A Mint-Conditioned Corpse by Duncan MacMaster: I run out of superlatives and can’t stop talking about this Mystery that filled me with joy.

This is one of those times that I liked something so much that I just blathered on for a bit, and I’m not sure how much sense it made. The first and last paragraphs are coherent, I’m not really sure the rest is…

A Mint Condition CorpseA Mint Condition Corpse

by Duncan MacMaster
Series: Kirby Baxter, #1

Kindle Edition, 275 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016
Read: July 27, 2018

Is this the best-writing I’ve encountered in a Detective Novel this year? Nope. Is this the most compelling, the tensest thrill-ride of a Mystery novel this year? Nope. Is this full of the darkest noir, the grittiest realism, the starkest exposure of humanity’s depths? Good gravy, no! This is however a joy to read; full of characters you’ll want to spend days with, that you’ll want to have over for Thanksgiving dinner just to lighten things up and distract you from Aunt Martha’s overcooked yams and dry turkey; a completely fun time that’s very likely most I’ve enjoyed a book in 2018. It is escapist. It is silly. It is clever.

Think Monk at it’s best. Psych at its least annoying. Castle at it’s most charming. Moonlighting season 1 — I’m going to stop now.

So Kirby Baxter is a comic book writer/artist who breathed new life into a stagnant character which led to the revitalizing of an entire comic book company (not quite as old as DC, nowhere near as successful as Marvel — and somehow hadn’t been bought out by either). He was unceremoniously fired just before he became incredibly well-off (and investments only improved that). Following his new wealth, a thing or two happened in Europe and he gained some notoriety there helping the police in a few countries. Now, he’s coming back to North America to attend OmniCon — a giant comic con in Toronto — returning to see a mentor rumored to attend and maybe stick his toe back in the industry that he loves.

While there we meet his colorist and friend, Mitch — a diminutive fellow, convinced he’s God’s gift to the ladies (most of whom hope he comes with a gift receipt), and just a riot to read about. Molly, a fan, former coworker and friend of Kirby’s who wears her heart on her sleeve (it’s not her fault if people don’t notice it). That needs to be better. Erica is many a dream-come-true — an impossibly good-looking model and would-be actress who is sincere and sweet. Her assistant Bruce is a pretty good guy, too. Her best friend and former mentor, Andi is almost as too-good-to-be-true, and married to a renowned DJ who is providing some of the entertainment at OmniCon. There’s comic dealers, a film director, a crazy actress, Kirby’s former boss, and so many other colorful characters that my notes include a joke about a cast the size of Game of Thrones.

And then there’s Gustav. Words I don’t know how to describe Gustav. Imagine having Batman as your Jeeves. He’s a valet/driver/bodyguard that Kirby picked up in Europe, combining the cool and lethal factor of Spenser’s Hawk, Plum’s Ranger and Elvis’ Pike (except he makes Pike seem chatty). I’d include Wolfe’s Saul Panzer, but Saul isn’t the lethal type that the rest are — but Gustav has the effortless magic about him that makes Saul a winner. If the rest of the book was “meh” and Gustav was still in it? I’d tell you to read the book.

At some point, a corpse shows up — and like the comic book world’s answer to Jessica Fletcher, Kirby identifies the death as a murder — not the accident it appears to be to many. For various and sundry reasons — starting with him being correct, and continuing on to the incidents in Europe — Kirby is roped into helping the police with the investigation. Also, like Fletcher, he’s uniquely gifted to help the police in these circumstances. He’s smart, he has a eidetic memory, can catch a tell or a microexpression like nobody’s business. You throw him into a consulting role with the police, with his friends along for the ride and I’m telling you, you’ve got the most entertaining mystery novel I’ve read this year.

This book’s look at comic conventions reminded me of A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl. But where this one is played for laughs, Proehl was serious — but both show an appreciation for, an affection for the culture that surrounds the cons and the people involved. After reading this, I was ready to buy tickets for the OmniCon.

It’s a funny, fast, romp — a very contemporary take on a Golden Age-mystery. Lots of twists and turns, more crimes than you think are happening and more villains than you can shake a stick at. I thought (and still do) that Duncan MacMaster’s Hack showed that he was an author to keep an eye on — this is better.

