’s behind!’

In a slightly less then perfect world I would say what does Charlie Chaplin’s handprints, Albert Einstein’s unpublished theories, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, gold swastika’s, astral projection, harmonic convergence and the Mossad all have in common and everyone would cry out in unison ‘we don’t care, but we trust Tim…’ and then run out to the store to buy a copy.

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The Gates of Gods by Martha Wells | Book Review

I’ve been a fan of Martha Wells’ work for some years now, always eagerly awaiting her next book. Wells has carved out a solid niche based on her excellent single-volume genre fantasies. Her books all feature enjoyable prose, snappy dialogue and interesting world-building, while avoiding the common genre fantasy tropes of elves, dwarves, dragons and magic swords. Standouts include City of Bones (1995), Wheel of the Infinite (2000) and the Nebula-nominated Death of the Necromancer (1998). When I learned that Wells was writing a trilogy (“The Fall of Ile-Rien”), that most ubiquitous of formats for epic fantasy, I was of two minds. Would the longer format allow her to explore even more interesting and unique ideas and realms, or would it drag her backwards into typical genre conventions?

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Chasing the Dead by Joe Schreiber |Book Review

Chasing the Dead is a slim book, but don’t let its slight stature fool you. With an economy of words, a relentless pace and willingness to explore the supernatural Chasing the Dead deserves a place on your Halloween/winter reading list.

On December 21, the longest night of the year, Sue Young gets a mysterious phone call from an omnipresent man who has kidnapped her 18 month old daughter who was in the care of her nanny. The man on the other end of the line has knowledge about a secret crime that Sue and her estranged, now missing, husband committed when they were teens. The mystery man has a series of instructions for her and an expected time frame for completion. So, in other words jump through hoops to get your daughter back or I’ll kill her.

Does this sound like a typical thriller to you?

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A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston | Book Review

At the hopelessly fatalistic conclusion of Six Bad Things Hank has lost the 4 million dollars, killed his friend who knew the location of the money and has been ensnared in the web of Russian crime boss David Dolokov, the owner of the money. Dolokov being the business minded individual that he is doesn’t take the loss of the money personally; instead he views it simply as a debt that Hank needs to pay off. Dolokov arranges for a cut rate plastic surgeon to alter Hank’s face so that he can become an invisible weapon. Dolokov’s own private ghost, to do his bidding and his killing. Dolokov holds the threat of killing Hank’s parents over his head to keep him in line.

With Dolokov’s view of Hank as an investment he brings in a professional Serbian killer, Branko, to guide Hank in the ways of a clean kill. Hank balks at these early lessons but soon picks it up. Hank becomes increasingly disturbed by his lot in life and his grip on life starts to slip as he becomes addicted to pills, drugs and alcohol. He becomes increasingly haunted in his dreams by those that he has killed. With his grasp on the job slipping Hank is starting to become aware that Dolokov and Branko are becoming frustrated with his performance. Hank needs to shape up or die.

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The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos |Book Review

George Pelecanos is one of the most respected writers of mystery/crime fiction working today. He is what’s known as a writer’s writer. For those of you that aren’t familiar with that term a writer’s writer is an author whose work garners near universal critical acclaim and high accolades as well as being a genuine favorite of other writers but without the popularity and sales numbers that should accompany such quality fiction. A writer’s writer tends to be more influential then popular.

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The Gift by Patrick O’Leary | Book Review

I’m on to your game Mr. O’Leary. You’re not going to pull the wool over my eyes. After writing one of the great modern science fiction novels you wiped your hands of the genre and moved on. Now, your setting out to do the same thing with Fantasy aren’t you. Admit it! Well you’ve succeeded yet again haven’t you.

In my review of Door Number Three I commented on how polished that novel was and how it didn’t read like a debut novel. That same observation applies here as well, perhaps even more so. The Gift was 22 years in the making and the time invested shows on every page. The Gift is so beautifully written that you can randomly open up to any page, pick a paragraph, begin reading and be amazed at the prose.

