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

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

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

Gather Her Round by Alex Bledsoe

Gather Her RoundGather Her Round

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa, #5

Hardcover, 315 pg.
Tor Books, 2017
Read: May 29 – 30, 2017

Man, it’s hard to write much that doesn’t boil down to: It’s the new Tufa book by Bledsoe — it’s great, go read it. Which is essentially a tautology followed by a natural conclusion. And isn’t that interesting (then again, I never promised you interesting, Dear Reader).

So, what sets this one apart? Well, there’s the pretty mundane nature of the inciting incident (mundane meaning not magical, not mundane meaning ordinary), the framing device, and the . . . I don’t want to say resolution (because there are a few — and yet none), I guess the way things end.

The framing device is perfect for a Tufa novel — Janet Harper, a noted musician and actress is at a story-telling festival and brings her guitar onstage to use with her story — one that’s true, but that no one in the audience will believe, as much as she says it. She does change the names of the participants (which makes her different than Ray Parrish) to protect everyone involved — including herself (see Ray Parrish).

Janet tells the story of Kera Rogers, who goes for a walk one morning to go play a little music, relax a bit, sext a little with a couple of guys, think a little about cutting out one or both of the guys when she’s attacked by a wild animal and is never seen again. At least not most of her — a small body part or two shows up. The community is horrified that this happens and her parents grieve the end of her young life. Duncan Gowan is one of the boys she was involved with — and thought he was the only one — is wrecked by her death and learning that she was also sleeping with someone else.

The rest of the tale traces the ripples from this event over the next few months (almost a year) — and the next victim to fall prey to the animal — Kera’s family moving on, Duncan getting involved with another woman, the hunters that come in to track the beast (which will also hopefully prevent any police investigation). One of the hunters gets involved with a Tufa we’ve known since the first book, and is introduced to the real culture of Needsville.

While all this is going on, we get the best picture of how things are going with the faction formerly led by Rockhouse Hicks, now led by Junior Damo, and it’s clear to everyone that Junior is not the new Rockhouse — which is mostly good, but there are some real drawbacks. Mandalay Harris takes it upon herself — even though the dead are Junior’s — to get to the bottom of what happened. Sure, it was a wild animal attack — but is that all it was? Her methods aren’t exactly anything you’ll find in a police procedural, but produce results that Gil Grissom and his kind would envy.

The best parts of these books is the way that people like Junior, Mandalay, Bliss, and Bronwyn are secondary characters; while people we’ve never met (or just barely) like Kera, Duncan, Janet, and Jack Cates (the hunter) are the focus. Yet somehow, we care about them almost as much — and through the eyes and experiences of the new characters we learn more about our old friends and see them grow and develop. Bledsoe is fantastic at making each of these books very different from the rest, yet clearly part of a series.

Like every novel in this series — this can be your introduction to the world. Actually, this one may be a better intro-book than any but the first (even as I write that I can think of arguments against it, but I think I can stick with it). You don’t have to have any advance knowledge of this world to appreciate 98% of the book.

There’s heart, magic, fun, wonder, vengeance, a dash of romance and mystery wrapped up in this novel — expressed through very human characters. The humanity shown by these people who aren’t all that human shines through more than anything else.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Black Box by Ian Rankin

I thought I’d scheduled this for yesterday, well, I’d intended to, but I typo’ed the date. So, hey, enjoy a bonus post to make up for the recent bits of silence.

The Black BookThe Black Book

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #5

Hardcover, 278 pg.
O. Penzler Books, 1994

Read: June 2 – 5, 2017


As interesting and well-written as the mystery in this novel was, as I think about the book, I have a hard time thinking about it — the non-case material dominates the book, and seems more important for the series as a whole. Which is kind of a shame — there’s a lot to be mined in this case, and we didn’t get enough of it. A famous — and infamous — local hotel burns down, and one body is recovered. This man didn’t die in the fire, but was shot dead before it started. There were so few clues left that the case had been long considered unsolved and unsolvable. Five years later, John Rebus starts reviewing the files and talking to people involved (getting himself in hot water for it). I really wanted more of it — and the people Rebus talked to about this case.

So what made this book interesting? Well, Rebus got into this case because Brian Holmes was attacked off duty one night. It’s suggested that this is because of some extra-curricular investigations he’d been running. The only thing that Rebus has to follow-up that claim is Holmes’ black notebook, full of his personal code. Rebus can almost crack one set of notes which points him at the hotel fire and the killing involved. While Holmes’ recuperates, Rebus takes it upon himself to finish the DS’ work.

We meet DC Siobahn Clarke here — Rebus’ other junior detective. She’s driven, she’s tough, she’s English, educated and careful. Most of what Rebus isn’t. She’s got a good sense of humor and duty — both of which make her one of my favorite characters in this series almost immediately (second only to Rebus).

The big thing is our meeting Morris Gerald “Big Ger” Cafferty – we’d brushed up against him in Tooth & Nail. Big Ger is possibly the biggest, baddest criminal in Edinburgh, and it seems that Rebus will go toe to toe with him a few times. He’s both a source of information (for Rebus, anyway) as well as a target for the police (including Rebus, in a couple of directions in just this book) — for both the cold case and current operations. He’s dangerous, and yet not at all — I think spending time with him in the future will be a hoot.

Lastly, Rebus’ brother is out on parole, having served a decent amount of time behind bars. More than that, he’s crashing with his brother. Family awkwardness (to put it mildly) ensues. I’m not sure he’s someone I want to spend more time with, but something tells me that Rankin has good plans for the character. Meanwhile, Clarke and Cafferty are characters I want more of right now.

A solid mystery novel — with a conclusion I didn’t see coming (to at least one of the mysteries_ — with a lot of great stuff going on at the same time. This one’s a keeper.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness

Paperback, 225 pg.
Candlewick Press, 2013

Read: June 1, 2017


I hadn’t even heard of this book until a couple of weeks ago, when it was recommended to me by a loyal reader. And I wasn’t given a lot of details, just a strong recommendation and something about it being “about grief.” I could’ve used the warning that it was a YA book, but otherwise, that’s all I needed to know (and the YA wouldn’t have been a deal breaker or maker — I just would’ve liked to know what I was grabbing). I’m not going to say much more than that, really. It’s about grief, there’s some magic, and it’s one of the most effective novels I’ve read this year.

There’s been so much said about this book by others — I’m almost afraid to say much, I don’t want to ruin anyone’s discovery.

You’ve got a 13 year-old boy, Conor, whose mother is undergoing cancer treatment — and it’s not going well. His grandmother (not at all the stereotypical grandmother-type, as Conor is very well aware), comes to stay with them with every new round of treatment, and Conor hates it. His father and his new wife have started a new life in the US. All of this has left Conor isolated, emotionally all alone — except at school, where he’s bullied (when not alone). Somehow in his despair, Conor summons a monster, a monster older than Western Civilization, who visits the boy to help him.

He helps him via stories — I love this — not escapism, but through the lessons from stories — and not in a “You see, Timmy . . . ” kind of moralizing — just from understanding how people work through the stories.

After reading page 15, I jotted down in my notes, “Aw, man! This is going to make me cry by the end, isn’t it?” I didn’t, for the record, but I came close (and possibly, if I hadn’t been sitting in a room with my daughter and her guitar teacher working on something, I might have.

The prose is easy and engaging — there’s a strong sense of play to the language. There’s some wonderfully subtle humor throughout, keeping this from being hopelessly depressing. The prose is deceptively breezy, it’d be very easy to read this without catching everything that Ness is doing. But mostly, what the book gives is emotion — there’s a raw emotion on display here — and if it doesn’t get to you, well, I just don’t know what’s wrong with you.

The magic, the monster and the protagonist remind me so much of Paul Cornell’s Chalk (which is probably backwards, Chalk should be informed by this — oops). Eh, either way — this is cut from the same cloth.

That’s a bit more than I intended to say, but I’m okay with that. I’m not convinced that this is really all that well-written, technically speaking. But it packs such an emotional wallop, it grabs you, reaches down your throat and seizes your heart and does whatever it wants to with it — so who cares how technically well it’s written? (and, yeah, I do think the two don’t necessarily go together). A couple of weeks from now, I may not look back on this as fondly — but tonight, in the afterglow? Loved this.

Love, grief, hope, loss, anger, fear, monsters and the power of stories. Give this one a shot. Maybe bring a Kleenex, you never know . . .

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

No Middle Name by Lee Child (corrected)

No Middle Name No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher

Hardcover, 418 pg.
Random House Publishing Group, 2017

Read: May 31, 2017


Over the years, Lee Child has published a number of short stories/novellas featuring Jack Reacher, and finally they’re all published in one handy collection. Some are available in non-ebook format for the first time, too. Also, we have a brand-new novella to kick things off. For many, this is the first they’ve been able to access them — I haven’t read any of them before, but I’ve listened to most of them in audiobook format.

Now, as I’ve said before, short stories aren’t normally my bag — and that’s very true for the Reacher stories. He just works better in novel-length stories, generally speaking anyway. For those stories I’ve listened to already, my opinion of them didn’t really change as I read them — the couple I liked, I still liked. The others . . . well, I remained unimpressed — it’s good to know that it wasn’t the format or Dick Hill (the narrator) — it really was the length or story.

But enough about that — there are three stories that I want to talk about — the first two are short stories that I really enjoyed. They’re just the right length, which is nice, you don’t feel short-changed. They also don’t feature Reacher that prominently. The first is “James Penney’s New Identity” (which apparently was published in a shorter form originally), it’s a story about a man who’s the victim of changing economic times who has had enough — at a pivotal point for him, he meets Jack Reacher (still in the Army). By his words and actions, Reacher changes the rest of James Penny’s life — and Reacher doesn’t have to fight anyone to do it. This story leaves the reader with more questions than answers — but in a good way.

“Everyone Talks” is written from the POV of a new police detective who has the good(?) fortune to run into Reacher in a professional capacity on her first day. I really liked this one — Reacher was pretty ingenious here dealing with the problem he sticks his nose into in a way that shows more brains than brawn. I think I actually laughed out loud as soon as I realized what he was up to. Pretty clever.

Oddly. there are two Christmas-y stories — I don’t know why I find that so odd, but Reacher doesn’t feel like a Christmas character. I liked, but wasn’t wowed by, both of them.

Obviously, the big thing here is the new novella, Too Much Time. Reacher’s wandering through a town and gets peripherally involved in stopping a petty crime. He allows himself to be cajoled by the police into helping them out for a few minutes afterwards. Things go wrong just a few minutes later. This is as good a novella-length story that I can imagine for Reacher — there’s a pretty good fight, Reacher solving a puzzle while helping the authorities — and keeping himself out of trouble. A little bit cerebral, a little bit thug. The perfect Reacher recipe. If Andy Martin’s book has taught me anything, it’s that there’s some significance to the law enforcement officials having names that start with A, B, C and D. If I was more clever, I’d know why. Still, I liked it a lot.

A nice, solid collection — with some strong stand-outs. Reacher fans need to grab it.

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge