Paper Son by S.J. Rozan: Lydia and Bill in their most foreign setting yet — Mississippi

Paper SonPaper Son

by S. J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #12eARC, 352 pg.
Pegasus Books, 2019

Read: June 12 – 17, 2019

One thing I’ve said (possibly too often) as I talk about this series is how much I enjoy the conversations between Lydia and Bill — but I think one of the conversations between Lydia and her mother tops anything the partners have to say (until the last conversation, anyway), and the rest weren’t far behind. We start off with Mrs. Chin telling Lydia that she has to go to Mississippi — and take Bill along — to investigate a murder. Long-time readers of this series will be forgiven the need to re-read that sentence, I assure you that it’s correct. One of Lydia’s cousins (yes, she has cousins in the Mississippi Delta — she’s as shocked as you are) is accused of murdering his father. Her mother wants Lydia to go down and prove his innocence. That he’s innocent isn’t ever in doubt for a moment — he’s related to Lydia’s father, ergo, he’s innocent. Lydia doesn’t accept her mother’s logic, but feels obligated to try to help this cousin she’s never heard of before now, so she and Bill set off for the Delta. It’s simply a dynamite first chapter, and the hook was set immediately.

Upon their arrival, Lydia and Bill find themselves neck deep in a tangled web of history, race, meth, gambling (both your more traditional varieties and purely 21st Century versions), politics and a even more race (it is Mississippi). Lydia’s cousin Jefferson is in his mid-20’s, a computer whiz of some sort with questionable ethics. He’s called to come to his father’s grocery store for some reason — they argue, and Jefferson leaves to cool off. When he returns, he finds his father bleeding out from a knife wound. Naturally, that’s when the police arrive, taking him into custody immediately. He’s bloody, standing over the victim and weapon — and sure, his fingerprints are all over the knife. Seems like an open and shut case, right?

Jefferson’s uncle, Captain Pete, is at the front of the line of those who doubt this — which is why he called his cousin’s widow to get her PI daughter down to help. Pete’s a professional gambler — precisely the kind of person Mrs. Chin wouldn’t like to acknowledge, but is friendly, hospitable and charming. Lydia and Bill warm to him quickly and he becomes a source of comfort as well as a source of information for the duo as they dive in to the investigation. Soon after arriving in Mississippi, they also meet another of Lydia’s cousins — a nephew to Pete, who is running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Lydia can’t believe she’s related to a candidate for governor and she’s never heard of him. What else has her mother been keeping from her? Just from her conversations with Pete and Raymond Tam (the candidate), Lydia’s overwhelmed with family history that she didn’t expect to exist, much less be able to understand it all. It doesn’t derail the work that she and Bill are doing at all, but it threatens to distract her more than once. Adding the candidate into the mix guarantees that the water will get a lot muddier before it starts to become clear.

Lydia’s voice is as strong, engaging and entertaining as ever — possibly better than ever. I want to compare it to vintage Spenser, but that seems wrong (I’m not sure why I want to compare it to Parker at his best or why I shouldn’t — but that’s where I am). She’s funny, she’s smart, she’s insightful, she’s in a very alien place and is doing her best to acclimate. Bill seemed under utilized a little bit this time around — but (as he himself would point out), this was Lydia’s family, her case — he was just around for support. And he did come to her aid at pivotal moments — laying his native Southern accent on a little thick to help pave the way with some of the locals and to diffuse tense situations. Captain Pete is a great character, and I wish he wasn’t designed to be a one-and-done kind of guy, but I can’t see him coming up to Chinatown anytime soon to have tea with Mrs. Chin. Actually, I could easily read another novel or two with this cast — from the Public Defender staff to the people that hang out at the grocery store and all points in between. I’m not sure how Rozan could orchestrate those novels without feeling a bit contrived, but I’d be in for them.(*)

(*) Sure, I’d be in for Lydia and Bill Go Grocery Shopping or Bill and Lydia’s Day at the Recycling Center, but that’s beside the point..

I enjoy tea, but I’m no expert on it — I’m no where near the tea aficionado that Lydia is (even keeping Bill’s cupboards better stocked than he understands), but I loved her reaction to Sweet Tea (not just because I think she’s right). Using food is a great shortcut to revealing character traits, and Rozan does a great job throughout this book, but particularly on this point, of using that peculiar Southern version of tea to show us sides of Lydia.

Rozan’s at her strongest when in addition to the mystery, she’s using the circumstances around it to have Lydia and/or Bill explore another culture/sub-culture. She’s displayed this strength when helping her readers understand the Jewish refugees in the 1930’s who fled to Shanghai (The Shanghai Moon), Hong Kong (in Reflecting the Sky), Small Town High School Football (Winter and Night), the Contemporary Chinese Art scene (Ghost Hero), and so on. Here we get a Yankee perspective on Mississippi black/white relations (and a glance or two at how it differs from neighboring states), as well as a fascinating look at the Chinese in the Mississippi Delta in the late Nineteenth Century (which left me almost as shocked as Lydia). You give us that kind of history and commentary while delivering a solid mystery? It’s hard to ask for more.

As interesting as that is, the heart of the novel is in the idea of family. It’s a strong theme throughout the series, actually — whether it be Lydia’s strong sense of family, or the found family in the partnership of Bill and Lydia — or the many damaged families they encounter in their work. In Paper Son family shapes the warp and woof of the narrative — it’s Mrs. Chin’s confidence in the innocence of her husband’s relations, and Captain Pete’s call for help that brings the duo to the Delta. Lydia fights the impulse to believe Jefferson and Pete (and others) just because they’re family, yet wants thing to be the way her mother believes they are (even when — particularly when — the facts don’t seem to support it). Bill even encounters a fellow Smith, and while no one believes for a second they share anything beyond the name in common, there’s a connection. At it’s core, Paper Son is a story about the sacrifice, support, trust, and dysfunction that comes along from strong family (blood relation or found family) — not to mention all of the unintended consequences of that sacrifice, support, trust and dysfunction. I’m tempted to keep going, but I’d end up revealing too much.

The mystery itself is up to Rozan’s high standards — you may guess the identity of the killer fairly early on (and you may not), but you will not see the motivation coming until it’s past the point of inevitability. The ending feels a little rushed, but I can’t think of a way to improve upon it — and any rush was actually probably just me trying to discover how things would play out. The first half of the denouement with Lydia’s family is heartwarming — and, sure, borderline cheesy, but Rozan earned it. The second half is less cheesy and will fill even jaded readers with hope and joy. It’s just a great way to close the book.

If Paper Son isn’t S. J. Rozan and the series at their best, it’s hard to tell. For book 12 in a series to be this good almost defies the odds, the years that separated this book from it’s predecessor didn’t slow her down a bit (I honestly was afraid we’d be looking at something like Lehane’s return to Kenzie and Genarro in Moonlight Mile after 11 years). Long-time fans will be delighted in the return of this pair. I don’t know that this is the best introduction to the series, but it’d work just fine — you learn everything you need to know here. Fans of PI fiction starring smart, capable (and yes, mouthy) women will find a lot to reward them in these pages.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from W. W. Norton & Company via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Advertisements

State of the Union by Nick Hornby: Love on the rocks, Ain’t no surprise

State of the UnionState of the Union: A Marriage in Ten Parts

by Nick Hornby


Paperback, 132 pg.
Riverhead Books, 2019

Read: June 4, 2019

           [Louise says,] “Underneath it all, I love you.”

“Underneath it all.”

“Yes.”

“Great.”

“To be honest, I think you should be happy with that. You’re lucky there’s anything still there.”

Tom and Louise are in trouble — they’ve been married for years, have kids, and on the outside seem to be doing fine. But the marriage is in trouble — and it has been for awhile. Recent events have demonstrated just how bad the situation is, and Louise has talked Tom into counseling. Each week before their session, they meet in the pub across the street for a quick drink and to talk about what they’ll discuss in the upcoming session — also reacting to the previous session, what’s gone on in the week since, and discuss their future — if such exists.

Ten sessions. Ten very short chapters. More than 10 pints and glasses of white wine. 10 fantastic, intriguing, character revealing, entertaining conversations.

I guess I tipped my hand a bit there, didn’t I? It’s not much of a surprise that I loved this book because it’s written by Nick Hornby. And even when I’m not crazy about the novel in the end, there are few writers out there I enjoy reading as much as Hornby (alas, most of his novels predate this here blog, so you’ll have to take my word for it).

But it’s Hornby that takes what could be a maudlin exercise, a too-jokey experience, or an all-around failure and turns it into an experiment that’s successful, entertaining, and emotionally rich. I see Tom’s point of view, understand his pain and get his reluctance to do the work he needs to. I also understand Louise’s take, I get (don’t approve of, but get) her reaction to Tom, and appreciate her willingness to do the work (while seeing her own weaknesses — at least some of them). A lot of times in this kind of scenario, the reader will end up “taking the side” of one of the characters (frequently the one sharing their gender). But very quickly I noticed that I wasn’t rooting for Tom or Louise here, I was rooting for Tom and Louise.

But best of all? I loved reading their conversations — open, honest (an honesty borne from realizing they’ve got no choice at this point, what could would anything else do?) full of that love that’s “underneath it all” for both. And somehow, still entertaining for the reader.

I typically limit myself to one quotation from a book, but I there’s another I want to share to give a flavor for the way the book works on the mechanical level.

           “How are new starts possible?” Louise says. “When you’ve been together for a long time, and you have kids, and you’ve spent years and years being irritated by the other person? But if they stop being irritating, they’re not them anymore.”

“My text was me not being me.”

“Exactly.”

They walk to the door.

“So I’ve got to stay as me.”

“Yes.”

“While at the same time being different, somehow.”

“It’s a conundrum.”

One, count ’em, one dialogue tag. Five words of description. Which is pretty typical of the book (maybe a little heavy on the description). That’s practically nothing — and dialogue tags pretty much only show up after description so you know who’s starting the back and forth — it could easily be a page or more before the next one. It’s like Hornby’s version of an acoustic recording — a story stripped down to its essence. Maybe that’s not the best metaphor — it’s the literary equivalent of espresso, the bare minimum, concentrated. Ian Shane called it “a literary play.” I like that, too.

The minimalism makes this a deceptively quick and easy read — you start flying through the text, caught up in the conversation and then realize just what it was they’re being breezy about, just in time for a line that emphasizes just what’s at stake.

This was also a show on Showtime recently — ten 10-minute episodes, as I understand. I don’t know which came first — the show or the book. If it was the book, I don’t know that a script would really be necessary — just hand them this book and say “go.” And if it was the other way around, it’d be about the easiest adaptation from a script ever.

At the end of the day, this is exactly what you want from a Nick Hornby book (except the length — I wanted more, always): funny, heartfelt, charming, (seemingly) effortless, and makes you feel a wide range of emotions without feeling manipulated. I loved it, I think you will, too.

Note: I won a copy of this from Riverhead Books via Goodreads — and I thank them both for that. But my library got me a copy first, so I haven’t read it yet. But it will be the copy I re-read (and I think I’ll be doing that a lot).

—–

4 1/2 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

The Definitive (for now) Irresponsible Reader’s take on Charlie and Rose Investigate/Jo Perry

I was a little bummed, I have to admit, when Damppebbles Blog Tours approached me about doing this tour — I’d already said my piece about Dead is Beautiful, so what can I do to help spread the word about this wonderful series. The only thing I can do at this point is make it easier for you to find out more about the boks, so you can order them yourselves. So here’s everything (to date) that I’ve had to say about the series in one handy spot. Hopefully this helps.

(for those that I’ve posted about more than once, I went with the more recent posting, just because I’ve edited and commented on them).

I know you aren’t supposed to use modifiers with words like unique, but I have it break the laws of language with this series: they simply are the most unique books in Crime Fiction. You will not read anything like them – every other Crime Fiction novel I’ve read in the past 6 years (and that’s a lot) can be compared to at least 6 others without breaking a sweat or resorting to my reading logs to aid my memory. The only things I can compare the Charlie and Rose books to are other Charlie and Rose books.

These are special novels, but don’t take my word for it — go learn for yourself.

Dead is BetterDead is Better

My complete take
“This is a fast and lean read — Perry doesn’t waste a word. . . You’ll grow to like Charles, you’ll want to adopt Rose, and you’ll want to finds out what happens to them next.”

4 Stars

Dead is BestDead is Best

My complete take
“Funny, poignant, all-around good story-telling. Plus there’s a dog. You really can’t ask for more than that.”

4 Stars

Dead is GoodDead is Good

My complete take
“For a good mystery with oddly compelling characters, once again, look no further than Jo Perry.”

4 Stars

Dead is BeautifulDead is Beautiful

My complete take
“…this is one of those series that improves as it goes on. These unique protagonists get us to look at life and events in a different kind of way, while reading very different kind of mysteries. I hope I get to keep spending time with them for a long time to come — and I strongly encourage you to join in the fun.”

4 Stars

A Few Quick Questions With…Jo Perry

My Q&A with Jo Perry from February.
“…despite all that I am very late bloomer when it comes to fiction. My first novel, Dead Is Better was published in 2015.

As for a ‘career in fiction,’ I’m not there yet”

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

EXCERPT: Dead is Better by Jo Perry

So in lieu of posting a review-ish post of Dead is Beautiful, I’m doing something better, namely, I’m shutting up. Instead, I’ve been given the first few pages of the first Charlie and Rose book — Dead is Better. Everything you really need to know about the series is here — the epigraphs, the humor, the tragedy, the mix of humor and tragedy, Charlie’s brutal honesty about himself, and Rose. I just re-read this post and had to fight the impulse to re-read the book. I just love this book.

Naturally, when corresponding with Perry this week about this post, I made sure to get the title wrong, because I’m a professional.

“Sometimes dead is better.”

––Stephen King, Pet Sematary

 

“Death is no more than passing from one room into another.

But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.”

––Helen Keller

 

1.

“When the first living thing existed, I was there waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.”

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country

All I know is that I know. And I can’t stop knowing. There was no cinematic replay of my life, no white light, no luminous passage to a perpetual meadow populated by old friends and relatives––I didn’t float over my failing body as the life seeped out.

I couldn’t see a goddamn thing––my eyes were shut.

There was then––the team of EMTs working on me, one applying compressions to the disco beat of the Bee Gees’s “Stayin’ Alive,” and a small young woman with long, curly hair squeezing the breathing bag attached to a plastic tube they’d shoved down my throat. Then a tall young man with short black hair loads me onto a gurney.

That was that.

Bullet holes still interrupt my flesh. My sternum is cracked, my chest bruised yellow and purple from their efforts.

One thing about this place—it’s come as you were.

 

2.

“We do not need to grieve for the dead. Why should we grieve for them? They are now in a place where there is no more shadow, darkness, loneliness, isolation, or pain. They are home.”

John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

No Virgin Mary Blue sky. No combustible darkness.  Just a flash, a bang, and a fade-out that delivered me to this quiet place without midnight or noon, twilight or dawn.  This place, if it is a place—a beach without a sea, a desert without sand, an airless sky.

Did I mention the goddamn dog?

For the record, she wasn’t mine on the other side––which proves that error is built into the fabric of the universe—if that’s where we still are.

No ragged holes singe her gut, and she walks without a limp, but there’s a dirty rope around her neck that trails behind her too-thin body covered with long, reddish fur.  The first moment I saw her, I could tell––She’d been tethered long enough without water or food to die.

Well, she’s not hungry or thirsty now.

Is that peace?

 

3.

“Whatever can die is beautiful — more beautiful than a unicorn, who lives forever, and who is the most beautiful creature in the world. Do you understand me?”

Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

In life I’d heard of dogs like her, cheap burglar alarms.  Solitary, lonely, they bark at passersby and garbage trucks from behind high fences in exchange for water and kibble when the people remember to feed and water them.

They bark out of fear.

And to remind themselves that they in fact exist.

Now that I think about it, I wasn’t much different. A nobody.  A man of no importance.

On the other side, being a nothing had advantages. People barely saw me and that made me free.  I moved among them like a shade, a cipher. And when they did acknowledge whoever they thought I was, they were often revealing, entertaining––overconfident, saying too much about spouses and ex-spouses and email passwords, and what the neighbor’s son really did in the garage, and about not really being married, or the time they shoplifted—confessing, boasting.

Being nothing– that’s my gift

 

4.

When you’re dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

 

In case you wondered, yes. When you’re dead, you can attend your own funeral. It’s not required, but I decided to go––time is unknowable here––to try to find out what happened.  And I thought the dog might like a change of scenery–or any scenery.

I want to look at certain people’s faces, especially my own.

Late morning at Mount Sinai, Hollywood Hills––which should be named Travel Town 2.0. The final resting place of thousands of corpses sits next door to Travel Town, a collection of non-traveling train cars frequented by babysitters, little boys and blinking coyotes who venture out at noon, when the picnickers and homeless eat their food.

The ferocious September heat and smog smudges LA’s edges and boundaries––until it doesn’t seem that different from this place, except that the dog and I are temperature-controlled––perpetually lukewarm, courtesy of Who or What we do not know.

The living––palpable, whole, shiny and fragrant with sweat and irritation––nothing’s worse than LA traffic on a Friday afternoon––remind me of those silvery-mirage-pools that form on the surfaces of overheated streets and then evaporate when you get close. Although it was I who lacks presence, they seem insubstantial, like flames, the men in suffocating dark suits and ties, and the women–especially my four exes––lotioned and gleaming, tucked and tanned, manicured and lap-banded, and holding wads of Kleenex in their diamond-ringed left hands to signify their former closeness to and recent repudiation of the deceased, who lay by himself in a plain wooden box up front.

The dog, whose rope I hold in my right hand, urges me forward, and then waits patiently while I look.

Jesus. Why is the casket open? I look like shit. I must have Mark’s wife “the decorator” to thank for this grotesque violation. Why didn’t they shut the box as is customary, especially here in a Jewish place. What were they trying to prove? That despite being shot to death I was still in some sense, intact?

Was I ever really the poor fuck who lived behind that face?  The neck and chin have been painted with peach make-up, and the too-pink lip-glossed mouth forced into a grimace that was, I guess, supposed to indicate post-mortal composure.  It must have taken three guys at least to wedge my fat ass into the narrow box.  I’m large.

Or I was.

I feel strangely light on my feet now. Want to lose sixty pounds in a hurry?

Die.

Read the rest in Dead is Better by Jo Perry — and the rest of the series: Dead is Best; Dead is Good; and the focus of this tour, the wonderful Dead is Beautiful. .

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Dead is Beautiful by Jo Perry

Today I’m excited to welcome the Book Tour for the funny, clever, tragic and engaging Dead is Beautiful by Jo Perry. I already posted about the book back in February, so along with this spotlight post, I’ve been given a great excerpt to share here in a bit as well as a page that indexes The Irresponsible Reader’s Jo Perry/Charlie and Rose content in one easy to use post.

But first, let’s focus on the book in question here: Dead is Beautiful

Book Details:

Book Title: Dead is Beautiful by Jo Perry
Publisher: Fahrenheit 13
Release date: February 13, 2019
Format: Ebook/Paperback
Length: 268 pages

Book Blurb:

DEAD IS BEAUTIFUL finds Rose leading Charlie from the peace of the afterlife to the place he hates most on earth, “Beverly Fucking Hills,” where a mature, protected tree harboring a protected bird is being illegally cut down.

The tree-assault leads Charlie and Rose to a to murder and to the person Charlie loathes most in life and in death, the sibling he refers to only as “his shit brother,” who is in danger.

Charlie fights-across the borders of life and death–for the man who never fought for him, and with the help of a fearless Scotsman, a beautiful witch, and a pissed-off owl, Charlie must stop a cruel and exploitative scheme and protect his beloved Rose.

About Jo Perry:

Jo PerryJo Perry earned a Ph.D. in English, taught college literature and writing, produced and wrote episodic television, and published articles, book reviews, and poetry.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, novelist Thomas Perry. They have two adult children. Their two dogs are rescues.

Jo is the author of DEAD IS BETTER, DEAD IS BEST, DEAD IS GOOD, and DEAD IS BEAUTIFUL, a dark, comic mystery series from Fahrenheit Press.

Jo Perry’s Social Media:

Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Website ~ https://www.instagram.com/noirjoperry/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Instagram

Purchase Links for Dead is Beautiful:

Fahrenheit Press ~ Amazon UK ~ Amazon US


My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

The Big Kahuna by Janet Evanovich, Peter Evanovich: Jinkies, that was a bad book

The Big KahunaThe Big Kahuna

by Janet Evanovich, Peter Evanovich
Series: Fox and O’Hare, #6

Hardcover, 301 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019

Read: June 5 – 6, 2019

♪ ♫ ♬ Where have you gone, Lee Goldberg
Readers turn their lonely eyes to you
Wu wu wu
What’s that you say, Ms. Evanovich
Lee Goldberg has left and gone away
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey ♬ ♪ ♫

(with apologies to Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Lee Goldberg, Janet Evanovich, Mrs. Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, my parents, teachers, Vogon poets… but dang, I spent a day and a half singing that to myself)

I’ve (purchased and) read all the previous novels at least once, read most of the short stories/novellas, and listened to all of the audiobooks of the series up to this point. I was a fan, maybe not the biggest fan — I expressed issues and reservations from time to time, but I knew I could expect a fun adventure, some fun banter, a little ridiculousness, and a clever crime story when I picked up a Fox and O’Hare novel. But when the inimitable Lee Goldberg departed, I got nervous — Evanovich has slipped in recent years (as I’ve discussed), and I don’t think she cares or notices. Still, I wasn’t sure how much of the success of these books were up to Goldberg and how much was Evanovich finding a spark in new characters that wasn’t there anymore in her Plum franchise/cash cow. Well, I think I’ve solved that mystery to my satisfaction — it was Goldberg.

I’m so, so relieved that I didn’t buy this thing. I’m sorry the local library did, too, although I’m glad I was able to take advantage of this.

First off, there wasn’t much of a con. It’s an adventure story — there was a little bit of a con at the end, but on the whole, there’s no reason for Nick Fox to be around for the whole book. As such, we don’t get most of the team showing up. Only Kate’s father, Jake, comes along.

Which is fitting, really — he belongs in adventure story. His basic approach of this retired guy who can pull off the occasional save with military equipment/connections while not liking to talk about that kind of thing has been exchanged for an older super-soldier that gives no evidence of being reticent about anything or all that old.

A new member of the team is introduced — he’s supposed to be the voice of reason keeping the destruction of private property to a minimum, and to do all the paperwork that Kate seems to ignore. First I think they did this already, and it didn’t work too well (the character was alright, but a dufus — I can’t remember if it was the same guy or not). Secondly, Kate — not their boss — told him about the super-secret arrangement with Nick Fox while in Fox’s presence and in a very casual manner. It just felt sloppy. Lastly, the character is the least-realistic character I think this series has ever produced — there’s no universe in which he makes it as an FBi agent for a month — much less be expected to be an agent that can keep things going well for this partnership.

