Citizen Kill by Stephen Clark

Citizen KillCitizen Kill

by Stephen Clark

eARC, 287 pg.
WiDo Publishing, 2017

Read: June 23 – 24, 2017


Let’s get this out of the way: yeah, this title is just bad. The book is much better than you’d think from the title.

The first chapter really turned me off — the assassin spews some sort of pseudo-patriotic babble before he kills the imam (who really doesn’t seem to be that much of a bad guy) and I was starting to dread the next 250+ pages and wondered if I could fake something to get out of reading the book. Then I remembered the email from Clark a few weeks back where he said something about the assassin becoming disillusioned, and was able to push on. I’m glad I did. (I guess it’s also efficient writing — it took less than a chapter for me to be convinced that what he was up to was reprehensible)

When the inaugural parade following the ceremony is bombed, and the new president’s son is among the dead, she starts looking for new ways to combat terrorism within the US. One of the top men in the CIA has a proposal — Operation Prevent. Rather than waiting for the FBI to arrest and prosecute people after an attack, or even to try to prevent an attack. He suggests going for the people that “radicalize” US citizens into supporting terrorism or into becoming terrorists. And by “going for” I mean, assassinate. He has some pretty flimsy argument to justify the execution of US citizens without trial — and the president sends him off to make some fixes. But before long, he’s empowered (by someone else) to initiate the Operation anyway.

Enter Justin Raines — he’s currently waiting for an internal investigation into a botched CIA op to determine his future, when he’s given the opportunity to join Operation Prevent. He’s not utterly convinced it’s the way to go, but it’s the only chance he sees to stay active, so he takes the position and begins eliminating targets. But doubts start to creep in and when he’s assigned to kill a Muslim educator (who happens to be attractive and witty) everything begins to unravel.

Before long, Justin is teaming with old comrades to get more information on the Operation to expose it to the public and bring it down.

I had a lot of trouble buying some of the mechanics of the book — the Secret Service seemed to talk a lot to the president before doing something to ensure her safety, for example. The same for some other nit-picky things, but you step back from the details and it all worked pretty well (or just pretend that the details are right). Yeah, it’s depiction of the CIA and how it works internally and externally is probably closer to Covert Affairs than reality, but the USA show was a lot more entertaining than reality, so bring it on.

The characters could’ve been a little more fully developed for my tastes, but they were good enough for this kind of book. I liked the fact that it wasn’t just Justin vs. the world — he had allies, some new, some old to get through things. There were also parties acting with the similar goals that had nothing to do with him — too often this kind of story relies on a single protagonist to be the only one standing up for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

There’s some good action and intrigue here, a story that’s timely (and, sadly, will likely be so for a while), with some good characters, a nice pace and a satisfying ending. Give this one a shot the next time you’re looking for a quick thrill ride.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for this post. I appreciated the book and the opportunity, but it had no bearing on what I said.

—–

3 Stars

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

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis, Jared Goldsmith

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were MadeTimmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

by Stephan Pastis, Jared Goldsmith
Series: Timmy Failure, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs. and 44 min.
Recorded Books, 2013
Read: June 14, 2017


A couple of my kids have been reading this series since #1, and since one of my favorite comic strip writers wrote it, I always intended to read it. Then I stumbled upon Steve Usery’s podcast interview with him, and I really wanted to. But haven’t gotten around to it yet. I stumbled on to the audiobook last week and figured it’d be worth a shot — especially with his appearance in town this last weekend. If I can make it amusing enough to bother reading, I’ll tell you the story tonight of how my son and I didn’t make it. But on to the book.

Timmy fancies himself a fantastic detective with a polar bear sidekick (named Total), he believes he’s on the verge of becoming a multimillionaire with offices throughout the world. In reality, he’s a lousy detective who can’t solve even the easiest of cases, like “Who stole my Halloween candy?” when the victim’s brother is literally surrounded by the evidence. You almost get the feeling you’re headed for an Inspector Gadget-style conclusion to the mysteries, where things are solved accidentally, in spite of the detective. Nope — Timmy cannot solve anything. He considers cases closed, but he’s so far from the truth (and so near personal vendettas) that it’s laughable. Which is the point, thankfully.

