Dead Blind by Rebecca Bradley: A gripping thriller featuring a uniquely disqualified hero

Dead BlindDead Blind

by Rebecca Bradley

Kindle Edition, 358 pg.
2018
Read: August 9, 2018

There are two gripping stories in this novel — the primary one isn’t the crime story (odd for a work of crime fiction), but it is the better executed of the two. Which isn’t a slight to the secondary story, at least not intentionally.

Let’s start with the crime — DI Ray Patrick and his team are investigating an international organ smuggling ring. Every time I’ve run into this kind of story — in print or on TV — it has always been effective. Something about the idea of harvesting organs from people (who may or may not survive the process for at least awhile) to transplant into people who may or may not survive (given the less than ideal facilities for such activities) has always disturbed me. Then when my son was diagnosed with renal failure and we were told he’d need a kidney transplant, these kind of stories became more nightmarish for me. So yeah, basically, this was right up my alley.

Thankfully, he’d received his kidney a couple of weeks before I read this one, so it didn’t end up costing me sleep. Incidentally, the facts and figures about transplants, the need for them and the lack of donors, etc. all lined up with everything we’d been told. Yes, there are differences in protocols between the two medical systems, but on the whole, what Patrick and the rest learned matched what I’d learned. When it comes to thins kind of thing in novels, I’m always wondering how much the author fudged and how much came from research — I’m happy to say that Bradley got this right.

So this story — from how the ring operates to how Patrick and the rest investigate is very satisfying.

Which leaves the primary story. Patrick comes back to work from a nasty automobile accident, mostly recovered from his physical injuries. But that’s not the only injury he sustained. Patrick now is dealing with prosopagnosia, aka “face blindness.” Through some clever guesswork, and a whole lot of luck, he’s never revealed it to anyone other than his ex-wife (so she can help him with his kids). Now back at work, Patrick is attempting to hoodwink everyone into thinking he’s okay, because he doesn’t want to risk not losing his job.

On the one hand you want to see him pull off his silly scheme, on the other, you want to see him be the man of integrity everyone thinks he is and be honest with his colleagues and friends. Especially when Patrick’s inability to discern or remember faces jeopardizes the investigation.

Watching Patrick try to remember people via other means while trying to lead an investigation, and deal with the ramifications of the disorder in his personal life gives the book its emotional weight. And it delivers that in spades.

Patrick’s team is full of some pretty well-drawn characters, which also applies for the other people in his life — grounding the more outlandish flavorings of the other stories. I enjoyed the read and found it gripping — looking forward to seeing more from Bradley.

—–

3 Stars

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Looking for Calvin and Hobbes (Audiobook) by Nevin Martell, Jeremy Arthur: A close-up look at the Cartoonist and His Creation

I’ve spent 20 minutes trying to get this header to look decent — and I give up. It’s just going to look awkward given the length of the title.

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes (Audiobook)Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip

by Nevin Martell, Jeremy Arthur (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 7 hrs., 9 min.
ListenUp Production, 2014
Read: September 25 – 27, 2018
Nevin Martell, like just about everyone who ever read him, is a Calvin and Hobbes fan — what’s more, he discovered the strip at the right age and was able to appreciate it as only a child can — without being self-conscious about reading a comic strip and with devotion. Years later, when trying to write something more meaningful to him than another book about a pop star, he decides to write about that strip and its reclusive creator.

The reclusive part of that sentence is the key — Watterson had (and has) pretty much dropped off the face of the earth as far as your typical person is concerned. A few select friends, business acquaintances and family members can get in touch with him, but no one else can. This isn’t crippling to a book about his comic strips or himself, but it sure hampers it (especially because those people who can get in touch with him are just about as reticent as he is to talk about him or his work). Unencumbered by access to Watterson himself, and his perspective on his life and career was like, what his influences were, what made him make the creative decisions, etc. Martell dove into research — things written about and by Watterson, archives of his previous work (when and where available) and interviews with colleagues, editors and the like.

In the kind of detail only a scholar or a fan can appreciate, Martell describes Watteron’s childhood, college, and pre-Calvin and Hobbes career; then he discusses that comic strip — major themes — and its publishing history; Watterson’s battle to keep control of the strip, its merchandising/licensing; then he describes Watterson’s retirement. As much of that as he can, which isn’t much. Following that, Martell focuses on things like the impact of Watterson on the industry, his relationships with other cartoonists and is influence on those who followed.

