The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu

The Deaths of Tao (Tao, #2)The Deaths of Tao

by Wesley Chu

Mass Market Paperback, 462 pg.
Angry Robot Books, 2013
Read: October 17 – 24, 2014
It’s been a few years since the events of The Lives of Tao, and things have not gone well for Roen Tam, either personally or in the war. He’s basically dropped out of everything, going rogue, running covert ops for Tao while ignoring Prophus’ command structure. Tao’s sure he understands what’s going on in the world better than anyone else, and so he pushes Roen to leave everything behind and find evidence for Tao’s theory.

Meanwhile, Jill — and Raji — have wormed their way into the corridors of power in the Capitol, moving and shaking on behalf of Prophus while also keeping her cover as a Senatorial aide intact. This is where Prophus seems to be holding its own – but barely.

We bounce around between Roen, Jill, and a new Gengix host, Enzo, who is trying to find a level of dominance very quickly for himself in the Gengix hierarchy. He’s rash, impetuous, and egotistical — not the signs of a great leader. But the Gengix he’s hosting is wise, methodical, honorable and tries to impress these characteristics on this host.

But like I said, things aren’t going well for the Prophus — they’re on the verge of losing this war once and for all, clinging to power and influence some areas, absolutely losing it in others. They’re so close to the brink that they eventually are driven to one final act of desperation that will change everything forever.

As the title suggests, The Deaths of Tao is darker (like any good 2nd volume of a trilogy), not as fun (understandable given the darkness, but would’ve been helpful), and slower paced than The Lives of Tao. But, still, I was enjoying it enough to keep going — and I wanted to see what happened to Roen and the rest. Hopefully get to see my favorite Prophus host whip that Gengix Enzo around a bit. But Chapter 29? Made everything up to that point worth it. And excitement, the pace, and the stakes picked up after that (not the stakes for the whole armies, obviously, but for Roen and Jill)

Still, it took until Chapter 29 for this really to come together for me — and that’s far too long. Which is strange, because up until that point, I’d say this was better structured than its predecessor. It built better in plot development, character and tension. But Chapter 29 made me rethink that, it’s just too much of a jump in development and voice.

I find it hard to understand — except for strength in numbers — just how the Gengix are winning this thing. The Prophus seem to come out on top — if not even with — the Gengix almost every time we see them. It’s difficult to extrapolate from this to them almost losing this war. Yet that’s exactly the situation they’re in, and you believe it, up until you think about it a day or two later.

Giving it three stars — as good as the last 150 pages or so were, as huge as the ending was — it was a slog up until that point. I just couldn’t connect with Roen or Tao (or anyone else). But believe you me, I’m anticipating The Rebirths of Tao and expect it to blow me away. Just wish this had done that.

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3 Stars

A Less Happy Anniversary – Rex Stout (December 1, 1886 – October 27, 1975)

Don’t worry, this is not going to become the Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe Almanac. But the Rex Stout Facebook page just posted something about this being the 39th anniversary of Rex Stout’s death at the age of 88. I was barely reading at the time — certainly not murder mysteries — so the event meant practically nothing to me. I certainly couldn’t have known then that he’d make a bigger impact on me than just about any other writer.

He’d have led a fascinating life if he’d never started writing novels. What he was able to do because he started writing — particularly writing the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin series — is beyond the hopes of most people. Yeah, a lot of what he labored for politically would be the sort of thing that I’d be opposed to (but not all of it). Nevertheless, he showed the kind of civic activity that’s admirable.

As I write this, John McAleer’s 600+ page Rex Stout: A Biography, is literally an arm’s reach from me. I’m going to resist the urge to pull it off the shelf and start relating some of my favorite bits. Instead, I’ll just point you to this pdf version of the obituary The New York Times ran on the front page the day after he died.

Saturday Miscellany — 10/25/14

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

Happy Birthday, Archie

My annual tribute to one of my favorite fictional characters (if not my all-time favorite). I really need to update/expand this a bit, but this isn’t the year for it.

On Oct 23 in Chillicothe, Ohio, Archie Goodwin entered this world–no doubt with a smile for the pretty nurses–and American detective literature was never the same.

I’m toasting him in one of the ways I think he’d appreciate most–by raising a glass of milk in his honor.

