Tour’s Books Blog

July 13, 2010

A Vampire Mystery and a New Action Thriller

Every once in awhile, a book title is just so intriguing you simply MUST have it regardless of the fact it’s out of print and the publisher is defunct.  Such was the case with The Case of the Virtuous Vampire.  How did I stumble across such a niche market book from a tiny publisher?  Paperback Swap.  Yes, despite what many publishers think, book swapping online actually increased my purchasing of books, it didn’t reduce it.  It does the same for many others.  Why?  Because you find many new authors and/or genres and the waiting lists move too slowly because there aren’t millions of copies sold.  But I’ve bought a hundred paperbacks – trade paperbacks (those $14-$18 oversized paperbacks) and mass market paperbacks, many by new or new to me authors.  I’ve also bought more than my fair share of hardcovers.  SIGH!

I wonder sometimes just how much the current paranormal/UF craze owes to J.K. Rowling and her brilliant Harry Potter series.  You have a whole generation of kids growing up enjoying the story of the ‘boy wizard’ in the books and the movies.  A lot of today’s Twilight reader’s probably cut their fiction teeth on Harry and his friends.  It’s only natural they would find a touch of the supernatural appealing.   I think the predictions of a waning interest in paranormal and UF that many publishers predicted were a bit premature.

Even so, much as I love my shifters and vamps and magic users, even I have to admit, finding new a truly creative series can be a challenge.  Going through a buddy’s wish list on PBS can be like browsing the shelves of a specialty book store.  You find titles and authors you know nothing about and find yourself expanding your own WL by leaps and bounds.  Well, that’s how I found The Case of the Virtuous Vampire.  I went to Amazon and checked out the reviews and saw it was only available used and was still fairly pricey, so I waited.  After 4 months, there was no noticeable movement on the WL.  Well, with a book of this type, that’s to be expected, but it was worth a shot.  So I started shopping the used books sites.  I settled on an Amazon Marketplace seller with a ‘brand new’ copy for $17 and the seller was a dud.  Never shipped, never replied to my email, never replied to Amazon.  On the upside, all I wasted was my time.  So, off I went to Half.com to find another seller with a ‘very good’ copy for $15.50 plus shipping.  No bargain, but for an out of print book in new pristine condition it was actually a very fair price.  It arrived very promptly and in exactly the condition stated – always a crap shoot.

Another way I get suggestions is thru friends on various forums.  One friend is a fan of the Jack Reacher series, a favorite action thriller series of mine, and he suggested a book called The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd and everything by author Simon Kernick.  This led to another search and buy mission.  I bought books used, remaindered and any other way I could find them.

First up:

  • Title: The Case of the Virtuous Vampire
  • Author:  Monette Michaels
  • Type:  Paranormal Mystery/romance
  • Genre: Tracy/Hepburn do paranormal murder mystery
  • Sub-genre: Witch lawyer gets involved in a murder with a shifter PI
  • My Grade: C+  (3.3*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full length novel; about 80,000+ words
  • Where Available:  hard to find, so try half.com, Alibris, also Liquid Silver Books as an ebook
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased used book online

This first installment of a proposed series proudly proclaims it’s magic meets Perry Mason, and there is some similarity, just not much.  The title was vintage Earl Stanley Gardner, and there was a sexy PI, but last I looked, Paul Drake wasn’t a magic using shape shifter and Perry didn’t have vampire clients – and Perry didn’t try and usurp Drake’s job.

Abigail Gooden is the only child of a very powerful witch and a wizard descended from one of the most ancient lines in Wales.  Her dad was a great guy and magic royality, and her mother, a sort of Junior Leaguer and witch royalty herself, always wanted her Abby to take her ‘rightful place’ in the preternatural community.  Abby had different plans.  Her magic, though strong, was strange and just didn’t seem to work quite right.  She didn’t mind much, she always wanted to be a lawyer.  Her practice catered to preternaturals and mere-mortals alike.  What she didn’t expect was her widowed mother’s boyfriend as a client – and possible murder suspect.  And she sure wasn’t ready for his very bossy alpha PI, Lucan Knight, to start telling HER what to do.

Jurnick Golub (possibly the LEAST attractive name for a nice character ever!) is the owner of a “gentleman’s club”, Exotica, where a gruesome murder took place, one with shades of BDSM and torture.  It was one Jurnick’s dancers and a former girlfriend.  Now Jurnick and Abby’s mom are together (something she’d really rather not think about) and someone is trying to use Jurnick as a fall guy for the crime in hopes of getting the club closed as a bonus.