I wish he’d given us more (and maybe he gave us all he could, but I don’t think so) from Watterson’s contemporaries/those he influenced in the field of comics (or related fields — he spoke with a novelist and Dave Barry, too). Martell spoke to many and gave us a lot of what he was told — but I’d have appreciated more coming from professionals about Watterson’s strengths, technique, stories — whatever. Sure, it might have gotten a little redundant, but something tells me that it wouldn’t have been too bad. These were my favorite parts of the book, and I could’ve listened to another hour of them easily.

I’m not convinced that I was ever as invested in Martell’s journey as he seemed to think his readers would (should?) be — and I’m okay with that. I know I tend to overshare here a tad myself — so I understand the impulse. Or maybe I’m just callous, and everyone else got into it.

As far as Arthur’s work narrating — there’s not a lot to say. This isn’t a work of fiction where he can play with characters, pacing, and whatnot. It’s a straightforward text and he does a capable job of reading it in a straightforward manner. I did have to remind myself a couple of times that I was listening to someone Martell’s words rather than listening to him — which I guess is a good thing.

It was a pleasant book, nothing too challenging — and it reinvigorated an impulse to go read a collection or two of Watterson again on my part (and some of Larson’s The Far Side, too — I’m sure there’s an interesting book to be written there, too). It’s not a must-read, but it’ll scratch an itch for those who have an interest in the subject.

—–

3 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Cats, Cannolis and a Curious Kidnapping by Cheryl Denise Bannerman: A light, cozy snack of a mystery novel to kick off a new series.


Cats, Cannolis and a Curious KidnappingCats, Cannolis and a Curious Kidnapping

by Cheryl Denise Bannerman
Series: Anna Romano Mystery Series, #1

eARC, 122 pg.
2018
Read: September 25, 2018

I tried so hard to work in a Clemenza joke here, even if it seems a bit obvious to do so. But I just couldn’t.

Anna’s a mystery writer — successful enough that she can be a full-time author (a rare breed nowadays) — a doting cat owner, and a pretty decent cook. All in all, the kind of person you’d want to spend time with (especially if you don’t have to deal with cat hair). She’s single, and is trying hard to convince herself that she’s okay with that (but it’s getting harder). We first meet here when she has an odd encounter with a man at a signing at a bookstore, but doesn’t think much about it.

Not long after that, however, that man shows up in her life here and there — and she starts to get worried. After one incident where he grabbed her momentarily, Anna tries to report it to the police, and is brushed off. So she’s driven to take the skills her characters display and use them for herself to try to figure out what this man could be up to. While Anna is pulling her Ian Ludlow act, the stalker steps up his act and next thing Anna knows, she’s been kidnapped and is going to have to fight to survive and get back to her cats. Meanwhile, the one police officer that took her seriously finds himself practically obsessed with her case once she goes missing.

We get this story told to us from three first person narrators — Anna, her stalker, and Det. John Solace. Solace is the detective who takes the stalker report seriously and investigates when things get more threatening. Sometimes I find that kind of thing to be a choice that doesn’t help a story, or sometimes I think it hurts — but here, this really helps. This novel wouldn’t work as well if you took one or two of these narrators out. Anna’s voice is the strongest, the most approachable — but even our villain is someone you can enjoy reading. Even when things get dangerous, the voices (to varying degrees) stay breezy, conversational and approachable. There is a sense of fun that pervades this work, and it’s what makes this as successful as it is.

I do wonder about the rapid nature of the romance, it seemed a bit rushed. Then again, it’s more satisfying than the 5+ years that the Cormoran Strike/Robin Ellacott build-up has gone on (at least for the readers) — so who’s to complain?

I do think that this book needed an editor — and I’m not talking a copy editor (although, that could’ve helped, too) — a strong critical pass or two to strengthen the strength points and cut the weaknesses from this and I can easily see this gaining fans by the bucket-load and even jaded guys like me being able to be effusive with praise. But as it is, I can just say that this is a cute story with a lot of charm — and charm goes a long way. I could list the issues this book has — and under different circumstances, I might. But why? Bannerman’s not trying to be the next Don Winslow or Jacqueline Chadwick. This is supposed to be a breezy little cozy, and if you sit back and let it be that, it succeeds.

If you’re looking for a light, sweet literary snack — a cannoli, if you will — this’ll hit the spot. Give it a whirl. The sequel is set to come out in January, so you won’t have to wait too long for another bite.

