Saturday Miscellany — 12/13/14

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:

    I didn’t see a single new release this week that interested me, continuing the general sluggishness of the month, and giving many of us a chance to play catchup.

Categories: Books, News/Misc.

Hostile Witness by William Lashner

Hostile WitnessHostile Witness

by William Lashner

Hardcover, 501 pages
Published May 1st 1995 by ReganBooks
Read: December 2 – 6, 2014So this summer, on the recommendation of a reader, I read Marked Man, the sixth book about Victor Carl, the unfortunately named Philadelphia lawyer. I wasn’t wowed by it, but I enjoyed it enough that I wanted to go back to the beginning and try at least one more in the series.

I’m not convinced that was such a great idea. It wasn’t until the last 100 pages that I cared about anything going on in this book — I even started to really like it, actually. But 80% of the way through a book is far too late for that.

My main problem with the book is the characterization of Victor Carl. He’s still at the beginning of his career, but not so fresh that he should be so naïve. For most of the novel, like an obedient show dog, Carl’s led around by his greed, ambition, and that part of anatomy not known for its thinking skills. It’s hard to watch someone who should be a bit more cynical to act this way. If he was truly wet behind the ears, if he was really that young, if he was Forrest Gump — it might be different. But a kid who worked his way up from his beginnings through law school and a few years of practice should know better. Even as fresh to the profession as he is, Victor comes across as too world weary to get taken in so easily.

The book is easily one hundred pages longer than it needed to be — if not more — but most of the extra time is justifiable, and I only noticed it because I wasn’t really enjoying things.

The sense of place is strong. I know next to nothing about Philly. Lashner’s writing at least makes me feel I understand it a bit. The way that (early) Parker, Lehane and Tapply helped me think I understand Boston. Or a few dozen authors make me think I understand parts of New York City.

Obviously, over the course of a long series things are going to change in a character — either because the author changes his mind/forgets something (Inspector Cramer chewing rather than smoking cigars, Spenser’s time in the prosecutor’s office changing counties) or there’s some sort of character growth. So it’s not surprising that Victor in book 1 would be different in book 6. I don’t remember his eyes watering whenever he’s in a confrontation from Marked Man, but it’s all over the place here. Did he grow out of it? Did Lashner just drop it? Is my memory bad? (I’m leaning towards “no” based on how often he’s mentioning it here, he’d have to mention it a lot then).

No matter what, I can’t begrudge the time spent with this book because it introduced me to Morris Kapustin — the elderly, Orthodox Jewish P.I. He’s funny, he’s easy to underestimate and overlook. Really funny to read. I’d read a Kapustin series in a heartbeat — I’d probably collect first editions of them. Sadly, something tells me that character won’t be around long.

This was good enough to justify the effort, but not so good that I could really recommend. I’m mildly curious about the new phase of Victor’s career, and how that gets him to Marked Man, but not overly so. I might be back for #2 if I hit a lull next year, but I’m not going to exert a lot of effort to pick it up.


2 1/2 Stars

Saturday Miscellany — 12/6/14

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:

    Only one New Release caught my eye this week — in what looks to be a slow month. But it should be a good one:

  • Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler — the eleventh installment in the series featuring the weirdest batch of detectives you’ll run across in fiction.

The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Job (Fox and O'Hare, #3)The Job

by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Hardcover, 304 pg.
Bantam, 2014
Read: November 29 – December 1, 2014How is this only the third in the series? It’s a testament to the professionalism and craft of Evanovich and Goldberg that this feels like a series that’s been around for at least a half-dozen books, a well-oiled machine.

The hook to this particular case — someone posing as Nick Fox pulling off some major heists — was pretty fun, and a great excuse for Kate to go jet-setting around the world. That lasted just long enough to set up the major target for this novel: one of the biggest, baddest, most mysterious Drug Lords in the world. Thankfully, he has a pretty major Achilles’ heel that Nick and Kate were able to take advantage of. In just about any other series, I’d cry “foul” about someone like Lester Menendez falling for this implausible con. But it totally worked in this world — and would probably have worked if Nate Ford and the crew had tried it, too. Slick talking, fast work and a hint of danger (more from the psychotic bodyguard Reyna Socorro and her trusty AK-47 than from her boss) — and bam. The bad guy gets defrauded and sent away for a long time.

