Classic Spenser: Mortal Stakes by Robert B. Parker

Classic Spenser

Mortal Stakes

Mortal Stakes

by Robert B. Parker
Series: Spenser, #3

Mass Market Paperback, 328 pg.
Dell, 1975

Read: March 30, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

After stumbling onto Spenser: For Hire—I think during season 2 summer re-runs, I headed to my local library and grabbed the earliest in the series they had—Mortal Stakes. This wasn’t the first “adult” novel or mystery that I’d tried, but it was the best. Between Parker’s voice, Spenser’s wit, and the kind of story it told, I was sold and spent the next few months getting my hands on every one of the series I could. Re-reading this one is always like coming home.

Spenser is hired by a Boston Red Sox executive to investigate their best pitcher, Marty Rabb. There’s a hint of a suggestion of a rumor that he’s shaving points on behalf of gamblers, and the executive wants to know if it’s true. If so, he wants to address it quitely, If Rabb’s clean, he wants to know that quietly.

It takes no time at all for Spenser to determine that he is—and why. The bulk of the novel is Spenser’s attempt to learn who is blackmailing Rabb to do this and then to extricate him from their grip before it ruins his career and/or marriage. This is a significant challenge.

Spenser sees a lot of himself in Rabb—they share the same values, sense of honor, sense of play. Spenser will later look into a similar case in Playmates, and he’ll meet a similar athlete—only his sport is College Basketball. Parker will often use clients to shine a light on an aspect of Spenser’s character, usually by way of contrast—but with athletes, it’s because of similarity.

On the expanding Spenser-verse front, we meet New York Madam, Patricia Utley. She’s no “hooker with a heart of gold,” by any means. She’s a businesswoman first and foremost. She does remember where she came from, and can occasionally be counted on to display a bit of sentimentality. She will reappear several times in this series (and will make appearances in related series)—a reliable source of information as well as a resource.

In The Godwulf Manuscript we saw Spenser physically rough up a couple of college kids and verbally push around an older man. Each incident is followed by Spenser berating himself. In a fit of pique following a botched stakeout for the ransom delivery in God Save the Child, Spenser breaks the handle of the rake he was using as a prop and feels so bad that he leaves money to pay for it. Parker goes out of his way to show Spenser’s conscience. Yet in this book, Spenser arranges to outright kill two people. Yes, he’s wracked with guilt—physically ill—but he’s able to justify it to himself. Which mostly works, but he has to go to Susan Silverman to talk things out and convince himself he did the right thing.

This book shows that Spenser is changing. He doesn’t like being alone—he needs to talk some of the difficult things through with Susan. He’s had a couple of dates with Brenda Loring earlier in the book—but he notes she’s good for having fun with, but for serious talk, it has to be Susan. I appreciate the slow growth in the character here.

This isn’t the best Spenser volume—but it’s a very good one. This is the first (of many) extended look at Spenser’s code. We see Spenser wade in deep ethical waters (and doesn’t necessarily come out clean). But most importantly, we see Spenser doing all he can—whether his employer wants him to or not—to dig a couple of people out form a tight spot. Mortal Stakes is Parker at his best and is just a pleasure to read.

5 Stars

Towel Day ’20: Some of my favorite Adams lines . . .

(updated 5/25/20)
There’s a great temptation here for me to go crazy. I’ll refrain from that and just list some of his best lines . . .

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

bullet Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
bullet This must be Thursday. . . I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”
bullet “You’d better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.”
“What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”
“You ask a glass of water.”
(I’m not sure why, but this has always made me chuckle, if not actually laugh out loud. It’s just never not funny)
bullet He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
bullet In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centuari. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before . . .
bullet “Look,” said Arthur, “would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?”
bullet The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

bullet It is a curious fact, and one to which no one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85 percent of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N-N-T’Nix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand or more variations on the same phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian “chinanto/mnigs” which is ordinary water served at slightly above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan “tzjin-anthony-ks” which kills cows at a hundred paces; and in fact the one common factor between all of them, beyond the fact that the names sound the same, is that they were all invented and named before the worlds concerned made contact with any other worlds.

Life, the Universe, and Everything

bullet The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of flying.There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying.The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

(It goes on for quite a while after this — and I love every bit of it.)

bullet “One of the interesting things about space,” Arthur heard Slartibartfast saying . . . “is how dull it is?””Dull?” . . .”Yes,” said Slartibartfast, “staggeringly dull. Bewilderingly so. You see, there’s so much of it and so little in it.”

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

bullet Of course, one never has the slightest notion what size or shape different species are going to turn out to be, but if you were to take the findings of the latest Mid-Galactic Census report as any kind of accurate guide to statistical averages you would probably guess that the craft would hold about six people, and you would be right.You’d probably guessed that anyway. The Census report, like most such surveys, had cost an awful lot of money and told nobody anything they didn’t already know — except that every single person in the Galaxy had 2.4 legs and owned a hyena. Since this was clearly not true the whole thing eventually had to be scrapped.
bullet Here was something that Ford felt he could speak about with authority.”Life,” he said, “is like a grapefruit.””Er, how so?”

Well, it’s sort of orangy-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy the middle. It’s got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have half a one for breakfast.”

“Is there anyone else out there I can talk to?”
bullet Arthur had a swordfish steak and said it made him angry. He grabbed a passing waitress by the arm and berated her.”Why’s this fish so bloody good?” he demanded, angrily.”Please excuse my friend,” said Fenchurch to the startled waitress. “I think he’s having a nice day at last.”

Mostly Harmless

bullet A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

bullet If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.
bullet Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.

(I’ve often been tempted to get a tattoo of this)

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

bullet There are some people you like immediately, some whom you think you might learn to like in the fullness of time, and some that you simply want to push away from you with a sharp stick.
bullet It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression, ‘As pretty as an airport.
bullet The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks.”
bullet She stared at them with the worried frown of a drunk trying to work out why the door is dancing.
bullet As she lay beneath a pile of rubble, in pain, darkness, and choking dust, trying to find sensation in her limbs, she was at least relieved to be able to think that she hadn’t merely been imagining that this was a bad day. So thinking, she passed out.

The Last Chance to See

bullet “So what do we do if we get bitten by something deadly?” I asked.He looked at me as if I were stupid.”You die, of course. That’s what deadly means.”
bullet I’ve never understood all this fuss people make about the dawn. I’ve seen a few and they’re never as good as the photographs, which have the additional advantage of being things you can look at when you’re in the right frame of mind, which is usually around lunchtime.
bullet I have the instinctive reaction of a Western man when confronted with sublimely incomprehensible. I grab my camera and start to photograph it.
bullet Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
bullet The aye-aye is a nocturnal lemur. It is a very strange-looking creature that seems to have been assembled from bits of other animals. It looks a little like a large cat with a bat’s ears, a beaver’s teeth, a tail like a large ostrich feather, a middle finger like a long dead twig and enormous eyes that seem to peer past you into a totally different world which exists just over your left shoulder.
bullet One of the characteristics that laymen find most odd about zoologists is their insatiable enthusiasm for animal droppings. I can understand, of course, that the droppings yield a great deal of information about the habits and diets of the animals concerned, but nothing quite explains the sheer glee that the actual objects seem to inspire.
bullet I mean, animals may not be intelligent, but they’re not as stupid as a lot of human beings.

And a couple of lines I’ve seen in assorted places, articles, books and whatnot

bullet I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.
bullet A learning experience is one of those things that says, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”
bullet The fact is, I don’t know where my ideas come from. Nor does any writer. The only real answer is to drink way too much coffee and buy yourself a desk that doesn’t collapse when you beat your head against it.
bullet Solutions nearly always come from the direction you least expect, which means there’s no point trying to look in that direction because it won’t be coming from there.

Towel Day ’20: Do You Know Where Your Towel Is?

(actually updated and slightly revised this 5/25/20!)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

Towel Day, for the few of who don’t know, is the annual celebration of Douglas Adams’ life and work. It was first held two weeks after his death, fans were to carry a towel with them for the day to use as a talking point to encourage those who have never read HHGTTG to do so, or to just converse with someone about Adams. Adams is one of that handful of authors that I can’t imagine I’d be the same without having encountered/read/re-read/re-re-re-re-read, and so I do my best to pay a little tribute to him each year, even if it’s just carrying around a towel.

One of my long-delayed goals is to write up a good all-purpose Tribute to Douglas Adams post, and another Towel Day has come without me doing so. Belgium.

Next year . . . or later. (he says for at least the 5th straight year, a work ethic I like to believe Adams would recognize).

