The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

May 24, 2010

You could say I've had ONE TOO MANY BLOWS TO THE HEAD

I'm way behind on talking about all the reading I've been doing lately. I have no excuse other than laziness. But I'm here, I'm ready, so let's play catch-up now.

First off, the deadline for the original stories in the Watery Grave contest has passed and all twelve invitees got their stories in on time. Stay tuned for further developments.

Yes, you could say I've had One Too Many Blows to the Head, but you can't blame the story by Eric Beetner and J.B. Kohl for that. The co-authors turned out a pulp tale that is the love-child of Dave Zeltserman's out-of-prison trilogy mated with Richard Stark's The Hunter. Chapters alternate the first-person tales of Ray, who is out to avenge the death of his brother resulting from a fixed boxing match in 1938 Kansas City, and police detective Fokoli, who is hard on Ray's heels as the bodies start to pile up. The story and characterization have weight, and a suitably seedy-noir feel. And although the story begins in the boxing ring, it doesn't hang around for long, moving well out into the underbelly of America's Depression-struck heartland.

CJ Box's Nowhere to Run is the first of his Joe Pickett series that I've read. The first third or so of the book, I was completely hooked, as game warden Pickett encounters a set of murderous identical twins living off the land in a state park. That part of the story reminded me of the excellent hunter/hunted tale by Louis L'amour, Last of the Breed. But rather than making the tense hunt-and-escape the whole of the book, it occupied merely that first third; after that, the tension fell off and by the end of the book I was completely out of sympathy with the protagonist, who reminded me more of a pissy, by-the-book meter-maid than a stand-up hero.

I re-read Earl Emerson's Yellow Dog Party, one of his PI Thomas Black novels. Emerson knows how to start a story in the middle of the action, before filling in the backstory, and in this book he starts out by hanging his protagonist. The gist of the story is that Black is working for four well-to-do men who want to hook up with their "dream dates" and they need Black to find the women. Only the first woman Black finds has been beaten into a coma by person or persons unknown, and as Black leaves the hospital he is assaulted, dragged out to the middle of nowhere, and lynched. And that's just the beginning. I'd say this is one of my favorite Thomas Black novels, but I say that about almost all of them.

I also re-read Georgette Heyer's Death in the Stocks for the Foul Play bookclub. This is a traditional 1930s English drawing-room mystery, with plenty of red herrings but not terribly difficult to solve, and full of snarky dialogue and characters that are a shade or two warmer than in many such mysteries.

The entire fandom of Michael Connelly may come crashing down on me for saying how much I didn't care for 9 Dragons, so I won't say it.

Bloody Jack, by L.A. Meyer, is fine YA reading, about an 18th-century orphan girl who, for a while, passes as a boy in order to get work and square meals aboard a British man o' war. This is the first book in a highly-praised series that takes the undersized street urchin, Jacky Faber, from the high seas to a Boston girls' school and eventually to Napoleon's army.

Lee Child rebounds from the last two somewhat ho-hum Jack Reacher novels to once again deliver the goods for his fans in 61 Hours. Smart as Reacher is, though, in this new book he is unable to pick out the villain as fast as any reasonably alert reader will do. But on the plus side, Child created a character, a retired librarian, who forces Reacher to examine himself and his motives a bit more closely than in any of his previous outings. Our Jack doesn't exactly start navel-gazing, but the old lady does force him to do a bit of self-examination. Yes, that's right, author Child has finally fallen on that necessary crutch, character development, to improve his story. Go figure. For a full review, see PopCultureNerd's excellent summation.

And John Sandford's latest installment in the Lucas Davenport series, Storm Prey, is as solid an outing as his fans have come to expect. Instead of Lucas being front and center this time, it's his wife, a surgeon, who takes center stage as she is part of a team involved in separating conjoined twins while a pair of killers want to insure that the doctor never be able to identify them. Davenport's old flame/fling Marcy Sherrill makes an appearance as does "that fuckin' Flowers," Sandford's other series lead. The descriptions of the procedures (jigsaws! microsurgery!) involved in separating the twins are every bit as fascinating as watching Davenport's team of detectives close in on the killers. In the case of both the Child and Sandford novels, if you're a fan you'll probably be pleased by these books. If you're not a fan, these books aren't built to persuade you otherwise.

(Yes, Jen, I know I told you I'd never review a Sandford or Child book, but these blurbs don't really count as actual reviews, do they? More like acknowledgments, don't you think?)


  1. One fine, fun post, Naomi. That Thomas Black novel (and start) sounds absolutely wild. Can't wait on the WGI results, too. Thanks for this.

  2. I agree about 'One too many' but I've never read anything by any of the other writers. Thomas Black sounds good!

  3. Paul, I'm of the opinion that the Thomas Black series is one of the most enjoyable out there.

    Michael, what? Not going to take me to task on the Connelly book? I'm about halfway through reading for WGI. I waited until all the entries were in.

  4. Not from me, Naomi. Remember, I voted for Marlowe in Jen's contest ;-).

  5. Same here. And in the online crime fic community, there's so much support for the classics, I was surprised (and bummed) to see Bosch defeat Marlowe so soundly.

    Even though I don't have the same appreciation for later Connelly books as I do for his early titles, I thought 9 Dragons was a new low. I actually found Bosch tedious and a bit of an officious prick.

  6. I'm glad I'm still not through with the early HB books in the series. I remember Corey mentioning the same about MC's recent stuff, too. I'll be doing Trunk Music fairly soon. Connelly has a pretty large fan base so that probably tipped the scale his way (unfortunately). You should have seen the length of the line for his book signing at the Mystery Bookstore booth at LAT FoB last month! Oh, well. Thanks, Naomi.

  7. I just don't get why critics who should know better continue to rave over the Bosch books of recent years, when there are far better books that merit the attention. I suspect they're pandering to that large fan base you speak of.

  8. Sometimes I read things too fast & confuse myself. I misread the 3rd sentence in your Thomas Black paragraph as, "The gist of the story is that four well-to-do men want to hook up with Black women." That gave me a double take.

    Thanks for the link to my 61 Hours review, Naomi. I really liked the librarian; she's probably my fave female character in a Reacher novel. Looking forward to WGI results, too.

  9. Oh yeah, you've incurred the wrath of this Connelly fan! I love the Bosch books, although I will admit 9 Dragons wasn't a big favorite of mine. But, still, for one of the so-called big league writers, he's one of the few who are still willing to take chances with his characters, even if those chances don't always work. And seriously, damn nice guy.

  10. Keith, I'm interested in reading where you think 9 Dragons went wrong.