The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch

The Furthest StationThe Furthest Station

by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: The Rivers of London, #5.7

eARC, 144 pg.
Subterranean Press, 2017

Read: April 24, 2017

He asked if we were really ghost hunting, and I said we were.

“What, like officially?”

“Officially secret,” I said because discretion is supposed to be, if not our middle name, at least a nickname we occasionally answer to when we remember.

This novella hit the spot — a short, but fully developed, adventure with our friends from the Rivers of London series — full of action, a bit of snark, and seeing Peter in his element (and far out of it, too). Would I have preferred a full novel? Sure — but if I can’t have one, this is more than adequate.

Peter Grant, apprentice wizard and Police Constable, is investigating several reports of a ghost terrorizing people on the Underground during the morning commute. Naturally, even when interviewed immediately following a sighting the witness would only be able to remember details for a few moments before they forgot and/or rationalized them away. Which makes it pretty difficult to ask follow-up questions. As Peter continues to investigate, he ends up finding a very non-supernatural crime that he needs to deal with, even if he goes about it in a pretty supernatural way. While there’s little in this series that I don’t like, but Peter doing regular policework is one of my favorite parts.

Along for the ride (and looking for trouble) is his cousin, Abigail Jumara, acting as a summer intern for the Folly. Honestly, I barely remembered her when she shows up here — but I eventually remembered her, and I was glad to see her back. I’m not necessarily sure that I need to see her all the time, but seeing more of her would definitely be pleasant.

In addition to the subplot about Abigail’s future, there’s a subplot revolving around another personification of a river — not one of Mama Thames’, either. I enjoyed it, and thought it fit in nicely with the rest of the novella, while giving us the requisite dose of a body of water.

There’s not a lot to sink your teeth into here — but the novella length doesn’t leave you wanting more (like a short story would). It’s good to see the Folly involved in smaller cases. Not just the serial killing, major magical threat, etc. kind of thing — but the “smaller” stuff, too.

For any fan of the Folly/Peter Grant/Rivers of London series, this is one to get. It’d even make a pretty good introduction to the series for someone who hasn’t yet discovered this fun UF series.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Subterranean Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both, I needed something like this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

—–

4 Stars

High Heat (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

High HeatHigh Heat

by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Series: Jack Reacher, #17.5
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs., 27 mins.
Random House Audio, 2013

Read: March 16 – 17, 2017


Ahhh, finally — an actually satisfying shorter Jack Reacher story. It’s longer than the others I’ve tried — a novella, not just a short story. That’s probably a lot of it, but there’s something more to it — just don’t ask me what.

Reacher’s on summer vacation before his senior year — pretty much fully grown, has a good head on his shoulders, and is as arrogant and invincible feeling as most teenagers (he’s just big and tough enough to back it up). He’s visiting NYC for the day before going to visit his brother at West Point.

It’s 1977, a summer in NYC known for two things: incredible heat and Son of Sam. Both have an impact on this story (no, Reacher doesn’t stop the killer or anything — phew). Reacher flirts with some college girls, breaks up a fight with a mobster and an undercover FBI agent, survives a blackout, spends some quality time with one of the college girls and helps the FBI agent out — while engaging in a few solid fights.

The action takes place in one night — probably 14 hours or so, but Child manages to cram a lot into those hours. Is it realistic? No, not even by Reacher standards. Is it compelling — yup. Will it keep you interested? Oh, yeah.

Dick Hill sounded to me like he as having a lot of fun reading this one — which is fitting, it’s probably the most “fun” Reacher story I’ve come across (well, maybe the Reacher/Nick Heller story in FaceOff is a little more so). He does his typical job, satisfying in his delivery, keeps you engaged, doesn’t wow with technique.

It’s a fun story, nothing to get excited about, but something that Reacher fans will enjoy, in a complete-feeling story. Good enough for me.

—–

3.5 Stars

Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin

Tooth and Nail Tooth and Nail

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #3

Paperback, 293 pg.
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1996 (first published 1992)

Read: April 14 – 15, 2017

She drives home the knife.

The moment, she knows from past experience, is a very intimate one. Her hand is gripped around the knife’s
cool handle and the thrust takes the blade into the throat up to the hilt until her hand meets the throat itself. Flesh upon flesh. Jacket first, or woollen jersey, cotton shirt or T-shirt, then flesh. Now rent. The knife is writhing, like an animal sniffing. Warm blood covering hilt and hand. (The other hand covers the mouth, stifling screams.) The moment is complete. A meeting. Touching. The body is hot, gaping, warm with blood. Seething inside, as insides become outsides. Boiling. The moment is coming to an end all too soon.

And still she feels hungry. It isn’t right, isn’t usual but she does. She removes some of the clothing; in fact, removes quite a lot of it, removes more, perhaps, than is necessary. And she does what she must do, the knife squirming again. She keeps her eyes screwed tightly shut. She does not like this part. She has never liked this part, not then, not now. But especially not then.

Clearly, this is someone who needs to be stopped. And The Powers That Be have brought John Rebus from Edinburgh to London to help the hunt for the Wolfman (yeah, those who tagged the killer with that moniker may have made some assumptions). Thanks to the events in Knots & Crosses, many (who don’t know all the details) believe that Rebus is somewhat of an expert in Serial Killers. He knows he’s not, but no one asked him — he was just told to show up. It’s not long before this case gets under Rebus’ skin and he’s no longer in London to kill a couple of days as a show of support for the local police, but he’s off to catch a killer.

George Flight is the detective who’s serving as Rebus’ contact — and is leading the investigation. Rebus notes that he’s a better policeman than he is — meticulous, detailed, going through things step by step. Which isn’t doing him a lot of good at the moment, he needs something more. Enter Rebus. By and large, Flight’s the only one that wants Rebus’ help — his superior, another detective on the case, and the press liaison are pretty united in their lack of interest in bringing in someone from “Jockland” to meddle in the crimes of the big city.

As Rebus arrives in London, another body is discovered, so he shows up at the crime scene with his luggage, from there, they head to an autopsy — rushed, no doubt given the likelihood that this is another Wolfman victim. The autopsy scene — the sights, sounds and smells — is one of the best (possibly the best) that I’ve seen along these lines. It felt real, it felt disgusting, it felt sad. Between this and the opening paragraphs (quoted above), I’m again reminded that Rankin knows what he’s doing when it comes to writing. He nails this stuff.

While he’s in town, Rebus visits his ex-wife and daughter — things go poorly there, as one would expect. Things go worse when his daughter’s boyfriend comes around. When Rebus is able to connect said boyfriend to a career criminal . . .

I’m no expert on this, but I’ve read more than a few serial killer novels, it strikes me that 1992 was still pretty early in serial killer fiction-terms, and it shows. Both in Rebus’ attempts to draw the killer out, as well as Flight’s attempts to catch him. We also get to see both detectives trying to understand the serial killer — or at least how to apprehend one. Flight’s more old-school in his approach and is pretty disdainful of Rebus’ efforts to get inside the head of a serial killer. Which is not to say that this particular killer isn’t destructive, sick and really creepy.

Rebus is spurred on to this track because of who he is — but the attractive psychologist, Lisa Frazer, who wants to help him out certainly doesn’t hurt. It could be argued by some (including some characters in the book) that Rebus is far more interested in pursuing her than the Wolfman.

Rebus mostly stumbles around, indulging his infatuation with Frazer, looking for his daughter’s boyfriend, and occasionally chatting with Flight about the case. Now eventually, enough things happened that allow Rebus to put things together and figure out the identity of the Wolfman (sorta like when Wilson made a stray comment to Dr. House that got him to make the right diagnosis). Sure, it was clever, but hard to believe.

Early on, I thought this might be the book that turned me into a Rankin fan, not just some guy reading these. It came close, but I just couldn’t totally buy the ending and the way Rebus solved the case. But man, Rankin can write. I’m not totally sold on what he’s writing, but I’m really enjoying the craft. I was hooked throughout, but that ending just didn’t work.

—–

3.5 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Not a Drill (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

Not a DrillNot a Drill

by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Series: Jack Reacher, #18.5
Unabridged Audiobook, 1 hr., 27 min.
Random House Audio, 2014

Read: March 14, 2017


Reacher sets out for the Canadian border, to make it as far north on this Interstate as possible, just because. Not too far south from there, he stops in a tourist-y town, a haven for backpackers, hikers, wilderness types in general. Before he leaves, a whole lot of military types show up and block access to the forest from the town (well, they try to — the forest is pretty big, it’s impossible to block access to the whole thing).

This gets Reacher’s curiosity piqued and he starts poking around to see if he can understand why.

I don’t want to sound bloodthirsty here, but not a single fight. No threat of violence breaking out. Mostly, it’s Reacher walking around and observing things before making a heck of a guess/deduction that proved to be right.

Dark, cynical ending — one of Child’s more political statements.

Hill was okay, not terribly interesting, but I think that’s Child’s fault this time.

It’s not bad. It’s just disappointing, short and . . . bleh. Proof that they can’t all be winners, I guess.

—–

2 1/2 Stars

Nearly Nero by Loren D. Estleman

Nearly NeroNearly Nero: The Adventures of Claudius Lyon, the Man Who Would Be Wolfe

by Loren D. Estleman

eARC, 192 pg.
Tyrus Books, 2017

Read: March 24 – 30, 2017


I’ve heard about the stories in this volume for years, but have never tracked one down before — and then a whole collection of them show up on NetGalley! How could I not request it? I’m so glad this book exists so that those of us who don’t get the magazines, etc. that publish short mystery fiction can have them (and even those who do have access to those magazines, etc. can have them in one handy volume).

Anyway, here’s the setup: Claudius Lyon is a huge fan of Nero Wolfe — he reads every one of the reports that Archie Goodwin’s literary agent Rex Stout publishes. He’s such a fan that he wants to be Wolfe (like the guys dressing up in Batsuits in The Dark Knight Rises) — he’s fat, fairly clever, and wealthy enough not to need to work and still indulge himself. He renovates his townhouse to include a greenhouse, an elevator, and a first floor floorplan that pretty much matches Wolfe’s. He hires a private chef — a kosher chef of dubious quality (not that Lyon needs to eat kosher, it’s just what Gus can cook), changes his name to something that approximates his hero’s and hires a “man of action,” Arnie Woodbine. Arnie’s an ex-con, small-time crook who doesn’t mind (too much) putting up with his looney boss for a steady paycheck and meals.

The number of ways that Lyon isn’t Wolfe is pretty large and I won’t spoil your fun in discovering them. Now, Lyon’s unlicensed as a PI, so he can’t take on paying clients — but he occasionally gets people who will take him up on his free services. He’s decent at solving puzzles and low-priority mysteries (not that he doesn’t find his way into something bigger on occasion). Once he gets a client (non-paying, Arnie’d have me stress), he goes through whatever steps he needs to figure it out (including his own version of Wolfe’s lip movement and sending Arnie on fact-finding missions), and goes to some lengths to assemble some sort of audience for his reveal. I can’t help smiling as I think about it, really.

The whole thing is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Nero Wolfe/Rex Stout — recognizing the brilliance of the Stout’s work (how can you not?), while poking fun at it. Lyon’s really a goofy character and Woodbine is great at pointing that out — while begrudgingly admitting that he gets things right every now and then. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the story telling — the mysteries aren’t all that much to get excited about, it’s in watching Lyon stumble through his cases that the entertainment is found. Well, that and Woodbine’s commentary.

Not unlike many of the Wolfe stories (particularly the short stories).

I wouldn’t recommend reading more than two of these stories in a sitting, I think they work best as solo shots. It’s a difficult call, because I typically wanted to go on for one more. Also, I’m not sure how enjoyable these’d be for non-Wolfe readers — but then again, I think a lot of the humor would hold up and it might entice a reader to learn more about Lyon’s idol. And anything that gets people to read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels is a good thing.

But for readers of Stout’s Wolfe novels? This is a must read. He’s not trying and failing to recapture Stout’s magic (see Goldsborough post-The Bloodied Ivy), he’s intentionally missing and yet somehow getting a little of it. I really enjoyed this book and can easily see me re-reading it a handful of times.

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

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

The Collapsing EmpireThe Collapsing Empire

by John Scalzi
Series: The Collapsing Empire, #1

Hardcover, 329 pg.
Tor Books, 2017

Read: March 28 – 29, 2017

I can’t think of a SF release more highly anticipated this year than The Collapsing Empire, the first in a new series (there’s a really good chance that I’ll be saying the same thing in 3 months about something else that I’m spacing at the moment). Thankfully, it surpassed my expectations (which were, admittedly, pretty low — this just didn’t sound that interesting) — I can’t speak for the rest of his fanbase who were anticipating it so highly, but I can’t imagine that most weren’t wholly satisfied, and predict he picks up a few fans from this.

The Interdependency is the empire that is made up of the descendants of the people of Earth, it’s been in place for centuries — and, as the title of the book (and series) states, it’s on the verge of collapse. Not from political pressures or outside threats, or anything of that nature. Instead, it’s the Flow. The Flow is the way that humanity travels between the stars — a extra-dimensional field that can be accessed to facilitate travel between planets. And it’s on the verge of changing — not disappearing, just connecting different planets and leaving millions of people without access to the rest of the Empire.

Tricky to explain briefly — but that’s okay, the characters in the book are (with 3 exceptions) learning this about the same time as the reader is and those who explain it do a much better job. Basically, the Empire as they know it is facing the End. There to help the Interdependency through this trying time (not that citizens know about it) is a brand-new, untried Emperox. She and her allies (intentional or otherwise) are going to have to deal with political, business and religious groups to try to help some of humanity survive.

I’ve gotta say that Emperox Grayland II (Cardenia to her friends) is a delightful character — you cannot help but root for her. She’s brave, smart, relatable and an underdog (how someone who rules several planetary systems can be thought of as an underdog is a neat trick). The scientist who travels the length of the Empire to help her understand what’s going on, Marce, is clever, overwhelmed, and the only one who really knows what’s happening (shades of Jor-El?). There’s another character, Lady Kiva, a junior member of a ruling family of one of the largest guilds who is just too much fun — she swears enough to make Marshall Mathers take a step back; has no tact, no diplomacy, and shows no mercy to her enemies (especially if they stand between her and a profit). Really, she’s a horrible person (at least in this book),but a fun, fun character.

These three are our focus, they’re who we cheer for and pin our hopes on. If they can survive the political, scientific, religious, and humanitarian turmoil that’s beginning to bubble — there’s a shot for humanity. Not much of one, honestly, but a shot.

Somehow, Scalzi’s able to take societal collapse and tell it in an entertaining, suspenseful and frequently funny way. He’s able to give a thinly disguised commentary on environmental catastrophe and keep it from getting preachy. Basically, he threads the needle just right to keep people enjoying themselves as they read what would be a heavy, off-putting book in many author’s hands.

Is it perfect? No. Am I crazy about everything he does/tries to do in this book? Nope. But man, such a fun, quick ride that I can’t help but like it and recommend it to everyone I can think of. I was so wrong not to be interested in this book — I’m more than interested in the sequel.

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies by Ace Atkins

Really, all I want to say about this book is: “Yes! Atkins did it again — it’s just so good, folks. Long-time fans’ll love it, new readers will likely see the appeal of the series. A lot of fun with a great ending!” But that seems a little surface-y and is just bad writing. But really, that’s everything I’ve got to say.

Little White LiesRobert B. Parker’s Little White Lies

by Ace Atkins
Series: Spenser, #45

eARC, 320 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017

Read: March 16 – 17, 2017

Pearl and I were off to Central Square . Her long brown ears blew in the wind as we drove along Memorial Drive against the Charles. Rowers rowed, joggers jogged, and bench sitters sat. It was midSeptember and air had turned crisp. The leaves had already started to turn red and gold, shining in Technicolor upon the still water.

I debated about what quotation I’d open with — I went with this Parker-esque (and Atkins-esque) description. Little White Lies is one of the better of Atkins run on this series, because (like here) he did something that feels like something Parker would’ve written, but not quite what he’d have said (the more I think about it, the less I think that Parker’d have said “bench sitters sat”).

Actually, that’s true of the other quotation I almost used, too:

I nodded , adding water to the new coffeemaker sitting atop my file cabinet. I’d recently upgraded from Mr. Coffee to one of those machines that used pre-measured plastic cups. I placed my mug under the filter, clamped down the lid, and returned to my desk. Demonic hissing sounds echoed in my office. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

This is Atkins sixth Spenser novel, and you’d think he’s got enough of a track record that I could stop comparing him to Parker. Well, you’d be wrong — I can’t stop. This, like most of Atkins’ work on this series, is so reminiscent of early Parker novels that it makes some of the latter Parkers look more like they were written by a hired gun. Still, I’m going to try to keep it to a minimum because it doesn’t seem fair to keep doing.

Susan has sent one of her clients to Spenser for some help that she can’t provide. Connie Kelly had been dating someone she met online, invested in one of his real estate deals — and he vanished, taking the money with him. Could Spenser track him down and get her cash back? Sure, he says. It doesn’t take long for the investigation to show that he owes plenty of people money — a couple of months rent here, hundreds of thousands of dollar there.

Here’s the fun part: M. Brooks Welles, the deadbeat in question, is a silver-haired, silver-tongued mainstay on cable news. He’s former CIA, and an expert on military and national security issues — one of those that producers call on regularly when they need a talking head. Why’s a guy like that flaking out on real estate deals? Spenser knows something fishier than expected is going on — which takes him into a world of mercenaries, gun deals, and the ATF.

Then someone tries to kill him. A couple of times. And the book stops feeling like a semi-light adventure, poking fun at the blowhards on cable TV and the state of American Journalism, and how we shouldn’t trust as many people who have cameras pointed at them as we do. Things take on a different tone, bodies start piling up, and a darkness slips in to the book. This also brings in Belson and his new boss — who’s still not a fan of Spenser. About the same time, Connie starts to waver in her conviction that she wants her money back and Welles punished. Spenser, naturally, doesn’t care and plows ahead. Hawk is able to connect Spenser with some mercenaries that travel in the same circles as Welles and the chase is on. Eventually, the action moves from Boston and its environs to Georgia. Which means that Teddy Sapp is going to make an appearance.

All the characters were great — I would’ve liked some more time with some of Welles’ co-conspirators in Boston, I think it’d have helped round out our picture of his crimes. But it’s a minor complaint. We also got plenty of interaction with his Georgia-based colleagues. Even the characters that show up for a page or two as witnesses to the crimes were interesting — it’s the little things like those that add so much. It was nice to see Teddy Sapp again, too. He was the best part of Hugger Mugger (faint praise, I realize). The Hawk material was very good — maybe Atkins’ best use of the character yet.

I fully expect that people are going to spend a lot of time talking about the ending — it didn’t feel like a Parker ending. That said, it felt like an ending that pre-A Catskill Eagle Parker might have tried. It was satisfying, don’t misunderstand, it’s just not the kind of ending that Parker employed. Honestly, there were two other perfectly acceptable places to end the book — and if not for the progress bar at the bottom of my screen, I might have believed that thee ending was earlier and equally strong.

Now, because Atkins and the Parker estate aren’t stupid, there are certain characters that you just know are safe, no matter what shenanigans that they’ve let Atkins and Coleman get away with when it comes to killing off long-term supporting characters. But there was a definite feeling of peril when it comes to [name redacted] and [name redacted]. Sure I knew they’d live to be read about another day, but I wondered how healthy they’d be in the meantime.

This is sharply written, as usual. Atkins knows what he’s doing (in this series or anything else) — a great mix of character moments and plot. Spenser’s voice is strong — as are the voices of the other regulars. It was just a pleasure to read through and through. Let me leave you with one more snippet that is could’ve come from an early-80’s Spenser just as easily today’s, a voice like this is enough reason to read the book — the rest is just gravy (and there’s plenty of gravy):

I returned with sore legs back to my seat on the steps. I spent the next fifteen minutes watching women of all ages, sizes, and colors walk past me. I liked the way most women walked. I liked the way they dressed. And talked and smelled. I was pretty damn sure I was a fan of women in general. Did this make me a sexist or a feminist? Or somewhere in between.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

—–

4 1/2 Stars