Book Review 48: Extremes by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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What happens when a rogue scientist decides she wants to kill an entire moon city with a virus in order to create her own version of a superhuman race? That question is the basic plot of Extremes by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.  Extremes is the second novel in the multi-genre Retrieval Artist Series.

Miles Flint has become a retrieval artist after quitting the police force in the first book of the series, The DisappearedRetrieval Artists are basically intergalactic bounty hunters that track down people who have disappeared in order to escape punishment from the human-alien societies created in this series. Most retrieval artists usually work outside of the law. But, Flint’s background as a detective and his strong moral compass has caused  him to be conflicted as he works on his first assignment as a retrieval artist.

He is chosen by a major law firm to investigate a former retrieval artist work on tracking this rogue scientist, Frieda Tey.  In the process, he comes across a murder at the moon marathon on the colony of Armstrong.  Flint finds out his work for the law firm and the murder are connected.  As a result, he meets up with his old partner, Noelle DeRicci, from the police force who is investigating the murder. The two work together to solve the case and begin to understand that there’s a new dynamic in their relationship now that Flint is a retrieval artist.

Extremes is another solid novel in the Retrieval Artist series that combines elements of traditional science-fiction and mystery into a genre gumbo I enjoyed reading.  Rusch is an old fashioned storyteller where characters and plot both work together to create a solid story.  No fancy or superfluous prose that distracts from the story.  This novel was refreshing to read and I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing Consequences, book three of the series.  Recommended.

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 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 38: A Touch of Death by Charles Williams

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“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money.”  {Ecclesiastes 5:10}

This verse of scripture from King Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes summed up my feelings when I finished reading, A Touch of Death by Charles Williams.

The straightforward plot of the novel focuses on Lee Scarborough, ex-football player, drawn into a scenario where he could have $120,000 dollars that was stolen from a bank by the bank president who is now dead. However, the key to getting this money is having to deal with Madelon Butler, the bank president’s widow.

Madelon Butler is not your typical heroine and her relationship with Scarborough was the most fascinating part of A Touch of Death. She’s vicious, cunning, manipulative, loves to drink and listen to jazz music.  Scarborough in trying to deal with her reminded me of this:

There are four things I don’t understand,

The first is the way of an eagle in the sky,

The second is the way of a snake on a rock,

The third is the way of a ship on the ocean,

And the fourth is the way of a man with a young woman.

{Proverbs 30:18-19 New Int’l Readers Version}

While Madelon Butler is not a young woman, I think that Scarborough could still relate to this verse of scripture from the Book of Proverbs. If you are reader of mystery novels of the pulp fiction variety, then you can figure out what the rest of the story is about.  Williams creates some interesting twists and turns that rushes into a satisfying conclusion.

If you are looking for a solid and engaging story that will keep you up into the wee hours of the morning. Then, I will recommend A Touch of Death to you.

Wisdom of Kammbia 3.12: Marion’s 2012 Book Reviews Year In Review

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The end of 2012 has come and the world didn’t end…those Mayans!  LOL!

Anyway, I’ve decided to create my own list of the books I’ve read and reviewed for the blog in 2012.  I had a good year reading and looking forward to fulfilling my reading resolution in 2013.

Here’s my favorites in 2012: (click on the title to read that book’s review)

1) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (RIP)

2) Daughter of Light by Morgan Busse

3) The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick

4) The Opposite of Art by Athol Dickson

5) Cover Her Face by P.D. James

6) Bag of Bones by Stephen King

7) The Child Goddess by Louise Marley

8) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I’m currently reading The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and I will not have my review until the beginning of the new year. However, I believe this will be the best book I’ve read in 2012 and I wanted to mention it with this list.

So what were you favorite reads of 2012?

Book Review 31: Cover Her Face by P.D. James

After reading and reviewing White Butterfly by Walter Mosley recently, I’ve gained a new appreciation and affinity for the mystery novel. As a result, I’ve decided I will read an entire mystery series over the next year and post the reviews on the blog.

I chose P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh novels as the series to read and if Cover Her Face is the beginning leg then I believe I’ve made the right choice.

Cover Her Face is the first Adam Dalgliesh mystery and P.D. James’ first novel. It is a story of a young, vivacious, free-spirited woman named Sally Jupp who was murdered at an English country estate. Sally worked for the Maxie family who owned the estate and the rest of the novel is spent trying to figure out who killed her.

Well, P.D. James has turned the standard mystery plot from a whodunit to a whydunit and after reading the story I could see the elements that has given her the title, “Queen of Crime.”

One of the most interesting things I noticed in Cover Her Face was that Adam Dalgliesh didn’t dominate the novel.  It felt like he was more of a guiding hand to make sure the story didn’t go off course.  Dalgliesh doesn’t appear until Chapter Four and the way he interacted with the other characters seemed rather routine and matter-of-factly.

However, I wasn’t put off by it and I’m wondering in later Dalgliesh mysteries if his personality will have more of a presence in those stories.

The other interesting thing I noticed is that P.D. James can write beautifully descriptive narrative passages. While I wouldn’t put her in Mark Helprin’s class of writing beautifully, she can definitely hold her own and Cover Her Face read more like a literary novel than a mystery novel.

Even though, Cover Her Face was published in 1962 it read like a valuable antique that has never gone out of style. I have added this book to the best novels I’ve read in 2012 (The Opposite of Art & The Book Thief).