Luc Knight could feel Abby’s magic as they approached her office.  The two struck sparks off each other to point where Jurnick is immediately relegated to background status.  Their interaction – especially when Abby, fed up with Luc’s condescending, dictatorial edits magically throws out of the room – though she opened the door first.

This Tracy/Hepburn style relationship is fun to watch unfold, but the mystery is minimal.  Virtuous Vampire is more romantic suspense than true mystery, but overall, an entertaining read populated by an evil witch, an hypocritical preacher, abusive ex-boyfriends and a nasty stalker for Abby.  The big problem was the lack of depth in secondary characters.  Abby’s mother Ilana and Uncle Vidal are cardboard cutouts, though Vidal has the more substantial role.  The rest are stock characters in any B movie.

Set in Austin, Texas, the world building never makes it to the level of Spider’s Web, Blood of the Demon, or Persephone Alcmedi Circle series from Linda Robertson.  Between the weak  mystery and shaky world building, it was average at everything except the relationship between Abby and Luc, a paranormal romance rather than UF or mystery.  The relationship between Abby and Luc and the action parts were was just barely enough that I might try a second book should one ever make it out.

Overall, it was a average read with the best title I’ve seen in awhile.  Not worth the price of a good quality used book, unless you just want keep one for laughs.  Buy the ebook and save money.

**************************************************************************

  • Title: The Bricklayers
  • Author:  Noah Boyd
  • Type:  Action thriller
  • Genre:  Former FBI lone wolf is needed to hunt down a suspect
  • Sub-genre:  Intricate blackmail/murder plot by a former FBI agent
  • My Grade: B-  (3.8*)
  • Rating:  PG-13 – but lots of violence
  • Length and price:  Full length novel; about 90,000+ words
  • Where Available:  hardcover from any bookseller or used book source; plus size mmpb due August 31 for $9.99
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased used book online

First books are tricky things.  Some come from nowhere and just blow you away – even when some reviewers hate them.  Two overlooked debut novels were Killing Floor by Lee Child and Rain Fall by Barry Eisler.  Both authors eventually became bestsellers, but you’d be hard put to find the folks who grabbed them when first published.  Noah Boyd might not be in their league, but he’s far better than the run of the mill boilerplate action thriller writer and The Bricklayer is a very good first novel worth seeking out and reading.

The author is former a FBI agent and a very experienced in crime investigation.  His knowledge of how an institution like the FBI works, its politics, and its methods, make his lead character and the procedural and political parts of this book top notch.  Steve Vail was an FBI agent who had trouble fitting into the ‘team player’ mode.  He left and ‘reinvented’ himself in Chicago, taking up a skill he learned from family, a bricklayer.  All is quiet until Steve gets caught in a bank robbery.  he breaks up the robbery and disappears faster than the Lone Ranger.

Meanwhile, back at FBI HQ, they find themselves facing an extortionist who seems to know everything about how the FBI acts.  One of the downsides of any unit is it’s absolute adherence to a ‘playbook’.  Playbooks make their reactions predictable.  Each time the demand for money increases.  The extortionist is relying on the fact that the FBI will be desperate to keep this ‘in house’ to avoid humiliation and the risk of the press getting hold of it.  Of course, it also begs the question, “Is this an inside job?”  When an LA agent and millions in cash disappear, the FBI hopes it’s over.  It isn’t. One agent dead and another disappeared and 3 million dollars later the FBI has nothing.

Kate Bannon Shot up the FBI promotion ladder because of her willingness to try new things while conforming to the controversial FBI ‘mold’.  She suggests hiring Steve Vail to track the missing agent and money.  That way they can be sure it’s over and the problem is indeed solved.

What unfolds is by turns predictable and exciting.  Kate never really comes alive, her character is just 2 dimensional and predictable.  Steve Vail is cut from the Jack Reacher mold, but less deadly.  Despite these short-comings, the story itself is fast moving and has plenty of twists and turns.  The writing style suits the material and even trite plot devices are no impediment to enjoyment.  The ending has a real OMG moment.  The budding attraction between Steve and Kate is blah.  Few action thriller writers manage to do that well, so no shock there.  The details of how the FBI works lends a huge degree of credibility to much of the background and the sense of how frustrating it is for a ‘get-it-done-son’ personality to try and function within their tight restraints of an institution.

Overall, the shortcomings of The Bricklayer were minor enough that they did not detract from the excitement of a well paced story.  Certainly not as good or edgy as Killing Floor by Lee Child, but as first books go, this promises to be a worthwhile series.

My recommendation is to buy it used, get it from the library, or wait on the paperback, but do read this book.  It’s not worth the $16+ price tag of the hardcover, but it is a worthwhile read for any fan of the  Jack Reacher, Spenser, Joe Pike, or Lucas Davenport.

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