Who was Archie? Archie summed up his life thusly:

Born in Ohio. Public high school, pretty good at geometry and football, graduated with honor but no honors. Went to college two weeks, decided it was childish, came to New York and got a job guarding a pier, shot and killed two men and was fired, was recommended to Nero Wolfe for a chore he wanted done, did it, was offered a full-time job by Mr. Wolfe, took it, still have it.” (Fourth of July Picnic)

Long may he keep it. Just what was he employed by Wolfe to do? In The Black Mountain he answers the statement, “I thought you was a private eye” with:

I don’t like the way you say it, but I am. Also I am an accountant, an amanuensis, and a cocklebur. Eight to five you never heard the word amanuensis and you never saw a cocklebur.

In The Red Box, he says

I know pretty well what my field is. Aside from my primary function as the thorn in the seat of Wolfe’s chair to keep him from going to sleep and waking up only for meals, I’m chiefly cut out for two things: to jump and grab something before the other guy can get his paws on it, and to collect pieces of the puzzle for Wolfe to work on.

In Black Orchids, he reacts to an insult:

…her cheap crack about me being a ten-cent Clark Gable, which was ridiculous. He simpers, to begin with, and to end with no one can say I resemble a movie actor, and if they did it would be more apt to be Gary Cooper than Clark Gable.

In case you’re wondering if this post was simply an excuse to go through some collections of Archie Goodwin quotations, you wouldn’t be totally wrong…he’s one of the fictional characters I like spending time with most in this world–he’s the literary equivalent of comfort food. So just a couple more great lines I’ve quoted here before:

I would appreciate it if they would call a halt on all their devoted efforts to find a way to abolish war or eliminate disease or run trains with atoms or extend the span of human life to a couple of centuries, and everybody concentrate for a while on how to wake me up in the morning without my resenting it. It may be that a bevy of beautiful maidens in pure silk yellow very sheer gowns, barefooted, singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” and scattering rose petals over me would do the trick, but I’d have to try it.

I looked at the wall clock. It said two minutes to four. I looked at my wrist watch. It said one minute to four. In spite of the discrepancy it seemed safe to conclude that it would soon be four o’clock.

 

“Indeed,” I said. That was Nero Wolfe’s word, and I never used it except in moments of stress, and it severely annoyed me when I caught myself using it, because when I look in a mirror I prefer to see me as is, with no skin grafted from anybody else’s hide, even Nero Wolfe’s.

Robert Crais’ The Promise Delayed

According to an email I just received about my preorder* and a post to his Facebook page (but no update to his website yet), The Promise has been delayed. The Facebook post says a US publication date is forthcoming, but I’m supposed to receive mine on April 28 of next year.

On the one hand — you know what? I’d rather it be done right, rather than done fast. Robert Crais, much like George R. R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss or Jim Butcher (to name a few notable authors who’ve delayed things lately) is not my bitch. Crais knows when the book is done, and until then, I can wait.

On the other hand, this is rather short notice for this kind of thing from what I can tell. Makes me wonder about the editorial process for one of his books. Also? I’d scheduled things so I could go right from Taken one week to The Promise the next (yes, the reviews are behind by two books, but my reading is on track).

The positive take: Crais is going to give us the book he wants to. Personally, drat, it means more time without a new Cole/Pike (plus Maggie!) book. And it’s just further proof that the Scot knew what he was talking about when he described how schemes “Gang aft agley.”

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* One of the dumbest words in widespread use right now. Why not just say I ordered it? Just because it hasn’t released doesn’t make it a special kind of ordering…

The Last Detective by Robert Crais

The Last Detective (Elvis Cole, #9)The Last Detective

by Robert Crais

Hardcover, 320 pgs.
Doubleday, 2003
Read: October 1 – 2, 2014

The Last Detective begins a few months after the L. A. Requiem and Joe Pike is trying to get himself back in fighting shape after his devastating injuries in exactly the place you’d expect — the Alaskan wilderness (isn’t that where’d you go?). Joe’s looking more mortal than he had since the shooting in The Monkey’s Raincoat, but like the tattoos indicate, he’s moving forward. While there he encounters an Alaskan brown bear? The way Crais describes it (which seems pretty realistic), if you stop and think about it — that’s horror, that’s terror. Hannibal Lecter, Martin Vanger, Alex Kork — that’s fiction, that’s fantasy. Brown bear? That’s reality. A reality I hope never to know better than I do now. But, this isn’t Joe Pike starring in Man vs. Wild, so we’re off to L. A.

Elvis and Ben Chenier are hanging out for a few days while Ben’s mom is out of town, Elvis and Lucy are still trying to recover from the hit their relationship took in Requiem. Ben goes off to play outside while Elvis is on the phone with Lucy, and then he doesn’t come back. Elvis gets scared, finds his video game laying in the brush below Elvis’ house. It’s not too long afterwards that they get a call — the boy didn’t get lost, he didn’t run away — he was abducted.

The investigation gets into full swing fairly quickly — Elvis calls in some favors from the police to help. Here we meet investigator Carol Starkey (from Crais’ Demolition Angel) who vacillates between appreciating Elvis’ investigatory skills and being annoyed with him. Lucy’s ex comes in, pushing his investigators into the investigation, trying to push Elvis out and generally making life difficult for him. Richard clearly has an Elvis-shaped chip on his shoulder and uses this circumstance to throw dirt on his ex-wife’s new love.

It seems that Ben’s kidnapping is related in some way to what Elvis did in Vietnam, and both the reader and those involved in the investigation learn a lot about something that Elvis thought he was done talking about. What some people called his secrets, he saw differently:

I wasn’t keeping secret. Some things are better left behind, that’s all, you move past and go on. That’s what I’ve tried to do, and not just about the war.

Elvis’ life before and during the war weren’t wonderful, and he’s tried to go on. But that’s no longer an option — he has to revisit a lot of that, which Lucy doesn’t react well to.

On the one hand, I’m still liking Lucy less and less for more of the same that I complained about last time. But that’s not to say I disagree with her — when she tells Joe Pike that the way he and Elvis live isn’t normal.

I don’t like the way violence follows you; you and him. I’ve known police officers all my life, and none of them live like this. I know federal and state prosecutors who’ve spent years building cases against murderers and mob bosses, and none of them have their children stolen . . . I am normal! I want to be normal! Are you so perverted that you think this is normal? It isn’t! It is insane!

. She’s right. But . . . well, see what I said last time. I sympathize, but I still don’t like her any more.

Now, this isn’t just a manhunt for the kidnappers — there’s plenty for Elvis to investigate, a few twist and turns and — of course, secrets unearthed and a decent helping of violence. The emotional toll these events take is worse than anything else, all things considered.

Although the focus is on Elvis and the search for Ben. We do learn a little more about Pike (no problems between he and the LAPD this time). We get a different explanation for Joe’s need for order and cleanliness than I’d surmised from Requiem, but it’s probably a combination. I’m only talking about it so much because for so long it’s what little we knew about him — he liked his Jeep spotless and everything immaculate. Joe displays his typical loyalty to Elvis here — it’s typical for him, it’s out-of-place in today’s world on the whole. He even takes on a debt that sets up a future book, a detail I hadn’t really paid attention to until now, but it was a huge move on his part.

John Chen returns — and is again helped to gain a bit of the spotlight he so craves, but he’s got skills of his own (and is probably learning a good deal from Joe and Elvis). He’s still a not good guy, really, but you can’t help but like him. I had a brief moment of fan-boy excitement when everyone’s favorite Vietnam Tunnel Rat turned LAPD detective puts in a cameo. It really helped lighten the oppressive mood. It was nice to see him in these pages, it was nicer still that it happened when it did.

This is the most intense, fastest-paced Elvis Cole novel yet. It’s all forward momentum (see Pike’s tattoos yet again — Crais isn’t the only one who can overuse them as a symbol). Part of this — maybe a large part of this — has to do with the fact that it’s a kidnapping case, every minute counts. It certainly doesn’t hurt that every chapter leads off with “X Hours, Y Minutes” since the kidnapping.

This is really great stuff here. Even though I remembered why the various villains were up to their villainy, seeing it revealed to Elvis still got me riled up as it was intended to, and though I knew how both the kidnapping and related stories wrapped up, I was still glued to the pages, turning as fast as I could. Which is the sign of a master of suspense writing — that even when there’s no suspense, the reader is still reacting as if there was.

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5 Stars

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Drawing by Kirsty Stewart, chameleonkirsty on deviantART, used with permission.

Saturday Miscellany — 10/18/14

Wow. A very light week for this column. (more time to spend catching up for the slow weeks lately?)

Only four things to share this week in the odds ‘n ends from over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Release That I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • The Younger Gods by Michael R. Underwood — I’ve said it before, I’m a fan of Underwood. Even if I wasn’t, the premise of an Urban Fantasy featuring an ex-cultist turned NYC college student battling his family to save the world would probably get my attention. Put the two together? You know I’m reading this one soon.