The major difference between this one and the previous two installments is that the rest of the team doesn’t have as major a role to play — don’t get me wrong, the usual players and some new faces are there and important. We just don’t spend as much time with them — it’s more heavily geared to being the Nick and Kate Show. They’re even restrained in their use of Jake O’Hare. I don’t have anything against the rest of the team, and really enjoy some of them — but I’m glad that they were put in a secondary position this time. As long as they get featured more prominently on a regular basis, I think focusing on the title pair makes sense.

The only suspense really is how far the “Will They/Won’t They” go (and so far, that hasn’t reached the point of being annoying). We all know that Fox and O’Hare will get their target, we may not be sure how — we won’t know how much fun there’ll be along the way, how much private property will be destroyed, and how many exotic (or domestic) locales will be visited along the way. And it’s fine that this isn’t a suspense-filled series. It’s a lot of fun. That’s what it promises, and that’s what it delivers — as long as we don’t look for more than banter, impossible cons and slick writing, we won’t be disappointed.

Not that the first two were slogs by any stretch of the imagination, but I raced through this — with a little more sleep, I’d have tackled this in one sitting, but I had to leave the last 50 pages for another day. The writing, the plot, the banter was just so smooth it was almost impossible to stop once I got started. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and already am looking forward to the next.


4 Stars

Saturday Miscellany — 11/29/14

First off, on this week of Thanks — I wanted to say thanks for everyone who has read, followed, and liked this blog. And to those who’s commented, retweeted, interacted with me about this here blog. Those authors/publicists who’ve made contact with me because of this? Mind blowing and I cannot thank you enough. Seriously, I am grateful.

Anyway, on to the small list of 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:

    This Week’s New Release that I’m Excited About:

  • Endsinger by Jay Kristoff — Book 3 of The Lotus War — the YA Japanese Steampunk/Mythology mix. I’m looking forward to this, but something tells me there’s a lot of pain and suffering ahead for the characters (and country!).

The Reluctant Warrior by Ty Patterson

The Reluctant Warrior (Warrior series, #2)The Reluctant Warrior

by Ty Patterson

Kindle Edition, 313 pg.
Amazon Digital Services, 2014
Read: November 18 – 19, 2014A few months ago, I read the first volume in this trilogy and enjoyed it, while noting some real problems. The same thing could be said about this follow-up — the problems are still there, but they’re not as bad. Patterson’s improved — he’s better at what he was good at, and his bad isn’t quite as bad.

The character I liked most from The Warrior, Broker, moves to Center Stage for this one, hired by the FBI agent who made such a mess of things last time, Isakson. He’s been trying to take down an increasingly powerful criminal organization in New York, a gang called the 5Clubs. The problem is, there seems to be a mole in the FBI or the NYPD, and he can’t find it. Enter Broker and his impossibly good sources, software and assorted mercenaries — most notably, the Warriors.

Broker tries to improve upon the FBI’s own investigation, but it doesn’t work to well. So, he picks another strategy. He’s going to ask the 5Clubs, who the mole is. Which includes the bonus feature of taking out a good deal of their operations along the way to give them a reason to actually answer.

Mayhem, destruction, and vigilante justice ensues in a quite entertaining fashion.

There are some weaknesses, which I really don’t want to focus on — but these take me out of the action, take me out of the scene when I ran into them. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t talk about them. But when it stops me, I have to mention it.

1. There were far too many “Britishisms.” Mechanics from Ohio don’t talk to their kids about going on holidays, or use a “mobile.” Once the action got going in Part 2, it stopped being as much of an issue — things were moving fast enough that they were easier to ignore.

2. Similarly, Patterson could use a synonym or two for “gang” and “hood.” The repeated use of these two got to the point where they were grating.

3. When it comes to the inter-personal dialogue, Patterson’s improved, but not enough. You can tell when he’s going for banter between the team members, but it’s just a little wooden.

The problems detract and distract, but don’t ultimately ruin the experience of The Reluctant Warrior. It’s a solid action story and a good improvement over the previous installment, and I’m curious to see where Patterson takes it next.

Note: I was graciously provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for a review. Hope he doesn’t regret that.


3 Stars

Saturday Miscellany — 11/22/14

A pretty light load this week, it’s like there’s a holiday around the corner or something. Bet things pick up next month.

Still, there were a few 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:

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

  • Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle by Kaja Foglio and Phil Foglio — the third novelization of the webcomic. I’ve only read the comics up through the 2nd novel (no, there’s no good reason for this), so this will be all new material for me. Looking forward to it.
  • The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg — Evanovich. Goldberg. Fox. O’Hare. That’s all I need to know.
  • Superheroes Anonymous by Lexie Dunne — looks to be an entertaining take on Superheroes