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Creepers by David Morrell | Book Review

Creepers is the latest novel from David Morrell. Morrell is the guy who brought us Rambo: First Blood and The Brotherhood of the Rose and is basically credited with birthing the modern action novel. So, in other words when Morrell is the one penning the thriller that you’re reading you can expect a few things from the outset: you’re in good hands; nobody’s safe and the protagonist will probably be a vet and also will be possessed of a certain level of common sense.

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Tumbling After by Paul Witcover | Book Review

Paul Witcover’s first novel Waking Beauty was published in 1997, his second novel, Tumbling After, was published in 2005. Needless to say he likes to take his time between publications. But to be honest, we, the readers are better off for it. When news of a Witcover book getting published is announced it’s almost a certainty that it is going to be of the highest of quality. The downside of his low output is that his name isn’t mentioned as often as it should be in conversations about those writers who are expanding the boundaries of what Fantasy could be.

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The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski |Book Review

Unlike Swierczynski’s first novel, Secret Dead Men, his second novel, The Wheelman, summarizes extraordinarily well. But the perception of such a short summary shouldn’t be that it lacks in quality. Quite the opposite in fact. Imagine the worst day that you’ve ever had in your entire life, multiply it by 1000 and you still wouldn’t come close to the day that The Wheelman’s main character, Lennon, has after a bank robbery that goes very, very wrong. Which I guess is that aforementioned succinct summary.

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Already Dead by Charlie Huston | Book Review

Charlie Huston’s third novel, Already Dead, is the first novel in a long time to make me lose sleep. That’s a good thing by the way. There is nothing quite like being solidly in the grip of an excellent novel. The narrator and main character Joe Pitt is cut from the classic mold of all the great PI’s except for one thing, he is a Vampyre. Forget everything you know about vampires as the tale is finally brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century and treated with modern sensibilities.

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Hell’s Half Acre by Will Christopher Baer | Book Review

Hells Half Acre begins five years after the events in Penny Dreadful. Phineas Poe has been searching for Jude the entire time. He finds her in a San Francisco back alley scalping a man she just murdered. Poe recognizes the dead man and this brings on a series of flashbacks about Jude and his past times together, what they were doing, where they were, why they separated, and his extended search for her. These flashbacks are most prevalent during the first part of the book but also occur throughout.

Jude has hooked herself up with a powerful attorney, Miller, who seems to possess an unprecedented and uncanny amount of control over her. Jude brings Poe into the mix and along with a woman living with Miller, Molly, the four set out to make a movie. Not just any movie though, a snuff film with a twist, an existential snuff film.

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The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor | Book Review

The Looking Glass Wars is a retelling of the story of Alice in Wonderland. All of the characters, plot points and events are cast in a different light. The reconfigured characters are often cast in completely different roles. In the kingdom of Wonderland there are two types of Imagination, Black and White. Each school of magic has its specific attributes, disciples and practitioners. Current Queen Genevieve and her daughter Alyss as well as the royal family are all practitioners of White Imagination. Genevieve’s estranged sister Redd is the foremost practitioner of Black Imagination. Redd, who believes she is the rightful Queen, kills Alyss’ father in the second chapter, over throws the current monarchy and beheads the queen. All the prosperity that Wonderland had under Alyss’ families rule becomes corrupt under Queen Redd’s selfish rule.

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The Black Tattoo by Sam Enthoven | Book Review

In THE BLACK TATTOO, Sam Enthoven’s created an adventure novel of anti-theology for young adults, excising all the white hats in favor of a panoply of demonic dictators and gladiators which will appeal to fans of grotesquerie and fight scenes.

