The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh

The BlindsThe Blinds

by Adam Sternbergh

Hardcover, 382 pg.
Ecco, 2017

Read: August 17 – 19, 2017


I just finished this and am not sure how to talk about it. I don’t know what I can say without ruining things, so I’m just going to copy and paste from Sternbergh’s page:

Welcome to Caesura, Tx, aka The Blinds, a dusty town in the Texas Panhandle cut off from the outside world and populated entirely by former criminals and witnesses put in protective custody. The twist: None of these people know who they are, because all of them have had their memories of their pasts erased. All the better to give them a fresh start and a second chance. But one thing is clear to them: If they leave the Blinds, they will end up dead.

For eight years, Sheriff Calvin Cooper has kept an uneasy peace—but after a suicide and a murder in quick succession, the town’s residents revolt. Cooper has his own secrets to protect, so when his new deputy starts digging, he needs to keep one step ahead of her—and the mysterious outsiders who threaten to tear the whole place down. The more he learns, the more the hard truth is revealed: The Blinds is no sleepy hideaway. It’s simmering with violence and deception, aching heartbreak and dark betrayals.

If I say one more thing about the plot/premise I’m afraid that I’ll ruin things for you. The book starts off with a whole lot of exposition, setting up the world (well, town, to be accurate) it takes place in — but Sternberg works that in well with the plot, so it doesn’t get bogged down with the exposition. Then once the dominoes are all set up, he knocks them down and you just sit back and watch.

But you don’t actually sit back — you lean forward in your seat and turn the pages quickly. At one point there are four or five conflicting plans at work, and it’s a footrace to see which will get accomplished first (and hopefully not get supplanted by another). At times it seems like any of them will end up working out — they’re all plausible.

It’s just so great. So compelling. Such a fun ride.

Yeah, the characters could be a bit more fully-developed, but that’s hard when part of their history, part of their personality — part of them — has been deleted. So, I’m not sure I can actually complain about that. We do get plenty about who the characters are in the here and now — definitely enough to get you invested in them.

In this driving plot, there’s some exploration of the nature of memory, of personality, of the nature of man, of evil. There’s some moments of triumph, of despair, heartbreak, and more than a couple of instances of “what??” You will learn a Russian phrase that will chill you to your bone and you will be ever so happy that Sternberg found gainful employment in journalism rather than turning to a life of crime.

On page 119, I wrote, “I’m either going to hate this ending or I’m going to be recommending this book for months.” And I didn’t hate it — Sternberg’s got another winner here. If his Shovel Ready wasn’t your thing, this is different enough that you should give it a shot. He’s got a strong voice, a twisted imagination and a knack for story telling — this book as secured him a place on my “auto-read” list.

Just go read the thing, I’m going to stop before I ruin something.

—–

4 1/2 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

Saturday Miscellany – 8/19/17

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to Shaun Hume, dreamnoiseblog, Alice @ Arctic Books and thrillersuspense for following the blog this week.

Let it Bleed by Ian Rankin

Let it BleedLet it Bleed

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus,, #7

Hardcover, 287 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 1996

Read: August 9 – 10, 2017

He stood there shivering after the warmth of the pub and his car. He was a few yards from where the boys had jumped. The area was cordoned off with metal barriers, anchored by sandbags. Two yellow metal lamps marked off the danger area. Someone had climbed over the barriers and laid a small wreath next to the broken rail, weighing it down with a rock so it wouldn’t be blown away. He looked up at the nearest of the two vast supports, red lights blinking at its summit as a warning to aircraft. He didn’t really feel very much, except a bit lonely and sorry for himself. The Forth was down there, as judgmental as Pilate. It was funny the things that could kill you: water, a ship’s hull, steel pellets from a plastic case. It was funny that some people actually chose to die.

“I could never do it,” Rebus said out loud. “I couldn’t kill myself.”

Which didn’t mean he hadn’t thought of it. It was funny the things you thought about some nights. It was all so funny, he felt a lump forming in his throat. It’s only the drink, he thought. It’s the drink makes me maudlin. It’s only the drink.