There are a bunch of non-criminal types that really don’t need to be around but keep showing up anyway — they aren’t amusing, they aren’t well-conceived characters, they’re around to complicate plots and to be funny. They rarely succeed at the latter.

The primary villain (who I won’t name because he’s not revealed for quite a while) wasn’t actually that bad, and if they’d used him better, I wouldn’t be complaining about it at all. He just didn’t get the chance to be anything but briefly intimidating and then a pawn for Nick and Kate (making you wonder if he really wasn’t that intimidating after all). His primary accomplice was the person who did most of the work. She seemed half-baked (maybe three-quarters), and wasn’t all that convincing — her scheme (for lack of a better term) didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Her henchmen were pathetic and uninteresting.

Nick Fox . . . was a shell of the character. He’d traded in his usual between-assignment shenanigans for some dumb scheme about social media coaching, using a pseudonym that showed none of the panache characteristic of Fox. There was little reason for him to be around for most of the book, other than to make bad advances toward Kate.

Kate, meanwhile, seemed less competent than usual. A bit more clueless about criminal activity and Nick Fox, and fairly dependent on her father for the more action-hero-y stuff. Which didn’t seem right, either. She said “jinkies” so much I wondered if she’d been Velma in a previous life — a trait I don’t remember belonging to her. Of all the characters, she seemed more herself than the others — still, she seemed off.

The relationship between the Kate and Nick really doesn’t make sense. Some of what’s said between the two of them makes me think that this volume takes place between Books 3 & 4 rather than after Book 5. Although that makes the whole explanation for Cosmo even worse, because I think it was Book 3 that got Kate shackled with the paperwork partner last time. The last chapter of The Big Kahuna takes the nice relationship that was developing between the two protagonists during the Evanovich/Goldberg run and ruins it — and ruins the timeline, too. If this takes place after Book 5, it’s meaningless (as is a lot of what happened before). If it takes place after book 3 (which makes the most sense), it ruins the arc of 4 and 5. Then again, it’s not like the Plum books have a real timeline, it looks like the Evanovich2 run will follow that. It’s not about development anymore, it’s not about growth of character or relationship — it’s about churning out books that’ll sell.

The whole thing felt like a Stephanie Plum book that Stephanie, Joe and Ranger forgot to show up for — but reasonable facsimiles thereof did. One of the great things about the previous novels is that they didn’t feel like Evanovich, or completely like a Goldberg. That’s out the window. And the book, en toto, suffered for it.

I’ve spent far more time and space on this post than I intended to (and still haven’t touched all my notes), so let me wrap this up. A year or two back after I spent time critiquing a book that I gave two stars to, one of my readers asked if I gave that novel 2, what would it take to get a 1? I said a book would have to make me mad, not just disappoint. Probably, on merit, I should give this two stars — there were some good moments, I have to admit (although while writing this, I seem to have forgotten them). But as I was thinking about that, I remembered that conversation, and well…this book as made me mad. It took a solid and reliably entertaining series, with good characters and ruined them. Just ruined them. I might give it one more try, just to see if they learned anything from this disaster (my guess is that sales won’t suffer much and they’ll learn nothing). But, without a different co-author, I can’t imagine why anyone would read these books again.

—–

1 Star

2019 Library Love Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger ChallengeHumor Reading Challenge 2019

Don’t Panic by Neil Gaiman, David K. Dickson and MJ Simpson: An Indispensable Guide to Douglas Adams and his Work

I’d intended to get this up and ready for Towel Day last week — but, obviously, I failed. Schemes once again, Gang aft a-gley. It’s pretty fitting, really that this is late.