The protagonists are fourteen year-old friends: handsome, adroit Charlie and scrawny, risk-averse Jack. Jack, who’s perpetually disappointed, is recognizing a new dissatisfaction in Charlie, whose father has just abandoned him and his mother to set up house with a girlfriend. Distraught after an angry visit with his dad, Charlie races to follow an enigmatic, black-clad stranger with Jack on his heels, dissuading the whole way. Soon, this stranger will be dead, but not before introducing the boys to the alluring teen fighting phenomenon, Esme, and her dad, Raymond, who live in an abandoned theater covered with hand-painted butterflies and devote themselves to preparing to battle dark forces. On his way beyond the mortal coil, the stranger will also infect or gift Charlie, depending upon one’s viewpoint, with a black tattoo that writhes in resonance with the awesome new power within him. Esme and Raymond represent the last members of an ancient order who guard the world from The Scourge, a creature of darkness imprisoned on Earth centuries ago. But recently, The Scourge escaped, and it, along with the rest of characters and the story, will move on to Hell.

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The Two Swords by R.A. Salvatore | Book Review

The conclusion of The Hunter’s Blade Trilogy picks up where The Lone Drow (the second installment) left off: the dwarves are attempting to thwart an orc advance and Drizzt is out in the wilderness causing havoc amongst the enemy’s ranks.

The Battlehammer dwarves have been “closed in” to their home – Mithril Hall. Fortunately for them though, they have underground tunnels leading to neighboring lands that the orcs have yet to locate. Clan Battlehamer was able to send scouts to Citadel Felbarr, and after informing them of the situation, the Felbarran dwarves agreed to send their army to Mithril Hall’s aid. However, there were two entities that would make this joining difficult: a river and orcs.

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Door Number Three by Patrick O’Leary | Book Review

Door Number Three is a book that not only requires but demands to be read a second time. In fact, the desire to immediately start reading it again hits you as soon as you finish it. Embedded in the text are references to and even jokes about the story at hand. Multiple readings, while necessary, are never tedious. It is a puzzle box of a novel that proves to be challenging to open, a delight to read and rewarding once opened.

I’ve decided to embark on an experiment of sorts. Over the years I’ve been a fairly prolific reader and over that time I have come across a number of books that, for various reasons, became favorites of mine or 10’s if you will. But since I’m always on the look out for something that I haven’t read before, I never really have the chance to reread them. I intend to go back and reread some of my 10’s to see if they are as good as I remembered them to be, to see if they hold up to another dip, to see if I remember them and most importantly to see if they will still be a 10 at the end of the day. Regardless of the format: music, TV, movies or books. If something is great it should hold up to repeated visits. Hopefully we’ll bring some great fiction to the light.

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Do the Creepy Thing by Graham Joyce | Book Review

Do-the-Creepy-Thing-Graham-JoyceDo the Creepy Thing is Graham Joyce’s second YA novel after TWOC.

Caz and her best friend Lucy play an interesting game called the Creepy Thing. They break into a home and whoever’s turn it is sneaks up to the sleeping person in their bed. They then put their faces right up to the sleeper and count to 15. When the tension from this act mounts they bolt out of the house so as to not get caught. One night Caz is staring intently in a sleeping woman’s face when the woman abruptly opens her eyes and sits up clamping a silver bracelet on Caz’s wrist. Upon waking the next morning Caz discovers that the bracelet has disappeared and in its place is a strange glowing tattoo. As strange things start to happen in her life Caz has to wonder if the bracelet has brought a curse into her life, or not…

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The Thousand Orcs by R.A. Salvatore | Book Review

The story starts off by accompanying a small group of dwarves, led by Tred McKnuckles, who are attempting to beat another group of dwarves to a city where they are planning on selling their wares. Unfortunately for them, though, a band of orcs and frost giants have other ideas. The band ends up ambushing the dwarves and kill all but two, Tred and Nikwilling, who escape. They would learn later how great their folly was in letting them flee.

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Penny Dreadful by Christopher Baer | Book Review

Penny Dreadful begins with an alleged journal entry of Phineas Poe, our beleaguered protagonist from Kiss Me, Judas. The tone of the journal entry is reminiscent of the first novel. The entry is only a page and a half long and when the book proper begins Phineas isn’t the narrator.

Penny Dreadful takes place 13 months after the events in Kiss Me, Judas. Poe arriving back in Denver with no Jude, no money and no place to stay tracks down Eve, a character from Kiss Me, Judas to stay with her.