Yeah, right.

Before we get to this moment of self-deception (or self-mockery, it could go either way with his sense of humor), we’re treated to what’s quite possibly the most action-packed few pages in the series thus far — more happens in the first 6 pages of this novel than can happen in chapters of Rebus novels. Two suspected kidnappers are leading the police on a high-speed chase, and no one’s relishing it more than Chief Inspector Frank Lauderdale. No one’s hating it more than Inspector John Rebus. Things go really bad from there, but not in the way that anyone expects (least of all the reader, as jaded as we might be from too many crime novels).

While the police are still trying to sort out what exactly happened there, a man walks into a (poorly attended) public meeting with a Councilman and shoots himself in front of the Councilman. Once Rebus visits the widow, something starts bugging him. There’s just something wrong with that suicide (more than just what has to be wrong to lead to a suicide). Rebus starts asking some questions. Before he realizes it, he’s investigating two incidents of suicide connected to two Councilmen.

And then pressure comes down on Rebus to stop. Which works about as well as you’d think. He’s “encouraged” to take a few days of leave, which he uses to dive in without restraints to get his answers. This series as dabbled in political intrigue, power brokering and the like before, Let it Bleed takes it up a notch. What can happen to Rebus if he falters — or what can happen to him if he makes all the right people happy — shows that he’s in a whole other league now.

And then after all the action at the beginning of the novel, Rankin gives us an incredibly talky ending. And it works. Not many novels about police officers or detectives end with as much dialogue, as many meetings, as this does, but it’s entirely satisfying. No one’ll be sitting there for the last couple of chapters just wishing for a car chase, a gun fight, or anything like that. Rebus being smarter, wilier, and unwilling to bend is what makes this ending not only inevitable, but just what the reader needs.

There are a lot of criminals in this novel, but most of them aren’t your typical mystery novel “bad guys.” They’re guys who take advantage of the system, manipulate the system, and then try to protect their assets (that last one is the most problematic). There are textbook villains — and not all of them pay for it — but with Rebus around, you know that some justice will be meted out.

Our favorites are back — so is Patience — Rebus’ daughter’s back in Edinburgh, on her own now. Siobhan Clarke, Farmer Watson, Gill Templer, and Brian Holmes all are involved. Clarke is the most interesting, yet again, her determinism and ability to stay (pretty much) in line with her superiors while helping Rebus make her a fun character to spend time with. She’s more involved in these cases than she has been in the past — and it’s good to see Rebus having someone allied with him. Thankfully, she’s a good police officer, too. Because, honestly, Rebus is a horrible police detective. He’s just too much of a lone wolf, too intuitive, not the kind of detective you want building a case for you. With Templer, Farmer and Clarke around, at least he’s got some good, capable help.

A gripping, tense, intriguing, and frequently funny, novel. Let it Bleed is just a great book. This series has been growing on me, little by little for seven books now, that’s pretty clear. Let it Bleed is above and beyond the best of the bunch, and I am looking forward to what’s coming up.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Release Day Blitz: Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer

~ Release Day Blitz ~
Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer
12th August, 2017
Long before the times of Draupadi and Sita
Immortalised in the hymns of the Rig Veda
But largely forgotten to the memory of India
Is the Warrior Queen with an iron leg, Vishpala
Brought up in the pristine forest school of Naimisha, Avishi reaches the republic of Ashtagani in search of her destiny. When Khela, the oppressive King of the neighbouring Vrishabhavati begins to overwhelm and invade Ashtagani, Avishi rises to protect her settlement. But peril pursues her everywhere.
Separated from her love, her settlement broken, with a brutal injury needing amputation of her leg, can Avishi overcome Khela?
Read an Excerpt
“I am the Queen! This will be my throne!” The seven-year-old chirped leaping from the middle of the porch towards the broken mortar which served as a mock throne. “You will be my guard!”
“Guard?” the man pondered scratching his unkempt beard.
“No.” He shook his head and smiled seeing her indignant eyes. “I will be the Queen’s elephant.” He beamed.
Sukratu stepped out of the house to see his daughter in action, perching herself on the tramp Loha’s back, pretending in all earnestness that he was her elephant. He smiled and was about to set out for his duty as the night guard of the King. A sudden lightning appeared in the eastern skies. Sukratu had barely walked a few paces when a deafening thunder made him instinctively turn towards home. He heaved a sigh, finding Loha shielding the girl as if he would, his own child.
“Father, don’t go.” The girl pleaded.
Sukratu smiled and shifted his gaze towards the sky. He saw dark clouds loom over the city. The monsoon winds had started to make their presence felt. He had to reach the palace soon. “Isn’t my little Queen brave?” He called out.
The girl nodded. He saw the fear fade. From her eyes. From her heart. She knew she was the queen! Pride filled his heart. His mind ached to stay home but duty beckoned. Tearing his gaze away from the one he treasured the most in his life, braving the drizzle that would soon turn into a storm, he unwillingly walked towards the King’s residence. Sukratu’s house was in the third ring of the concentric structure of Vrishabhavati. In the centre, was the structure, that served as the residence of the king and as the centre of all trade activity of the city. Here no wealth or goods could change hands without the king’s knowledge and approval. The residences of the noblemen formed the two rings around it. The guards and soldiers forming the outermost circle with the citizens living around them.
As per the protocol, Sukratu approached General Ugra’s residence quite ahead of his reporting time— an hour before the moonrise. He walked into the empty courtyard. But the rain made it impossible for him to stand there any longer. He knocked at the giant wooden door fervently. The doors creaked as a strange woman clad in a dark indigo garment opened them and glared at him with a frown on her forehead.
General Ugra, Sukratu knew was never faithful to one woman. His superior’s romantic exploits were not his concern either. But something about the woman at the door disconcerted him. “Please let General Ugra know that…”
“He has already left for the palace!” The woman frowned before attempting to shut the door.
“What? How ca…” Sukratu’s words hung in air as the door slammed on his face and the woman disappeared from his line of vision all of a sudden. Something did not feel right. He knocked at the door again. Firmly this time, as though seeking answers. Any change in the reporting time would have been announced the day before and he remembered that nothing of the sort had happened. His knocks went unanswered. Frowning and muttering under his breath, Sukratu hurried towards an empty cowshed three houses away from Ugra’s place hoping to catch his companions who he knew would be equally surprised.
The first to arrive was Khela, the eighteen-year-old guard, holding a metal shield above his head. The newest addition to the King’s guard, Khela was related to General Ugra and Sukratu felt that his position in the King’s guard was largely a result of undue favours that Ugra showered upon an otherwise impudent boy.
“Sukratu! By the great Varuna, I should have come to you earlier!” Khela hurried towards him. Pausing for breath, he added. “Our platoon has been given a relief tonight! It was a sudden decision and I personally informed all the others.”
“Relief for tonight? That happens only when…”
“Our guarding hours change from night to day!” Khela completed in a hurry. “Now, come with me.” He turned towards the western direction and the javelin he held started to sway dangerously and came close to grazing Sukratu’s arm.
The older guard’s instincts made him dodge the cut. “Where?” Sukratu hissed, visibly annoyed, first with the fact that he was kept in dark about the change in guarding hours and then about Khela’s irreverent behaviour. “And watch who your weapon hurts, boy.”
Khela shrugged and changed the position of his weapon. “We are now going to the place.” He winked, stretching his hand in the direction. “Follow me, this is the only night we get to have some fun.”
Sukratu did not move. The place he knew implied the tavern where wine was served. “We cannot drink tonight, Khela. When do we have to report tomorrow? By sunrise?”
“You ask too many questions. The rest of us are there too!”
“That does not answer my question.”
“Well, I don’t know, and I don’t care to. The palace is paying for the wine. Are you coming or not?”
