Mark Terry

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What I've Been Reading

1. Motive by Jonathan Kellerman
I'm sure it was a great book, but I'm totally blanking on what it was about. And it's rare for Kellerman's titles to really tell you much about the book any more. Hang on while I look it up... Ah, I remember now. Milo has an unsolved or two and they start to link up. Yes, it was good. But, as my post might suggest, after 25 or 30 years, we're still getting excellent books, but they are tending to blend in a bit.

2. Karate Stupid: A True Story by Scott Langley
Although in need of some copyediting, an interesting book. Scott Langley was one of only a couple westerners to be accepted in the renowned Japanese Instructors Program for karate. Unfortunately, what he encountered was a brutal multi-year program of getting the shit beat out of you by your instructors and what was probably a fair amount of racism on the part of the Japanese. One tends to read it as an indictment of Langley's common sense, because after several of his instructions, it would have made sense to say Bye-Bye, but he stuck it out. However, having graduated the program and gone back to the UK to start his own school, he wrote the book, which pissed off the program so much that they blackballed him from the organization. On the other hand, if you read a little bit of background about the JKS and JKA, etc., these organizations have tended to splinter internally over a variety of politics. In many ways I thought Langley should have followed the path of one of his fellow students who I believe came from Argentina or Brazil. In the first couple months that student took a kick to the head during instruction that fractured a vertebrae in his neck. He packed up his bags and went home.

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
Enough said.

4. Unbound by Jim C. Hines
Third book in his libriomancer fantasy series. I enjoyed it. Maybe not as much as the first two, and I have some issues with a plot point regarding vampires and a satellite, but it's clear Jim had something he wanted to address in this book and I thought it was entertaining.

5. Walking Shadow by Robert B. Parker
One of my favorite Spenser novels, although I'm not sure it wears as well as I thought it would, not having read it in probably 10 years. Spenser is more or less hired to investigate the murder of an actor who was shot on stage during a play. It involves, at some levels, illegal Chinese immigration, Chinese organized crime and obsessive love.

6. Under By Treaty by Kayla Stonor
Dubbed either alien romance or alien erotica, I actually found the plot a bit more interesting than the erotica. Earth has been at war with an alien race, the Qui, and probably is going to lose it, when the Ambassador for the Qui makes a proposal. General Jaden, head of Earth forces, must come with her and submit to be trained to be a consort of the Qui, which is essentially physical, mental and sexual submission. If he does so and passed, i.e., voluntarily submits, the Qui will leave Earth alone. The erotica part of the book is pretty damned brutal. The politics and culture of the book are fairly interesting. At one level it reminded me of Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Recovery Agent books, which take place in a future in which Earth has colonized bit swaths of space, but the other cultures out there have their own very different laws and traditions, so a patchwork of laws have been created, some of which are quite abhorrent to humans, so there's an entire industry of hiding people and changing the identities of people who accidentally break those laws (and also an industry of bounty hunters that track them down). Rusch's books are brilliant, albeit depressing, and a lot smarter with a different purpose than Stonor's, but they do have that in common.

7. The Burning Room by Michael Connelly
A Harry Bosch police procedural and a very good one. Harry's facing the end of his contract, he's aging out of police work, and he's training a new, young Hispanic cop who's sort of a local hero. Their cases involve politics and a high-profile crime and although one of the clues turns on an accidental discovery by Harry, it is, as usual, brilliant. I find Connelly's books very compelling once I start reading them, but they're so serious and dark and meticulous and painstaking in their pacing that I tend to find them a little cold. I'm always very satisfied when I read his books, but I don't come away from reading them thinking, "Man, I can't wait for his next one."

8. Gathering Prey by John Sandford
A little outrageous, even by Sandford's style. Minnesota cop Lucas Davenport's daughter at Stanford meets up with some "Wanderers," which aren't quite homeless people, but more like a modern-day version of hobos. But she is contacted by one of them when her partner disappears and Davenport gets drawn into a multi-state murder investigation of a group of killers with a vague resemblance to the Manson Family. It ends with this long drawn-out chase and shootout/manhunt in Michigan's Northern Peninsula, which is pretty visceral. I think Sandford's the most reliable of our thriller writers, and I enjoyed this one a lot, although the subculture he's writing about is kind of odd.

9. The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child
This is Child's second novel about "enigmalogist" Jeremy Logan. I don't find Logan to be all that compelling a character, even if his job is compelling. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this particular tech thriller a lot, given that it was leaning a lot on the trappings of a Gothic novel. After a fellow at the Lux Research Institute, which is situated in this enormous mansion in Rhode Island, commits suicide in a particularly bizarre way, Logan is hired by the Institute to look into things. He eventually discovers a "forgotten room" and some medical/scientific experiments from the 1930s, all of which come together during a hurricane. Child handles most of these elements deftly and his grasp on the gothic atmosphere, secret rooms, mysterious medical research, possible ghosts and paranormal situations, is fantastic. I do think, though, if you're going to have a huge climax in a mansion during a hurricane, you should at least mention emergency backup generators if so much of the activity during the storm depends on electricity. In my town, we pretty much lose the power when the wind blows. The Lux Institute, however, had electricity the whole way through. Despite that, I thought it was a pretty cool book.

10. Robert B. Parker's Spenser: Kickback by Ace Atkins
A Spenser novel written by Ace Atkins. I think Atkins is a very good writer and probably is doing as well as anyone could to extend this series, although the voice is quite different. What struck me during most of this book were 2 things: One, he actually made me uneasy about some of the events and how they might turn out. That was a pretty rare (like, say, zero) occurrence in Parker's Spenser novels. You read them to spend time with Spenser and his friends, not to be concerned how ugly things might turn out. And Two, the Spenser novels always took place in what I thought of as SpenserWorld, where a PI investigates murders, shoots people and doesn't look his license or spend time in jail, where he can have friends who are criminals, even contract killers, and still take the moral high road. Although Atkins doesn't exactly break down the walls of SpenserWorld, he does at least push back a little bit at the boundaries, having the cops be really, really pissed at him regarding a shootout, having him appear to be slowing down a bit with age, questioning his relationship with people like Vinnie Morris and even a little bit, with Hawk. The plot revolves around a Mass. town where teenagers appear to be getting sentenced to ridiculous petty crimes to months on an island off the Boston coast with little or no legal representation. The town is corrupt and Spenser starts to get jerked into the machinery of that corruption (hence, the unease). Unfortunately, having created those issues, Atkins pretty much lets Spenser off the hook. Still, I thought it was a good and enjoyable book.