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Shotgun Opera by Victor Gischler |Book Review

With a name like Shotgun Opera how can it not be entertaining. Action, guns, revenge and humor Shot Gun Opera has it all.

So, putting aside all of the obvious allusions to Emerson LaSalle, especially during his so called “Rubicon” period, specifically his massive epic social allegory from the early 1970’s Drag Racing Drag Queens from Downtown Detroit, I think that Victor Gischlers Shotgun Opera is most comparable to the great 70’s & 80’s action film director Walter Hill. Yes, Walter Hill was a great director who made great movies and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.

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The Guards by Ken Bruen | Book Review

Hard Boiled fiction is a distinctly American form of the mystery novel. The English cozy was the preferred style until Dashiel Hammett updated the storylines, moved it to an urban environment and added an unprecedented element of realism, violence and sex. Most Americans couldn’t identify with English lords in the country estates lazily solving meaningless crimes with the help of their servants. The American audience, not realizing that they had a need to be filled, jumped all over the chance to read these gritty American tales. Hard Boiled was so successful that it became arguably the most popular of the mystery sub-genres and the PI, regardless of background, was introduced as an archetypal literary figure.

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Come Closer by Sara Gran | Book Review

Come Closer is a deceptively simple tale of supernatural possession. It is also one of the creepiest damn books that I have ever read.

Amanda is content and happy with her life. She has a great husband and enjoys a successful career. But a strange tapping noise in her home, that only she can hear, becomes a loose thread that threatens to unravel her world as she becomes increasingly obsessed with finding the source of it. Then the dreams start, possibly of a childhood imaginary friend. She starts to have obscene thoughts and increasingly she wants to hurt those people who are closest to her. Oh, and not to mention the strange woman that seems to be following her everywhere. But, there has to be a rational explanation for this gradual and at times sudden change in her behavior, right? It couldn’t be demonic possession and HAS to be stress or fear of responsibility as she grows older, right? WRONG!

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The Girl in the Glass by Jeffrey Ford | Book Review

For 2005, THE GIRL IN THE GLASS won the Edgar award for Best Paperback Original from the Mystery Writers of America. You might think a crime-writing award a strange one for Jeffrey Ford to receive if you’ve principally considered him an author of the fantastic, but this tale, overlayed with fantastic illusion, is about the darkest acts of human arrogance.

In 1932, many of the wealthy on Long Island have managed to stay rich or even grow richer. For fifty years, the movement of spiritualism has seduced many, even the recently departed Arthur Conan Doyle, and those desperate enough will pay any price to communicate directly with their absent beloved. This circumstance works an irresistible allure upon grifters, too, in this case, the king of the flimflam, Thomas Schell. A highly-paid medium with an act designed to bamboozle while satisfying his clients just enough to book their next appointment, Schell employs a crew which includes the services of a Mexican immigrant he’s raised and educated from childhood. Diego, the novel’s teenaged narrator, accompanies Schell as an Indian mystic named Ondoo, and Schell’s bare-knuckled brawler of a chauffeur and major domo, Anthony, assists in whatever other action the scam du jour requires. Despite the universal inconveniences of Prohibition, things are going well for the crew and its enigmatic, entomologically-inclined leader.

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Boyos by Richard Marinick | Book Review

Boyos deserves a special place in crime fiction. The author, Richard Marinick, grew up in the 80’s running his own crew in South Boston during the Whitey Bulger era. He served 11 years in jail for an armored car heist. While in jail he turned himself around earning Bachelors and Masters Degrees. In his introduction he reveals himself to be a natural storyteller and a born writer scribbling this story during stolen moments while working odd jobs. Perhaps more revealing though was his hesitation to write crime fiction in fear that reliving his past experiences would make him slip into his old ways. It should also be noted that the only character that has a good heart and redeeming qualities shares the same name as his wife. Perhaps a subtle thank you for his reason to stay on the straight and narrow.

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