The last sentence sounded more like a threat than an invite. Sukratu had all the mind to give the youth a piece of his mind and storm back home. His daughter would be overjoyed to see him before she went to sleep. It gnawed at Sukratu’s heart every day to leave her under the care of Loha— the tramp who had begged him for shelter about six months ago and then became a part of his life. The girl liked him instantly and had begged Sukratu to let Loha live with them and he, despite his misgivings about the tramp’s origins and his unkempt appearance, could not refuse his only daughter. Over time, Sukratu felt grateful for Loha’s company. Now his daughter did not have to be all by herself every night. The guard’s home would have been unguarded if not for that stranger. Sukratu brushed aside these thoughts and had almost decided to go home when the thought of meeting other senior guards and clarifying the confusion struck him. He followed Khela’s lead, making no attempt to hide his displeasure.
When they reached the tavern, Sukratu to his dismay, found many of his brothers in arms deeply drunk. “When did they reach here and when did they…”
“Quite some time before. I just forgot to tell you in advance!”
Sukratu’s eyes scrutinized the men and women of the tavern who were serving wine to the guards. There were no other citizens or travellers in the tavern.
“Just for us, the whole night!” Khela said as if reading his thoughts, bringing him an earthen goblet.
The older guard accepted the goblet taking his first sip with a sense of foreboding.
“Where were you all the time, old friend?” The voice belonged to Tunga one of the senior guards in the platoon.
The grin on his friend’s face brought a smile to Sukratu’s lips. “Tunga, what is this about the sudden change in our guarding hours?”
“The King… that imbecile, has finally remembered that we are human too!” Tunga guffawed, emptying his goblet, waving vigorously at a woman of the tavern who obliged with a seductive wink.
She approached them, skilfully distributing her attention between both the men, winking at Tunga and pouting her lips at Sukratu. Her brows rose at Sukratu’s filled cup. “Don’t keep the Sura nor this Sundari waiting, my love…” Serving Tunga his wine, she placed her fingers upon Sukratu’s shoulders, digging her nails into his skin for a moment locking her gaze with his and turned around swiftly, letting her light upper garment rest on his face for a fleeting moment.
It was a wilful invitation and Sukratu knew it. His attention though was caught by the colour of the garment. The Indigo hued garment! All the women of the tavern wore clothes of the same colour. So did the woman he saw in General Ugra’s house! Was Ugra at home while the woman lied that he was at the palace? If the General and the whole platoon of the night guard were lying down drunk, who was minding the security of the King? Sukratu looked at the rest of the guards. No one seemed sober enough to talk. The only sober man Khela had disappeared!
“By the great Varuna!” Sukratu exclaimed aloud and rushed out, pushing the woman who tried to stop him away.
He raced to the King’s residence, as fast as his legs could carry him. The huge wooden gates of the structure were closed and secured from inside. The rain lashed drowning his cries. Misgivings regarding the King’s welfare made him shudder. He had to meet General Ugra. Something told him that the General had his own reasons to send the whole platoon of guards to enjoy a drunk night. He was a guard who had sworn to protect the King with his life. The general owed him an answer. Sukratu rushed to General Ugra’s house determined to confront him.
That, Sukratu realized was the biggest mistake of his life.
At the gates of the general’s residence he saw a familiar figure hurrying out of his house, a heavy bundle on his shoulders. “General Ugra!” he called out, feeling relieved.
The figure started, and the bundle fell to the ground. Sukratu came to a sudden halt as he realized it wasn’t a bundle after all, but a blood-drenched corpse. A stroke of lightning from the sky revealed the face and the very familiar greying curls. Sukratu froze for a long moment before he could speak.
 “K… King…”
Something hit him on the head even before he could utter the name. Sukratu staggered, reeling at the impact, clutching at his long sword in a vain attempt to defend the next move.
“Finish him!” The General shout behind him.
Before he turned around, Sukratu felt the cold metal tear into his back. Lightning struck revealing the contours of the person. Khela! The javelin stabbed him again. Thunder drowned his screams. Falling to the ground with the weapon still stuck to his back, Sukratu lifted his sword and managed to slash Khela’s palm though the latter, unlike him was vigilant and alert. Crawling away from the menacing duo, knowing very well that he could not last more than a few moments, Sukratu’s thoughts, went to his innocent daughter. She would now languish as an orphan remaining in dark about the monsters who killed her father. Or would they kill her too?
Sukratu would never know.
About the Author:
Saiswaroopa is an IITian and a former investment analyst turned author. Her keen interest in ancient Indian history, literature and culture made her take to writing. Her debut novel Abhaya, set in the times of Mahabharata was published in 2015. Avishi, her second novel set in Vedic India explores the legend of India’s first mentioned female warrior queen Vishpala.
She holds a certificate in Puranas from Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. She is also trained in Carnatic Classical music and has won a state level gold medal from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams.

Saturday Miscellany – 8/5/17

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh — Set inside ” a dusty town in the Texas Panhandle cut off from the outside world and populated entirely by former criminals and witnesses put in protective custody. The twist: None of these people know who they are, because all of them have had their memories of their pasts erased.” In this quaint little town, not surprisingly, trouble erupts.
  • After On by Rob Reid — his Year Zero was a fun humorous SF look at music and piracy, this Silicon Valley novel about an evil social network looks to be equally fun.
  • Urban Enemies edited by Joseph Nassise — short stories from the villain’s point of view from series such as The Dresden Files, Iron Druid Chronicles, Kitty Norville, Toby Daye, Faith Hunter and more.
  • A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon — a couple of decades ago, Noon’s Vurt blew my mind, and I haven’t picked up anything by him since. This will hopefully be the end of that annoying trend.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to texaslawstudent and Lauren for following the blog this week.

Saturday Miscellany – 7/29/17

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Release that I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon (yup, month’s end, so we got a tiny list):

  • The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock — Tarantino meets Flannery O’Connor in a western. Or something like that. Sounds good to me.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to Author Maremma Gee for following the blog this week.

Mortal Causes by Ian Rankin

Mortal CausesMortal Causes

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #6
Hardcover, 310 pg.
Minotaur Books, 1994
Read: July 15 – 18, 2017

When he’d washed his eyes last night, it had been like washing behind them as well. Always it came to this, he tried to do things by the books and ended up cooking them instead. It was easier, that was all. Where would the crime detection rates be without a few shortcuts?

Before Rebus gets to his shortcuts, he’s called to investigate a homicide. A particularly grisly one, reminiscent of some that Rebus saw in Northern Ireland when he was serving there.

It’s his familiarity with that execution that gets him loaned to a special squad also investigating the homicide, especially as it seems tied into some gun smuggling. Rebus isn’t pleased at all to be the new guy — much less, the temporary new guy — on a team, as much as he seems to appreciate some of the individuals on the team (while others make him think more fondly of Chief Inspector Lauderdale). The investigation takes him to Northern Ireland to collect some intelligence, to a dangerous neighborhood, and he brushes up against an American who’s funneling guns of all kinds to (and through) Edinburgh.

In the midst of all of this, Rebus has some drama in his personal life — nothing involving his tenants or brother, but things with Patience Aitken aren’t going as smoothly as one might want (are they ever?) — and there’s another woman who has Rebus in her sights (the guy isn’t a catch, from what I can tell — how does this happen so regularly?).

Throw in an appearance by Big Ger Cafferty while the bodies are piling up and you’ve got yourself a story.

I’m not sure why I don’t have much to say about this one. Maybe because we live on this side of the Good Friday Agreement? But that doesn’t seem to ring true. Rebus is Rebus, Clarke is Clarke, Holmes is Holmes, Farmer Watson is off the wagon, but still pushing his bad coffee . . . the new squad ha some interesting characters, but we don’t spend much time with them. There are some great and colorful characters we brush into during the investigation, too. I don’t know. I liked it, but I can’t think of anything to say beyond that.

There’s a lot to commend in this novel, from great lines like: “He’d had wrong hunches before, enough for a convention of the Quasimodo fan club”; to the wide-ranging sources of trouble for Rebus; to the horrible history and equally horrible present behind the crimes — this is a solid and haunting novel. Something about this was a little off, I’m not sure what — at least as I think back on it, it doesn’t seem as fully developed as the last two. But in the moment I was gripped. I’m not saying that this isn’t fine, I just know Rankin can do better.

—–

3.5 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge