Book Review 47: The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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Has anybody ever read a science fiction mystery?

I must admit I love when authors combine genres in their books.  Dean Koontz is one of the masters of genre combining and twisting in his works. The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is the first novel I’ve read that combines a standard science fiction setting with a traditional detective story theme.

Private detective Miles Flint and his partner, Noelle DeRicci, have been assigned to solve a couple of cases where  people have disappeared from their alien captors in order to escape punishment alien justice style.

Rusch creates a believable world of human-alien interaction and adroitly reveals how a misunderstanding of moral and legal issues can cause an intergalactic diplomatic crisis. The price paid for that misunderstanding is very costly and could even effect one’s own children.

Flint and DeRicci are caught in the middle of several of those misunderstandings where a couple of alien races, The Wygnin and The Rev, are demanding that children be returned into their custody because of the crimes committed by their human guardians.  Both detectives believe the aliens may have bypassed human laws and are determined to keep the children with their parents. Also, an outlaw is on the run because she helped her human client avoid a prison sentence from one of those alien races.

What I liked about The Disappeared that it was a good old-fashioned story.  The beginning grabbed my attention and stayed with me until the end.  Rusch resolved the multiple storylines nicely and I got solid characterizations of Flint, DeRicci, and the aliens.

This is the first book in the Retrieval Artist Series and one of my best reads for 2013.  I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing the rest of the series for the blog in 2014.  Recommended.

Book Review 46: The Husband by Dean Koontz

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“I would have love to read that book with you, babe.”

My wife made that comment after a recent conversation about books.  I told her I had read Stephen King’s Bag of Bones recently and her interest in that book surprised me.  She was more of the movie watcher than book reader in our family.

Since she is a fitness aficionado, I decided to create a husband/wife challenge around our interests.  For the month of October, I would exercise and go to the gym with her if she would read one novel with me. She agreed to the challenge and The Husband by Dean Koontz was chosen as the novel we would read together.

The Husband is the story about Mitch Rafferty, a self-employed gardener, whose wife has been kidnapped and the ransom for her return is two million dollars and he has sixty hours in order to come up with the cash.  Mitch loves his wife, Holly, more than anything in this fictional world but Koontz asks a basic question in this story, how far will you go for love?

While, the plot is simple but a writer of Koontz’s skill creates several surprising twists and turns on the way to its resolution.  Also, he deals with family relations and asks another question in this novel, how well do you really know someone that came from the same parents as you do?

I know some of the more perceptive types might think they have already figured out the basic plot from those last two paragraphs.  So I will not go into any more detail about the story.  However, I can assure you it is not quite what you are thinking on who the kidnapper was in relation to Mitch and Holly.  Moreover, I will never the view the state of New Mexico in the same way after reading this novel.  (I lived in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe for a total of nine years.)

I must admit that The Husband was not my favorite Dean Koontz novel.  I’ve read at least a dozen of his books and I would rank it in the middle of the pack.  (I would consider Cold Fire, Strangers, Watchers, and the Odd Thomas series as the best Koontz novels.)  But it was a solid page-turning story and good entertainment.

In closing, my wife liked the novel and it created some good discussion about the characters and plot.  I always thought reading could bring a couple closer together and maybe I should have tried this challenge a long time ago.  I know, we men always think of things much later than our wives would have.  🙂

Book Review 43: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith AKA JK Rowling

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I had made it a personal policy to not read and review for this blog the hottest or most publicized novel of the year.  However, I did almost break my policy last year with Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  But, I decided against it.

Well, my resistance has finally dropped with The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith AKA J.K. Rowling. I must admit the pseudonym controversy got me intrigued and I knew I had to read and review this novel.

The Cuckoo’s Calling tells the story about the death of Lula Landry, one of England’s most famous supermodels.  She fell from her high-rise loft in London and the police have ruled the death as a suicide. However, John Bristow, the deceased’s brother refuses to believe it was a suicide and hires private investigator Cormoran Strike to investigate the supermodel’s death.

Strike is a hard-livin’ detective who is on the brink of financial and personal ruin when Bristow arrives at his office to see if he will take on his dead sister’s case. The private investigator agrees to Bristow’s request and enters the world of high fashion, fame, and how wealthy Londoners really live.  Also, he is the son of a famous singer and because of that connection gets him entrance into this world without much resistance.

Rowling creates various twists in the plot in order to keep the reader guessing if the supermodel’s murder was really a suicide. The strength of the novel was her descriptive narrative and keen observation of human behavior.  Here’s an example:

“Her antipathy towards Strike seemed to have evaporated. He was not surprised; he had met the phenomenon many times. People liked to talk; there were very few exceptions; the question was how you made them do it. Some, and Ursula was evidently one of them, were amenable to alcohol; others liked a spotlight; and then there were those who merely needed proximity to another conscious human being.”

That passage was early in the novel and it showed Rowling’s strengths of the aforementioned traits that made The Cuckoo’s Calling an excellent  read. But, I must admit there is not a lot of action in the story.  It made me think if Rowling was writing this novel as a tip of the cap to P.D. James.  I could see James writing a novel like this one as well.

I came to reading The Cuckoo’s Calling as someone who had never read the Harry Potter books or her first adult novel, Casual Vacancy.  I had read one of the reasons Rowling wanted to write under a pseudonym was that her work could be judged on the basis if it is good or not.  And not to be judged through the lens as a celebrity novelist.