A Mint-Conditioned Corpse hit the sweet spot for me — a convergence of so many of my likes told with just the right tone (another one of my likes), while maintaining a pretty decent whodunit at the core. I probably smiled for the entire time I spent reading it — well, at least the last 90% once I started to get a feel for things — at 8% I made a note about Kirby “I’m really going to like him,” and a few paragraphs later, I wrote “I already really like him” about Mitch. And I was right about Kirby, and kept liking Mitch — the rest of the characters are about as good as them, and the story is as good as the people in it are. Is everyone going to enjoy this one as much as me? Nope. But I can’t imagine someone not having a ball reading this. Probably the 5-Star-est 5-Stars I’ve given this year.

—–

5 Stars

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The Passenger by Lisa Lutz: A Woman on the Run from the Law, Her Past and her Present

The PassengerThe Passenger

by Lisa Lutz

Paperbacks, 302 pg.
Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016

Read: July 28, 2018

I tried to look calm and collected as I gathered my things under Ruth’s watch, but I could feel this all-over shiver, a constant vibration of nerves that I had a hard time believing no one else could see.

“You in some kid of trouble?” Ruth asked.

“No trouble, I said. “I just found a place to stay, long-term.”

“Don’t fool yourself,” she said. “It’s all temporary.”

Tanya Dubois’ husband died in a stupid household accident. She wasn’t heartbroken by this, but she wasn’t pleased about it. Especially once she realized that while it was an accident, it was one that would at least get the police to take a good look at her while they were deciding that. So she tried to cover things up, only to realize very quickly that she couldn’t, and that be starting to try, she’d made things look less like an accident. So the police would look even harder at her than they would’ve before. This would be a real problem for her because, technically speaking, Tanya Dubois’ doesn’t actually exist. So she grabs her dead husband’s truck and as much cash as she can get (hitting up a few ATM’s while she’s at it to get more) and splits.

She trades in the truck for something else, trades in her (dyed) blonde hair for something shorter and brown, a wardrobe change and became a new person — she says “I looked like so many women you’ve seen before I doubt you could’ve picked me out of a lineup.” Which is a pretty telling way of talking. She’s also able to make a phone call and demand a new name, new identification and some cash. By the time she arrives in Austin, she’s Amelia Keen.

Amelia meets a bartender named Blue, who sees through her right away, but isn’t going to try to turn her in or anything. Mostly, she wants to know where she got such a great passport. Not that either woman tells the other what brought them to the name and place they’re at, but they know that something similar as brought them to this point. Neither trusts the other, but in one way or another, to one extent or another, they need each other. At least for a little while — maybe longer.

At some point, for reasons you should discover for yourself, she leaves Austin and heads west. Then she has to leave that one behind and head elsewhere — eventually, she covers a pretty decent amount of ground, and involves herself in some pretty interesting situations — becoming both a hero and a villain on multiple occasions. All the time proving what Ruth said above, “It’s all temporary.” Well, except one thing — the past. That’s forever, as Tanya/Amelia/etc. learns.

Scattered throughout the book are emails between a Ryan and a Jo — starting years before the Tanya’s husband’s tragic fall, but eventually catching up to the present time. These provide us with a good idea of the life that was left behind by the woman who lived as Tanya and Amelia and so many others all without coming out and telling us that led to her leaving.

Something about Blue made me think of Alice Morgan from the first series/season of Luther (yes, I know she’s in more than that, but keep that vision of her in your mind) — and that image stuck, I don’t care what Lutz said she looked like or sounded like — I heard and saw an American version of Alice when Blue was around. Not the murder her own parents vibe — but the charming, dangerous, potentially duplicitous and erratic, while friendly and helpful vibe. (wow. Could I have qualified that comparison more? Probably, but I’ll hold back)

I never had a good handle on Tanya/Amelia/etc., primarily because I don’t think she did either. We (the readers, and I think she herself) got close to something real with Debra Maze — but she had to abandon that one quickly (too quickly, I liked that existence for her, as doomed as she and the readers knew it was).

There are plenty of other great characters, great moments through the book — some horrifying, some tense, some . . . I don’t know what to say. There’s a Sheriff from Wyoming — he’s not Walt Longmire, but they’d probably get along just fine — who is probably my favorite non-Tanya/etc. character in the book. We don’t get enough of him, but I’m not sure that more of him wouldn’t have hurt the story overall. There’s another bartender who is nothing like Blue, and probably one of the better people we meet in The Passenger, some depraved folks as well — one family that you cannot help but feel horrible for.

There’s a good number of twists along the way, a reveal or two that are really well executed — one I didn’t see coming (not only didn’t see coming, I didn’t even consider as an option). In general some pretty good writing and story telling.

I’ve been trying to get to this for years — and every time I get close (close = it’s one or two down on my list), I have one of those “Squirrel!” moments, and forget all about it. Well, I finally got to it — and was honestly underwhelmed, maybe it was the mental build-up. It didn’t have the Lutz humor, that’s for sure — even How to Start a Fire had some good chuckles. But that’s okay, she doesn’t have to be funny to be good (see the non-funny moments in How to Start a Fire). I also think Karen E. Olson’s Black Hat series handles the woman running from her identity and past better (at least in a way that captures the tension and the fear better). Which is not to say, at all, that this is a bad book — it’s not. It’s also not as good as I think Lutz is capable of.

Oh, and the story behind Tanya/etc.’s tattoo? I loved it. Should probably give the book another half-star just for it.

—–

3.5 Stars

True Fiction by Lee Goldberg: A Writer on the Run

True FictionTrue Fiction

by Lee Goldberg
Series: Ian Ludlow Thrillers, #1

Kindle Edition, 248 pg.
Thomas & Mercer, 2018
Read: July 20 – 21, 2018

“Sorry I’m late,” Ian said. “I’ve been on the run all morning.”

It was a line worthy of Clint Straker and Ian knew it. He couldn’t stop being a writer, always thinking of the next line in one of his thrillers. But he was living a thriller now and it was no thrill at all.

This is one of those books that’s super easy to write about — if you like the premise of the book, you’ll like the book. It’s just that simple. The tricky part is finding someone who wouldn’t like this premise.

Ian Ludlow, television writer turned thriller novelist, can’t believe his eyes — a terrorist attack in Hawaii went exactly the way that he designed and he’s pretty sure that someone is trying to kill him. Ludlow was part of a group of writers (movie, TV, novelists) that came up with some scenarios for the CIA that terrorists might use, so the CIA could design counter-measures. This is a thing that actually happened (maybe still does) following 9/11, because writers have much better imaginations than government employees do. One of those scenarios is playing out in real life and Ludlow doesn’t know what to do. Clearly someone out there doesn’t want Ludlow spreading the word that he’s the source for this attack.

Before he realizes what’s happening, Ludlow is running for his life and has dragged Margo along with him. Margo’s a dog-sitter, house-sitter, aspiring musician, and occasionally drives authors visiting Seattle to their signings. That’s how this poor girl gets sucked into Ludlow’s mess — she saves his life (and then he returns the favor), dooming her to having to run with him.

Add in some over-the-top villains (I hope, see below), and Goldberg’s signature wit and solid writing, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

This is a fast fun ride featuring about the most unlikely of all thriller protagonists. Ian Ludlow isn’t really in any kind of shape; he has no skills with hand-to-hand combat, cars, or weapons — his people skills are suspect, really; all he has going for him is a pretty agile mind. Margo’s a little better off, but not much. They quickly run to the home of one of Ian’s friends who lives off of the grid and is paranoid enough he’ll believe their story. Which may not really be the strongest of qualifications, but they can’t afford to be choosy. The three of them will have to figure out a way to survive — and possibly stop whoever it was behind the attack.

Does anyone else remember Condorman? The Disney film about a comic book writer/artist who accidentally (very accidentally) becomes a super-spy? I was 7 or 8 when it came out and loved it. Anyway, I had a flash-back to that when Ludlow stumbles his way into taking out one of the many assassins that come after him — one of the many times I had an honest audible response to this book (not a book I recommend reading in an ICU ward, for what it’s worth, people tend not to like noises there).

Now, I called the villains over-the-top. I’m not really sure they are — they seem over the top, but there’s a little part of me wonders how hard it really would be for someone to pull off something like this. John Rogers, of Leverage, frequently talked about how some of their over-the-top bad guys were watered down versions of the real thing (because no one would believe the real thing). Take my word for it, I don’t have time to track him down saying it. Let’s put it this way — they’re perfect for this book, and like just about every thriller villain ever, it’s best that they stay inside the book.

While he’s telling a very fun story, Goldberg takes a little bit of time to satirize thrillers, thriller writings, and thriller heroes — I loved every bit of that. It helps that Goldberg writes and reads the same books he’s satirizing, so you know he does it with love and honesty. Some of the excerpts from Ludlow’s books are just awful, it must’ve been hard to write (but so much fun). Ditto for the TV shows that Ian’s friend Ronnie starred in, I really hope that those are things that Goldberg made up for this book (and fear they aren’t).

This feels like Goldberg and Evanovich’s Fox & O’Hare books, or maybe The Man with the Iron-On Badge (which features a protagonist only slightly more likely than Ian) — not his more serious work like King City. The story moves quickly, deftly and will leave you smiling — I can’t imagine Goldberg writing a disappointing book at this point, I just don’t think he can. Pick this up, you will be entertained.

—–

4 Stars

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time by Paul Cornell: Saying Good-bye to the Twelfth Doctor All Over Again

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a TimeDoctor Who: Twice Upon a Time

by Paul Cornell
Series: Doctor Who

Paperback, 156 pg.
BBC Books, 2018
Read: July 24, 2018

He sent a wide-beam sonic pulse at exactly the right frequency all the way down that path between him and the tower, and was rewarded with a very satisfying series of detonations. The First Doctor skipped about at every fireball that burst into the sky. Finally, the smoke and flame died down. ‘There you go, all done.’

‘There could have been one right underneath us!’

‘Yeah, but it’s not the kind of mistake you have to live with.’ That was the other thing about his centuries of additional experience, he was a little more willing to roll the dice. Or perhaps it was just at this point he didn’t give a damn. What the hell, his clothes were already ruined, might as well mess up the bodywork too. It wasn’t like he was planning to trade the old thing in.

Okay…if you want to read me ramble on a bit about the place of these Target novelizations of Doctor Who episodes to me as a young’un, you can see my post about Doctor Who: Christmas Invasion by Jenny T. Colgan, one of the other new releases in this old and cherished line. Which means we can just cut to the chase about this one, right?

Cornell was tasked with bringing the Twelfth Doctor’s last Christmas Special to the page — which includes the challenge of dealing with his regeneration in to the Thirteenth Doctor, which is no small feat. But we’ll get to that in a bit. First, he’s got to deal with the challenge of having two Doctors meet up — and the extra fun of telling a story where two characters share the same name (and are sort of the same person, but not really), while not confusing the reader.

Cornell did a great job balancing the two Doctors, both going through some doubts about regenerating; while dealing with the question of Bill’s identity and the soldier from World War I. One thing I appreciated more in the book than in the original episode was the Doctor’s consternation when he realized that there wasn’t actually a bad guy to fight for a change. Not sure what else to say, really.

Now, the regeneration? Wow. He nailed that one, and got me absolutely misty-eyed in the process. I could hear Capaldi very clearly as I read these pages — the narrative added just the right amount of extra depth without taking away any of the original script/performance. It wasn’t my favorite part of the episode, but it was my favorite part of the book — he hit all the notes perfectly. The aside about the pears — great, I loved that so much. And then — a nice little bit with Thirteen, which has got to be so hard because we don’t know anything about her, so even those few seconds of screen-time with her have to be tougher than usual to capture. These few paragraphs, incidentally, made Cornell “the first person to have written for all the Doctors” — which is just cool.

In Twice Upon a Time Cornell has captured the letter and the spirit of the original episode, added some nice new bits and pieces for the fans and generally told a great story in a way that made you feel you hadn’t watched it already. This is what these books should shoot for, and Cornell (no surprise to anyone who’s read any of his previous fiction) hit his target.

—–

3.5 Stars

Colorblind by Reed Farrel Coleman: Jesse Stone is Clean, Sober and in Dire Straits

ColorblindRobert B. Parker’s Colorblind

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Jesse Stone, #17

eARC, 368 pg.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018
Read: July 18, 2018

This is Coleman’s fifth Jesse Stone novel, the seventeenth in the series overall and Coleman has really put his stamp on the character here. He’s made the series his own already, adding depth and shades of color to characters that’ve been around for years, don’t get me wrong. But everything he’s done could be changed, dropped, or ignored in the next — like an old Star Trek or Columbo episode. But following up from the closing pages of The Hangman’s Sonnet, in Colorblind he’s enacted permanent change on Jesse — yeah, things might not go smoothly from this point — he may stumble. But things won’t be the same — cannot be the same without some sort of Star Wars Expanded Universe level retcon. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First we need to start with the crime part of the novel — it’s ostensibly what people are buying this for, and the novel’s focus. I can absolutely see this happening in Real Life ™ — a white supremacist group from New York is attacking mixed race couples (and by “mixed,” I obviously mean one white person and one person from another race — they wouldn’t care if an Asian man and a Hispanic woman were together) and spreading propaganda in Paradise, of all places. There’s a reason Paradise was chosen — several, actually, and it actually makes sense in context — it’s not just a convenient way to get it into a Jesse Stone novel. Only one of the crimes involved is technically something that Jesse is supposed to be investigating.

Once one of his officers becomes embroiled in this series of crimes — and the possible target of an elaborate frame job — Jesse stops really caring about things like jurisdictions, and will stop at nothing to find the truth. If there’s a connection between the different crimes, he’ll find it. The question he has no answer to is: for what end? Why are these people in Paradise? What do they have to gain from framing his officer?

Yes, certain elements of this story stretch credulity a bit — but in context it absolutely works. And while I say something stretches credulity, I can’t help but wonder if it really does. The actions of this particular supremacist group might not be that much different from the dreams of too many. Also, the race-based crimes, the murders, the vandalism — everything that Paradise or Massachusetts can prosecute people for — are not the biggest evil perpetrated by the members of that group. There’s a deeper darkness working here, something that people with radically different views can also perpetrate — Coleman could’ve gone the easy route and made it all about “Them,” but he points at something that everyone can and should recoil from.

While Jesse works to prevent things from getting out of hand in Paradise, he is struggling to prevent himself from doing what he’s so often done before — retreat to the bottle. He has several reasons to, several excuses to — and decades of experience telling him to do so. Fresh (Very, very fresh) off a stint at rehab, Jesse starts attending AA meetings (in Boston, nothing local that could cause problems for himself or anyone else in the meeting). I absolutely loved this part of the book — I think Coleman’s treatment of Jesse’s drinking (and his various attempts to limit/stop it) has been so much better, realistic and helpful than anything that came before. Colorblind takes that another step up, and sets the character on a path that he needs to be on. Jesse’s not a rock, but he’s working on becoming one when it comes to this addiction. I don’t know (don’t want to know) where Coleman is going with this — but I love it. Character growth/development, an actual healthy approach, and Coleman’s own stamp on the series. Even if Jesse relapses in the future, he’s actually been sober (not just taken a break from drinking) — I love it (have I mentioned that?). It may have been a little too on-the-nose to have Jesse’s new AA friend be named Bill, but, it made me smile.

As for the regulars — we’ve got some good use of Healy (retirement can’t stop him!); Lundquist is settling in nicely to this world (very glad about that, I’ve liked him since his intro back that other Parker series, whatever it was called); Molly was outstanding (it’s hard to mis-write Molly, but it’s very nice when it’s done correctly); and Suit is still the guy you want riding shotgun when things get harry (ignoring the fact that someone else was actually carrying the shotgun when it came to it — it’s a metaphor, folks!). Surprisingly enough, given the B-Story, Dix doesn’t make an appearance — but Jesse can’t stop thinking about him, so he’s here, he’s just “offscreen.” That was a nice touch (and hopefully not too much of a spoiler), it’d have been very easy to have almost as much Dix in this book as Jesse. Coleman has not only got the original cast of characters done well, he’s introduced a few of his own regulars and has merged them into this world well (e.g., Mayor Walker, Monty Bernstein). And it’s not just characters he’s blending, this book is full (not overstuffed) of call-backs to the oldest Stone novels as well as Coleman’s — this universe is alive and well and whole.

As far as the writing — it’s Reed Farrel Coleman, I really don’t need to say anything else. I will say a little bit, though, he balances the various stories and tones of these stories well — the book feels like a natural outgrowth of every book that came before, however minor the stylistic choices and depth have changed over the last few years. Parker could have written this. I don’t think (especially in the latter years) he would have, but he could have. Yet, it’s undeniably a Coleman book. It’s impressive the way that Coleman can do this (see almost everyone that’s tried a Bond novel [honestly haven’t tried one in years, maybe someone has], or Robert Goldsborough to see that not everyone is capable of it). There is one moment, I thought, that Coleman faltered a bit and got into some pretty heavy editorializing — if this was a first person book, it would have worked; or if he had been obviously channeling one of the characters, I wouldn’t have said anything; but when your omniscient third-person narrator gets that opinionated, it’s not good.

A solid crime story that resonates near the too-close-for-comfort zone given the cultural events (which probably is how some people felt with 1970’s Parker), some great character development — and plenty of fodder for Coleman’s next (I ignored one storyline above because I don’t think I can talk about it without ruining it). This is a must for Jesse Stone fans and a decent entry point for new readers, too — it’ll get you to go back and read at least a few older books (I’m more than willing to help a new reader with an “Essential Jesse Stone” reading list — just let me know). Give this one a look folks, it deserves it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Rescued by David Rosenfelt: A tale of self-defense, an old flame and a truckfull of dogs

RescuedRescued

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #17
eARC, 304 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2018
Read: May 4, 2018

At an early age, Andy Carpenter discovered that he couldn’t hit a curve-ball and therefore had to give up on his dreams of playing in the majors and fall back to following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a lawyer. His father, a lifelong prosecuting attorney, probably wished for something else, but for the many people that he’s defended in court, they wouldn’t have it another way.

This is the seventeenth novel in this series — I’ve talked here about nine of the previous sixteen. There’s part of me wondering just what I could possibly have to say about this one that I haven’t said at least once before.

Andy Carpenter is called to a nearby rest area — a truck containing sixty-one dogs was discovered with the driver shot. Andy and Willie were called out to help the police retrieve the dogs and care for them. The police are really not happy to see him there — Andy Carpenter at a crime scene? Not a welcome sight. But then he’s called away, there’s a prospective new client waiting for him at home.

Not that surprisingly, the potential client was also at that rest area earlier in the day. He actually tells Andy that he shot the driver — in self-defense, mind you. Sure, there’s a history between the two — Kramer (the client) had assaulted the victim and threatened to kill him, in fact. But that was years ago, and he had no current reason to. He just needs some help with the inevitable arrest. Andy believes him — he has to. Kramer is Laurie’s ex and she vouches for him — so much so that Andy pretty much has to take the case for her sake.

Honestly, Andy really isn’t that interested in helping tall, hunky and dangerous Kramer — ex-Military, ex-police, ex-licensed investigator. But it’s not long before he starts to believe that there’s something more afoot. And what was the deal with all the dogs?

All the regulars are along for this ride — Pete Stanton brings the law and order, we get a little more about the fun side of Hike that was introduced in the last book, Sam and his hacking crew dig up plenty of information, Marcus is his typical imposing self, Tara is as loyal as ever — and Andy gets a lot of courtroom time in. There’s a new prosecuting attorney for him to face off against — I liked her, and would like to see her against Andy again.

I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler here, because it’s pretty much the default in this series, but there’s a conspiracy behind the murder and they men behind it have decided to frame Kramer. This is one of the better — or at least one of the more grounded — conspiracies featured in these books. Up to a point, some of it was pretty hard to swallow — it just went a little over the top for my taste (but many of them do in this series). Also, this one features the best code names this side of Reservoir Dogs. Still, it was one of the more clever solutions that we’ve been treated to lately.

A thought about the series as a whole at this point: I would appreciate it if Rosenfelt would shake things up a little bit — I’m not talking about killing Hike or splitting up with Laurie or anything — just dial down the super-criminals a bit, maybe spend some more time with the client again. But there’s little reason for him to do that — the series moves like clockwork and is reliably entertaining. I only say this because I’m a fan — Rosenfelt is in danger of becoming a parody of himself (at worst) or just putting out cookie-cutter books (at best), I don’t want Andy Carpenter to become a Stephanie Plum.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book — because I did. Andy, Sam, Pete, Vince, Laurie, Tara and the rest are old friends that I enjoy getting together with every few months. Rosenfelt’s latest demonstrates what’s been true for years — this series is at the point where you can reliably count on each book for an entertaining read, a puzzling mystery, some good comic moments, a nice dog or two and maybe even a tug on the heart strings. They’re still charming enough to win over a new reader (and any of the books serve just fine as entry points) as well as satisfying the long-term reader. Rescued delivered just what I expected and left me satisfied — satisfied and ready to read number 18.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, it was a real pleasure.

—–

3.5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne: A Comedic Fantasy Tells a Good Story While Playing with Too-Familiar Tropes

Kill the Farm BoyKill the Farm Boy

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Series: The Tales of Pell, Book #1
eARC, 384 pg.
Del Rey, 2018

Read: June 5 – 12, 2018
Ugh. I wish the eARC didn’t say I needed to hold off any quotations until I could compare it with the final copy — or maybe, I wish I had noticed that very tiny print before I got half a draft of this finished. On the other hand, I was having trouble narrowing down which of my lengthy options to use, because, if nothing else, this is one of the more quotable books I’ve read in the last couple of years.

Kill the Farm Boy is a comedic fantasy, a satirical look at fantasy and even a parody of the genre. But what makes it effective is that for all the comedy, there’s a decent story and some solid characters throughout. It’s be easy for it to be a collection of jokes, with no story; or a tale full of character types, not characters. But Dawson and Hearne avoid those pitfalls.

The titular farm boy, Worstley, is going about his typical day, full of drudgery when an inebriated pixie shows up to announce that he is a Chosen One — one who is destined to save, or at least change, the world. To demonstrate her power, the pixie gives one of his goats, Gustave, the power of speech. The goat isn’t too happy about being able to speak, but since he was destined to end up in a curry in a few days, decides to travel with the newly appointed Chosen One, his former Pooboy. The pixie, having Chosened Worstley, disappears. Worstley the Pooboy (hey, Taran, worse things to be called than Assistant Pig-Keeper, eh?) and Gustave head off on a quest for glory.

Despite the book’s title, we don’t spend that much time with Worstley — instead the focus shifts (for good reason) to a band of hero–well, a group of companions. There’s Fia — a fierce warrior from a distant land, who just wants to live a life of peace with some nice roses — and some armor that would actually protect her (not that there’s anyone who minds seeing here in her chain-mail bikini). Argabella, a struggling bard who is cursed to be covered in fur — she’s basically Fflewddur Fflam and Gurgi combined (last Prydian reference, probably). Every adventuring party needs a rogue/thief, this one has to settle for the klutzy and not necessarily bright, Poltro, and her guardian, the Dark Lord magician, Toby (though some would only consider him crepuscular), of dubious talents. I can’t forget Grinda the sand witch (no, really), Worstley’s aunt and a magic user of considerable talent.

There are no shortage of villains — and/or antagonists to this party. There are some pretty annoying elves; a hungry giant; Løcher, the King’s chamberlain and mortal enemy of Grinda; Staph, the pixie behind the Chosening; as well as several magical traps, Lastly, there’s Steve. We don’t meet him (I’m betting it’ll be in Book 3 when we do), but throughout these adventures we how much this world, and our heroes lives, have been turned upside down my the worst Steve since one (allegedly) unleashed the preposterous hypothesis that Jemaine was a large water-dwelling mammal. Steve . . .

The writing is just spot-on good. Dawson and Hearne have taken all these various and disparate themes, tropes, characters and surrounded them with a lot of laughs. There’s some pretty sophisticated humor, some stuff that’s pretty clever — but they also run the gamut to some pretty low-brow jokes as well. Really, these two are on a tight comedic budget, no joke is too cheap. The variation ensures there’s a little something for everyone — and that you can’t predict where the humor will come from. I will admit that early on I got annoyed with a few running jokes, but I eventually got to the point that I enjoyed them — not just in a “really? they’re trying it again?” sense, either.

For all the comedy — Kill the Farm Boy hits the emotional moments just right. There’s a depiction of grief towards the end (spoiler?) that I found incredibly affecting and effective. There are smaller moments — less extreme moments — too that are dealt with just right. Maybe even better than some of the bigger comedic moments. This is the reward of populating this book with fully-realized characters, not just joke vehicles.

I have a couple of quibbles, nothing major, but I’m not wholly over the moon with this (but I can probably hit sub-orbital status). There was a bit about a fairly articulate Troll being taken down by a female using (primarily) her wits that could’ve used a dollop or five of subtly. Clearly they weren’t going for subtle, or they’d have gotten a lot closer to it. But it bugged me a bit (while being funny and on point). Secondly, and this is going to be strange after the last 2 posts — but this seemed to be too long. Now, I can’t imagine cutting a single line, much less a scene or chapter from this, but it just felt a little long. I do worry that some of Poltro’s backstory is too tragic and upon reflection makes it in poor taste (at best) to laugh about her — which is a shame, because she was a pretty funny character until you learn about her.

This is probably the best comedic/parody/satire fantasy since Peter David’s Sir Apropos of Nothing — and this doesn’t have all the problematic passages. I’ve appreciated Dawson’s work in the past, and you have to spend 30 seconds here to know that I’m a huge Hearne fan, together they’ve created something unlike what they’ve done before. Well, except for their characteristic quality — that’s there. I cared about these characters — and they made me laugh, and giggle, and roll my eyes. This is the whole package, folks, you’ll be glad you gave it a chance.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 Stars