Opening Lines – Dead Beat

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here. Dare you not to read the rest of the book.

On the whole, we’re a murderous race.

According to Genesis, it took as few as four people to make the planet too crowded to stand, and the first murder was a fratricide. Genesis says that in a fit of jealous rage, the very first child born to mortal parents, Cain, snapped and popped the first metaphorical cap in another human being. The attack was a bloody, brutal, violent, reprehensible killing. Cain’s brother Abel probably never saw it coming.

As I opened the door to my apartment, I was filled with a sense of empathic sympathy and intuitive understanding.

For freaking Cain.

from Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

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The Midnight Line by Lee Child

The Midnight LineThe Midnight Line

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher, #22

Hardcover, 368 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2017

Read: November 23 – 24, 2017

“But this particular guy won’t talk to me?”

“I would be surprised.

“Does he have no manners?”

“I wouldn’t ask him over to a picnic.”

“What’s his name?”

“Jimmy Rat.”

”For real?”

“That’s what he goes by.”

“Where would I find Mr. Rat?”

“Look for a minimum six Hariey-Davidsons. Jimmy will be in whatever bar they‘re outside of.”

Three days after Make Me, Reacher hits the road — and a few hours into that, he’s already trying to track someone down. That conversation leads to the following:

There was a bar in a standalone wooden building, with a patch of weedy gravel for parking, and on the gravel were 7 Harley-Davidsons, all in a neat line. Possibly not actual Hells Angels as such. Possibly one of the many other parallel denominations. Bikers were as split as Baptists. All the same, but different.

(don’t worry, I’m not going to tell the whole story in this detail, I just really enjoyed the writing here).

Reacher goes into the bar and then has a pleasant chat with a member of the local law enforcement community and a productive chat with Mr. Rat. In between those chats he may have engaged in a physical confrontation with the owners of those motorcycles, I’ll let you guess what happened there. It was fun to read, I assure you. What led to him looking for Jimmy the Rat? Pretty simply, he saw a female West Point class ring in a pawn shop window. That’s not an easy thing to earn/deserve. Reacher figures that there’s got to be an interesting story behind such a ring ending up in a pawn shop — and maybe some fellow alumnus needs a hand, one that he can give. Jimmy the Rat is just the first link in a chain of indeterminate length back to this graduate.

Because he’s not an idiot, Jimmy points Reacher in the right direction: a laundromat in Rapid City. Also, because he’s not an idiot, before Reacher is on his way, Jimmy calls in a warning to that laundromat. Jimmy’s a rat, but he’s a survivor, too. This laundromat is owned by a guy named Scorpio, who is absolutely not Rapid City PD’s favorite small-business owner, if they could, they’d shut him down. This warning phone call, they hope, will be the harbinger of something — his downfall, or something to give them enough ammunition to arrange his arrest and downfall. Either way, the PD is fine.

Reacher has a quick conversation with Scorpio, who also points him in a direction. Reacher interacts a bit with a member of the local PD about him, as well — pointing out something that someone should’ve noticed already. There’s a PI who’s also pretty interested in Scorpio, but Reacher doesn’t get to chat with him, at least not then. When he turns up in Wyoming a few hours behind Reacher, on the other hand . . .

Reacher ends up with one of the stranger ad hoc teams he’s had to track down this woman — and the extra-legal steps he has to take to help her aren’t in his normal wheelhouse. But you go the extra mile for some people, and it’s definitely in-character and understandable for him to do what he does. There’s some interesting introspection early-on that I’m not used to seeing, and hope we get more of.

Here’s a major weakness to me (normally, I’d shrug this off, but Child gets held to a higher standard): too many people don’t know what “Bigfoot” is. If this took place in the UK or France or something, I could buy it. But in South Dakota? Sorry, not buying it.

The Midnight Line features more female characters than your typical Reacher novel — and none of them are damsels in distress. Yeah, most of them need a little help — but so do the males. Reacher’s life is even saved by one of the women. These are all strong, confident and capable women — not that the Reacher novels have ever been lacking in that regard, we just don’t normally get that many of them at once.

I don’t keep a spreadsheet or any kind of detailed notes on these things, but this might be one of the least violent Reacher novels ever. Make no mistake, Reacher has not turned into a pacifist and when he needs to punch, elbow, kick or headbutt (so soon after the concussion tests? tsk.) he does so very effectively, but I just think his count is a bit low this time).

Also, thanks Andy Martin, “Reacher said nothing.” now jumps out at me every time it shows up. How it never jumped out at me before, I’ll never know — but wow.

I really enjoyed this — it didn’t blow me away in the same way that Make Me did, but very little does. It was a lot better than Night School, however. Reacher’s knight-errant act is as satisfying as ever — maybe even moreso in this conclusion that features more details on his acts of compassion than his violence (the last violent act happening “off-screen,” although we get to see the aftermath). It was a fast read, full of action, great scenery and believable bad guys. I can’t think of much else to say — Reacher fans should love this, people new to Reacher should finish this with a desire to plunder the back-list, and everyone will start counting the days to #23.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

Pub Day Repost: The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Jesse Stone, #16
eARC, 352 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
Read: July 3 – 5, 2017

On the one hand, I know that Coleman is a pro, and that he’s going to approach each series, each character from a different angle. But he’s so effective at writing a broken, grieving Gus Murphy, that you have to expect a grieving Jesse Stone to be written as effectively and with a similar depth. Which gave me a little pause when it came to cracking this one open — how much of a mess would Jesse be?

Big. A big mess.

Still, I was chuckling within a few pages — Jesse’s pursuing a path to self-destruction unlike any he’s had before, even that which cost him his career with the LAPD, but at his core he’s still the same guy we’ve been reading for 20 years. He may not care about himself (or at least he wants to punish himself), but Suit, Molly, and the rest of Paradise. When push comes to shove, he’ll do what he has to do. Some times he might need prompting, however.

But let’s set that aside for the moment — there are essentially two stories involving Jesse and the PPD. There’s the titular sonnet — a reference to a legendary lost recording by Massachusetts’ answer to Bob Dylan, Terry Jester. Sometime after this recording, Jester pulled a J. D. Salinger and disappeared from the public eye. Jester is about to turn 75, and a large birthday gala is being planned on Stiles Island. Jesse has to consult with Jester’s manager, PR agent and the chief of security for the island. Jesse can’t stand this idea — he can’t stand much to do with Stiles Island — he just doesn’t want to put up with the hassle, the celebrities, the distraction from the typical duties of PPD. But he doesn’t have much choice — for one, there will need to be something done to deal with the traffic, celebrities, and what not; but Jesse also has to deal with the mayor’s political aspirations. And you don’t get very far without the support (and money) of celebrities and the positive media coverage that kind of thing should bring.

On the other end of the spectrum, an elderly woman has been found dead in her bed, but under suspicious circumstances. She has deep ties to the history of Paradise, causing her death to grab more headlines than it might otherwise. Did I mention the mayor’s political aspirations? Well, the last thing she needs is an unsolved murder when she’s trying to cash in on the media attention that Jester’s celebration will bring. So she starts applying pressure to Jesse. When Jesse starts to think there’s a link between her death and the hunt for The Hangman’s Sonnet master recording, the pressure — and the urge to drink — increases for Paradise’s Police Chief. Thanks to the Law of Interconnected Monkey Business, the reader knew there was likely a link all along, so I don’t think I gave away too much there.

That right there would be enough to get me to read and probably recommend. But you add Coleman’s writing into the mix and you’ve got yourself a winner. There’s a wonderful passage where Jesse meditates on the beauty of the accessories to his drinking — the different glasses, the bottles, the rituals. The mystery was solid work — and I was close to figuring everything out, but not close enough. When the final reveal was made, I felt pretty stupid, all the pieces were there I just didn’t assemble them correctly. There were a couple of “red shirt” criminals early on that were so well written, that even when you know they’re not going to stick around too long, you get invested in them (one of them had a death scene fairly early that most writers would let be predictable — and the death was — but the way that Coleman wrote it got me highlighting and making notes). Coleman even does something that Parker said he couldn’t do.

I won’t say that everything that happened during Debt to Pay has been dealt with thoroughly — it hasn’t. But, most of the characters have been able to get a degree of resolution and closure that means they can move forward. Not perfectly, perhaps, but honestly. Jesse, in particular, might come back for book 17 in a significantly better place (or at least significantly different) — but the core will be there, and woe on any criminal that steps foot into Paradise.

Great character moments; slow, organic development; and top-notch writing. Coleman delivers again, continuing to take the foundation laid by Parker and building on it in a way that’s true to the spirit of the world Parker created, but brought to us with a newfound depth.

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

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Summer Knight (Audiobook) by Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Summer Knight (Audiobook)Summer Knight

by Jim Butcher, James Marsters (Narrator)
Series: The Dresden Files, #4
Unabridged Audiobook, 11 hrs and 12 mins
Buzzy Multimedia Publishing Corp., 2009

Read: August 23 – 25, 2017


So, we get more information on the White Council (not just the vague references in the first couple of books and our buddy Morgan the Warden), as well as our introduction to the Fae Courts. Throw in everything we learned about Marcone in book 2, vampires in book 3, and what we’re about to learn in book 5 and we’ll have fully established the world of Harry Dresden. And wow, what a world.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We start off with dealing with the war Harry was tricked into instigating in the last book, he’s got assassins after him — but thankfully, Billy’s got his back. A friendship has developed between Harry, Billy and the rest of Billy’s pack since Fool Moon which is pretty cool to see. Even if Harry’s too blinded by his obsessive need to cure Susan’s vampirism to see things like friendship, self-destructive lifestyle, and whatnot. Billy’s also minding the store for Harry and has made an appointment for him to meet with a new client.

Harry doesn’t want a new client — but he’s about run out of money and is looking at the business end of evictions soon, so he’d better. He doesn’t want this new client either, for reasons you can read/listen to for yourself, but she doesn’t leave him much of a choice.

Before he can get too carried away with dealing with this, he has to attend a meeting of the White Council — where he will be a major topic of conversation, thanks to the vampire war. Which isn’t going too well for the Wizards. We meet some great characters at this meeting, including Harry’s [spoiler] and mentor, Ebenezar McCoy. McCoy is a hoot — Marsters (no surprise) nails his character, by the way — he’s just one of those guys you like from the moment you meet him on the page and your appreciation for him only increases. In the end, the Council basically puts Harry to a test — if he doesn’t pass, they hand him over to the vampires; if he does, things continue on the way they are now — and if he dies in the process, well, that’ll be inconvenient. The test, naturally, involves him taking the above client he doesn’t want.

In a nutshell, a member of one of the Fae Courts has been killed and Harry has a couple of days until the Summer Solstice to find out who did it. Otherwise, the balance of power between the Courts will shift and war break out. A war that’ll pretty much decimate the planet’s climate in ways that Al Gore couldn’t imagine. Which is a bad thing for us humans. So pretty much, Harry has to solve a murder, stop a war/save the earth, while dodging assassins, skeptical wizards, and who knows what else or he’ll be tortured and killed by vampires after being abandoned by his people. In just a couple of days.

Oh, and a long-lost (and assumed dead) person from Harry’s past shows up in the middle of all this, too.

No big deal, right? Poor, poor Harry. It’s a fun adventure (for the reader), the mystery story is decent, the adversaries are fantastic — and the new characters (even those we never see again, sniff) are great additions to what’s just a great cast.

I mentioned the friendship of Billy and Harry earlier — we get a lot of it in this book, Billy’s along for most of the adventure, and he’s really turning into someone Harry can count on. Karrin Murphy gets some great action, too — and Harry finally clues her into what’s going on re: Fae, Vampires, White Council, etc. You know, keeping the promise he made to himself at the end of book 2. Well done, Dresden. I can’t fail to mention Toot Toot — he’s come a long way since we met him in Storm Front, in no small way thanks to Harry.

I’m talking about an audiobook now, so I really should say something about James Marsters’ work. I’m just going to sound like a broken record, though, if I do. I’m trying to think if I wasn’t that impressed with anything, or if there was something in particular that I thought he did well, and I can’t come up with anything. I really enjoyed his Bob in Summer Night — nothing different in the characterization, I don’t think, but it just came to life in a particular way. Also, he captured the very strong sense of fatigue, of being at the end of his rope that so defined Harry in these pages.

This wasn’t my favorite book — although I really enjoyed it on the whole — and really relished reliving the establishment of the Council and Courts in the series. While I thoroughly enjoyed the stuff in Wal-Mart (for example), it went on too long and wasn’t worth it to the story. There were a few too many moments like that in this book for my taste — fun in and of themselves, but ultimately, time wasted, so I’ll knock this down a star. Also, it proves that as much of a mindless fan-boy I can tend to be about this series, I’m a little discerning. A little.

—–

4 Stars

Grave Peril (Audiobook) by Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Grave Peril (Audiobook)Grave Peril

by Jim Butcher, James Marsters (Narrator)
Series: The Dresden Files, #3
Unabridged Audiobook, 11 hrs and 59 mins
Buzzy Multimedia Publishing Corp., 2009

Read: July 6 – 8, 2017


Wow. There’s just so much going on in this book — so much that sets things in motion that are still shaping the series. Once a series goes on as long as this one, it’s easy to mix up your internal timeline about what happens when — this reread really exposed how much I’ve done for The Dresden Files. I don’t know how many times I asked, “Wait, what? That happens now? I thought it was ____”

Anyway, we start this one with Harry and Michael on their way to rescue a Maternity Ward full of newborns from a ghost. It takes practically no time at all for Butcher to establish Michael, his relationship with Harry, and place in this world. I gotta say, I was shocked at how easy Butcher made that look — a sure sign that it wasn’t effortless for him. Michael is one of my first examples to use when people tell me that paladins are dull characters. I could go on about this particular Knight of the Cross, but no one has that kind of thing.

It’s not just the witch in the hospital, there are angry ghosts all over town — and much more powerful than they normally are. Something’s afoot, and Harry’s having some trouble figuring out what. It does seem to be targeting Harry, Murphy and some others that were with them when they took down a criminal a few months earlier.

Meanwhile, Bianca is up to something, and Harry’s too distracted by the ghosts to figure it out, which will prove to be very bad. On the other hand, he meets Thomas Raith because of this — and that’s good for us readers, as much as the rest of the night his horrible for Harry.

There is just so much that goes wrong here, you have to feel sorry for Harry. Which is not to say that everything goes wrong, Harry unleashes quite a bit of magic in this one — more than we’ve seen so far (because of reasons), but there are consequences for this — consequences that it’ll take years for Dresden to clean up.

Marsters . . . pick your superlative and apply it to his work here.

A lot of fun, a lot of heart, a lot of evil, a lot of pain. If this isn’t where this series comes together and fulfills the promise of the premise, it’s darn close.

—–

5 Stars

Whispers Under Ground (Audiobook) by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Whispers Under Ground (Audiobook)Whispers Under Ground

by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Narrator)
Series: The Rivers of London, #3

Unabridged Audioboook, 10 hrs., 17 min.
Tantor Media, 2012

Read: July 24 – August 5, 2017


Okay . . . man, how to sum this one up. Peter, Lesley and Abigail Kamara (a teen-aged neighbor of Peter’s parents) go down into the tunnels of the Underground to look for ghosts, and find one. What we learn here will be important come The Furthest Station. This is a fun little foray into the wider supernatural world of this series.

And then we get back to police work — a man is stabbed at the Baker Street tube and there’s enough for Stephanopoulis to bring in Peter just to rule out magic. Which he can’t do. It turns out that the victim is an American, which makes everything unnecessarily complicated. And then it turns out that he’s the son of a US Senator, and things get worse. The FBI sends an agent — Kimberly Reynolds — over to help out/observe/get in the way. So Peter has to handle to non-normal side of the investigation, keep Seawoll from having to hear about magic (because it interferes with actual police work in his mind), and not let Reynolds know that there’s anything not run-of-the-mill about Peter and the investigation. All at the same time.

Very quickly, it seems clear that there’s something going on that Peter and the rest just don’t get. Yeah, magic was involved in the killing, but there’s no real trace of it in the victim’s life — not with him, his school, his friends, his enemies, or anything. So where’s that come into play? The answer comes when it’s least expected and in a direction that was impossible to predict.

Aaronovich really pulled a rabbit out of his hat this time. Sure, he made both the rabbit and the hat, so it’s to be expected that he’d do that. But, there’s just something about the way he did this one — police procedural that accidentally turns up the answers and leads to something bigger than anyone expected. A great balance of UF and Procedural (the last one was a bit too light on the procedural for me).

Guleed doesn’t get enough to do, but I liked her presence. Lesley really gets to shine a bit here, and her inability to be a regular part of the police force is underlined here for her and Peter — and just how horrible that is emphasized throughout. When Stephanopoulis is the rational, supportive authority figure for Peter (other than Nightingale), you know that Seawoll is a little over the top in his antagonism to all things Folly. But mostly, this was about characters we know and like getting to do things to keep us liking them, and probably liking them more while introducing some new figures for us to enjoy.

Really, the main take away I had from this audio production was a bit of joy over the fact that Holdbrook-Smith isn’t perfect. His Agent Reynolds was just bad. At least the American accent part of it. I enjoyed his flubbing of that more than I should have. Meanwhile, everything else he did was just fantastic — especially Lesley. The range of emotion, sarcasm, etc. that he can put into her voice while still accounting for her lack of face is just incredible. Also, Zach Palmer — the roommate of the murder victim — was just hilarious. I know a lot of that was in the text, but the way Holdbrook-Smith brought him to life was wonderful.

As impressed as I was with the way that Aaronvich did everything he did, something about this one didn’t work for me as much as others in the series do (either in this re-read or originally). I’m not sure why. Still, this was a good, entertaining book that anyone who likes the concept of a Police Officer/Wizard in training should enjoy.

—–

3.5 Stars

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

The Late ShowThe Late Show

by Michael Connelly
Series: Renée Ballard, #1

Hardcover, 405 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2017

Read: July 17 – 22, 2017


Det. Renée Ballard works the graveyard shift out of the Hollywood Station, nicknamed the Late Show. She and her partner, the veteran detective John Jenkins, are basically place-holders — they handle the initial investigation of a crime (or sign off on a suicide) and then hand off their notes to one of the other detective squads that work days. It’s not demanding work — Jenkins likes it because there’s almost no overtime, and he can go home and be with his sick wife during the day. Ballard is stuck on the Late Show because she made some political waves a couple of years back, she couldn’t be fired over it, they could just make sure she found the prospect of another line of work appealing.

We meet Ballard on a pretty eventful night, she and Jenkins look into an elderly woman’s report of her purse being stolen and people using her credit cards; the vicious assault of a transvestite prostitute; and are involved in a minor role following a night club shooting. She and her partner are supposed to be turning over their involvement in these cases to someone else, but Ballard just can’t let go. She works the murder under the radar (as much as she can), gets permission to keep at the assault (which should not be construed as her investigating it according to Hoyle), and is brought back into the robbery organically — I stress this because it’s not all about Ballard skirting regulations, she works within (or near) the system.

Connelly constructs this like a pro — weaving the storylines into a good, cohesive whole. Each story feels like it gets enough time to be adequately told (without the same amount of space being devoted to each), there’s no grand way to connect them all into one, larger crime (which I almost always enjoy, but this is a bit more realistic), while something she learns on one case can be applied to another.

There’s one point where I thought that a plot development meant “oh, now we’re going to wrap things up now — cool.” Which I never would have thought if I bothered to pay attention to which page I was on, but it still seemed like the point that most writers would wrap it up. Instead, Connelly plays things out the way you expect, and then uses that to turn the novel in a different direction.

The book is full of nice little touches like that — Connelly’s been around enough that he knows all the tricks, knows all the plays — he can give you exactly what you think he will and then have the result come up and Connelly’s you.

In the future, I’d like to see a little more about Jenkins — but then again, how much did Connelly really develop Jerry Edgar or Kiz? Still, this is a new series, so he can develop things a bit more — I don’t think there’s a lot that can be done with Jenkins, but he can be more than just the guy who splits paper work with her. I hope that [name withheld] doesn’t become Ballard’s Irving, but I can think of worse things that might happen, so I won’t complain. I also hoped I’d get out of this with only 1 bit of comparison to the Bosch books. Oops.

The best thing — the most important thing — to say here is that Renée Ballard is not a female Harry Bosch; all too often, an established crime writer will end up creating a gender-flipped version of their primary character — basically giving us “X in a skirt” (yeah, I’m looking at you, Sunny Randall). This isn’t the case here. There’s a different emotional depth to Ballard, different lifestyles, different aspirations. Sure, she’s driven, stubborn, and obstinate, just like Harry — but name one fictional detective that isn’t driven, stubborn and obstinate. Readers don't show up in droves for slackers. Is there plenty of room for development and growth for Ballard in the future? Oh yeah. She's not perfect by any means (as a fictional character or as a person). But what a great start.

Same can be said for the series, not just the character — this book does a great job of capturing L.A. (an aspect of it at least), has a great plot, with enough turns to keep the reader satisfied, and a final reveal that's truly satisfying. The last thing that Connelly really needed was to start something new — but I'm glad he decided to.

—–

4 Stars