Well, if this was a first novel by Robert Galbraith…..it would be an outstanding first novel.  But it is Rowling’s second adult novel and deserves to be judged on its own merits as a crime fiction novel.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is one of my favorite reads of 2013 and Rowling is an engrossing, powerful storyteller.  It was worth breaking my personal policy.

Book Review 42: A Mind To Murder by P.D. James

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P.D. James has been given the unofficial title, Queen of Crime, and after reading A Mind to Murder showed why she has earned this moniker.

A Mind to Murder began with the murder of Enid Bolam, the administrative head at the Steen Psychiatric Clinic in London. She had a chisel through her chest and a wooden phallic symbol in her arms. It appeared like we have the main culprits of sex and violence intersecting once again.

When Adam Dalgliesh arrived to investigate the murder, he found out that Miss Bolam was a goody, two-shoes stickler and having that phallic symbol was a ruse put there by the murderer. The detective was put through various twists and turns until the mystery of Miss Bolam’ death was solved at the end of the novel. Even though, that’s a simplistic overview of most mystery novels, James has really elevated the genre to show that literature can emerge from the murder mystery story.

Her ability to write beautiful passages of setting and place, to have excellent narrative flow, to create solid characters and to have the main character’s personality be revealed like a chef peeling an onion has made me want to read the entire Adam Dalgliesh oeuvre.

This is my second Adam Dalgliesh book I have reviewed for the blog. I reviewed Cover Her Face last year and both books have given me a wonderful reading experience even though they were published in the early 1960’s. A Mind To Murder does have its antiquated values interspersed throughout the novel, but James still deals with the universal themes of death, greed, and ambition that we can all relate to.

I can unabashedly recommend A Mind To Murder and I’m already looking forward to reading and reviewing Unnatural Causes, book three of these delightful novels.

Book Review 41: Middle Passage by Charles Johnson

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Middle Passage is the story of Rutherford Calhoun, a free black man, living in 1830’s New Orleans.  Rutherford is a thief, hustler, and womanizer who has lived a nomadic, vagabond life and somehow stayed out being sold into slavery. Well, there’s a prim and devout woman named Isadora Bailey that is in love with Rutherford and wants to marry him.  However, he refuses to marry her and ends up leaving New Orleans via the ship called The Republic.

On the ship, Rutherford learns the horrors of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the convoluted relationships between blacks and whites of that time.  The captain of the ship, Ebenezer Falcon, is a hard-driving, eccentric disciplinarian that’s hated by his crew. But, he is fond of Rutherford and two men develop a surprising friendship that will eventually test their loyalty to each other and the rest of the crew.

Rutherford gets caught in the middle of a slave rebellion of The Republic which eventually leads to the ship’s demise. He is deeply affected after the outcome of the slave rebellion and begins to examine the true meaning of his life. There is a surprise ending that caught me pleasantly off guard and brings the novel full circle.

Johnson has written an intellectual, philosophical page-turner that is part Moby Dick, part Gulliver’s Travels and part Invisible Man. I can see why Middle Passage received the prestigious National Book Award in 1990 for best novel.  It deserves to be mentioned with Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Known World by Edward P. Jones, and Kindred by Octavia Butler as one of the best novels ever written about slavery.

Book Review 40: Cold Fire by Dean Koontz

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A little over a decade ago, I went on a Dean Koontz reading binge.  I read at least ten or eleven of his novels and I couldn’t get enough of them at that time.  However, my reading tastes has changed quite a bit over the years and I really didn’t have a desire to go back re-read any of his books.

Well, I looked on my bookshelf  a couple of weeks ago and saw I had a copy of Cold Fire. I must admit that Cold Fire is the one Koontz novel I have kept on my bookshelf since that reading binge. I don’t have a reason why I’ve kept that novel. But it was still there and I decided to give it a second reading.

Cold Fire is the story of Jim Ironheart, a mysterious man who has a supernatural ability to save random strangers from perilous life-altering events.  As a result, Jim has become an unlikely superhero.

One of his missions to Portland, Oregon, he has a chance encounter with Holly Thorne.  She’s a local reporter that was interviewing a teacher who recently published a book of poetry. Upon leaving the school, Holly sees Jim rescues a student from being hit by a truck. Jim treats the episode like a policeman or firefighter doing their job and Holly is taken by his modesty and self-effacing persona.

Afterwards, she decides to use her journalistic skills and track down this modern-day superhero.  Holly’s investigation into his background leads her to travel to Southern California and ends up becoming a part one of his missions.  By the end of that mission, Holly is convinced there is a lot more to discover about Ironheart.

Eventually, Holly persuades Jim to explore his past in order to find out about his supernatural ability and that’s where the painful memories of childhood, family abandonment, and the ability of books to create your own world comes into view.  By the end of novel, Jim faces up to those issues and learns where his gift actually came from.

Koontz’s strengths as a page-turning storyteller were on full display in Cold Fire.  He is a master at creating suspenseful scenes that makes you want to keep reading.  Also, Koontz has the ability to combine science fiction, fantasy, suspense/thriller, horror, and even aspects of spirituality into a genre gumbo of best-selling commercial fiction.  In this aspect, Koontz is similar to the musician, Sting.  Both men in their respective fields have taken various genres like a master chef would for a meal and use the right ingredients from each genre to create popular art that is uniquely their own.

After reading it for the second time, Cold Fire holds up surprisingly well. It will be the one Koontz novel that remains on my bookshelf.