In the meantime, here’s some of what I’ve written about Adams. A couple of years back, I did a re-read of all of Adams’ (completed) fiction. For reasons beyond my ken (or recollection), I didn’t get around to blogging about the Dirk Gently books, but I did do the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy:
bullet The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
bullet The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
bullet Life, The Universe and Everything
bullet So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish
bullet Mostly Harmless
Also, I should mention the one book Adams/Hitchhiker’s aficionado needs to read is Don’t Panic by Neil Gaiman, David K. Dickson and MJ Simpson.

I’ve only been able to get one of my sons into Adams, he’s the taller, thinner one in the picture from a few years ago. is the best collection of resources on the day, recently posted this pretty cool video, shot on the ISS by astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.

Even better—here’s an appearance by Douglas Adams himself from the old Letterman show—so glad someone preserved this:

Love the anecdote (Also, I want this tie.)

Trophy Hunt by C. J. Box: Pickett takes on an X-Files-y case

Trophy Hunt

Trophy Hunt

by C. J. Box
Series: Joe Pickett, #4

Paperback, 375 pg.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2004

Read: May 15-16, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

I’m short on time, so I’m going to cut a corner and use the official blurb:

It’s an idyllic late-summer day in Saddlestring, Wyoming, and game warden Joe Pickett is fly-fishing with his two daughters when he stumbles upon the mutilated body of a moose. Whatever – or whoever – attacked the animal was ruthless: half the animal’s face has been sliced away, the skin peeled back from the flesh. Shaken by the sight, Joe starts to investigate what he hopes in an isolated incident.

Days later, after the discovery of a small herd of mutilated cattle, Joe realizes this something much more terrifying than he could have imagined. Local authorities are quick to label the attacks the work of a grizzly bear, but Joe knows otherwise. The cuts on the moose and the cattle were too clean, too precise, to have been made by jagged teeth. Are the animals only practice for a killer about to move on to another, more challenging prey? Soon afterward, Joe’s worst fears are confirmed. The bodies of two men are found within hours of each other, in separate locations, their wounds eerily similar to those found on the moose and cattle.

There’s a vicious killer, a modern-day Jack the Ripper, on the loose in Saddlestring – and it appears his rampage is just beginning.

Pro tip: don’t read C. J. Box describing a moose corpse while eating lunch.

That aside, I had a lot of fun reading this. Joe ends up being the Game and Fish representative on the task force the governor calls for to investigate these mutilations. Sheriff Barnum is also on the task force, giving us more opportunities to be annoyed by him (I’m really looking forward to the upcoming election which should remove him from office).

I have a note to compare Nate Romanowski and his approach to spirituality and nature and Henry Standing Bear’s—and I think that could be a fruitful discussion, but I think I need to see Nate wax spiritual a little more in future books. But at least at this point, Nate seems like some white dude getting a little strange, whereas Henry seems genuine (which isn’t to say Nate’s fake, he’s just…new at it?). Regardless, it was good to see Nate again, and I like the way that he’s settling into the series (if only so there’s someone around who can shoot and is generally on Joe’s side).

On the one hand, the constant discussion about the precarious financial situation the Picketts face is a refreshing and bracing bit of realism—but if Box would ease off on it a little bit, that’d be nice, just a bit. I like seeing Marybeth struggling to find her place in the world in a way that helps her family—if nothing else, her bouncing around from employer to employer (as her small business allows) she can be put in all sorts of interesting places to tie into Joe’s cases (see these last two books).

Lucy took a bigger role than she usually gets, which sadly took a little bit of space from Sheridan. But she still gets a chance to shine, which makes me happy.

But what brings readers back is Joe Pickett. He’s not the smartest, the quickest, the most insightful mystery protagonist around. But he’s dogged. He’s persistent. He’s one of those rare good guys. He gets the job done, eventually, because that’s what he needs to do. Easy to like a character like that, he’s not really Everyman. He’s the kind of guy an Everyman would like to be.

(which does mean that the reader figures things out a lot faster than he does, but oh, well)

This was the first Joe Pickett novel that I read instead of listening to (my library doesn’t have the audiobook)—this is the first time I’ve gone from audio to print. It was interesting, but I think I prefer Chandler’s narration to my own (but I liked getting the spelling of a couple of names).

It’s a solid mystery, a good time with some characters that I liked. It’s a little heavy on the “woo-woo” stuff (Joe’s term), but I can live with that. I don’t know that this is the best one to come to the series with, but it’s a good installment for those that are familiar with the characters.

3.5 Stars

2020 Library Love Challenge

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

The King of the Crows by Russell Day: Prescient. Gripping. Haunting. Unpredictable. What stories should be.

King of the Crows

King of the Crows

by Russell Day

Kindle Edition, 456 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2020

Read: April 28-May 9, 2020

… for me at least, the first week of the Lockdown was the worst.

Knowing it had happened to me. I hadn’t escaped, I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. Lucky to be safe or lucky to be dead. Take your pick. I was neither.

That right there gives you a pretty good idea what kind of light and fluffy read this is going to be.

There are two timelines in this story—the primary focuses on a post-pandemic London, while the other shows what happened to a couple of the characters mid-pandemic (with plenty of material describing what the pandemic was like for others). In the primary timeline, Europe is a disaster—a “wasteland”—and eight years after the Outbreak, it’s beginning to put itself back together. But it’s going to take a long, long time to recover from this. Don’t let the fact that “eight years after” this fictional outbreak is 2028 bother you at all.*

* Good luck with that. I’ll get back to this in a bit.

I’m not going to try to list all the various ways that Day uses to tell this story: I’m certainly going to forget several. So here’s a partial list: here’s a third-person 2028 narrator describing a police investigation, a first-person perspective on the same investigation; a first-person account of that same detective’s life during the Outbreak; selections from a screenplay made about a group of Londoners during the Outbreak; selections from the Outbreak-memoir of one of those Londoners; and third-person narration of the same (N.B.: these three will vary in telling ways); redacted 2028 prison correspondence about the Outbreak; excerpts from scholarly works on aspects of the Outbreak (including a very illuminating work on the slang of the time); graffiti from 2021; internet message boards. Day weaves these together to tell his story, build the world, and help you to understand it. Frequently, I read something from the 2028 timeline, and understood it—only to find a new depth to it several pages later after getting another piece of the puzzle from 2020/2021. It’s hard to juggle that many narrative forms/voices/perspectives/calendars as a reader or a writer—Day pulled it off better than I did (any problems I had following things I attribute to myself, and it was pretty easy to clear out my misunderstanding with a minimum of backtracking*). It definitely helps paint the picture of the scope and variety of effects the sickness had on the world more efficiently than a consistent first- or third-person narrative would be able to.

* This would be easier in hardcopy than on an e-reader in my opinion. But that’s just a guess.

There are times (several of them) when I felt that the characters were getting lost amongst the plot and worldbuilding and sickness. But when I stopped and thought about it—and eventually got to the point where I didn’t have to—I realized I had a pretty solid idea about who these people were and was more invested in them than I expected. I thought there was so much going on that the people were getting hidden, but really, Day’s work was subtle—working in the characters into my subconscious like you give a dog its medicine. Normally, this isn’t something I require (or would like)—and it’s not Day’s usual M. O. (quite the opposite), but I think this approach really fit the novel and the story/world.

“They weren’t zombies,” he says, softly. “Don’t call them zombies.”

No one who was involved in the Outbreak for real uses the zee word.

So exactly what was the sickness?

I remember reading a couple of years ago about these ants that would succumb to a fungus which would short-circuit their brain and make them do certain things before killing them—or something like that, vague memories here. Then there were stories about parasites controlling the host’s actions—both of these stories had their 15 seconds of fame on social media around the same time (I may be messing the details up a little bit, but I’m not writing history here).

In Day’s world, one of these kinds of parasites will reside—asymptomatically, I should stress—in cats, who would pass it on to humans. Skipping the details, the humans would get very sick and then, survivors would maybe succumb to a psychosis that would make them violent. This sickness, HV-Tg (Human Variant-Toxo gondii), in a little more than a year would kill more than 20 million in Europe (at least 33% of France’s population) Et voilà!—an easy to believe pandemic that results in Zombie-like people wandering around.

Now, if one of those who’d “switched” and become violent infected you during an assault, well, you were likely to succumb. There were enough of these (“psychos” or “Gonzos”), and the sickness was so widespread, that the police and military couldn’t keep up, that civilians were forced to take action and defend themselves, their family and neighbors. People quickly forming into gang-like associations for mutual protection. It was a literal kill-or-be-infected (and likely killed) situation.