Don't PanicDon’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Third Edition)

by Neil Gaiman; Additional Material by David K. Dickson & MJ Simpson
Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy (related)

Hardcover, 207 pg.
Titan Books, 2003
Read: May 22 – 23, 2019

          
The idea in question bubbled into Douglas Adams’s mind quite spontaneously, in a field in Innsbruck. He later denied any personal memory of it having happened. But it’s the story he told, and, if there can be such a thing, it’s the beginning. If you have to take a flag reading THE STORY STARTS HERE and stick it into the story, then there is no other place to put it.

It was 1971, and the eighteen year-old Douglas Adams was hitch-hiking his way across Europe with a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europethat he had stolen (he hadn’t bothered ‘borrowing’ a copy of Europe on $5 a Day, he didn’t have that kind of money).

He was drunk. He was poverty-stricken. He was too poor to afford a room at a youth hostel (the entire story is told at length in his introduction to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts in England, and The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy in the US) and he wound up, at the end of a harrowing day, flat on his back in a field in Innsbruck, staring up at the stars. “Somebody,” he thought, “somebody really ought to write a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

He forgot about the idea shortly thereafter.

Five years later, while he was struggling to think of a legitimate reason for an alien to visit Earth, the phrase returned to him. The rest is history, and will be told in this book.

I distinctly remember purchasing the first edition of Don’t Panic from BookPeople of Moscow in the fall of 1991 — I remember being blown away by the idea that someone would write a book about Douglas Adams’ work. I had no idea who this Neil Gaiman fellow was, but I enjoyed his writing and loved the book he wrote — and read it several times. It was a long time (over 2 decades) before I thought of him as anything but “that guy who wrote the Hitchhiker’s book.” The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy had been a favorite of mine for years by that point, and getting to look behind the scenes of it was like catnip.

This is the third edition, and as is noted by Gaiman in the Forward, it “has been updated and expanded twice.” The completist in me would like to find a second edition to read the original 3 chapters added by David K. Dickson in 1993, but the important change was in 2002, when “MJ Simpson wrote chapters 27-30, and overhauled the entire text.” If you ask me, Gaiman’s name should be in the smaller print and Simpson’s should be the tall letters on the cover — but no publisher is that stupid, if you get the chance to claim that Neil Gaiman wrote a book, you run with it. Overhauled is a kind way of putting it — there’s little of the original book that I recognize (I’m going by memory only, not a side by side comparison). This is not a complaint, because Simpson’s version of the book is just as good as the original, it’s just not the original.

This is a little more than the story of The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, but it’s certainly not a biography of Adams — maybe you could call it a professional biography. Or a biography of Adams the creator, which only touches upon the rest of his life as needed. Yes there are brief looks at his childhood, schooling, etc. But it primarily focuses on his writing, acting, producing and whatnot as the things that led to that revolutionary BBC Radio series and what happened afterward. Maybe you could think of it as the story of a man’s lifelong battle to meet a deadline and the lengths those around him would go to help him not miss it too much.

Once we get to the Radio series, it follows the The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy through each incarnation and expansion — talking about the problems getting it produced (in whatever medium we’re talking about — books, TV show, movie, stage show) and the content. Then the book discusses other Adams projects — Dirk Gently books, The Last Chance to See, his computer work, and other things like that.

It’s told with a lot of cheek, humor, and snark — some of the best footnotes and appendices ever. It’s not the work of a slavish fanboy (or team of them) — there are critical moments talking about problems with some of the books (some of the critiques are valid, others might be valid, but I demur). But it’s never not told with affection for the man or his work.

Don’t Panic is a must for die-hard fans — and can be read for a lot of pleasure by casual fans of the author or his work. I can almost promise that whatever your level of devotion to or appreciation of Adams/his work, it’ll increase after reading this. Any edition of this book should do — but this third edition is an achievement all to itself. Imagine someone being able to say, “I improved on Gaiman’s final draft.”

I loved it, I will return to this to read as well as to consult for future things I write about Adams, and recommend it without hesitation.

—–

5 Stars

Humor Reading Challenge 2019