There’s a level to all of this that’s really sad — Timmy’s the child of a single mom (we don’t know why, at least in this book), struggling to make ends meet, and Timmy’s created this world in which he’s thiiiiiis close to providing financial security for her. She’s at the end of her rope with him, but finds ways to indulge and support his delusions and dreams (and get some actual completed homework from him). She dates a creep for a while, but thankfully, the fact that he and Timmy don’t mesh too well dooms that.

Obviously, the big drawback to the audiobook format is that I don’t get to see the drawings that accompany the text — and that probably detracted a lot. Thankfully, Goldsmith did a great job — the voice was a little annoying, but I’m sure that was intentional. I don’t think I could listen to more than one of these at a time, but that’s probably just me.

A cute story, best suited for younger readers, with enough grin-inducing lines to keep adults reading (and/or listening). I’ll be back for more.

—–

3 Stars

Devil in the Countryside by Cory Barclay

Devil in the CountrysideDevil in the Countryside

by Cory Barclay

Kindle Edition, 348 pg.
2017

Read: June 10 – 13, 2017


I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again — I prefer liking books, I like liking things. I do not enjoy giving anything other than recommendations — but sometimes, I just can’t do anything else. This is one of those times.

This is a historical fiction but the history is bad. Before we even get to the first chapter — in an introductory note we’re told “By the early 1500’s,” Europe was in a time called the Protestant Reformation. The traditional starting point for the Protestant Reformation was October 31, 1517 — but things didn’t really get moving for a few years. So “by” the early 1500’s is not really accurate. The same paragraph says, “while across the ocean in North America witch-hunts were gaining traction.” Now, I guess it’s possible that some of the Spanish colonies or Native American tribes were conducting these hunts, but I’m pretty sure Barclay intends us to think of the Salem Witch Trials, which started more than a century after the events of this novel. We’re not even to chapter 1 and we’ve got a paragraph with two glaring historical flubs — it’d be difficult (but not impossible) to recover from this. Barclay doesn’t.

With historical fiction, you have to decide on the character’s vocabulary — will you attempt to get it chronologically-appropriate, or will you take some liberties and use contemporary language and ask your readers to suspend disbelief to allow for everyone’s ease? Most take the latter, and most audiences play along. It is difficult to get period-dialogue correct if you’re not immersed in it, and many readers find it difficult or boring to read. While it’s understandable to use contemporary phrasing, I’m not sure I’m willing to buy 16th century people talking about “teenage angst.” Nor should we get people drinking coffee, wearing high heels (at least not among the peasant class), or making references to zippers. These kind of anachronisms are just lazy, sloppy — and it takes the reader out of the moment.

If you’re going to set something during the 3rd generation of the Reformation, and make the conflict between Lutherans, the Reformed and Roman Catholics (and the state powers that use those groups to mask their machinations) core plot points — you should, get the theology right. Which is just the same point as above, I realize — but man . . . when it’s such a major component of the book, you owe it to your readers to put in the effort. (also, Barclay suggested I’d like the book as a “theology nerd,” so I should be expected to look at it as one). We shouldn’t have Roman Catholic priests consulting German translations of the New Testament, nor should we have Lutheran ministers conducting baptism by immersion — particularly not of someone already baptized. Martin Luther, like all the Protestant Reformers, had very harsh things to say about that practice. In general, every religious sentiment (at least those expressed by the devout) was in conflict with the point of view it was supposed to be espousing — most of them not sounding like 16th Century Lutheran, Reformed or Roman Catholic believers but some sort of vague 21st Century theism.