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

—–

3 Stars

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde, Emily Gray (Audiobook): A little too zany for me

Lost in a Good BookLost in a Good Book

by Jasper Fforde, Emily Gray (Narrator)
Series: Thursday Next, #2

Unabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs. and 59 mins.
Penguin Audio, 2011

Read: September 4 – 6, 2018
I didn’t post about The Eyre Affair a couple of months ago when I listened to it, because I just didn’t know what to say about it. I was hoping that a second book would help. I’m not sure it did.

Let’s just start with the Publisher’s Summary (because there’s just no way I could do justice to this book):

           The second installment in Jasper Fforde’s New York Times bestselling series follows literary detective Thursday Next on another adventure in her alternate reality of literature-obsessed England—from the author of Early Riser.

The inventive, exuberant, and totally original literary fun that began with The Eyre Affair continues with New York Times bestselling author Jasper Fforde’s magnificent second adventure starring the resourceful, fearless literary sleuth Thursday Next. When Landen, the love of her life, is eradicated by the corrupt multinational Goliath Corporation, Thursday must moonlight as a Prose Resource Operative of Jurisfiction—the police force inside the BookWorld. She is apprenticed to the man-hating Miss Havisham from Dickens’s Great Expectations, who grudgingly shows Thursday the ropes. And she gains just enough skill to get herself in a real mess entering the pages of Poe’s “The Raven.” What she really wants is to get Landen back. But this latest mission is not without further complications.

Along with jumping into the works of Kafka and Austen, and even Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, Thursday finds herself the target of a series of potentially lethal coincidences, the authenticator of a newly discovered play by the Bard himself, and the only one who can prevent an unidentifiable pink sludge from engulfing all life on Earth. It’s another genre-bending blend of crime fiction, fantasy, and top-drawer literary entertainment for fans of Douglas Adams and P. G. Wodehouse.

There’s simply too much going on. This is Douglas Adams (mostly the Dirk Gentley novels) meets Terry Pratchett meets Doctor Who meets . . . something else, but it’s not just those elements — it’s those influences without restraint (not that any of those are known for their restraint). It’s just too zany ,too strange, too unmoored from reality.

There’s cloning to bring back extinct species, time travel, vampires, werewolves, interacting with fictional characters, rabid literary fans, characters walking into novels/other written materials to rewrite them, travel, or just to meet with someone else — and that’s just scratching the surface.

I realize that this is tantamount to complaining that there’s too much of a good thing, and I recently talked about what a foolish complaint that is. But this is different, somehow. The sheer amount of ways that reality can be rewritten/rebooted/changed in this series is hard to contemplate, and seems like too easy for a writer to use to get out of whatever corner they paint themselves into. One of the best emotional moments of this book — is ruined, simply ruined by time travel unmaking it just a few minutes later.

Emily Gray’s narration is probably the saving grace of this audiobook — I’m not sure I’d have rated this as high as I did without it. Her ability to sound sane when delivering this ridiculous text (I mean that as a compliment) makes it all seem plausible.

I enjoyed it — but almost in spite of itself. I can’t see me coming back for more. I do see why these books have a following — sort of. But I’ve got to bail.

—–

3 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

The Tainted Vintage by Clare Blanchard: A Promising Introduction to a series about crime fighting in the Czech Republic


The Tainted VintageThe Tainted Vintage

by Clare Blanchard
Series: Dvorska & Dambersky, #1

Kindle Edition, 159 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018
Read: September 11, 2018

In the first chapter, we’re treated to a better synopsis than I could cook up, so let me just borrow it. One night in the little town of Vinice, in the Czech Republic, the mayor dies during his birthday party:

Dvorska was sure that she and Ivan had been sent there for the sake of appearances, because a dead mayor was by definition high profile, and of course because no-one else wanted to touch it. She wondered why they had been called out at all, so soon. The fat feminist and the misogynist – what a team. And of course Dambo, as the senior of the two, would call the shots, so her hands would be tied. Perfect. The sudden death of a rich and powerful local figure was hardly a magnet for rising-star detectives.

Dvorska picks up a clue or two that convinces her — and then Dambersky — that this death was not due to natural causes. The Powers That Be don’t want to hear such a thing, and rule otherwise. So this very unlikely duo has to embark on an unauthorized investigation — not just unauthorized, but prohibited — into the murder.

Finding the murderer of a man who died of natural causes isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish, obviously — it’s hard to ask too many questions without a “Hey, he wasn’t murdered, why are you asking?” coming up. So the partners have to be wily — not just with their superior officer, but with witnesses, possible suspects, and everyone else they encounter.

The investigation takes them to various cities, a variety of social classes, and even ends up giving them a few history lessons. The mayor’s home has ties to significant (at least to Vinice) historical movements, going back to World War II, the Communist takeover, and then once the Republic took over. This really helps the reader — particularly the reader who knows almost nothing about the Czech Republic — find themselves, not only in the geography but the history (cultural and otherwise). obviously, I’m no expert on the Czech Republic,, but I can understand a little more than I used to. Just the first couple of usages of “Perv” to indicate an illegal drug threw me — but between the narrator finally calling it Pervityn and a search engine, I got a little lesson in drugs during WWII.

It doesn’t take long for the book to try to get the reader on the side of these two characters — maybe there’s more to them than the “fat feminist and the misogynist.” I really found myself enjoying them as people, not just as detectives. We spend — for reasons that will become clear when you read this — more time with Dvorska than her partner, and she is a charming, dedicated detective, fully aware of her limitations and sure how to overcome them.

The writing was good but I thought it could be sharper — there’s an odd word choice or two (early on, the detectives start talking about the mayor’s death being an execution, not a murder); there’s a lot of recapping/rehashing something that was just done/considered/decided a page or two earlier — the kind of thing that makes sense for serialized novels, but this doesn’t appear to be on. Still, the voice is engaging, as is the story — and you get caught up enough in it that you can easily ignore a few things that’d normally bug you.

I was caught totally off-guard by the ending. I didn’t expect that to happen at all — my notes toward the end feature short words like “what” and”why?” But primarily my notes consist of question marks, exclamation points, and combinations thereof. This is a great sign for mystery and thriller novels. Blanchard did a great job setting things up so that there’s a dramatic reveal and one that isn’t seen chapters away. I do think some more ground work could have been laid early on so that it didn’t seem quite so out of nowhere. But it was effective enough, that I really don’t want to complain about it.

This is a pleasant read — it’s close enough to being a cozy that I could recommend it to friends who predominately read those, and twisted enough that those with more grizzled tastes can sink their teeth into it, too. The characters are winning, charming and the kind that you want to spend time with. It’s a good introduction to a series exotic enough for most English readers to feel “alien” and yet full of enough things so you don’t feel cut off from what you know. There are obviously future cases for these two in the works, and I plan on getting my hands on them when I can.

—–

3 Stars

Jade City by Fonda Lee: Immerse yourself in this world of Magic, Crime and Family

Jade CityJade City

by Fonda Lee
Series: The Green Bone Saga, #1

ARC, 444 pg.
Orbit, 2017

Read: August 15 – 16, 2018

So Fonda Lee has a great idea — others have employed it as well, don’t get me wrong, but the way she does it is great — instead of setting an Urban Fantasy in this world, just a version of it with some magic; you set it in a world a whole lot like this one — but you infuse the world with some sort of magic. A world where technology/science and magic co-exist. It’s enough like this world that you can get your hands around cultural mores and norms.

There’s this stone, a mineral, called jade. It looks a lot like our jade (from what I can tell, Hank Schrader, I’m not). Certain people are sensitive to it, and it enables them to channel magic, some become addicted to the mineral and what it does to them — others (“stone eyes”) are completely insensitive to it and are therefore the ideal candidates to shape it, transport it, and mine it. Only people from Kekon have this relationship with jade (not that unexpectedly, they’re also the world’s source for it).

There are other countries that want jade and what it can do to a person — military uses, primarily. But their people aren’t natively sensitive, so they’re working on ways to engineer the sensitivity. There’s a lot of money to be made controlling the Jade. Years ago — a generation or so — a group of “Green Bone” warriors drove foreign powers from Kekon and assumed control of the Jade trade. Working with the legitimate government, these Green Bones rule Kekon.

They are, for all intents and purposes, a criminal organization — or would’ve been were it not for a divergence of vision — they’re now two rival criminal organizations — with their own rules, laws, rituals, educational systems and cultures. There’s a Cold War between them — a perilous truce, with the citizens of Kekon stuck in the middle (paying tribute, currying favor, and occasionally serving as cannon fodder).

But then something shifts the balance of power — plans that have been brewing for years start to come to fruition and conflict erupts.

We focus on the Kaul family, their soldiers, their leadership, their friends and fortunes. There’s the aged warrior struggling with the weight of glory and past success in the face of the end of their life, there’s the new generation of leadership, trying to live up to the glories of the past and finding it more difficult than they expected. Some have tried to forge new paths in a new world, others are trying to recreate the past.

This is one of those that I can’t think how to describe without ruining everything — so that’s about as much as I’m going to say. The back cover blurb describes this as “The Godfather with Magic.” It’s easy to see why. It’s also incredibly easy to start casting various characters ___ is Michael (clearly), ___ is Tom, and if ____ isn’t Sonny, I’ll eat my hat. I do have real answers for those blanks, but I thought I’d better not give everything away. It is more than just The Godfather with Magic — but you can’t get away from that (unless you’re not that familiar with that particular work — and then you’re not missing a thing).

There’s magic, there’s a mob story, there’s family, love, loyalty . . . you name it, this book has it. Better yet, at the helm of this world you have Fonda Lee who does a great job building this world and populating it with people that the reader can relate to.

This is a rich world full of intrigue, danger, family and magic. It’s a fantastic piece of worldbuilding and you can tell that Lee has great plans in store for these characters, and I can tell that they have no clue what’s coming — and frankly, the readers have less of a clue. I’m looking forward to seeing just what it is.

Note that’s close to a disclaimer, yeah, I said ARC for a book that was published last year. How’d I manage that? Time travel? Well, no. I won the ARC at Indie Bookstore Day (or something like that). So, there be a couple of changes between what I read and the final product, but probably nothing major.

—–

3 Stars

Anaconda Vice by James Stansfield: A Fast, Fun Thriller

Anaconda ViceAnaconda Vice

by James Stansfield
Kindle Edition, 245 pg.
Manatee Books Ltd, 2018
Read: August 3 – 4, 2016
Retired professional wrestler (of no great fame, but some notoriety), Lucas Winter, runs out of gas on his way back from a personal appearance and finds himself in a very small, very insular town. He gets taken advantage of by a local gas station owner/mechanic, leaving him stranded for a day in a town that seems untouched by the outside world (or maybe that’s just because Winter can’t get even get one bar on his cell phone).

One apparently common problem for a professional wrestler, are small town tough guys wanting to pick a fight with you — to prove that you’re not that tough, or that they really are. Winter finds himself on the business end of one of those altercations, and defends himself well. So well, that he’s kicked out of the only dining establishment in town — even before he can finish his breakfast.

It’s not long before the entire Sheriff’s Department (all 3 deputies and the Sheriff himself) come to take Winter into custody. The man he fought with is dead, and there aren’t a whole lot of suspects.Winter finds himself embroiled in small town politics, a frame job that’s both sloppy and seemingly inescapable — in between the Scylla of impotent cops and the Charybdis a powerful and rich family. He needs to rely on his wits, his charm and a whole lotta luck to clear his name and maybe, just maybe, get out of Anaconda alive.

I wasn’t that crazy about many of the characters — well, actually, just the various family members of the dead man, at least one of them could’ve used a little more depth. The various other townspeople were great, both the people who were around for a page or two or the Law Enforcement types who were with Winter throughout the book.

Lucas Winter himself was a fun protagonist, he’s just funny enough to entertain without turning this into a comedy, and human enough to keep this from being a Jack Reacher clone.

This is a very familiar story, really. But Stansfield puts a couple of very interesting twists on it — I won’t tell you most of them, because that’d spoil the fun. One that I’ve already mentioned is our protagonist’s former life — a middling former Pro Wrestler? That right there is a stroke of genius. He can take some physical punishment — but not a Herculean amount. He can dish out the physical punishment — but not in a Jack Reacher/Evan Smoak way. He’s tenacious, he’s tough, and best of all, he’s desperate.

One teeny-tiny little gripe — if you’re going to write about an American in the middle of the US, don’t talk about kilometers out of town. Manatee Books is a British publisher, so we Yanks can forgive a “tyre” or two, or using “mobile” instead of “cell” — put come on, get lose the kilometers, please.

The book doesn’t hold a lot of surprises — but the ones that it does hold? Wow — I’m pretty sure I yelled at one point. The rest is told by someone very assured and quite skilled at his craft. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: A familiar tune sung well is just as entertaining to listen to as a new song — same applies to stories. You tell me a story like one I’ve heard before in a way that I an appreciate, I’ll still like it today as much as I did the first time.

A thriller that’ll press all the right buttons, will throw a shock or two at you, and keep you riveted throughout it’s very fast pace — sounds like a pretty good read to me. Check Stansfield and Anaconda Vice out.

—–

3 Stars