One such association became known as The Crows or The Kings of the Crows. They developed a legendary status mid-and post-Outbreak—and are the subjects of the memoir and film mentioned above. One of their number who happened to survive (and gain notoriety enough to get a publishing deal for a memoir) is the subject of the 2028 investigation. They survived the worst of the worst in one of the hardest-hit cities. They did so via means and methods that many (including their own) would find deplorable, but under circumstances that not only permitted, but required, those actions.

We also see what happens to an American in Paris for work when the Outbreak reaches the point that International travel is canceled (particularly to the U.S.). Her allies will never be considered the Kings of anything, and the contrast between how she survives to what the Crows do is pretty striking.

In 2028…eh…you know what? You should read that for yourself. I’m going to say something I’ll regret.

The biggest killer in those days wasn’t the disease or the psychos, it was stupidity.

However, it has been pointed out by many historians, logic was one of the first casualties of the Outbreak.

Some of the best moments of this book have nothing to do with advancing the plot, they’re little bits showing what the world of the Gondii-pandemic looks like. The man telling the story about taking his girlfriend to the ER because of a burn—how they were treated, and how she became infected. The soldiers coming back from a Middle East deployment being completely unprepared for what had happened to their home country. The mother and son who traveled with the Crows for awhile.

Ultimately, it’s not the story you think you’re getting…or is it? The marketing tag line is, “Ocean’s Eleven meets 28 Days Later.” It is, all things considered, a good, catchy line. I’m not sure it’s all that accurate a description of the novel (but it’s not inaccurate). What it is, really slides up on you—and when you see it it feels like it was obvious all along (even if you wouldn’t have said that 20 pages earlier). There’s a straightforward crime story at the heart of this novel—it’s just surrounded by so many layers, that you can miss it—there’s the sickness, there’s the horrible social and political context (both mid- and post-Outbreak), there’s what the characters are going through otherwise—and the whole thing is drenched in social commentary about 2020 society, e.g., sexism, economics, medical care.

And that’s not even touching the context we’re reading it in now. I truly wonder what I’d think of this book if I’d read it last Fall. I’d still like it, I’d still be impressed by it—but I don’t know if it would resonate with me the same way. There’s almost nothing about Gondii that’s comparable to COVID-19. But the way that people and governments respond—well, that’s pretty different, too. but if you can’t see what’s going on around us reflected in this novel? You’re not paying attention. That Day appears so prescient says something about his skill and observation (and a lot about Western culture, too).

I can see why people cling to the idea that the Gonzos were trying to tell us something. Something’s out there trying to get a message through: there’s a plan. Compared to the idea that it was all just chance, it’s a comfort of a type. Chance doesn’t care and can’t be appeased and can’t be reasoned with. Chance means it could all happen again.

5 Stars

The Sword-Edged Blonde (Audiobook) by Alex Bledsoe, Stefan Rudnicki: This Hard-Boiled Fantasy Mixes the Best of Both Genres

The Sword-Edged Blonde

The Sword-Edged Blonde

by Alex Bledsoe, Stefan Rudnicki (Narrator)
Series: Eddie LaCrosse, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 28 min.
Blackstone Audio, 2012

Read: April 22-24, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

I’ve read this novel at least twice (13 and 11 years ago), and apparently have forgotten almost all of it. In fact, what I did remember as the climactic scene must belong to the second novel in the series, Burn Me Deadly. I can do better with the rest of the series (and not just because I actually wrote something about them—but I’m looking forward to taking another look at them in the coming months.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, I should introduce you to Eddie LaCrosse and his world. It’s your basic Fantasy world—swords, rumors of sorcery, small kingdoms, and so on. Eddie’s an ex-soldier, ex-mercenary, now “sword jockey” (basically a private cop). He’s got a little more on his résumé, but you’ll learn more about that as you dive in yourself. He’s been hired by an old friend, the King of a neighboring country to clear his wife of the horrific murder of her son. She doesn’t remember him, but when he meets her, Eddie realizes that he knew the Queen long before the King did.

Eddie’s investigation takes him through multiple kingdoms, into the remains of a cult, and into a criminal network that rivals anything that Varys put together for efficacy or ruthlessness. At the same time he does this, Eddie takes a trip through his personal history, reliving the time he knew the Queen (and events leading up to that). The two storylines are interwoven to help Eddie solve what seems like a perfect crime.

Both in the narration, LaCrosse’s character and the kinds of people we meet along the way, Bledsoe channels Chandler. LaCrosse is casually violent in a way that Marlowe indulged in a bit too often for me, and the (for lack of a better word) grotesque (in physical appearance and morality) criminals Eddie deals with in the latter parts of the book felt particularly Chandler-esque to me.

There’s some things that happen at the end that point to Eddie coming to terms with parts of his past that he’s been unable/unwilling to acknowledge existed. The character won’t change as a result of this (at least not much), but I think it opens the door for some of his rougher edges to be rounded out. How well that actually happens, I’ll have to see (I don’t trust my memory enough right now)—but at the very least, Bledsoe made it possible for the character to grow and evolve here.

Rudnicki’s narration didn’t really work for me initially—there was a quality to his voice that just didn’t click with me. But, I kept going because I liked the novel. Before the halfway mark, however, he’d won me over. I can’t put my finger on it (either good or bad), but he sold the emotional moments, the humor, and Eddie’s general attitude. Which is good enough for me.

It’s hard for me to rate this one on its own terms—I remember liking it. I remember what Bledsoe does with the characters. And those things color my rating, leading me to probably giving this another half-to-whole star more than I would otherwise. But also, for the world. The merging of Fantasy and Hard-boiled genres in a way that’s seamless and well-executed. I recommend this one and will be back for more soon.

Bookstooge posted about this book yesterday. It’s probably worth a read (I’ll read it later today, I didn’t want his voice in my head as I wrote this).

4 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Apex Predator by M.R. Miller: Nothing goes According to These Plans

Apex Predator

Apex Predator

by M. T. Miller
Series: The Culling, Book 2

Kindle Edition, 238 pg.

Read: April 17-20, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

“Nothing ever goes according to plan,” Shast said. That was why contingencies existed. Layers upon layers of them.

That’s from Chapter 4. By the time the book ends 11 chapters later, Shast is going to a whole new understanding of that.

But I’m getting ahead of myself there’s some sort of monster infestation in a city—forces have been sent to take care of it–two different waves, actually. But they didn’t work. So now, The Culling–the organization that handles these kinds of things, has sent a full Hand to clear it out. A Hand is a team of five hunters, each with a different specialty. With those combined talents, they should be able to handle anything.

Only Shast and the most senior member of the Hand have worked together before, the other three are experienced, but not that much. It’s a diverse group of people who usually work along and there’s a good deal of bickering and being at loggerheads on the way to the city. Once there, once the hunt gets underway, that gets compartmentalized and the Hand gets to work.

For a completely foreign world—that we still don’t really know that much about (but we’re learning)—it’s a testimony to Miller’s story-telling that the reader is able to plug into their activities, get an idea what’s at stake and why they’re doing what they’re doing.

It doesn’t take long for every theory they have to be proven wrong, everything they try to not have any success. And before long, it’s clear that what they’re facing is something most of them had never heard of—or if they had, they thought was a myth. It’s not a myth, and soon the hunters are the hunted.

Interspersed with that story are flashbacks to a hunt from early in Shast’s career, and enduring that was pivotal in his development into the hunter that he is. He gained the perspective, the cold-heartedness that he requires to survive the hunt that’s the focus of this novel. I don’t remember Miller doing anything like this before, he pulls it off pretty well. There are times when you get a story like this that you really wonder what the flashback storyline has to do with anything, but I gave Miller the benefit of the doubt and was rewarded for it.

Last time out, I praised Miller’s design of monsters. This time, I need to do the same. I don’t remember reading monsters like this before—while they were completely original, I had no trouble getting a clear idea how these things looked or acted. They were disturbing, powerful and you have little trouble understanding why the Hand wants to destroy them.

Even better is his character design—each member of the Hand is a fully realized character–and we learn their backstory, culture, specialties, and the rest without ever feeling like we endured an info drop. Through them, we get a better idea how this world works and how the Culling developed. I’m still trying to get a handle on this world, not that it bothers me much, I know what I need to know—but I’m intrigued, I’m curious. I appreciate getting a little more information about this place.

Now in the first book of the series, Shast and his companions face off with a large and unprecedented force of monsters, but it’s something they can get a handle on, something they can understand and adapt to. This time, the Hand is completely blindsided and maybe outclassed. How he moves on from this point to book 3, I have no idea—I assume Miller has a few tricks up his sleeve and I’m looking forward to seeing what they are. In the meantime, I’d encourage you all to go pick this one up.

4 Stars

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. I thank him for that.

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