This book is also a mystery. As such, um, it wasn’t really a success. There wasn’t real effort put into finding answers, just finding good candidates to pin something on. At least officially — those who actually looked for answers were stopped by one way or another. If we were talking about a novel about 16th Century politics and the ways they impacted lives of individuals — including crime victims and survivors — this might have worked.

I’m just piling on now, and I really don’t want to do that. So, I’ll ignore the grammatical errors, typos, a handful of words that basically demand Inigo Montoya to tap the author on the shoulder to say ” I do not think it means what you think it means.” Nor will I get into the lazy plots revolving around Roman Catholic clergy sexually molestation or father forcing a daughter to marry a horrible person for his own financial gain.

Barclay can probably produce a decent book — there were some good moments in this book, but not enough of them. This is just not worth the time and trouble.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — I do appreciate it, even if the book didn’t work for me.

—–

2 Stars

The Cold Dish (Audiobook) by Craig Johnson, George Guidall

The Cold DishThe Cold Dish

by Craig Johnson, George Guidall
Series: Walt Longmire, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs. and 18 mins
Recorded Books, 2007

Read: June 7- 12, 2017


This is by and large what I had to say about the book a couple of years ago — but I’ve expanded it a touch.

It’s hard to believe this is a first novel. I love it when that happens. Johnson is assured in his writing, he knows his characters and their world, there’s no mistaking that. The world and the characters are very well-developed, it’s hard to believe that Johnson worked in as much backstory as he did for these characters in such a short space. Walt, Vic, Henry Standing Bear, Lucien — they’re all fully fleshed out and ready to go.

As always, the mixture of Cheyenne Mysticism (for lack of a better word) and Longmire’s realism (and Vic’s cynicism) is great — even at this point, Johnson’s ready to present things that could be Cheyenne ghosts, or it could be Longmire’s mind playing tricks on him as a result of injury and exposure without taking a clear narrative stance. It’s not a fast-paced tale by any means–Johnson saunters through his prose like Longmire would through the world. That doesn’t mean it’s not gripping, though. It’s lush with detail, as scenic and expansive as the Wyoming country it takes place in.

It took awhile for Guidall’s narration to work for me, I did eventually come around, and I expect I’ll enjoy him more fully in the next book.

I figured out whodunit pretty quickly, but it took a while to get the why. The journey to the why was compelling, interesting and well worth the time. Looking forward to the next installment.

—–

4 Stars

Exit Strategy by Steve Hamilton

Exit StrategyExit Strategy

by Steve Hamilton
Series: Nick Mason, #2

Hardcover, 289 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017

Read: June 9 -12, 2017

You kill one person, it changes you.

You kill five . . . it’s not about changing anymore.

It’s who you are

If that’s the case, Nick Mason is definitely in a second life that has very little to do with his old one. This is the book’s thesis, whether or not it’s true is up in the air for most of the book. Certainly Mason’s, um, employer and supervisor believe this to be the case.

Mason’s trying to deny it, he can’t admit it to himself (at least early on in this book), anyway. Part of Mason’s attempts to deny this change hinges on him removing himself and everyone he cares about from Darius Cole’s control. Cole is on the verge of being released during a retrial, and he enlists Mason to keep the witnesses from testifying. So you’ve got Nick hunting down some of the most protected federal witnesses in the nation while attempting to get under from Cole’s thumb.

That’s about all I can say — almost nothing happens in this book that I didn’t figure would happen at one point or another — but I assumed we were talking book 4 at the earliest for most of these developments. I can’t say more than that.

If you liked The Second Life of Nick Mason, you’re going to go gaga over this. That’s a really all I can think to say. The action/fight scenes are great — dynamic, intense, and each one is so unlike the ones that have gone before that you breathe a momentary sigh of relief that Hamilton’s not going to give us reruns before reading on (frequently reading through your fingers because you aren’t sure you want to see what’s going on — a tactic that worked much better as a kid watching TV/movies than it does with books). How is an assassin so poorly trained, so seemingly unlucky, so successful — not to mention still breathing?

When it comes to straight-forward, adrenaline fueled, white-knuckling thrillers, it doesn’t get better than this. Hamilton took everything he did right in the first book (which was just about everything) and amps it up. I may have to increase my blood pressure mediation before the third book comes out. Don’t miss this one, my friends.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

The Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

The Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia MossThe Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia Moss

by Max Wirestone
Series: Dahlia Moss, #1

Paperback, 312 pg.
Redhook, 2017

Read: May 16 / 17, 2017

“She’s just trouble. Dahlia Moss is a nexus of trouble.”

Det. Maddocks meant that as a disparaging remark — but he’s pretty much on target. Which is good news for Wirestone’s readers.

Dahlia is asked to meet someone at a video game tournament, he’s convinced it’d be good to have a detective on hand. Her mysterious client, Doctor XXX, doesn’t show where he’s supposed to — but there is a dead body there.

So, while not getting in the police’s way, Dahlia needs to investigate the murder, find out just who Doctor XXX is, why he thought a detective would be needed at the tournament — not to mention, just who’s the guy in his underwear handcuffed to a chair nearby?

Concerned for her welfare, Dahlia’s roommate, Charice sends her boyfriend Daniel along to act as a bodyguard — for some reason, people in her life aren’t crazy about Dahlia going to meet a stranger named Doctor XXX. I enjoy Charice, but a little of her goes a long way, and one of the biggest issues I had with the previous book was that Charice was just in it too much — having Daniel stand in for her for most of the book helped a lot. Daniel’s goofy enough on his own, but he’s much more restrained than this girlfriend. So the whole thing was easier to take. Det. Shuler wasn’t around much, and mostly served as someone for Dahlia to get occasional help from. Hopefully, he has a bigger role next time. Of course, we also have Nathan, Dhalia’s love interest:

A word about shirtless Nathan. I have a real thing for Nathan-I admit it-but this is not a Janet Evanovich-y romp here where Rick ManSlab takes off his shirt to reveal a sixpack, or an eight-pack, or a seven-pack (which is a six-pack and an abdominal hernia, possibly?), or whatever packs guys have these days. Shirtless Nathan looks like a turtle who has somehow gotten out of its shell. He has no body mass! No fat, which is admittedly appealing, but no anything else. He was a brazen little turtle, though, because he seemed cheered by the turn of events.

Dahlia herself is a blast — a great mix of confidence, cowardice, competence, and cluelessness — she’s over her head in a lot of the situations she finds herself in — but doesn’t let that stop her — she just barrels on, sure that things will work out . . . eventually. I love her voice, her attitude — and ineptitude. Really, all of her. She’s probably my favorite female detective since Izzy Spellman.

I know, thanks to that blurb/review of The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss , everyone talks about Veronica Mars in relation to Dahlia — but the more I think of it, the quotation above is closer to the truth — she’s Stephanie Plum with more realistic anatomy. The same heart, a similar humor, the same good intentions and haphazard results, with some loony friends (not as extreme as Stephanie’s) and a similar budding triangle.

In the midst of the investigations, Wirestone is able to celebrate the videogame culture and those who are part of it while being able to joke about it and have fun with some of the eccentricities around it. Not just laughing at, but with these characters and their hobbies is a great way to appeal to both those inside geek culture and without. More than that, we have a pretty decent mystery — one that’s not just clever in construction, but in the way it is told.

This is such an enjoyable read — I didn’t make it out of the first chapter without audibly chuckling. I had a lot of fun with the first book, and I think this was a noticeable improvement — I had more fun reading it. I hope this trend continues to the next book. Also, I’m hoping this isn’t a trilogy — I don’t know that we need 20+ Dahlia Moss mysteries, but three isn’t going to be enough.

—–

3.5 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge